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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pages of Patterns: The "Kosode Hinagatabon" and Kimono Design

Our current show, The Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design, examines the kimono as a significant source of ingenuity and experimentation in Japanese print culture, from the Edo period (1603-1868) to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Through stunning works created by artists such as Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867), Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92), and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), the exhibition emphasizes the intersections between kimono woodblock print production. 

Among my favorite works in The Kimono in Print are pattern and fashion books, known as kosode hinagatabon. They create a bridge between kimono woodblock printing by being an integral part of the kimono design selection process. Customers, as well as the makers and sellers of kimono, would first turn to kosode hinagatabon for assistance. These books contained illustrations of designs and patterns that were usually accompanied by notes on colors.

Figs. 1 & 2. Tsuda Seifu (Japanese, 1880-1978), Spirals (Kamonfu), Unkidō (publisher),
2 vols., Japan, 1900, color woodblock-printed book. Museum purchase
through the Eliza S. Paine Fund, the Stoddard Acquisition Fund,
and the Harriet B. Bancroft Fund: 2019.12.2

During the Edo period, men lived in the “public sphere", and were required to wear clothing in compliance with their social status. Women, on the other hand, lived in the “private sphere”, and were comparatively free to select clothing styles based on their own circumstances as long as they did not run counter to their social status. They could choose details such as the fabric, design, color, and decoration techniques. An illustration from the 1722 reprint of Nishikawa’s Book of Patterns (Nishikawa hinagata), which was originally published in 1686, reveal on how women consulted and interacted with kosode hinagatabon. It depicts three women in a domestic setting as they choose designs from a pattern book; the image is accompanied by the following dialogue: 

Elder sister: “What an unusual design!” 
Mother: “Look for a pattern that you like.” 
Younger sister: “Let’s go with this one.” 


Other kosode hinagatabon volumes also provide more insight. For example, the front inside cover of Modern Patterns: Sleeves of One Thousand Years (Tōsei moyō hinagata chitose sode), published in 1754, bears an inscription that reads: “Look through this book, and let us know right away about which pattern you like!”

Women would consult these pattern books for inspiration, and place orders for their custom kimono following discussions with clerks at tailors’ shops or from the comfort of their own homes. A tailor  recorded the details of the customer’s request, which were then arranged and kept in ledgers. The notes would then be used to create full-size draft drawings with specifications. They were sent together with the fabric to other craftspeople, such as dyers and embroiderers, for the next stages of the production process. Once the decoration was finished, the garment was complete.

Fig. 3. Ito Shinsui (Japanese, 1898-1972),
Woman with Marumage Hairstyle, 1924,
 color woodblock print with burnishing on silver mica ground.
 Gift of Edward Kenway: 1960.7

Kosode hinagatabon were sold in urban bookstores—not unlike fashion magazines today—alongside other printed materials such as illustrated books and novels. Approximately 170 to 180 pattern and design books were issued in the roughly 150 years from the mid-17th to the early 19th century. Tailors would purchase and collect volumes to show to customers who came to their shops requesting commissioned pieces; they would even lend them to favored clients so that they could peruse and select patterns in private. However, the consumers of such publications were primarily urban townswomen, who purchased them as keepsakes to read and enjoy at home.

As women were the main consumers of both kosode hinagatabon and custom kimono, the majority of the designs featured in the books were targeted toward adult women. Pattern books were even organized according to the rank and age of the women ordering kimono. For example, designs in the 1677 publication, Newly Published Kosode Patterns (Shinpan kosode hiinagata), are divided into patterns for “young women” (shōjo), “young men” (shōnen), “courtesans” (yūjo), and the “elite”.

However, it should not be assumed that these designs were actually directed at a readership from these specific demographics. Rather, these were “in-the-style-of” illustrations that were intended to appeal to ordinary townswomen with a voyeuristic appetite for the fashions of these particular groups.

Figs. 4 & 5. Kamisaka Sekka (Japanese, 1866-1942),
  Faces of the Old Capital (Miyako no omokage), Japan, 1890,
color woodblock-printed book with graduated colors (bokashi).
Museum purchase through the Eliza S. Paine Fund,
the Stoddard Acquisition Fund, and the Harriet B. Bancroft Fund: 2019.14

Many kosode hinagatabon also focused on particular themes or specialized fashion techniques, which became popular from the early eighteenth century onward. For instance, the 1686 volume, Patterns from the Various Provinces (Shokoku on-hiinagata, published in 1686) is arranged based on regional styles, highlighting Kyoto, Edo (present-day Tokyo), Nagoya, and Okayama. Another example, Patterns from the Capital (Miyako hinagata, published in 1691, organizes its designs based on eight colors. 

In some cases, pattern books also supplied designs for other types of textiles, such as Lined Yukata (Yukata awase, published between 1781 and 1789) and Yūzen Patterns (Yūzen hiinagata, published in 1688), which provided designs for clothing such as the hemp katabira worn in the summer, and the yukata worn after bathing, silk yogi coverlets for sleeping, as well as motifs for waist sashes (obi). 

One of the many things I find so interesting about kosode hinagatabon is that in addition to serving as  inspiration for boldly patterned kimono, they also quickly became a source for artisans to create other commercial products as well as other genres of Japanese art, such as lacquerware, ceramics, and even arms and armor. For example, the two-volume book, Spirals (Kamonfu, published in 1900), contains a depiction of tsuba, or Japanese sword guards. The tsuba pattern could be used as a kimono design, to embellish other objects, or even inform the decoration of actual tsuba

Fig. 6. Left: Tsuda Seifu (Japanese, 1880-1978), Spirals (Kamonfu), Unkidō (publisher),
2 vols., Japan, 1900, color woodblock-printed book. Museum purchase through the
Eliza S. Paine Fund, the Stoddard Acquisition Fund, and the Harriet B. Bancroft Fund: 2019.12.2  
Right: Tsuba (sword guard) with Flowers, Sickle, and Bamboo Basket, Japan, 1600s,
copper alloy and gold. Bequest of Mildred Marcus Levin and Harold Lester Levin of Nutley, NJ: 1976.240 

—By Rachel Parikh, Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art
April 14, 2021

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