Episode 3: The Bold Beauty of Japanese Yukata Fabrics

We’re sick of winter and looking forward to spring, so this month on the podcast we’re talking about some Japanese fabrics that are so delightfully bright, they remind us of walking through a botanical garden.

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Artist Patricia Belyea collects vintage Japanese yukata cottons, which are hand-dyed and feature large-scale motifs, such as dragonflies and irises. Patricia sells these fabrics online and in her Seattle shop, Okan Arts, and she also makes them into absolutely stunning quilts.

I talked to Patricia about where these fabrics come from, her quilting practice and where to go fabric shopping in Japan. Here are some photos of these glorious fabrics, and Patricia’s even-more-glorious quilts!!!

Meet Patricia Belyea, artisan quilter and vintage Japanese yukata cotton evangelist!!!
Vintage Japanese yukata cotton
Vintage Japanese yukata cotton, featuring a dragonfly motif
Patricia’s quilt “Floating World,” made with vintage Japanese yukata cottons
Patricia’s quilt “Wabi-Sabi”
Patricia’s quilt “Healing Garden”
Patricia’s quilt “Hope Full”
A playful toy motif on this bolt of vintage Japanese yukata cotton
Indigo is a common color in vintage Japanese yukata cottons
Patricia’s shop, Okan Arts, which is located in the basement of her home in Seattle. It’s open by appointment, and she also sells her vintage Japanese yukata cottons on her website.
Bolts of vintage yukata cotton in Patricia’s shop
There is actually a neighborhood of Tokyo called Fabric Town. I must go there!!!!
The fabric selection at Blue & White, one of Patricia’s favorite shops in Tokyo.

All photos by Patricia Belyea.

Music. [0:23] Calls herself artisan culture she teaches quilting and she’s the owner of a converts shop inside her seattle home where she sells vintage japanese yukata cottons. A little bit of background on patricia nine years ago in two thousand seven she made her first quell as an assignment for creativity club. Knowing that it would kick off an obsession that would completely change your life. She was working full time at the time as the head of a creative agency in that she had found that she had her own business and she would come home every night and quills and tell them we are into the wee hours of the morning, i miss you wake up early the next morning to quell before work so she was losing all kinds of sleep and closing and every spare moment. She said she had a lot of catching up to do because she felt like she finally found her passion and she was fifty three years old at the time. Six years later in twenty thirteen. She decided to quit her job to pursue quilting whole-heartedly because she said it was taking over her heart and her life. [1:33] Then quilting let patricia to collect these gorgeous vibrant and very unique yukata cottons from japan and she ended up starting a shop. She’s as passionate about her materials and she is about her medium so patrician i talked about quilting and about yukata. Here’s some excerpts from our conversations now you start building in two thousand seven and then how did you come to discover japanese yukata cotton. [2:09] The first quilt i made will in clothes at goodwill and having them up because i didn’t know i thought what we made out of old clothing. So from my very first well i’ve been with my college treasure hunter i’d like to go. [2:26] Find things that maybe people don’t normally have access to to make my quilts idle i like the fabric to inspire me. [2:35] And so i started going to japan and then i started helping my thought. Now what would it be like to make my quilts with something that was japanese i didn’t know there was this huge. Um traditional japanese yukata cottons i knew nothing about this hand i fabric and. I’ve been completely taken by at i will say that. I’m into pretty heavily i check this morning my shop has four hundred sixty eight quarts on line but downstairs in the shop there’s nine hundred nineteen volts a few more that aren’t online. So i am i just i’ve accepted the fact. They’re not offering you cut cotton to the world introducing it to the world showing people how to use it it’s my calling it’s actually something i’m rather serious about. Fly to buy it and i do i put so much i had to turn it into a small business what is yukata. [3:39] So i import you cut cottons to make you clock as. Any yukata is and unwind cash will be mono so most of us are use to kill mono is being silken gorgeous and very luxurious and a yukata. The rope itself translates into english is beeping close so you can imagine that it’s, not something you can wear to a wedding or where out so that what i import are rolls up yukata cotton, [4:18] which one roll is like a cat and you would take that you call the cops cotton and you would take long blinks a bit to make that you cut out that someone would wear, and so you can’t come mono was. [4:35] Are these lately summer kimonos rate they are, originally because i told you that it means, waiting close originally around the sixteen hundreds, they were born fine man in the steam houses which is how people could babe but in the eighteen hundreds, bathhouses became the rage in japan and so people would go to the bath house and return home walking on the streets, they would use curry home in their yukata so it has the history of being served a part of. Your own world are your personal care world there are often worn as close ropes people have you caught as they wear them around the house but as, we’ve seen some japan become, first world country every home every hotel having bathrooms you cut his arm playing the same role anymore and so that the broken the yukata, has become a national costume it has not gotten lost and if you were to go to japan and go to a summer festival you would see people wearing the finest yukata swansea that are now. The right pattern for the season the right pattern for your age or your marriage status all dressed up with beautiful movies in your hair done i can get and so we still have you cut that is in use today. [6:05] I’m in people’s homes at festivals and we have one more time when you cut is so boring and that is when someone dies, when the bodies transported to what we would call a funeral home and i’m not sure what they’re called the person is put in their casual cotton chemo now and when. They are being prepared they’re washed and put in a formal clothes so the yukata plays a strong role to still in japan. [6:37] What makes you contact cotton different from other fabrics. [6:41] The fabric itself is typically died the beautiful yukata cottons are died. So you get the same intensity of the color on both sides were use to someone we go to a store and we by commercial cottons were used to it being printed its on one side. And on the back side the pattern barely will show through but with yukata cottons not only are they died the dye colors are so lash there vary beautiful and it’s very hard to match yukata cotton, with another print in in the shop down the street unless perhaps it’s a pity because the teacher died. I think it’s kimonos it and i think a lot of people think of them on us like. Being in cell am i being greater than like these incredibly some chess fabrics and you qatar seems to be very different. [7:40] The tradition of textile arts in japan is just phenomenal what what they have done what they do with sell his is the top. [7:52] You know there are places where topics are made for royalty whether incredible as well but you can and the japanese crafts people in and how they. Make things that say manufacture things on create incredible, fabrics so when we moved to. I’m making um stenciled essentially a stencil print on this cotton what happens is the motifs that are used in the japanese textiles get, simplified, in fact they get older and sometimes they get abstracted in i find with yukata cottons a great appeal to me because, i have the on curious of the design instead of being a peony that is so multi layered and then, a layer of gold on i’m in on the tenth of every leaf and it being very small and fine you could find on you cut a cotton that they might make that penny. This is not it. They make a penny twelve inches wide and maybe it’s just indigo and white and it’s just this high contrast big beautiful. I love. Not that is they would never do when sulk so what they doing yukata cotton is it almost seems like it’s more modern more accessible. [9:22] The thing that i find fascinating is the scale of some of the patterns and i think this is a fabric that’s gonna go on a very petite woman and it’s. It’s. Big and we in our culture happen taught big women wear big prance little women were little prince and it’s completely turned upside down in japan and it’s very exciting. [9:48] That is so interesting that they the motives become simplified i did when i was researching it, of course start looking on your website and of course i just wanted to shop for various fabrics and ice lake, you have an entire section of butterflies entire section of dragon flys an intersection of iris says that all have different patterns within them, so talk about some of the motifs that you find commonly in these fabrics i, put things in categories did you metrics for the man scary classic um indigo and white patterns than indigo and white very traditional, um floral patterns water patterns many other different motifs pine needles that we might expect five all these different, i pinks and reds and the background is pink or red but you didn’t notice that i have butterflies dragon flies are irises and i also have tons of community doesn’t, may be more many different motifs i get that to help the people who are crazy about those motifs so there you go that’s why you see those as categories. [11:07] So i go back to your building now what role does you cook top play in your artistic practice. [11:15] So i need my first both in august of two thousand seven but what i will tell you is. [11:22] I was a fish didn’t know i was a fish till someone showed me the water and i have. I have lost so much sleep and i have said no to so many things so i can quilt. I am crazy about coping i love cutting apart african putting it together and seeing what will happen and my first couple of years were with fabric from goodwill in free boxes and, people thinking i might like something so my treasure hunting origins are strong. When i first got you cut cotton i didn’t even know what to do with that i started i two pins you call the cops before i ever. [12:07] Cut into it but maybe that’s cuz i need a little selection i’m not sure but i will say that the fabric makes meet you at. I do really different things when i put you coffee cotton together my quilts you can imagine i don’t cut little one inch by two inch pieces of it if i bought twelve in jc penney’s to work with. [12:29] I for people to follow me i don’t look like me but she stays because for the last two and a half years i am working on a book. And you don’t show the cops are going to be in the book so i can still full and i love to tell other people’s stories anyway but. Um you could think. Boy this woman is the last couple of years we haven’t seen or make anything so have patience my book manuscript releases in september and then everything i do after september i’ll show you more about but i just. Um i guess by getting started and. All night long get up early cfo before i went to work at a lot of catching up to do because of his fifty three when i started. In the second half of our conversation petition i talk more in depth about you contact cartons and she gave me a primer on where to go fabric shopping in japan. Which basically makes me wanna book a flight right now what happen was in two thousand ten in january i took a trip to japan. And i came back and your so my mind worth i thought i’d really like to write off the trip to japan. So my first day back i registered with the federal government and the state government o’connell arts as it japanese textile business and then i have to sort of do some things because i was gonna have to report. [14:04] So i started doing little trenches at the front people stock stores very humbled. I love that idea that because you love find something you love collecting something up to open a shop. [14:21] I think a lot of people do that. [14:23] I think a lot of people do i think antique shops you go to that are just felt like things i think the things that the dealer just can’t resist you have to somehow get into his hands so i don’t think. People who do this sort of thing i thinking there’s a market opportunity here i don’t think it works that way at all this is super nice but i do. And the world really has not discovered that. The japanese course certainly happen they just make the quote of sell will stop you knows it don’t think about using you cup cartons. Why vintage yukata cottons. Welcome to as i try to figure it out i only purchased been teach you caught cotton ss. I can’t buy a bolt of today’s you cut cotton first of all because i cant afford it and i sell my fabrics two quarters and so is. So i’m hoping you pocket cotton made today in todays workshops cost between nine hundred and fourteen hundred dollars to pull. You think it is a or today’s realestate today’s environmental policies it’s very expensive so. I buy. Vintage ones and in japan there’s no such word as vintage the word that comes closes translates to use. [15:52] So we have this japanese love anything that’s you are modern society today loves new things. What things that are in the pic that hit that hundred year mark and have this special spirit. But this twenty to fifty year old you can’t cotton. Um people don’t want to and i’m occasionally about twelve ten percent of my balls becoming damage but i can do that i can um cut out the damaged part. And still have yard each left that the world with love if they’re working in smaller pieces so on. That’s an interesting thing as up finding the vintage fabrics liz there’s millions of people in japan. Think about the millions and they all have to have two cups and think about most just say sixty seventies eighties any time there have to be new fabric brought out for people to enjoy and to think about. So why him from thirty years ago bolts that are not of people fall for pop stars were coming out. Or you know whatever the rate was i have bolts with the logo from the osaka world’s fair. So it’s non stop actually found some of the things i’ve seen i have one with windmills on one with kuala bears so. [17:22] It’s theirs traditional and then there’s searchable up updated and off beating novelty tees there’s lots. There’s beautiful ones ones that appeal to me and this month i don’t like it lol. So as a person buys in imports at if i don’t like it i don’t buy it i don’t just buy it because i found it i buy it because. [17:48] I think it’s a it’s a very nice design i think i think it looks like a or it’s in good shape and then it and make the choice to five. So what do you like. Sometimes the japanese do what i call a half at all kind of mishmash they don’t two roses very well be the roses are really only occasionally what by rose pattern i have got a few that i like. [18:13] Sometimes they’re just i don’t know what they were thinking that they just go so garish. Um it’s pretty easy for me to buy that you metrics i probably have just under a probably have about hundred geometric to my collection i sell them and then i buy more. Then indigo and white man’s gym metrics they are non stop available to me and i only have limited funds to shop. I’d like to buy really classic indigo and white white nicko. [18:44] And then in the sixty’s the japanese decided they didn’t have to have indigo and they started making these very vivid volts so bolts with yellow background pink background screen backgrounds. They’re pretty phenomenal they’re not that easy to find in a vintage world. And i like to buy those there wonderful designs does he metrics not tell the one saturday that none of the regime metrics they’re all on. The world’s apps tracks. Um something that i call representational occasionally have something that’s much more realistic like the one. It that a cat fans hat sometimes it’s of an object that’s not very. Not very simplified it’s a little more realistic see your staying in the sixty’s they. [19:45] Decided like the decided that can be of much greater color scheme or was it just income before that was pretty much just indigo indigo and white white indigo and when you think about the sixties we win psychedelic. I mean, tie dye colors everywhere you know the british invasion we were going crazy with colors so the japanese got a little color of that decade. And so if you’re quilter and a fabric night with both of us we both are. [20:20] Of course me like i dream of going to japan because i know that the fact there such as you said there such an amazing taxol history there there so many amazing fabrics that come out of japan, app ko guys wanna, that accompanies loves you she go to and then she as a designer and i know you you have a thing on your website about her so what do you tell people about, going to japan to buy fabric like we’re where should i go. Well i can’t buy much of what i want when i’m just on the ground there i have about thirty different on people around japan who i worked with on the internet so thats not very helpful. I have my purchases sent to tokyo consolidated and ship. I will get people from a little primer on i’m fine airplane ticket and just getting there. I do have some places um that i could suggest. They could go to and you want them to go to kyoto just because to tell is. [21:31] It’s the most romantic city in the world did not get bombed in world war to it pretty much intact and every corner you turn there’s something wonderful. [21:43] But in a few land in tokyo you have to go to blue and white at me could toes shop me. As you believe on district and she does happy cut cottons there made by contemporary artists ends me to tell works hard to make sure the arts and crafts of japan are still living tradition, and she has many things in our shop that up for the artisans work today. So blue and white in tokyo you’re going to go to nepal re fabric town and you can find shops that sell everything from notions. To at your age but there’s vent the mono shops there and when you walk in you’ll see a lot of socks you might see you papas and remember you can always. Take apart a contact and have that fabric for your project. But if you’re looking for bowls ask the person they’re just say the in the pot that can mono. [22:45] Can mono tell them you’re looking for a bowl. Any might have three or five volts and you don’t have any geometric sue could probably buy geometric i found that they have a lot of jew metrics. And sometimes the damage but that’s the trip you can even go into an antique shop and say can teach you cut the handle and it’s not embarrassing and it gives you a reason to walk into a shop you really shouldn’t be walking into. So there you go i’m telling you can just walk around and it looks promising you can look for it there’s also the flea market. The flea markets are done it temples and the one i recommend is the kitano shrine flea market in kyoto the twenty fifth of the month. And there are lots of efforts there maybe not so much yukata cotton balls that you’re going to go crazy you can have access. To bought so can he mono and the. [23:48] And um it’s it’s a great morning to go to a flea market. And is it actually cold nip nap already fabric town it is in english its a district in um. Tokyo and um there’s a train station and a subway station that both happening in your korean at. And the sign each from the station pops up at two this area with a hundred fabric shop. [24:17] I have to little better same newport after town so that’s pretty much have to go there to look around. [24:24] [25:25] We will be back next month with another collector.