Kyoto Handpainted Yūzen Dyeing

One of two types of yūzen, a technique of textile surface dyeing , which dates back to the Edo period (1615–1868)

By Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

By: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Kyoto Women's University

Toryu Banzai Hiinagata (Kimono Design Book), Kyo Yūzen (1724-10)Original Source: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University(arcBK01-0090)

What is Kyoto Yūzen (Kyō Yūzen)?

Yūzen is a dyeing technique of that uses a resist of glutinous rice paste to differentiate the color of the ground and the design. The procedure involves numerous processes, each of which is handled by a different specialist in assembly-line fashion. When a kimono shop receives an order for a yūzen kimono, someone known as a shikkai (literally, “do-everything”) or, more recently, a senshō (master dyer), makes the rounds of various artisans and ateliers bearing a roll of white cloth. Assorted professionals combine their highly specialized skills over a period of months to produce the finished garment.

Bronze statue of Miyazaki Yuzen, Kyō Yūzen (1954-11) by Yūzen’en Garden, Chion-InOriginal Source: Chion-In

Origins of Kyoto Yūzen

The name “yūzen” is said to be taken from Miyazaki Yūzen, a fan painter who lived near the Chion’in temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district around the Genroku era (1688–1704). He was not the originator of the yūzen dyeing technique. Then why does the technique bear his name? Because the designs he created were extremely popular. “Yūzen-style” circle patterns and painterly dyed patterns rank in popularity with “Kōrin designs” named after artist Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716).

A Stencil Yūzen Workshop, Kyō Yūzen (明治年間) by Koito Sengei.,ltdArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Kyoto Yūzen in the Modern Period

As Japan entered modernity, chemical dyes (synthetic dyes) were introduced from overseas. Horikawa Shinzaburō (1851–1914) and Hirose Jisuke (1822–1890) developed a technique of coloring textiles with paste-resist using chemical dyes, which formed the technical foundation for stencil yūzen (kata yūzen). This was a forerunner of the technique of printing designs. Some kimono shops employed professional painters to draw the basic designs, resulting in the appearence of more realistic and unconventional patterns. By the Taishō period (1912–1926), there were professional “patternmakers” (zuanka) who created various unique textile designs.

Conceiving the Design and Making a Preliminary Drawing, Kyo YūzenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Conceiving the Design and Making a Preliminary Drawing 

The word “yūzen” is generally associated with handpainted yūzen (tegaki yūzen). In this method, the artisan draws the design by hand, using a fine writing brush or a painting brush. First, the cloth is temporarily tailored in kimono shape, the general outline of the design is laid out, and then the design is drawn directly on the cloth. A special blue dye called aobana (made from Asiatic dayflower),  is used to paint this undersketch on the cloth. This blue washes out easily when rinsed in water or steamed. After the drawing is finished, the pieces of cloth are sewn back (hashinui) into their original shape as a long bolt of fabric.

Applying Rice Paste Resist, Kyō YūzenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Applying Rice Paste Resist

The outline of the design is covered with a rice paste to prevent transfer of the dye. Long ago a heated mixture of glutinous rice, white or red rice bran, lime, and sappanwood, called manori, was used. Today gum Arabic is also used. The choice of paste affects the order of the procedure and the final result. The paste is applied using a funnel fashioned from handmade washi paper brushed with persimmon tannin, with a narrow metal tip. The delicate, fine lines of the resist clearly separate the various colors.

Applying dye, Kyo YūzenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Applying Dye

After the paste resist lines dry, dyes in the desired colors are applied to the design inside the lines. Fine points of color distribution, gradation, and shading are left to the artist’s intuition.  The individual designs are dyed first, and then all the design areas are covered with paste in order to resist the final application of the background color, which is brushed across the textile. 

Steaming(Showa era), Kyō YūzenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Steaming and Rinsing

The cloth is placed in a steaming box to fix the dye with heat and moisture. Afterward, it is rinsed in water to remove the paste and excess dye. This step, known as yūzen nagashi (flowing yūzen), was formerly done in the main rivers of Kyoto: Kamo, Hori, Katsura, Shirakawa, and Kamiya. The rivers would change color, depending on the hue of the dye used. Mounting environmental awareness led to the Water Pollution Control Act of 1970. Washing of dyed textiles is no longer done in the river, but in workshops using artificial waterways. 

Rinsing(Showa era), Kyō Yūzen (昭和時代)Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Embroidery, Kyo YūzenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

 Final Touches

After the cloth is steamed to remove wrinkles (yunoshi), it is ready to be decorated with embroidery or leaf (kindami), and to have the colors touched up. In kindami, also known as inkin (stamping gold), gold or silver leaf or other metallic powder is adhered to the cloth. Other techniques include surihaku, where paste is stenciled on the fabric and gold foil impressed on top; sunako, where gold dust is scattered on the fabric using a bamboo tube called a tōshi; and kindeigaki, where gold paint is applied with a brush. After the final touches of embroidery and/or application of acrylic color or pigment to details of flowering plants or facial expression, at long last the textile is finished. 

Inkin (stamping gold), Kyo YūzenArt Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Credits: Story

Supported by Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts, Fureaikan

Text written by Yamamoto Masako(Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS))

English Translation by Professor Juliet Winters Carpenter, Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts

Edited by Melissa M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Exhibition created by Yamamoto Masako(Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS))

Directed by Maezaki Shinya, 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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