Kasuri or ikat?

I don’t know when it started, my love for the Japanese textiles called kasuri. I think it was the fact that it was so imperfect looking, so much of the human hand apparent in the making. My mother being a weaver, described the process of wrapping the warp and weft threads to resist accepting dye and then weaving them together to produce the blurry patterns of stars, squares, cross hatches, and circles. It fascinated me how much one had to plan ahead for something that would turn out to be such a surprise! Kasuri comes from the Japanese word meaning “to blur.”

Later I would hear the word “ikat” associated with textiles that came from southeast Asia that bore the same “blurriness” as the kasuri I was familiar with, but the fabrics were much more refined and colorful, and often made from silk rather than cotton. Ikat is an Indonesian word derived from the word for “tie” or “to bind” and referred to the process of preparing the warp and weft threads for dyeing.

And of course once I got to JANM I began to associate kasuri with the clothing of the Issei plantation farmers in Hawai‘i, as celebrated in the exhibition Textured Lives: Japanese Immigrant Clothing from the Plantations of Hawai'i.

Whenever I see clothing made with kasuri fabrics, I find them hard to resist (no pun intended). And while we don’t carry a lot of clothing in our store, once in awhile I have to make these beautiful pieces available to remind people of these traditional textile arts. (Here are links to the skirt, scarf, and shirt pictured above!)

Maria Kwong
Maria Kwong