Meet Milo!

Milo, swaddled up and sleeping, wearing a crocheted viking hatOur son Milo was born on April 28, 2012! Both of us are healthy and happy, and everything’s been going very well. Brian and I are having so much fun with him, and my family, our doula Jessie, our doctor and all of our friends have been supportive and loving. (If you’re in the Tacoma, Olympia or Seattle area and looking for a doula, I highly recommend Jessie Keating, who was absolutely wonderful. She greatly reduced my anxiety about childbirth, was supportive of me and my husband in every possible way and was invaluable while I was in labor.) Thanks to everyone who’s asked about how things have been going… and of course, thanks to everyone who’s still reading, considering I haven’t posted since December!

There’s your update on the flesh and blood humans behind this website, but what about the paper ones you come here for? Obviously I have my hands a little full right now, but I’ve had paperdoll plans on my mind lately. (I have rather a lot of downtime in which I can think about such things while this little guy is feeding, although what with all the sleep deprivation my thoughts aren’t quite as coherent as usual.) I’d like to start drawing again, and put some of my earlier plans and ideas into action, particularly the customizable doll. I expect there won’t be any action on that front for a number of months, but it is on my mind. I always return to paperdolls in the end, it seems!

If there’s any paper doll related news, it will be here, though I can’t tell you exactly when that might be. To keep tabs on me in general, you can always see what I’m up to on Twitter!


Blue, Black and Gold Angel Gown for Low’s “Long Way Around The Sea”

A flowing, loose gown made of three layers. The innermost layer is a light blue tunic with wide sleeves that fall to the wrist and a full hemline that reaches to the feet. The hem, edge of the sleeves and neck are edged with gold trim. Over that are two sleeveless tunics. The one on the outside is dark blue and open in the front, while the one underneath that is dark blue and crosses in a V at the front near the waistline so that the light blue of the first tunic is visible. The entire dress is belted at the waist with a gold rope belt, which is tied in a bow at the side and has long ends that fall to the knee. The edges of the two top tunics are draped in soft folds which show the gold reverse side of the fabric, and the edges are staggered so that you can see part of the black tunic under the blue one and part of the light blue tunic under the black one. The edges of all three skirts fan out in a trumpet shape near the hem.Click for larger version (PNG); click for PDF version. Click here for the list of dolls.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it! To those of you who don’t, happy end of December, and apologies for the incessant Christmas cacophony.

Lyrika asked me and a bunch of other bloggers to write about one of our favorite Christmas carols this year for one of her Random Magic tours. You can – and should – see the other bloggers’ picks by checking the schedule: Songs of the Season.

I love most Christmas carols and know a whole lot of them, thanks to playing the piano as a kid, so it was tough to decide on just one; I decided to go with one that I wouldn’t expect most readers to have heard before, Low’s “Long Way Around The Sea.” Low is a group that my husband is really into, but I know very little about them other than that I love their Christmas album. “Long Way Around The Sea” is a melancholy song with a classic feeling about the three wise men being warned by an angel against going back to see Herod after visiting the baby Jesus.

I have a real weakness for such dark-sounding songs, and somehow this one puts me in mind of dark colors like black and blue. Even the angel is dressed in a relatively subdued way because she doesn’t want to call attention to herself. No, no, don’t look at me, I picture her saying, just hurry and head back that-a-way instead, OK?


1939 White Dress with Red Trim and Autumn Leaf Pattern for Thanksgiving

A white dress patterned all over with small orange, yellow and red leaves in different shapes. The sleeves are short, slightly puffed at the shoulder and bordered at the bottom edge with a looped pattern in bright red. It has a V-neck, also bordered with the same red pattern, and pintucks at the shoulders. There's a row of three tightly-spaced small white buttons over the bust, and it's cinched at the waist with a red-patterned belt which has a white circle-shaped buckle. The skirt is a simple A-line skirt with a hemline a few inches below the knee.Click for larger version (PNG); click for PDF version. Click here for the list of dolls.

Today is Thanksgiving here in America, and last year I did a Thanksgiving-themed 1860s ball gown as a reference to the year the holiday was established. But in 1939, in the middle of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed it up a week so that there would be a longer shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. As you might imagine, this didn’t go over well with everyone at the time, but for my purposes I am imagining my dolls to be early adopters. So this year, we have a 1939-style dress with an autumn leaf pattern to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Do I ever feel like I have a lot to be thankful for this year! My husband, my family, my friends, the entire medical establishment — I could really go on and on. I won’t bore you all, though, but rather will leave you with one piece of new information: we went in for the ultrasound yesterday, and it’s a boy!

I hope that those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving today will have a lovely one!


Iris-Colored (ayame-iro) Iromuji Kimono with Gold Obi

An unpatterned purple-red kimono, with a white collar embroidered with purple and yellow flowers. The obi (the wide belt worn over the stomach) is made of vine-patterned golden cloth, and on it is an image of a Japanese court lady with long, straight black hair and multicolored, layered robes, facing away from the viewer and holding up a fan. Tied around the middle of the obi is a thin, violet-blue cord (the obijime), decorated with a piece of jewelry depicting an iris and two cattails, and peeking above the obi is a a thin layer of bright lime-green fabric (the obiage). The ensemble is finished with a pair of black and purple zori (formal Japanese sandals) and white tabi (split-toed socks).Click for larger version (PNG); click for PDF version. Click here for the list of dolls.

As I wrote back in February, when I drew a poppy red kimono and treated you to stories of red dye made out of mythical creature blood, I have been learning about Japanese color words from a couple of books, Kimono and the Colors of Japan: The Kimono Collection of Katsumi Yumioka and 日本の伝統色 The Traditional Colors of Japan. (More for my own amusement than for any practical purpose, as usual.) This is the second post in the series; I asked you (or rather, my readers in February) to choose the next color and Salvia Blue seemed to be the next winner but at the last minute Iris pulled ahead.

Iris (菖蒲色, ayame-iro) is a literal color name: the word 菖蒲 (ayame) means “iris,” so paired with the kanji for “color,” 色 (iro), the name really is “iris-color.” To be specific, ayame refers to one type of iris that grows in Japan, althouh there are two other common types as well, the 花菖蒲 (hanashōbu) and the 杜若 (kakitsubata), both of which have their own symbolic meanings; the situation isn’t helped by the fact that the words have apparently shifted over time, so that the fragrant ayame beloved by aristocrats a thousand years ago isn’t actually the ayame Japanese people know today. (For more on this shift, read this chapter from Liza Dalby’s memoir: bitter herb grows tall.) Nor is it helped by the fact that the same kanji, 菖蒲, can also be read shōbu — which is both another kind of iris and a shortened form of 花菖蒲 (hanashōbu). This iris-related confusion even prompted a proverb, いずれ菖蒲か杜若 (izure ayame ka kakitsubata), which literally means “Either the ayame or the kakitsubata“; the meaning is something like, “Both of these things are so overwhelmingly beautiful that there’s no point in trying to compare or differentiate between them.” It seems to be rather old-fashioned, and most often applied to pretty women or girls. “Which of those two sisters is more beautiful?” “Well, it’s like the ayame and the kakitsubata.” (For more information: Origami Volume 6: Iris (in English), いずれ菖蒲か杜若 (in Japanese), and a great deal of discussion on Twitter in Japanese with my friend Arietty I can dig up for anyone who’s really interested.)

Ayame-iro is a lovely rich, warm purple with reddish undertones. According to The Traditional Colors of Japan, the hex code for ayame-iro is #6F3381. The Prismacolor Digital Color Coordinator says that the closest single Prismacolor pencil is Mahogany Red, which shows the limits of the tool because that one is far too red. I’m seeing Dark Purple as being closer, but I think it is just a shade too red as well. Dark Purple over a light backing of of Violet is, I think, about right. Interestingly, some sources make a distinction between 菖蒲色 (ayame-iro) and 菖蒲色 (shōbu-iro). For example, this page lists shōbu-iro as a darker purple and ayame-iro as a light lilac.

According to “The Iris Garden at Horikiri,” at the time that article was written (1903), irises were regarded as beautiful, but not particularly emblematic of womanly modesty and virtue, unlike other flowers such as plum blossoms; the name “Ayame” therefore was used by geisha more often than by other women. One of my Japanese friends thought it still might have some geisha-ish overtones, although the first word it reminded her of was the decidedly unauspicious, although unrelated 殺める (ayameru; to murder or to wound). Still, she could think of one kid she knew of with the name, so although it seems uncommon it’s not entirely unused.

There was a famous historical Ayame: Ayame no Mae (菖蒲前), a court lady during the late Heian period (the 1100s). One day, the famous warrior Minamoto no Yorimasa (源頼政) caught a glimpse of her and fell in love with her, but she turned away all her suitors, and for three years his poems and letters went unanswered. The situation came to the Emperor’s attention, and he tested Yorimasa’s love by having Lady Ayame and two other court ladies appear in front of him, all dressed alike. If Yorimasa could pick her out, he could have her. But in those days, noble women kept themselves hidden from men, and Yorimasa had never actually seen his beloved face-to-face. Completely at a loss, he replied with a poem:
五月雨に
沢辺の真菰
水越えて
いずれ菖蒲と
引きぞ煩う
(samidare ni / sawabe no makomo / mizu koete / izure ayame to / hikizo wazurau)

Now, in Yei Theodora Ozaki’s telling of the tale, the poem is translated “In the rainy season when the waters overflow the banks of the lake, who can gather the Iris?” “The rainy season” refers to Yorimasa’s three years of disappointment, and the waters the many tears he had shed, so many that he couldn’t see clearly enough to discern the true Lady Ayame; this response was so modest and admirable that the Emperor took Lady Ayame by the hand and gave her to Yorimasa personally. In the version Anne Dyer tells, it is translated as follows: “When the June rains flood the pond, how impossible it is to distinguish the beautiful Ayame from common reeds!” The real Lady Ayame was embarrassed by this response, and blushed, allowing Yorimasa to pick her out of the lineup!

Incidentally, I am really into the poetry-filled beauty of the Heian period, but when it starts getting into the Genpei War and the rise of the warrior class my eyes glaze over, because there are so many Yoshis and Yoris and Mitsus and Moris and Shiges all shooting arrows at each other that I can’t keep them straight. Now, if they all happen to have a distant connection with a color name, by the time I finish this series I will know all about them and I’ll be prepared to try to read the Tale of the Heike again.

The kanji 菖 just means “iris.” It seems like it is almost always used as part of the compound 菖蒲 and not on its own, and while it’s not one of the characters students officially learn in school, it is one of the characters that can be used in names. キラキラname, a baby name site, suggests girls’ names like 菖子, Shōko, or 菖花, Shōka; one of my friends pointed out that since the iris is connected with May in Japan, such a name might be an indication that its bearer was born in that month.

Now, 蒲 is a little more interesting; it means “cattail” and is used in a few other contexts aside from 菖蒲. It’s not one of the characters that students officially learn in school, but it can be used in names. I’ve only seen it in last names like 谷蒲 (Kabaya), though.

Nowadays, the word “futon,” if it’s written in kanji, is written 布団; the first character means “cloth.” (団, which usually means “group,” means “round” in this case, as the first futons were round. I guess that’s why 団栗 – donguri, acorn – and 団子 – dango, dumpling – have 団 in them too.) But they were originally made from cattails, and written 蒲団.

蒲 is also part of the kanji used for the word 蒲鉾 (kamaboko), which you may already know if you’re into Japanese food or bentos, although I don’t know if the kanji are in frequent use. Kamaboko is a type of loaf made out of pureed fish, and is sliced and used in dishes such as soup. It can be very pretty, too: in this picture of soup made for New Year’s, the red and white disc in the middle with 寿 (kotobuki, long life) on it and the white disc with the plum blossom on it at the bottom right hand side are both kamaboko. Its name comes from how it used to be prepared: the loaf was spiked on a bamboo skewer, making it look like a cattail.

We are really getting away from irises now, but humor me for a moment: there’s an old slang word, かまとと (kamatoto) that means someone – usually a woman – who’s skilled at feigning innocence. In this case, “kama” refers to “kamaboko,” and “toto” is baby-talk for “fish,” so imagine a girl purposely giving a guy a chance to feel superior and amused by asking him, wide-eyed, if kamaboko is really made out of little fishies. It’s from the Edo period, and it stuck around for quite some time, long enough to show up in books on Japanese written by American men who spent a lot of time in Japanese bars after WWII, but when I asked one of my friends about it, she reported that it was now a 死語 (shigo), or a “dead word” – that is, slang no one uses anymore. (At least, that’s what she said once she stopped laughing. I suppose it’s a rather risque word.)

The kimono for today is an iris-colored iromuji (single-color formal kimono). The gold obi has an aristocratic pattern of karakusa, or Chinese arabesque, and a motif of three court ladies, as a reference to the love story of Ayame and Yorimasa. (But only one shows up on the front – the other two are on the back of the obi. Do you think the one you can see is Ayame no Mae, or is she one of the other ladies?) The obidome – that is, the little bit of jewelry worn in the middle of the dark purple cord on the obi – is an iris and cattail pattern, as a reference to the kanji.

Now, I haven’t even started talking about a lot of Japanese iris symbolism and tradition, such as the connection to a famous story in the Tales of Ise, why the flower is connected with the yearly Boy’s Festival and other fun tangents. That’s OK, it just leaves the door open for an iris-patterned kimono at some point in the future!

Thanks to my friends Tsubasa, Arietty, Sloppie and paopao_zou3 for answering some of my iris questions!

The wisdom of the paperdoll hive mind has picked out a tremendously interesting color for me this time, so choose for me again from another randomly picked five: