Pre-Edo Sashiko?

This is part of a thread on the SCA Japanese FB page. The original question was whether shibori or sashiko could be pre-Edo period. Shibori certainly was, although called by another name. I’ll do a separate post about that later, since shibori is an area I’m just starting to learn about.

However, I’ve been looking into sashiko. The problem documenting it is that it was a technique used by the poor, and the extant pre-1600 garments that exist are from the upper-class. What we do have is some examples of kesa (the surplice-like garment worn by Japanese Buddhist clergy), which were pieced. That technique existed. Most period paintings/drawings do not have a lot of detail on the poor. Some emaki have depictions of poor people, mainly in line drawings.

So with this lack of resources, you have to look into literature–for example, in a choka poem in the Man’yoshu by Yamanoue no Okura (660?-733?), a destitute man complains of wearing nothing but rags, “a sleeveless jacket not even stuffed with [cotton]” <–translation Steven Carter–I'd need to dig into the text to see the exact wording. While most poetry after Man'yoshu avoided the subject of poverty (until the 17th century poets revisited the subject), there are plenty of tales and writings that have some small bits of description. Padded garments require some supportive stitching, or else the padding eventually slips. Through literature, we can establish that garments were patched.

The decorative sashiko (blue on white) is almost certainly Edo-period, though. But using sashiko stitching as a means of insulation–that might be plausible.

Mistress Saionji no Hana (OL, West Kingdom) posted a link to a discussion on the Tousando Board from some years ago, where there was a discussion about an 8th century example of the kind of stitching used in sashiko. I happen to have a copy of the book mentioned, Jodai-Gire: 7th and 8th Century Textiles in Japan from the Shoso-In and Horyu-Ji by Kaneo Matsumoto and yes, there are a few examples of what looks like sashiko-like stitching. For mending purposes, however, not decorative.

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