Karamiori 絡み織り

Karamiori (絡織り•搦み織り)

Nara Period Clamp Resist Dyeing on RA 茶地鹿花卉文夾纈羅

Karamiori (絡織り•搦み織り), the tangling of threads to create nets and gauze-like fabrics, is a very old and highly respected form of textile production. Believed to have first been introduced to Japan from the mainland during the Nara Period (710-794) for use in temples and by the ruling class.

Elegantly simple karamiori haori for a summer’s day. The dark color of the weave in contrast to the lighter-colored kimono beneath helps the wearer appear cool and refreshed.

Today these weaves are enjoyed by a broad range of everyday people in both traditional dress and cutting edge fashion.

Karamiori woven gown of pure gold. GINZA TANAKA(田中貴金属ジュエリー株式会社) 03-3561-0491 http://www.ginzatanaka.co.jp

The verb karamu means to entwine, entangle. (Curiously, it also means to pick a quarrel. Hmmm, this may also say something about the exacting nature of this technique.) And so in Japan this category includes all loom techniques that make use of intertwining threads to create the structure of the weave.

Many methods that fall under this Japanese category are called leno weaves. The basic definition of a leno weave in English is as follows (from Dictionary.com): A weave structure in which paired warp yarns are intertwined in a series of figure eights and filling yarn is passed through each of the interstices so formed, producing a firm, open mesh.

Manipulating the Warp Threads to Create Twists


There is a wonderfully clear video clip on You-Tube by Patty Anne showing how a leno weave is created: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ1HN7-BY-U

It sure looks like a lot of work, doesn’t it? So why bother?

Bruised Satin-weave Chiffon. I had only to firmly rub the fabric between my thumb and index finger to cause the threads to shift and create a permanent bruise in the weave.


This is really the only way to achieve a light, airy weave that won’t bruise easily. It allows light and air to pass through the weave freely while maintaining its structure. If a simple in-and-out flat weave were woven very loosely to achieve this same affect, the threads would have a tendency to shift from side to side (bruise) if rubbed, disturbing the beauty of the weave.

The Japanese divide karaori into three basic styles based on structure: sha (紗), ro (絽), and ra (羅). Please keep in mind that the boundaries of each may vary depending on who is using the term, and whether or not they are addressing the technique or the mood of the weave.

Waxed Cotton Sha. Notice how the twisted warp threads create a vise-like grip on the weft yarn.

Sha is the simplest of the three and basically has no discernible pattern to it. Pairs of warp threads are mated to twist back and forth around one another so that in the end they appear to be a single thread. (This matches the definition given above.) The even gaps formed between the pairs of warp threads and by the spaces between the solo-weft threads is what allows for the open, even, gossamer quality of the weave.

Simple Sha Weave Structure. The figure eight formed in the twist helps to keep the threads from shifting.

Basic Ro Structure. Notice the addition of the weft threads forming a flat-weave band.



Ro is a weave which employs the sha structure with the addition of areas of flat and/or twill weaves. A simple version of this is shown in the diagram to the left in which the pairing of the warp threads remain the same, but additional warp threads are added in a flat weave to form selvage to selvage banding.




Doup Thread Used to Simplify Warp Manipulation

Above is shown an example of the artist manipulating the warp threads by hand, one pick at a time, to create the twist. There is another method used for more complicated imagery: a therapy-thread (my term) is lightly knotted to a given warp thread. It is then manipulated over and under adjacent warp threads following the path of the desired twist. When pulled upright it will force a distortion in the lay of the warps saving quite a bit of hand picking effort. Hundreds of these may be prepared and pull up in unison allowing for some of the patterns you see below.

With the basic background a sha structure, portions of the weft threads have been diverted to flat weave, creating a pattern of cool droplets of water on a stark black silk.

Ro is certainly not limited to banding alone. By combining the flat and twill weaves with the leno weave, and varying their placement within the yardage, very complex designs may be achieved.

Seductively cool and iridescent ro, combining a twill weave with the basic sha structure.

With ra, we have ventured into new territory–while maintaining the concept of the twisted threads, we are no longer in the realm of monogamous unions. Pairs are now freed to meander and recombine forming highly intricate webs of relationships. Patterning in ro is dependent upon the emotional support of outsider (flat/twill)weaves, however  ra is entirely contained in its own journey of meandering warps. Only the barest minimum of wefts are employed to keep the society of threads stable.

I’ve color-coded the warp threads in this diagram to make it easier for you to follow their complex relationships. As wild as the intercourse may seem at first glance, the basic weave structure of in-and-out, over-and-under, is followed at all times.


In the diagram to the left you can see two basic cliques at work, the bolder social network to the left and the slightly more timid grouping to the right. Now take a look at the image of the ra on the loom, below. Notice how integrated these slight variations become when used as part of a grander scheme.


Ra Weave on Loom.

In the case of ra, the definition given at the top of the page does not apply. As you can see in the diagram, the interlocking threads are not limited to simple pairs. The definitions found in Japanese textile dictionaries don’t refer to a specific structure so much as descriptions of how it appears, likening it to bird nets and open-weave basket structures.

Sample of Ancient Andean Ra


The Japanese and Chinese were not the only ones cavorting in warped acrobatics during these ancient times. Across the world in the high Andes Mountains, equally stunning masterpieces were being fabricated.



Karamiori 絡み織り 201109-201113

Textile of the Week: Karamiori (絡み織り): Sha ( 紗) 201109

As discussed in the leno section of this blog, sha is the most basic form of karamiori–which isn’t to say it isn’t something quite delightful.

Double Weave Sha 二重紗織り

Sample 201109-Double Weave Sha $14 plus postage and tax ($12 even if purchased as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)

40x Magnification Under Microscope (color removed for clarity)

At first glance, the sample presented here appears to be figurative ro. But if we look at the weave under magnification, we can easily see that the structure is made up of pairs of twisting warp threads and single bundles of weft.

Stepping back just a bit with a lower magnification, we can see that it is actually a double weave sha.

Black Side of Fabric Showing Evidence of Reverse Red Layer

Another clue to be considered in unraveling this mystery of this particular bolt is the label which states 高級二重本紗 (High Quality Real Sha Double Weave).

It is interesting to note how the red side seems to be clinging to the surface black, a bit like someone holding on for dear life with only fingers poking through the grill. The fingers showing through are the parts of the red visible from the surface which helps to create the imagery.

Let’s take a look at the back.

View of Back Highlighting Red Fiber Structure

The black threads from the front side seem to be embracing the red, holding them up close to the surface.

Detail of Leaf Pattern as Seen from the Right Side of the Fabric

If we flip back to the front side again, it is easier to see how the clinging nature of the two layers produces this delicate pattern of maple leaves. Because of the double weave, the non-figured areas take on an interesting moiré affect as it is viewed from different angles, much like a 3-D refrigerator magnet.


Textile of the Week: Karamiori (絡み織り): Ro ( 絽) 201110

Below is a classic example of ro.

Classic Ro Weave 代表的な絽織り

Sample 201110-Classic Ro $12 plus postage and tax ($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)

Based on the length of the bolt and the texture, it was most likely intended to be used in designing a summer haori. (Although it states 13.5m, there is actually only 10m to the new bolt.)

Bolt for Summer Haori

Over-all View of Ro Weave

One of the attractive features of this silk fabric is an almost linen-like stiffness. Coupled with the lozenge-shaped pattern, it is ideal for summer wear–it will stand away from the wearer’s body and allow any hint of breeze to cool unhindered.

If we zoom in to focus on how this lozenge pattern in achieved, it is easy to see that the twisting pairs are actually made up of two sets of four threads. Each bundle of four makes an allemande right, followed by a left. In between the partners divide into parallel rows of eight and are worked as a flat weave. Twist/flat, twist/flat, repeated throughout the entire bolt is what created this seemingly complex motif.

Detail of Structure Focusing on Twists Combined with Areas of Flat Weave


Textile of the Week: Karamiori (絡み織り): Sha (紗) 201111

Wave Pattern Complex Sha Weave 青海波絽織り

Sample 201111-Wave Pattern Sha $14 plus postage and tax ($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)

Images evoking cool, languid times have always been popular in karamiori weaves. Here we see a very popular pattern called seigaiha (青海波), blue ocean waves. At first glance it appears to be a very finely woven ro and quite frankly I took it as such.

However, in preparing this text I was obliged to look at it more closely under magnification and found that it is actually an elaborate sha!

Detail Showing Over-all Pattern of Waves and Stripes

Closer Detail Focusing on Stripes and Dense Areas Forming Wave Outlines

Closest View Revealing True Structure

Close examination of the shot above shows that there is no flat weaving going on. Every cross has a twist! By definition this makes it sha rather than ro. It certainly is easy to see how the terms may become confused and inter-mixed.

Textile of the Week: Karamiori (絡み織り): Ra/Ro ( 羅/絽) 201112

Described as Ra on Label, but Actually Ro 絽織り

Sample 201112-Ra/Ro $14 plus postage and tax ($12 even as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)

After honing my investigative skills on the previous three samples, I’m ready to state that this sample is clearly ro. But there is a catch–the bolt bears a label clearly reading ra.

The Character on the Green Label Reads 羅 (ra).

I have also seen many variations on this particular weave, and all, in whatever venue, have been marketed as ra. So here I go, in my starched authoritarian self, proclaiming it to be otherwise. But here is why…

View of Front Showing Vertical Stripes and White Dots

Take a look at the view of the front, above. Vertical stripes with large gaps between, coupled with the delicate affect achieved by the white dots scattered throughout, are what make this immediately recognizable structure very popular.

Let’s flip it over to take another look…

Back View With White Warp Threads Clearly at Work

The only real twisting that is going on is in the white warp threads.
All of the red threads are working together to form a simple flat weave, they just happen to be bunched together in vertical stripes.In essence the bundles of red warp count as one strand, and this one strand is twisted in an embrace with the single white warp.

If looked at this way (two stands twisting as a pair coupled with flat weave) we have no choice but to conclude that this is a classic ro weave.

Or at least I have no choice.  You decide for yourself between my pronouncement with all my gems of reason spread out before you, or the label of the manufacturer backed by the artist who actually wove the piece and generations of tradition…

Textile of the Week: Kinran Gauze ( 金襴ガゼ) 201113

Karakusa Pattern Silk Kinran Gauze 唐草本金金襴

Sample 201113-Karakusa Kinran (Only available as part of the quarterly collection. For more information about the collection, click on this text.)

The sample above does not fall within the karamiori tradition. It is, however, a gauze weave and ties in with the kinran weaves dealt with in earlier postings. The threads are simply spread apart a bit to allow for an openness in the weave.

Detail Depicting Basic Flat Weave Nature of Weave–Notice the Spacing

Label Woven into Bolt Stating 本金別織 (Pure Gold Special Weave)

This bolt was woven to be cut into bands and used in piecing together a Buddhist monk’s vestment called a kesa.

It is woven of pure gold and silk in a nutritional celery green. Additional colors are added as supplemental twills with some floaters on the back.

The gold is laminated to paper, indicating a very high quality, traditional weave.

View of Front and Back Sides of Bolt

John’s Art – Pick of the Week: Gossamer Textiles

I’ve always been fascinated by the play of light and pattern through layers of silk. The gossamer weaves allow me to experiment with how patterns play off one another, how light is transmitted through layers, and how fabrics can appear at times to create more of an aura around the wearer rather than a blind.

Autumn light giving a glow to these silks displayed on the engawa of an estate in Tokyo.

Hydrangea Float by John Marshall, Indigo and Cocheneal on Silk Crinkle Gauze, Fashion Show in Fukuoka, Japan


The silk used in the garment to the right is a wonderful silk called crinkle gauze that I bought from Thai Silks in Los Altos, CA. I love working with it. It takes the natural dyes beautifully and is very forgiving.

I’ve used one large stencil several times to create the affect of a garden of hydrangeas on an early summer morning, presented here at one of my shows in Japan.

Very few dyes were used–just indigo, cocheneal, and a tiny bit of barberry to take the indigo to green for the leaves.


Sparrows and Peonies, John Marshall, Back View

Sparrows and Peonies is a piece a created with a much heavier look than Hydrangea Float above. In this case I was attempting to capture the feeling of a walk in a peony garden as the light falls and the sparrows begin to settle for the night.

It may be hard to tell from the photos and angles, but both garments are from the same cut. The hydrangea piece is simply one layer of almost weightless gauze, and the peony piece is three layers of silk.

The innermost, lining layer of Sparrows and Peonies is a lightweight jacquard silk, the core layer is a lightweight china silk, and the outermost layer is of a ro-like gauze.

Sparrows and Peonies by John Marshall, Bottom Detail



Knowing that the core layer would be covered by the dark colored gauze, I was careful to keep the white outlines of the design in high contrast to the other colors used, working mainly with indigo, concentrated cocheneal, and soot. The topmost layer is a mixture of cocheneal with indigo, dyed as a solid color. It was important to keep the color gradations in the top layer to a minimum to allow the pattern beneath to show through. Over this solid color are gold-leafed sparrows. The gold sparrows roughly correspond to other sparrows in the core design so that as the model walks, the fabrics shifts, giving the illusion of flight.

Sparrows and Peonies by John Marshall, Detail Highlighting Affect of Layering

Karamiori 絡み織り

RA: I have many favorites in my collection, most are deliberately sought after, but this particular michiyuki I came upon quite by accident. It is the only true Japanese ra-weave piece I have been able to acquire.

True Ra Hand Woven Michiyuki

The very first quality I noticed was the the hand, the touch of the fabric.

Detail of Front


At that moment I wasn’t aware of the weave structure or even the color for that matter. The hand has such a wonderfully sensuous texture–firm but yielding with what I can only think of as what the taste of chocolate would feel like if our senses were altered.

Hand woven, it appears to never have been worn. It is in pristine condition.

Detail Illustrating Structure of Weave


Tapestry Sha Naogya Obi

Technically speaking, this piece should be classified as sha, the warp being made up of pairs of twisting yarns. But as you can see, it is also an interesting version of tapestry weaving (綴織, tsuzureori).  While taking on a somewhat simple, airy look, the complexity of combining the two techniques is quite amazing.

Detail Showing Structure of Weave


Photograph of a Portion of Silk Buddhist Kesa

Kesa are vestments worn by Buddhist priests. Originally they were sewn from scraps of fabric offered to them in compassion by believers. As time went on and the Church became more powerful, a great deal of opulence was introduced. This is an excellent example of such a treasure.

Magnified detail showing how the strands are divided and spread to create the illusion of curves.

I had the hardest time figuring out how this was woven. It appears to be a classic sha structure. What is most curious is how the illusion of curves is created to form the dynamic movement of the waves. Each thread appears to be a small bundle of strands. At certain points the strands are splayed, making the definition of the line a bit fuzzy. As these splayed segments touch one another, they fool the eye into creating a curved line. Examine the detail above and tell me if you come to a different conclusion…

40x Magnification of Supplemental Weft

Refer back to the first image of the kesa. You’ll see geometric embellishments. These have been added as supplemental wefts in silver grey, silver white, and cream colored silks.














Have you read the section on karamiori yet? In the opening of that article I mentioned how fabrics may become bruised through rough handling. The image above is a close up of a portion of a delicate and wispy silk haori in my collection. As you can see, the yarns have been over spun causing them to double back on themselves, much like the rubber band on a toy balsa-wood airplane. A curious thing was done to this piece…

Segment of Haori Showing Controled Bruising

In a very controlled manner, the weave was bruised. That is, the threads were pushed to one side or the other in a systematic way to create a pattern of undulating lines. This was done selvage to selvage in the bolt to as to create an interesting movement over the entire garment, with sections alternating between blocks of bruising, and blocks of pristine sha.

40x Magnification


Both how tightly the yarns have been spun and the nudging to the side of the warp threads may be seen in the shot below and to the left. Isn’t it fascinating how a creative mind will work?

Magnification of Tightly Spun Yarns and Pushed-Aside Warp