Brilliant Banana Fibre
In anticipation of the brand new issue of Selvedge, issue 81: Japan Blue, hitting the newsstands soon we revisit issue 70, and Okinawa's renowned Bashofu; the banana fibre cloth...
Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture is an archipelago of 146 islands stretching between Kyushu and Taiwan whose rich culture has resulted from its topography, and regional influences. As a part of this mix, Bashofu or ‘banana-fibre cloth’, has a distinct local (and national) identity, which has altered over time with the many social, economic and cultural transformations of broader Okinawan (and Japanese) society.
As the name implies, bashofu is made from a tree-like plantain in the banana family (musa balbisiana). While characteristic of the subtropical landscape, research has proven that ‘thread-banana’, distinct from fruit or flower bearing plants (and known as ito-basho in modern Japanese), is not indigenous to the islands and that both plant and textile were introduced from Southern China.
Banana-fibre is technically a leaf fibre, found in the 'trunk' (or ‘pseudo-stem’) of the banana 'tree' rather than in the upper green leaves. This trunk actually consists of a series of inter-nesting leaf bases, which can be separated into grades. Outer sections contain relatively course fibre and the inner ones finer. In simple terms, this material is divided, softened by boiling, and then scraped (‘scutched’) to remove the waste phloem. Once dried, the resulting fibre-strips are split into desired thickness, knotted end-to-end in continuous length, spun (twisted for strength) and woven. The work is both laborious and highly skilled, but results in a distinctive cloth, both crisp and light, and cool to the skin, ideal for the regional climate...
You can read this article by Tim Parry-Williams in Selvedge issue 70.
To find out more about Japan's rich textile culture, you can order your copy of Selvedge issue 81 here.
Hello, I’m a 4th generation bashofu and Ryukyu kasuri handweaver and indigo practitioner from Okinawa, Japan. I currently reside in the USA where, just recently, I was preparing to teach a kasuri ikat workshop. Hence, I did a google search on “bashofu” to check for resources, written in the English language, that I could share with my students. And, so I found your delightful article. Just wanted to thank you for sharing information about our beautiful bashofu cloth. Did you know, by chance, that there are ancient legends associated with Ryukyu bashofu weavers and their handwoven cloth? It is believed that bashofu cloth has protective powers for those who wear it, thus keeping the human body and soul safe from harm…there are so many fascinating stories embedded in our textiles, don’t you agree?…thank you, and with best wishes, Scharine https://ryukyuheritagetextiles.com/
I have heard of bamboo knit fabric, but never have i heard of banana fabric. This seems like cotton fabric but this follows much more complicated process. Thank you for sharing this information.
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