I prefer to think of the sample for this week as being an imitation bingata (紅型) silk rather than a fake, largely because of the quality. While it is not real bingata, and would not have the same sales value of comparable imagery at a comparable scale executed with true-bingata techniques, it nonetheless is a masterful accomplishment. A curious aspect often found in Japan is the need to re-invent or imitate, and in the process often create a whole new range of items equal to, or at times better, than the original.
Sample 201107-Imitation Bingata $15 plus postage and tax ($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)
The technique employed here does count as katazome (型染め), which literally means stencil dyeing. Rice paste is still applied (as you can see in the white outlines of the images shown on this page), but rather than hand brushing in all of the colors and accents as you might expect, each color is applied with the help of a stencil. At least one stencil was needed for each of the following colors, plus white:
In most cases, the synthetic colors are prepared by adding the dye to rice paste or a thickener such as sodium alginate and then pushing them through the stencil one color/one stencil at a time. This process is called nassen (捺染). However, in the case of shaded areas, as you can see represented by the deeper green above, pigments work best and they are applied using a peony brush as you see in the shot below.
Let’s examine some of the information that came with the bolt. On the beginning end of the fabric is the information included by the artist or dye house. It states the following; 手挿調小紋 (in the style of hand-brushed dyeing) 琉球紅型 (Ryuukyuu bingata). So this tells us right away that the colors were not applied with brushes, but in a manner which simulates that appearance. This is a very different approach than that taken by the producers of 201106, who do not tell you that their piece is other than the real deal.
The label goes on to give us the artist; 伝統工芸士 (traditional craftsman) 西村英明 (Nishimura Hideaki). His name is followed by his stamp in red.
There is one more element to this whole label, and that is the gold one you see to the left. I’ve enlarged it for you below. It is one you see affixed to many very high quality, and expensive textiles.
The label tells us the following: 通産大巨指定伝統的工芸品 (certification that this item was produced by a designated master of traditional crafts), registered item number A0477602, 京友禅 (kyouyuuzen), 京都染色共同組合連合会 (Kyoto Dyers Cooperative Association). These gold labels are issued by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. If you would like to read more about what goes into achieving this designation, click on the gold label to the right.
All this can get a bit confusing, so let’s take a moment to recap:
1. The label states upfront that this is not real bingata (all real bingata has colors applied with brushes, or by dunking in an indigo vat).
2. It also claims that it is Ryuukyuu bingata, which we know to be impossible since it also states that it is kyouyuuzen (in this case nassen), which is produced in Kyoto and not Okinawa; and is certified as such by the Minister of Economics, etc.. To give a charitable spin on the label, we may take it to mean that the imagery is designed to look like Ryuukyuu-style bingata (which it does), and after all, real yuuzen has its own high merit and value.
3. It does not state that it is of natural dyes, so we can assume that was dyed with synthetics.
4. We know that it was produced by a very fine craftsman, Mr. Hideaki Nishimura. A quick Google search brought up a sample of one of his beautiful kimono accessorized with a Nishijin-weave obi.
All of this tells us that this is a very exquisite piece of fabric, executed by a highly accomplished dyer, and fully documented. There is just one more detail I would like to point out to both dyers and collectors, so let’s take a look at the back of our sample.
If we didn’t have the full end piece (beyond the portion with all of the written information) it would be natural to assume that this is a vat-dyed piece, at least the background blue, anyway. It has all of the hallmark characteristics: clearly defined imagery on the front side, and variations in the intensity of indigo blue on the backside corresponding to the areas dyed on the front. But look again–
Notice the undyed section to the left in the image above. You can’t have a white section like this if the bolt is vat dyed since the piece would be fully immersed. The dye could have been brushed over the background on the front side, and then brushed again on the back; however there are no tell-tale brush strokes showing at the border between the blue and the white. This leaves us with only one likely conclusion–the artist made use of nassen techniques (in which case the cloth was covered in paste saturated with blue dye). This also accounts for the very even coverage throughout.
Real bingata would most often use one stencil to apply the entire design with the help of rice-paste resist. The unpasted, or exposed areas would have dyes made of plants or minerals (although nowadays synthetic dyes are also commonly used) applied with brushes. Once the dyes have set (this means just leaving them alone for a specified period of time), then the paste is washed out with water. If the artist would like to add color to the background, in a style called oborobingata, then more paste is applied to protect the colors already dyed, and any exposed areas, such as the washed background, are available to receive additional colors.
In this piece, a stencil was used to apply the resist to white silk. Additional stencils were used (at least seventeen additional ones) to apply each color or shade of color. The dyes were most likely applied with the help of a thickener and applied through the stencil with a squeegee. A thick paste of blue was applied over both sides of the silk and then steamed. Steaming reconstitutes the paste and activates the synthetic dyes allowing it to stain the silk. All of the layers of paste are washed away with water to leave us the finished piece.
In comparing the two processes, can you see how the simpler, more direct traditional bingata allows for much more flexibility and spontaneity? But it is labor intensive and doesn’t lend itself to volume production work.
The yuuzen approach, on the other hand, is far more complex with many more steps and a larger investment in supplies and equipment. But having invested in an infrastructure, many virtually identical bolts may be dyed–this at the sacrifice of spontaneity and individual human quirks of the artist. So in an attempt to mimic the traditional bingata, a far more complex and exacting process was chosen.