Saturday, July 16, 2016

Textile Dyeing Patterns of Japan

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

The Japanese appreciation of nature is reflected in its long history and tradition of textile design. Expressions of nature in textile motifs and patterns are in fact fundamental to the Japanese concept of design. Kyoto Shoin has produced a series of six books that introduce various patterns created at a time when traditional style costumes were flourishing from 1850 to 1920. The collection includes 1200 distinct textile patterns (200 per volume) and so presents characteristics and progressive development of Japanese design. This series is an invaluable source of ideas and inspirations for designers in many fields including: fashion, interior design, graphic design, illustration etc. Along with design professionals, students and those interested in Japanese culture are sure to find this series as a valuable reference tool.

The images below have been abstracted from volume 4 of the series - Textile Dyeing Patterns[1].

History of Japanese Textiles by Kax Wilson[2]
Very little is known about the history of Japan before the eighth century. The early Japanese made cloth from hemp, ramie, mulberry, and wisteria vine fiber. Silk was not known until the second century AD, when the Chinese sent silkworm eggs and woven silk was imported from Korea. In the fourth and fifth centuries Chinese and Korean weavers emigrated to Japan where they were given land and titles in exchange for their knowledge.

Nara Textiles
The Nara period (710-785 AD) was a brief but golden time in Japanese history. Close contact with T'ang China led to the development of many weaving and dyeing techniques. In the mid-eighth century, the Emperor Shomu commissioned a gigantic bronze Buddha for installation in the Shosoin, the imperial repository at Nara. Shomu died, and his widow dedicated his art treasures and household goods to Buddha. These articles, along with dedicatory records giving detailed descriptions, were preserved for centuries in a sealed building. Western scholars believe that the thousands of textile fragments came mostly from China and Iran, because the Japanese were not using the drawloom in the eighth century. Some Japanese authors, however, attribute the textiles to their own weavers.

Nishiki is an important, if indefinite, term. It has been used as a name for several constructions, including brocade, and has come to mean any textile with a colorful woven design. More exactly, the Japanese use tate nishiki for the warp-patterned textiles of the Han dynasty and nuki nishiki for weft-patterned silks of the T'ang dynasty, Nara period, and Sassanian Persia.

The word aya was used in the Nara period to denote a patterned fabric made by combining plain and twill, or warp-faced and weft-faced twill (like damask). In modern times, aya refers only to twill weave. Gauze fabrics were also woven in the Nara period. Sha was a simple leno weave, while ra was stiffer and had woven lozenge and floral patterns.

During the Nara period Japanese dyers were adept at rokechi (wax resist dyeing) and kokechi (tie and dye). Kyokechi, called jam dyeing, reached Japan from China in the sixth century and was well developed by the Nara period. Folded cloth was pressed between two boards perforated with designs. The dye entered through the holes.

Heian and Kamakura Textiles
During the Heian period (785-1185 AD) Japan turned inward to a life of luxury, over-refinement in ceremonies, and a flourishing textile industry. Costume was voluminous; a lady might wear a dozen layers, with colors delicately coordinated. There are no extant fabrics from this period, but Lady Murasaki's, "The Tale of Genji", describes some of the court costumes in detail. The ladies gave up the multitudinous layers for the kosode, the small-sleeved kimono, in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Life became more practical; the military controlled the government, and resources were consumed in fending off the Mongols.

During the late Heian period the first real brocade was made in Japan after students brought it back from China. The new fabric was called kinran after its gold threads. An overlay of gold foil was applied to fine tough paper made from mulberry fiber, and the paper was cut into strips for weft. In the Kamakura period, brocading, painting, and embroidery were used to put the Mon, or family crest, on textiles. The designs were used to identify a certain lord, his family, and his servants.

Muromachi and Momoyama Textiles
The Muromachi (Ashikaga) period (1334-1573 AD) was a time of continued warfare and the flowering of the arts. Almost contemporary with the Ming dynasty, the Muromachi period coincided with two centuries of strife and change in Europe. The Ashikaga moved the capital to Kyoto, a major weaving and embroidery center since the eighth century. Magnificent fabrics were woven for costumes worn in the newly popular Noh dramas. Japan was united in the Momoyama period (1573-1615 AD) and industry prospered. Each year trading ships carried Japanese goods to South East Asian ports, and soon Europeans were in Nagasaki seeking Japanese silks.

Seigo, a stiff silk that made trousers stand straight out sideways and yukata, a soft cotton crepé weave made with irregular floats, were two quite contrasting Muromachi fabrics. Cotton was also used for warp in a silk tapestry called tsuzure nishiki. The Japanese called it - "fingernail tapestry" - because the weavers battened the weft with long, specially grooved nails. Tsuzure nishiki was a development of tsuzure-ori (linked weaving), copied from and nearly identical to Chinese k'o-ssu.

Brocades were important during the Muramachi and Momoyama periods, when Ming imports were copied. A most sumptuous gold brocade, kara-ori, was woven with satin design on a twill ground and had elaborate plant, animal, and bird designs.

Velvet (birodo) belongs to the late Momoyama and early Edo periods. The were several stories which told how the Japanese first learned how to make it: one story tells of a Chinese weaver who happened to leave in one of the wires used to hold up the pile warp and so created it. The Japanese invented a method for resist dyeing velvets woven with delicate floral patterns.

Edo Dyeing
During the Edo (Tokugawa) period (1615-1867 AD) Japan closed its doors to the outside world and artistic extravagance was patronised in courts set up at Edo (Tokyo) to occupy the feudal lords. Although some trade with the Dutch continued, the quantity of textiles that reached the West was small until Commodore Perry opened Japan to American trade in 1854.

Thus, Edo fabrics were made for the Japanese alone, and as the period advanced textile artists turned to age-old dyeing techniques and used them with a perfection unrivalled anywhere. Ikat (Kasuri), tie-dyeing, jam dyeing, and block printing were well developed.

A famous fabric of the Edo period, and one still popular for the ceremonial kimono is Yuzen work. A seventeenth century fan painter, Miyazaki Yuzen, perfected an old method for applying resist paste with sharpened sticks in order to retain very precise design outlines. He was also adept at "twilight dyeing" - one color shaded off into an entirely different one. Yuzen published a catalog of kimono designs for which his dealers took orders. Many individual designs were available, bamboo and plum blossoms ranking highest. Ideographs - telling messages such as "I like a fight" - remind us of the screen-printed T-shirts of the 1970s. The beautiful stencils used to apply resist paste have been collected as art objects. Very thin paper layers are reinforced with webs of hair, so fine as not to hinder the work.

Japanese design is a combination of native and Chinese motifs. Stories of filial affection, Chinese legend, Japanese mythology, tales of chivalry, fantastic creatures, plants both naturalistic and symbolic have all been represented on Japan­ese textiles. During the second half of the nineteenth century Japanese design had a particularly strong influence on Western art and interior decoration, giving rise to a style called Japonaiserie.

Textile Dyeing Patterns: Volume 4 [1]
Below are twelve Japanese textile dyeing patterns.

[1] The Best in International Textile Design - Japanese Style: Textile Dyeing Patterns, Mamoru Fujioka, Kyoto Shoin (1989).


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