Creating beautiful patterns from pre-dyed yarn

Nishijin-gasuri is a traditional fabric with subtle gradations not attainable in printed fabrics. Today, it is used to create many new products, such as this glossy clutch bag.   
Nishijin Weaving 
Nishijin-ori is a characteristic Japanese woven fabric, made in Kyoto. There are 12 different types:  this one, using pre-dyed yarn, is called “Nishijin-gasuri”. Although textiles woven with pre-dyed yarn (kasuri-ori) are produced all around Japan, Nishijin-gasuri stands out for its colourfully dyed silk yarn.
Creating patterns with silk yarn
Nishijin-gasuri is handmade by skilled weavers known as kasuri-kakōshi. The threads are bound together and resist dyed (see kukuri p.9), then reordered (garakumi p.14) and vertically separated (zurashi, p. 16) to create the intricate pattern. 
It has to be Silk 
While many Japanese kasuri fabrics are woven from cotton yarn, Nishijin-gasuri always uses silk. The fine, breakable threads makes silk difficult to work with, but it   enables weavers to create more detailed, precise patterns.
Weaving pre-dyed yarn (‘kasuri’ in Japanese) began in India and is said to have been brought to Japan via Southeast Asia. Japan’s most ancient kasuri fabrics can be found today among the Sōshōin treasures, but the technique really came into its own in Noh theatre costume during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), as the fabric ground for  samurai costume in the Edo period (1603-1868), as well as to produce outfits for ladies-in-waiting at samurai or court-noble households. These fabrics are all thought to have been made in Nishijin, Kyoto. In the late 1920s a type of pre-dyed fabric called kasuri-omeshi became popular, and later developed into the Nishijin-gasuri we know today.  
Nishijin-ori is usually associated with kimono sashes (obi), but this kasuri fabric is also used to make the kimono itself.  The best known style is the kasuri-omeshi, where the pre-dyed yarn brings out the lustre of the silk to create deep, delicate shades that really strike a chord with wearers.  
Wakuhari and sumiuchi
Nishijin-gasuri is usually made by pre-dyeing the warp threads to create the pattern. The sections of yard to be dyed have to be marked: first, a bundle of threads is pulled taught over a square frame called ōwaku (this step is called wakuhari), and then the yarn is marked (called sumiuchi).
Kukuri is a resist-binding process vital to the making of kasuri patterns. Cotton thread, water-proof paper, or rubber tubes are used to cover sections of the yarn not to be dyed, which have been marked using the sumiuchi process. These resist materials are worked around the yarn so as to facilitate quick removal immediately after dyeing. 
Dyeing the Yarn 
Yarn prepared for dyeing is taken to a dyeing factory, and after dyeing the resist threads, paper, or rubber tubes are removed back at the workshop. Only one colour can be dyed at a time, so the same process of resist binding (kukuri) followed by dyeing is repeated for every colour required.  
Makitsuke and heso-age 
Once dyeing is complete, threads of the same colour or pattern are bundled up and twisted around one arm to make a ball. This process, called makitsuke, prevents the threads from tangling. The artisan then pulls his or her hand out, leaving a hole in the middle (called heso-age). The yarn is then spun around a device called “the drum”, taiko.  
Garakumi is the next process where the yarn spun around the drum is arranged according to the design. The number of warp threads range from several thousand to over 10,000. The sheer number of threads is one of the factors behind the delicacy of the patterns.  
Zurashi and hashigo 
The process where warp threads, prepared using the garakumi process, are vertically separated to make the pattern is called hashigo-kake or “laddering”. Nishijin weavers use a tool called hashigo (a ladder), to pass the threads through metal rods set at varied heights to accurately separate the yarn. 
Tatemaki Wrapping
Once the vertical separation, creating the pattern, is completed, the warp is wrapped around a cylindrical implement called chikiri (this process is called tatemaki). The warp is passed through the vertical “ladders” according to the design, and wrapped around the cylinder. This is the end of the kasuri artisan’s job. The wrapped warp-cylinders are now passed to weavers to be woven into Nishijin-gasuri fabric.
Nishijin-gasuri today 
In its heyday in the 1930s there were about 300 specialists making Nishijin-gasuri. Now there are only seven. With only one of them aged below 50, and the remaining six quite elderly, the lack of younger artisans to continue the tradition is a concern.  Efforts are now focused on new ideas that will enable us not only to protect the tradition, but to broaden the use of Nishijin-gasuri fabric into the future. 
Creating new products 
In addition to the traditional applications of Nishijin-gasuri fabric for kimono and obi, new products such as stoles and bags are also being created today. The products are designed to complement modern casual clothing, allowing these new applications of Nishijin-gasuri to blend into everyday life.
Kyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Credits: Story

Information provided & Supported by:
Shirasu Miki
Sugimoto Seiko,omeshiproject
Takahashi Yasuhiro,omeshiproject
Hirabayashi Kumi,omeshiproject
Kasai Ikuko,omeshiproject
Nishijima Jinya,Kinki University
Nakata Masanori,Kinki University
Yano Tomoyuki,Kinki University
Kawahigashi Miku,Kinki University

Text and Exhibition created by:
Kasai Takae, Kyoto Women's University

English translation:
Eddy Y.L. Chang
Marie Jelinek

Project Directors:
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor,Kyoto Women's 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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