It’s been nasty out lately – snow, snow showers, slushy snow, freezing rain.. Well, you know!!  And even if this is my 3rd Winter in NYC, my wardrobe is still not prepared for this weather (talk about Winter denial..).

And it was with wet weather on my mind that I came across the exhibition ” Beauty Born of Use: Natural Rainwear from China and Japan”, now on view at the Textile Museum of Canada. The exhibition features examples of rainwear made in mid 20th century in China and Japan. The garments were made using plant materials that were available locally and renewable, like bamboo, tree barks, reeds, etc, without compromising in a bit the fantastic design.

Rain cape, rice straw, bast fiber, cotton, China, mid 20th century

According to the Textile Museum’s most recent educational tool, Social Fabric (please make a minute to check it, it’s so worth it!), this cape was made using rice straw that was folded and stitched together, assuming the appearance and functionality of a thatched roof. People in remote areas of China still wear these capes to this day.

Rain cape; palm bark fiber, bast fiber, cotton; China, mid 20th century

Rain hat, plant material, grass, Japan, mid 20th century

Since early times, the people in these countries have been using the materials locally available to construct waterproof garments. For instance, in China, this kind of garments go back earlier than Ming dynasty, and where woven using straw, grass and pipal tree leaves. In Japan, people also always used what was readily available to make garments, like rice and wheat straw, reed, bark, vines, and seaweed. However, all these skills and traditions for making weather resistant garments are being forgotten, and like everywhere being replaced by the ubiquitous plastic.

I think rain and snow wouldn’t be so bad if I was protected by one of this! If you’re going to Toronto before May 1, make sure you make a stop to go see and admire these garments. And please tell me more about it!


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