Chichibu Meisen | Unique eye-catch iridescent luster

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Chichibu Meisen is a Fabric traditional Japanese crafts

The charm of Chichibu Meisen is the iridescent luster of the cloth. The luster is created by using different colors of warp and weft threads dyed in a pattern. The more complementary the colors of the warp and weft are, the more pronounced the effect.

History

It is said that the origin of Chichibu Meisen dates back to the reign of Emperor Sojin, when Chijihiko-no-mikoto introduced the art of sericulture and weaving to the people of Chichibu. Chichibu’s mountainous terrain was unsuitable for rice cultivation, and sericulture flourished. The sericulture industry flourished in Chichibu, where the substandard cocoons were used to produce stray clothes called “taori”. The “taori” was so popular that it was called “onichichichibu” (meaning “devil’s clothing”) and was favored by the masses for everyday wear.

Later, the name of “Taori” was changed to “Chichibu Meisen,” and the development of the “unraveling textile printing” technique led to bold and gorgeous designs. Chichibu Meisen became popular nationwide from the Taisho era (1912-1926) to the beginning of the Showa era (1926-1989) as casual and fashionable clothing for women. Including sericulture, about 70% of Chichibu citizens were involved in textile industry at that time, which was the core industry of the Chichibu area.

There are various theories about the origin of the word “meisen,” but around the 20th year of Meiji (1887), the name “meisen” was first used for the taori fabric, and when it was sold at Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo in the early 30th year of Meiji (1897), the character “meisen” was applied to it, meaning “each production area was responsible for selecting the best products. 

Chichibu texture
Source: OKU MUSASHI

Techniques Used for Chichibu Meisen

This technique was patented in 1908 by Mr. Sotaro Sakamoto from Chichibu area. The weft yarns are roughly woven onto the warp yarns, then dyed and woven. The weft yarns are then loosened by hand during the weaving process, hence the name “hogushi textile printing” or “hogushi weaving.

Since the threads are dyed in a pattern, the front and back sides are dyed in the same way, resulting in a fabric with no reverse side. In some cases, the color of the warp threads and the color of the weft threads are related to each other, creating a “tamamushi” effect, in which the colors appear differently from different angles.

Chichibu
Source: Chichibu Meisen kan

Characteristics

Chichibu Meisen is characterized by the fact that it is a plain weave fabric that is dyed in such a way that there is no reverse side because the threads are dyed in a pattern. Because there is no reverse side, the fabric can be re-tailored many times and can be used for a long time, which is why it became popular among the general public. The yarns used are not so luxurious, such as raw silk, balled yarn, cotton twine, or spun silk yarn made from waste cocoons or raw silk scraps, which has been loved by the general public for everyday wear.

Chichibu Meisen – Production Process

1.Tentative weaving

First, the white warp threads are prepared. The warp threads are then placed on the loom.  And the weft threads are wound onto the tube. Next, a temporary weft thread is threaded through the weft to make sure that the weft does not shift for a whole length of fabric, and then the weft is roughly “tentatively woven. This “tentative weaving” prevents the threads from shrinking or shifting during the next process called “textile dyeing” (Nassen).

2.Textile printing (Nasen)

The process of “textile printing” is performed by hand of craftsmen who apply stencil dyeing one pattern at a time to the temporarily woven white warp yarns spread out on a textile printing table. A square frame containing a stencil is placed on the warp threads of one piece of fabric, and the dye is applied by carefully layering the colors with a dye brush while moving the stencil. If there are several colors, the number of colors must be layered. Since the dye is not applied to the cloth, but to the threads, this technique is characterized by the fact that both sides of the threads are dyed in the same way.

The scouring and dyeing method of Chichibu Meisen is limited to soaking the fabric in a solution of dye called shinsen (or shinzen).

3. Steaming

In order to fix the dye into the yarn, it is steamed in a special steaming box. Steaming boxes vary from wooden boxes to tubular ones.

4.Drying

The steamed yarn is dried in a dryer called a tumble dryer.

5. Reeling

After stabilizing the dye, the warp threads are rewound before the main weaving process. The condition of the warp threads is checked and adjusted as the work proceeds.

6.Main weaving

Next, the weft yarns are unrolled and the dyed warp yarns are put back on the loom. The weft yarns used for weaving are then unraveled for the “main weaving” process. This weaving process is called “hogushi weaving” or “hogushi textile printing” because weaving is done while unraveling the weft yarns.

The shuttle used to drive the weft yarns into the weft is either a “hand-thrown shuttle” or a “treadle-operated flying shuttle. In some cases, a shuttle is used. A shuttle loom is a power loom that can run continuously even if the shuttle attached to the automatic loom runs out of weft yarn or breaks.

The combination of colors of the warp and weft yarns produces an iridescent luster. The more complementary the colors are, the more noticeable the effect is and the more beautiful the result. The warp threads are finished with the utmost care so as not to break or shift.

Summary

People often say that Chichibu Meisen became popular because of its unique unraveling pattern. In those days, about 70% of the citizens, including Seri culturalists, were engaged in textile-related work. Even today, the traditional techniques have been handed down to the next generation, and kimono, zabuton, and other accessories are well received as Chichibu’s specialty products.

 

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