So I’ve been making lots of teasing comments about koi and kasuri lately, with a very good reason. This year, our annual quilt for The American School in Japan Gala fundraiser is a deep indigo pool made of kasuri, with three charming carp frolicking in the rain. Koi are the beloved ornamental varieties of common carp that are kept as pets in ponds and the word koi is itself a homophone for another Japanese word that means “affection” or “love”; koi are therefore symbols of love and friendship in Japan. The name of the quilt, Carpe “Triem”, reminds us to seize the day (or seize the quilt!) and is a play on our trio of friends. Inspiration came in many forms, from modern woodblock prints, like this one, ‘Pillow Talk” by Daniel Kelly

2011 Daniel Kelly prints Pillow Talk

…to ‘Whisper whisper 7’ amongst others from Kaneko Kunio.

Kaneko Kunio Whisper

Koinobori, meaning ‘carp streamer’ in Japanese, are carp-shaped wind socks traditionally flown to celebrate Boy’s Day (now called Children’s Day), which falls on May 5th every year. The carp has become the symbol of Boys’ Day because the Japanese consider it the most spirited of fish—so full of energy and power that it can fight its way up swift-running streams and cascades. Because of its strength and determination to overcome all obstacles, it stands for courage and the ability to attain high goals.


We also had high goals for ourselves as quilters, wanting to create a very individual and special quilt while at the same time longing to do another boro (rag) background quilt, featuring vintage indigo textiles, a bit reminiscent of the beloved Dragon quilt of 2007. I was lucky enough to come across a few great pieces of kasuri, the Japanese form of ikat, in which the thread is dyed prior to weaving. Kendra had some other gorgeous pieces in her stash and we were easily able to assemble the patchwork background from a myriad of pieces and patterns.

kasuri quilt background

Using some photos of real koi, Julie drew our koi on graph paper free hand – she is so amazing!


I figured once we were using such gorgeous fabric for the background, there was no chance modern fabric could hold up its head against it. So back out to the shrine sales I went, in search of antique and vintage shibori (Japanese tie-dye), brocades and other silks. While the fabric would be gorgeous I knew the quilters would be hating me a bit as silks are so hard to work with.

orange shiboriorange shibori

The patterns in the shibori was perfect in giving almost a literal effect of scales. And the bold colors – oranges, yellows and golds – against the deep indigo was spectacular. Just trying it out by draping a fish shape had us all excited.


As we started late this year and the Gala was a week earlier than normal and we planned for the koi to exuberantly overlap the borders, we had to work a bit out-of-order this year and put the borders on early.


Julie’s husband enlisted the local copy shop to blow up the hand sketched koi, one graph paper square to one inch and we were able to use them as patterns.


The day we spent cutting the fabrics to create the fish was my favorite quilt day in all nine years I have been working on the ASIJ quilts.

yellow koi

With each fabric we tried to bring out its innate nature…

orange koi fabrics

…and have the details suggest the very details found on the fish.

orange koi

We used iron-on stabilizer to give the pieces some weight and make them opaque.

black white orange koi

We basted the quilt top to a simply patterned dark blue background and placed the fish into their new home in the pond.

basted quilt

As we loved the echo quilting we did last year, we decided to do it again – this time as raindrops on the pond. Here you can see the circles marked out at one inch intervals. If you look closely you can also see the detailed quilting in the fish fins.

echo quilting marking

I just love this detail shot with the shibori circles reading as fish scales and the rain drops quilted into the kasuri.

orange carp 001

The crowning touch was finding a perfect silky orange binding – I don’t know how we got so lucky! Not a perfect frontal photo, but the slight angle brings out the details of the echo quilted raindrops.

2013 ASIJ quilt

This quilt, with its evocative design and meticulous craftsmanship, masterfully captures and conveys our long-lasting affection for Japan.
More in-progress details can be found over at My Quilt Diary and A Quilter By Night.

Related Posts:
Coming Full Circle…A History of the ASIJ Gala Quilt
The ASIJ Quilt…Summer Breezes: Furin in the Rock Garden