Ryukyu traditional textiles

Ryukyu traditional textiles Ryukyu bingata

Rich and bold color combinations from tropical countries
A mysterious world protected by the spirits of Okinawa


What is Ryukyu traditional textiles ?

Ryukyu Bingata is a dyed and woven textile produced around Shuri, Okinawa prefecture. Its origin goes back to the 14th to 15th century. The ladies of the royal family or the families of the warrior class wore Ryukyu Bingata. There are two kinds of patterns for Ryukyu Bingata. One is a brightly dyed pattern called bingata and the other is an Indigo dyed pattern called aigata. There are also different dyeing techniques. Katatsuke is a technique that uses a paper pattern and tsutsuhiki is a technique that uses free-hand drawing. Katatsuke dyeing is used for a standard length of material used in a kimono known as kijaku, and obi belts while tsutsuhiki dyeing is used for various products including tableau curtains and wrapping cloths called furoshiki. The characteristics of Ryukyu Bingata are its rich colors and bold color combinations unique to tropical places. Patterns vary from classic patterns to modern designs, as well as many patterns that do not exist in the environment of Okinawa. There are a number of classic patterns in particular that distinctively show the influence of mainland Japan, China and Southeast Asia. Ryukyu Bingata with its bright colors has been handed down through generations and is a textile full of mystery that blends in with the natural environment of Okinawa.


There is no clear record of the origin of Ryukyu Bingata, but there is a description which is thought to be about Bingata in the documents written in the 14th century that confirms its existence at that time. The Ryukyu Dynasty was bustling with trade as a relay point in the East China Sea in those days. The trading areas for the dynasty were not only limited to the neighboring countries of Japan and China, but stretched as far as Southeast Asian countries as well. For this reason, dyeing techniques were brought back from China, India, Indonesia and other countries through trade. After assimilating these techniques from abroad, the dyed and woven textiles unique to Ryukyu were developed. It is believed that Ryukyu Bingata was created in such an environment.
Ryukyu Bingata was protected by the Ryukyu Royal government and became a valuable article of commerce as one of the superior quality Asian textiles. It is also said that Ryukyu Bingata was presented to China and to the Edo Shogunate. Materials, patterns and colors varied according to age, gender or social class.
Okinawa was severely damaged by World War II and many of the Bingata patterns and tools were destroyed. However, intense efforts were made during reconstruction after the war, and once again Okinawa Bingata has continued to be a protected traditional dyed and woven product of Okinawa.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Carving the pattern First, a tracing paper depicting the design is pasted on shibugami, which is layers of Japanese traditional paper pasted together and treated with persimmon tannin, or the design can be drawn directly on the shibugami. Dried firm tofu is placed underneath the pattern and carving starts from the finest patterns using a small knife. The carving is done using the tsukihori method, which is holding the knife so that the blade is looking upward and then pushing the knife forward. Although this method takes time and requires great concentration, the lines it can create are more refined compared to those created by hikihori, which is carving by drawing the blade towards the carver. There are two kinds of methods to make the patterns for Bingata. One method is shirojigata which is leaving the design pattern and carving everything else. The other method is somejigata, which is carving out the design. The methods to make the patterns are selected depending on the design but sometimes both methods are used at the same time.
  2. 2. Stencil printing The pattern is placed over the thin silk textile cut into the pattern shape. Using a spatula, resist paste is applied to prevent it from being dyed and the carved part of the pattern is printed on the textile. As the resist paste should be applied on the textile evenly, one must be very careful to move the spatula with a consistent strength. As the resist paste is susceptible to weather and humidity, it is said that the mix proportion of the resist paste determines the quality of the finished product. Too much humidity makes the textile become excessively permeated so the dye becomes smeared. On the other hand, weather that is too dry makes the paste crack and that causes smears, too. Therefore, great care must be taken when mixing the resist paste.
  3. 3. Tsutsuhiki For the free-hand drawing tsutsuhiki method, the resist paste is squeezed out onto the draft design using a cylindrical cotton sack. The design looks more dynamic with the tsutsuhiki method, compared to the method using a pattern.
  4. 4. Coloring Next, a dye-fixing agent gojiru, which is a mixture of soy milk and starch, is applied using a brush. This is to settle the dye as well as to prevent smearing. If the gojiru is not applied carefully, it may cause color spots and damage the shades in the colors because the dye would not permeate properly. After applying gojiru, colors are put on the parts of the textile where resist paste is not applied; light colors first, moving on to darker colors. Colors may smear if the resist paste cracks, so the back of the textile must be checked from time to time while coloring.
  5. 5. Double stenciling The pigments do not settle easily so a brush is used to rub the colors in again. The brush used for this is made from actual women’s hair.
  6. 6.Shading off colors Kumadori is a process to shade off colors from the center of the pattern so that it gives the pattern a three-dimensional look. This is a technique unique to Ryukyu Bingata. A deeper color than the color used during the coloring process is used and the colors are rubbed into the textile with a brush to shade off the colors.
  7. 7. Applying resist paste Resist paste is applied to parts of the patterns to prevent the dye from permeating when texture dyeing is done. The level of perfection would be impaired if resist paste were not applied exactly where the patterns are. Utmost care and concentration are required in this process. In the same way as the stencil dyeing process, great care must be taken on mixing the resist paste too.
  8. 8. Texture dyeing Starch thinned with water is applied using a brush before the texture dyeing. This process helps the colors settle and prevents smearing. Then, dye is applied using a larger brush. Unevenness in color may occur if the amount of dye or the strength in the hand when applying the dye is not even, so this process requires extreme care. For indigo patterns, the textiles are dyed in basins filled with indigo dye.
  9. 9. Steaming The dyed textile is steamed in a high temperature steamer for forty minutes to an hour to settle the dye. The textile is dried after that. In some cases, a chemical color-fixing agent is used instead of steaming.
  10. 10. Washing in water The chemicals and starch are washed out using plenty of hot or cold water. When washing the textile, patience and time is required to check the fabric carefully, to make sure that there are no color smudges or color loss. The textile is then dried and complete.

Where to Buy & More Information

Naha Traditional Craft Center

Naha Traditional Craft Center Photo:Okinawa Convention&Visitors Bureau

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