By Patricia Belyea
WAUCONDA WA At Okan Arts, our big thing is vintage Japanese yukata cottons. We’re crazy about them!
The luscious hand-dyed cottons inspire us to make out-of-the-ordinary quilts. And we’re thrilled to share our finds with other adventuresome quilters.
Okan Arts sources the cottons from over 30 vendors in Japan—antique shops, vintage warehouses, used kimono shops, and pickers. We select the yukata cottons based on three criteria—the design, the price, and the condition of the 20- to 60-year old fabrics.
This month a 50-pound box of yukata cottons was delivered by Japan Post and USPS to Okan Arts. Inside were 27 bolts, most in individual packages, that had been shipped from across Japan to a warehouse in Tokyo. The packages were consolidated into a big box and then air shipped to Seattle.
Opening a box of yukata cottons is like Christmas morning! Not only is there the delight of seeing all the wonderful colors and patterns, there’s the huge mess of packaging.
Each rolled bolt is protected with a plastic sleeve. Turquoise threads need to be clipped to remove the sleeve, as well as more threads securing paper labels to the yukata cottons.
Some of the newer yukata cottons came with little tags that Japanese sewists can add to their finished yukatas (an unlined casual kimono). The satin tag below shows that fashion icon Junko Koshino designed this dramatic yukata cotton.
Three older bolts—indigo yukata cottons for men—arrived in very special packaging. Printed wraps with cotton strings protect the fabrics in the handmade paper boxes. These fabrics will be sold as full bolts with their glorious packaging.
The majority of the patterns in this shipment were flora or butterfly patterns. The small amount of pattern that you can see along the side of the rolled bolts does not tell the whole story. Roll out this navy blue yukata cotton and see where one red morning glory contrasts with the other ivory blossoms!
Two bolts in the box were audacious abstracts. Abstract patterns are not common; even rarer is an orange yukata cotton.
Traditional geometric patterns are typically dyed in an indigo and white. In this shipment, there was also an indigo bolt with a bamboo pattern and one with an overall flora pattern.
To prep the bolts at Okan Arts, we unroll all of the yukata cottons from their narrow cardboard cores. Each bolt measures 11 to 12 yards long. We check for damage—age blemishes, sun fading, or water deterioration—and discard the spoilage. Then we note the number of remaining yards, re-roll the fabrics, and post the yukata cottons in our online store.
We believe Okan Arts boasts the largest collection of yukata cotton in the world, outside of Japan. Right now, we count just over 750 yukata cottons between our online shop, our trunk show inventory, and our studio stash.
Last year we celebrated our tenth anniversary of importing and selling yukata cottons. We truly appreciate YOU—with your shared love of Japanese yukata cottons and your fearless style. Thanks for supporting Okan Arts!
To read about a chusen-dyeing workshop in Tokyo where yukata cottons are hand-dyed +click here
To listen to a 25-minute podcast abut yukata cottons with Patricia Belyea of Okan Arts and Lizzy Logan of Collecting Culture +click here
To shop for yukata cottons at Okan Arts +click here