Kimono: weaving techniques
Blue Mountains and Green Rivers, kimono, Tsuchiya Yoshinori, 2004. Museum no. FE.144-2006. Tsuchiya Yoshinori's initial interest in the textile arts was stimulated by his fascination with natural dyes and the fact that amazingly bright, pure colours can be achieved using common plants. His work engages with nature, not only through the use of organic dyes, but through the weaving of precise geometric patterns inspired by the beauty of the landscape. The delicate figured-gauze weave (monsha) fabric of this kimono, which is entitled 'Blue Mountains and Green Rivers', was inspired by the brisk air and clear waters of Mount Qingcheng in Sichuan Province in China.
The simplest way of weaving fabric is to pass the weft (horizontal) thread over and under each successive warp (vertical) thread. This is known as plain weave (hira-ori) and in Japan is the principal method used in the creation of cotton, hemp, ramie and certain kinds of silk fabrics.
Stripes and checks are produced by using different coloured threads, while more elaborate patterns can be created by weaving with selectively pre-dyed threads, as in the technique known as kasuri. Silk crepe (chirimen) is also a plain weave, but has a crimped appearnance that is produced by over-twisting the weft threads.
Passing the weft over or under two or more warps creates what is known as a float. In satin (shu) long floats are created by passing the weft over or under four or more warps which gives the fabric a lustrous appearance.
In float weaves the surface of the fabric can show either predominantly warps or predominantly wefts depending on the weaving sequence. By using different combinations of floats, patterns can be created in the cloth as in rinzu, a monochrome figured satin similar to damask. Like chirimen, rinzu was introduced to Japan from China in the 16th century.
Kimono, 1850-1900. Museum no. T.329-1960.
The fabric of this kimono was probably woven in Echigo (present day Niigata), a mountainous area in north-west Japan famous for cloth such as this. The pattern was created with a technique known as ‘kasuri’, which involves the binding of certain sections of yarn prior to dyeing. When the skein is dipped in the dye bath the colour does not penetrate the bound areas, creating a yarn that is partly white and partly coloured. A pattern, here of chrysanthemums and hatched lines, then emerges as the cloth is woven. The woman who wore this kimono may have lived in Echigo. However, it is equally likely that she lived in Edo, Kyoto, Osaka or some other city, for kasuri kimono were very fashionable among urban women in the 19th century.
Kimono (detail), 1700-1750. Museum no. FE.13-1983
The fabric used to make this kimono is of a kind known as rinzu, a monochrome patterned silk the weaving technique for which was introduced to Japan from China in the16th century. Like most rinzu it is woven with a small key-fret and flower pattern known as sayagata. The flower and hexagon pattern was created using stencils and embroidery.
Kimono, 1850-1880. Museum no. T. 78-1927
The sleeves on this kimono are very long, indicating that it would have been worn by a young, unmarried woman. It has a large padded hem and was designed as an outer kimono for winter wear. The plum motif is a popular design for such kimono as this tree is the first to blossom in the new year. The delicate design on the outside contrasts with the bold combination of lime green and bright red on the inside. The green silk is woven with a pattern that represents rippling water, the curving shapes echoed in the outline of the fabric on the red crepe which is embroidered in gold with scattered flowers. The theme on the lining, of blossoms falling by a riverside, is also suggestive of the coming pleasures of springtime.
Kyoto, the centre of luxury textile production, has always been particularly famed for its production of nishiki, fabrics woven with supplementary patterning warps or, more commonly, wefts of multi-coloured silk or metallic threads. Nishiki is used for religious garments, theatrical costumes , obi, small items such as fan cases and in samurai armour. Kimono made from such polychrome figured fabrics are rare, however, although the V&A does have two examples.
Despite increased mechanisation, there are artists in Japan today who continue to use, or in some cases revive, traditional ways of creating cloth. Gauze is one of the most complex methods of weaving. Sha, which involves the crossing of adjacent warp threads after the insertion of each weft, was first produced in Japan in the 8th century and now, in the 21st, the technique is being used to create kimono of enormous delicacy and sophistication.