mottainai – guest post by Julie Maclean


I heard a radio program last year in which a writer described the 400 year old Japanese  Festival of Broken Needles or Hari-Kuyo, which I found evocative.

On February 8th women gather at Shinto shrines, or Buddhist temples, and begin by thanking their needles and pins for their faithful service. Next they place them in jelly or tofu  – a soft bed – and lay them to rest. The other idea that is acknowledged on the day is that the needles have taken on some of the sorrows and difficulties of the women  – they’re carrying or sharing the burden of the women’s emotional troubles.

The final aspect of Hari-Kuyo is the idea of valuing the small things. The Japanese call it mottainai. It’s a Buddhist word, and is connected to the Shinto belief that objects have souls.
In general, mottainai is about not being wasteful.

(ImageVintage Kantha Quilt, Saturated Hues)


text means ‘the wording of anything written’. It comes from the Latin texere, ‘to weave’ – from which we also get the word texture.

One of my favourite books on the connection between writing stories and the creation of cloth is from the Sylph Editions Cahiers Series by Isabella Ducrot, Text on Textile, a meditation on fabric, myth, life and story:

Whenever we say ‘to lose the thread of an argument’, or ‘to weave a story’, we imply that the thread is continuous and irreversible, and that it upholds the meaning of what we say. In textile terms, this continuity is more a quality of the weft than of the warp. It is also true that when we say ‘the thread of a story’ (or in Italian, the trama, meaning both ‘plot’ and ‘weft’), the word ‘thread’ expands its meaning metonymically and refers to more than a single element: it refers to the very structure of the story; or, we could say, to its texture.

In weaving, the weft thread holds the warp threads together – breaking it breaks apart the fabric. Patch-work and  kantha, cloth made in India from damaged and discarded textiles, stitches pieces of broken fabric together to create something anew. Writers bind words together to create a story; they also pick up bits of stories already told to use again – writers are weavers but they are also recyclers. And every story is a small part of a continuous tale we are telling about ourselves.

(Image: hand spun, hand-dyed yarn, photo by wax and feathers used under Creative Commons license.)