Kinchaku: Marriage of Worlds in a Simple Form

Kinchaku And Sashiko

Kinchaku are all about the unification or marriage of two worlds. I love making kinchaku. Mine are based on the traditional designs used since the Edo period in Japan, from 1600-1867. Back then, they were designed for both aesthetics and practicality. Initially, kinchaku were simple drawstring bags used by the wealthy classes to carry money. They were often sewn to match kimono, using the same fabrics that were used for the kimono.

Later, when the wealthy started to use something more akin to a pocket book, kinchaku became more like small purses. Folk stashed small items in them, like personal sigils and make up containers. They fell out of favor for a couple of centuries, but have resurfaced in our modern age. Now, kinchaku are used to carry cell phones, pocket money, credit and debit cards…and mine are used for a variety of practical and magical purposes around my home, too.

Series 1 Kinchaku

Series 1 Kinchaku

My kinchaku are pieced and adorned with Sashiko stitching. Through the early part of the Edo period, only the upper classes and wealthy were allowed to use beautiful patterned fabrics and bright colors in their clothing. Sashiko was born in the countryside among the poor. Initially, it was used to repair and strengthen daily use items, like socks and outerwear. The fine, white stitching was worked in beautiful patterns representing many of the treasures of daily life, like fish scales and hemp leaves. These were the treasures of the farmers and fishers who first used sashiko to quilt, beautify, and repair their clothing. As the period progressed, seamstresses embraced the decorative potential of sashiko by adding further patterns to the cannon and using it to adorn textiles beyond clothing, like table linens, upholstery, and drapery. By the early 21st century, sashiko was almost a forgotten art form. Thankfully, Michele Walker’s work documenting sashiko and the lives of the women of the early 20th century on Sado island in Japan who continued this tradition connects Western artists of the modern era like myself to the timeless beauty and humble roots of this style of quilting.

Custom Kinchaku for Holding Spinning wheel parts and Saskiko tools

Custom Kinchaku for Holding Spinning wheel parts and Saskiko tools

I design each series of my kinchaku based on a concept or idea. For instance, in series 1, I was aiming to unite simple pieced structures with sashiko panels using batiks. I wanted to get an effect akin to early sashiko, which was worked on indigo-dyed hemp and cotton fabrics, but using the modern quilting cottons available to me, which, having traveled from the wild west and poor-folk’s repair kits to our modern quilting industry and wealthier circles, share a common thread in their history with sashiko. Each set in the series includes three variations on the idea, concept, or design elements with which I’m working. Some elements, like the lining, are common to all three pieces, while others, like the surface design or color schemes, are different among the three. I hand-dye the cording for all of the drawstrings for my kinchaku series as well as for my single kinchaku.

My single kinchaku are custom designs for a specific purpose. My lazy susan kinchaku, for instance, was designed to fit the parts to my portable lazy susan, as was the kinchaku I use for my HansenCrafts minispinner and the one I use for my sashiko tools and materials. In each case, I begin by choosing the finished size I want and create a pattern and design to fit that size. I think about the purpose for which the kinchaku will be used, that is how it’ll be used as well as what it’ll contain or protect, and I select colors, fabrics, and other design elements to support that use. Thus, each kinchaku I create, be it an individual or one of a series, is thoughtfully and carefully designed and constructed as a work of art on both a magical or spiritual level and a practical one. My kinchaku are an exploration of the intersection where different worlds meet.

Sources:
The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook: Patterns, Projects and Inspirations by Susan Briscoe
“Stitching Japan’s History: Sashiko” by Helen McCarthy

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