Sweat Protector (koyori Ase-hajiki) (Japan), 1850–60
This is a Sweat protector (koyori ase-hajiki). It is dated 1850–60 and we acquired it in 2009. Its medium is paper and its technique is 4-strand plaiting with 2-strand twists. It is a part of the Textiles department.
Woven textiles made from paper originated in 16th century Japan, where these paper cloths (shifu in Japanese) were most likely developed by the impoverished rural population for lack of other materials. With few raw materials available, farmers originally cut the pages of ancient account books in order to turn them into shifu weaves. The ink writing on the paper also remained visible on the finished fabric, leaving an interesting speckled pattern. Soon, this cloth attained a more prominent place in society as samurai refined the technique by means of sophisticated and elaborate folding, cutting, and spinning processes, in which the finest threads could be manufactured and woven into noble cloths. These paper weaves were often used for ceremonial clothes and, in order to express their spirituality, samurai wrote prayers on the paper before turning it into yarns and cloth.
This particular example of shifu is an ase-hajiki, or sweat-protector. It is a type of paper undergarment worn during the summer to keep the wearer cooler in the heat. Because the paper layer was closest to the skin it provided space for air to circulate between the skin and outer garment. More common than items made of paper cloth are similar undergarments made from bamboo, which are ultimately more durable than paper.
Shifu is an example of an eco-friendly textile because of the ways in which it recycles materials to create an end product of greater value.
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Its dimensions are
H x W: 62.2 x 52 cm (24 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.)
Cite this object as
Sweat Protector (koyori Ase-hajiki) (Japan), 1850–60; paper; H x W: 62.2 x 52 cm (24 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund; 2009-36-2
Artist Sue Lawty examines the shifu (paper cloth) sweat protector and discusses its unique qualities. Lawty explored the Cooper Hewitt collection as part of her Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.