Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Japanese quilts

Recently we visited a quilt shop in the San Francisco Bay area which had a wonderful selection of Japanese fabrics.  We saw bolt after bolt of fine cottons displaying fans, geisha, kimono, and other quintessential Asian motifs. That "field trip" got us thinking about how we might incorporate the dramatic, large-scale Japanese fabrics into quilts. We wanted to show you some gorgeous quilts by leading designers that truly inspire us.

O-Neesan, 30 x 18, by Susan Briscoe, at Susan Briscoe Designs

Susan Briscoe is a UK-based textile artist, quilter, teacher and a world expert in Japanese quilting.  She is author of many acclaimed books, including Japanese Quilt Blocks to Mix and Match and The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook, among others. Susan also offers a wonderful selection of quilt patterns for some of her most popular designs, including the award-winning "O-neesan" (elder sister) shown above.

The top and bottom borders of O-neesan were cut from a single Kona Bay fabric panel featuring a serene Japanese landscape, with a pagoda in the upper section and a koi pond below. The patchwork section is made by overlapping one traditional "Sister’s Choice" block with another to produce an interesting pattern of 2 inch squares. The patchwork enlivens the design and complements the large motifs in the fabric panel, as the eye tends to look for a continuation of the large motifs in the patchwork section.  You can read about the design and quilting of O-neesan at this blog post.

At Susan Briscoe Designs and her blog you can learn about patchwork, quilting and sashiko. Also, on her quilt patterns web page, be sure to check out "99 Treasures" and "Japanese Fans".  On the website you can even find Sashiko kits, and a sewing pattern for a Yukata kimono !  Also, scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to Japanese quilting books by Susan Briscoe.

Yukata By Numbers, 48 x 52, by Diane Weber at Diane Weber Sew Biz

Diane Weber is an artist, photographer and quilter who loves Japanese imagery and fabric. From her home base in the San Francisco Bay Area, Diane has developed a wonderful line of contemporary patterns, including many that are specifically designed to showcase Japanese fabrics. "Yukata by Numbers" is one of Diane Weber's newest patterns.

The name Yukata comes from the word "yu" (bath) and "katabira" (under clothing) and refers to not only the traditional Yukata kimono but also to the lightweight dyed cotton fabric from which the kimono are made.  "Yukata By Numbers" can be seen at Diane Weber's Sew Biz and at Quilt Woman.

Haiku, 42 x 42, by Diane Weber, at Diane Weber Sew Biz

Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry, and the name of this quilt, which demonstrates that "less is more". We love the zen-like black-and-white color scheme, with just a touch of color.  For more information, and to obtain the Haiku pattern, visit Quilt Woman.  Also be sure to check out the beautiful Yukata Cut It and Hanafubuki patterns at Quilt Woman, and visit Diane Weber's Artsy Craftsy blog, which is chock full of fun ideas for quilts, artist trading cards and photography.

Full Moon over Mt. Fuji, by Cary Flanagan, at Something Sew Fine

Cary Flanagan discovered quilting in the late 1980's, and launched her design firm - Something Sew Fine  - in the spring of 2004. The magnificent quilt shown above graces the cover of Cary Flanagan's first book, Moon Dance - a Quilter's Creative Journey.  For the book, Cary collaborated with a group of twelve outstanding quilters to provide samples of each of the unique patterns.  One example from the book is the lovely "Moon Glow", shown below, which was pieced and machine quilted by Trudi Costa.

For a further description of the moon quilts in the Moon Dance book, see the Moon Dance page at Quilt Woman.  The many "Moon Dance" variations remind us of a series of vintage Japanese prints known as One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki  Hyakushi). The Tsuki Hyakushi prints have diverse subjects, but share one common theme - the moon - which is visible on each of the 100 designs. 

Cary Flanagan's designs are also featured in the Asian Fabric Magazine by Kona Bay fabrics. She says: "My first design was published in the January 2010 issue and I have a second design coming in the November 2010 issue (should be out in the next couple of weeks). I will have a third published in February 2011 and hope to keep providing them with new designs every couple of months."

Bamboo, 36-1/2" x 52-1/2“, by Cheryl Wittmayer, at Sew Be It

Japan’s repertoire of symbolism is large and diverse, but several themes are seen frequently in Japanese art. Among the most well known themes are the cherry blossoms, maple leaves, peony, crane, and bamboo. "Bamboo - Blue" , by famed quilt designer Cheryl Wittmayer, displays graceful yellow bamboo stalks on a pieced and quilted blue background.

Cheryl Wittmayer played "what if" with this design, creating four different colorways.  The blue version shown above also reminds us of traditional Japanese indigo dyed fabric*, which would be so effective in this quilt pattern.

In "Main Feature-Asian", below, also by Cheryl Wittmayer, the fabric is definitely the main feature.  The luscious red, orange and yellow panels display classic Asian motifs such as fans, flowers, butterflies, dragons, Kanji, and Baiwen (Asian stamps).

The Main Feature- Asian pattern  makes a 40" x 49" quilt.  You can also see Main Feature - African and Main Feature - Amy Butler Fabrics.

Butterfly Dance, by Susan Briscoe, at Susan Briscoe Designs

Susan Briscoe's spectacular Kona Bay 2009 challenge winner, "Butterfly Dance", is a Japanese art quilt that amazes and intrigues us.  Butterfly Dance is essentially a fabric collage in the shape of a life-size kimono robe (uchikake). The richly detailed fabrics seem to flow across the surface of the quilt, and the arrangement of light and dark fabrics is perfectly choreographed to give the impression of depth (click on the image to see the detail). You can read about the fabric selection, quilting and finishing of Butterfly Dance at Susan Briscoe's blog.  This work of art is currently enroute to Japan,  where it is going into a quilt exhibition in Yamagata Prefecture.

Memoirs of a Geisha, by Pat Masterson, at Coastal Quilters Guild, Inc.

We first saw the award-winning "Memoirs of a Geisha" at a 2008 show held by the Coastal Quilters Guild in Santa Barbara, California. The quilt was inspired by a trip to Japan and the textiles used in vintage clothing. The hand, face and hair were hand painted with Tsukineko ink. The clothing was hand appliquéd using scraps of antique kimono silk fabric purchased at flea markets in Kyoto. The border was made from an antique obi with machine quilting accentuating the design. The appli-bond technique creates a three dimensional effect in the cherry blossoms and decorative hair piece. The quilt won first place in the Small Pictorial Mixed Category at the show.

Japanese Sampler, 87 x 84, by Margo Weeks, at the East Bay Heritage Quilters

"Japanese sampler" by Margo Weeks was one of the quilts we loved at the 2010 "Voices in Cloth" show.  This quilt demonstrates that with careful selection and arrangement of beautiful fabrics, even a simple sampler can be visually stunning. We love the hand-quilted concentric circles, which mimic the ripples in a pond (click on the image to see the detail).  Margo Weeks noted:  "I was given some Japanese fabric samples many years ago. Last year, with the help of Rebecca Rohrkaste, I put this quilt together. The hand quilting of water and the small dots helped bring this piece together."  For perspective on the large size of this quilt, you can see a photo of Margo standing next to the quilt at the EBHQ show-and-tell site.

Quilt shops and fabrics:  The quilt shop mentioned in the first paragraph is Stonemountain and Daughter in Berkeley, California.  For information on Kona Bay fabrics, which were used in several of the quilts shown here, visit the Kona Bay website.  *For a selection of indigo fabrics, also see Shibori Dragon and Clothaholics.

Books by Susan Briscoe

Japanese Quilt Blocks to Mix and Match;  The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook - Patterns, Projects and Inspirations; Japanese Taupe Quilts - 125 Blocks in Calm and Neutral Colors; Japanese Sashiko Inspirations


  1. I am so honored to be included on this wonderful post of inspiring Japanese photos. Beautifully done! Thank you!

  2. Oh there is some beautiful eye candy there. Some of the Japanese fabrics are just so lovely, I would be scared to cut them, I would rather just admire them.

  3. Pip, we completely agree ! The fabrics are "suitable for framing"!

  4. The japanese quilts are wonderful. I love the japanese fabrics.
    Please enter my blog and vote my quilt

  5. These quilts are wonderful! Glad you included book title links too. Perhaps that is what I need to get started because have a Japanese fan quilt sitting unfinished because haven't learned sashiko.

  6. Wow, I only just saw your post, while searching for some more of that Kona Bay turquoise fabric I used for my quilt border ;-) Thanks for featuring my quilts (and books!)


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