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CETG Meeting on Monday 11 November 2019

Our Speaker – Deborah Sanders

Her Subject - Tenugui Scarves


On the same evening, entries for our annual Pat Feming Award were on show and
judged (in a secret ballot) by all members attending the talk.

Here is an overview of the talk on the night, along with some photos of the scarves and embroidered pieces on show.

Deborah very kindly stepped in as our November speaker, Gilly Pusey, was unwell.


Deborah began her talk showing us a few photographs of her country house in Somerset.  The house is part of an old Lunatic Asylum built in the late 19th Century.  Apparently every region had to have an asylum which was supposed to include 4 acres of land per resident.  The property was eventually called the Mendip Hospital but has now been turned into apartments.


Deborah and her husband Peter spend about every weekend in three at the house, and in the summer they like to stay there for about a month.  They have started making a wish list of what they would like to do whilst they are there, which is how the subject for this talk came about.


One thing that Deborah has always wanted to do is to go to an auction, so off they went to the local large old auction rooms where the next auction was for old Victorian objects and memorabilia. The viewing was the day before the auction and Deborah found an old box underneath a table, in which was a piece of Chinese embroidery covered with some old rags.  She put this all back underneath the table, hoping no-one else would find it.


They went back the next day for the auction, arriving at about 10.00 am.  There were to be 700 lots and it was obvious that some people went along for a day out!


They came to the box that Deborah was interested in which was labelled as “Kamikaze scarves”.  It started off at £30 but there were no bids so it was reduced to £20.  Deborah started bidding and won the bid at £30 which she was very pleased with. It’s good fun watching the auction lots and they have now visited the auction several times since then.


They brought the box home and spent the evening going through everything.  They took the rags out ready to throw them away.  There were 69 of them!  They looked up Kamikaze scarves and decided that these weren’t actually Kamikaze scarves.


They discovered that they could be “Tenugui” scarves.  You can still find Tenugui scarves in Japan.  Deborah’s sister was visiting them at the time and, in her “Selvedge” magazine, was an article about Tenugui scarves!


The scarves are always made of light muslin and are actually used as a towel.  In hot countries muslin is used instead of towelling.  The scarves were all illustrated with different images and graphics:  some military images, some more decorative describing folk tales.  By researching online, they discovered that some of the scarves were used as propaganda during the Japanese/Russian war of 1904/05.  The scarves looked like they had never been exposed to daylight and were possibly bought by a lady in China or Japan.


The scarves were made in great big strips, approximately 10 inches wide and a metre long.  The quality varied.  The images were printed in a unique way, with the exact same image on both sides of the muslin. Deborah and Peter then wondered what to do with them all!  They took them to the Knitting & Stitching Show this year but no-one seemed to know what they were.  Apparently the script used on the scarves is an old Japanese script that not many people can read.


They decided that they didn’t want to keep all of them.  Deborah has a contact at the V&A who put her in touch with the Japanese curator who they went to visit - taking in the Dior exhibition on the way!  They had three experts at the V&A look over the scarves, they decided they didn’t want to keep any as they had no intrinsic value. However, the ones they liked best were the images depicting battles. 


Deborah decided to write to the Pitt Rivers Museum.  Eventually they responded and Deborah and Peter were invited to visit.  It was a fantastic experience seeing behind the scenes in the Museum – she discovered the job she would have loved!


The Museum photographed the scarves and were very interested in the historical aspect of them.  Lots of the images depicted tattoos, which was of particular interest.  In the end the Pitt Rivers chose 28 to keep for the Museum.  Deborah and Peter are now listed as donators and the scarves will be used as a research tool.  They have asked the Museum to keep them informed if anyone undertakes any research on them.  The scarves are not deemed to have any monetary value.


Deborah showed us photographs of the scarves on screen.  As mentioned previously, they think some of the military images were sent out as propaganda during the wars.  Some of the images were most likely stencilled.


Terry asked if Deborah thinks she owns the copyright of the scarf images.  If so, she could use them for cards etc.  Peter thinks that as they’re over 100 years old they will be out of copyright now.


They are deciding which ones to keep and will probably display them behind glass.


Gita wondered if it might be worth auctioning them again at somewhere like Sotheby’s, particularly to attract the American/Asian market.


Deborah ended her talk by suggesting we all visit an auction as you never know what you will find!  She is now very keen to visit Japan!

Nov 2019 chinese embroidery close up.jpg
Deborah Saunders.jpg
Nov 2019 chinese embroidery close up.jpg
Nov 2019 chinese embroidery.jpg
Nov 2019 Rags2.jpg
Nov 2019 Rags 3.jpg
Nov 2019 Rags 1.jpg
Nov 2019 Rags 4.jpg
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