From the Edo period (1603-1868) until the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912), farmers' wives in Saji district of Tamba city, Hyogo prefecture made hand woven cloth known as "Tamba-fu.” Tamba-fu is woven with cultivated cotton that is hand-spun and then dyed with plants growing in the surrounding areas that produce a subtle, quiet and gentle texture, unlike the modern fabrics with factory spun yarn and chemical dyes. Tamba-fu caught the eyes of Mingei Movement leader Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961) and this initiated its revival after a period of decline. To this day the beauty of its stripes and checks still attracts us.
A special feature of Tamba-fu is that the weavers hand spin their threads themselves, an almost dead art in present day Japan. The seeds are extracted from the harvested cotton balls (wata kuri), the meshed fibers loosened and aligned by beating them with a vibrating bow (watauchi), and then they are rolled into hollow tubings or rovings (jinki). Holding a roving in the left hand, the woman uses her fingers to spin the thread attached to the spindle on the rotating spinning wheel, and then winds the twisted thread onto the spindle bobbin. The uneven thickness of threads that have been spun by pulling out the fibers from a roving and adding twist makes them different from machine-spun threads. It is just this that gives the final woven fabric its texture.
The spun yarn is made into skeins and then dyed with colors extracted from Tamba’s rich native plants, the only exception being indigo, which is dyed in a professional indigo dye workshop, konya. Various plants are used as raw materials for dyeing, such as the barks of Japanese star anise (shikimi) and cherry trees, gramineous weeds like anthraxon hispidus (kobunagusa), Japanese walnut (onigurumi), Japanese green alder (yashabushi), and chestnut hulls that are a special products of Tamba. Iron and lye are used as mordants to bring out the distinctive subtle hues of Tamba-fu.
Tamba-fu DyeingKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
The dyed threads are strengthened with paste before measuring them on a warping table. (hedai). To make one kimono width of 38 centimeters, the weaver measures 600 warp threads, selecting the colors and their order according to her taste and ingenuity after consulting sample fabrics collected in sample books containing small cuttings of previously woven cloths. When placed on the loom the measured threads become the warps and form the special striped Tamba-fu designs.
Warping is an important process in creating the woven patterns as it determins the distribution of the colors of the hand spun threads. The warp threads are arranged while imagining the outcome of the finished product. All the stripes and checks of Tamba-fu are born from this process.
After transferring the threads from the warping table and setting them on the loom, it is finally time to weave. The shuttle holding the weft thread is repeatedly passed back and fourth through the warp shed. Although it is laborious work advancing one thread by one thread, Tamba-fu continues to be totally woven by hand.
A characteristic of Tamba-fu is that along with the ordinary weft threads of cotton, they also weave in slub silk (tsumami ito). At one time Tamba was a silk-production area, and after most of the silk thread had been reeled off the cocoons, the remainder cocoons were hand spun into slub threads. Since the short fibers are joined with the fingers, slight lumps result. These add the luster of silk to the beautiful horizontal stripes in Tamba-fu.
Tamba-fuKyoto Women's University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory
Woven mainly with durable cotton, it is said that one Tamba-fu kimono can last for a lifetime. Also being airy and breathable, this functional fabric can be washed at home.
A freshly tailored Tamba-fu kimono is rich in the crisp texture characteristic of cotton and creates a refined look. The more one wears it, the more the kimono fits to the body and gives off a softer feel. Like denim, Tamba-fu is a material that seasons well with age.
At one time, Tamba-fu was shipped in quantity to Kyoto and Osaka as a hand-made farm produce from Tamba and Saji. Eventually though, by the 1890s the product went out of fashion. In the 1920’s, however, Soetsu Yanagi re-discovered the beauty of Tamba-fu at a morning market in Kyoto. When under the influence of Yanagi, the dye specialist Rokuro Uemura went to Saji to do research, it stimulated a move towards revival and preservation.
Tamba-fu Heritage Hall
In the local area, weavers such as Yasuko Adachi actively continue to pass on the techniques of Tamba-fu to the public by hosting a class for researching the craft. In 1998, the Tamba-fu Heritage Hall was opened, and its history and features are introduced through exhibitions. In addition, an internship program where people can learn the production process of Tamba-fu in two years accepts applicants not only from the locality, but also from all over the country, and thus strives to pass down the traditional craft to the next generation.
English translation by:
Miyo Kurosaki Bethe
English edited by:
Melissa rinne, Kyoto National Museum
Exhibition created by:
Kasai Takae, Kyoto Women's University
Sawai Yuri, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Maezaki Shinya, Kyoto Women's University
Dr Yamamoto Masako, Ritsumeikan University