Dyeing and weaving of fabric are techniques that are indispensable to our lifestyles. The arts of dyeing and weaving, as we know them in Japan today, are the distillation of centuries of tradition and fashion aesthetics going back to the courtly culture of the Heian Period (794-1185), the samurai culture of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (the late 16th century), and the merchant culture of the Edo Period (1603-1868).
General Production Process
Dyeing Dyeing designs onto fabric
Yuzen-zome is one of Japan's best-known traditional dyeing processes. It involves drawing designs on white fabric with paste and dyeing it multiple colors. After the fabric has been cut into a kimono shape, an underpainting is drawn in a dye called aobana-eki (blue flower liquid) that washes out without leaving a trace. Thread paste is then applied over the lines of the underpainting, creating masked-off lines that prevent color from mixing. Then, the areas of color are filled in. Finally the paste is washed out. In the style known as itome-yuzen it leaves fine white lines where it had been, while in sekidashi-yuzen the entirety of the fabric is dyed so that no white lines remain.
In katae-zome, an underpainting is stuck to a sturdy piece of washi paper that has been tanned in astringent juice, and then the picture is cut out to make a stencil. Resist paste is then repeatedly applied in cutout parts of the stencil to make a repeating pattern, and dye applied to create the colors of the design.
This technique was developed during the Edo Period (1603-1868) for dyeing elaborate patterns on kamishimo, garments worn by samurai on formal occasions. Afterward its use spread to dyeing of commoners' kimonos as well. A type of stencil known as Ise katagami has historically been used for Edo komon.
In Edo komon, minute, delicate designs are applied to silk, but the technique of nagaita chugata involves making larger designs on cotton yukata (an informal summer kimono) using a board about 6.5 meters long (the word nagaita means long board, and chugata means medium-sized pattern). Nagaita chugata is a traditional Japanese technique in which paste is applied to both sides of a white cloth, and then both sides are dyed with a crisp indigo pattern.
In this technique, a brush is used to apply dye to wooden blocks with designs carved into them. You place the blocks on the fabric and pound them with a hammer to transfer the design. Each individual block has a simple design, but they can be arranged in various ways to create larger overall patterns.
Weaving Weaving dyed threads to make fabric
By weaving with threads left un-dyed and white in some places, you can make striped or check patterns or create pictures, depending on how the threads are aligned.
This is a type of silk weave done with spun silk threads. Pongee's surface is not as smooth or glossy as that of silk woven with raw silk threads, and it has a plainer, more casual look. Traditionally it was often woven in striped or kasuri patterns, but recently it is possible to produce a wide range of gradations and other designs using various types of dyed threads.
This is a weaving technique used since days of old, employing linen thread made from fibers of stalks of a perennial plant known as ramie (or China grass). It is done on a primitive loom, and the tautness of the warp threads is adjusted with a strap around the weaver’s back, while the weft threads are woven into them in various patterns.
The woven cloth may be kneaded in hot water to soften it, or laid out on the snow on a sunny winter day. Color takes hold well, and white fabric is a bright, pure white, making high-quality material for summer kimonos.
In Saga-nishiki brocade, dyed silk threads are used for the weft, while thin thread-like strips of washi paper called tategami are used for the warp. The paper strips are drawn up in places with a bamboo spatula, in accordance with the pattern the weaver wants to create, leaving spaces through which the weft threads are passed. This process is repeated over and over to create beautiful, orderly patterns.
In kumihimo braid-making, several dozen threads are gathered into each bunch, and then several bunches are interlaced to make braids. These braids have been used for centuries to tie or tighten various things. Today, many different patterns of braid are used for the cords tied around obi (kimono sashes).
Embroidery has been practiced in Japan since the Asuka period (538-710 AD). In this technique, dyed threads are sewn freely onto fabric with a needle to create designs.
"What Are Traditional Crafts? -A Guidebook to Seeing, Learning, and Enjoying-"
Edited by the Japan Kogei Association Eastern Branch. Published by Unsodo ／ List of works English translation: Kazuko Todate (Art critic / Art historian)
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Nishijinori, yarn-dyed textiles, are produced and sold mainly in the northwest part of Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. It is known for its production method using pre-dyed yarn, giving a feel of high quality and depth to the fabric.
Yuki Tsumugi, silk textiles, are produced and sold mainly in Yuki City, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Oyama City, Tochigi Prefecture. They are known for their lightness, warmth and comfort, and perfect drape.
Kagayuzen, dyed textiles, are produced and sold mainly in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture. With deeper and quieter colors than Kyoyuzen, they are renowned for their realistic designs, mainly floral patterns.
Kyoyuzen, dyed textiles, are produced and sold mainly in Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. They are known for their brilliant coloration, graphic flower and bird patterns, and the inclusion of classical designs.