As a textile designer in the West, you may likely prepare a portfolio of drawings, called cartoons, to take to regional or international trade fairs and try to market your skills to a large company, such as Burlington Industries. Or perhaps you already work for an established firm and spend your time generating new patterns, weave structures, and color ways in anticipation of coming trends.
Commercial bedding produced from an artist’s cartoon, available at Ikea.
This is much how the dyeing and weaving industry has worked in Japan for hundreds of years. It is the artist’s job to prepare these cartoons, called hinagata. The purchased designs are then owned by the dye house or weaving firm. Companies horded and treasured these designs as very important assets, reissuing favorites from time to time over many decades and centuries.
The images below are taken from an on-line video covering the yuuzen dye process. Click on any of the images to view the full version of the movie on line.
The artist begins his hinagata sketch on a sheet pre-printed with the outline of a kimono and all seams.
The artist has finished his initial sketch and is now painting in the basic colors, in this case gold paint which will later be rendered in real gold leaf and couched threads. Notice the hinagatabon (hinagata book) at the edge of his desk from which he is interpreting the imagery.
Once the artist’s prototype is rendered, it is enlarged to full scale and the design transferred to the silk with a fugitive dye called aobana. From here it will go off to a range of experts in resist application, dyeing, gold leafing, and embroidery.
The finished furisode.
In modern times, as many of the long established traditional businesses have gone under, these treasured libraries of designs have become available to our larger community of creative people – allowing common people, such as you and I, access to them.
Let’s take a closer look at one of the kimono hinagata from my collection.
Hinagata sheet with kimono outlined penciled in.
The artist has penciled in the basic outline of the kimono, along with all seams. Next he drew in the foundation design of swirls which sets the tempo for the imagery that follows. Additional details have been sketched in to further define the concept.
Collar detail showing how the imagery will carry over the seams.
The detail above shows why it is important to know exactly where the seams will hit. The dyer will need an accurate drawing if the image is to maintain its graceful flow across the back seam and up into the collar.
Detail of painted front panel with okumi.
The artist has further defined the hinagata by meticulously painting in every minute detail of line and color to ensure the proper execution of his concept. In the image above I’ve added the bright blue lines to help you spot the seams between the okumi (left), the front body panel (center), and the back body panel (right). As the imagery is transferred to the silk using aobana, some overlap of the pattern is included to allow for seam allowances.
Memo sheet to keep track of notes and changes as they arise through discussions.
As the initial artist’s rendering moves along in committee discussions, notes are added to the drawing for clarification, and as in the sheet shown above, snippets of fabric are also included as precise colors are decided upon. The color swatches are often taken from books of color samples released by the dye houses.
Color sample book.
Each book has its own theme, perhaps predicting upcoming color trends, or documenting popular colors from the past, as shown here. Notice how several of the samples in the book have snippets removed, or in a couple of instances the whole sample piece has been used up.
We’ve taken a look at hinagata for kimono above. However these cartoons are produced for just about any and every kind of textile work. Below are two designs for obi.
Hinagata design for a Nishijin (jacquard loom) fukuro-obi.
The hinagata above was designed to be a fukuro-obi, to be woven with exquisite silk threads shot with gold. The artist has painted in only enough area to set the color scheme and highlight the repeat in the pattern.
Min-tsudure hinagata for Nagoya-obi.
This sample is clearly intended to be woven into a min-tsudure Nagoya-obi. The flat planes of color imitate the distinct islands of color found in tapestry weaving. (Min-tsudure is a type of tapestry weaving, somewhat light-weight, and not to be confused with the heavier tsudure-ori weavings of Kyoto.)