Nishijin brocade Nishijin ori
Beauty of the closely and carefully planned patterns
The luxurious and high quality silk fabric with more than a thousand-year history flourished in the court culture in Kyoto
What is Nishijin brocade ?
Nishijin Ori is a silk fabric produced in the northwestern part of Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. Nishijin is the name of the northwestern Kyoto area (Kamigyo Ward and Kita Ward). The fabric produced by Oriya (fabric maker) in Nishijin is called Nishijin Ori. The beginning of Nishijin Ori goes back to the Kofun period (250-538AD). The fabric was named Nishijin Ori when the Onin War (1467-1477) occurred in Kyoto in the Muromachi period. The production process slightly varies depending on the fabric maker but there are twelve kinds of Nishijin Ori fabrics designated by law today.
The characteristic of Nishijin Ori is the variety of weaving including watermark fabrics, for example, Sha (thin silk fabric) and Ra (roughly woven silk fabric), and Futsu (double-faced fabric). Since it is woven after the threads are dyed, the attractive features of Nishijin Ori are that it is stronger than general fabrics that are dyed after weaving and hardly creases.
Tsumugi (fabric woven with thin silk threads), Omeshi (fabric with textured crepe weaving that is referred to as Honshibo Ori), and Futsu (double faced fabric with different colors and patterns on each side) are the main products of Nishijin Ori. Designs vary from simple to chic. Nishijin and Nishijin Ori are the registered trademarks so that the tradition is protected.
The origin of Nishijin Ori goes back to the 5th to 6th century when the 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 in which craftsmen who made silk fabrics gathered was formed and named Oribecho. This town was in the area referred to today as Kamigyo Ward in Kyoto. When the official silk fabric production business declined, the craftsmen started their own workshops and the silk fabric production developed in Otonerimachi near Oribecho. The silk and the twill fabrics produced in Otonerimachi were esteemed for their high quality. Otoneri Za (an organization for the fabric makers) was established in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and the sale of silk fabrics expanded further.
When the Onin War (1467-1477) occurred in Kyoto, Otonerimachi was destroyed. However, the craftsmen who were evacuated returned to the area where the west squad was stationed (Omiya Kamigyo Ward today) and revived the silk fabric production. Nishijin, the name of the area, started around this time and Nishijin Ori produced in this area became the main Japanese fabric brand.
Furthermore, the Jacquard loom was introduced from overseas in the Meiji period (1868-1912). The Jacquard loom made it possible for them to attain a higher level in the weaving technique. They are still enthusiastically producing various new products that match the taste of the modern times, including the western style Kimono and interior accessories, as well as the traditional Kimono.
General Production Process
- 1. Design
Nishijin Ori uses the threads dyed in advance instead of dying the already 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 needs of the present.
- 2. Mon Ishozu (Mon design template)
Next step is to draw a design. This process is referred to as Mon Ishozu. Mawashi and Hatsuri have to be carried out. Mawashi is to copy the design using pencils on Keigami (similar to graph paper) by projecting the enlarged design. And Hatsuri is to paint the drawing in accordance with the squares on Keigami. The squares on Keigami show the combination of the warp threads and the weft threads. As well as the colors and threads, Keigami also contains various instructions and information to make weaving easier.
- 3. Monhori (piercing the paper)
Monhori is done so that the loom can read the information in Mon Isho and weave the fabric with the design that was planned. Monhori is to pierce holes in the Monshi (paper). This is done to specify 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 square. The holes are made precisely using a machine, for example, a piano-method hole piercer. In recent years, the method using computer graphics has been widely used.
- 4. Nenshi (twisting the threads)
Nenshi is the first step to prepare the threads for Nishijin Ori. Multiple threads are twisted together and the thickness is adjusted. The distinctive texture of Nishijin Ori is created by twisting the threads of various thicknesses.
- 5. Itosome (dying threads)
The next step is to refine the threads to remove animal protein that would make the fabric yellow so that the refined threads become white. After refining, the threads are dyed in the colors specified in the order. Dying the threads is an important process that determines the texture of the finished fabric.
- 6. Itokuri (reeling the threads)
The warp threads and the weft threads are wound onto a reel. Itokuri used to be done manually but it is mainly done by machine today.
- 7. Seikei (warping) and Nukimaki (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 the 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. Soko (heddle)
The warp threads are put though the Soko (heddle) of the Jacquard loom. This is an important process to produce the complicated patterns of Nishijin Ori.
- 9. Tebata (handloom)
Handlooms, Jacquard looms, power looms and Tsuzurebata (manually operated weaving machines) are used to weave the fabric. Power looms are popular in recent years. However, delicate weaving including gold brocade requires a handloom operated by a human.
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