Tokyo International Quilt Festival 2019 PART ONE: Eyepopping Japanese Motif Quilts

I didn’t think it was possible to be more blown away than I was in 2016, by the sheer artistry and sewing chops I ogled at the Tokyo International Quilt Festival, but yesterday it happened again. In fact, there are so many quilts I want to show you, I’m going to break this into two posts, for your swooning pleasure.

The first burst:

Quilts with Lovely Japanese Themes

“Dancing in the Wind” by Masako Sakagami

Not only does this one have the most Japanese theme ever (a woman in a kimono doing a dance called bon odori at the summer festival where spirits are welcomed back for a few days), it’s made from vintage kimonos.

“Vermilion Delight” by Hitomi Mishima

This one is also pieced from vintage kimonos, and has some killer 3-D bits made with silk scraps. It took the Grand Prize this year.

“Flowers in Mode” by Michiko Sonobe

Also crafted from vintage fabrics, I loved this outside-the-box design based on a traditional piecing pattern. One of the biggest ways my sense of the beautiful continues to be explosively expanded in Japan is by the colors that are put together in art and fashion here. This particular combination is utterly Japanese, a set of color choices I never would have considered, but it really works, don’t you think?

“Goldfish Versus the Fish Net” by Satomi Tominaga

I loved this one because not only is it about a beloved childhood rite of passage (scooping up goldfish at a shrine festival with a round, paper net that ALWAYS tears just before the fish makes it to your waiting plastic bag), the fish pieces are cut from the kind of traditional Japanese dishtowels you can find on any neighborhood shopping street.

“Rice – Things We Can Do”by the 8th & 9th grade students of
Kawaguchi City Junior High School

I loved this one before I even knew it had been made by middle school kids, because of its exuberant use of ramen noodle-evoking knitted bits to spell out characters from spelling tests. Sort of a Japanese version of alphabet soup.

“Yamaboshi Flowers at Sunset” by Toyomi Fujima

Yamaboshi are a kind of weed that grows everywhere it can get a toehold, but this quilt elevates them to a thing of beauty, don’t you think?

“Memory of An Unspoiled Landscape” by Kazuko Tanaka

The red flowers in this lovely landscape are “higanbana,” a kind of amaryllis that grows wild in Japan and blooms for only a few days around the autumn solstice. They have a sort of wistful (or even creepy) aura because they’re often planted around graveyards. The artist chose to show this scene at a time they were blooming to give a little extra meaning to the “memory of how a place used to be” theme.

“My Hometown in Yamagata” by Mikiko Ochiai

This, believe it or not, is also a landscape! The artist lives in a town where the main occupation is growing rice, and this quilt celebrates the development of a new variety “Snow Mountain” from the current favorite, “Rain Princess.” I don’t know how long it took them to breed this new rice, but the artist tells us it took her two years to make the quilt!

“In Memory of Father” by Yoshiko Kawakita

The bamboo, fireflies, demon masks and festival coats suggest this artist’s father lived in the countryside and loved the annual summer festival.

“Auspicious Wrappers” by Toshiko Shimada

Noshi monyō” are the papers wrapped around gifts given on auspicious occasions like weddings. The gold one in the middle of this magnificent quilt is a depiction of this traditional kimono motif.

“Wisteria and Peonies Throw a Party” by Sadako Kagoshima

Wisteria and peonies bloom at nearly the same time in May, and are often used to signify “early summer” in paintings and Japanese poetry.

“Roses and Clematises”by Harue Yumoto

Roses and clematis are definitely not Japanese, but this composition is! These two immigrant flowers also bloom at the same time, and are slowly being welcomed into the Japanese artistic pantheon as a symbol for summertime. That’s an obijime (the cord used to hold a kimono obi in place) entwined with the flowers.

“Song of the Ground Cherries” by Kazuko Toshida

This fabulous thing is also a classic seasonal reference. The ground cherry (which I’ve seldom seen growing outside Japan) enjoys its own festival every summer, and the way its papery shell naturally disintegrates into a skeletal cage with the berry trapped inside is nothing short of magical. I know this isn’t the post focusing on amazing technique (Part Two, with more detail shots is here) but I can’t resist pointing out that this masterpiece of appliqué is entirely hand-stitched.

“Fireworks” by Makiko Mori

Fireworks are synonymous with summer in Japan, and before Valentine’s Day and Christmas Eve became the hottest date nights of the year (go figure), heading out to see the fireworks dressed up in brightly printed cotton kimono (like the fabrics used to piece this quilt) was the most romantic thing going.

“Congratulations, I Want to Eat, I Want to Love” (Medetai, tabetai, koishitai) by Chizuko Kojima

A whole red snapper is the traditional good luck dish people feast on when celebrating milestones, and this small multi-media quilt captures the delight of that occasion perfectly. I had to laugh while admiring it, because all around me, Japanese visitors were saying the same thing I’ve overheard them say when viewing the fish at aquariums: “Oishisō!” (which means “that looks delicious”).

“Voice” by Yoshiko Karagiri

I think this quilt is called “Voice” because the artist disagrees with the famous Japanese saying, “One crane’s voice is louder than a thousand sparrows.” I’d like to believe she’s quietly saying that the opinions of the common people ought to be stronger the pronouncements of the powerful.

“Kimono Meet-Up” by Akiko Yoshinaga

And, last but not least, this jaw-dropper of a quilt made from 1500 individually hand-sewn and embroidered kimono ladies(*゚▽゚*). I returned to this quilt again and again to try and get a picture of the whole thing, but it was mobbed three-deep all day long. Nobody could resist patiently waiting to get close enough to examine all the different kimonos, to see for themselves that no two were alike. I finally went back a few days later and snagged this photo during the nanosecond it was free of admirers!

I know you’re dying for a close-up, so here it is!

Something I particularly love about this artist’s depiction of people meeting up to wear traditional dress is that she gave them many different colors of hair, not just black. As someone who belongs to a group of women all around the world who like to wear kimonos, it feels good to have a Japanese artist say, “Yes! Everyone is invited to this meet-up, no matter where you come from. Let’s each wear our unique kitsuke.”

Also, about the annoying shadows on some of the pieces – the one beef I had with this year’s show is that the lighting must have been done by monkeys with clothespins and flashlights. No matter how I adjusted the exposure, there wasn’t much I could do about the shadowy bottoms of the quilts without blasting the tops to never-never-land, so I’m sorry that some of the detail isn’t as clear, nor the colors as true, as we’d all like them to be.

Okay, YAY, Part Two, with more amazing quilts and some detail shots so you can marvel at the techniques is now posted!

Jonelle Patrick doesn’t have a stitch of talent for making quilts, so she writes novels set in Tokyo instead

“A genuinely gripping crime thriller which wrong-foots and perplexes the reader throughout, drawing us in emotionally . . . Highly recommended.” Raven Crime Reads

Someone has been visiting the grave of Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura’s mother on the day before her death anniversary. For nine years, he thought his mother’s death was an accident. Then he gets a call, and his life begins to unravel… Read more

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

“A genuinely gripping crime thriller which wrong-foots and perplexes the reader throughout, drawing us in emotionally . . . Highly recommended.” Raven Crime Reads

Someone has been visiting the grave of Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura’s mother on the day before her death anniversary. For nine years, he thought his mother’s death was an accident. Then he gets a call, and his life begins to unravel… Read more