Ojiya tsumugi silk Photo:Niigata Prefecture

Ojiya tsumugi silk Ojiya tsumugi

Simple and traditional art from a town with heavy snow
Light and warm silk wadding


What is Ojiya tsumugi silk ?

Ojiya tsumugi is a silk fabric produced in the area around Ojiya, Niigata prefecture, which is a city known for heavy snow. Echigo jofu, a textile made of ramie, has been produced in this area for over a thousand years.
As new weaving techniques were introduced, a ramie textile called Ojiya chijimi developed from Echigo jofu. It has distinctive embossed patterns that are created by only weft (perpendicular) threads.
Ojiya tsumugi silk uses woven pongee* and the traditional production methods of Echigo jofu and Ojiya chijimi. A kimono made with Ojiya chijimi gives a soft and hazy impression created by the layers of the patterns created by the weft and warp (parallel) threads of dupioni raw silk. Also, this fabric is crafted in both a plain white tsumugi silk (called shiro tsumugi) and traditional resist-dyed with splash patterns (called yokosogasuri).
This craft has the soft and warm texture of floss silk combined with the smooth touch of lustrous silk. However, it is also durable so daily wear is not a problem.

*Pongee or tsumugi in Japanese is an unbleached type of Chinese fabric, originally made from threads of raw silk.


The production of Echigo jofu was already a prosperous business in the Ojiya area when Masatoshi HORI, a samurai from Akashi domain (present day Kobe prefecture) stayed in the region from 1661 to 1672 and reformed Echigo jofu to be a lighter and summer appropriate textile called Ojiya chijimi. New techniques for weaving patterns like stripes were developed for this craft and a greater variety of styles became available. The development of Ojiya chijimi helped the weaving industry in the region to flourish and expand even more.
During the mid-Edo period (1603-1868), fabrics were woven with silk threads using Ojiya chijimi techniques. At first, because the threads were pulled and spun from waste cocoons, the silk fabric was only meant for wear at home. However, the raw material of ramie suffered a serious shortage because of a famine in the late Edo period to early Meiji period (1868-1912), which led many manufacturers to quit producing Ojiya chijimi and switch to sericulture. This is the origin of Ojiya tsumugi.
Individual artisans started producing silk textile as well and Ojiya tsumugi became a well known traditional craft of the area. This craft successfully developed into a noticeable local industry as the area was fulfilled with all the factors to be the most suitable production environment like a history of sericulture, the technique of Echigo jofu, and the humid winter climate.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Planning In order to create kasuri patterns on thread, the artisan has to make a specialty ruler for fitting the design in advance. The ruler is made based on the original design sketch. This step has required the use of a ruler since the 1680's.
  2. 2. Thread making Hand-spun threads of dupioni raw silk and silk floss are used. Silkworm cocoons have to be boiled for a few hours before the strands are individually pulled out by hand and layered to make silk floss. The pulled threads are wound as a single thin thread to make a hand-spun thread.
    Dupioni raw silk is a thread reeled from tamamayu, a cocoon with more than one silkworm pupa inside. The thread becomes entangled and knotted because there is more than one pupa in one cocoon so it is also called a knotted thread. Dupioni raw silk has unique characteristics, which give pongee a smooth texture.
    Prepared threads are twisted together by warp for the base and weft for the pattern. The threads are refined in boiling water to get rid of impurities. Then, the threads are wound around a gourd called fukube. The necessary number of thread is prepared based on the plan.
  3. 3. Marking and tying the threads The weft threads are pulled on a pulling stand and marked with ink using the kasuri ruler so that the patterns appear in the correct positions when the threads are woven. After marking, a technique called kubiri kasuri is applied when tying the threads to leave certain sections undyed. This process is also called as tekukuri which means hand tying. However, a technique called surikomi kasuri is more popular today as complicated patterns and various colors are used.
  4. 4. Rubbing the dyes The techniques used to weave the distinct patterns of this craft are surikomi kasuri and kubiri kasuri.
    The surikomi kasuri method consists of using a bamboo spatula based on the sketch and rubbing dyes into the threads carefully and thoroughly. The kubiri kasuri method is tying up the threads and winding them into a skein. The threads are dyed along with the base threads and kneaded in the dyed. The edges of the spots that have been tied take time to soak up the dye, so this work requires a lot of patience and attention.
    Chemical dyes and natural dyes such as indigo and plant dyes are used. Dyed threads are steamed at 100℃ (212℉) in order for the dye to permeate and starch to make weaving easier.
  5. 5. Weaving The dyed threads are wound tightly according to the pattern sketch. The positions of warp and weft threads have to be precise during the process of thread winding. The weft threads are untied and loosened to be wound around the pulling frame. Then the weft threads are draped on a threads frame and wound around the tube for spinning. The weft threads are individually put through heddle eye and two threads at a time are put through a reed split of a reed. Once the threads have been placed through, the design sketch is put down underneath and the kasuri threads and base threads are wound around the axis of a loom. The positions of kasuri patterns are adjusted in accordance with the design sketch.
    When everything is prepared, the threads are weaved with weft threads being placed through one by one following the kasuri marks. This weaving method was not changed since the Edo period (1603-1868).
  6. 6. Finishing Excess starch is washed out from the textile in lukewarm water and straightened out to dry. Then, the textile is hammered to bring out the natural texture of silk floss. Finally, when the textile is completely dry, it is inspected for any irregularities in the weave.

Where to Buy & More Information

Ojiya Dento Sangyo Kaikan Sunplaza

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