How Velvet came to be called “White bird textile”    
Various explanations exist for the difficult Chinese characters used to write velvet in Japanese. One goes that when velvet was first introduced into Japan, they approximated the pronunciation of the Portuguese term veludo as “birōdo” and borrowed the characters for “White bird textile” already adopted by the Chinese.
The arrival of velvet in Japan dates back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573 – 1603) about 500 years ago. Apparently Portuguese traders brought velvet along with guns. At that time, unusual fabrics such as wool (rasha) and velvet brought by ships from Spain and Portugal were extreamly popular among the Sengoku Daimyos and soon became the height of fashion. Velvet cloaks have been preserved that once belonged to the great military leaders Oda Nobunaga and the Uesugi Kenshin.
Velvet, produced in Venice, was very popular in Europe as well during the 16th to 17th centuries. Recent research has revealed that in the 16th century the Chinese were already producing velvet, which raises the possibility that early imports to Japan during the Momoyama period were actualy made in China.  
Velvet Production in Japan
It took the Japanese people a long time before they could understand the technique of weaving velvet, which involves cutting the loops in a pile weave structure. This made it a very rare and valuable fabric.   Japan started to produce velvet at the end of the Edo period. It is said that the technique was discovered when a bamboo stick (or a wire according to another theory) was found left inside a row of uncut loops (wana). Between the Meiji and Taisho periods, the demand for velvet to use not only for clothing, but also for high-quality interior decoration expanded both domestically and internationally, stimulating production. 
Yūzen Velvet
After the confusion of the Edo period, when Japan entered into the Meiji Period, international trade rose. In this context in 1878, the twelfth generation Kyoto artisan, Nishimura Sozaemon (now called Chiso), developed an artstic textile named yuzen velvet. He applied yuzen techniques to velvet and also brushed up part of the surface to create a three dimensional efect through contrasting textures. Although these textiles look like paintings at first, they have a distinctive feel that is quite.
Yūzen velvet work with Japanesk motifs such as flowers, birds, animals, and landscapes, became popular in the West. Records reveal that at the Paris World Exposition in 1900, the French actress, Sarah Bernard purchased yūzen velvet, which Takashimaya Iida Shin-sein exhibited. (Unfortunately the current location is unknown.)
How the Velvet is made
The thick fluffy characteristic of velvet is produced by weaving in a metal rod so as to form loops (wana) and cutting the tops of the loops to create a pile, which is then brushed. The rod is woven into the structure by hand. The pile loops are cut by hand and then the metal wires are removed. The process requires a lot of labor-intensive work.  The tool used for cutting the pile loops has a unique construction: it clamps the wire like a monorail train, and by sliding it along the metal wire, the blade at the center cuts the tip of the pile.
In the Meiji period they began to use copper wires for weaving piles. These were easier to handle and stronger than the bamboo sticks that had originaly been used. Copper wire was easy to handle but malleable, so apparently they needed to use a wooden sheath to place the wire through the warp shed. Now they use wire made of iron and stainless steel, which is firmer and easier to handle.
When cutting the pile to take the woven-in metal wires out, the wires get bent or scratched on the surface. These get straightened out by beating them on a stone slab before polishing them with starch to smooth the surface. They can then be reused. It is traditional practice to reuse comon materials.
Up till now, velvet has been popular as a luxury fabric for making Japanese style coats and shawls, as well as accessories for kimonos such as geta straps and bags. However, the velvet weaving technique with wires gradually disappeared, for it was too time consuming. The Japanese silk velvet Industry Co., Ltd in Sonobe-cho, Kyoto is the only factory left that weaves with this technique.

In adition to protecting the traditional technique, they are also dedicated to improving products suited to the modern lifestyle, such as covered button accessories.

In adition to protecting the traditional technique, they are also dedicated to improving products suited to the modern lifestyle, such as covered button accessories.

In adition to protecting the traditional technique, they are also dedicated to improving products suited to the modern lifestyle, such as covered button accessories.

Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Information provided by:
Japanese Silk Velvet Industry Co., Ltd,
Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum

Matsubara Fumi (fellow of Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum)

Uesugi Haruka

English Translation:
Miyo Kurosaki Bethe

This exhibition is created by:
Iwata Mitsuki ( Department of Apparel and Space Design, Kyoto Women's University )

Project Directors:
Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University

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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