The most beautiful embroidery I’ve ever seen

I recently stopped by the beloved Metropolitan Museum of Art (from which I now live a mere three subway stops away!) to catch the gorgeous exhibit Kimono: A Modern History before it closed. What an incredible treat!

I was stricken by a bit of wall text describing the word kimono as basically “a thing to wear,” and how that has changed from the Japanese equivalent of a t-shirt or sweater into the beautiful, intricately-detailed historical costume that more typically comes to mind in the West. The exhibit was wonderfully presented, starting with traditional Edo Period kimonos, incorporating the kimono into contemporary fashion of the 1920s and 30s, and eventually presenting playful printed cotton under-kimonos that reminded me so much of men’s boxer shorts today.

I was truly dazzled by the embroidery and details, and though I apologize for the iPhone-quality photos, I hope you’ll be able to see what was so enchanting about these pieces.

Edo or Meiji period Over Robe (uchikake), mid-19th century, satin embroidered wit silk and gold thread, couched gold thread

Edo period Uchikake

Gorgeous floral embroidery

Detail view of bird and botanical embroidery

Detail of an Unlined Summer Kimono (Hito-e) with Crickets, Grasshoppers, Cricket Cages, and Pampas Grass, Meiji period, early 20th century, Paste-resist dyed (yuzen) and painted silk gauze with embroidery

I was so charmed by the dyeing technique and gorgeous design of a plain cotton kimono.

Kimono-Shaped Coverlet (Yogi) with Lobster and Crest, Meiji period, mid-19th century, Plain-weave cotton, resist-dyed and painted with dyes and pigments (tsutsugaki)

I loved a section that discussed how the kimono and details were blended with and incorporated into Western fashions for export.

Dressing gown (Yokohama robe), Meiji period, 1879, Plain-weave silk with silk embroidery

And it just plain blows my mind that such a beautiful garment would be available in a department store as a souvenir.

Iida & Co., Takashimaya Department Store Evening Robe, Meiji period, c. 1910, plain-weave silk with silk embroidery

Obi with Thistle, Meiji period, second half of 19th century, brocaded silk with metallic thread

(I adore this thistle pattern.)

Court Lady’s Garment (Kosode) with Swallows and Bells on Blossoming Cherry Tree, Edo or Meiji period, mid-19th century, silk crepe (chirimen) with silk embroidery and couched gold thread

The way these birds and flowers were embroidered is just exquisite.

Whenever I spend any time with Japanese art or culture, I wish I knew more about Japan’s history and aesthetics. I was so enthralled with the different types and styles of embroidery and textile treatment that my mind is still spinning. In addition to adding fuel to the fire of my wish to learn embroidery and to do more with textiles, it made me intensely curious to learn more about Japan and the art of the kimono.

If you are like me, I’d recommend the exhibition catalogue by Terry Satsuki Milhaupt (currently sold out on the Met’s site) or watching the wonderful Sunday at the Met – Kimono: A Modern History lecture online.

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