Category Archives: Traditional Techniques

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)





Hinagata Cartoons 雛形下絵

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.)



Kimono Care 2 – Day to Day Care 日常常識

Probably the most destructive thing you can do to your kimono is to actually wear it. However, kimono are made to be enjoyed and simply packing them away in a box for posterity will bring joy to neither you nor the splendid garment. So here are some fundamentals you should keep in mind as you are laying out your wardrobe: Bathe your body and wash your hair thoroughly, avoiding all lotions, creams, and hair products. Refrain from using any perfumes or colognes, and never smoke while wearing kimono. If you are to eat or drink while kimono clad, take great care not to spill. A clean handkerchief on your lap while sitting will help to take care of any crumbs and allow you to discretely wipe any oils from your hands if napkins aren’t available. If necessary, a handkerchief discretely placed upon a park bench before sitting down is also appropriate.

Emonkake (hanger)

If you are able to plan ahead of time, remove your folded garment from its storage envelope (tatou) and allow it to hang on an emonkake (Japanese style kimono hanger) for two or three days before the event is to take place. If you have used mothballs in storing it, this will allow time for the smell to dissipate. Brush the garment with a soft clothes brush and use a lint remover to take care of any static problems. If there are any really major fold lines remaining after a day, gently steam them out.

Hanging a Kimono to Air Using an Emonkake

Once you’ve returned from your outing, wash your hands before removing your kimono. Your garment will have absorbed moisture and sweat from our body. Hang your garment back on the emonkake and allow it to air for two to three hours. This will help to prevent mold and spots from forming later.

Be sure to take time to carefully look over your kimono at this stage. Areas that soil easily are the wrist area of the sleeve, the collar, and the hem. If you have worn a kimono with long sleeves, be sure to check the front-bottom, rounded portion of the sleeve for any spots or dust. Next gently pat down all of the trouble spots with a folded piece of velvet, terry cloth, or soft cotton to dislodge any dust from the street. If you have found any spots that can’t be dislodged in this manner, move on to more aggressive techniques. Lastly, with a low, dry iron setting, press out any severe wrinkles. It is best to press from the lining side, but if you must iron from the front be sure to use a press-cloth.

Treat your obi, haori, and other garments in the same manner outlined above.

If you have just purchased a used kimono, then you may also want to follow the steps outlined above before and after wearing it.

Now you are ready to pack your precious garment away.
Garments are not normally just laid out on the table or floor to be folded.  Prepare a clean flat area and wash your hands before proceeding.  A freshly wiped tabletop or the top of a freshly made bed will work quite nicely.

Making Use of a Shitajiki

Using shitajiki to protect your kimono while changing garments.


Japanese often keep large shitajiki on hand for this purpose.  When spread open, the shitajiki may also be used to sit or stand upon when you must change into kimono when away from home. This will keep your garments clean regardless of the environment in which you find yourself.

A large sheet of new butcher paper (un-waxed) or clear newsprint will work just as well.

If you’d like to get a little fancy and make your own shitajiki, you may papier-mâché the butcher paper with pages from an old Japanese songbook or other decorative text.

Old books may be taken apart and used as a decorative element when making your own shitajiki.


Decorated Shitajiki




You may use white butcher-paper as the core to your shitajiki, or an old white sheet, well ironed. (If using a sheet, you may want to starch it heavily first.) Use a runny consistency of wheat paste or rice paste to apply the decorative paper sheets to both sides of the shitajiki, allowing one side to dry before starting the other. Sew cotton bias tape around all of the edges once the layers are completely dry. Crease the shitajiki into six segments the long way, and four the short way. A common size is 60”  (150cm) x 40” (100cm).

Let’s discuss folding your kimono. Every type of kimono has its own special way to be folded–most often this is based on the methods of construction used. The diagrams below illustrate the proper way to fold most kimono types. Almost always, if your kimono is new or if you have bought it from reputable dealer, it come properly folded and you will note that the fold lines generally remain visible even after the garment is worn. Use these fold lines when folding away your garment.

Standard kosode (includes furisode):
Kosode are what most people think of as kimono. Kosode literally means smaller sleeve. However, regardless of the actual length or shape of the sleeve, all garments constructed in a similar fashion to the above will be folded as shown. The key point of construction is the okumi, or extra panel in front.


Tomesode qualify as kimono as described above, however they will often have family crests or intricate patterns at the bottom that require extra care in storage.


Placing a small piece of tissue, or basting a scrap of cloth over the crest, will help to keep the imagery clean, and in  the case of embroidery, protect it from abrasion.

Depending on the dyes used, it is wise to cover the intricate pattern at the hem of a tomesode to keep the white areas pristine and the dyed areas pure of color. Some dyes will migrate to undyed areas if left in contact for long periods of time in storage. Also, the imagery in modern pieces may not be dyed at all but applied with acrylic paints. While these may be very beautiful and artistic, the acrylic sections have tendency to stick to one another if left in contact over time.

You may find that a smooth wooden dowel or broom stick will come in handy for making clean, straight folds when many layers are involved.


Wadded tissue may be used to keep some of the thicker folds from becoming wrinkles during storage.


 You will want to leave the tissue in place, but remove dowel once you’ve finished folding the garment.



Nagajuban are basically slips. It is the garment worn between the kimono and your underwear (which is worn against the body). Unlike the kimono shown above, a man’s nagajuban normally has no okumi, or extra panel, in front.





A haori may be easily identified by the gussets at the side and the fact that the collar is turned back.





The first step is to pinch the collar bands together as shown in the illustration to the left.




A Michiyuki have an extra panel in front. It always snaps, buttons, or ties closed when worn.


You may want to use something to keep the bugs away. Mothballs do work well, but are poisonous and have a lingering odor. I recommend using camphor cubes (shounou). They are inexpensive, have a moderately pleasant smell and the aroma dissipates quickly once the garment is hung to air. Whatever you choose to use, take care to wrap it in porous tissue so as not to allow it to come into direct contact with your garment–otherwise it may cause discoloration.


Never use plastic bags to store your silks. These can trap moisture and cause spotting. The ideal way to store your garments is in an unfinished Japanese tansu. If this is not an option, large dresser drawers will work; camphor and cedar hope chests, as well as map drawers or cabinets all offer a wonderful options for storing and viewing; and large flat cardboard boxes will always work in a pinch. I use them all. In each case I place my garments in a kimono wrapper (tatou). When using cardboard, I take the extra precaution of lining the box with well-washed old sheets to protect the wrappers and the garments from the acid in the corrugated paper.

Tatoushi – Paper Kimono Wrappers

A little extra time invested in caring for your garments will give you years of extended pleasure.