The term kasuri is employed a bit casually in Japanese and may be used to make reference to the weave, in which case it may also be called ori-gasuri (織絣), or it may make reference to the dye process, in which case it may be called some-gasuri (染絣).
The dye process involved in kasuri is most commonly a string-resist method, not unlike shibori in concept. In most cases string is used to bind off bundles of yarn before dyeing. The tied sections resist the dye and remain white, while exposed yarn takes on the color. During the weaving process, these sections of white are lined up to create patterns or images. Since there are variations in the ties along with some wicking of the dyes, the borders of the imagery rarely line up exactly. This creates the fuzzy edge that gives kasuri textiles their distinctive look.
Many regions specialize in unique weaves, patterns, and dye techniques so that you are likely to come across such names as Ryuukyuu-gasuri (琉球絣), Kurume-gasuri (久留米絣), Bingo-gasuri (備後絣), and many others. Ryuukyuu, Kurume, and Bingo are names of regions in Japan.
There is a very famous, versatile artist from Kyoto named Kawai Kanjiro. Perhaps you have visited his studio, which is now a museum near Kiyomizu Temple. In his book 六十年前の今 (Sixty Years Ago Today) he reminisces about his childhood during the turn of the past century, at one point describing in great detail how the mother of each household designed and wove her own kasuri patterns for her family, jealously guarding her creative endeavors. Her time at the loom was also the only opportunity she had to be alone in her thoughts since no one would interrupt her as she made progress, strand by strand and inch by inch. Kasuri weaving is very much a cottage industry focusing on the production of textiles for everyday use.
Kasuri has always been considered a casual fabric in Japan, one used for farm clothing and daily wear, as well as noren, futon covers, and other common needs. Kasuri dyed with indigo on cotton is the first that comes to mind for most people, although there are also many wonderful hemp, silk, and even wool versions available in a wide range of colors.
You’ll find that most kasuri is woven with a plain flat weave, a structure that gives equal weight and presence to the warp and the weft. Three versions of kasuri are possible: warp-kasuri (tate-gasuri 縦絣), weft-kasuri (yoko-gasuri 横絣), and a combination of the two called tate-yoko-gasuri, 縦横絣.
Tate-gasuri is probably the easiest type of pattern to plan. Even a very few bundles of threads may be dyed to create sophisticated patterns. For example, let’s take an entire bundle of warp threads and tie it all off in evenly spaced segments, see 1 in the figure below. Once tied, dip them several times into your indigo vat to achieve a nice rich blue and then untie them to wind up with 2. Shift a set of nine threads on the diagonal as you tie them to the back beam and thread them through your reed, 3. Stagger one thread (see red arrow in 4 and 5) and then reverse the direction of slant for the next nine threads, 4. Do this for the entire width of your fabric and you wind up with what the Japanese call an arrow-feather pattern, or yabane (矢羽). In this same manner many simple combinations of tied bundles may be staggered and shuffled to create complex patterns as a feast for the eye.
The yabane pattern has long been a favorite motif in Japan.
One of the more difficult feats to achieve in weaving is a perfect circle. This is no less true for kasuri dyeing and weaving. So I have selected a real treasure to present as this Textile of the Week.
Sample 201115-tategasuri $14 plus postage and tax ($12 even if purchased as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.) The position of the circle(s) will vary with each sample.
The sample is silk and high magnification shows that it is a very fine leno (sha) weave.
Next time we will take a look at yoko-gasuri (横絣), or weft-kasuri.