Ushikubi tsumugi silk

Photo:Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism League

Ushikubi tsumugi silk Ushikubi tsumugi

Soft texture and great durability
Exquisite textile woven with silk threads


What is Ushikubi tsumugi silk ?

Ushikubi Tsumugi refers to a silk textile produced in Hakusan City, Ishikawa Prefectures, which was recognized as a traditional craft in 1988.
Ushikubi Tsumugi is characterized by rare silk threads of tama-mayu cocoons made by two silkworms besides its manual production process. Another name, Kuginuki Tsumugi (“nail pulling pongee”), denotes its strength because a popular anecdote recounts that the silk is strong enough to pull out a nail when caught. Tama-mayu cocoons used to be considered as irregular-shaped kuzu-mayu cocoon because of difficulty in reeling silk from them. However, a technique of reeling silk directly from tama-mayu cocoons through patiently disentangling them was developed, leading to successful production of stronger cloth woven with distinctive, uneven double silk threads.
With irresistible features such as excellent durability, breathability, soft texture and sheen, Ushikubi Tsumugi fabric is used in indigo-dyed kimonos with traditional kasuri, ceremonial kimonos, sashes and items for a Japanese dress. Attempts have been made to incorporate Ushikubi Tsumugi into other items in the modern life.


History of Ushikubi Tsumugi harks back to 1159 when the Heiji Rebellion (civil war) broke out. The wife of a member of the Minamoto clan, who became a fugitive after the Minamoto clan was bested in the war, escaped to Ushikubi Village at the base of Mt. Haku (former Hakuho Village, present Hakusan City) and first introduced the weaving technique to the locals. In the Edo Period, the Hakuho region became tenryo known as a shogunal demesne and rose to prominence nationwide in step with shogunate’s Protection Incentive Measure and development of the commodity economy, spurring Ushikubi Tsumugi fabric to national status.
Ushikubi Tsumugi grew in demand in parallel with flourishing sericulture and development of pongee weaving during the Meiji Period, and a full-fledged production and sales structure was established in the late Meiji Period. However, the authentic silk industry was thrown into crisis that it disappeared in and around 1935. With Japan facing sluggish demand for kimonos and the World War II, pongee production disappeared for a time, which only allowed some artisans to retain the traditional techniques.
After the war, the furtherance of the local industry in Hakuho and enthusiasm for Ushikubi Tsumugi resumed mulberry plantation and sericulture, contributing to the successful revival of the Ushikubi Tsumugi industry. In 1974, production factories were relocated from the Kuwashima area in Hakuho Village to other areas or neighboring town due to the construction of the Tedorigawa Dam.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Mayuyori Mayuyori is a process of selecting quality tama-mayu cocoons by removing cocoons which are not good enough for silk reeling (zakuri). An expert silk reeling artisan performs visual screening on each cocoon.
  2. 2. Shaken Shaken is a cocoon-boiling process to unwind the filaments efficiently. This process involves boiling cocoons in the pot filled with hot water while sinking them with a paddle and treating them with steam from a cocoon-boiling machine. These process steps are alternately carried out.
  3. 3. Zaguri seishi This process is of reeling a single thread out of a necessary amount of raw silk from cocoons with a foot-operated reeling machine. The silk sunk-reeling method is reeling silk from cocoons sunk in the pot, and the silk floated-reeling method is reeling from floated cocoons.
    Two silk threads are likely to get entangled when reeled from tama-mayu cocoons inhabited by two silkworms, which is a demanding process. Zaguri reeled silk threads delivers excellent elasticity.
  4. 4. Kudamaki Kudamaki is a process of spooling the threads collected in a frame around the wooden tube. The process of twisting a reeled thread is carried out before the thread gets dried to increase the quality.
  5. 5. Haccho Nenshi A Haccho twisting machine is used to give a thread spooled around the wooden tube a twist, with 280 twists per meter of a warp and 180 twists per meter of a weft. Twisted silk threads are reeled in the wood frame.
  6. 6. Refinement Refinement requires raw silk to be boiled in hot water containing soap and sodium carbonate to remove contamination and impurities. This process is boiling warps for about 70 min and wefts for about 85 min. Refinement draws forth the innate sheen of silk and imparts soft texture.
  7. 7. Itohataki Peculiar to Ushikubi Tsumugi, the Itohataki process is regaining waves in silk threads and making the threads resilient and airy by beating them. A series of processes, including twisting, refinement and Itohataki, gives Ushikubi Tsumugi breathability, comfortable fit and wrinkle resistance as its characteristics.
  8. 8. Indigo dyeing Ushikubi Tsumugi are dyed with plant-dye (sukumo) which is mixed with wood ash and lime and fermented.
  9. 9. Extracting plant-dye Roots, stems, barks and leaves of a plant are decocted to separate a pigment for dyeing. This process is necessary for dyeing with plant-dyes. For kuroyuri (black lily) dyeing, pigment extracted from black lily is mixed with a mordant to produce pink, purple and gray colors.
  10. 10. Sizing Sizing is a process of impregnating warp threads with a sizing liquid to preventing them from fluffing and facilitate further processes.
  11. 11. Itokuri Itokuri is spooling the skeins into the small frame with a machine, which is carried out after removing impurities, dyeing and sizing them.
  12. 12. Seikei Ushikubi Tsumugi fabric requires 1,100 to 1,200 warp threads. Seikei is formatting the number and length of warps to weave a bolt of cloth and aligning them to a specified width. Tied to the omaki equally, a set of 50 warps is wound around the drum for weaving. The two seikei process types are available, drum type or frame type.
  13. 13. Hatakake This process is of preparing to weave a silk cloth. Osatoshi is a process of placing a comb-shaped reed (osa) in the soko frame and threading a set of a warp and a weft through the reed to set the threads in the loom.
  14. 14. Kudamaki With the weft threads spooled around the tube which fits into the shuttle, Kudamaki is sliding the reed of wefts through the opening of the spooled warps.
  15. 15. Weaving Hand weaving with a takahata loom requires subtle craftsmanship and indomitable perseverance.

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