Kyo kimono-dyeing

Kyo kimono-dyeing Kyo kuromontsuki zome

Specialty of Kyoto – beautiful, lustrous and graceful black
A black gemstone created by the great skills and patience of the craftsmen


What is Kyo kimono-dyeing ?

Kyo Kuromontsuki Zome is a dyed fabric produced in the areas including Kyoto city and Kameoka city in Kyoto prefecture. The characteristic of Kyo Kuromontsuki Zome is its high quality and graceful black color. The kimonos that are worn for funerals and weddings are referred to as the Kurotomesode, and Kyo Kuromontsuki Zome is worn for such special occasions. The base fabric is made from silk. Although chemical dyes are used to bring out a refined black color, safflower dye or indigo dye which have been used from ancient times are used in the Kurohikizome method, which is dyeing the fabric with two different kinds of dyeing methods, or the Kuroshinsen method is used to dye the fabric. A family crest is created precisely and beautifully using the techniques of the traditional craft. The family crests are placed on the fabric to show the name or the family of the person who is wearing the kimono. There are more than 20,000 family crests. Approximately 4,000 of them that are in the Heian Monkan, a book of the collection of popular family crests in Japan, are generally used, and these family crests are drawn by hand or printed using a paper pattern.


The history of Kyo Kuromontsuki Zome goes back to the 10th century and the Kurozome is said to have been established around the 17th century. The technique was used to make robes for the Buddhist priests and the formal wear for the samurai families. People started wearing haori (a short coat for a formal kimono) and hakama (a divided skirt for men) made with Kyo Kuromontsuki Zome for special occasions including funerals and weddings in the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), so the demand for Kyo Kuromontsuki Zome increased since that time. The Kurozome industry in Kyoto has kept the top position as a traditional national craft although American and European culture was brought in and spread widely after World War II. During the peak of the Kurozome industry between 1902 and 1903, generally, four different dye liquids were used: dye extracted from sumac gallnut, Myrica bark, betel nut and iron. The iron dye was also used for dyeing teeth. The dyeing process was repeated 18 times or more to dye one roll of fabric. However, chemical dyes became popular in the Taisho period (1912 – 1926), and the Kurohikizome method was used, but the Kuroshinsen method using chemical dyes became more popular. In the meantime, the dyers who were specialized in Aizome (indigo dyeing) also had to change their dyeing method to the Kuroshinsen.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Inspection of fabric The fabric is inspected while it is still white, before being dyed. An inspection is made thoroughly to check for any stains and scratches.
  2. 2. Marking with ink The white fabric that passed the inspection is marked to decide the position of family crests on the sleeves and front body.
  3. 3. Starching the crest position The places for the family crests are starched to prevent them from being dyed. Glutinous rice is kneaded into paste and used as starch. The starch is then applied to the family crest positions on both sides of the fabric, specifically, on the sleeves, the chest and the back. There are various kind of starches. The size and form of the family crests also vary depending on the gender of the person who wears the kimono.
  4. 4. Hanging on the frame The starch has to be dried before the fabric is hung on the wire frame with appropriate space in between to prevent any irregularities in the color. The fabric should be pulled carefully when hung to avoid creases.
  5. 5. Preliminary dyeing The fabric is dyed three times using dyes that include safflower dye and indigo dye. This is called the sando kurohikizome (three times dyeing), and this process makes the black color deeper. This is the preliminary stage in the process to dye the elegant and graceful Kyo Kuromontsuki Zome.
  6. 6. Black dye A dye bath, which is made to suit the weight, condition and kind of the fabric, is heated to 95℃. The fabric is soaked in the dye bath and taken out several times to check on the fabric and to avoid unevenness in color.
  7. 7. Washing in water, washing the family crest and drying Excess dye is washed away and the starch, which was applied to the family crest positions on both sides of the fabric to prevent them from being dyed, is removed. Stains and smears from the dye liquid which permeated the starch are washed away and the fabric is dried.
  8. 8. Sorting Sorting brings out the texture and flexibility of the dyed fabric. A waterproof finish is applied after sorting.
  9. 9. Smoothing the fabric The fabric that had creased or shrunk during the dyeing process is smoothed out. The fabric is pulled from both sides using needles and is steamed while being stretched on a roller.
  10. 10. Drawing the family crest The family crest is drawn carefully in the correct positions in ink using a brush and a pair of bamboo compasses. The Kurozome uses the kuroshinsen or the kurohikizome methods to dye. In kurohikizome, a brush is used to dye the front and back of the fabric, and the process is repeated three times. Dye extracted from logwood is used as the first dye, which is brushed over the fabric using a brush with a width of 6 inches. A naphthol noir solution, which is a mixture of the logwood dye and a mordant is used as the second dye, and a solution of potassium dichromate that can oxidize the logwood to give a lustrous reddish black finish to the fabric is used as the third dye.

Where to Buy & More Information

Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design

Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design

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