Omi ramie cloth Omi jofu
A 700-year old tradition kept unchanged
The refreshing texture of ramie and unique patterns
What is Omi ramie cloth ?
Omi jofu is a textile produced in the region surrounding the town of Koto in Shiga prefecture. It is made with handwoven ramie threads.
This craft has chic kasuri* or ikat patterns and a refreshing texture from being woven with fine ramie threads. Not just ikat, but the fabric, which is woven from unbleached ramie, is produced and used for the weft. The fiber undergoes a painstaking process of being shredded and joined to make a thread. There are three kinds of ikat technique: Tateito gasuri, Yokoito gasuri and Tateyoko heiyo gasuri. Tateito gasuri uses the Katagami nassen or stencil dyeing technique which is when threads are dyed using tracing paper. Tateyoko heiyo gasuri uses the Kushioshi nassen technique or comb press dyeing, which uses a tool with a curve similar to the back of a comb to rub the dye into the threads. Omi jofu is woven while the warp and the weft are carefully adjusted. This woven textile is known as a high quality fabric as its cool and refreshing texture make it suitable for summer kimono.
* A kasuri pattern is precise patterning and images that result from a technique of wrapping fibers with thread in order to dye the specific parts of fabric.
The Koto region, on the east side of Lake Biwa, is a basin with high humidity due to fog arising from the lake and streams from nearby rivers. It is a suitable environment for ramie, which has been cultivated since the Kamakura period (1185-1333) using techniques passed down from craftsmen who had moved from Kyoto. The textile produced in this region became known nationwide due to the support of merchants from the area. The production of Omi jofu developed and became a successful local industry during the Edo period (1603-1868) under the sponsorship of the Hikone domain, who ruled the area. In the meantime, ramie was brought back from the northeast region of Japan by local merchants and greatly influenced development of this craft. The dyeing techniques of itajime (making patterns by pressing and dyeing threads between carved boards) and comb press dyeing were developed in the latter half of the 18th century. Spun ramie threads were introduced at the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912) and stencil dyeing was developed at the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989). The itajime method was used until disappearing after the Taisho period (1912–1926). Omi jofu has a seven hundred year old history as a traditional textile.
General Production Process
- 1. Designing
First, the design of the textile is decided. The threads are sorted according to the paper pattern and dyed with stencil dyeing. This method requires tracing paper for each color so the number of paper patterns matches the number of colors used. The design has to be decided ensuring that the parts where the paper patterns join are seamless. The comb press dyeing method uses both the warp and the weft threads to make ikat patterns. The positions and width of the parts that have to be dyed are decided in alignment with the patterns for the warp and weft threads, respectively. The ruler, which is made from cardboard with marks drawn on it, has to be made with precision.
- 2. Dyeing
In stencil dyeing, the weft threads are wound around the metal frame and the paper pattern is laid over the threads before dye is applied to the threads using a spatula. The threads are dyed carefully so that there are no seams between the paper patterns. The threads are put in a steamer for approximately ten minutes to settle the color. After that, the threads are washed in water and put out to dry. Normally, the method of dyeing only weft threads to make the patterns is used. Other dyeing techniques include tie-dye and comb-press dyeing.
For comb press dyeing, ikat patterns are woven using both the warp and the weft threads. Each unit of threads is hung from a frame pole and they are marked with ink based on the ruler, which was made according to the pattern. Then, the threads are dyed using a comb shaped tool which can be made with various materials including brass and cypress wood. The lines of threads are dyed evenly using the curved side of the tool. The positions and width of the parts that have to be dyed vary depending on the pattern. Comb tools of differing sizes are used and the threads are dyed, just like a stamp has been pressed on the threads, to make various ikat threads. This is the way vivid ikat patterns specific to Omi jofu are created. Tying is not required, therefore there is less strain on the threads and the ikat is not blurry. On hemp threads the color can blur so the kind of glue that is mixed in the dye is carefully adjusted.
- 3. Sorting the ikat threads
The weft threads, which were wound in the last process, are sorted one by one and wound again along the pattern into a skein (unit of yarn). The skein of thread is wound around the reel, then wound again around the small tube. The warp threads are divided into base threads and ikat threads, then laid on a warp stand for the patterns to be adjusted. The threads are adjusted yet again on a stand so that they are ready to be put through the reed.
- 4. Warping
The warp threads are sorted into the required number and length for weaving. The sorted warp threads are put through the reed using a wooden hooking stick and spread to the required width of the textile. Next, the warp threads are put through the eye of a heddle (a looped cord that separates and divides the warp threads). This process creates a shuttle path for the weft threads during weaving.
- 5. Hand weaving
When all the preparations are done, the weaver starts weaving. The Takahata loom is used for weaving this craft. Ramie threads tend to be cut more easily than silk threads so careful attention is required so that the threads are not cut while weaving. The weaver also has to adjust the ikat patterns carefully so it takes a long time to weave. If a wrinkled texture is preferred, a process in which the woven textile is kneaded to create the texture is required. The production of Omi jofu is now complete.
Where to Buy & More Information
Omijofu Dento Sangyo Kaikan
Address13-7 Echigawa, Aisho-cho Echi-gun, Shiga, 529-1331, Japan
ClosedMonday, national holidays, around the New Year, summer holidays
Business Hours10am to 5pm
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