Yaeyama cotton cloth Yaeyama minsa
The indigo blue of the sea and brightly colored plants in Yaeyama
A sense of the indigenous is expressed in the simple Kasuri patterns
Yaeyama Minsa is a fabric produced in Taketomicho, Yaeyama Ward and Ishigaki City in Okinawa. The origin is not clear but it is assumed that the Kasuri belt seen in Afghanistan was brought to Okinawa via China. The fabric was also used for the Kakuobi (men’s stiff sash) of the Ryuso (folk costume of Okinawa).
The characteristics of Yaeyama Minsa are its ribbed texture with stripes and Kasuri patterns woven with cotton threads in both warp and weft. As Yaeyama Minsa has always been woven to make belts for daily wear, Min means cotton and Sa means a narrow belt. Cotton threads dyed in indigo dye are used for Minsa. Kasuri patterns are produced by the Tekukuri (fastening by hand) method and the fabric is in a vivid contrast of navy blue and white. Indigo from India, Ryukyu Indigo, Kuru (dye extracted from vines in Okinawa), plant dyes, including those from the happiness tree, and (more recently) chemical dyes are used for Yaeyama Minsa. There are two ways to weave this fabric. One way is to use a Takabata (traditional Japanese treadle-operated tall loom) with Osa (reed) and the other is to use the Tejime method without Osa. The finished belt differs in texture and feel when worn, depending on the weaving method.
It is said that Yaeyama Minsa was brought to Okinawa from Afghanistan via China. On the other hand, some say that the fabric was brought to Okinawa from India where cotton was first made. During the Ryukyu Kingdom period in the early 16th century, Minsa was already in use according to old documents. Therefore, it is correct to assume that Yaeyama Minsa was already produced in the early 16th century.
Yaeyama Minsa was used as a gift from women to men when they got married in the period when the commuting marriage (a couple does not live together but the husband would ‘commute’ to the wife’s residence) was the normal form of marriage. The Kasuri pattern looks like a stylized five by four square Ichimatsu (check) pattern and the fine hemming on both sides of the Kasuri pattern resembles the legs of a centipede. These patterns convey the wish that the women had for their husbands to come to them frequently (with as many as the legs of centipedes). The five and four concept incorporates the meanings of Itsu (meaning ‘whenever’ with the same pronunciation as ‘five’) and Yo (meaning ‘world’ with the same pronunciation as ‘four’). Therefore, Itsu no Yo mademo expresses the meaning of ‘forever’ and the desire for their husbands to visit ‘forever’.
The center for Minsa production used to be Taketomicho. However, it is also produced on Ishigaki Island today. The fabric used for Minsa used to be all navy blue but now a variety of colors are used. Some of them use Basho (Japanese banana plant) and Chomo (ramie) as well as silk. Accessories and various bags are made with the Minsa fabric for tourists.
General Production Process
- 1. Warping
The characteristic of Yaeyama Minsa is to use cotton threads in warp as well as in weft. Firstly, you have to calculate how many threads you need in warp in accordance with the width of the fabric you are going to weave. The length of the Kasuri threads for the pattern is decided, including the striped threads for the white hemming and the base threads, and the threads are arranged in order. This process determines the length and the width of the belt.
- 2. Kasuri Kukuri
When warping is finished, the Kasuri threads are spread out in water and prepared for the Indigo dye. For Yaeyama Minsa, the “Kukuri Some” method is used to dye the threads. The threads are marked and fastened where they should be left white using the ruler with the Kasuri pattern’s size. This is to prevent the dye from permeating at the fastened places. The bark from Itobasho (Musa liukiuensis) used to be used to fasten the threads but currently plastic strings are normally used.
- 3. Indigo dyeing
The threads are soaked in water after Itokukuri and soiling is removed. The threads are spun-dry and separated into the warp threads (base threads and Kasuri threads separately) and the weft threads. Then, the threads are put in Indigo dye. The characteristic of Indigo dye is that it colors by oxidation. For this reason, the threads have to be kneaded in dye for 2 – 3 minutes and taken out into the air repeatedly until the color becomes deep enough. Traditional Yaeyama Minsa mainly uses Indigo dye and dyes from other plants that grow in Yaeyama, including Kuru, Fukugi (happiness tree), red bayberry and Japanese Mallotus.
- 4. Unfastening of threads
After the threads are dyed, they are dried and unfastened. After that, the length of the base threads and Kasuri threads is fixed.
- 5. Kachitami (adding starch)
Starch is added to the threads to make the strength even. This process is necessary because cotton threads easily stretch. The threads should remain the same length to make the Kasuri pattern in the correct position. The stakes are hammered on a stone wall of a house and the threads are wound around the stakes. Although this work should be done during the day so that the threads become dry, it sometimes takes as long as two days depending on the weather. However, this work makes the threads easier to weave and improves the beauty of the woven fabric.
- 6. Kari-osa doshi (temporarily putting the threads through reed)
This process involves lining up the base threads, Kasuri threads and the striped threads in the warp threads in accordance with the drawing, putting them through the Osa (reed) one by one and checking the width of the fabric. The threads have to be removed before the weaver actually starts weaving so this process is called Kari- meaning ‘temporary’.
- 7. Tatemaki (winding the warp threads)
The warp threads are lined up after Kari-osa doshi and carefully wound so that the Kasuri patterns remain in the correct positions. The threads should not become slack or twisted. The tension in the threads should be kept even so that the Kasuri threads and the base threads are pulled with the same strength to weave a good fabric.
- 8. Sokodoshi and Hon-osa doshi (putting the threads through heddle and reed for actual weaving)
The wound warp threads are put on the loom and the end of each thread is put through the heddle eye one by one, and then through the Hon-osa. The heddle moves up and down. Yaeyama Minsa basically uses the technique of plain weaving but it can be changed by using different ways to put the threads through the Soko or Osa. When the Tejime method is used, the threads do not have to be put through the Osa so the Hon-osa Doshi step can be skipped.
- 9. Weaving
The tension in the warp threads should be made even and the weft threads are put through using a Tojo (sword shaped stick) to weave. The weft threads are the base threads that were dyed indigo. The woven fabric is washed and inspected to complete the production process.
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