Striking versus Dream-like

November 19, 2012

Here are two temari I’m working on at the moment. The one on the left is in what I call “baby” pastels – light shades of the primary colours, red yellow and blue. I’ve even added a green in as well. I’m not happy with the shade of yellow (it’s too dark) and because the ball was relatively small, there wasn’t enough room for additional stitching around the equator obi as anticipated. Also there’s a design flaw whereby a last row in the obi stretches across the ball at an angle for half the ball’s circumference: what this means is that it comes loose easily. To minimise this, I need to re-evaluate the degree of interweaving to “tuck” it out of the way. Normally, the Japanese are astonishingly adept at ensuring no rows are “exposed” to the potential for coming out. Often there is genius at work in making the play-ball as functional as possible. So that ball is a Work in Progress.

The larger one on the right is an attempt to replicate the softer colours, but with more geometrical design; it’s an interpretation of a 2012 ball by Debi. I’ve come a little unstuck already because the red needs to be three rows like the smaller one, not two.  But I am persisting, adding yellow and removing the dark blue guidelines.

Softer, lighter colour shades are usually associated with babywear. Not surprisingly, babies (let alone their parents) need as much meditative quietness as they can muster. Pastels (or “dull” as labelled by Chijiiwa in his book Color Harmony: a Guide to Creative Color Combinations) help reduce tension, creating a dream-like mood. “Dream temari” resonates with some of us at the moment because it’s the title of a 2010 temari book from Japan and some of us grappling with the multiple, soft shades used by the authors. Or going in the opposite direction and using multiple, vivid colours. Chijiwa advocates using at least one vivid colour as an accent in any dull or subdued colour scheme and some of the examples in Dream in Temari  3 are testament to that.

Lighter shades are not normally associated with Japanese toys and that’s because, functionally, the temari ball needs to be visible. Children need bright colours to stimulate their brains and so they can develop their eye-hand coordination: brightly coloured balls like temari become easy to grasp. Any toy needs to be easily found when misplaced: colour is important in this respect too.

Similarly, it’s no surprise that bright, vivid colours are preferred in kabuki opera. Audiences, often at great distances from the stage, need to see the actors as clearly as possible: little wonder then that vivid, striking colours are used in both their costumes and their masks. This was brought home to me recently with this set of ceramic miniature kabuki faces.

The same can be said for colours in Japanese textiles: brights are worn by the young, interested in attracting attention to themselves. The older you get, the more your clothes “tone down” in colour. I go further and posit the following theory: the Japanese physical environment is tranquil, moody and meditative – shades of autumn leaves, mountain mists and snow. To stand out, humans developed vivid colour, hence a Japanese propensity for either natural tones (indigos and creams) honouring Nature around them, or bright, vivid, striking colours – as in their textiles and toys – to contrast against that natural backdrop.

Today in the West, there is something of a differentiation in temari stitching going on: one can imitate Nature and deploy natural colours or one can stick with Japanese tradition and use vivid, strong, striking colours. Much to the annoyance of some people around me, I stick with vivid, striking colour. Certainly, on Etsy and other retail sites, there is a preference for ‘designer’ or interior design colours reflecting Nature. Some contemporary Japanese temari stitchers are certainly moving in this direction, using natural-dyed rather than commercially-dyed colours.


Dream in Temari 3. Japan Temari Cultural Association, 2010.

Chijiiwa, Hideaki. Colour Harmony: a Guide to Creative Color Combinations. Rockport, Mass: Rockport Publishers, 1987.


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