Stories of Migration – The Textile Museum 4/15/16 – 9/4/16

Stories of Migration_Logoartwork by Denise Oyama MillerThis artwork is called “Connecting Threads.” It tells a personal story of my family’s history, spanning the last 100 years. It starts in Japan with an early photo of my grandfather, Zengoro Oyama, as a child and the birthplace of my grandmother, Chiyo Iwamoto. The story continues through Hawaii, Los Angeles, the relocation years of World War II, and the movement of the family back to the West Coast. I think our family history is similar to many other Japanese families, who migrated to the United States in the early 1900’s.

I was inspired to do this quilt as a result of our annual family Thanksgiving dinners, where we have shared the family history from the perspective of each of the four children of Zengoro and Chiyo. It was wonderful to hear the stories and see the old photos.

When I heard about the Studio Art Quilt Associates call for entries for this show, I knew what my subject would be. I was especially interested in this venue, as both my Father and Uncle got their graduate degrees in biochemistry from George Washington University.

Our branch of the family had very few photos left of our early history, but my Uncle Jiro, youngest and only surviving member of that generation, had many photos to choose from. I also collected photos from other members of our family.

I wanted to make a quilt that combined the textile traditions of both Japan and the United States, while at the same time showing the family ties. I started with a white piece of cotton fabric. I used shibori dyeing techniques to create the fabric in the body of the kimono. I used thermofax screens to discharge or remove some of the dye. I repeated these steps several times to get the exact color that I wanted. I used Transfer Artist Paper for the photographs. The hand stitching is done in the sashiko style of stitching, while the quilting is machine quilted.

Since we didn’t have a family crest, I created 4 alternatives and asked my siblings and their families to vote on their preferred image. I ended up with a circle design of a large mountain with water around it signifying the Pacific Ocean. The kanji in the middle of the design is our family name Oyama, which means “big mountain.”
artwork by Denise Oyama Miller


  1. Hi Denise,

    This is a wonderful, beautiful quilt… and so personal and moving because it is your family story and history.
    I have a few photos of my grandparents who came from Japan to Hawaii and had been wondering how to incorporate them into some sort of art work. Your quilt and write-up have inspired me. warm regards, donna watson

    • Denise Oyama Miller says:

      I would love to see what you do with your idea. These are stories that should be documented, or they will be lost.

  2. Denise Oyama Miller says:

    Thanks, Cindy.


  1. […] was also a very moving piece by Denise Oyama Miller about her extended family’s migration from Japan to the United […]

Speak Your Mind