Robe (Japan), 19th century
Medium: cotton appliqué and embroidery on elm bark (ohyo) foundation Technique: appliquéd and embroidered in couching stitches on plain weave foundation Label: Woven elm bark, appliquéd and embroidered with cotton. Gift of Alice Boney. 1962-67-1
What is this?
Robe made from narrow widths of cloth woven from elm bark, in tobacco brown with varied stripes of dark indigo blue and white. Dark blue cotton appliqué with white couched-thread embroidery adorns the hemline, sleeve cuffs, and upper back. Dark blue cotton neckband.
Why is this in our collection?
The elm bark attush robe is one of the Ainu’s most stunning art forms, and is vital to their tradition and ethnic identity. After the men carefully strip the elm of its bark, the women separate the outer and inner bark and split the fibers into long, narrow strips. These strands are twisted into thread and woven into strips on a backstrap loom or izaribata, which are sewn together to form the robe. Embroidery is applied to cotton cloth which is appliquéd to the robe at strategic locations around the neck, wrists, and between the shoulder blades, in order to protect the wearer from evil spirits. This concept of spiritual protection is believed to derive from the rope that Ainu women used to encircle their sleeping children in order to safeguard them while the mother worked in the mountains or fields. Tattooing on the back of women’s hands and around their arms employed similar curvilinear designs for protection from evil spirits.
This object has been included in the following exhibitions: