Tosenin's Kosode

A brown study

free web creation software

Photo of the author courtesy of Katherine Bramley, known in the SCA as Baroness Katherine d'Aquitaine of the Far West.

Notes taken from my Livejournal entries. My thanks to the Samurai Peanut Gallery over on the Tousando forum for their unflagging encouragement throughout this project. Their commentary can be viewed HERE.

June 28, 2007: From the moment I first saw the portrait of Tosenin in Money L. Hickman's Japan's Golden Age: Momoyama, I loved it. I acquired some brown dupioni only to get embroiled in other things, put it away and forget I had it until a recent closet cleaning.

The image in the book unfortunately isn't very large, but I put it through my scanner and took a look at it via my photo editing software. It's grainy, but oh, my freaking Lord and Creator, will you look at this? The lozenges are all patterned! I'm not 100% sure, but I think the flowers are clematis based on a design I found in another one of my textile books. They're autumn bloomers and that would certainly fit the color scheme and mood of the portrait.

Those white lines dropping diagonally toward her left arm show the lozenge and flower pattern crossing seam lines of the overlap panel and collar from the body panel. In other words, Oh My Children, this project will require partial assembly before painting commences, assuming I'm crazy enough to try. I think this one is going to require a combination of stencil and free hand work. 


"Colophon dated 1610
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk 
81.7 x 34.8 cm 
Daizenji, Kyotoā€¯ 

".....The dark colors and small, complex patterns of her garments exemplify the luxurious textiles current in the Keicho era (1596-1615). Their sumptuous elegance suggests a sensitivity to fashion that conflicts with the image of piety conveyed by the string of beads in her hand..... 

" has been surmised that the woman represented here is one of Matsu no Marudono's younger sisters, possibly the wife of Ujie no Naizen Yukihiro, who fought against Ieyasu in the Battle of Sekigahara and was forced to commit suicide after the Battle of Osaka." There is also a reference to Tosenin's religious name Shunko, so that tells us she became a nun at some point.

There's nothing conclusive that nails down whether brown is brown in this portrait except that the essayist describes her garments as "dark".

However, even with 500 years of age and fading, the reproduction in the book registers greens as greens, reds as a dark brick red and so forth. Look at the detail above - you can see her obi is red and gold and it's a very different color from the kosode it's wrapped around. You can even see that the leaves of those flowers are green. It's a little hard to see in the larger portrait shot above, but there's a slash of red at her collar line too.

The same volume contains several other female portraits from the same period, in which reds are visibly red. There are male portraits in kosode and kataginu that are registering as brown and I can't help thinking that the reaction would have been, well, of course, they're men and they're being all Zen, of course, they'd be wearing brown. While I can't prove it one way or the other, my gut feeling is that her kosode was and is brown.

(The book was the companion to an exhibition of Momoyama art and artifacts in the 1990s under the aegis of the Agency of Cultural Affairs of Japan and the Dallas Museum of Art. Japan's Golden Age: Momoyama, edited by Money L. Hickman. The chapter on portraiture was written by art historian Christine Guth.)

June 30, 2007: This morning I unrolled the brown dupioni to lay out for cutting and I remember why I got it so cheap way back when and why it went into that box in the closet "for later." It was blotchy. I'm not sure if it was sun fading or a crap dye job the first time around, but it was definitely uneven. I cut out all the component pieces anyway.

The karaginu mo project convinced me that it's easier to dye pieces on a stovetop one by one and get an even result than to try to do all five or more yards at one go. Off I went to Berkeley to the art supply store that carries Jacquard Acid dyes for a jar of brown. 

Overdyeing seems to have fixed the blotchiness. It came out of the dyebath looking promising and even better once I pulled it all out of the dryer. 

The portrait shows design elements overlapping seam lines at the eri and okumi - you can see this represented by white lines running diagonally from the top of the detail picture shown above. This is completely NUTS from a construction standpoint and poses significant lay-out problems. Artistic license, yeah, that's right...... Seriously, though, traditionally Japanese textile embellishment happens either during the weaving process or while the fabric is still in bolt form, THEN it gets sewn up into a garment. My compromise is to do partial assembly when possible. While it means more fabric draped all over creation and longer waits while painted sections of it dry, it gives me a better visual picture of my design layouts. 

I used my new favorite cheat - since the fabric was 60" wide, I cut a double width body panel, slit it only up one half and sew a false back seam on the un-slit half using a running stitch. Because I'm hand sewing, this is one less seam that requires finishing. I should have both okumi (overlap panels) attached with finished seams by tonight, and possibly even have the sleeves attached at the shoulder. This means I can lay it flat on my painting table when it comes time to start painting. I will not attach the collar yet. Since it has to be sewn around a curve, it's easier to paint that separately, then put it on. 

I've been mulling over how to attack the designs on the kosode. The portraitist had way too much fun with those lozenges. The number of lozenges per grouping varies wildly, as do the designs inside them. In the interest of preserving what's left of my sanity, I think what i am going to do is design a single stencil with a fixed number of lozenges. (Five, I think. Four is bad luck.) Each will have a different design inside. By flipping the orientation of the stencil itself I should still get plenty of interesting visual variation going on. The same idea will work with the flowers. It just means I need to be absolutely scrupulous about wiping down my stencils and letting them dry before flipping them onto their reverse side.

July 3, 2007: If you do your sketch on engineering graph paper and run it through a laminating machine, it makes a damn fine stencil....


July 7, 2007: I cut out the small overlay stencils for the Tosenin kosode. Well, I cut out three of them which took two hours, at which point my index finger was feeling stressed from pressing an X-acto knife through zillions of tiny cuts. The top two have all the white space cut out and will look gold with brown lines once stencilled. The black is cut out of the wave one, which will be brown with gold waves. The bottom left one was more trouble than it was worth and I think I'm just going to freehand spirals with a fine brush instead.

I took a break and picked up a couple of Japanese design books at Lacis in Berkeley. This all started yesterday because there's a new guy on the Japanese Yahoogroup who asked if "Designer's Guide To Samurai Patterns" was any good for making clothes. I Googled the title, discovered a description on Lacis' website that pretty much told me it was design motifs, not clothing patterns. So, I figured I'd check it out. It was cheap, so was "Designer's Guide to Japanese Patterns 3" so I grabbed 'em. I hit the grocery store to pick up a few things, including a sashimi platter, which I'm going to bust into pretty soon.


Then I came back here and opened up my jar of gold paint.

Right now I have almost all of the back panels stenciled with the base lozenge pattern and am waiting for it to dry enough to shift the fabric on the table and do a bit more while there's enough light up here in my garret. It's been overcast most of the day and not as bright as it usually is. I'll have to stop soon - I don't have a decent work light up here.  

There's this desire to rush - and the knowledge that I have to go VERY slowly because these designs are more intricate and more delicate than anything I've tried stenciling before. 

July 8, 2007: I didn't do as much as I would've liked today on the Tosenin kosode because crouching over a table in a dormered room for four hours going tap tap tap with a brush that has a bristle diameter of less that 1/8" is damned tiring, even if one has Gilbert & Sullivan patter to tap along to. However, these should give an idea of where I'm going with this.

                         Step 1: stencil the basic lozenge grouping.

                         Step 2. Fill in a single lozenge in each group with flat gold.

                         Step 3. Stencil in one of the overlay patterns.

July 9, 2007: If the fog doesn't roll in, I get good light in the garret until 6:30 or so to work by, so I can do a little bit on "school nights." The thing is that for each of these groups I have to mask off a single lozenge, stencil it, let it dry, then come back. That means rotating around a larger section of the garment and trying to remember what I have and haven't repeated. I goofed and repeated the "hemp leaf" motif in the bottom photo. Still looks OK, but symmetry was NOT what I was trying to shoot for here.

Also, this dupioni is slubbier than the red stuff I used for the "Shoot Me" kosode and trying to get the paint to lie well with these fiddly little stencils is tricky. It's not as clean as I would like it to be, but what can you do? 

[Well, it's not a "You suck," but Effingham-sensei just saw these over on Tousando and commented "Have I told you lately that I hate you?" Which means he loves it and just can't bring himself to utter the highest compliment of that august company, a hearty man-talkin' "You suck!"]

July 14, 2007: Kosode is looking good and I discovered that the Reeves Burnt Sienna in my art box works for touch-ups right out of the tube - and before you ask, it's an acrylic. The body and okumi (overlap) panels are just about done - I'm waiting for paint to dry so I can mask the last couple of lozenges on the okumi for painting. I'm going to do the master lozenge pattern on the sleeves and collar pieces and then I think I'm going to knock off for the day. I should be able to get them masked and painted completely tomorrow.

July 22, 2007: Waiting for paint to dry so I can shift to the next section.

After piddling half-heartedly with a stencil blank and X-acto knife I asked myself what I was so damn scared of? I began painting the flowers free hand, working on the assumption that doing so will contrast nicely with the geometry of the lozenges. I just have to remember not to do groups of four or nine as those numbers are considered unlucky.

When I knocked off today, I had painted flowers on the collar segment and the back sections of the body panels. I maybe could've done more. This leaves the fronts of the body panels, the overlap panels and both sleeves. After that, I can get out the green paint and start all over again, but that's not as nearly as much painting.


July 23, 2007: I killed my favorite paintbrush. It was freaking PERFECT for the flower petals and I could tell when I started work this afternoon that it was starting to get scrunchy. I did get flowers applied on the left front body and overlap panels of the kosode tonight, but I'm going to have to run out to Michael's at lunch tomorrow for another brush

July 24, 2007: No, just stunned it. The Michael's near work did not have the same brush, so I bought a couple of other nylon bristle brushes, which were a different shape. As soon as I tried to use the one of the new ones, I knew it wasn't going to give me the same result, so I dug out the old one from the jar it had been soaking in, gave it a good twist with a paper towel and went back to work with it. Sleeves still need flowers, then I can start in on the leaves. 

July 26, 2007: As I look at the work I've done so far and compare it to the portrait, I didn't put anywhere near as many white flowers on my kosode as the original artist did. 

Part of me is angsting over it, part of me is rationalizing that I'm faking brocade, surihaku (stenciled rice paste and gold leaf) or embroidery (or a combination of all three) based on a very small reproduction of a portrait in a book. A portrait, not an extant garment. An impression of a garment depicted in a portrait, come to that!

Aesthetically I can't decide whether I want to go back and add more flowers. I like what I've done so far - there's a great deal to be said for the joys of negative space, not the least of which is if I don't paint it, I can't screw it up! But the portrait kosode is just so - well, you can see right there.

I just painted a couple of leaves on in the green and now I'm waiting to see how they dry. The green fabric paint is a lot thinner and wetter than the others I've used and is actually bleeding through the back of the fabric a little. If it dries really dark, I may have to mix some white and yellow into it to give it a little more contrast. I'm also thinking that some subtle highlights in gold on the leaves might be a nice touch....


Bottom line, I would like to have this done so I can wear it at Pennsic. That means that the paintwork MUST be completed by next Wednesday so that it has 24 hours to dry before being folded up and packed. And I still have to finish sewing it. I'll probably take it to A&S this weekend and work on it there.

July 28, 2007: I think that getting out of the garret and working on the Tosenin kosode at the event has calmed my wa regarding the ratio of white flowers to negative space. Honestly, I've had my nose pressed up against every slub and streak and wambly bit of paint for weeks now and was getting to the point of seeing everything that's wrong with it. Having passers by wander over to see what I was working on and make wow noises me make peace with the project a bit. I have a section of the back a yard square that needs leaves added. That should go very quickly tomorrow morning and I can start on touch ups. I should be able to heat set the paint Monday night at this rate and get the sleeves and collar put on and the side seams run up. Which means (drum roll) I can wear it at Pennsic. All Will Love Me And Despair!  

August 1, 2007:

Ass deep in rich silk
The hue of newly turned earth, 
She plies her needle. 
Though she hurries to finish, 
Each neat stitch tutors patience. 

(That was crap. What do you want for 6 AM?) 

Status report: Paint touch-ups were finished last night - the white really benefited from it. 

Back seam and okumi (overlap panels) seams were done before painting. Okumi edges have been rolled and finished. Eri (collar) is stitched in place on one side, but needs to be pressed and blind stitched down on the inside. Sleeves need to be sewn and attached. Side seams need to be run up. (Why yes, I am hand sewing it. Of COURSE I'm hand sewing it, you barbarians!) 

August 3, 2007: The Tosenin Kosode made its debut at Pennsic's opening ceremonies and Solveig Throndardottir's class on Japanese Festival Dance. Later that evening, it was subjected to a field test in a downpour as we attempted - and failed - to find the sake and cloudburst viewing party we were supposed to attend. Mud spatters were successfully rinsed out the following day and the Tosenin Kosode was worn again on Friday, August 10 to festivities in the encampment of Clan Yama Kaminari.


August 19, 2007:  Why yes, I suppose I am smirking a bit. It's hard to be humble when you're the hottest thing at Tanabata. Everybody loved it. Even I finally love it as it deserves to be loved. Changing in the rest room was the first time I'd gotten a really good look at myself in the thing in front of a decent sized mirror. All the fretting about painting mistakes fell away. I did that. Me.


Hickman, Money L. Japan's Golden Age: Momoyama (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996) ISBN 0300068972.

Noma, Seiroku. Japanese Costume and Textile Arts (Weatherhill, 1975) ISBN 0834810263.

Copyright Lisa A. Joseph 2007.

No HOBBY LOBBY products were used in these projects.