Thursday, 9 April 2009

Ume - Plum Blossm

Japanese arts and crafts are adorned with motifs from nature and the beautiful stylised designs that have evolved from them. These motifs and designs are not merely decorative but convey messages that are easily understood by Japanese people. When we begin our journey with Japanese Embroidery our main concern is learning the stitches and techniques but gradually we also begin to understand the hidden meanings in the designs we are stitching. ***** Plum (ume) blossom is the harbinger of Spring, blooming even while snow still clings to the trees branches. Ume blossoms are often mentioned in Japanese poetry as a symbol of spring. When used in haiku or renga, they are a kigo or season word for early spring. During the Nara period (8th century), the blossom of the ume tree was preferred over the sakura (cherry) blossom, which became popular after the Heian period (794-1185). Ume is one of the elements of the "three friends of winter" (shou-chiku-bai), the others being pine and bamboo, and is associated with courage and endurance. The blossoms are associated with the Japanese Bush Warbler (uguisu), and they are depicted together as one of the twelve suits on hanafuda (Japanese playing cards). In fact the ume tree is more closely related to apricot than to the plums we know in the west and is considered to be a protective charm against evil. For this reason, it is traditionally planted in the north-east of the garden, the direction from which evil is believed to come. The pickled fruit (umeboshi) is sometimes eaten for breakfast to stave off misfortune. The five petaled flowers are so simple in form that even the stylized version, umebachi, is instantly recognisable.
Umebachi, Vintage Fukusa (Back) - courtesy of Ichiroya
Plum blossoms can be stitched in any number of ways. Small flowers are often stitched with either flat or twisted silk in a vertical foundation. Stamen and pollen are frequently added but not always. The blooms can be depicted on branches or on their own but leaves are never included (the ume tree flowers before the leaves appear). Larger designs may be stitched in long and short stitch, or the shape of the blossom may be filled with a geometric design.
Nagoya Obi - courtesy of Ichiroya
Sometimes the shape of the flower is simply outlined.
Nagoya Obi Bolt - courtesy of Ichiroya - courtesy of Ichiroya