This beautiful pink woven (obi) was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli in 2017 from a dealer in London. It was acquired to enhance The Zay Initiative collection.
This is a pale pink women’s obi woven possibly in stiff hemp featuring floral and foliage patterns. Although not (crocheted) it has a distinct characteristic that makes it looks like it is.
The story of the obi is quite interesting. In a traditional (kimono) ensemble the main kimono is considered subordinate to the obi. The reason behind this is possibly the creation and evolution of the particular accessory.
Women from the Kamakura era (1185-1333) used a sash to secure their daily outfit around their waist and this continued till the advent of the Genroku period (1688-1704). Women used to keep a curated collection of sashes for their use with their different outfits.
However, this reasonable practice changed forever because of the Kabuki theatre. An anecdotal theory says that once a kabuki artist who was a female impersonator was very tall. To distract the attention of the audience from his height while he was on stage, he started wearing a wide stiff sash that he tied in different elaborate knots and let trail behind him. This inspired the courtesans of the time to adopt the style thus spreading it through the rest of the society.
Another theory, which is possibly the more accurate one, attributes the weavers from Kyoto for the creation of the obi. The trend and fashion for dyed fabric due to the limitation and restrictions issued by the sumptuary laws of Japan slumped the demand for the elaborate brocades that they wove.
Rich brocade garments were only allowed to be used by the upper class in Japan, however, the nobility were too poor to be able to afford such plush garments. The merchant class who had the money were imposed with sumptuary limitations which restricted them from wearing a garment made of rich brocades as well as limited their yearly numbers for new robes.
However, as there were no clear laws against sashes or accessories, the weavers from Kyoto exploited this loophole. They surreptitiously colluded with the theatre artists and kabuki actors to promote a new fashion trend that would use their beautiful brocades and tapestry woven fabrics.
A plethora of elaborate ways of tying these sashes were devised and over time each knot came to define and reflect the wearer’s age and status. For example, courtesans tied theirs in the front as it was easier and quicker for them to undo it. While young unmarried women wore it at the back with long loose ends hanging behind them.
Gradually the obi attained the position of the most important feature of women’s outfits to the point where the design of the kimono was inspired by the obi. By c. 19th century, kimono embellishment came to be limited near the fall hemline to let the wearer decide upon the elaborateness of the obi – a practice that is still by and large an overall pattern.