Friday, 27 March 2009

Colour in Japanese Embroidery

I've been thinking about colour recently, what colours we wear, stitch with, how we combine them, perception of colour, how our perception of colour can change, and how it is different depending on where we grew up. At the beginning of my Nuido journey I remember discussing colour with my tutor and talking about how different people from different countries perceive colours differently. I didn't really understand what she was trying to explain, well I did in theory, but surely green is green, red is red, and blue is blue. Isn't it? So why would a colour we in the UK would definitely call blue be green in Japan? She recommended a great book by Sadao Hibi, The Colour of Japan. In this the author talks about how different colours are used, and what they represent. It is well worth getting hold of if you want to find out more. It contains large high quality photographs of objects or landscapes each of which is used to describe a colour and its meaning. One photo of fields full of tea bushes contains colours which I would certainly have described as 'blue', but they are tea bushes therefore green, therefore this colour is called green in Japan. This photo helped me to understand the differences in perception of colour. Study of the colour of Japan would take many years to understand fully, and we will always be influenced by the colours, light, seasons, and traditions of the place we grew up so me may never fully understand it all. Here in the UK for example red is linked to danger but in Japan it is linked to the sun. Although I like red and wear and use it a lot it does not have the same resonance for me as it does for a Japanese person because of the traditional meanings. In my reading I have also discovered that sometimes the meaning of a colour can be influenced by the plant the dye comes from, this adds a whole new level of meaning. Plus whichever bit of the plant is used to create the dye may not even be the same colour as the final product so this is really very subtle!! There is a set of books by Katsumi Yumioka which talk about this side of things. There are 4 books in the series up to now all talking about different aspects of colour and all are beautifully illustrated with photos of kimono and obi. Check out the bibliography at the end of this post for the names and details of all the books mentioned. Our study of colour in Japanese embroidery journey is quite subtle, at first we are guided in our choice of colours, as we progress up the phases we can choose to adapt the colours in JEC designs. Over time our sense of colour becomes less European and more Japanese, although we always keep that innate sense of colour that we learn growing up. We do learn what colours represent the different seasons, how the underlying fabric colour can change the colour of the thread, and how the same colour looks different if used twisted or flat. All this is very theoretical of course and the only way to understand is to see examples. So here are some pictures of various pieces by my fellow stitchers which have been stitched in different colour ways. Neither of the pieces is right or wrong, good or bad, they are just different examples. A big thank you goes to (in no particular order), Iris, Marie, Cathy, Jennifer, Susan, Denise, and Carol-Anne who have stitched these pieces and allowed me to use their photos.
As always copyright is property of the Japanese Embroidery Center and Kurenai-kai who designed all these lovely pieces and who continue to travel with us on our journey.

Resonance Cords
Queen of Flowers
Final Dress Up


By Katsumi Yumioka, all published by Pie Books Kimono and the Colours of Japan -ISBN 4-89444-451-8 Summer Kimonos and the Colours of Japan - ISBN4-89444-531-x Child Kimono and the Colours of Japan - ISBN978-4-89444-607-6 Kimono Sash and the Colours of Japan - ISBN978-4-89444-630-4 By Sadao Hibi, The Colours of Japan - ISBN4-7700-2536-x


coral-seas said...

Great post, Jane and beautifully illustrated by the embroideries you have paired. Colour is definitely one of my weak subjects but I am endlessly fascinated by it and the effect of one colour on another.

I know that we have often spoken about how black can kill a colour but those shown here on black silk demonstrate how stricking a design can look on black when the right shades are selected.


The Pink Bird House said...

A very interesting post about color, which I thoroughly enjoyed! I have 2 of those books, The Colors of Japan, and I am totally fascinated by how much colors mean in the Japanese culture. As you say, different colors mean different things in all countries. I always like to use the example, that in Germany as well as in the states, baby girls are dressed in pink, boys in blue. But in Belgium the exact opposite is true, pink is for boys! In the states for a wedding guests dress up in their brightest colors, especially in summer when pinks, blues, lilac and yellow dresses are in abundance. Yet here in Germany it is considered in good taste to wear maroon, dark blue, brown, and of course black. Quite a difference then what I used to know in the states, and the dress code here still takes me some getting used to. :-) Greetings to you Jane, Debby

Net said...

This is such a thought provoking post, thank you. I have always been fascinated by the way colours change in different lights and how one colour can effect the one next to it. I hadn't considered how the thread texture would also impact colour, there must be so many depths to colour control for the embroiderer.