Cover of Re-visioning Silk Through Amami Ōshima, edited by Lisa Onaga and Anne McKnight

Re-visioning Silk Through Amami Ōshima


Lisa Onaga and Anne McKnight, editors
36 pages, 26 images.
Singapore: KHL Printing Co., Ltd. © 2017

This project is a collaboration between a historian of science (Lisa Onaga), a design historian (Laura Forlano), a textile artist (Galina Mihaleva), and a literary historian (Anne McKnight). It takes its inspiration from pattern books in fabric stores. These pattern books catalog options that sewers can use to customize their garments and are also inspired by Edo-era design books that kimono buyers would peruse when commissioning their own silk kimonos. The essays contextualize a wearable prototype, made of silk from a southern island, Amami-Ōshima situated in the East China Sea between Japan, Okinawa and China. Part I of the chapbook contains essays that give a historical context. Part II contains highly magnified microscopic images of the silk that show detailed patterns that draw on the natural world. By recasting our eyes upon Amami-Ōshima, we are forced to consider a different history of silk-making that encourages a reflection upon historical assumptions about silk in Japan, from fabric to sutures to protein. The title Re-Visioning Silk thus refers to both a renewed view of highly familiar silk and a refashioning of how we have recounted the story of silk, tied to imperial and liberal capital production. This collaborative project serves as a springboard for the identification, documenting, and narrating of silk in less familiar settings and spaces.

From Factories to Surgeries: Prototyping Threads

Lisa Onaga
Unbound © 2021

The supposed impermanence or invisibility of silk sutures straddles both the material world and the world of thought. Together, they afford contemplation as to how sutures also do more than close the physical wounds in human or animal flesh. Such an effort to notice and understand alternative histories of silk involves locating peripheral historical narratives that can lead to novel, surprising stories of the past. The emergent biotechnologies that have recently led to new means of silk manufacture through genetically engineered yeast, which obviates mulberry-munching silkworms, reflect a number of tensions about the relationship of the textile past and the biotechnological present. Read more

Image: Bobbin container for sterilized silk. Kōmoto and Seo (1891). Jitsuyō gankagaku [Practical Ophthalmology], 42. The silk suture is a present absent in history, while the material shape and form of the bobbin containers used to store spools of silk sutures endure, much like the legacy of Kōmoto Jūjirō’s 1893 surgical procedures that preceded current-day double-eyelid surgeries.

© Kōmoto and Seo: Jitsuyō gankagaku (1891)