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OUR FRIEND THE BAGWORM
Within Japanese textile traditions we can discover many techniques not found in the West. As a textile artist and as someone who has always been fascinated by insects, I find textiles making use of bagworms among the most intriguing of concepts.
If you are not already familiar with them, bagworms construct mobile homes – homes they cart along with them as they travel from branch to branch.  Bagworms are not found in California. I only stumbled upon them through collecting kimono.
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minomushi crawling up branch with its travel trailer in tow
minomushi suspended from a branch in early spring
Bagworm larvae collect bits of twigs, leaves, and really anything small and at hand, to lash them together with silk. Unlike most moth larvae, the bagworm begins producing silk strands right from the start. The silk is not used to spin a cocoon, as a silk worm would, but to construct a home in which it will sleep at night, feed, mate, and eventually lay it’s eggs.
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different neighborhoods call for different housing styles, these are all the same variety of bagworm
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The term minomushi is made up of two nouns, “mino” and “mushi”. “Mushi” means “insect” or “bug”. A “mino” is an old fashioned straw raincoat, found in a range of styles throughout Asia.

This concept of a raincoat-clad insect conjures up a cute image for many Japanese, somewhat along the lines of how some Westerners feel about ladybugs. It is a shape that is imitated in many forms in Japan.
baby sock
bar lighting
wall vase
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The worm itself begins constructing its abode almost from the time it hatches, gathering tiny bits of whatever it may find. Gathering local bits of leaves and debris helps it to camouflage itself right from the start. It isn’t particularly choosey about what it selects. If kept in a terrarium bereft of leaves, it is just as happy to use bits of construction paper or confetti. There is even an artist in Europe, Hubert Duprat, who works with an aquatic variety of bagworm, supplying them with pearls and precious mentals. How cool is that?
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can you see the silk collar around the “doorway”?
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As it increases in size it enlarges its home, but generally doesn’t grow beyond three inches. It will scoot along in search for food or a warm spot all the while dragging its camper along behind. It can be found dangling from branches, sheet metal siding, or the lip of a porcelain pot.

The female is never able to leave her home, even after she pupates. The male flies to her and she lays her eggs within her protective sphere. The eggs take a couple of weeks to hatch and then all at once thousands of larvae will emerge dangling from delicate silk strands to start the cycle all over again.
Once you know what to look for, you’ll find that minomushi appear in many traditional works of art.
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And, of course, since this is Japan…
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performance artist Kouji Kakuno
copyright John Marshall, 2020
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