This brocade makes use of gold thread, creating a composite that shimmers. the warm, muted tones of the gold are matched in color selections of light blue, dark blue, yellow, mauve, silvery white, and muted green threads. Two textile fragments have been sewn into a gold background. On the left is a rectangular segment of a blue and green dragon among clouds. The right segment is a floral decoration of a variety of plants and colors, interspersed with horizontal lines.
The textile to the left, is possibly part of an obi (sash for kimono) and decorated with kinran, one of many techniques for incorporating precious metals like gold into fabric.
The fabric to the right was once part of a garment worn by an actor playing a female role in traditional Noh drama. With its cool color scheme and autumnal plants (pine, bush clover, and pinks), it evokes a melancholy mood. The weaving technique seen here is known as karaori, meaning “Chinese weave,” as it was originally developed in China.
The colorful strips of brocade at the top and bottom of this panel feature a woven design of ivy and peonies entwined around cartwheels, bamboo, and stylized diamonds. A wide rectangular fragment of an obi (sash for kimono) lie at the center of the textile. It is an almost abstract design of boats tossed in a frothy sea. The warm, muted tones of the gold are matched in color selections of mauve, and muted purple, blue, and green threads.
Both the bold, clear design and the narrow width of the cloth suggest that these may have been part of the sash for a Noh drama costume.
The wide fragment of an obi (sash for kimono) is a superb example of float-stitch embroidery, in which long sections of untwisted floss are attached to the fabric only at the edge of the embroidered motif; here the float stitches are used for the boat sails. The technique is one that came to Japan from China in the sixteenth century.
Fragments of brocade textiles are stitched symmetrically into gold fabric. Gold, blue, and brownish/copper hues create the patterns on the textile fragments.
Textiles have been collected, catalogued, and discussed in Japan since at least the tenth century. For the imperial court and Buddhist temples, both deeply conservative organizations, textiles were tangible records of precedent: it was important to keep track of what patterns and which colors were appropriate for hundreds of annual ceremonial occasions. Scraps of fabric from garments, banners, monastic robes, and sutra covers were carefully labeled and preserved in thick notebooks.
A checkered gold brocade foregrounds five fragments of textile: a square in the middle surrounded by four cornerpieces. Each textile has a different design, some with butterflies, birds, and other floral motifs.
Nishiki is a generic term for a multicolored patterned weave, but usually it refers specifically to twill weave created by passing color weft threads over or under two or more warp threads. According to one legend, nishiki first came to Japan in the second century from China, when the King of Wei made a gift of it to Empress Jingû. By the eighth century, Japan was able to manufacture nishiki domestically. Kinran nishiki, shown in the center of the panel, refers to brocade woven with narrow strips of gilt paper.