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The Spirit Flows from the Hands – 19th C. Japanese Thread Painting – Guest Blogger: Penny Peters

December 30, 2015

19th C. Japanese Thread Painting

In a private museum in Lisbon, Portugal there is very large Japanese embroidery of four phoenixes professionally worked in the 19th C in silk and gold threads.  In Asia the phoenix represents an imperial household, fire, justice, the sun, obedience, fidelity or the southern star constellations.  It is universally considered a good omen.  Asian phoenixes are usually depicted in active positions with gracefully curling wing and tail feathers. These days the phoenix seems to be a popular tattoo motif too.  

I was able to photograph (without flash) the embroidery which measures perhaps 4 x 5 feet.  Even though it was mounted under glass, placing my camera lens right on the glass allowed me to get good close ups of the stitching. The entire surface is worked in various weights of silk thread with accents in gold.  Raised and padded techniques and couched laid work of plain and twisted threads are used extensively throughout the piece.  If techniques interest you, the Japanese Embroidery Center in Atlanta, Georgia has published a book called Techniques of Japanese Embroidery by Shuji Tamura (1998).

According to the Japanese Embroidery Center, silk embroidery came to Japan from China in the mid- 7th Century and was initially used to decorate religious objects.  Overtime it evolved into secular use primarily for decoration on kimono for court ladies.  Only the very wealthy could afford beautifully embroidered kimono.  Japanese silk embroidery is considered a spiritual as well as technical art.

“When the spirit flows from the hands, it is called “labor.” From nothing, the hands start to create wonderful works of art. The hands are the exit of the spirit. The movement of the hands embodies human longings and human beings are formed by the work of the hands. The hands create forms that never existed before, and this art of creation is uniquely human. That is, human hands carve an image of the individual out of vacant space. Humans recognize the level of their own spirit by looking at what they have created with their hands. That is, the hands enable the spirit to emerge as works of art, and it will reflect what is in your heart. As a result, what is in your heart shows in your work, and the hands will reflect what level you are, sometimes joyfully, sometimes sadly.”     Penny Peters

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann Darling permalink
    December 30, 2015 4:58 am

    Lucky You Penny! That museum was closed for some kind of repair when I was there … have heard amazing things about it. LOVE the quote at the end … is that from the book you speak of earlier in the piece? Thanks for sharing.

  2. Penny Peters permalink
    December 30, 2015 5:47 am

    Hi Ann, the quote comes from the website of the Japanese Embroidery Center. Here is the link:

  3. December 30, 2015 8:18 am

    Wow, what an interesting walk through history Penny. I loved it and your great photos which followed. One can just imagine what the colours looked like when first made.thankyou for this. Jx

  4. Penny Peters permalink
    December 30, 2015 5:47 pm

    Hi Judy, Thank you. So glad you enjoyed it. The embroidery has been very well cared for…no fraying or wearing of the threads. Not sure about fading. I thought the natural colors were so rich it is hard to imagine it any other way.

  5. December 30, 2015 5:53 pm

    Thanks Penny for sharing. The embroidery is gorgeous and I love the quote. The best part is the detail photos though. It is wonderful to be able to see the individual stitches up close.

  6. January 1, 2016 11:37 am

    What perfect embroidery, and it’s amazing it’s lasted so long.

  7. nancy hanson permalink
    January 2, 2016 8:04 pm

    Oh how enjoyable. Your closeup photos are fabulous! Thank you for sharing .

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