Chichibu-meisen silk Chichibu meisen
Traditional silk with wonderful bold patterns
Iridescent luster on both sides
What is Chichibu-meisen silk ?
Chichibu Meisen is a textile produced in the area of Yokoze-machi, Ogano-machi, Minano-machi and Nagatoro-machi in Chichibu County, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.
Chichibu Meisen is a plain-woven textile with both sides of the textile dyed equally because the threads are stencil dyed. Since both sides are dyed equally, the textile can be washed and remade as a kimono numerous times. This durability resulted in the popularity of the textile among the common people. Raw silk, dupioni raw silk, threads spun from floss silk, or spun silk made from waste cocoons and waste raw silk are used for Chichibu Meisen. Ordinary people are fond of the textile because they can wear it casually and for a long time because it is woven with materials that are not so expensive.
Meisen with a pattern is called Hogushi Nassen because it is dyed after basting. The weaver has to remove the weft threads used for basting so the weaving method is called Hogushiori (loosen and weave).
The charm of Chichibu Meisen is the iridescent luster of the textile. The warp threads and the weft threads are in different colors and this difference in color creates the sheen. The more complementary the warp and weft thread colors, the better the effect.
It is said that the origin of Chichibu Meisen goes back to the Emperor Suijin (97BC – 30BC). Chichibu Hikonomikoto originally brought the technology of sericulture and weaving to the area. Chichibu is surrounded by mountains so it was difficult to grow rice. Therefore, sericulture became successful in this area. Futo-ori was the textile woven for farmers’ everyday clothing and it became popular. It was called Oni Chichibu and worn by the common people. While it was popular among the common people, samurai warriors also valued the fine and durable characteristics of the textile.
Futo-ori became Chichibu Meisen and the combination of the tradition that had been handed down and improved technology made the textile more popular. From the -Meiji period (1868 – 1912) to the early Showa period (1926 – 1989) the popularity of Chichibu Meisen spread widely. That was the peak period for the textile. Once Hogushi Nassen technology was developed and Soichiro Sakamoto patented the technology in 1908, bold and elaborate designs became popular throughout Japan. People love Chichibu Meisen because the Hiraori textile enables them to wear it on both sides and it can be remade many times as a kimono. In the final stage it can still be used for children’s diapers or as cleaning cloths.
General Production Process
- 1. Temporary weaving
The white warp threads have to be sorted first. The length and the number of threads should be measured and counted before the warp threads are set in the loom. In the meantime, the weft threads have to be wound around tubes. When all of them are prepared, the weft threads are pulled through and a temporary weaving is carried out. This temporary weaving prevents the threads from shrinking or becoming dislocated during Katazome (stencil dyeing) in the next Nassen process.
- 2. Nassen (printing)
The white warp threads that were temporarily woven are spread over a Nassendai (printing stand). The Nassen process is done at this stage. Stencil dyeing is carried out by a craftsman using one stencil at a time. A square frame with a pattern is placed over the warp threads to dye them. The craftsman gradually moves the pattern while dyeing carefully using a brush with dye. When there are multiple colors, the craftsman dyes the threads as many times as the number of colors. The threads have to be dyed instead of the woven textile so that both sides of the woven textile become equally dyed. This is the characteristic of the Nassen method.
The method used to refine and dye Chichibu Meisen is limited to immersion of the textile in the dye liquid called Shinsen (or Shinzen).
- 3. Mushi (steaming)
The threads are put in a Mushibako (steam box) and steamed to settle the dye. Mushibako varies from an assembled wooden box to a tube-shaped box.
- 4．The steamed threads are dried in a tumble dryer
- 5. Makikaesi (rollback)
After the dye is settled, the warp threads are rolled back before weaving. The state of the threads are checked and adjusted while rolling them back.
- 6. Weaving
The weft threads are sorted and the dyed warp threads are set in the loom. The weft threads that were used for the temporary weaving are loosened and weaving starts. This weaving method is called Hogushi Ori (loosening and weaving) or Hogushi Nassen (loosening and printing) because the weaver weaves while loosening the weft threads.
Tenage Hi (hand throwing shuttle) or Tobi Hi (flying shuttle) using a treadle are used for Hi (shuttle), which is used for sliding the weft threads across. Sometimes a Yuhi loom (shuttle loom) is also used. A Yuhi loom is an auto-weaving machine with Hi. If you use a Yuhi loom, the machine automatically replenishes the weft threads if they run out or get cut off so the machine can continue weaving.
The iridescent luster is created by the combination of the warp and the weft colors. The more complementary the warp and weft thread colors, the better the level of the finish. The textile is woven with great care so that the warp threads are not cut or shifted to the wrong position.
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