Fabric Fit for Royalty

Using hand-cut stencils, textile artisans in Okinawa, Japan, have created incredibly detailed, resist-dyed fabrics since 1400. Called bingata, for centuries this exquisitely designed fabric was reserved for the Ryukyu royal family, and only three Okinawan families were permitted to produce it. Fortunately, what was once deemed fit only for royalty is now open to the masses.

Woman’s robe with pine bark, chrysanthemum, wisteria, swallows, mountains, and flowing water on an aqua ground. Shuri, Okinawa, 19th century. Private collection (on loan to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum). Only the highest aristocracy were permitted large-scale motifs like those seen on this robe, which required separate stencils for patterning the shoulder, waist, and hem. This robe was created as a gift from Sho Tai (1843-1901), the last ruler of the Ryukyu Kingdom, to his newly married daughter.  PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE TEXTILE MUSEUM.

Woman’s robe with pine bark, chrysanthemum, wisteria, swallows, mountains, and flowing water on an aqua ground. Shuri, Okinawa, 19th century. Private collection (on loan to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum). Only the highest aristocracy were permitted large-scale motifs like those seen on this robe, which required separate stencils for patterning the shoulder, waist, and hem. This robe was created as a gift from Sho Tai (1843-1901), the last ruler of the Ryukyu Kingdom, to his newly married daughter.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE TEXTILE MUSEUM.

Today, anyone can design, create, or wear bingata, and modern artists in Japan are taking up this centuries-old technique to create thoroughly modern fabrics. Some of those modern pieces will be on display at Bingata! Only in Okinawa, a new exhibit at the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, focuses on this traditional textile and features over one hundred objects dated from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The exhibit, which runs November 5, 2016, through January 30, 2017, contains a beautiful selection of bingata garments, yardage, and furniture, most on display for the first time in the United States.

The exhibit includes items from the museum’s collection and many items from Okinawa’s premier institutional collections. Historical artifacts will be displayed next to modern examples of bingata and bingata-inspired pieces to show the evolution of bingata through the years and the cultural and historical significance of the technique. Visitors will also get to see the tools used to create bingata and films showing the artisans in action and so much more.

More information on Bingata! Only in Okinawa, special events related to the exhibit, and The Textile Museum can be found at the museum’s website or by calling (202) 994-5200. And, for those of you who can’t make it to the exhibit in Washington, D.C., keep an eye on the Interweave website . Christina will be visiting the museum and has promised to give us the inside scoop about the exhibit! Stay tuned!

—Christina