Kaga embroidery Kaga nui
Pride of Kaga : aesthetic embroidery
Hand-dyed threads with sparkles of gold and silver
What is Kaga embroidery ?
Kaga-nui is traditional embroidery produced in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture, using a variety of threads, colorful silks, sumptuous golds and silvers, or heavy lacquered threads.
Kaga-nui is known for its relief designs delicately stitched with a splendid yet restrained beauty. The key techniques include chain and slip stitches, and suga-nui (stitch with threads laid parallel to the weft of the fabric); every single stitch is painstakingly worked by hand. Advanced techniques are also used such as relief stitch in which layers of embroidery are built up to make a three-dimensional design, and gradation stitch to give beautiful color grading by which different tones of silk threads are worked side by side. Unlike Kyo Embroidery applied directly to dyed patterns, in Kaga-nui, a design is drawn on plain fabric before embroidery, and this preparation creates a distinctive relief effect. One of the advantages of Kaga-nui is by using twisted threads, an extremely durable embroidery finish is created. In addition, since the embroidery threads on the face and rear sides are stitched in the same direction, even if a thread is damaged, a repair can be made only to that particular section.
In recent years, the artistic beauty of Kaga-nui embroidery has been drawing increasing attention and in addition to the ever popular luxury kimonos, framed pictures, tapestries, room lamps, and other ornaments incorporating the style have appeared.
In Japan, embroidery was first found on shubutsu (embroidered images of Buddha), and in Kyoto, embroidery techniques were developed to create gorgeously colorful costumes for aristocrats and samurai alike.
It is considered that embroidery was introduced from Kyoto to the Kaga region accompanying Buddhist missionaries in the early Muromachi period. In those days, sublime embroidered Buddhist images found in altar cloths or monk’s surplices were much appreciated.
In the Edo period, Kaga-nui found its way as an adornment onto the surcoats worn by Shoguns and feudal lords over their armor, onto their ladies’ kimonos, or incorporated with Kaga yuzen kimonos. It is believed that protected by the successive lords of the Kaga domain, Kaga-nui flourished along with gold leaf ornamentation and yuzen dyeing. Such traditional techniques never waned in the Meiji period and later, and in the form of women’s hand work at home, Western-style decorative embroideries were also made, and from the Taisho through to the Showa period, production of neckpieces and obi (broad sash) started. Subsequently, the number of factories and workers kept increasing, and the name of Kaga-nui became well known across the country.
Such upmarket kimono fabrics were made possible by the incredibly wealthy Kaga domain reputed to have an annual income of one million koku of rice (a koku will feed one man for a year) coupled with the highly aesthetic sense of people in Kaga; even today such exquisite and timeless craftsmanship is still highly valued. Expansion in the future is also expected, such as the development of interior decor and a launch into the traditional arts and crafts area of the market.
General Production Process
- 1. Drawing a Design
Based on the artist’s original image, a design is drawn with a calligraphy brush and sumi ink or a pencil. Classic patterns include hanamaru mon (circle adorned with flowers), takara zukushi (treasures) and hidariuma (kanji character for horse, but reversed).
Tradition says that Matsu, wife of the famous general Maeda Toshiie, was skilled at embroidery and developed a graceful pattern known as Kaga hanamaru mon, which spread throughout the domain. This pattern of small flowers is still embroidered on a broad range of items including kimonos, neckpieces, and fukusa (small silk cloths).
- 2. Copying onto the Fabric The ink design is placed on an under-lit glass stand and plain fabric laid on top to enable the design to be accurately copied. When making copies of the same pattern onto many pieces of fabric, a stencil is placed on the cloth, and gofun (powdered calcium carbonate) is worked into the design with a brush.
- 3. Yarn Dyeing For Kaga-nui embroidery, yarns are individually dyed for each item. Firstly, silk single yarn is washed in plain cold water to remove dirt before soaking the yarn in a water dye bath, and boiling. The colors are fixed with an acid and the yarn is washed in water, wrung out, straightened and left to dry in the shade. It is possible to create an infinite variety of subtle shades and tints, just perfect for an individual piece.
- 4. Color Scheme This is a crucial step in the production process because both the dyed threads and embroidery techniques are carefully selected to match the design and fabric. Dyed threads selected from among countless colors are laid on the fabric, and as needed, silver and gold threads are added to create the final color scheme. This meticulous attention to color arrangement is also one of the key features of Kaga-nui.
- 5. Setting Fabric on a Frame Large pieces are set on a large frame by gentle stretching. A length of fabric is held at both ends by wooden rods and the cloth sides are held in place with looped darning-thread. It is important to ensure an overall moderate tension while taking care not to warp the fabric. Small pieces such as for handkerchiefs and small family crests are set on a small square frame.
- 6. Thread Twisting
Using a hand-turned spinning wheel, lengths of thread are first spooled and then twisted to give the right shades and thickness.
There are two types of twisting. In the first, hand twisting, threads are hooked to the stitching stand, and rolled up and down between the palms. In the second, threads are hooked to a nail and after splitting and pulling in two directions, hooked onto both ends of a twisting stand, and tied to a simple yorikoma tool, which is then rotated by hand.
- 7. Embroidery
Using many embroidery needles of different thicknesses, the design is meticulously stitched; Kaga-nui needles unlike the more usual foreign embroidery needles are handmade, of a uniform length and flat-headed.
By freely applying many traditional techniques such as relief stitch, satin stitch, and gradation stitch, delicate works in relief are produced.
- 8. Finishing
Dust attached during embroidery is thoroughly removed, and glue is pasted onto the reverse side. After lightly wiping with a damp towel, the piece is dried to finish.
Kaga-nui has been developed in a form suitable for hand work in the home as well, and it is worthy of special mention that there are many talented women artisans, bringing a delicate sensibility and skills to distinctively textured pieces finished with grace and a lightness of touch.
Where to Buy & More Information
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts
ClosedApril to November: 3rd Thursday of the month / December to March: Thursdays / around the New Year
Business Hours9am to 5pm
Access1-1 Kenroku-machi, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken