By Carol Glassman
Recently, the Naples Ikebana Chapter learned that an “obi” is a lot more than just a three-letter word in a crossword puzzle meaning a Japanese belt or sash. As visiting member Laura Felt from the Asheville Chapter of Ikebana so aptly demonstrated, an obi can become anything your artistic heart desires from a crane to a flower container or a ruffled flower for a table centerpiece.
Felt, who lived in Japan for four years and still visits annually, said she found most of her obis at flea markets or weekend sales at the Kyoto shrine market in Japan. Obis come in many sizes and are made from many materials. Never reluctant to recycle used obis, Felt explained for this demonstration she would concentrate on women’s obis made from sturdy brocade materials that measure 12 inches by 13 feet and rarely stain. If they do, she said, they can still be cut up and used as decorative appliqués.
Beginning with a simple table runner, or an obi to be hung on a wall as decoration, Felt showed how some obis are patterned only on one side. Others are made from very heavy materials and would be weighty to wear. Color is important too: white for weddings, black for funerals and gold for celebrations such as family of a bride and groom. Men’s obis tend to be narrower and are worn around the stomach, while the wider women’s obis rise from the hips.
Using obis of gorgeous scarlet and black with metallic threads running through it, Felt went on to show how the obi can be pleated in one’s hands, tied with an elastic band and then spread in a fan shape or fluffed into a flower. She had even fashioned a crane in an origami-style of folding the cloth.
An obi was traditionally wrapped around the body a few times and then fastened with a braided cord with tassels — the obu-jime — to keep it in place. Often it became a decorative element, and was used to fashion large bows on the wearer’s back.
As an obi can be quite difficult to tie appropriately on oneself, Felt demonstrated an easy way on one of the women in attendance.
As useful as this three-letter word is to complete a crossword puzzle, the obi gained new style and color status from Laura Felt’s demonstration.