Kumejima tsumugi silk Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

Kumejima tsumugi silk Kumejima tsumugi

Created by the history and nature of Kumejima
Precious textile woven by one artisan


What is Kumejima tsumugi silk ?

Kumejima Tsumugi is a textile produced in Kumejima-cho Okinawa Prefecture. The history of Kumejima Tsumugi goes back all the way to the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573).
The characteristics of Kumejima Tsumugi are the plain and smooth texture and a distinctively deep color tone. One weaver (Oriko) carries out all the production processes by hand and by him/herself. The production processes include designing, collecting raw materials for dyeing, dyeing threads and weaving. Tsumugi Ito or Hikiito are used and the dye from plants naturally grown on Kumejima island are used. The Kusakizome (plant dye) method or the Dorozome (plant and mud dye) method is used for Kumejijma Tsumugi. The Tsumugi threads are the twisted and hand-spun silk threads that are pulled from floss silk. Floss silk is pulled from the waste silkworm cocoons that are not usable for making raw silk. The Hikiito is raw silk pulled from the cocoons by hand. The more it is washed, the brighter the color of the woven Kumejima Tsumugi becomes and the texture becomes more beautiful. This is because the harshness of the dye fades every time the textile is washed.
Kumejima Tsumugi has the Kasuri pattern so the threads have to be dyed in fine sections to weave the pattern correctly. The parts of the threads which should not be dyed have to be tied with cotton threads in advance. This process is called the Kasurikukuri. It requires utmost concentration to carry out the Kasurikukuri. In general, the manufacturers of the Tsumugi and the Kasuri in general use a machine for the Kukuri (tying the threads) but the Kasurikukuri for Kumejima Tsumugi has to be done by hand.


Kumejima tsumugi silk - History Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

The technologies of sericulture and other industries were brought back from China by Donohiya who was the head of the minions of the Kumenakagusu castle at the end of the 14th century, according to the Ryukyukoku Yuraiki (records of the origins of the country of Ryukyu). It is said that this was the origin of Kumejima Tsumugi.
There was a severe poll tax during the history of Kumejima. At the beginning of the Ryukyu Royal Kingdom, people had to present the Tsumugi textile to the royal government instead of paying with money. However, after the Satsuma Domain invaded the Ryukyu Royal Kingdom in 1609, the poll tax increased; therefore the quality of the Tsumugi textile was also expected to improve. This is why the Ryukyu royal government invited Hiromoto Sakamoto from Echizen (Fukui today) in 1619 to introduce better technologies, including the sericulture technology and the production method of floss silk. Kagetomo Tomoyose from the Satsuma Domain (Kagoshima today) brought the technologies for dyeing and the Tsumugi weaving after that. Those historical events laid the foundation for Kumejima Tsumugi. The Tsumugi produced in Kumejima was sent to Edo (Tokyo today) via Satsuma and became well known as the Ryukyu Tsumugi.
People in Kumejima continued the production of the Tsumugi textile to pay the poll tax until 1903 when the tax was abolished. The production of the Tsumugi could finally be developed as a proper industry after a business improvement project started from around 1905.

General Production Process

Kumejima tsumugi silk - General Production Process Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

  1. 1. Ito Tsumugi (spinning) Silkworm cocoons are boiled in an alkaline solution to make them soft.
    The threads are pulled out of the cocoons to make the weft threads. The pulled threads are twisted vertically and wound around the Kokuda (a small tube) using the Zaguriki (a machine to wind threads). Silkworm cocoons are floated in lukewarm water, turned over and spread on the hand to make the Kakumawata (raw silk made from waste cocoons). The Kakumawata are pulled out from the cocoons, twisted lightly by hand and also wound around the Kokuda.
  2. 2. Designing The design is made using reference documents including the Miezucho, which is a collection of the Kasuri patterns edited by the magistrate of maps and designs made by the Shuri royal government. The patterns and the dyeing methods are stipulated in detail. The Tsumugi patterns are based on the natural environment, animals and plants.
  3. 3. Kasuri Kukuri (Kasuri tying) Kumejima Tsumugi uses the Kasuri Ito (the Kasuri threads). Some Kasuri Ito are dyed and some are not. The warp threads are starched and wound around a wooden frame or a bamboo frame. This process is called the Itokuri. After the Itokuri, the threads are cut to a certain length and sorted into the necessary number of threads. This process is called the Seikei, which is an important process in order to make the processes following it smoother. The parts of the threads that do not have to be dyed are marked with charcoal and wrapped in plastic before tying with cotton threads.
    The Kasuri pattern will not be properly aligned if the marked positions and the tying positions are not accurate. Tying the threads too loosely results in the color smearing and a loss in the brightness of the Kasuri. On the other hand, if the threads are tied too firmly, the color distinction becomes too harsh which impairs the gentle Kasuri Ashi, which is one of the characteristics of Kumejima Tsumugi. This is an important process that requires precision and patience in order to make the Kasuri pattern beautiful.
  4. 4. Making the Taneito (standard threads) The starched white cotton threads are set on the Ezudai (picture stand) and the threads are marked with ink along the design to make the Taneito. These threads become the standard threads for the Kasuri threads. The weft threads are reeled and their length is sorted for the Taneito. Then, the Taneito are pulled along the warp threads and tied where marked.
  5. 5. Dyeing threads The threads are dyed around September when the temperature drops and the sunlight becomes less harsh. The characteristic of Kumejima Tsumugi is that it uses the dye extracted from plants naturally grown on the island. The threads are dyed with the pure plant dye collected locally. The colors are Susutake-iro (reddish black), reddish brown, Gin-nezu (silver grey), yellow, Uguisu-iro (olive green), etc. The color is determined by the plant and dye fixing (mordant) material used. Usage of a mordant substance facilitates the development of the color and settles the color into the fiber. The Doro-zome and the Guzuna are examples of methods using mordants.

    The Kuru (a plant of the Dioscorea japonica family) is broken into small pieces and simmered for 2 – 3 hours. The threads are placed in the hot Kuru liquid and evenly dried so that there is no irregularity when the threads are dyed. This process is repeated 4 – 5 times a day for 10 days.
    After the Kuru dyeing is finished, the threads are the dyed with the Tekachi (Rhaphiolepis indica). This process is repeated 6 – 7 times a day for approx. 14 days. Then, the Dorozome and the Tekachi dyeing processes are repeated until the threads become dark brown.

  6. 6. Kari Osa Doshi (temporary reed fitting) and winding The warp threads are put through the Osa which is a comb-shaped tool.
    The Jiito (the foundation threads) are starched and reeled on a wooden or bamboo frame. Then, the Jiito are sorted according to the length and the number required. The warp threads are combed and wound tightly.
  7. 7. Himotoki (removing the threads) The cotton threads that tied the warp threads are removed. The threads are starched and stretched. The weft threads are separated one by one and wound around the small tube Kokuda with the Jiito to set them on the loom.
  8. 8. Weaving The warp threads are pulled through between the Jiito threads that are put through the Kari Osa. When the warp threads are set, the warp threads are pulled one by one along the Aze of two Soko (heddles). The Aze is a tool to line-up the warp and the weft threads.
    Threads are now put through the Osa (reed). Two threads are put through each eye of the Osa. The weft threads are separated one by one and wound around a spinning wheel with the Jiito to set them in the Orihi (shuttle).
    Then, the weaver starts weaving. Weaving is carried out using the Tenage Hi technique, which is to throw the Orihi by hand and put through the weft threads before hitting the Osa towards the weaver. This process uses a wooden Takagusu loom. It takes approx. a month to produce one roll of Kumejima Tsumugi.
  9. 9. Kinuta Uchi (hammering the cloth) The woven textile is folded into a screen-like shape and washed in lukewarm water of approx. 30℃. The washed textile is put out to dry in the sun. When the textile is nearly dry, the weave is aligned and it is folded into the screen-like shape again. The folded textile is wrapped in cotton cloth and hammered using a wooden hammer. This process is called the Kinuta Uchi. The wooden hammer, the Kinuta, weighs about 4.5 kilos so it requires two people to hammer the textile for 20 – 30 minutes. This is another important process to create the luster and texture of the Tsumugi. After the Kinuta Uchi, the textile is dried in the sun and the creases from folding are smoothed out to finish.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kumejima-Tsumugi No Sato

Kumejima-Tsumugi No Sato Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

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