A Wonderful Old Layered Kotatsushiki: Recycled Happi Coats

$555.00 USD

early to mid twentieth century
54 1/2" x 51", 138.5 cm x 129.5 cm

This visually interesting hearth-related textile is beautiful for its use of recycled happi a kind of jacket worn as a uniform and often emblazoned with bold, resist dyed images. In the case of the happi that were recycled to create the surface of this kotatsugake or kotatsushiki we can see geometric blocks of angular lines that are stylized kanji or Chinese characters.

In real life this textile does not easily not show the wear patterns that can be seen on the  lead photo here: this tonal contrast is a result of the camera and its lens. The photographed image was difficult to manipulate to show as the textile appears in person--which is a much clearer field showing less wear.

But as this detail was not easily seen by the naked eye the photographs that heighten it actually tell a valuable story.

Often these types of layered, square-shaped large textiles were used under or over a kotatsu which is a table that is internally heated by a brazier. More often than not these textiles are referred to as kotatsugake which means the textile was draped over the kotatsu table.

By looking at the wear patterns that the camera captured we can see evidence of the repeated wear of four bodies who sat around the kotatsu. This important detail informs us that this is a kotatsushiki or a heavy cloth used under the kotatsu, not on top.

Families would sit around the kotatsu for warmth: they would scoot their legs under the draped cloth in order to feel the heat generated by the source. We see traces of a family here.

Which is not to say this is the most interesting aspect of the kotatsushiki even though this evidence adds to our understanding of the cloth. The configuration of the happi fragments, their wear, their age and the contrasting banding that finishes the square of recycled cloth is a visual treat.

And then there is the back which is a totally different visual tale. Note the subtle repairs, the slight contrast in shade between pieces of cotton, the lone, plaid patch at the top.

Thrilling stuff when it comes to Japanese folk textiles.

More could be written on this but aside from the fact that it is a hearth textile that is about two layers thick and can be used as an area rug, a throw or displayed as art this is a marvelous artifact from Japan with a tremendously soulful story.

Very recommended.