Monday, January 23, 2017

Hari-Kuyo, the Festival of Broken Needles

Hari-Kuyo is the Buddhist and Shinto Festival of Broken Needles which is celebrated in parts of Japan on February 8th. For the past 400 years, kimono makers, seamstresses and homemakers have gathered at shrines to thank their bent pins and broken needles for the hard work and faithful service they have provided over the past year. They express their thanks by holding a small memorial service and putting the pins and needles to rest in a block of soft tofu or jelly. It is also an opportunity to pray for improved sewing skills in the year to come.

Image courtesy of japan-experience.com

Why hold a memorial for pins and needles? In animist cultures it is believed that objects have souls, so this ceremony was a way for those whose livelihood relied on the humble needle to pay homage to that soul. After a year of rough treatment, the pins and needles are given a soft, luxurious resting place at the end of their 'lives'. It is also, on the most basic level, a way to simply acknowledge the importance of these tools that so often get overlooked.

Also central to the festival is the concept of 'Mottainai', which roughly means a sense of regret concerning waste. (The philosophical concept behind it is of course more complex, if you'd like to learn more about it, Wikipedia has an excellent entry on it) Being a quilter who tries to make use of every last scrap, and a sewist who tries to live by the "Make do and mend" motto, this strikes a particularly strong chord with me.
Lastly, there is an intensely personal layer of meaning to the festival. Historically, it was women who worked with pins and needles, and when those women carried painful secrets that they could not share with others, they would instead share them with their needles while they worked. Then at the end of the year, they would put those needles, and the secrets they carried, to rest in the hopes of being free to move forward. I think all of us have experienced that meditative connection with our work at some point; it can be a wonderfully therapeutic practise for anyone who picks up a needle.

As a sewist and quilter, I found the concept behind the festival so wonderfully reverential to one of the most necessary tools of our trade that I wanted to join in the celebration. I always try to be sensitive about cultural appropriation, so while I come from a different cultural background, my needles work as hard as anyone else's and I hope the powers that be don't mind that I celebrate Hari-Kuyo in my own little way.

At our February meeting on the 14th we will be celebrating the Festival of Broken Needles... please bring along any worn, bent or broken pins and needles that you have so we can thank them for their service, give them their well-earned rest and look forward to the next year of sewing and creating!

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