Ushikubi tsumugi silk Ushikubi tsumugi
Soft texture and great durability
Exquisite textile woven with silk threads
What is Ushikubi tsumugi silk ?
Ushikubi tsumugi is a silk textile produced in the city of Hakusan, Ishikawa prefecture. It was recognized as a traditional craft in 1988.
Some distinctive features of Ushikubi (which literally translates to cow's neck) tsumugi silk are its manual production process and the use of rare silk threads from double cocoons that are made together by two silkworms. Another name for this craft is Kuginuki tsumugi (nail pulling pongee*) because according to a popular anecdote, when the silk is caught in a nail, the silk is strong enough to pull it out. Double cocoons used to be considered irregularly shaped because of the difficulty in reeling silk from them. However, a technique of reeling silk directly from the cocoons by patiently disentangling them was developed. This technique lead to the successful production of stronger cloth woven with distinctive double silk threads.
With traits like excellent durability, breathability, soft texture and a beautiful sheen, Ushikubi tsumugi fabric is used in indigo-dyed kimonos with traditional kasuri**, ceremonial kimonos, sashes, and small accessories. Recently Ushikubi tsumugi has been used in Paris Fashion Week and otherwise noticed overseas as a clothing fabric.
*Tsumugi translates to pongee which is an unbleached type of Chinese fabric, originally made from threads of raw silk.
**Fabric that has been woven with fibers dyed specifically to create patterns and images.
The history of Ushikubi tsumugi goes all the way back to 1159 when the Heiji rebellion (short civil war) broke out. The wife of a member of the defeated Minamoto clan, fled to Ushikubi Village at the base of Mt. Haku (Ishikawa prefecture) and first introduced the weaving technique to the locals. During the Edo period (1603-1868), the region around Mt. Haku became shogun (feudal government) owned land and rose to prominence nationwide because of measures put into place to be protected by the shogunate and the development of a commodity economy. Ushikubi tsumugi fabric started being sold nationwide.
Ushikubi tsumugi grew in demand and along with flourishing sericulture and the development of pongee weaving during the Meiji period (1868-1912), a full-fledged production and sales structure was established. However, the silk industry met such a crisis that it disappeared around the year 1935. Decreasing demand for kimono and the outbreak of World War II led the production of pongee to disappear for a while, leaving it up to some artisans to preserve the traditional techniques.
After the war, the furtherance of the local industry in Ishikawa prefecture and enthusiasm for Ushikubi tsumugi resumed mulberry plantation and sericulture, contributing to the successful restoration of the Ushikubi tsumugi industry. In 1974, production factories were relocated from Ushikubi Village to other areas or neighboring towns due to the construction of the Tedorigawa Dam.
General Production Process
- 1. Cocoon check
The best quality double cocoons are selected and the cocoons which are not good enough for zakuri (silk reeling) are removed. An expert silk reeling artisan performs a visual check on each cocoon.
- 2. Unwinding filaments
The cocoons are boiled in order to unwind the filaments efficiently. This process involves boiling the cocoons in a pot filled with hot water while sinking them with a paddle. Then the cocoons are treated with steam from a cocoon-boiling machine. The previous two steps are done alternately.
- 3. Reeling machine
A foot-operated reeling machine is used to reel a single thread out of the raw silk from cocoons. The silk sunk-reeling method is reeling silk from cocoons sunk in the pot, while the silk floated-reeling method is reeling from floated cocoons.
This is a demanding process because two silk threads are likely to get entangled when reeling from double cocoons. Reeled silk threads deliver excellent elasticity.
- 4. Spooling
The silk threads collected from the reeling process are spooling around the frame of a wooden tube. The reeled thread is twisted before the thread dries in order to increase the quality.
- 5. Silk thread twisting machine
A silk thread twisting machine is used to give a thread that is spooled around the wooden tube a twist. There will be 280 twists per meter of warp and 180 twists per meter of weft. Twisted silk threads are reeled in the wood frame.
- 6. Refinement
Refinement requires raw silk to be boiled in hot water containing soap and sodium carbonate to remove contamination and impurities. This process consists of boiling warps (parallel threads) for about 70 minutes and wefts (perpendicular threads) for about 85 minutes. Refinement brings out the innate sheen of silk and imparts soft texture.
- 7. Ito hataki
A series of processes, including twisting, refinement, and ito hataki, give Ushikubi tsumugi breathability, a comfortable fit, and wrinkle resistance. Ito hataki, a process unique to this craft, is when the natural waves in silk threads are recovered and the threads are made resilient and airy by beating them.
- 8. Indigo dyeing
Originally Ushikubi tsumugi was mainly dyed with sukomo or indigo plant-dye. However, the susceptibility to color fading became an issue and so only a small fraction is plant based like black lily pigment dyeing, and otherwise chemical dyes are used. Nevertheless, the chemical dyes used today have plant based coloring as a base.
- 9. Sizing
Sizing is a process of adding a sizing liquid to warp threads to prevent them from fluffing up and also make the next steps easier.
- 10. Spooling thread
After the silk thread has impurities removed, is dyed, and sized, a machine is used to loosely coil the reeled thread.
- 11. Size formatting
Ushikubi tsumugi fabric uses about 1100 to 1200 warp threads. The number and length of warps are formatted to weave a bolt of cloth and align them to a specified width. A set of 50 warps is tied evenly and wound around the drum for weaving. There are two process types available, drum type or frame type.
- 12. Silk weaving
To weave the silk, a comb-shaped reed is placed in the frame and threads a set of warp and weft threads through the reed to set the threads in the loom.
- 13. Kudamaki
A shuttle has the weft threads spooled around a tube fit inside, and slides the reed of wefts through the opening of the spooled warps.
- 14. Weaving
Hand weaving with a takahata loom requires high craftsmanship and perseverance.
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