Ojiya-Chijimi | Traditional craft making the most of snowy weather


Traditional Japanese crafts thanks to heavy snowfall: Ojiya-Chijimi

This article is about traditional crafts in Niigata Prefecture. The Hokuriku region, to which Niigata Prefecture belongs, has a very large number of traditional crafts. The main reasons for this are its clean water, its uniqueness in a location inaccessible from other commercial areas, and its heavy snowfall. The combination of these factors has contributed to the development of a wide variety of traditional crafts. Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, and Fukui prefectures are included in this Hokuriku region, and each has a richer variety of traditional crafts than the others. Among them, we will explain Ojiya-Chijimi in this article.

What is Ojiya-Chijimi?

Ojiya-Chijimi is a hemp fabric made in Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture. It is a traditional handicraft created by improving Echigo Kamifu, which was produced more than 1,000 years ago, and is made from ramie fibers. Hemp fabrics do not tolerate dryness, so proper humidity is essential in the process of making them. The area of Ojiya in Niigata Prefecture has a lot of snow and moist air, which is the best environment for hemp, and Ojiya Shrink has developed by taking advantage of the climate of this heavy snowfall area.

The characteristic of Ojiya-Chijimi is wrinkles called shibo. The use of strongly twisted yarns produces the wrinkle  when the twists are untwisted. Hemp is a material that originally wicks away moisture and dries easily, so it can be used to make kimonos that do not stick to the wearer. The addition of the shibo element makes it possible to create kimonos that are light and ideal for summer.

The fact that it also suited the Japanese climate of high temperature and humidity made it a favorite kimono of the Japanese people.

Source: Kimono Yamato

History of Ojiya-Chijimi

It is said that Japanese weaving culuture began in Ojiya, Niigata (Echigo region) about 1,200 years ago. According to a document, linen cloth from Echigo-Tsumari was presented to the Imperial Court around 750 A.D., indicating that it was recognized as the highest quality textile of the time. After that, Echigo-Tsumari cloth was used for the official clothes of the shogunate and given as gifts to powerful people, becoming a necessity and growing to become a representative fabric of Japan.

In the era of the Toyotomi administration, Naoe Kanetsugu, who was born in the Uonuma region, actively promoted the development of new rice paddies and built the foundation of the current rice mills, and for further commercial development, he began to focus on Aoso, which is obtained from the ramie that grows wild in the Uonuma region. Naotsugu wrote the “Book of Agricultural Precepts” for the people of his domain, and at New Year’s Day, he left instructions for the women to make ramie for the men, and for them to twist ramie and make clothes, and he actively increased the production of hemp cloth, which was exported to Kyoto and generated enormous profits.

Drastic Improvement occurred in Edo Period

In the Edo period (1603-1867), Masatoshi Horijiro, a ronin from Akashi, succeeded in improving Echigo-Tsumari by applying the technique of Akashi Shrinkage, a silk fabric, to Echigo-Tsumari, resulting in the creation of Echigo-Shrinkage. The improvements included adding a strong twist to the weft to create a “crease” (wrinkle), and also devising ways of ramie spinning and drying the cloth, which was the very prototype of today’s Ojiya Shrink.

Horijiro, who lived with his wife and daughter in the headman’s house in the mountain valley, taught Echigo-shuku to the villagers, and it gradually spread throughout the Uonuma region. As Echigo-shuku became known throughout the country as a luxury summer fabric, it became the official linen of various feudal lords, and was even subject to the prohibition of extravagance as a luxury item. Echigo-shuku was renamed Ojiya-shuku, and is still valued as a material for summer clothing today.

Production Process

1. designing (making kasuri patterns and rulers)

The process of making Ojiya Shrink starts with designing, so the first step is to make a kasuri pattern. The next step is to carve fine grooves and transfer the pattern onto the paper. It is possible to see each pattern separately. In order to know where the pattern will be placed on the thread, the pattern is  transferred onto a ruler called a kiba ruler. Each ruler becomes a weft pattern, and by repeating the process, rulers for all the patterns are made.

2. Yarn Making

Ramie, the raw material for Ojiya Shrink, is grown in a place called Showamura in Fukushima Prefecture. Originally, good quality Ramie was collected in Echigo, but it was moved to the Aizu region due to the Uesugi family. In order to start making thread, Ramie is first harvested, soaked in water, and peeled from the river. The fibers were then extracted and dried to produce Aoso ramie. The warp and weft yarns are twisted separately, and the weft yarns are given a strong twist to produce wrinkles.

3. Warp and Weft Thread Reeling, Hand Stretching

The length and number of warp threads are adjusted on the warp stretcher according to the production plan. The weft yarns are wound onto the fukube, and a fixed number of threads are laid out, twilled, and then spread on the weft stretcher. Once the threads have been arranged, the pattern is applied. Ojiya textiles are characterized by plain warp yarns and only kasuri weft yarns.

4. sumiing and kubori

In the sumi (marking) process, ink is marked on the pattern position in accordance with a kibane ruler or paper tape. After the mark is made, the area is kubiri’d. This process creates an uncolored area so that a kasuri pattern can be applied to the weft threads.

5. shurikomi and dyeing

After marking, the dye is rubbed into the weft using a spatula. This is done by repeatedly rubbing in the dye. After the dyeing process is complete, the fabric is placed in steam at about 100 degrees Celsius, which fixes the color.

6.Preparation for weaving, weaving

Once the yarn is dyed, it is ready to be attached to the loom. The warp and weft yarns are wound up according to the pattern. First, the warp threads are threaded through the heddles one by one. The weft is unraveled and wound onto a tekuri waku. The weft is then hung on the weaving table and finally wound onto a tube to complete the preparation. The weaving stage begins. Weaving is an important process, so it is necessary to check the pattern little by little.

7. finishing

The last process is a unique shrinkage process called “yumomi”. The fabric is then hand-fibered in lukewarm water to produce an uneven texture called  “shibori. This is an important process, as the shibo is a characteristic of Ojiya Shrink. In addition, the cloth is softened by foot stomping to remove stains such as glue. After the finishing touches are made, the cloth is then exposed to the snow. Exposure to snow on a sunny day is said to have a natural bleaching effect, and this process produces more beautiful colors and patterns. After inspection, the work is completed.

Ojiya-chijimi textile
Source: tamanori.com


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