Honba oshima tsumugi silk

Honba oshima tsumugi silk Honba oshima tsumugi

Bright and delicate patterns
A blend of nature and artisan's skills


What is Honba oshima tsumugi silk ?

Honba Oshima Tsumugi is a fabric made on the island of Amami, Kagoshima prefecture. It is one hundred percent plain silk that has been dyed and made on handlooms like shime-bata or te-bata. This textile has deep, muted tones as it is dyed with yeddo hawthorn and iron-rich mud, and has delicate kasuri splash patterns. Even with continued wear, this fabric hardly loses its shape and the texture improves. As a sleek, light, wrinkle-resistant, and easy to wear textile, Honba Oshima Tsumugi is appreciated by many for being comfortable. There are over thirty intricate production steps and at least half a year is required, from harvesting to designing and weaving, to finish production on a single textile. Recently, in addition to traditional products, craftsmen have developed silk textiles with new colors and designs. By increasing the types of colors, patterns, and textures, this traditional fabric is made more attractive for kimonos worn at occasions such as the coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings. Also new styles of fabrics for Western clothes and interior design are currently being developed.


Honba Oshima Tsumugi first appears in the history of Amami during the seventh century and developed into the current production area up until the early eighteenth century. It is said that production techniques were introduced to the Kagoshima mainland as well, but the origin is uncertain as few historical records exist. However, it is documented that the Satsuma domain (present day Kagoshima prefecture) banned residents of Amami from wearing tsumugi in 1720. Amami Oshima is located between Kagoshima and Okinawa, which historically made it a mixing pot of cultures from the north and south, as well as an important stopping off point for trading ships en route to the south. Between the years 1850-1855, a clansman of the Satsuma domain stayed in Amami and wrote, "Essay of a Southern Island", which describes the clothing and sericulture of Amami with some illustrations. The subtropical climate of Amami is ideal for silkworms, which is why the development of a textile industry is a natural fit. Around 1907, the shime-bata handloom started to be used and their unique kasuri splash pattern that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world was completed. World War II caused substantial damage to the industry in both Amami and Kagoshima but fortunately in 1950, funds were invested into restarting production of this craft. Due to yen currency rates and dramatic changes in modern lifestyles, production today is less than ten percent of the peak, but it is loved as a valuable product of the island.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Pattern designing Honba Oshima Tsumugi silk production requires a large amount of steps that take at least six months to over a year. First, patterns are decided by taking the density of the silk and the finished product into account. These patterns are drawn on graph paper.
  2. 2. Gluing The first step is to prepare for warp tying. As the warp tying is done using a loom called shime-bata, in order to weave tightly, the required amount of warp and weft threads are glued and stretched in preparation for later steps. Two types of seaweed, ceramium and gloiopeltis, are used to make glue for this craft. This protects fabrics from insect damage, gives them flexibility, and makes it easier to process. Bundles of sixteen threads are coated with seaweed glue and thoroughly sun-dried.
  3. 3. Warp Tying Silk threads are securely tied based on the design, using a loom called shime-bata. As this is heavy labor, using the shime-bata has been the man’s work since ancient times. This unique technique of tying the warp with the shime-bata, which was developed by Touhachi and Ieo NAGAE from an Oshima Tsumugi workshop in Kagoshima, has made the weaving of splash patterns accurate and has improved the production efficiency. While other kasuri production areas tie the warps manually or tightly secure shaped boards before dyeing, the kasuri patterns of Honba Oshima Tsumugi are made with a shime-bata.
  4. 4. Dyeing The trunks and roots of yeddo hawthorn are cut into small pieces and boiled in a cauldron for about fourteen hours. Threads are dipped into the tannin-rich infusion about twenty times to gain a reddish brown color.
  5. 5. Mud dyeing After dyeing with yeddo hawthorn twenty times, the silk is dipped in a mud field made from iron-rich soil. In order to make the tannin in the yeddo hawthorn react with the iron to become a subdued black, the dipping is repeated three to four times. This process also makes the fabric wrinkle-resistant, stainproof, static-free, and flame-retardant.
  6. 6. Preparation for weaving There are twenty-eight preparation steps before weaving, including warping, reeling silk, gluing, stretching with paste, partial decoloration, rub-dyeing, untying the kasuri mat, and adjusting the patterns.
  7. 7. Handweaving With a takabata loom, threads are individually adjusted by loosening the dyed warps and fixing each kasuri pattern with a needle so that patterns are handwoven into the fabric. More than a month is required to complete a bolt of fabric with a basic design, and especially difficult patterns may take months to finish.
  8. 8. Adjusting kasuri patterns When using a takabata loom, the warps are loosened after every seven centimeters of weaving and the patterns are adjusted with a needle.
  9. 9. Product inspection All finished fabric is sent to the Honba Oshima Tsumugi Association, where expert inspectors closely check each bolt of silk against an inspection list for length, width, uneven color, and irregular kasuri patterns. Only the products that meet all the quality requirements receive a quality label and a genuine Honba Oshima Tsumugi brand mark.

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