The making of kyō yūzen kimono

Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

a Ritsumeikan University kyō yūzen kimono project

Kyō yūzen
One of the characteristics of the kimono is its beautiful design. Kyō yūzen is created using motifs of flowers, birds and other traditional designs through various dyeing and weaving techniques. Sometimes the overall design is likened to a painting. In other cases the design may be made by an artist and then directly painted onto the kimono fabric.  
“Mandarin Ducks in Snow”
This kimono borrows “Mandarin Ducks in Snow” by Itō Jakuchū, a painter from Kyoto during the Edo period, as its design motif. It was made using handpainted yūzen technique. The original painting was redesigned to fit the shape of the kimono. This kimono was created with the main, large motif placed at the center of the hem, so that it would look beautiful both when displayed and when worn. In addition, the fabric was not dyed and much of it was left in its original white colour to showcase the beautiful white fabric. This original white fabric used for our project is also woven with small emblems of the letter R that represents Ritsumeikan.
“Bunch of Grapes”
This kimono was created using Itō Jakuchū’s “Bunch of Grapes” as its design motif. Kata yūzen (stencil technique) was applied for the making of this kimono. In kata yūzen, patterns or designs are repeated over the entire fabric by using a stencil sheet for dyeing. The overall design was carefully thought out to ensure a good balance between the grapes and the white background when the kimono is displayed and that the grapes are clearly seen when the kimono is worn. The grapes and the leaves are printed in graded ink over the silver grey fabric.
“Bunch of Grapes”
This is a photograph of the fabric before it was made into the kimono. When hung this way, the fabric looks like a hanging scroll. The butterfly at bottom right is the original tag added for this project.
 Ritsumeikan University kyō yūzen kimono project
This kimono was made as part of the Ritsumeikan project to conduct research on the current conditions of craft-making in Kyoto, as well as recording Kyō yūzen today, revealing its characteristics and shed light on related issues. Videos and photographs were taken during the making of this kimono, and the artisans involved were interviewed. Etsuko and Joe Price who are renowned collectors of Itō Jakuchū’s works also collaborated by granting the use of the images of the original paintings by Itō Jakuchū in their collection.

Yūzen dyeing

Yūzen dyeing is produced by the hands of many artisans who work under the division of labour to focus on their particular expertise. The amalgamation of artisans who possess sophisticated techniques makes it possible to produce products of higher quality.

Yūzen technique

For this project kimonos were produced using hand-drawn yūzen and kata yūzen techniques. In the case of hand-drawn yūzen technique, the basic design is painted onto the fabric before glue is applied to prepare for resist dyeing. This is done by pushing out glue from the glue container and tracing along the lines of the design.

Adding colours

After glue has been applied for resist dyeing, brushes are used to add (dye) colours onto the fabric.

Excess dye and glue

Excess dye and glue is rinsed off using water, a step called mizumoto or yūzen nagashi. In the past this was done at Kamo River and Hori River, but for environmental reasons it is now done at artificial rivers created within yūzen workshops.


Finally, embroidery, gold, and colour correction are applied to the fabric.

What to do first

Kata yūzen is a technique of dyeing patterns using a stencil. The placement of the motif to be used is carefully thought to ensure continuous repetition of the motif. For a single pattern several stencils are made according to the colours and parts required.

Cutting out

The design or pattern is carbon transferred onto the stencil paper and cut out using a cutter. A complex design or pattern requires several stencils. For this project 30 stencils were made.


The fabric is fixed to a specially-designed panel and the stencil is placed over the fabric ready for dyeing. Gradation is achieved by repeatedly dyeing using the same stencil.

Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University
Credits: Story

Text written & Exhibition created  by Masako Yamamoto,Ritsumeikan University

Information & Images provided by Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University & ZONE Kimono Design Lab

Photo by Tadayuki Minamoto

English Translation by Eddy Y. L. Chang

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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