Category Archives: Textile of the Week

traditional fabric samples for sale

Creating the Tsujigahana “Look”

Despite the fact that many textiles employ the aesthetic discussed under What Does “Tsujigahana” Mean?, it is the mastered combination of shibori (string resist) and hand painted images that first comes to mind when we speak of tsujigahana, and this is what we will be focusing on in this article.


Here are a few sample designs representing typical images found in tsujigahana. I’ve redrawn them from  samples in my collection.



The first step is to prepare a cartoon. A light table comes in handy when transferring the image to the silk.

using blueflower and a brush to transfer the cartoon image to silk with the help of a light table

Blueflower (青花, aobana) is used as the transfer ink. It disappears on contact with water. The next step varies with the artist – the permanent lines may be inked in at this point, including the shading, or the images may be inked in once the shibori process has been completed which is the example I will follow below.

The next several images have been borrowed from this site to allow me to add captions in English.

aobana design stenciled onto cotton used as a guide in stitching

Most shibori techniques employ very strong string as the primary resist, allowing the craftsperson to pull the gathers tight.

strong cotton or hemp thread is used to stitch around the outlines of the design and pulled tight




Once the outlines are tied off, the areas that won’t be dyed for the time being must be protected.

top: old-style bamboo sheath cap bottom: the sheaths that cover bamboo shoots as they emerge in spring have many uses in Japan

These areas are capped off. Traditionally the sheaths from bamboo shoots were used, but today various types of plastic are preferred.

top: contemporary artists prefer to use a form of plastic wrap as caps bottom: contemporary plastic caps

Section by section, color by color each segment of the design is addressed.

left: all areas except that which is to be dyed green are capped off center: once the green is set, the fabric is untied and then retied to expose only the areas to be dyed purple right: the stitched threads are removed and the results inspected

To ink in the lines a number of synthetic dyes may be used, or simply soot or indigo pigment mixed with soymilk. A fude-style brush is used for the outlines to give sharp detailed lines, and a surikomi brush is used to do the shading around the edges to soften the look and add some whimsy.

left: inking in the details with a fude-style brush right: finished textile

Black is not the only color used to paint in designs. The colors and designs are limited only by the artist’s imagination.

natural dyes on silk tsumugi using a wide range of colors with a traditional look (collection of the author)

nui-shibori edges between the green and orange, coupled with more realistic looking leaves gives a more contemporary impression (collection of the author)

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)





Cold-Water, Fresh-Leaf Indigo Vat Dyeing

Textile of the Week cards – scroll down to the bottom of this page for more details

Let’s take a look at using fresh-leaf indigo in vat form. I’d like to begin with the various shades of robin’s-egg blue, now that you have had a chance to try your hand at direct contact with indigo leaves in Fresh-Leaf Indigo, It’s Magic!

Eggs of the mapuche chicken – Who wouldn’t love these colors?

We’ll take a beginner’s look at the most basic form of indigo vat – one made simply from fresh leaves and cold water. I’ll be using the Japanese tadeai indigo, but other varieties will work well, too.

John harvesting tadeai just after sun up

Just after sunrise, on a cool mid-summer morning, use a scythe to gather a small basket full of fresh leaves. Choose plants that look healthy and are deepest in color, preferably ones that aren’t yet in bloom.


Add the leaves to a blender with ice water and churn until the leaves are thoroughly pulverized. Strain. The resulting liquid is your vat and you are ready to go! This particular vat works best with protein-based fibers, so primarily silks and wools.

Straining the pulverized tadeai leaves through a polyester rag, cookie brittle is optional

Wash your material thoroughly and rinse in cold water. The longer you soak the material, the richer the robin’s-egg blue. Whether you are using yarns or woven yardage you will want to keep the fiber moving for the most evenly colored results. You may simply swish the material periodically, or you may suspend it from rods and continuously turn it. Whether it is a books-on-tape thriller, or simply the neighbors going at it again next door, make sure you have something prepared to occupy your mind since this will take up to an hour or more for the color to develop.

The yardage has been sewn together at the ends to create a loop. Using a set of dowels to help hold a portion of the fabric above the vat, John is picking up and pulling the fabric toward himself as the silk cycles through the dye below.

Remove the yarn or yardage from the vat, wring, rinse, dry, and you’re done. Since this vat is pH neutral, there is no need to subject the dyed fiber to a vinegar rinse. In contrast, many Japanese like to give it a dip in a slightly alkaline solution (1 teaspoon of calcium hydroxide dissolved 3 gallons of tepid water). However, this does have the potential to take the color just a bit to the indigo-gray side.

Clamp resist on silk leno in fresh-leaf indigo vat

This method works wonderfully with resist techniques that can hold up to prolonged exposure to cold water, such as kasuri (ikat), rozome (batik), and clamp-resist methods.

Three samples of fresh-leaf, tadeai vat indigo: fresh leaves with silk (left); fresh leaves on ramie with a little calx (calcium hydroxide) added to the vat (center); and fresh leaves and calx on cotton (right)

So what about the cellulose fibers? Not to worry. We need only take the pH of the fresh-leaf vat from neutral to around 10.5 by adding dissolved calcium hydroxide (chalk) to a fresh vat and allowing the mixture to simply sit for about an hour. Repeat the steps you followed for the silk. You should wind up with a very beautiful blue –not quite as lively as the fresh-leaf dye on silk, but still a very refreshing turquoise.

This go around, the Textile of the Week samples are presented in a cluster of four to show off the range of colors available with the noncomposted, raw, fresh-leaf tadeai dye.


Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201520, $14.

Fresh-leaf vat after just one dip, silk damask (donsu)

Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201521, $14.

Fresh-leaf vat after two long dips, crinkle-weave silk.

The fabric above is silk, as are the other samples on this page. This particular weave is called chijimi, the weave structure will be covered in a future blog. It scrunches when wet and must be stretched out again before using it to sew.  But the scrunching brought out an interesting trait of the fresh-leaf indigo when used as a simple cold vat.

The weave structure forced the fabric to scrunch up tight once wet.

I imagine you were paying attention when I mentioned above that you must keep turning the fabric in the cold vat to prevent streaking. If you simply dump the material into the vat and come back later, the areas exposed to the larger volume of liquid will have a greater pool of colorant to pull from, even though the dye is uniformly dissolved in the water initially. Think of the person who walks into a room and seems to suck all of the oxygen out of it. That kind of person lessens the odds that there will be enough oxygen to go around – and your odds are decreased the closer you stand to the offender. The fiber is doing just that – sucking all of the color out of the liquid in close proximity. So bunched areas will quickly deplete what pigment is available to them. The surfaces on the perimeters are able to pull from passing currents and realize a deeper more fulfilled experience.

Or just cram it in the pot and be done with it. Streaks work. See below.

Uneven absorption of the indigo caused by the scrunching of the yardage when wet. This sample has been ironed out flat to exploit its visually eccentric nature.

This is the same yardage rinsed and ironed flat. The peaks (the exposed areas of the scrunched yardage) have absorbed the greatest amount of color and the valleys remain pale.

The same yardage as above, draped.

The same yardage as above, draped. The folds show off the iridescent quality the varying shades of indigo impart. Notice the little sticky-out bits of yarn, making it look a bit like a case of shingles? This is actually a very sought after and expensive look. It is called hige-tsumugi, or bearded slub weave.


Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201522, $14.

Cold-vat, fresh-leaf indigo vat with calx, one dip, Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu)


Click on the button to  purchase Textile of the Week sample below, 201523, $14.

The samples above and below have been dyed using the same yardage from the same bolt of Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu) to help you gain a better appreciation of the range of shades available. Both have been dipped into the same fresh-leaf indigo vat outlined above. They appear grayer than the first two samples because a little calx (calcium hydroxide) was added to the vat to bring up the pH a bit. The sample above was dipped once, and the sample below twice.

cold-vat, fresh-leaf indigo with calx, two dips, Japanese silk jacquard (rinzu)

Meisen-Gasuri 銘仙絣 201219

The past few blogs have dealt with a variety of forms of kasuri. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Japanese terms are not always easily translated directly into English. Most dictionaries define kasuri as ikat (a Malayan/Indonesian word meaning to fasten or to tie). Ikat in turn is defined in English dictionaries as a fabric in which the yarns have been tie-dyed before weaving (Webster’s on-line dictionary).


Poster advertising meisen.

So now let’s take a look at meisen (銘仙). The average person on the street in Japan will recognize meisen as what we call ikat. However, meisen may also be a solid color fabric, or woven entirely with undyed, unbleached yarns. So actually, meisen is the weave and kasuri is the dye method.

Meisen is a moderately light-weight silk weave with a hard, smooth touch (sometimes with a slub) – not at all unlike what is sold as silk pongee.

Kasuri is the dye technique employed – in which the threads are dyed with sections of color that will later line up to form pattern in the meisen (or other weaves). With me so far?

Notice that I didn’t say anything about tie dyeing the yarns for kasuri as part of the definition. Binding groups of warp and/or weft threads to control  colors (tie dye) is indeed one way to produce kasuri threads. The verb kasuru means to steal away a bit of something, or as the old kanji (飛白) helps us to understand, leaping bits of blank. Basically, any method employed to dye the threads used in weaving to create a Morse-code-like pattern of long and short dashes that will later be lined up to make a pattern or image, qualifies as kasuri. This may include paste resist applied with stencils, block-printed images, hand painted warp and weft, and even silk screening.

Let’s take a closer look at the silk-screen method. Traditional forms of screen dyeing in Japan are called nassen (捺染). [If you have interest in this process I would recommend taking a class from Akemi Nakano Cohn – a long time practitioner and teacher of this art.] In nassen color is pushed through a stencil. When nassen is used to apply color to threads to later be woven, it is called hogushi-nassen (ほぐし捺染). Let’s next take a look at how this technique is applied.


Preparing warp threads by winding onto a large drum prior to dyeing.



First filament silk is reeled onto a large drum to prepare the warp threads for dyeing (left). The warp is threaded onto a special loom and very coarsely woven – notice how greatly spaced the weft is as it holds the warp threads in place (below).

Warped loom with loosely woven weft in monofiliment silk.

This loosely woven yardage is removed from the loom and rolled out onto a printing table.

Screening the warp threads.

In the screening process dyes may be brushed through the screens/stencils, or the dyes may be added to a thickener and pushed through the screens with a squeegee as seen above.

Removing the thin weft threads before returning the warp to the loom.

Once the dyeing is complete, the warp threads will be returned to the loom, but before doing so, the previously woven weft threads must be removed. [If you are interested in trying your hand at this technique, I do have a very good supply of the fine threads used to weave the temporary weft, contact me for more details.]

Warped loom ready to have the real weft woven in.

The warped loom is now ready to be woven with the new weft threads. This time they will be firmly beat into tight alignment.

The pull you see hanging from the center of the image to the left is yanked to send the shuttle flying left and right. For an example of this type of loom in action, click here to watch a YouTube clip.

If you have followed the earlier blogs dealing with other kasuri techniques, you can easily see how this printing process allows the craftsperson to greatly speed up production time. This brought down the price and soon meisen-gasuri became one of of the most popular techniques for nice, everyday wear among women.


Penguins on ice flow.


Because of the relatively quick turn-around time, patterns began to reflect images of current events and more fad-oriented popular motifs. The example shown to the right is reflective of the craze for the South Pole as exploration of the new continent progressed in the 1950s.


Goofey and Donald depicted on meisen fabric used in a haori.

Disney was also making great inroads into Japanese culture, and the country’s love of the characters may be seen in this meisen piece from the late 1940s.

Are you up for a little musical entertainment? Take a look at this video on YouTube. The song is called The Color of Life and is performed by The Six Singing Women (唄う六人の女). Most of the textiles shown in the video are meisen.

This week’s Textile of the Week, 201219, is a fanciful image full of wonderful movement of line. It is handwoven and originally part of a kimono worn as casual wear by middle and upper-class women, or as formal wear by lower-class women.


Textile of the Week, 201219, Meisen-Gasuri

For more examples of meisen-gasuri, check out the samples in Treasures from John’s Collection: Meisen-Gasuri 銘仙絣.

One final bit of history: I thought you might want to know just a bit more about the development of meisen, so I have translated the following text from Dankousha’s 1987 publication,  the Unabridged Dictionary of Colors, Dyes, and Weaves (原色染織り大辞典・談交社・昭和五十二年). The original text in its entirety is below the English section.

Meisen is one version of the flat weave. It had its beginnings in the later part of the Edo Period, at which time it was written with* a variety of characters, including 目千 (lit. “a thousand ends** per inch”), 目専 (lit. “specialty ends**”), 蠒繊 (lit. “ultra fine cocoons“), and so on. Meisen is woven in the general region of Chichibu and Isezaki using yarns called tama-ito (a thick, seasonal raw silk) and noshi-ito (silk thrums) to weave a very strong, thick cloth used in every-day clothes. From the Meiji Period onward the characters most commonly used came to be 銘撰 (lit. “precious selection“)and 銘仙 (lit. “precious enchantment“), and with them a variety of innovations in quality and methods of weaving. Up until the Meiji Period the patterns were mostly stripes. However, with the advent of the Taisho Period, new forms of dyeing appeared such as shimekirigasuri (締切絣), yokosougasuri (縦総絣), nassengasuri (捺染絣), chingasuri (珍絣), and hodushigasuri (解し絣), quickly developing into more and more complex methods and with them the ability to consider vastly more complex imagery. With filament silk as the warp, other threads were introduced into the weave through the weft – threads such as raw (spun) silk, rayon, and even nylon. Centers of production were to be found in Kyoto, Isezaki, Chichibu, Ashikaga, Kiryuu, and Hachiouji, as well as others. Up until the time of World War II, meisen was used mostly for the every-day clothes of women. In addition, it was also used for lining fabric, bedding covers, tanzen (padded garments worn by men indoors during the winter months), and zabuton covers – all of which kept demand high. However, beginning in 1955, wool and synthetics became widespread and meisen suddenly disappeared from the marketplace.

めいせん 銘仙 平織りの絹織物の一。江戸後期には目千・目専・蠒繊などの字をあてる。秩父・伊勢崎などで玉糸(節のある太い生糸)や熨斗糸(絹の屑糸の一種)を用いて織った丈夫な太織を指し、普段着に用いた。明治以後は銘撰・銘仙と書かれ、他質や織り方にさまざまの工夫が加わった。明治までは縞柄が主であったが、大正以降は締切絣・縦総絣・捺染絣・珍絣・解し絣等の絣の技術が複雑化し、模様物が考案された。他糸には経に絹糸,緯に玉糸を使用したものが最も多く、ほかに紡績絹糸・人絹糸・綿糸・ナイロン糸などを用いる。主な産地は京都・伊勢崎・秩父・足利・桐生・八王子など。第二次世紀大戦頃まで、おもに女性の普段機に多く用いたほか、裏地・夜具地・丹前地・座ぶとん地などの需要が多かったが、昭和三十年代からウール・化学繊維の普及により急速に市場から姿を消した。


*In this case I’ve translated あて字 (ateji) as “written with”Ateji is a linguistic custom in both China and Japan of assigning kanji to a word for poetic reasons, or to manufacture words that can’t otherwise be written in Chinese characters. For example, a friend of mine owns a store called SO•ME, or Dye. It would normally be written as 染め (so-me), and this is actually the only correct way of writing it. However, she wanted to add a little elegance and femininity to the name of her company, so she opted to write it 染女 (so-me), replacing the alphabetical め (me) with the kanji 女 (me), meaning woman, thus indicating a dye shop owned by a woman, and very classy sounding to boot!
So, in the examples sited for meisen, each of the names has forced kanji – kanji that are not normally read meisen but can be pushed into doing so and add a little elegance, definition, or attitude to the word at the same time.

**The character 目 is used in counting how fine a weave is. In Asia, they count the spaces between the threads within a specified square measurement, rather than the warp threads themselves. In American English we might say a weave has 500 ends per inch, which means that there are 500 warp threads within a linear inch. In Japan, if you said 500目, you would be saying that there are 500 gaps (holes/spaces) in the weave within a square centimeter.