Japanese Obi in the Kent State University Museum Collection
The Kent State University Museum is fortunate to have in its collection exceptional examples of the formal sashes, the obi, worn with a traditional Japanese kimono on special occasions. Of the many ways to tie these sashes, two are demonstrated in this exhibition: the otaiko, or drum, and the fukura-suzume, or swallow. It is the fukura-suzume that is worn with the furisode, the swinging sleeve kimono worn by young unmarried women.
Five of the examples in the gallery are unsewn. The textiles are just as they would come from the loom before being made into obi. They are generally 4 meters long and 70 centimeters wide. The elaborate patterns are sometimes handwoven, and I have watched Japanese weavers in Kyoto use serrated nails on their fingers to comb the silk weft threads into place. The length of fabric is folded in half, stiffened with a lining and sewn together. In the most formal obi both sides are patterned as both are visible in the finished knot. The pattern is carefully spaced to be seen to the best advantage in the various knots.
The process of tying the obi begins with a wide stiffened belt wrapped and fastened around the waist. Next the obi is placed at the waist and wrapped around the body: twice for the otaiko and once for the fukura-suzume. In demonstrations, two or three women work together to tie the obi as there is a certain amount of pulling and twisting involved while the person being dressed must stand quite still. The obi must be held in place after each fold or twist with cords or scarves. About halfway through the process a small pad is placed at the center back to give volume to the finished look once the ends of the obi are draped over the pad and secured in place.
We are pleased to present this exhibition in conjunction with the exhibition Kimono, art by Itchiku Kubota, to be held at the Canton Museum of Art from February 8-April 26, 2009. Concurrent with the Canton exhibition, Kent State Stark will have an exhibition, Inspired by Japan: Resist Dye Techniques Traditional and Modern, featuring work by Rebecca Cross and students from the Kent State University School of Art, and including kimono from the Museum’s collection. I encourage you to visit all three exhibitions.