Special Exhibition

The Nanbu district, the Pacific side of Aomori, had long suffered from severe easterly winds and long winter weather. To live in this hardship, their clothing culture had to inevitably evolve with various sewing methods which increased fabric longevity and heat insulation. Their Maekake-Aprons exhibited here were thus made as clothing for protection and warmth; made with two cotton fabrics on the sides and one indigo-dyed hemp fabric in the center stitched together. On the center hemp fabrics, you can see the amazing woolen embroideries.

Until the Meiji period in the Nanbu district, only black and white cottons were sewn on the center hemp. However, after the Taisho period (1912~1926), people started to gain colorful wool.

Wool is softer, warmer, and above all, prettier.
In their poor self-sufficient life, gaining just about 10-20 cm of wool was hard. Wool, a “fancy” material, was not suitable for working clothes as it was delicate and tore easy. For this reason it was only used to decorate their fashionable Maekake Aprons. In Aomori pref., women competed with each other using their sewing skills to express their desire for beauty upon the Aprons.

Wool has more color variations.Even though colorful wool was highly demanded, women would willingly share with others whenever they gained some. There was pleasure in collecting different colors and watching them piled up. In some instances they would even tear one thread of wool into 3 or 4 threads to share.

The woolen embroideries are puffy on the hemp surface as if affirming its prominent existence. Since the excessive wool threads on the surface frayed easily, women had to sew really carefully. Pulling the wool strongly when sewing, would cause complete distortion. Knowing its vulnerability to damages, women took a soft approach to precious wool with their marvelous sewing techniques. They had untainted love and compassion to understand the weakness and pain of wool.

Wool is a gift from sheep.
I wonder if the women who created those splendid Maekake-Aprons knew that wool was from sheep hair and had first come from across the oceans from a land called Europe.

It is a big surprise that the women already knew how to combine the cold texture of hemp with warm animal wool to make these great Aprons; a one of a kind brilliant and harmonious work of fabric art.

People were forced to optimize every single resource in their life of poverty. The appreciation of limited resources and their potential in creating interactive effects were acquired knowledge. Their passed down knowledge, hard earned, has contributed to the birth of rare combination of hemp and wool, named “Nanbu Hishizashi (diamond shape) Maekake-Aprons”.

We cannot help but show our highest regards to the wisdom and bright intellect of all these nameless but exceptional women of the time.

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