Hachio island silk Honba kihachijo
Silk textile handwoven by top-level artisans
Plant-dyed fabric depicting the nature of Hachijo Island
What is Hachio island silk ?
Honba Kihachijo refers to silk woven fabric produced in Hachijo Island, Tokyo. The name of Kihachijo is derived from a silk fabric with stripe and check patterns mainly dyed in bright yellow called Kihachi. Patterns mainly dyed in black are called Kurohachijo, and those in birch color (dark yellowish red) are called Tobihachijo.
Honba Kihachijo is characterized by handweaving by proficient artisans and its unique dyeing techniques. The techniques include Fushizuke, Akutsuke, and Dorotsuke and only use bright yellow, black and birch colors. The three colors are believed to be the only plant-dyes that can be obtained in the harsh natural environment of Hachijo Island. Honba Kihachijo uses plants and trees indigenous to Hachijo Island for dyes; a yellow color dye, the origin of Kihachijo, extracted from small carp grass (Kobunagusa), a bark color dye from the bark of Japanese bay tree (Inugusu) commonly called Madami in the island, and a black color dye from the bark of chinkapin (Shii).
Threads are capable of affording a bright colored hue when dyed with a mordant along with mud or lye from camellia and sakaki evergreen leaves. Following Itokuri (thread feeding) and Seikei (warping), dyed threads are hand-woven with a takahata loom to produce a subdued, plain or plaid textile with gracefulness. Plaid patterns in Honba Kihachijo are synonymous with traditional patterns of Hachijo Island.
The silk fabric in Hachijo Island, the origin of Honba Kihachijo, is said to date back to the late Heian Period. The fabric traveled inland from Hachijo Island in the Muromachi Period to pay land tax with, instead of crops, which is believed to be the beginning of Honba Kihachijo weaving and lasted as tributes during the Edo Period, and until 1909 when the tax system of paying with crop yield was changed into that of paying taxes in cash.
High-quality Hachijo Island silk fabrics were worn only by feudal lords and aristocrats in the inner palace at first. As the time rolls by, they grew popular among commoners. Believed to cleanse uncleanness, the color of yellow was used in cloth for purification as an amulet. It is said that plain yellow Hachijo fabrics basked in sky-high popularity especially among doctors, making the original fabrics hard-to-get and high-value.
The initial fabrics were plain yellow or white which were known as Hachijo-ginu (silk). The adoption of bark and black color dyes allowed weaving striped and checked cloths which were called Hachijo-jima (stripes).
In 1977, Honba Kihachijo, which is an exquisite textile hand-woven by women in Hachijo Island, was recognized as a traditional craft, honoring a pivotal staple that has underpinned the economy of the island.
General Production Process
- 1. Refinement Refinement requires a bag of raw silk to be simmered on low heat in hot water containing sodium carbonate for three hours. Washed with water, boiled raw silk loses glue and gains the innate sheen and soft texture.
- 2. Dyeing Honba Kihachijo uses particular dyes: a yellow color dye extracted from small carp grass, a bark color dye from the bark of Japanese bay tree, and a black color dye from the bark of chinkapin. The dyeing technique varies slightly among workshops.
- 3. Fushizuke
Fush means juice from which a plant is decocted, and fushizuke denotes dyeing threads by soaking them in the decocted juice. For dyeing in yellow, small carp grass is boiled in a caldron for two to three hours. Skeins of silk threads are placed in a line in the tub while lightly twisted individually, and are poured with a ladleful of hot fushi. The process of arranging skeins of threads mutually staggered and pouring hot fushi over them is repeated. The threads are soaked overnight in fushi and then wrung before they are hung over the rods outside. Beating the dyed threads repeatedly to disentangle them and drying them in the blazing sun.
Thorough drying is the key to produce evenness in dyeing. Dried threads need another fushizuke in the newly decocted juice the following day. Dyeing in yellow requires a repeated process of dyeing and drying for 20 times, adding gradual dark smoky yellow to the threads.
- 4. Akutsuke Aku is lye skimmed from water dissolved with ash. The yellow dyes require white ash of camellia or sakaki evergreen leaves. A bottle of water containing ash is left a week to precipitate ash at the bottom, and then a small amount of skimmed lye is poured over the threads and rubbed in. Mordanting with lye of camellia delivers bright yellow. Left for a while after the akutsuke process, the threads are wrung and dried in the sun.
- 5. Fushizuke For dyeing in bark color, fushizuke includes boiling the bark of Japanese bay tree in a bamboo bag for two to three hours. As with dyeing in yellow, fushi is poured over the threads. Initial fushizuke for dyeing in bark color requires dyeing the threads with two sticks, squeezing them lightly, immersing them over the rods overnight, and wringing them the following day to dry outside. This process called fushiaki is carried out only for dyeing in bark color. As with dyeing in yellow, dyeing in bark color requires repeated fushizuke 15 times, except for covering the threads with a cloth and pressing them on the board overnight because they are likely to get mottled when exposed to air.
- 6. Akutsuke Akutsuke for dyeing in bark color is carried out using ash of small trees in the same procedure as for dyeing in yellow.
- 7. Fushizuke For dyeing in black, fushizuke requires a repeated process of dyeing and drying for 20 times. First dorozuke (adding mud) is performed after the 15th fushizuke process, while the second is carried out 5 or 6 times after fushizuke. This process is repeated until desirable black color is shown.
- 8. Dorozuke Dorozuke for dyeing in black serves as akutsuke for dyeing in yellow and bark colors, and it uses mud collected from a natural marsh in Hachijo Island. Iron-rich mud is drained in a colander and put in a tub, where skeins of silk threads are immersed individually for three hours. Washed with water, boiled raw silk loses glue and gains the innate sheen and soft texture. Washed in the limpid stream thoroughly to remove mud, the threads are wrung and dried completely.
- 9. Weaving The dyed threads undergo the Itokuri and Itomaki processes before weaving. With a design pattern determined, the threads are impregnated with a sizing liquid. The warp threads are formatted and set in the takahata loom, where traditional plaid silk fabrics are woven with a handheld shuttle (oyari). Honba Kihachijo adopts two weaving techniques that have been handed down since the Edo Period, Hata Ori and Aya Ori.
Where to Buy & More Information
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