ASIJ gala quilt

The ASIJ Quilt…Carpe Triem

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

Caught in a Net…Ami Pattern on Porcelain and More

One of my favorite “so ancient and simple that it’s modern” Japanese motifs is ami or fish net pattern. I’ve been tracking blue and white porcelain pieces here at shrine sales and antique shops for years, like this beautiful sake cup washer and hire (like a small hibachi from a smoking set). The sake cup washer has a very linear version of the pattern, while the hire looks almost Middle Eastern in its curvilinear painting, reminding me of these floor tiles! The pattern is common, but rare at the same time, so I always notice it when I see a piece. Not an unexpected motif if you think about how much life in Japan revolves around fish!

Unlike the rounded pieces above, these rectangular dishes show the star-like pattern at the center of the nets and the larger of the dishes even has an open and loosely linked rendition, versus the tighter nets.

Here on this small dish the net is softly and irregularly painted.

Imagine my surprise when ami cropped up in a slightly different form at a recent ladies luncheon with the renowned Japanese food expert Elizabeth Andoh that focused on the art of mixing dishes and plating food.  Out came a rustic but elegant Mashiko pottery plate in the fish net pattern in a glossy copper and verdigris. She called the pattern ajiro, but I think that is actually more of a traditional herringbone style basket weave and that this too is ami.

Just a week or so later, I finally got to visit the Mashiko pottery festival myself, which I haven’t been to in years! I came across a few examples of that same style, perhaps even the same potter to my eye, including this huge spectacular vessel. From my lack of posts lately you can tell life has got me by the ankle and isn’t letting go, but I hope to write more about my experience there soon.

Shortly after that I came across this formal lacquer ware version from my friend Mizue Sasa’s shop Okura Oriental Art – haute couture fish net!

Fish net pattern can be found on much more than just dishes, whether stylized in sashiko embroidery as well as realistically patterned directly in textiles and art. There are a few very famous ukiyo-e featuring actual nets, but I quite like this one by Utagawa Yoshiiku, called  “A Parody of Goldfish with Actor’s Expressions.” It seems the public in the day would have recognized these fish faces for whom they were meant to represent. I quite like that the title is written against a background of fish net.

While I can do without the silly faces on those fish, all this talk (writing?) of fish and fish nets has got me thinking about another project I am working on, the 2013 ASIJ Gala Quilt. Using a background of vintage blue kasuri (the Japanese version of ikat) pieced in a neat but kinda boro style, we are planning on appliqueing a grouping of koi.

The koi will be varying shades of orange and white silk shibori (tie-dye). Here’s a first glimpse of a mock-up to whet your appetite.

We had been talking about some water pattern quilting but now I am thinking that perhaps we want to use the fish net motif, picked out in white quilting thread.  Just loving this idea! What say you Julie Fukuda and Kendra Morgenstern?

Related Posts:
After the Earthquake…Help Rebuild the Kilns at Mashiko
Guest Post…Visiting the Mashiko Pottery Festival
The ASIJ Quilt…Summer Breezes: Furin in the Rock Garden
Coming Full Circle…A History of the ASIJ Gala Quilt

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.

Tokyo Jinja

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