Never stop! 30 year History of Kogin
A large envelope was sent to us last year. What we found inside were many photocopies of the designs for Koginzashi, called “modoco”, written in a notebook. There were 370 units. Without any doubt, the notebook’s owner is besotted with Kogin. What is the person like? We went to Aomori prefecture to find out.
Mrs Ayako Yoshida is a full-time housewife. She lives with her husband and their children live independently. When she was 33 years old, her mother recommended that she take up Koginzashi. Until then, she has never made that stitch. Her mother was so skillful that she made all of her children’s clothing. One day, her mother asked her to make Koginzashi as her aged eyes made it harder for her.
At that time, she’d rather have learned kilt because Koginzashi held a dated image for her, so that she was not so willing to start Koginzashi. However, she accidentally heard that her acquaintance working at the vegetable shop nearby was teaching Koginzashi, which motivated her to take a lesson.
The acquaintance’s name was Ms Yoshi Sasaki. Ms Sasaki taught Mrs Yoshida as well as many other students, while she studied under Ms Tokuko Kudo who was known for her dedication to the revival of Kogin in its history.
The longitudinal Koginzashi (the photo above) called “Kisozashi (basic stitch)” was the first topic for her class. When Mrs Yoshida addressed the challenge, she was shocked with the magnificence and suddenly thought: “ I will continue Koginzashi! ” Since then, she succeeded with each assignment as if she were enchanted by something. The cloth for Kosozashi is 30 cm width and 45 cm length, which normally requires several days to complete. However, Mrs Yoshida never failed to take her achievement to the bi-weekly class.
Ms Sasaki passed away five years later after Mrs Yoshida started with her. Mrs Yoshida was extremely depressed as she wanted to learn more from Ms Sasaki. Some time later, she encountered Ms Hama Sato, who was a home economics teacher as well as a colleague of Ms Kudo. In contrast to Ms Sasaki, Ms Sato mastered Koginzashi by self-study. She did not teach any designs but taught important techniques, such as how to compose each pattern and colour scheme.
Every day, Mrs Yoshida makes Koginzashi from morning to night at home. She has stocked up her designs in notebooks since she started Koginzashi. With the Internet and books, she has recently enjoyed collecting designs for Koginzashi but also for cross stitch and kilt to draw up a composition, which fits her handy cloth for the handicraft.
Yoshida likes both “Souzashi (whole pattern)” which is the way to stitch one by one in the entire width of the fabric, and a traditional pattern framing a centre-arranged design. She created a frame composition list to find the best for “ Wakuire” easily.
Wakuire is the way to frame the center-arranged modoco with the aim of making the modoco look bigger. For example, the Koginzashi below has Begozashi at the heart of the cloth, and three layers of modoco were arranged to frame the Begozashi. This is Wakuire.
Wakuire is not completed only with drawing a design. A certain formula using stitch number of modoco helps to complete a wakuire design. It was hard for Yoshida to understand. When she was desperate to master the formula, her teacher passed away. However, against the tragedy, she eventually figured it out. Her joy at the discovery suddenly motivated her to create many frame patterns, and she started to stock them up in her notebooks.
I am wondering what sorts of tools and materials that Yoshdia uses. She was happy to show us.
Her favorites are Congress for an embroidery cloth and DMC 25-ban for an embroidery thread. She never uses other brands as the DMC thread is easily adjustable to express a colour contrast by reducing or increasing thread twists. DMC produces embroidery threads with a wide range of colour and variation. Yoshida stocks almost all colours, about 450 kinds. Amongst which, Pink 601-ban is her favorite as it is suitable as a base colour, so that she uses it the most for choosing other colours.
Her threads were reserved in a large clothing box at the corner of her living room. Here is the place for keeping many bundles of threads.
The threads in use are separated by colour and kept in small bags.
Her specialty is the Sayagata pattern, a type of connected *Sayagata pattern.
She said: “Sayagata pattern is cool but difficult to stitch. I am not good at stitching it. During stitching, I get disoriented because it is like a maze.” That said, after she succeeds first three rows, she is able to sail through without seeing anything. This is her favourite.
How does she stitch? Yoshida taught us how to handle a needle.
She said: “At first, hold the thicker part of a needle with your fingertips, and move it, pushing the edge of the needle. A needle for Kogin is longer than others, so that it is hard to hold it unless you get used to do it. Individuals use a needle in different ways. Some people use a thimble ring to push the thicker part of a needle.” As she does not use a thimble, her pushing finger looks painful. At the early stage of leaning, she sometimes suffered from bleeding from a soft part of her fingertip. During decades of work, she has never changed her way, as a result her blister grew up and gradually became hard.
She has recently used Kogin needles produced by Tulip Inc., a needle maker in Hiroshima. From the first time, she was very impressed by its smoothness. For this reason, she replaced all of her needles for Kogin. I wish that the needle will reduce the burden on her finger.
She had an experience in working for Koginzashi products, being in charge of Sashiko for larger products such as obi or belts. Obi material is silk, which makes workers nervous as silk is so delicate for friction. The more you stitch it, the thread gets thinner. Therefore, the same thread cannot be used twice. As Obi is long, keeping the consistency of the thread from start to end is very hard. That is why this job is assigned to the most skillful experts. Although she has such a skill, she chose to quit her job and decided to make Koginzashi as her hobby. She is fulfilled with her lifestyle.
Koginzashi is a solitary work, handling just a needle. Against this nature, after completing her work, she has an itch to share her pleasure and the beauty with somebody else. Without any doubt, every Koginzashi maker must have the same experience, a kind of dilemma. When she was showing her work, she was shining with true joy as if Koginzashi is a reason for her living.
At the end of the interview, she said that thanks to her husband’s understanding, she has continued Koginzashi until today. He is always curious about her work and looks forward to sharing everything with her, which keeps her going. After the interview, we found that Koginzashi, which is made by a single person, is actually a product made by her family’s understanding and support.
Many more Koginzashi are in her blog. Why not enjoy more Koginzashi?
Mrs Yoshida dedicated a part of her modoco to Modoco DB of Kogin Bank. The modoco were created when she was learning in class.
Interviewed by koginbank
Japanese text：Katsue Ishii
Tlanslator : Junko Ladd
Sayagata is an endless graphic of 卍.
“卍” is not swastika in japan. “sayagata” has auspicious meaning of continued constantly business prosperity and family safety. In japan, It is popular grafic for 400years ago.
Junko Ladd (BA, MA) is a freelance Japanese to English translator (sometimes English to Japanese) and specializes in education and business including tourism and culture. In addition to her translation work, she keeps busy writing articles and teaching Japanese language at schools in England. She worked at the National Institute for Education Policy Research, universities and schools in Japan.
Write to Junko Ladd at email@example.com