Handbook for the Appreciation of Japanese Traditional Crafts



Right: Shimizu Kotaro Sayaji hamagurimon yukata (Yukata, clams, nagaita-chugata dyeing on a figured ground) (detail) A traditional nagaita-chugata pattern. A total of four applications of rice resist paste are required to produce this design. Paste is applied on one side of the fabric with a stencil; the stencil is then used on the other side of the fabric in exactly the same place. The process is then repeated with another stencil. This technique, which requires an extremely high level of skill, is known as jishiro-kyo-okkake.

Left: Kitagawa Heiro Ra (silk gauze) (detail) This is a reproduction of silk gauze woven with a diagonal pattern after an original in the Shosoin Treasury. The warp and weft are intertwined as if knitted. The diaphanous quality of the fabric has a delicate, ageless beauty.

Japanese dyeing and weaving has developed mainly as a result of overseas influences. It was Zui (581-618) and Tang (618-906) dynasty China that influenced Japan in the Asuka (552-646), Hakuho (646-710) and Nara (710-794) periods, Ming dynasty (1368-1644) China and Southeast Asia in the Muromachi (1336-1573) and Momoyama (1573-1615) periods, and the West in the Meiji period (1868-1912). This being said, dyeing and weaving are an indispensable part of clothing culture and inseparable from climatic and natural features, and Japan was fortunate to be able to foster an original, advanced textile culture thanks to the surrounding seas protecting it from invasion by other nations.

Major advances in the development of textile art occurred twice in Japan's history, once in the Heian period (794-1185) and then again in the Edo period (1615-1868). By the middle of the Heian period, Japan had begun to diverge from continental Asia and develop indigenous form of textiles, a typical example of a garment in purely Japanese style being the twelve-layered juni-hitoe. The Edo period saw the emergence of the kosode, the short-sleeved kimono that is the forerunner of the present day kimono. Many new kinds of design were created as it was adopted by increasingly wider sections of society. Each feudal domain endeavoured to establish dyeing and weaving workshops as part of a drive to promote new industry and, as the urban classes acquired greater economic power, exquisite designs were developed in response to their demands.

Suzuki Choboan Echigo-jofu tateiri kikukamon kimono (Kimono, chrysanthemums, Echigo-jofu (ramie) weaving) The distinctive feature of Echigo-jofu weaving is the use of snow to bleach fabric made of ramie. Suzuki's work incorporates creative new designs alongside traditional ikat (kasuri) stripes and checks.

Kitagawa Heiro Beniji toricho karahanamon nishiki (Brocade with birds, butterflies and flowers on a red ground) This is a reproduction of a textile from the treasures of the Itsukushima Shrine. Extensive research on weaving and dyeing techniques has given new life to the original Heian period pattern. Foreign and Japanese designs are beautifully integrated into a harmonious blend of different styles.

In the Meiji period, Japanese dyeing and weaving were challenged by a wave of new technologies from the West. Japanese dyeing and weaving were no match for the high productivity of a textile industry that had experienced the Industrial Revolution, and found their existence seriously threatened. Craftspeople were quick, however, to respond to new developments, actively adopting advanced craft techniques and importing chemical dyes and power looms. They were encouraged to participate in exhibitions overseas, while considerable effort was also made to organize industrial exhibitions within Japan to promote the Japanese textile sector, which rapidly transformed itself from a medieval trade to a modern industry.

The success of modernization, however, represented a major problem for the future of manual techniques of dyeing and weaving. Although manual techniques did not lend themselves to the needs of modern industry, they had a long history of development that had begun in the Heian period. The continuation of hand dyeing and weaving in modern Japan is not simply a preservation of tradition, but a means of exploring uniquely Japanese artistic sensibilities.

Kimura Uzan Yuzen homongi "Mure" (Kimono, "Flower Clusters", Yuzen dyeing ) In this piece a realistic motif is transformed into a highly individualistic design. Wax resist is used in conjunction with traditional rice paste resist to extend the scope of Yuzen dyeing.

Nakamura Katsuma Yuzen homongi "Kagari" (Kimono, "Darning Thread", Yuzen dyeing) "Kagari" is the Japanese word for darning thread. This novel design inspired by the colourful yarn covering toy balls is extremely striking. With an unexpected composition that leaves the back shoulder plain, "Kagari" is reminiscent of the bold kosode designs of the early Edo period.


The materials used for dyeing and weaving in Japan are of two main kinds. There are synthetic fibres of the sort first used in Japan in 1884. Then there are natural fibres: plant fibres derived from paper mulberry, ramie, wisteria and Japanese linden; and animal fibres such as wool and silk.

Silk is said to have been introduced from China in the 3rd century, while advanced techniques of sericulture, dyeing and weaving were brought by immigrants from the Asian continent in the 5th-6th century. Until the 16th century, silk and ramie were the main materials used. In the late 16th century there was a major development in that cotton, which until then had been imported from abroad, began to be cultivated in Japan and was rapidly adopted for the making of everyday clothing.

The Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, used yarn made from the bark of the ohyo (a variety of elm), while fibres from the basho (Japanese banana plant) were frequently used in Okinawa. Yarn made from washi (Japanese paper) was used in combination with silk, ramie and cotton. In the case of garments made solely of paper yarn, the paper itself was dyed.

Dyes come in two main varieties: natural dyes made from plants, animals and minerals on the one hand, and chemical (synthetic) dyes on the other. Natural dyes, especially plant dyes such as indigo blue and safflower red, dominated during the 17th -18th century. Synthetic dyes were imported from the West in the middle of the 19th century.


Cultivation of ramie

Gathering basho (Japanese banana plant)

Cocoons and wild silk


Dyeing can be divided into pre-dyeing (sakizome) and post-dyeing (atozome). In pre-dyeing, yarn is dyed before being woven into fabric. Patterned weaves, pongee (tsumugi) and ikat patterns are examples of sakizome. In post-dyeing, fabrics are dyed after they are woven. Yuzen dyeing, komon (small pattern dyeing) and shiborizome (tie-dyeing) are examples of atozome.

In terms of dyeing techniques, there is dip-dyeing (shinzen), in which fabrics are soaked in a dye-bath, and brush dyeing (hikizome) and stencil dyeing (nassen), in which dyes are applied to fabric with a brush or spatula. The introduction of synthetic dyes contributed to the rapid diffusion of stencil dyeing from the Meiji period onwards.

Among the colourants used in dyeing and weaving, there are those that dissolve in water and completely penetrate the fibres, and those, known as pigments, that are insoluble in water and adhere only to the surface of the fabric. The emergence of pigments greatly boosted the development of patterned dyeing.

Photographs (techniques)

Application of colour in Yuzen dyeing

Application of resist paste by stencil to fabric stretched on a wooden board of about 6m in length

Washing off resist paste after fixing of dyes


In the late 17th century, a Kyoto fan painter by the name of Miyazaki Yuzen took Japan by storm with his novel designs and sophisticated dyeing technique, transforming the world of Edo period fashion. In a stroke this new technique, which was named Yuzen dyeing after its inventor, swept aside the design limitations of the hitherto mainstream decorative methods of shishu (embroidery) and shiborizome (tie-dyeing).

The most distinctive feature of Yuzen dyeing is itome-nori, a technique involving the fine-line application of rice resist paste. Paste made from glutinous rice is placed in a conical paste tube (norizutsu) made of washi paper pasted together with persimmon tannin, then squeezed out through a brass nozzle fitted to the tip of the tube to trace the outline of the design in fine thread-like lines. The itome-nori stops dye applied to the area within the lines from spreading beyond its confines. A second distinguishing feature of Yuzen dyeing is the freedom and choice of colours made possible by the development and use of different pigments. These two aspects of Yuzen dyeing allowed it to develop into an art form offering the same freedom of expression as painting. In the peaceful atmosphere of 17-18th century Japan, Yuzen, like ukiyo-e woodblock printing, blossomed into a leading art form.

There is a variation of itome-nori known as yoji-nori in which the artisan dips the tip of a fine stick into the resist paste and draws lines by letting the paste drip onto the fabric.

In the 20th century a new method was developed using raw rubber instead of rice paste. This and the use of wax resist have further expanded the artistic possibilities of Yuzen dyeing.

Moriguchi Kako Yuzen homongi "Bairin" (Kimono, "Plum Forest", Yuzen dyeing) The patterned areas were created with itome-nori combined with sekidashi-Yuzen. The makinori technique (sprinkling on of small particles of resist paste) has been used to add gradation to the ground in this impressive depiction of the dream-like atmosphere of dawn.

Yamada Mitsugu Yuzen homongi "Yunagi" (Kimono, "Evening Calm", Yuzen dyeing) The fish net design makes full use of a combination of sekidashi and itome techniques. The clear lines and vibrant colours are exquisitely rendered and highly contemporary in feeling.

Other forms of Yuzen include sekidashi-Yuzen, whereby increased impact is achieved by not leaving any traces of the itome-nori lines, and musen-Yuzen, in which designs are painted directly onto the fabric with a brush. The 19th century saw the emergence of a method of applying dyes using stencils. This is known as suri-Yuzen. The growing use of synthetic dyes in the late 19th century coupled with demands for mass production saw the widespread adoption of stencil-dyed Yuzen in the form of so-called kata-Yuzen (also called itaba-Yuzen or utsushi-Yuzen).

Haneda Tokio Yuzen kimono "Byakuya" (Kimono, "White Night", Yuzen dyeing) An innovative rendering of a painting-like motif resulting in a bold and novel design, this is a good example of how the use of wax resist can open up new possibilities for Yuzen dyeing.

Tajima Hiroshi Yuzen homongi "Irie" (Kimono, "Inlet", Yuzen dyeing) Water scenes have always been a favourite in Yuzen dyeing. Waterfowl among reeds are depicted here with realism and grace, the skilful use of the sekidashi technique contributing to the overall impact of the design.

KATAZOME (Stencil Dyeing)

Katazome is a general term for dyeing methods in which patterns are created with stencils (kata). Stencil dyeing is well suited for mass production, while the designs, made by repetition of the patterning process, have a uniquely rhythmical beauty that has been cherished by people in all parts of Japan since ancient times.

There are many varieties of katazome using different materials and different methods of dyeing. Stencils may be made of wood, washi paper or metal, while dyeing is carried out by one of two main methods: either dyeing after the stencil application of resist paste or the direct application of colours through stencils (nassen). Nagaita-chugata, Edo-komon, and Okinawan bingata are examples of the former, while kata-Yuzen, which developed rapidly following the introduction of synthetic dyes in the Meiji period, is an example of the latter.

Matsubara Sadakichi Nagaita-chugata yukata kawarijima (Yukata, stripes, nagaita-chugata dyeing) (detail) A kind of striped pattern unique to stencil dyeing. Skilled and meticulous application of the resist paste combined with indigo dip-dyeing make this a stylish example of the dyer's art.

Komiya Yasutaka Edo-komon kimono jukasuri (Kimono, fine cross pattern, Edo-komon dyeing) (detail) The criss-cross of ikat (kasuri) weaving is transformed into a komon pattern of great delicacy and precision.

Kamakura Yoshitaro Bingata takemon asaji natsunagagi (Summer robe, bamboo pattern, bingata dyeing on ramie) (detail) The main feature of this work is its modern interpretation of a classic motif.

Koyama Yasuie Mokuhanzome homongi "Yama" (Kimono, "Mountain", woodblock dyeing) A distant view of mountains created through the repetition of a single woodblock-dyed motif. A startling degree of realism has been achieved through the application of a relatively primitive process.

Suzuta Teruji Katazome kimono "Matsu" (Kimono, "Pine Tree", stencil dyeing) A fine example of stencil dyeing using the resist paste method combined with surihaku, a technique in which gold or silver leaf is fixed to the fabric with a special glue applied by stencil.

Tamanaha Yuko Choma deigo-ni-chomon bingata katabira (Katabira robe, butterflies and coral, bingata dyeing on ramie) (detail) An outstanding example of the use of exotic colours on fine ramie to represent characteristically Okinawan motifs.

SHIBORI (Tie-Dyeing)

Shiborizome (tie-dyeing) is a resist dyeing method in which areas of the fabric are protected from the dye by being tied or stitched. The most primitive of all dyeing methods, tie-dyeing is practiced throughout the world. Early examples of tie-dying are preserved in the Shosoin Treasury.

Numerous tie-dying techniques have been handed down in Japan over the centuries. These may be divided into three main types: tying such as in Hitta (or kanoko (deer spot)) shibori and Miura shibori; stitching and gathering such as in hiranui (stitched) shibori, orinui (folded and stitched) shibori and mokume (woodgrain) shibori, and the use of water resistant materials such as bamboo bark or vinyl such as in kawamaki (leather wrapped) shibori and boshi (hat) shibori. In oke (bucket) shibori, part of the fabric is sealed inside a bucket and the fabric that is left outside is dyed. In ara (lit. 'storm') shibori or bo (rod) shibori, fabric is wrapped around a thick rod and squeezed. In the case of itajime, wooden boards with patterns carved into them are clamped to either side of the fabric before dyeing.

Major developments in tie-dyeing took place during the medieval period, culminating in the appearance of so-called tsujigahana textiles in the late 16th and early 17th century.

Ogura Kenryo Shiborizome homongi "Danryu" (Kimono, "Warm Current", tie-dyeing)

Tie-dyeing is characterized by subtle variations in colour and seeping of the dyes. In this boldly contemporary design the beauty of the seeping effect is enhanced by the use of gradated colours.

Photographs (tie-dyeing)

Application of colour in Kanoko (deer spot) shibori

Miura shibori

SHISHU (Embroidery)

The word shishu is made up of two Chinese characters: "shi" meaning "to sew with a needle" and "shu" meaning "to stitch patterns with yarns of different colours". Embroidery is said to have a history that dates back to when humans first started making and wearing clothes. The development of methods of dyeing yarn led to a commensurate increase in the richness of effects that could by achieved by embroidery.

The importation of shubutsu (embroidered Buddhas) along with the introduction of Buddhism from China in the 6th century had a major impact on the development of embroidery in Japan. When shubutsu were replaced by Buddhist paintings in the Heian period, embroidery came to be used in secular rather than religious applications. The emergence of kosode (short-sleeved kimono) from the Muromachi period onwards was accompanied by a surge in the use of embroidery and the development of a diverse range of stitching techniques.

Fukuda Yoshishige Shishu homongi "Seisei kyorai" (Kimono, "Seisei kyorai", embroidery) The finely executed patterning that adorns the whole surface of this kimono is strikingly contemporary in feeling.

Figures (embroidery)




ISE KATAGAMI (Ise Stencil Paper)

Ise katagami refers to the paper stencils that have been made for generations in the Shiroko and Jike areas of Suzuka, Mie Prefecture. From 1619 onwards the industry developed rapidly under the patronage of the local feudal lords to produce high quality stencils of the kind required for the making of fine komon patterns popular at the time.

Stencil paper (kataji-gami) is made from three to four sheets of high quality washi paper laminated at right angles to each other with persimmon tannin (shibugaki). The sheets, having been laminated, are further treated with persimmon tannin and dried. Persimmon tannin (which becomes finer and more viscous over time) aged for three years or more is used for komon stencils. Once prepared in this way, stencil papers are left to mature for several years so as to develop the toughness necessary to withstand the subsequent cutting process.

The finest patterns such as those used for komon dyeing have 800 to 1200 perforations per nine square centimetres. In the case of patterns such as stripes, where there are substantial spaces between the uncut areas of the stencil, threads are fixed to the stencils to strengthen them and prevent movement during use. Stencils of this kind are known as itoire-gata.

Photographs (techniques)

Cutting a paper stencil

Lozenges containing pairs of cranes, pushed knife cutting (tsukibori)

Hand-drums, auger cutting (kiribori)


Shinshi = Fabrics must be kept as flat as possible during dyeing. This is achieved by the use of shinshi, pliable bamboo rods with spikes at both ends. These are bent and the spikes inserted into the edges of the fabric, tensioning the fabric across its width. There are two kinds of shinshi: thin rods used singly and placed across the width of the fabric at right angles to the edges, and thicker rods used in pairs and joined together in a cross shape.

Photograph (technique)

Fabric stretched with shinshi

Harite = Wooden fittings tied to pillars and fixed to the ends of the fabric to stretch it along its length.

Norizutsu = Conical paste tube made of washi paper joined together and hardened with persimmon tannin used for the application of rice paste in the Yuzen dyeing processes of itome-nori (fine-line outline) and fuse-nori (resist covering of a previously dyed area of a design). A metal ring is inserted on the inside of the cut off tip of the cone and a brass nozzle is fitted over the end. The rice paste is squeezed out by pressing the tube with thumb and index finger. The thickness of the itome-nori line is determined by the size of the nozzle.

Fude and hake = Fude (painting brushes) are used for underdrawing and the application of colours to small areas of a design. Hake (flat brushes) are used in hikizome to apply colours to large areas of a design. Brushes are made from animal hair fitted to bamboo or wooden handles and secured with thread. Brushes made of hairs of various animals are used according to need, consideration also being made of the difference in quality between summer and winter hair.

Kataborito = Knives with blades of various shapes and sizes used to make paper stencils for katazome. For repeating motifs such as cherry blossoms and small crosses punches, the blades are like punches.

Hera = Wooden spatula for the application of resist rice paste or colour-impregnated rice paste used in nassen.


The first step in weaving is the preparation of the yarn either by spinning or by twisting and joining. Spinning is used for cotton and wool, twisting and joining for bast fibres such as ramie, wisteria and paper mulberry. In the case of silk, there is both raw silk reeled directly from cultivated cocoons and tsumugi (pongee) silk spun from wild cocoons. These fibres are then twisted, either singly or as several strands together, to make yarn.

The warp threads are attached to the loom and the weft threads are passed through them from side to side, groups of warp threads being separated by means of a heddle or warp controller (soko). Repetition of this process transforms one-dimensional yarn into two-dimensional cloth. A boat-shaped shuttle is used to pass the weft through the warp and a reed, a comb-like frame consisting of thin strips of bamboo between which the warps are threaded, is used to beat the weft against the previously woven area of the fabric. Although the basic principles of weaving are quite straightforward, looms and weaving procedures of increasing complexity have been developed as weavers have applied their skills and perseverance to creating ever more sophisticated weave patterns.

Photographs (techniques)

Drawing thread

Preparation of ikat yarn by tying with hemp fibre (araso) prior to dyeing

Indigo dye vats


There are four basic structures in weaving. All woven textiles are made from combinations of or variations on these structures.

The first is hira-ori or plain weaving, in which the warp threads and weft threads cross each other alternately. Plain weave fabrics are sturdy and hard-wearing, and are ideally suited for use as everyday wear or work clothes.

The second is aya-ori or twill weaving, in which the crossing points of warp and weft form a diagonal. This gives rise to the alternative term shamon-ori (diagonal pattern weave). Twill weaving is used for patterned weaving and produces a soft fabric.

The third is called shusu-ori or satin weaving, in which the crossing points of warp and weft are positioned at regular intervals, with the warp being denser than the weft. Satin weave fabrics are thick, lustrous and highly decorative.

The fourth is mojiri-ori or gauze weaving, in which the warps are twisted together to create open-structured fabrics such as sha, ro and ra gauzes.

Photographs (techniques)

Backstrap (izari) loom


MON-ORI (Patterned Weaving)

Woven fabrics are either plain or patterned. Plain fabrics are generally woven using only one weave structure. In the case of patterned fabrics, weave structures are varied and yarns of different colours are used to create designs. There are three main techniques for producing patterned fabrics.

The first, which involves different weave structures for the background and the design, is used to make fabrics such as aya (twill), donsu (satin damask), rinzu (satin) and mon-chirimen (patterned silk crepe).

The second, whereby yarns of different colours are woven using a single weave structure, is exemplified by tsuzure-ori (tapestry weaving) and tate-nishiki (warp-patterned brocade).

The third involves the creation of patterns through the use of coloured yarns in addition to the warp and weft threads of the background. Historical textiles that have survived in the form of so-called Shosoingire and Meibutsugire belong to this category.

Kitamura Takeshi Raji kinran maruobi (Obi sash, gold patterning on a gauze-weave (ra) ground) (detail) The graceful pattern of this work is woven against a delicate gauze ground using special thread known as hira-kinshi, which is made by cutting sheets of washi paper laminated with gold leaf into very thin strips. The dignified design shows a level of creativity that goes beyond the mere revival of a hitherto long-lost weaving technique.

Hosomi Kagaku Tsuzure obi "Yuai" (Obi sash, "Friendship", tapestry weaving) (detail) Tapestry weaving is distinguished by the use of dense weft-faced patterning. On this example the freely flowing design counterbalances the substantial weight of the fabric.

It is not uncommon to find patterned fabrics that combine several of these techniques. Complexity of design can be added by manual manipulation of individual heddles or warp controllers over and above the standard raising and lowering of them in groups.

However complex the weaving technique used may be, the repetitive nature of the process gives rise to an essentially symmetrical and rhythmic beauty. Weaving by hand without mechanical aids requires very considerable skill. Furthermore, the constraints inherent in weaving make it difficult for makers to add to inherited tradition and create works infused with a truly contemporary aesthetic. In view of the centrality of pattern weaving in the world of textiles since ancient times, the expectation of contemporary weavers is that they should push forward the boundaries of their art at the same as accurately preserving the classical techniques of the past.

Koga Fumi Saganishiki hishitasukimon obi "Ruriko" (Obi sash, "Azure Light" lozenge stripe, Saganishiki brocade) (detail) Saganishiki is a type of brocade woven using colourful silk yarns for the weft and threads made of cut up strips of washi paper that have been coloured or laminated with gold or silver leaf for the warp. The translucent quality of this subtly beautiful work comes from the use of white rather than coloured washi paper threads.

Ogawa Zenzaburo Kenjo hakata obi (Obi sash, Kenjo Hakata type) (detail) This is a stylish reworking of the traditional Hakata kenjo warp-patterned tokko-hanazara design.

Koda Eisuke Seigo sendaihira "Myokyoku" (Hakama divided skirt, "Sweet Music", Sendaihira type) (detail) Sendaihira is a variety of hakama (divided skirt) fabric in which wet silk threads are beaten into the weft. This and the high density of the warps produces a precisely patterned fabric with a distinctive gloss.


The crossing of warps and wefts intrinsic to woven fabrics means that stripes will appear if yarns of different colours are used. Differences in colour of yarns in the warp result in stripes along the length of the fabric, while in the weft they give rise to stripes along its width. Checks are created when the two are combined.

Ikat (kasuri) is a type of weaving in which patterns are created using yarn that has been bound or clamped prior to dyeing so that it is partly coloured and partly white. Anything from simple to highly pictorial designs can be created by varying the configuration of the ikat yarns used for the warp and weft.

Munehiro Rikizo Tsumugi-ori kimono shuaka marumon koshi (Kimono, circular check patterning in vermilion red, tsumugi (pongee) weaving) This shimmeringly luminous work was created by the masterful use of ikat yarns to add shade and gradation to an elegantly simple stripe and check design.

Miyahira Hatsuko Shuri hanaori tehaba kimono (Kimono, Shuri hanaori weaving) (detail) A stylized rendering of colourful tropical plants.

The most basic method of producing ikat yarns is by tying with ramie or cotton thread prior to dyeing.

Yonamine Sada Yomitansan hanaori kijaku (Kimono length, Yomitansan hanaori weaving) (detail) This type of weaving has been practiced for many years in the village of Yomitan on the main island of Okinawa. Abstract flower motifs in coloured yarn are set against an ikat-patterned dark blue ground.

Shimura Fukumi Tsumugi kimono "Suzumushi" (Kimono, "Bell Cricket", tsumugi (pongee) weaving) (detail) An atmosphere of otherworldly refinement is created through the use of a rich palette of differently coloured warps and wefts.


Japan has many highly distinctive regional textile traditions that reflect local climatic and topographical conditions as well as the historical circumstances under with they developed. The northwestern part of the Kanto region, for example, has been an important centre for sericulture and the production of silk textiles since the Nara period. The low quality, dirty and dupion (double) cocoons that were an inevitable product of raising silkworms were used to make raw silk which the farmers, during the quiet months of winter, spun into yarn and wove into what is known as tsumugi (pongee). Unlike high quality silk yarn taken from good cocoons, tsumugi yarn has to be twisted and joined as it is spun. The small knots thereby created give rise to the distinctively nubbly texture of the woven fabric. The sturdiness of tsumugi made it popular for clothing among samurai as well as rich townsmen and farmers. The town of Yuki, which was the main centre for tsumugi production and trade, gave its name to the term Yuki tsumugi by which such fabrics came to be known throughout the country.

In the warmer Chikugo area of northern Kyushu, cotton began to be cultivated from the 17th century onwards, resulting in a flourishing cotton textile industry. In the mid-19th century weavers in Kurume, an important centre for ikat weaving since the late Edo period, invented the techniques of picture ikat (egasuri) weaving, thereby giving rise to the distinctively local tradition of so-called Kurume-gasuri.

In the far south, on Okinawa and the Amami Oshima islands, fibres from the basho (Japanese banana plant) were woven into bashofu (banana fibre cloth) for use by peasants and nobles alike. During the Edo period jofu (high quality ramie cloth) was woven on the Miyako and Yaeyama islands of Okinawa for sending as tribute to the Satsuma clan in southern Kyushu. Jofu is a very thin fabric woven from high quality ramie that is ideal for summer wear. Miyako-jofu has ikat patterning on a dark blue ground, while Yaeyama-jofu has red stripes and ikat patterning on a white ground. Both varieties are very hard-wearing and have a distinctive lustre. Echigo-jofu, the production of which famously involves the use of snow to bleach the fabric, is said to be the oldest of all Japanese textiles.

Photographs (textiles)

Yuki tsumugi (detail)

Kurume-gasuri (detail)

Bashofu (detail)

Miyako-jofu (detail)

KUMIHIMO (Braids and Cords)

Braids and cords have a very long history stretching back even further than weaving, with ancient examples found in the civilizations of China, Egypt, India and Peru. In Japan, where they were used as cords and sashes, they were an essential element of Japanese clothing culture from earliest times, having already reached a high level of sophistication during the Tumulus period (258-646).

Braids and cords are made by diagonally plaiting together cords consisting of bundles of threads of different colours. The difference between kumihimo, also known as uchihimo (pounded braid), and other forms of braiding is the use of a spatula to compact the cords into a dense structure. Depending on the number of bundles of threads involved, these being counted in units referred to as te or tama, the terms mitsu-gumi (triple braid), yotsu-gumi (quadruple braid) and yatsu-gumi (octuple braid) are used. Distinctions are also made according to the shape of the braid, for example hira-uchi, maru-uchi, and kaku-uchi for flat, round and square braids respectively.

Kumihimo have their own very distinctive form of patterning. Small-scale but highly attractive items, they have long played a central role in the history of clothing and ornamental furnishings.

Fukami Jusuke Hanadaji karakumi hirao (Karakumi type flat braid)

Fukami Jusuke Karakumi shitan hirao (Karakumi type flat braid)


Aobana = Pale blue tracing liquid extracted from a particular variety of the tsuyukusa plant (Commelina communis) that washes off easily in water and is used for drawing designs on to the fabric in Yuzen dyeing and tie-dyeing.

Itajime = A dyeing technique similar to that used in the Nara period to make kyokechi resist dyed textiles that involves clamping yarns or lengths of fabric between wooden boards, usually used in groups of 10-20, that have been carved with decorative motifs. When the dye is poured on the clamped areas remain white.

Uki-ori = Float weave, a patterning technique in which yarn is deliberately left to float across the surface of the underlying weave structure.

Enuki = A patterning technique in which coloured wefts are used in addition to the warp and weft threads of the woven ground.

Osa = Reed, a comb-like frame consisting of thin strips of bamboo which is used to separate the warps and to beat the weft against the previously woven area of the cloth. Metal reeds are more common than bamboo reeds today.

Kakie = A technique that involves drawing designs with dyes or pigments directly on to the fabric with a brush without the use of resist protection.

Kusakizome = Dyeing using plant extracts.

Gojiru = Soy bean extract, a milky liquid made by grinding soy beans that stabilizes the colours of dyes and pigments and prevents blurring.

Jiire = Sizing of the fabric prior to dyeing with gojiru, seaweed glue or water to prevent blotching and to ensure an even take up of the dye.

Shinzen = Dip-dyeing used to dye both yarn and cloth.

Soko = Heddles or warp-controllers, important components of the loom that are moved up and down to separate groups of warp threads to enable the weft to be passed in between.

Chugata = Literally, 'middle size pattern', this refers to stencil dyeing using stencils with patterns larger than komon. The term is nowadays used synonymously with yukata or summer kimono. Resist rice paste is applied by stencil to both sides of the fabric prior to dip-dyeing.

Hi = Shuttle, a boat-shaped piece of equipment made of wood, sometimes with metal components, that is used to pass the weft thread between the warps. The weft thread is wound around a tube in the open centre of the shuttle.

Hikizome = Dyeing with a brush on flat tensioned fabric.

Mawata = Wild silk derived from low quality, dirty or dupion (double) cocoons.

Meibutsugire= Fabrics imported from abroad during the 13th-16th century preserved in shrines, temples and the collections of daimyo families, they were highly prized and often used in the mountings of hanging scrolls or made into bags for tea ceremony utensils.





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