Kimono: dyeing techniques
Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 'Women's perceptions: stretching', about 1840. Museum no. E.11466:1to:3-1886. This tryptich by Utagawa Kuniyoshi shows four women making stencil-dyed cloth. Two are washing fabric, while the other two are using pointed bamboo splints to tension fabric as it is stretched out from a tree to dry. On the right a child plays a game of pick-up-sticks with the bamboo. It was common for Japanese print artists to show beautiful women engaged in various trades, but in fact dyeing was always a male profession.
Most of the dyes used to colour Japanese textiles, and many of the techniques used to apply them, have a history that dates back to the 8th century. However, it was not until the Edo period that the sophisticated dyed designs for which Japan is famous fully developed. Dyeing is a very specialised skill and the top dye houses carefully guarded their secrets. Kyoto was the dye centre of Japan, but no village was without its own dye house.
In Japan a variety of resist-dyeing methods are used. Shibori, or tie-dyeing, involves the binding, stitching, folding or clamping of the cloth prior to immersion in the dye, the colour thus not penetrating the protected areas. In one of the most distinctive Japanese techniques, kanoko shibori, closely placed small circles in diagonal rows are bound tightly with thread before dyeing. In stencil dyeing, or katazome, rice paste is applied through a stencil onto the cloth. The stencil is then removed and placed on the next section of fabric and the process repeated. When the cloth is dyed the colour does not penetrate the areas covered with the paste, which is then washed away once the dye is dry.
Rice paste is also utilised in yūzen, in which a cloth tube fitted with a metal tip is used to apply a thin ribbon of paste to the outline of a drawing on the fabric. Dyes are then brushed within the paste boundaries. This technique, named after Miyazaki Yūzen, the artist monk credited with inventing it, developed in the 18th century. It allowed for extremely detailed patterning and gave kimono designers almost unlimited freedom of expression.
In the second half of the 19th century the dyer's palette was expanded by the introduction of chemical dyes and in the late 1870s a method was devised of directly applying pre-coloured paste through stencils. In the 20th century traditional methods of dyeing survived alongside increasingly automated methods and today are preserved by a number of leading kimono makers who use them to create highly contemporary designs.
Kimono, 1800-1850. Museum no. T.109-1954
The white spotted parts of the pattern on this striking red kimono were created using a method called shibori. In this technique tiny sections of cloth are bound with thread prior to being dyed. The colour does not penetrate the protected areas. After the dye is dry the binding is carefully removed. Shibori was costly and labour intensive and was usually combined with embroidery as in this kimono. The dense pattern of peonies, chrysanthemums and hollyhocks combined with a key fret pattern is characteristic of kimono worn by women of samurai families. The samurai were the ruling military class of Japan in the Edo period (1615-1868).
Kimono, 1830-1880. Museum no. T. 266-1968
The elegant design of pine trees on this kimono was created using a technique called yuzen. This involves drawing the pattern on the cloth with rice paste extruded through the metal tip of a cloth bag. The paste forms a protective coat that prevents the dye penetrating. The large pattern areas were then completely blocked with paste before the background colour was applied. The cloud areas have been created using gold leaf and tiny parts of the design have been highlighted with touches of embroidery.
'Flight', Kimono and stencils, Yoshichi Matsubara, 1990. Museum no. FE. 10-1995
The dazzling design of this kimono was created using the stencil-resist dyeing, or katazome, technique. Its creator Matsubara Yoshichi, has developed a very individual method of working in which stencils of the same shape, but of diminishing size, are used in succession. Rice paste is applied through the largest stencil on to the fabric, which is then dipped in the indigo dye bath. The colour does not penetrate the area covered by the paste. The fabric dries, the paste is washed off and the whole process is repeated with the next stencil. Twenty-nine such stencils were used to create this particular, rather electrifying, design.