Category Archives: Traditional Japanese Textiles

textile techniques and structures

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)

 

 

 

 

Tate-gasuri 縦絣 201115

The term kasuri is employed a bit casually in Japanese and may be used to make reference to the weave, in which case it may also be called ori-gasuri (織絣), or it may make reference to the dye process, in which case it may be called some-gasuri (染絣).

Weaver tying off bundle of threads with tape (above) and the same bundle after if has been dyed with indigo and the tape removed.

The dye process involved in kasuri is most commonly a string-resist method, not unlike shibori in concept. In most cases string is used to bind off bundles of yarn before dyeing. The tied sections resist the dye and remain white, while exposed yarn takes on the color. During the weaving process, these sections of white are lined up to create patterns or images. Since there are variations in the ties along with some wicking of the dyes, the borders of the imagery rarely line up exactly. This creates the fuzzy edge that gives kasuri textiles their distinctive look.

Many regions specialize in unique weaves, patterns, and dye techniques so that you are likely to come across such names as Ryuukyuu-gasuri (琉球絣), Kurume-gasuri (久留米絣), Bingo-gasuri (備後絣), and many others. Ryuukyuu, Kurume, and Bingo are names of regions in Japan.

絣・飛白(かすり)とは、模様がところどころにおいて「かすった」ように織られた染め文様、もしくはそのような文様を持つ織物のことである。織りによってそれを表現したのを織絣、染めることによって表現したものを染絣という。綿織物が多く、絹や麻等でも織られる。

Kawai Kanjiro’s Book SIXTY YEARS AGO TODAY 六十年前の今

There is a very famous, versatile artist from Kyoto named Kawai Kanjiro. Perhaps you have visited his studio, which is now a museum near Kiyomizu Temple.  In his book 六十年前の今 (Sixty Years Ago Today) he reminisces about his childhood during the turn of the past century, at one point describing in great detail how the mother of each household designed and wove her own kasuri patterns for her family, jealously guarding her creative endeavors. Her time at the loom was also the only opportunity she had to be alone in her thoughts since no one would interrupt her as she made progress, strand by strand and inch by inch. Kasuri weaving is very much a cottage industry focusing on the production of textiles for everyday use.

Meiji Era Backstrap Kasuri Loom

Kasuri has always been considered a casual fabric in Japan, one used for farm clothing and daily wear, as well as noren, futon covers, and other common needs. Kasuri dyed with indigo on cotton is the first that comes to mind for most people, although there are also many wonderful hemp, silk, and even wool versions available in a wide range of colors.

RINGO block print by Katsuhira Tokushi (勝平得之), 1940

You’ll find that most kasuri is woven with a plain flat weave, a structure that gives equal weight and presence to the warp and the weft. Three versions of kasuri are possible: warp-kasuri (tate-gasuri 縦絣), weft-kasuri (yoko-gasuri 横絣), and a combination of the two called tate-yoko-gasuri, 縦横絣.

Fashionable Yabane Kasuri Kimono

 

Tate-gasuri is probably the easiest type of pattern to plan.  Even a very few bundles of threads may be dyed to create sophisticated patterns. For example, let’s take an entire bundle of warp threads and tie it all off in evenly spaced segments, see 1 in the figure below.  Once tied, dip them several times into your indigo vat to achieve a nice rich blue and then untie them to wind up with 2.  Shift a set of nine threads on the diagonal as you tie them to the back beam and thread them through your reed, 3. Stagger one thread (see red arrow in 4 and 5) and then reverse the direction of slant for the next nine threads, 4. Do this for the entire width of your fabric and you wind up with what the Japanese call an arrow-feather pattern, or yabane (矢羽). In this same manner many simple combinations of tied bundles may be staggered and shuffled to create complex patterns as a feast for the eye.

Steps in Preparing Tate-gasuri Threads

The yabane pattern has long been a favorite motif in Japan.

One of the more difficult feats to achieve in weaving is a perfect circle. This is no less true for kasuri dyeing and weaving. So I have selected a real treasure to present as this Textile of the Week.

Tate-gasuri Sample 201115

Sample 201115-tategasuri $14 plus postage and tax ($12 even if purchased as part of a set. For more information about sets, click on this text.) The position of the circle(s) will vary with each sample.

Detail of Sample 20115 Tate-gasuri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sample is silk and high magnification shows that it is a very fine leno (sha) weave.

 

Next time we will take a look at yoko-gasuri (横絣), or weft-kasuri.