Shoin Shosoin

In deference to my felting colleagues, I thought I’d mention the only reference I’ve come across to felting in Japan: a kasen or woolen felt rug included in the vast textile collection of the 8th century – Shoso-in Treasury in Nara.

For copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce the photo of the rug from inside the book, but the cover gives a reasonable idea of the textiles from this collection, and the felted rug is little different.

The rug is believed to have been brought to Japan from Tang Dynasty China or Korea – two very large floral mandala-type motifs in reds, yellows and oranges on a dark blue background covering most of its width, 139.5cm and dominating its 276cm length. It’s described as as being a karabana design (the imaginary, stylized Chinese flower design used so often in Japanese textiles), but it’s got a lot more petals than the normal 4-petal design to be called karabana in my opinion. What would a Chinese or Korean felt rug be doing ending up in Nara? Well, that’s the story behind the Shoso-in textiles – which were made in Japan? which were made elsewhere? which were tribute cloth brought in for the great temple ceremony at Nara of the time? can the techniques be traced back to Chinese artists and their equipment? what evidence have we of a particular technique having been developed later on in on home soil in Japan? All part of the Shosoin mystery!

The book is the first in a series of 22 photo-books devoted to Japanese textiles published in Kyoto in the 1990s and now out of print, though the individual books come up for sale from time to time. For a Japanese textile tragic, owning the whole collection is the most spectacular reference collection imaginable. I first saw it in the reading room of the Kyoto Trad Arts & Crafts Museum, Kyoto and it may be in library collections in the West.

I’m going through a Shoso-in ‘phase’ at the moment, so I’ll be commenting further on this book and the textile collection.

Kaneo Matsumoto, Shosoin Textiles. Kyoto Shoin’s Art Library of Japanese Textiles series no.1, 1993. ISBN4763670360.