Ryukyu traditional resist-dyed textiles

Ryukyu traditional resist-dyed textiles Ryukyu kasuri

Over 600 kinds of traditional designs
Geometric patterns always modernized


What is Ryukyu traditional resist-dyed textiles ?

Ryukyu kasuri is a textile made in Okinawa prefecture. It is made mostly from silk and dyed with both plant and synthetic dyes using a kasuri* or resist-dyeing technique.
This craft features over six hundred different kinds of patterns inspired by the nature and animals of Okinawa and the main products are various kimono. Textiles specially made for summer kimono are known as kabe jofu.
The beautiful geometric patterns originate from an illustrated book, the Miezu-cho, preserved from the Ryukyu Kingdom. Craftsmen have developed unique patterns based on upholding old design traditions as well as newer works that reflect the spirit of each era.
Ryukyu kasuri preserves the traditional hand weaving method of running a weft (perpendicular silk thread) between warps (parallel silk threads). This is a painstaking process and craftsmen patiently weave one to two meters of cloth per day.

*A textile technique of securely tying specific sections of fabric with thread so that only certain portions will be dyed resulting in a desired pattern.


The Ryukyu Kingdom used to have trade with China and Southeast Asia in the 14th and 15th centuries which led to the import of weaving techniques. Ryukyu kasuri was initially produced as a tribute textile offered to the Ryukyu Kingdom.
Painters working at the Shuri Castle (palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, located in the present day capital of Okinawa) made a picture album of designs, the Miezu-cho, which were used for the tribute textiles. The designs, dyeing, and weaving techniques were developed and refined over time.
In the Meiji period (1868-1912), production increased and this textile began to be available as a commercial product on the market. During the Taisho era (1912-1926) and beginning of the Showa era (1926-1989), the prefecture of Okinawa encouraged the training of artisans. 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 textile production area.
With the start of World War II, material supplies were stopped and textile mills closed. During the war, the Okinawa islands saw some of the fiercest fighting, many artisans died, and facilities were destroyed. The production of Ryukyu kasuri was recovered by integrating traditional techniques with modern designs. Today, a variety of clothing accessories and interior goods with a wide range of designs and colors are produced.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Weaving based on a design Production begins with the tying of fabric with thread, 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. During the dyeing process, a technique called ezushiki is applied to reduce the burden on weavers. There are about sixteen individual stages of production requiring specialized skills so, like many other traditional crafts, tasks are divided among specialized craftsmen.
  2. 2. Warping The appropriate lengths of warps and wefts are prepared, according to the design. It is important to allow for any possible shrinkage when estimating the length of threads.
  3. 3. Tying Kasuri tying, is the process of manually tying specific fabrics together with cotton threads to prevent them from being dyed. Warps are tied with threads according to the design and kasuri textile type. Then they are adjusted and stretched in both directions. Since the tying process is all done by hand, it is heavy physical work. When finished, the warps are starched to prevent any slipping of the final product.
  4. 4. Dyeing The starch glue is thoroughly washed out before coloring is done, using plant dye colors taken from plants like China root, yeddo hawthorn, or Ryukyu indigo. Today, a dyeing machine is used for chemical dyes, or a vat is used for plant dyes. After coloring, the threads are starched again and stretched.
  5. 5. Untying threads The threads for kasuri dyeing are untied. Based on the design, the fabric is aligned and stretched.
  6. 6. Passing yarns through reeds The dyed threads and base threads are aligned, based on the design. They are passed through reeds to adjust the position of the warps and push the wefts out, making them tightly woven together.
  7. 7. Winding Threads are wound to avoid tangles and looseness. The wefts, warps and dyed threads are all wound at the same time onto loom wooden beams called chigiri-bako or buubuu. Recently, the introduction of power-operated weaving machines has reduced the time taken for the winding process.
  8. 8. Making heddles Pre-made heddles are not used in Ryukyu kasuri production, instead, heddles are made by craftsmen everytime. The wound yarns are picked up in order from the left side, and strings hung on the warps with split bamboo are used to make a heddle. Heddles change the positions of warps so that a shuttle attached to the wefts can pass between warps.
  9. 9. Making guide yarns A design sheet is used to make guide yarns, which are used for marking on the wefts. A feature unique to Ryukyu kasuri is that each craftsman creates their own kasuri designs, by referring to the traditional design book, the Miezu-cho or other reference material. All the wefts marked with guide yarns are tied and dyed. Each yarn is aligned and a spinning wheel is used to wind them on to a small tube.
  10. 10. Weaving Specialized craftsmen weave Ryukyu kasuri. By aligning the wefts on the shuttle of a wooden loom, the weaving is done by adjusting the positions of the kasuri patterns. After weaving, the textile is washed and steamed to adjust its width. When the fabric has dried, it is complete.

Where to Buy & More Information

Ryukyu-Kasuri Cooperative Association

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