Wa Quilts

The Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival is held annually at Tokyo Dome, the indoor baseball stadium that is home to the Tokyo Giants.  Quilts are entered in two categories: traditional (meaning Western-style) and wa quilts.

By itself, wa means something like “balance and harmony that leads to a sense of peacefulness”.  Usually it’s used as a prefix or suffix in compound words.  For example heiwa – meaning “peace” – is a combination of hei (something broad, smooth and even) with wa.  Fu (meaning “not”) plus wa is “friction” or “discord”.  Shinwa (intimacy + wais “friendship” and kyouwa (together + wa) is “cooperation”.

Wa is also a prefix that designates something belongs to native Japanese culture.  Washoku is Japanese food, a washitsu is a room with tatami mat flooring and paper-screen doors, wafuku is clothing like kimono or jimbei, and waji are written characters that originated in Japan as opposed to being borrowed from the Chinese language.

Wa quilts, therefore, use Japanese-style designs that do indeed maintain balance and harmony in a very non-Western way.  The fabric in wa quilts are typically subdued colors, but rarely without a delicate pattern or texture.  Patterns and motifs simultaneously achieve balance and movement.  The daring is in the intricacy of the work.  Most of the wa quilts were pieced entirely from blocks less that one inch square in size.  The Japanese-ness of the quilts is found not only in the colors and design, but also in the precision and patience necessary to such a creation process.  Here are some of my favorite from this year’s show.


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