The Dragon’s Smile

I’d like to build a bit upon my last posting, St. George and the Dragon.

FRONT: BR-100 Quintsai’s Dragon Coat. Natural dyes on silk jacquard by John Marshall.

Every hand technique has its peculiar needs to achieve its own unique look. In katazome a great deal of expense and effort is expended to create stencils. But it is a worthwhile investment. If properly cared for, the stencils will remain a useful tool far beyond my lifetime. When my katazome teacher, Matsuyo Hayashi, died I inherited her collection of stencils which included some of her teacher’s stencils.

In most cases an artist will only create a stencil if he or she plans to use it repeatedly, otherwise most will opt for variations on the tsutsugaki technique, which makes use of the rice paste without the stencil.

Most Japanese fabric is woven in what is called tanhaba (反巾), about 14″ wide for kimono. So you’ll find that most traditional stencils are about this wide, too. In most styles of katazome the image or pattern is complete in itself, that is, multiple stencils are not generally used to create a single image.  But so what? Not everyone uses 14″ width fabric. Furthermore, as artists we are certainly allowed to follow our own paths!

BACK: BR-100 Quintsai’s Dragon Coat. Natural dyes on silk jacquard by John Marshall.

So, this is what I have for you today: A large writhing dragon superimposed over a background of repeating dragon circles. The background imagery was inspired by the patterns found on the ceilings of many large Buddhist temples. And the writhing dragon?

Take a peek again at the Dragon depicted in my earlier posting of St. George and the Virgin Icon. Look carefully and you may be able to see that it is the same dragon.

Knowing that I would want to use this image in many different ways, I decided to break up my original drawing into many different segments. To do this, I had to fall back upon the experience I gained in plumbing my studio. When working with pipes, a basic thing to know is that you can get from any point a to any point b as long as you have 90º  and 45º fittings. Some straight lengths of pipe, caps, and maybe even a T or two will cover all your needs.

Basic Concept Behind Dragon Stencils

I started out by drawing a very large dragon circle and then divided it in half and carved two separate stencils. I was careful to make sure that the two halves of the body would match perfectly when rejoined during the pasting process. In plumbing terms each half is a 180º bend, and the head and tale are caps. Next I cut the tail section in my drawing in half to create a 90º stencil. So with only a cap (the head) and one 90º angle (used three times for the body in the sample above) and an end cap (the tail) I am able to create the undulations you see above. Of course the wider range of angles you add, the greater flexibility you will have in wrapping your dragon around a shape as I have done.

View of Inside Sleeve with Dragon Peeking Out

For a bit of fun, I decided to tuck the head into the sleeve of the garment, allowing it to peek out with a mischievous smile as the mood strikes it.

Tateyokogasuri 縦横絣

I’ve had a very difficult time deciding which tateyokogasuri textiles in my collection to share with you! Each has it’s own charm. Therefore, unlike previous postings, I’ve decided to include a small range of samples, mostly in the form of detail shots. I hope you will enjoy their charm as much as I do.

Compound Color Tateyokogasuri

This is a wonderfully slick, tightly woven silk with a high luster. The warp threads are black and white. The weft threads are multiple colors with small flecks of black. This would have been worn as an every day, but very nice, kimono for a woman. The fabric is a little too heavy for meisen (which will be discussed in a future posting).

Compound Color Tateyokogasuri Close Up

Ooshima (大島) is a region that specializes in mud dyed ikats. It is so famous that this fabric goes by the region’s name alone. Below is a typical example of Ooshima.

Ooshima Tsumugi

Ooshima also specializes in the use of a silk yarn with a slight slub called tsumugi. As is so often the case with Japanese terms, tsumugi can be used to refer to yarns made in several different ways. Ooshima tsumugi (大島紬), however, is most often woven with threads making use of carded silk or mawata (真綿). This particular sample has a very sensual, corn starchy sort of feel to it as you run your fingers across the surface.

Ooshima Tsumugi Close Up


Chijimi (縮み) means shrunk. However, in this case crinkled might be a better translation. The warp is an extremely fine yarn and the weft yarns are over spun.

Tateyokogasuri Silk Chijimi Close Up

Both the warp and the weft are dyed as a variation of  kagasuri (蚊絣). The fabric has a slightly sandy feel to it, although very light and airy. It is unlined and would have been worn as a woman’s summer kimono.

Tateyokogasuri Silk Chijimi Detail

I have to laugh at myself–so often I will find a beautiful example of a textile and subconsciously determine the fiber or the weave/dye techniques employed without actually making an attempt to verify my conclusions. Writing about these textiles has forced me to examine them closely, often to my surprise.

I have many tateyokogasuri pieces, especially those that fall within the general category of kagasuri. In examining many of them for this article I found that they are not truly kasuri after all but excellent imitations! In my next blog I will give you a few tips to help in determining the difference.






Tateyoko-gasuri 縦横絣 201217/201218

Warped loom sporting warp and weft dyed threads in indigo.

So far we have covered tategasuri (warp ikat 縦絣 ) and yokogasuri (weft ikat 横絣). So what happens when you combine them? This technique is simply, generically, called tateyokogasuri (warp/weft ikat 縦横絣) and allows for some of the most complex types of ikat you will find. Within this generic branch are many styles. All are a combination of the techniques we have covered so far. Let’s take a look at one of my favorites – kagasuri (蚊絣).

Bolt of kagasuri (蚊絣).

Ruler indicating the scale of marking on yarn.

While on the surface kagasuri (蚊-ka means mosquito), seems to be among the simplest of warp/weft ikat, it is the very size and simplicity that makes it an amazing feat of calculations. Using the photo above as a reference, it is easy to see how the style acquired its name.

To achieve the required level of precision, tedious measurements are calculated and plotted. Some dyers use graph-like grids, others make do with simply a ruler and good eyesight.

Bamboo instrument used to mark threads.

When a white background is desired, small bundles of yarn are gathered and minute marks dyed, using a flat bamboo stick that looks a bit like a tongue depressor with a wedge-shape sharpened end to rub the dye into the fiber.

When planning a dyed background, the same type of bundle is  prepared as described above.

Tying off the bundle at the marked points.

However,  in this case the marks are not used to dye the yarns but to indicate the points at which the bundle is to be tied off.

Comparing the tied sections to the original chart.

The dyer must constantly compare the markings and the tied segments to the original drawing for accuracy.

Once all the careful calculations have been made, and all the tiny spots tied off, the bundles are gathered and dyed in the same manner as in tategasuri and yokogasuri.

Bundles dyed and ready to be untied in anticipation of a visit tot he loom.

During the weaving process itself, the craftsman must keep a sharp eye out for any distortions in the dyed pattern. If the dyer has been sloppy, there isn’t a whole lot that may be done. However,  in most cases the weaver is able to make minor adjustments in how the dyed weft dots match up with the warp dots by pulling a bit to the right or left and leaving the excess yarn to dangle at the selvage.

Weft threads left extended beyond the selvage edge to help adjust the line up of the pattern in the weave.





In addition, adjustments may be made vertically by varying the intensity with which the weft is beat into place.


Completed kagasuri with dyed background.

Tateyokogasuri allows for a wide range of complex and visually delicious designs. This week I have selected two very different samples for you.

Tateyokogasuri Sample 201217

The sample above is a vintage piece from a woman’s very nice, but not formal,  kimono. While the dye technique is tateyokogasuri, the weave should be called omeshi (御召). For all intents and purposes, omeshi is an even faced weave. However it’s unique texture is derived from the use of over-spun yarns in both the warp and the weft. I will be discussing omeshi in greater depth at a later time.

Sample 201217-kagasuri $14 plus postage and tax ($12 even if purchased as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)


The sample below splendidly represents kagasuri (蚊絣). It is handwoven in silk with a white background and was originally designed to be used in a young man’s summer kimono. In this case, kagasuri may be considered the dye technique and the structure is a weave the Japanese call koubai (勾配) which will be discussed at a later time.

Kagasuri Sample 201218

Sample 201218-kagasuri $14 plus postage and tax ($12 even if purchased as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.)