A piece of fabric is the pulse of life is written across our eyes by drape, shape, texture, and hue. Art forms, and perhaps art itself, have their own genetic codes-forms of doubling and redoubling that, as DNA does with the cell, determine a look, a feel, a character, an emotion. Lucky, then, are the pieces of fabric doubled and redoubled by the eyes and hands of Yoshiko Jinzenji. A few snips of color and weave become a mix of art and the irrepressible urge to adorn that make you want to dive off this world and into what you see.
She best articulates the origins of all this in her book's Introduction:
"I have a very clear memory of my first encounter with quilts. It was in Toronto in the winter of 1970, in the furniture section of Eaton's department store downtown. There, surrounded by standardized fluffy bedspreads, were two handmade quilts draped over wooden racks. I went over to them as if drawn by a magnet and took them in my hand, wondering what on earth these handmade quilts were doing in the middle of a display of manufactured goods. The oddity of the combination was stunning. The quilts were made by joining together many small pieces of cloth and then covering the whole with fine hand stitching. Each had a price tag, and I was stunned again to see that they were not much more expensive than the manufactured spreads. Who could have made these, I asked myself, and what had inspired their beautiful handwork
Yoshiko's work is a textile manifestation of the preoccupation with apres-antique and avant-garde that characterizes so much of Japanese culture today. On page 40 she recounts the symbiosis of ancient textiles in the tea ceremony; a scant 7 pages further on were are suddenly confronted with a work made of some of the most interesting cloth ideations of Jun'ichi Arai. Jun'ichi is arguably the most innovative and certainly the most influential textile creative artist working today-the textile equivalent of Issey Miyake's fabrications in his heyday of two decades ago. Jun'ichi has taken the marriage of technology and history further down the road to progeny than any other designer. He also is an astonishingly good and sensitive writer, and his Foreword to Yoshiko's book is so good that it is reproduced below.
Yoshiko, like Jun'ichi, is nothing if not a creative technician who happens to make art. Her text and caption content sums to an amazingly low overall word count given the amount of detail and philosophy it conveys. One reason is the lush plates-many so good they could be enlarged and hung in a gallery devoted to contemporary fine-art photography. Then there are the dozens of step-by-step how-to diagrams that guide the home quilter through the process of emulating Yoshiko's pieces. The readers need not be especially accomplished sewers, either, for despite their complex look, Yoshiko's pieces are really composed of fairly straightforward elements lines and patterns; there's just a lot of them. Any who would re-create one of her works at home needs patience more than proficiency.
Yoshiko is generous enough to pass along step-by-step instructions for a dyeing method she found via experiment in order to accomplish what must be the ultimate coals-to-Newcastle notion in textile history: dyeing white material white. That might seem an exercise in conceit, but the reason goes far back into the wellsprings of Japanese aesthetics. As she tells it,
"I had been making quilts for years from fabrics that I dyed myself with natural dyes when I had a kind of awakening. It was during an exhibition where my work was being shown together with that of a lacquerware artist. When I looked at his pieces, with their simple and beautiful form and their quiet sheen achieved by applying lacquer in careful layers, I thought, what kind of fabric could I make that would have the same sense of power? Finally it came to me, I wanted to find a natural dye that would dye cloth white. . . . In the field of natural dyes white was the one color no one knew how to obtain. For me white was suggestive of the fusuma and shoji sliding doors used to separate Japanese-style rooms, as well as the traditions of sumi ink drawings and calligraphy and even the white sand of Zen gardens."
"Finally I hit on the idea of trying that strange combination of tree and grass, bamboo. Two or three hours later the cloth had been transformed. It was if the silk was a prism sparkling with colors like pink, yellow, and green. It was a white with depths."
Yoshiko's book is a combination of high art and ladle-in-the-dyebath practicality. The many full-plate and even more part-page pictures amply illustrate the first. The drawings and text take care of the latter. With so many active quilters and societies all around the world these days, few would argue that quilting isn't an art form. With Yoshiko's book in hand, anyone interested in quilting, textiles, home design, or fashion design will be inspired to make art of their own. Her 90 specific projects, clear design patterns and detailed instructions can guide just about anyone with enthusiasm and patience to make quilts, pillows, clutch purses, mandalas, spreads, wall hangings, and even a hammock to end all hammocks. Yoshiko's work is a rarity even in the world of art-to-wear and its nonwearable textile art relatives: utterly unique.