Shiozawa tsumugi silk Photo:Niigata Prefecture

Shiozawa tsumugi silk Shiozawa tsumugi

Hand-woven silk threads
Elegant radiance and texture


What is Shiozawa tsumugi silk ?

Shiozawa tsumugi is a silk textile produced in the former town of Shiozawa (now a part of the city of Minamiuonuma), Niigata prefecture. The area is known for its heavy snowfall and wet winter climate which are ideal for weaving. Echigo jofu, a fabric made from ramie, has been produced in this area since the Nara period (710-794). Shiozawa tsumugi then originated from Echigo jofu techniques during the mid-Edo period (17th century), with raw silk being used as the warp (parallel threads) and hand-spun floss silk yarn as the weft (perpendicular threads).
This craft is notable for using kasuri patterns*. These patterns include the finely detailed T-shaped pattern or ka gasuri, a cross pattern or juji gasuri, and a tortoise shell pattern also called kikkou gasuri. The fabric is a single base color in cool tones, mostly navy blue, black or white which combined with a black kasuri pattern, possesses an elegant appearance. It incorporates the brilliance of raw silk with the rough texture of pongee**. Shiozawa tsumugi, a type of pongee, feels lighter and smoother than other kinds of pongee. Other fabrics woven with techniques based on Echigo jofu are the rough textured Hon-shiozawa and Natsu-shiozawa, which is a textile made for summer.

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**Pongee or tsumugi in Japanese is an unbleached type of Chinese fabric, originally made from threads of raw silk.


The production of fabrics, including silk textile, has long been a successful industry in the Shiozawa area, one that is particularly known being Echigo jofu. This ramie textile has been the basis for many textiles in this region including Ojiya chijimi, Hon-shiozawa tsumugi, and finally Shiozawa tsumugi, which originated during the 17th century. Along with Yuki and Oshima tsumugi, Shiozawa tsumugi or silk pongee is known as one of the three main tsumugi of Japan, making it a very precious craft. The most popular pattern is the finely detailed T-shaped pattern, ka gasuri, with it making up sixty percent of all Shiozawa fabrics that are currently produced. The difference from Hon-shiozawa tsumugi, which is also made with the techniques of Echigo jofu, is that Hon-shiozawa uses raw silk for both the warp and the weft and it has a wrinkly texture from being kneaded in hot water. Meanwhile Shiozawa tsumugi uses the threads made with raw silk for the warp and floss silk for the weft. At its production peak, there were many Shiozawa manufacturers but the amount has decreased in modern times, giving the craft a high scarcity value.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Designing and planning A pattern drawing is made by referring to a rough draft drawing or sample and marking the position of each pattern on graph paper. The length of the threads and the positions of the kasuri patterns have to be planned before preparing the threads for weaving. As the fabric is woven based on this pattern drawing, this is an essential step.
  2. 2. Making threads Shiozawa tsumugi uses hand-spun yarn made from floss silk, dupioni raw silk, and raw silk. Hand-spun floss silk yarn is made by boiling silkworm cocoons for a few hours before untangling and layering strands by hand. In order to ensure an even thread thickness, floss silk has to be opened with one hand while the other carefully draws out each strand for winding. The exact thread thickness is decided by how strong one hand pulls the strands. Dupioni raw silk is thread reeled from double cocoons that are made together by two silkworms. As threads become entangled and knotted because there is more than one silkworm in the cocoon, it is also called a knotted thread. Several dupioni threads are spun into one and thickness and strength are evened out by twisting the threads. Raw silk that is used for the warp is sorted by purpose and then twisted to create a uniform thickness and strength.
  3. 3. Marking and fastening the threads Shiozawa tsumugi has fine patterns woven with pre-dyed kasuri threads. For this purpose, the threads have to be marked first. A specialized ruler is used and pattern placements have to be marked in ink on weft threads stretched on a holding base. Marked places are tightly fastened with cotton thread so that they are left undyed. It is important to fasten the threads firmly to prevent the dye from penetrating as failure to do so would spoil the pattern.
  4. 4. Dyeing threads With a specialty bamboo spatula, dye is brushed over top of the ink mark stencil on the weft thread. After dyeing is complete, the threads are placed in 100℃ (212℉) steam to help the colors settle and then left out to dry.
  5. 5. Preparing for weaving When the threads are ready, preparation for weaving begins. The warp threads have to be firmly wound onto a paper roll in alignment with the pattern drawing so that the patterns are positioned correctly. Each warp thread is passed through the heddle eye of the loom and two threads are passed through the reed. The heddle eye and the reed move up and down so that the threads are also pulled up and down. A weft shuttle upon which the weft thread is wound is passed back and forth. On average, approximately 1260 warp threads are used for Shiozawa tsumugi.
    After the threads have been sorted, the weft thread is wound on to a tube used for spinning. Base threads are divided into right-twist and left-twist and each of them is wound on to a different tube.
  6. 6. Weaving Weaving is done carefully on a takahata loom, so that kasuri patterns made by the warp and weft threads are exactly at the correct position. The takahata loom, which has two heddles and one reed, is operated by the weaver's feet with a pedal and has been used since the Edo period (1603-1868). The heddle eye and reed move up and down and the warp threads that are put through the heddle eye and reed are pulled to make space for the weft threads to be put through. Because of the delicacy of the patterns, the weaving process requires the utmost patience.
  7. 7. Finishing process and inspection When a bolt of cloth is finished, the fabric is washed to remove any dirt and starch before there is an inspection to check cleanliness and any irregular weaving. After passing the inspection, the fabric is ready for sale.

Where to Buy & More Information

Shiozawa Tsumugi Pavilion

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