Tokyo fine-patterned dyeing

Tokyo fine-patterned dyeing Tokyo some komon

Delicate and traditional beauty dyed by hand
that reflects the skills of the artisans


What is Tokyo fine-patterned dyeing ?

Tokyo Some Komon is a stencil dyed textile produced in the area around the Shinjuku and Setagaya Wards in Tokyo Prefecture, which was designated as a traditional national craft in 1976.
The characteristics of Tokyo Some Komon are the delicacy of the geometric patterns and its refined grace. In contrast, Edo Komon is made based on traditional patterns and a single color, while Tokyo Oshare Komon is created relatively freely. So, you can wear Tokyo Some Komon not only for special occasions, but also on an informal occasion by changing the combination of patterns or obi (sash).
The typical patterns of Edo Komon include Same Komon (fine dot shark skin type pattern), Kakudoshi Komon (grid pattern) and Gyogi Komon (diagonal line pattern). Same Komon with an especially fine pattern is called Gokusame Komon. As a rule, the finer the pattern of dots, the better the quality of the product.
Tokyo Some Komon is also referred to as a synonym for Katazome (stencil dyed) and uses jigami (backing paper) made by pasting together several sheets of tesuki washi (handmade Japanese paper). An experienced horishi (carver) cuts the pattern into the jigami by hand. Then, the hand process of coating starch on the textile is carried out by a highly skilled craftsman.


The name Komon originated from Komongata Zome which were Komon with fine patterns. Komon is Katazome (stencil dyed) invented in the Muromachi period (1338 – 1573). Komon became popular in the early Edo period (1603 – 1868) when Samurai started to use fabrics with fine patterns for their kamishimo (ceremonial dress).
Daimyos, the powerful lords ruling a fiefdom, had their mansions in Edo (Tokyo today) and each clan had their own specific family pattern. Therefore, demand for Komon increased and the patterns used later became the traditional patterns for Tokyo Some Komon.
Increasingly in the mid-Edo period, commoners started wearing Komon kimono or haori and a wider variety of chic patterns were created, including animal and plant designs, unique shichifukujin (the seven gods of good fortune) or takarazukushi (treasures) pattern. As more variations of the Komon patterns became available, the demand for Komon increased.
A law enacted at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912) stipulated samurai had to cut their hair topknot, and this was followed by a rapid change to Western dress; men stopped wearing kimono (Komon), but more women started wearing Komon around this time.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Carving of the pattern Two or three Tesuki Washi sheets are pasted together using persimmon tannin to make the stiff paper needed for the jigami (backing paper) into which the stencil designs are cut. The horishi (carver) cuts the fine patterns using a small knife, a kiri (gimlet) or a chokokuto (chisel); these tools are often made by themselves. One of the finest patterns requires more than a thousand holes in a 3cm square.
    The cutting techniques include tsukibori (pushing the blade through), kiribori (engraving with a gimlet), dogubori (a blade made in a shape, such as an oval) and shimabori (drawing the blade towards the carver).
  2. 2. Adjustment of Ironori (starch with dye) There are two important factors that influence the quality of the dying; jiiro (base color) and meiro (colors for the pattern). First a paste is made by mixing a small amount of salt into glutinous rice flour and rice bran, which is steamed to make the base starch into which the dye is mixed. Artisans repeat trial dying many times to get the right composition.
    If chemical dyes are used, being more uniform, adjusting the color is a little easier, but it still requires an experienced craftsman’s skill and intuition.
  3. 3. Katazuke (starching and dyeing) Starch is applied to the textile followed by dying. First of all, shirokiji (white silk textile) is stretched tightly on a board about 7m long. The stencil pattern is placed on top of the textile and bosen nori (masking starch) is applied to the textile using a koma spatula made of Japanese cypress. Starch is applied through the stencil and places with no starch are dyed. It is said that applying starch evenly on a roll of textile that is about 12m long without moving the stencil is the most difficult process in the production of Tokyo Some Komon.
    In addition, where the patterns are joined, the dots at the edge of the pattern (okuriboshi) must match. However, Japanese paper tends to become dry, so it must be dipped in water before joining the patterns.
  4. 4. Itaboshi (drying the textile on a wooden board) When katazuke is completed, the next process is to dry the starch while the textile is still stretched on the wooden board. If the design requires multiple colors, the design becomes brighter by repeating katazuke many times.
  5. 5. Dyeing the jiiro (base color) using shigoki When the starch is dry, the textile is removed from the board for dyeing the jiiro.
    Jiiro nori (starch with dye) is applied all over the textile using a large spatula before the fabric is put into a shigoki machine which rotates and pulls the textile to ensure good penetration of the jiiro.
  6. 6. Steaming The textile is put in a mushibako (steam box) before it becomes too dry and steamed at 90℃ and 100℃ for 15 – 30 minutes.
    Steaming fixes the dye in the starch, but strict temperature control is required. The artisan controlling the temperature must be experienced enough, for example, to be able to sense a subtle change in the smell of the fermenting starch.
  7. 7. Washing in water The steamed cloth is put in a water tank to soften the starch and carefully wash out excess dye and starch. In the old days, as fabrics were washed in a river, dying workshops would often congregate along a river with a good flow of water suitable for washing textiles, such as the Kanda River.
  8. 8. Drying and finishing The washed textile is dried in the sun and the width of the textile stretched by yunoshi (steam ironing).
    When the textile is dried and sorted, it is inspected for the evenness of fabric, and any mismatches in the pattern are corrected with a brush and dye, a process known as jinaoshi; this is the last task before the fabric is finished and ready.

Where to Buy & More Information

Tokyo Somemonogatari Museum

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