Honba oshima tsumugi silk Honba oshima tsumugi
Bright and Delicate Patterns
Amami Pongee a Blend of Nature and Artisan Skills
What is Honba oshima tsumugi silk ?
Honba Oshima Tsumugi are 100 % silk fabrics made in the Amami region of Kagoshima Prefecture. They are a yarn-dyed plain material, all made on handlooms such as shime-bata or te-bata.
Honba Oshima Tsumugi features distinctive deep and quiet tones and are colored with yeddo hawthorn and iron-rich mud, along with the bright and delicate kasuri splash patterns. It hardly loses its shape and as its texture improves with wear, many people appreciate it as comfortable to wear. It is a sleek, light, wrinkle-resistant and user-friendly fabric, a true blessing from the nature of Amami. There are over 30 processes in its manufacture and it takes at least half a year from harvesting through to designing and weaving. Each task has its own intricate techniques requiring the highest skills. In recent years, besides producing traditional products, craftsmen have developed pongees with new colors and designs such as Iro Oshima or Shiro Oshima. By increasing the types of colored patterns and textures, this traditional fabric is being made more attractive to modern people for such occasions as kimonos worn at coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings. The production area has also been developing new products with an eye on European-style clothes and the market for interior design.
Honba Oshima Tsumugi first appears in the history of Amami around the 7th century and developed into the current production area over the next ten centuries until the early 18th century. It is considered that production techniques were introduced to Kagoshima as well, but their origin is uncertain, as few historical records exist, but it is documented that in 1720 the Satsuma domain banned Amami islanders from wearing pongee.
The Amami Islands are located between Kagoshima and Okinawa, and had long been an important stopping off place for trading ships en route to southern climes; it was known as the “Islands of roads”, and was a mixing pot of cultures from the north and south. ‘Essay of a southern island’ written by Sagenta Nagoshi, a clansman of the Satsuma domain who stayed in Amami from 1850 to 1855, describes the clothing and sericulture of Amami with some illustrations. The subtropical climate of Amami is ideal for silkworms, and it was natural for a textile industry to develop. Around 1907, the shime-bata handloom was introduced leading to the kasuri splash pattern made by coloring the warps and wefts. It is merely found in the rest of the world. World War II caused substantial damage to the industry in both Amami and Kagoshima but fortunately in 1950, investment funds were found and production was restarted. The traditional skills are still in evidence to day, but due to yen currency rates and dramatic changes in modern lifestyles, production today is less than 10 % of the golden age.
General Production Process
- 1. Pattern designing, Textile planning
Honba Oshima Tsumugi fabric production requires a great number of processes carried out over at least six months and sometimes for more than a year.
Production begins with drawing patterns on section papers in accordance with the finished product and the density of yarn.
- 2. Gluing
A shime-bata loom is used; the first step is tying yarn. Warp and weft yarns are stretched and glued, in order to set them tightly ready for later processes.
Two kinds of seaweed are used to make glue on Amami-oshima island: Chinese moss and gloiopeltis. Seaweed glue protects fabrics from insect damage, gives them flexibility and makes it easier to process, such as when coating by calendering. Bundles of 16 yarns are coated with seaweed glue and carefully sun-dried.
- 3. Tying to make kasuri splash patterns Based on the design, silk yarns are tightly tied on the loom; this task requires heavy manual labor, and has long been regarded as man’s work. Craftsmen use a unique technique of tying and weaving the warp and weft to make the kasuri splash patterns. Ieo and Touhachi NAGAE from an Oshima Tsumugi weaving workshop in Kagoshima City developed the technique, and when first introduced it was revolutionary leading to both improved accuracy of kasuri pattern making and production efficiency. While other kasuri production areas use tie-dying or board tightened techniques, the kasuri patterns of Honba Oshima Tsumugi are made elaborately with a special shime-bata loom.
- 4. Dyeing with yeddo hawthorn The trunks and roots of Yeddo hawthorn (teichi in Oshima dialect or sharinbai in Japanese) are cut into small pieces, and boiled in a cauldron for about 14 hours. Yarns are dipped about 20 times into the tannin rich infusion to give a reddish brown color.
- 5. Mud dyeing After 20 times of dyeing with yeddo hawthorn, the yarns are dipped in mud made from iron rich soil; this is repeated 3 to 4 times and the tannin from the yeddo hawthorn reacts with the iron to make a subdued black. The process also makes the end fabric wrinkle-resistant, stainproof and static-free; the liquid is also a flame-retardant.
- 6. Preparation for weaving There are 28 preliminary tasks before weaving, such as warping, filature, gluing, stretching with paste, partial decoloration, rub-dyeing, untying the kasuri mat, and adjusting patterns.
- 7. Handweaving With a takabata handloom, yarns are adjusted one by one by loosening the dyed warps and adjusting each kasuri pattern with a needle. Patterns are handwoven into the fabric and it requires more than a month to complete a bolt of fabric with a basic design; especially difficult patterns may take months to finish.
- 8. Adjusting kasuri patterns When using a takabata loom, after every 7 centimeters of weaving the warps are loosened and the patterns adjusted with a needle.
- 9. Product inspection All finished fabric is sent to the Honba Oshima Tsumugi Corporation center, where expert inspectors stringently check each bolt against a 20 item inspection list for length, width, color unevenness, and irregular kasuri patterns. Only those products meeting all the quality requirements receive a quality label and a genuine Honba Oshima Tsumugi brand mark.
Where to Buy & More Information
Kagoshima Brand Shop
Closed1st and 3rd Sunday of the month, around the New Year
Business Hours9am to 5pm
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