Tsujigahana – Real or Fake?

Friends have come to me with treasures in hand – beautiful tsujigahana kimono they have purchased in the hopes that it is real. What is real?

hand-painted details, brushed background dyes (no shibori)

Their hope, of course, is that they have stumbled upon a piece created by someone as famous as Itchiku Kubota, or at least one that has been stitch-dyed by hand, with hand-drawn detailing. And I would hope that will be a reality for all of us – even if unlikely. However, unlikely does not mean impossible. So let’s take a look at how to judge what you have.

We’ve covered what goes into hand-stitched, hand-painted tsujigahana elsewhere. But let’s take a close-up look and see what we find.

notice the needle holes left behind in this hand-painted, nui-shibori piece – also notice how the holes correspond to the variations in the dye caused by the pleating when the string is pulled tight (collection of the author)

There are many, many ways to create the same general look. Stitched shibori will leave behind tell-tale evidence of having been sewn in the form of tiny needle holes, see above. However, when the fabric is stitched and untied several times during the dye process these tiny holes may disappear through handling.

the holes are easy to spot in this example, but notice how they do correspond to the wrinkled pleats we can see, but not to the dyed pleats (collection of the author)

Often in this case, once the entire piece has been dyed and details painted in, the artist will go back and give one final stitching to the whole piece to add back in the holes and creases that have flattened out during the process and give it back that distinctive shibori look. In this case the holes left behind don’t really correspond to the pleated lines of the actual dyework.

this example illustrates a piece that has been entirely printed and only during the very last stage of production had any shibori work done – notice how the center of the flower has been twisted, a bit like having one’s nose tweaked (collection of the author)

With this look in mind, some artists skip using stitch-dye techniques altogether by printing, screening, or painting the design. If this is followed up with a final stitching and setting of the creases as mentioned above, the final look will be much the same at a glance with a lot less effort expended.

printed flowers with rice-paste overlay to protect as the back ground dyes are painted – notice the lack of blurring around the edges of the flowers and the simple round dots of the stems (collection of the author)

In addition, the printed versions don’t have the soft blurring of edges seen in the stitch-dyed work. Often tiny dots are simply printed in to give the look of string-resisted areas.

notice how small dots have been printed to mimic the holes left by the needles employed in nui-shibori (collection of the author)

If you look closely at this type of work, you can even see how cleverly some artists have printed in minute black dots to appear as if they are the holes left behind by needles.

Next let’s take a look at the painted details.

hand painted lines and shading – notice how the brush has skipped a bit along the surface of the weave (collection of the author)

Outlines painted by hand tend to have variations in thickness and darkness. They may appear a bit broken up or made up of small bits of dots or dashes. Look closely and you will see that it is the brush skipping along the surface of the weave that has caused this look. Shading done by hand should be true shading, not pixilated shading as you might see of an enlarged version of a photo from a newspaper, made up of spaced dots. However, true shading may be a bit uneven if it is affected by the surface of the weave.

lower-quality printed shadings can have a pixilated look, which at a casual glance can be deceiving (collection of the author)

Below are a few more examples of true brush work.

very simple stitched out line, minimal hand drawing, brushed in colors on flower(collection of the author)

hand-stitching and hand-painted details on figured silk chirimen (collection of the author)

hand stitched and hand-painted details, hand-painted colors in flowers (collection of the author)

hand stitched, hand-painted details, hand-painted tints to petals (collection of the author)