Never discard a piece cloth that is at least large enough to wrap 3 beans

Yesterday, I visited my friend Kawasaki Kei-san, proprietor of Kyoto's upper Teramachi textile gallery,  Gallery Kei.  The gallery had just finished an exhibition of 100 year-old offertory bags.  The old adage about saving patches of cloth large enough to wrap 3 beans came from a time when all textiles were precious.  Kei-san explained, "People in pre-industrial Japan would patch together various bits of cloth in long rolls.

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"They would then cut off  pieces in order to create special bags which would be filled with azuki beans or rice, and placed on the altars of Buddist Temples."

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Gallery Kei specializes in museum-quality folk textiles.  Until the modern era, cotton was difficult to come by in rural areas, especially in northern Japan.  Clothes were made from hand-spinning such things as linden bark, wisteria vines and kudzu vines.  Also used washi paper was cut into strips, hand-
spun and woven with cotton to create shifu, an excellent light, beathing textile.

4 thoughts on “Never discard a piece cloth that is at least large enough to wrap 3 beans

  1. Mora & Linda

    Yet another Japanese obsession — old textiles. Thanks to your introduction a few years ago to Kei-san, we continue to visit her shop whenever we’re in Kyoto. Last December’s visit had us tongue-tied once again…we were at a loss of words for the stunningly beautiful length of cloth that was displayed on the wall hanging over a suspended branch. Kei explained that it was made from salvaged threads; each one pulled from an old textile for reuse. No surprise, not only are pieces of cloth large enough to hold 3 beans saved but so are threads. Truly incredible and truly Japanese. The cloth miraculously found its way home with us and is lovingly displayed across the top of a tsuitate that separates the small genkan from the main living area. Kei was saddened to see it go but we assured her it would be cared for by its new caretakers who understand and appreciate Japanese textiles.

  2. helen hasenfeld

    Love Kei-san, love her store and the many reminders of same that I have around the house.
    Give her my regards when next the two of you meet!

  3. marie

    Wow! Love the beautiful textiles and the most of all I am “touched” that people saved the scraps of fabric to make beautiful bags to hold an “offering” of rice or beans at the temple. beautiful!