Tuesday 27 April 2010

Spot the Difference - Join the Dots - Pattern Duplication

This early pattern still waiting for the embroiderer's needle in the V & A Museum has been duplicated with a high degree of precision in terms of scale, direction and detail. But there are some differences between the same designs - can you spot them? We believe that patterns were pricked and pounced from a printed pattern page and one can only imagine how many pattern pages ended in tatters as a result. This might have been all well and good for domestic embroidery, but a professional drawer may have devised other strategies to conserve paper and contain costs. One such strategy was the use of the engraved plate and there are in existence 16th and 17th century patterns in the V & A Museum which have been printed onto the cloth using engraved plates. These could obviously, after an initial expensive outlay, have been used time and time again.
And there are other possibilities which exist in use to this day. While in Japan, visiting a temple in Kyoto, I had the pleasure to meet Toshio-san who wanted to show me some details which I might otherwise have overlooked. It turned out that we had a common interest - mons - or Japanese family crests. I have always loved these striking designs, so what wonderful fate it was that led me into this meeting with the last of a family line of mon painters in the traditional style. I was taken back to Toshio-san's studio which had belonged to his great-grandfather and he showed me the mons he had painted on fabric ready for making up into ceremonial kimonos. Then he painted one for me which you can see here. To do this he took down a circular pattern plate which was pierced with just a small number of holes in key positions around the perimeter. The pattern was put on the card and pounced. So, once the pattern was removed there were just a few 'locator dots' to work with, and it was Toshio-san's knowledge of how to join these dots that resulted in the design which he could replicate - along with all the other mons - as required, with exactly the same scale and composition time and time again. This mon - a butterfly - is barely an inch square. While it would be a mistake to extrapolate backwards from exisiting and foreign practices, they do give a very interesting insight into the critical factors which govern the process. I was sad to hear that Toshio-san was the last of his line - he works alone in a studio which once would have had half a dozen family workers. His son is an airline pilot.


  1. Jacqueline,

    I wish I had the means and ways to live in Kyoto - I would love to learn the mon designs from Toshio-san. :)

    I find mon to be fascinating myself, and always loved the wave crest. (as my name means fair one or white wave)

    It is a shame that there isn't anyone to carry it on...has he thought about bringing in those outside the family? Or perhaps Westerners?

    It'd be a shame to see this art form die out.

    Perhaps one of our overseas brethren in the area could learn this art and thus begin a new adventure of learning the art of the mon crest, which by the way, can be embroidered!


  2. It would certainly be a great shame to see this craft die out. The problem is that the demand for traditional kimonos is falling all the time. I only saw them being worn at weddings and baby blessings - and some fashionable ladies in the Tokyo stores shopped in their kimonos. I just had to hold my breath when I watch Toshio-san commit his brush to kimono silk. Any fault would have meant the end to 20 yards or so of silk - could you keep your hand steady?