Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Not Quite DIY…An Obi and Quilt Block Pillow Tale

This is one of those posts that I can’t help start with the punch line. Compare the date on the receipt to the left (9-6-2007) with today’s date and it will give you an idea of just how long this project has been in process. Actually, in truth, it has been in process for many more years than that, but its “active phase” has been over these past 5 years.

At some point many years ago I found a group of antique quilt squares in a standard pineapple pattern, but made out of classic crazy quilt fabrics including satins, silks and velvets. I can’t quite date them, but they must be late 19th to early 20th century, part of an unfinished quilting project, that found their way to an antiques fair. With no clear idea of how I would use them (pillows perhaps?) I purchased them and put them away. Years later I unpacked them from my shipment when I arrived in Japan and was happy to rediscover them.

For the non-quilters out there, the pineapple pattern starts with a central square to which narrow strips of trapezoidal fabric are sewn, creating a saw tooth effect. It can be a very busy quilt block by varying the color every row, or different effects can be achieved by holding the colors steady or shading them progressively. If this part of the post particularly interests you, there is a nice overview and example of pineapple block making here.

The ease of finding vintage Japanese textiles and the link between crazy quilts and Japan inspired me to design pillows with the quilt squares at the center and a border made of vintage obi (kimono sashes). I spent months searching out the perfect obi for each square, both in terms of color and variety of pattern. In addition, I needed a different trim for each pillow to cover the juncture where the quilt block met the obi. For this blue one I was lucky to have some antique French velvet trim, another of those purchases made years ago (in this case in Paris at Port de Clingancourt) with no clear use in sight.

The odd colors in this square, a golden honey and pale seafoam mixed with burgundy velvet center and corners proved challenging, but this large-scale repetitive obi pattern proved perfect.

For the varying shades of chartreuse and green in this pillow I went with a pale obi, thinking it would make a nice contrast.

Somewhere along the way I pulled out this old embroidered Chinese patch and paired it with a kaku-obi (men’s obi). While the other pillows would have log cabin corners, I planned for this one to make use of the graphic stripes in the kaku-obi and have mitered ones.

And there was one in a completely different colorway, which I could use in my bedroom with a plain velvet border and pretty ribbon trim.

After numerous broken needles on my sewing machine, I decided professional intervention was necessary. Therein begins the story of the receipt. On a trip to Hong Kong in September of 2007 I brought them to my usual seamstress and asked her to make the pillows, along with some curtains for my house in Tokyo. I paid her and left, sure I would see them within a few weeks. The curtains came promptly, but somehow the pillows never came. I called her repeatedly in the beginning, but she could not seem to get any of her regular workers to make them.  I offered more money, but she wouldn’t take it. She just kept saying she would get them done.

In the months that followed I remembered to call intermittently. Over time, the calls became further and further apart, until I had just about forgotten entirely about them. Then an article in the January 2011 Martha Stewart Living about log cabin quilting, in particular the photo of throw pillows below, reminded me of them and made me determined to get them finished. As Hong Kong was a stop on our evacuation-vacation last spring after the earthquake, I visited the tailor yet again, persuaded her to complete them and left my very kind friend who lives there to follow-up.

I am not the first to use obi to make throw pillows. Many designers and pillow makers take advantage of the heavy brocades and gorgeous colors and patterns available. More often than not, the obi is run down the pillow vertically, bordered with trim and fabric on either side, much like these from Stephen Miller Siegel. And having seen the price tag on these babies, I am all for the DIY or semi-DIY version – these would not be at all difficult to make – as the obi could be sewn on top of an existing pillow.

Here, an obi has been used on a chair in a similar long fashion, reminding me a bit of Muriel Brandolini‘s signature chairs. Just a gorgeous application!

In other cases, the long narrow aspect of the obi is used to make a bolster shaped pillow, often without any additional trim, much as in this iconic 1969 photo of Cecil Beaton’s London home.

My friend D has recently whipped up these similar obi pillows, adding the perfect accent of color and comfort to her deep sofa. It took her no time at all as obi are double-sided and hollow – all she did was cut, stuff and sew up the short side seam with an invisible stitch!

By far the most beautiful obi pillows I have ever seen are these in Candia Fisher’s New York library. I can’t imagine the room without them.  Be sure to note the amazing Japanned linen press – by the time I get around to writing that post I have long been promising I will have used all my photos already. More photos of this amazing apartment can be found at Elle Decor or Habitually Chic.

As for my pillows, thanks to my ever vigilant friend, they finally arrived finished. It took me a few months to find some down pillow inserts here in Tokyo, but even that is now complete. The question that remains is where to use them, although in the meantime I have deployed them to the Chesterfield. I love the way the sawtooth edges, which look almost like pinwheels, pick up on the angles in the kilim rug. Click on the photo to see the details up close – they really are spectacular!

And here is the pale pinky one on the velvet settee in the master bedroom.

And speaking of pillows, we have chosen a winner for the ZAK + FOX pillow giveaway. Drumroll, please! The lucky entrant is number 8, none other than Angela, a reader from Belgium who loves all things linen and all things Japanese. Congratulations!

Related Posts:
A Curtain’s Leading Edge…a New Idea for Kaku-obi
Japan-a-mania…Cracked Ice and Crazy Quilts

Image credits: 1, 3-7, 13-15. me, 2. via Get Creative, 8. Martha Stewart Living January 2011, photo credit: Ditte Isager, 9. Stephen Miller Siegel via 1st dibs, 10. via Eclectic Revisited, 11. Architectural Digest Fall 1969, 12. Elle Decor November 2009, photo credit: Pieter Estersohn

A Little Bit of Everything from Barrie Benson and Others

I have a question for my fellow bloggers out there…What do you do when you find you want to add to or update posts and topics you have already covered? There is the classic, oops, I forgot about that photo and also the selective perception issue, where after you write about something you see it everywhere.  Case in point, my brass drum stool

April’s House Beautiful brought this one in a stylish bathroom by Charlotte based designer Barrie Benson.

I had already discovered that I forgot to include this photo from Schuyler Samperton‘s portfolio in my post.

Love the complimentary brass balls warming this icy cool bedroom from Plum Pretty Sugar.

And then I found this one at Milk and Honey Home while looking for spring flower branches.

In the meantime, Joni at Cote de Texas had recently posted this absolutely perfect room which I had never seen before. I have a pretty encyclopedic memory for any space, but this one is new to me, so I need to write to her and find out where it is from.  But I am including it here both because I love it, but also because there is what looks to be a Japanese Seto porcelain garden stool sitting in front of the main sofa. Now that is something you never see!

Speaking of that Barrie Benson bathroom, here is the view across the room with its gorgeous campaign style vanity.

Which reminds me that I have been meaning to mention Jenny of Little Green Notebook‘s newest project. Remember the kitchen island she made out of a dresser that I showed in my repurposing furniture post?

Now she has changed it out for one she made from an old campaign dresser. Yowza, that girl is the best DIY decorator ever! Click here for the details…

I also ended up scrolling through Barrie Benson’s portfolio and came across these two old friends hanging on the walls…

And while we are at it, there is always room for more Japanese glass fishing float inspiration, whether it be subtle, as in this Scott Currie beach house (note the rope banister too)…

…or fairly over the top via The Enchanted Home! Floats with baskets, cut down altar table for a coffee table, giant planter and Madeline Weinrib rug, – gorgeous, no?

Don’t forget to click into my last post and enter the giveaway for the ZAK + FOX pillow! Simply leave a comment on my post and then hop over to Zak’s site and enter your name in the mailing list.

Related Posts:
Identify This…Brass Drum Stool
Kawagoe Shrine Sale Never Disappoints
Made for Export and in My Basement…Seto Porcelain Garden Stool
Feeling Fresh…Indigo Textiles and Tenugui
The Mail is Always Late…more on Japanese Glass Fishing Floats and Sudare
Everyone Loves Japanese Glass Fishing Floats…A Follow Up
Sheer Simplicity…More Japanese Glass Fishing Float Displays

ZAK + FOX…New Japanese Inspired Textiles and My First Real Giveaway

An object becomes so much more interesting when a little bit of history is revealed.
– Zak Profera

Like “You had me at hello” in Jerry Maguire, Zak Profera’s new textile line ZAK + FOX had me at the quote above and the photo below. Printed on Belgian linen using water-based inks, Profera has created a versatile new line of interiors fabrics with global inspiration. In particular, a few of the patterns have their roots in Japanese symbols and motifs, which I find particularly appealing. In celebration of his launch, Zak is offering the long bolster pillow on the left in the photo below as my first official giveaway. Entering is easy – the details can be found at the end of this post.


The pillow is made of Jingasa fabric in the snow colorway and reads to me as a modern stylized form of karakusa, the scrolling arabesque vine pattern seen over and over again in Japanese decorative arts. The word jingasa refers to the iron helmets that were used by Edo period soldiers and I managed to find an image of one, complete with karakusa pattern, even before reading Zak’s own personal inspiration for it.

According to Zak, Jingasa “is an abstract, all over composition that was inspired by a crest seen on an antique helmet.  I think I was romanced by the idea of some lone wanderer, so in a way the motif could be seen as marking points on a map or a trail to follow.  The blade-style point gives it a bit of a masculine edge and removes it from just feeling like a bunch of polka dots, though I wanted to keep an “artist’s hand” in the pattern by using watery line-work and giving it an inky tone-on-tone effect.”


Next up is his Matsu pattern which is a classic interpretation of pine, or in this case matsukawa bishi, pine bark. This stylized version of pine is seen everywhere, from kamon

…to tsuba (sword guards).

Zak “loves the simplicity of the pine bark motif and wanted to use it in a way that felt modern and different.  I spotted a kimono with a dense repeat of flowers that started at the shoulders and drifted downward in an airy pattern; with this concept in mind, “Matsu” became an energetic pattern with an almost ombre-like effect to it. Some have told me it feels a bit like snakeskin (and I agree) but I think the minimalistic nature of the motif keeps it timeless and not trendy.”


Takigawa translates to “waterfall and river” or more loosely as “rapids,” an apt name for this asymmetric stripe. For me, it is the least literal in its Japanese influence and instead reminds me of an antique Indian dhurrie rug.

Takigawa is Profera’s “version of the traditional stripe and uses a style of repeat seen in many Japanese textiles.  I wanted to simplify the pattern by keeping the natural linen exposed—it gives it a raw edge that feels untouched, and at the same time it’s super modern.  Depending on the color selected, it can feel tailored or relaxed — a quality that I love.  I’ve seen it in a few different colors now as I work with other designers to create custom colors for projects and it’s definitely one of the most versatile patterns in the collection; it works just as well in a beach house as it does in a New York City loft.” Personally, I think the exact same thing can be said about a dhurrie rug too!

I can’t resist showing this photo from ZAK + FOX’s beautiful photo shoot at Temple Court in New York City.

An amazing 1883 building that has fallen into the very best kind of decay (original details protected for decades by ugly drywall) Temple Court has become the stuff of urban legend and high-end modeling jobs and is supposedly going to be restored as a hotel. Right now it would make the perfect interior setting for filming Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. For more on Temple Court, there is a wonderful article in The New York Times.


His Katagami fabric is a bit of a pun, considering that katagami stencils are used to make Japanese textiles. Is Katagami made with a katagami? No, but fun thinking about it in a loop.

In writing about his inspiration, Profera “became totally infatuated with these stencils, not necessarily the “traditional” ones with recognizable patterns but more so by the abstract, almost tribal patterns that felt a bit unplaceable — not quite bullet-point “Japanese”.  This pattern uses one of the more unique antique stencils I stumbled upon, though quite edited with selections changed and redrawn to feel more composed and harmonious.”

His description reminded me of the unusual stencils in this amazing interior by Steven Gambrel, shown here before.

While I love all the patterns, my personal favorites are Jingasa and Takigawa in the plum colorway. Those of you who know me can’t possibly be surprised by that.

Pillows or cushion to contrast with my Bennison floral in the front entry at the beach?

And for all you Japanese motif junkies out there I have been meaning to mention Snow, Wave, Pine: Traditional Patterns in Japanese Design for ages. It is a beautiful tome, cataloging patterns by category and illustrating them with examples of the finest decorative arts.

There are also six other patterns – Volubilis, Plus, Karun, Palma, Nimrud, and Postage – in numerous colors in the new ZAK + FOX line, all well worth checking out. Which brings us back to the fun part…the giveaway!


You can be the owner of this lovely 11 x 22 inch feather and down filled bolster made of Jingasa fabric in the snow colorway. The pillow is that wonderful long shape that looks perfect in a grouping on a couch, as a lumbar pillow on an armchair or anchoring bed pillows.

As for the details  – it is easy. Simply leave a comment on my post telling me which is your favorite pattern (or frankly, any comment) and then click over to the ZAK + FOX website and join Zak’s mailing list (he promises not to barrage you with emails) by entering your email address in the field in the upper right corner of the home page. We will take entries for a week, until 6pm EST, Wednesday, March 28. One entry per person, although I am tempted to beg someone to enter for me. So unfair that in good sportsmanship I cannot enter myself!!

Related Posts:
More on Mon…The Polka Dots of Japan
R. P. Miller…New Japanese Inspired Fabrics From Rodman Primack Debut at Hollywood at Home
Japanese-Inspired Fabric Follow-Up…Katsugi, Kiku, Kasumi, Kaba Kaba, Katana and More
Katagami…Perfect Thank You Present Found
Sho-Chiku-Bai…The Three Friends of Winter: Pine, Bamboo and Plum

Vignette Arranging With Shrine Sale Goodies at the Beach House

Remember this photo? The shelves themselves have since been completed, but I have not been back yet to our beach house to work on the styling. As I was literally walking out the door in December, I threw a few things up there to shoot a vignette for a post, including the French watercolor that inspired the bathroom in the first place, some nicely tarnished brass finds from Singapore, shell and coral collections the girls are gathering, and a shallow patterned kashigata (Japanese sweet mold) that reminded me of starfish and sand dollars.

Here’s a close-up.

Since then I have been gathering inspiration photos to help me crystallize my thinking. There is no one better to turn to for artful display than John Derian and I have long loved this photo with its giant sponge, shells and mercury glass.

A more recent photo from The New Victorian Ruralist is more regimented, but I love the mix of baskets, silver, white ironstone and glass.

And of course I can’t forget the vignette master herself, Joan from For the Love of a House, with this beautiful shelving array from her master bathroom.

All three photos share something in common, which is groupings of like objects contrasted with other groupings in different materials, usually about three kinds, including something natural, something metal and something glass. More than three gets busy and less than three has no animation. Without being too literal about this formula, I would like shells and coral, aged wood and old brass to be part of my display. My recent purchase of more kashigata with shallow relief patterns might just provide the touch I need. What looks to be coral fans is more likely lotus or some other botanical, but to my eye they read like oceanic plants.

I find these circular patterns irresistible too. They are double-sided, with different motifs on the reverse.

I think this classic Japanese pattern of little plover birds with waves is adorable for a beach house!

In addition, I have a friend who has also been buying kashigata with shells and sea life on them for her beach house on Long Island so I am hoping to get a look at them in situ this summer.

As I am not limiting myself to wood, but planning on complementing the unlaquered brass bathroom fittings with some aged brass display items, I was so excited to find this adorable set of brass cookie cutters with scalloped rims and a rolling crimper. Not sure yet whether I plan to use them on the bathroom shelves or save them for the kitchen. Speaking of the kitchen, Camille from The Vintique Object and I have been having fun brainstorming how to improve it without actually spending any money on it. I do eventually plan to renovate the kitchen completely, but in the meantime I want to take the ugly edge off. There will be much more on this project coming later, including the bleak photos of its current state, but one idea I have is to use warm brass and copper to help it along. If you are interested, she and I have a shared Pinterest page going where we exchange photos and ideas. It is such a great way to work with someone long distance!

And I’ve also got boards going for copper and silver on Pinterest, but with my obsession with aged brass, I think I need to start one for that too.

Related Posts:
Renovation Report…”Oldating” the Beach House Bathroom
Summer Simple…Vignettes and the Art of Arranging

Image Credits:1-2, 6-9. me, 3. Martha Stewart Living September 2009, 4. via The New Victorian Ruralist, 5. via For the Love of a House

The ASIJ Quilt…Summer Breezes: Furin in the Rock Garden

Once again it is that time of year – The American School in Japan‘s annual Gala Fundraiser – and once again I have had the pleasure of being intimately involved in one of its most special projects, the quilt! Reminiscent of summer breezes in a classic rock garden, this year’s ASIJ Gala quilt features one of the most romantic objects in Japan, the furin, or wind chime, hung outdoors in the summer to ring when it catches even the slightest breeze, refreshing the listener through sound in the midst of hot summer.

To further complement the evocative Japanese theme, we have echo quilted the entire background in the style of the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto.

Based on a design by Japanese master quilter Suzuko Koseki, the quilt features irregular sized blocks, hand sewn in bands, from which the furin hang. Each bell is unique, with its own hand drawn individual pattern.

The detailed tracing and cutting even required headlamps for a few folks!

Fabric selection was a careful and complex process, the balancing of color and pattern the key to the design. We used a wide variety of traditional Japanese prints in cotton and silk which were then hand appliqued.

A close-up of one of the bells, just after being appliqued.

The quilt top with all bells appliqued and embroidered  – ready to have the border added.  Take a close look at each individual bell, fabrics coordinated as a whole for their feeling of shibui, the Japanese aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.

Every step adds so much and the border always makes the quilt feel that much closer to finished. Basting day is always fun as the quilt top goes from being flimsy to having its backing and border.

And here it is – the finished quilt!!!

Also be sure to examine the close-ups of the elaborately detailed rock garden quilted into the background, lovingly stitched by many experienced hands.

Get your bids ready!!!

Julie Fukuda’s blog, My Quilt Diary has more posts with details and photos here, here and here, as does Cynthia Nanto’s A Quilter By Night.

Related Posts:
Coming Full Circle…A History of the ASIJ Gala Quilt

Image Credits: 1. via Yoseido Gallery, 2. via Ohmi Gallery, 3. via Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, all other photos by me or someone from the quilting group.

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