Nishijin brocade Nishijin ori
Luxurious high quality silk fabric
with more than a thousand-year history in the court of Kyoto
What is Nishijin brocade ?
Nishijin brocade (called Nishijin ori in Japanese) is woven silk produced in the northwestern part of the city of Kyoto, Kyoto prefecture. “Nishijin” is the name of the northwestern Kyoto area (Kamigyo ward and Kita ward). Only the brocades that are produced at fabric makers (called oriya) in Nishijin can be called Nishijin brocade.
The origin of Nishijin brocade goes all the way back to the Kofun period (250-538AD). The fabric was named Nishijin ori because of the Onin War (1467-1477) that happened in Kyoto during the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
The production process slightly varies depending on the fabric makers but twelve kinds of Nishijin brocade are currently designated by law.
The characteristic of Nishijin brocade is the variety of weaving methods including watermark fabrics such as sha (a thin silk fabric), ra (a roughly woven silk fabric), and futsu (a double faced fabric).
Since it is woven after the threads are dyed, the fabric is tougher and much more wrinkle resistant than other general fabrics and this is one of the features of Nishijin brocade.
There are tsumugi (fabric woven with thin silk threads), omeshi (fabric with textured crepe weaving which is referred to as Honshibo brocade), and futsu (double faced fabric with different colors and patterns on each side) as the main products of Nishijin brocade.
Designs vary from simple ones to chic ones. "Nishijin" and "Nishijin ori" are the registered trademarks which preserve its tradition.
The origin of Nishijin brocade goes back to the 5th to 6th century when migrants brought in sericulture and silk fabric to Kyoto. Silk weaving to produce expensive silk fabrics became an official occupation in the Heian period (784-1185). A town where the craftsmen gathered to produce silk fabrics was settled and named Oribecho.
This town was in an area referred to as Kamigyo ward in the current Kyoto. When the official silk fabric production business declined, the craftsmen started their own workshops and the silk fabric production started to develop in the town of Otonerimachi near Oribecho. The silk and the twill fabrics produced in Otonerimachi were esteemed for their high quality. An organization for fabric makers called Otoneri za was established in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and the sale of silk fabrics expanded even more.
When the Onin civil war (1467-1477) happened in Kyoto, Otonerimachi was destroyed. However, the craftsmen who took refuge and returned to the area where the west squad was stationed (current Omiya Kamigyo ward) and revived the silk fabric production. The name of the area "Nishijin" was established around this time and brocade produced in this area became known as Nishijin brocade and the main Japanese fabric brand.
Furthermore, the Jacquard loom was introduced from overseas during the Meiji period (1868-1912). The Jacquard loom made it possible for them to attain a higher level of the weaving technique. They are still enthusiastically producing various new products that match the modern lifestyle, including western style kimono and interior accessories, as well as traditional kimono.
General Production Process
- 1. Designing
Nishijin brocade uses threads dyed in advance instead of dying the woven fabric. This means that the designer has to plan the design by imagining the finished fabric. When an order comes from a manufacturer, the designer starts designing by combining the traditional design and the preferred design in time.
- 2. Design mapping
The next step is to draw a design. This design map is referred to as mon ishozu.
Mawashi and hatsuri are carried out in this process. Mawashi is to copy the design using pencils on a grid sheet-like paper by projecting the enlarged design.
Hatsuri is to paint the drawing in accordance with the grids on the paper.
The grids show the combination of the warp threads and the weft threads. As well as the colors and threads, this paper also contains various instructions and information to make weaving easier.
- 3. Piercing the paper
The goal of this step is that the loom can take the information from the design map so the fabric can be weaved within the planned design.
This process is to pierce holes on a kind of paper called monshi. This specifies information including the positions for the warp and the weft threads to go up and down and the combinations of the colored threads in each grid.
The holes are made precisely using a machine such as a piano-method hole piercer.
Recently, a method using computer graphics has been widely used.
- 4. Twisting the threads
This is the first step to prepare the threads for Nishijin brocade.
Multiple threads are twisted together and the thickness is adjusted.
The distinctive texture of Nishijin brocade is created by twisting threads of various thicknesses.
- 5. Dying threads
The next step is to refine the threads to remove animal protein that would turn to yellow tints on fabric in order to finish the threads in white.
After the refining, the threads are dyed in the colors specified by the order. Dying the threads is an important process that determines the texture of the finished fabric.
- 6. Reeling the threads
The warp threads and the weft threads are wound onto a reel to ease the weaving.
This process used to be done manually but it is mainly operated with machines today.
- 7. Warping and weft winding
The warp threads and the weft threads are set in the loom.
Thousands of warp threads are required for weaving and they have to be sorted into a precise number and length. This process is referred to as seikei.
In the meantime, the weft threads are wound onto the bamboo tubes that are set in the shuttle. This process is referred to as nukimaki.
- 8. Heddle
The warp threads are put through the heddle of the Jacquard loom.
This is an important process to produce the complicated patterns of Nishijin brocade.
- 9. Hand looming
Handlooms, Jacquard looms, power looms and manually operated weaving machine are used to weave the fabric.
Power looms have recently become popular. However, delicate weaving including gold brocade require a manually operated handloom.
Where to Buy & More Information
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