Textile of the Week: Kinran
Kinran (金襴) is a truly luxurious weave. The term is written as a combination of kin (), which means gold, and ran (), which refers to a flowing style of ancient Chinese robe.

In Japan, as in the rest of the world, terms come into popular use without always a firm aherance to their origins or technical meanings and can therefore be confusing for textile scholars and historians.
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Chinese Ran-style Garment
*Beginning with the Chinese Song Dynasty, 960-1279  (it followed the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period), many exquisite textiles were introduced into Japan. A great many of the ran-style garments from China were woven with gold, and many were gold leafed.  These were called kin-ran (gold-robes). A great many robes and textiles for the affluent Buddhist clergy were also being imported, many with gold-leafed threads incorporated.
With the increase in traffic between the two nations during the Muromachi/Momoyama Period in Japan (1392-1615), these precious textiles came to be coveted by the wealthy military families and practitioners of the tea ceremony.

The full range of fabrics imported at this time are collectively called meibutsugire (名物裂), and are still highly prized as covers for tea ceremony utensils and other precious uses. Kinran ranks very high among meibutsugire.
Silk and Gold Kinran Cover for
Tea Ceremony Natsume (tea holder)
Today the term kiran is used as a general term in reference to fabrics executed in many different weaves, but all have gold threads included in the warp, weft, or both.
Jinbaori Constructed of Kinran Weaves
(source: kinran as defined by the Unabridged Dictionary of Colors and Weaves, ©1977, Tankousha Publishing Company
原色染織大辞典談交社•昭和52年•ISBN 2572-377757-4363)
Today I would like to present a classic example of kinran. The type of vine patterning is called karakusa (唐草) and may be found in many variations in Japan. This pattern makes use of an imaginary flower called a karabana (唐花) and so the full name of the imagery is karabanakarakusa (唐花唐草) – a mouth full! It came to me as a full, unused, bolt of fabric. The original tags indicate that it is pure silk and a gold alloy (not pure gold) on paper.
Take a close look at the detail shots below to gain a full appreciation of the fineness of this weave.

The first close up shows a detail shot of the front. The gold strips are gold-leafed paper that have been cut into fine narrow lengths and added as a supplemental weft. The threads don’t float across the surface but are held in place by single strands of warp silk along the lines of the Theo Mormon technique.  
Silk and Gold-Alloy Kinran
This may be a bit easier to see from the back side of the cloth.
Close Up of Kinran Pattern
Detail of Back of Kinran Showing Exposed White of the Paper Backing
I’ve placed both the front side of the kinran and the back side under a microscope to help you to clearly understand this structure.
The strand holding the gold strip against the body of the main weave structure appears in the middle of this shot.
Detailed shot of face side of kinran sample at 40x magnification under microscope. Notice the single strand holding the gold against the main body of the weave.
And you can see how that same fiber appears from the back while supporting the paper side of the strand as it is carried from selvage to selvage.
Detailed shot of the same sample showing the single thread of silk holding the paper side of the gold strand in place as it travels across the back side of the yardage.
copyright John Marshall, 2011