Ojiya chijimi textiles Ojiya chijimi
Refreshing Summer Kimono born of the Winter Snows
Ojiya Chijimi is a fabric produced from ramie in the area around Ojiya City in Niigata Prefecture; ramie is a tall plant of the nettle family and has been traditionally used to make a linen type cloth for centuries. Today’s cloth is an improved version of Echigo Jofu which is said to have a history of over one thousand years. Ramie cloth and production do not tolerate dryness well, so the right level of humidity must be maintained and the Ojiya district in Niigata Prefecture blessed with snowy winters and a year-round moist climate is ideal for manufacture of the fabric and cooling clothes.
The cloth is known for its wrinkled texture or shibo, which is created when the tightly twisted yarns unwind. Ramie encourages evaporation of sweat and dries quickly, so ramie kimono have a pleasant cool feeling. Coupled with the natural wrinkling Ojiya Chijimi Kimono have a refreshing texture much appreciated in the humidity of the Japanese summer, a characteristic which has contributed greatly to their nationwide popularity.
Among the usual traditional cloths made of silk, linen, hemp or ramie, Echigo Jofu linen has long been popular among ordinary people in the area around Niigata Prefecture. It has a long history and even the Shosoin Repository in Nara has preserved ancient manuscripts detailing its description. Since ancient times, it has been a luxury item and ramie items were often given as gifts to the shogun and the imperial court.
Ojiya Chijimi production began around 1670, in the Kanbun era of the Edo period when a feudal retainer of the Akashi clan, Masatoshi HORIJIROU drawing upon the Echigo Jofu tradition and Akashi Chijimi production techniques started the fledgling industry. It soon extended throughout the Uonuma region and peaked in the Edo period, with an annual production of around 200,000 rolls. After the Meiji era, with the increasing introduction of modern machinery, hand production declined, fortunately however, the traditional techniques were preserved and high-quality ramie textiles are still produced today.
General Production Process
- 1. Design (designing splash patterns)
Initially Ojiya Chijimi requires a high degree of meticulous planning and calculation involving the first drawing of splash patterns, deciding where to place the patterns on graph paper and creating an overall design. Tiny cuts are made to trace the patterns and the whole process enables the design to be dissected into several slips. To mark the sections of yarn to be dyed, patterns are copied using special rulers called Koba Jogi with one ruler representing a warp pattern, and by repeating this process many rulers are created to cover the whole design.
- 2. Thread making
The material for Ojiya Chijimi is ramie grown in Showa Village in Fukushima Prefecture. Ramie was once cultivated in Echigo, currently Niigata Prefecture, but with the transfer of the Uesugi family, the feudal lords, the tradition moved with them to the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture. Harvested ramie is soaked in water before peeling the long bark fibers known as aoso which are then left to dry. Warp threads are twisted more strongly and the weft are twisted more loosely; this contrast gives rise to the traditional wrinkles.
- 3. Hand-stretching of warps and wefts
Warp threads are spread on a table adjusted for length and counted according to the design. A fixed number of wefts are removed from a bobbin or fukube, and aligned on the table. Threads for the next patterning process are placed ready. Ojiya Chijimi textile is also known as yokosougasuri, denoting designs composed of plain warps and splash patterned wefts.
- 4. Ink marking, Kubiri (tie-dye)
Black ink is used to mark where to create patterns according to the rulers or paper slips. The marked parts of threads are tightly tied with string to prevent dye penetrating and to create the splash patterns on the wefts.
- 5. Rubbing, Dyeing
After ink marking, dyes are rubbed into yarns with a spatula, and crumpled repeatedly to ensure the dyes have soaked well; they are then steamed at 100ºC to fix the colors.
- 6. Weaving
After dyeing, the threads are set on a loom and the warps and wefts laid according to the pattern. Firstly, the warps are individually tied into heddle stitches, and the wefts are wound around a hand-spun reel, before setting on a board and winding onto a tube to finish the preparation. The next step is weaving, an important process requiring constant checking of the pattern.
- 7. Finishing
The last process is yumomi (washing in tepid water), and is unique to Chijimi. After hand-washing to make an uneven surface and bring out the shibo wrinkles called Shibo, the dominant feature of Ojiya Chijimi. The cloth is trodden on by feet to rub and soften it and ensure any glue or stains are removed. Finally the cloth is laid on the snow to dry in the sun; this has a natural bleaching effect and brings out the beauty of the colors and patterns.