Ryukyu traditional resist-dyed textiles Ryukyu kasuri
Over 600 Kinds of Traditional Patterns
Geometric Patterns Keep Being Modernized
Ryukyu Kasuri is a kimono textile with splashed patterns made in Okinawa Prefecture. It is made mostly from silk and dyed with both plant and synthetic dyes.
Ryukyu Kasuri features over 600 different kinds of motifs inspired by the nature, animals and plants of Okinawa. The main products are kimono textiles with unique patterns. Textiles made especially for summer kimono are known as kabe-Jofu.
The refreshing and beautiful geometric patterns originate from an illustrated book, the Miezu-cho, preserved from the Ryukyu Dynasty. Craftsmen have developed unique patterns based on upholding the old design traditions as well as newer works reflecting the spirit of each era. The splash patterns featured in Ryukyu Kasuri require skilled handwork to tightly tie each section of yarn with string according to the textile design.
Ryukyu Kasuri preserves the traditional handmade weave loom method of running a weft between warps. Each craftsman patiently weaves just 1 to 2 meters of cloth a day.
During the Ryukyu Dynasty and in the course of trade with China and South-east Asia in the 14th and 15th centuries weaving techniques were imported into Japan. Ryukyu Kasuri was initially produced as a tribute textile offered to the Ryukyu Dynasty.
Painters working at the dynasty’s Shuri Castle made a picture album of designs, the Miezu-cho, and the designs were applied to the tribute textiles; over time the designs and dyeing and weaving techniques were developed and refined. Many women in the Okinawa islands made Ryukyu Kasuri.
In the Meiji Period, production increased and Ryukyu Kasuri begun to be available as a commercial product on the market. Okinawa Prefecture encouraged professional weavers in the Taisho era and the beginning of the Showa era to settle, and later, other factors such as the migration of craftsmen helped to create an industrial foundation. With the establishment of private factories, Okinawa eventually became a famous Kasuri production area.
With the coming of World War II, material supplies were stopped and the textile mills closed; later the islands saw some of the fiercest fighting and many artisans died and facilities were destroyed. After the war, Ryukyu Kasuri was revived by integrating the traditional ways with modern designs. Today, a variety of clothing ornaments and interior goods with a wide range of designs and colors are produced.
General Production Process
- 1. Ryukyu Kasuri is woven based on a design.
The procedure begins with tying yarns with strings, followed by weaving.
Designs are made by modifying the size and composition of traditional Kasuri patterns or combining multiple patterns. It takes about a month to produce a bolt of Ryukyu Kasuri cloth. In the tie-dye process, a technique called ezushiki is applied to reduce the burden on weavers. As there are some 16 individual stages of production requiring specialized skills, like many other traditional crafts, tasks are divided among the highly skilled craftsmen.
- 2. Warping According to the design appropriate lengths of warps and wefts are prepared; it is important to allow for any possible shrinkage when estimating the length of yarns.
- 3. Kasuri Tying Warps are tied with yarn according to the design and the kind of Kasuri textile; warp numbers are adjusted and stretched in both directions. Since the tying process is all done by hand, it is heavy physical work, and when finished the warps are starched to prevent any shearing of the final product.
- 4. Dyeing The starch glue is thoroughly washed out before coloring is carried out using many plant dye colors taken from Smilax china, Rhaphiolepis umbellata, or Ryukyu indigo. Nowadays a dyeing machine is used for chemical dyes, or a vat, if the traditional dyeing method with plant dyes is used. After coloring, the yarns are starched again and stretched.
- 5. Untying strings for Kasuri patterns The strings are untied and the yarns aligned and stretched according to the design.
- 6. Passing yarns through reeds Based on the design, Kasuri tie-dyed yarns and ground yarns are aligned, and passed through reeds to adjust the position of the warps and to push the wefts out, which enables a firm tight weave.
- 7. Winding Yarns are wound to avoid tangles and looseness. The wefts, warps and Kasuri tie-dyed yarns are all wound at the same time onto the loom wooden beams called chigiri-bako or buubuu. Recently, the introduction of power-operated weaving machines has reduced the time taken for winding work.
- 8. Making string heddles Ready-made heddles are not used in Ryukyu Kasuri production, instead, heddles are made by craftsmen hanging strings on the warps. Heddles change the positions of warps, to allow a shuttle attached to the wefts to pass between warps. The wound yarns are picked up in order from the left side, and strings hung on the warps with split bamboo.
- 9. Making guide yarns A design sheet is used to make guide yarns, which are later used for marking on the wefts. It is unique to Ryukyu Kasuri that each craftsman creates their own Kasuri designs, by referring to the traditional design book, the Miezu-cho or other reference material. All the parts marked with guide yarns are tied and dyed. Each yarn is aligned and a yaama tool used to wind them on to a small tube.
- 10. Weaving Skilled craftsmen carry out the weaving process of Ryukyu Kasuri. By aligning the wefts on the shuttle of a wooden loom, weaving is done by adjusting the positions of the Kasuri patterns. After weaving, the textile is washed, steamed to adjust the textile width, and dried to finish.
Where to Buy & More Information
Ryukyu-Kasuri (Ryukyu Ikat) Cooperative Association