Uetsu tilia bark cloth Uetsu shinafu
One of the three major ancient woven textiles in Japan
All four seasons are spent producing each piece
What is Uetsu tilia bark cloth ?
Uetsu Shinafu is a textile produced in the area of Sekikawa, Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture, and Sanpoku, Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture. The neighboring prefectures of Yamagata (Uzen) and Niigata (Echigo) are combined and referred to as Uetsu, which was how the name of the textile originated. The threads are made from the Jinpi (bast fiber) of Shinanoki (linden), Oba Bodaiju (Tilia maximowicziana Shiras) and Nojiri Bodaiju (Tilia noziricola Hisauti), which grow naturally on the Japan Sea side of the Tohoku region since ancient times. The Shinafu is the textile that is woven using the threads from these trees. It is said that Uetsu Shinafu is the oldest woven textile that uses the threads made from the tree bark. In the old days, the woven textile was used for sacks to hold vegetables and grains, as filtering cloth, and for work clothes. Today, the textile is used for making various products for modern life, including bags, wallets, clothing accessories and tapestries.
The characteristics of Uetsu Shinafu are the plain texture unique to the bast fiber, its water resistant property, and its durability. It takes a long time to weave Uetsu Shinafu. The production starts with the cutting down of Shinanoki during the rainy season. The Jinpi is collected from summer to autumn, and the threads are made during the winter. It takes from winter to spring to weave the textile and there are more than 20 processes involved to make Uetsu Shinafu.
It is said that the techniques for producing textiles with the fiber made from plants or trees existed as long ago as the Jomon period (from around 14000 to 300 BC). When and how people in these regions started to make the Shinafu is not known. However, Uetsu Shinafu is considered to be one of the three major ancient woven textiles along with Bashofu in Okinawa and Kuzufu in Shizuoka. Also the fact that the word Shinafu, although it was written in different Chinese characters, was recorded in the documents written during the Heian period (794 – 1185), suggests that the textile already existed then.
These textiles were produced everywhere in Japan in ancient times but gradually disappeared as cotton and silk fabrics, as well as manmade fabrics, replaced them after the war. Shinafu was processed to make local crafts in the latter half of the Showa period (1926 – 1989), and the good qualities of Shinafu were appreciated again. The Shina Ori Center was established in the area of Sekikawa, Tsuruoka City after 1985 and the whole region has been collaborating to keep producing Shinafu since then.
General Production Process
- 1. Peeling the tree bark
Shinanoki (linden) are cut down during the rainy season from the middle of June to the beginning of July. The tree bark is peeled and only the Jinpi (bast fiber) inside the bark is removed.
- 2. Drying the Jinpi
The Jinpi is dried in the sun for about seven days in the middle of July and stored in a dry place, for example, a loft, until the Shinani process is started.
- 3. The Mizutsuke (soaking the Jinpi in water)
The Jinpi is soaked in water (a pond or a river) to soften it for about two days before the Shinani, which is carried out in August.
- 4. Winding the Jinpi
The Jinpi soaked in water is taken out and wound into a cross-shape. The wound Jinpi is tied so that it can be boiled in a pot.
- 5. The Shinani
A large pot is placed on a kitchen stove made from red clay and the wound Jinpi is placed in the pot. The Jinpi is boiled in a pot with wood ashes in water for approximately 10 to 12 hours.
- 6. The Heguretate (peeling the Jinpi)
The Jinpi is taken out of the large pot after being boiled. It is washed lightly in water and kneaded well by hand. Then, the Jinpi is peeled layer by layer.
- 7. The Shinakoki (scrubbing)
The Jinpi is taken to the river and scrubbed in water, in the direction of the stream, using stones or bamboo sticks. This process is referred to as the Shinakoki. After this process, only the fiber that will become threads remains.
- 8. The Shinazuke (soaking the bast fiber)
In September, the Shina (bast fiber), which is wound into a skein, is put into a large tub and soaked in water with rice bran for two days and nights. After that, the rice bran is washed away in the river.
- 9. The Shinahoshi (drying the bast fiber)
The Shina, which was washed in the river to get rid of the rice bran, is hung in front of the house to dry.
- 10. The Shinasaki
The Shina is made slightly wet and shredded with the fingers. It requires an experienced person to shred the fiber into threads. After the Shina is shredded, the threads are gathered and dried. This is a process that is done normally around the time snow starts to fall.
- 11. The Shinaumi (shredding and joining the shredded threads)
This is a process to join the shredded Shina into long threads. A small hole is made at the joint part of the fiber to make a small ring. Another shredded fiber is inserted into the ring part and twisted to make one long thread. This also requires an experienced hand.
- 12. The Hesokaki (winding the joined threads)
The Shina threads are wound in a ball after the Shinaumi process in order to make the next process, the Shinayori, easier.
- 13. The Shinayori (twisting the threads)
This is a process to twist the Shina threads to make them stronger and better. A spinning wheel is used to twist the threads. This is the final process in making the threads.
- 14. The Waku Utsushi (winding the threads)
A wooden frame is placed on the stand called the Uttate. The threads are moved from the Tsumudama to the frame by turning the stand hand. This is done in the middle of December.
- 15. The Seikei (warping)
In this process, the threads are prepared for the loom. The threads are set on the Heba (a warping stand) to make the warp threads and the other threads are set on the tool called the Kuda to make the weft threads.
- 16. The Chigirimaki (winding the threads)
The threads are wound around the Chigiri (the core of the loom) with paper called Hatakusa in between.
- 17. The Soko Toshi (putting the threads through the heddle)
The Soko is the part of the loom which has thin wires lined vertically in a square frame. Each of the wires has a small hole and the warp threads are put through this hole in each wire. This process is referred to as the Soko Toshi.
- 18. The Osa Toshi (putting the threads through the reed)
The threads that have already been put through the Soko are put through the Osa (reed), which is fixed in the front part of the loom. This process is referred to as the Osa Toshi.
- 19. Tying to the Oritsuke Nuno
The warp threads are set on the loom and it is ready for weaving. This is referred to as the Oritsuke. The Oritsuke Nuno (a cloth) is wound around the Chimaki (a stick to roll the woven textile) and the warp threads are wound around the Chimaki.
- 20. The Kudamaki (winding the weft threads around the Kuda)
The weft threads are wound around the Kuda (a tube). After the threads have been wound around it, the Kuda is set in the shuttle.
- 21. Weaving
The weaver starts weaving around the middle of March. The looms used for weaving are either the Izari loom (an old and orthodox type loom) or the Takahata loom (an improved loom). It takes four seasons to complete the production of Uetsu Shinafu.
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