Shiozawa Tsumugi | Exclusive quality with silk textile


Silk made Traditional Japanese textile is Shiozawa Tsumugi

Shiozawa Tsumugi is a textile produced in and around Minamiuonuma City, Niigata Prefecture. As explained in the previous page, “heavy snowfall” is an essential element for traditional crafts in Niigata Prefecture. In the Uonuma area where this craft is made, the humid winter climate is ideal for weaving, and linen cloth, known as Echigo-jofu, has been woven since the Nara period (710-794). In the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), Shiozawa pongee was born by applying the technique of Echigo-jofu, which had been woven for many years.

What are the features?

One of the characteristics of Shiozawa tsumugi is its elegant, subdued coloring and unique austerity and texture. Basically, the textile is made by weaving warp and weft yarns together, and the weaving method is changed according to the thickness and density of each yarn to maintain the balance.

The warp of Shiozawa Tsumugi is made of “raw silk,” which is the ultra-fine cocoon silk drawn from silkworm cocoons, and “ball silk,” which has more knots than raw silk and is made from cocoon-shaped cocoons.

Kimono by Shiozawa pongee
Source: Kijibato-ya

By weaving “raw silk,” “ball silk,” and “cotton yarn” together in a well-balanced manner, the elegant colors and unique patterns of Shiozawa silk can be expressed, as well as the softness and comfort of the weave.

The warp and weft yarns are woven together to create a very fine pattern called kagasuri, juji-gasuri, kikko-gasuri, and other kasuri patterns. Most of them are monochromatic and austere, with white, white and navy blue or black kasuri patterns woven into a navy blue or black ground color, giving them a calm and elegant impression. The rough texture of silk has the softness and luster of cotton, and it is thinner and lighter than other silk fabrics. The fabrics made with the same technology of Echigo Kamifu include “Hon-Shiozawa,” which has a graininess, and “Natsu-Shiozawa,” which has been improved for summer use.

Historical Background

Originally, the Shiozawa area has long been active in the production of hemp fabrics, known as Echigo Kamifu. In the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), “Shiozawa tsumugi”, a silk fabric using the Echigo Kamifu technique, was produced in the area. Shiozawa tsumugi is widely known as one of Japan’s three most famous silk fabrics along with Oshima tsumugi and Yuki tsumugi, and is known as the highest quality silk fabric.

Shiozawa tsumugi, with its very fine kasuri pattern, accounts for approximately 60% of all Shiozawa textiles produced today. Although there were many producers in its heyday, the number of producers has been decreasing and Shiozawa Tsumugi has become a scarce and valuable fabric.

There are three types of Shiozawa tsumugi

Echigo Kamifu

Japanese pongee
Source: Kimono-do

Echigo Kamifu is a top quality linen textile, characterized by its high water absorbency, water repellency, and breathability that are unique to linen, and by its ability to keep heat in and keep the wearer dry. This type of product is popular as a summer kimono because of its comfort, and its value is increasing due to the fact that its production is decreasing every year.

Echigo Kamifu is also characterized by its production process. It uses “honsei yarn,” which is hand-piled from a plant called ramie, and requires a high level of craftsmanship, as it must be woven by hand to create the kasuri pattern. After that, weaving is done on a special machine, and the fabric is further finished by hot water firring and foot stomping. The final step is to bleach the fabric by “Yuki-Sarashi” (bleaching in the snow), and the “Echigo Kamifu” is completed.

“Yukisarashi” is a technique in which the woven fabric is spread out on a field of snow and bleached in the sunlight. When the snow melts, the snow that the bleached fabric touches turns into water, which generates hydrogen ions (or ozone ions) that bleach the vegetable fibers.

This is a traditional technique unique to the Shiozawa region that uses this action to bleach the stains and yellowing that are created during the work process. Echigo Kamifu, which is made by craftsmen who spend a great deal of time and effort in their craftsmanship, was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property of Japan in 1955 for its traditional production methods and high quality, and was recognized as an article or processed product that should be preserved as a valuable cultural heritage.


Honshiozawa pongee
Source: Kimono-do

Honshiozawa is a silk fabric, which was previously known as “Shiozawa omoshi,” and is characterized by the “grain” that is physically created during the production process. The surface grain and the light texture of the silk fabric keep the fabric from sticking to the skin, making it comfortable to wear, a characteristic of Hon-Shiozawa and a popular summer kimono.

Like Shiozawa tsumugi, Shiozawa is characterized by the elegance and grace created by the fine kasuri pattern that combines crisscross kasuri and tortoise-shell kasuri, and is the reason for its high popularity.


Summer Shiozawa pongee
Source: Kimono-do

Natsu-Shiozawa is a Shiozaware silk fabric designed to be worn in mid-summer. As the name “Natsu (=summer)” implies, it is designed to be worn in the hot summer, so the texture of the fabric has a unique crisp feeling. The fabric also has a translucent feel to create a sense of coolness, making it even more suitable for summer wear than other Shiozawori fabrics. It is said that about 100 years ago, during the Meiji period (1868-1912), there was a desire for a summer fabric made of silk using hemp weaving techniques, and Natsu-Shiozawa was born in response to this demand.

The production process uses “Koma-twist,” a high-twist yarn of raw silk and ball silk, for both the warp and weft to create a translucent effect, making Shiozaware comfortable to wear even in the summer. When wearing Shiozawa in summer, it is recommendedto wear a long undergarment or a hem strip for undergarments because of its transparency, which is one of its characteristics.

Manufacturing method & Process

There are seven steps in the process, but there are four main processes that are important for certification as a traditional craft.

  • Plain weaving with yarn-dyeing
  • Use raw silk or balled yarn for the warp and hand-spun cotton yarn for the weft.
  • A hand shuttle must be used for the weft.
  • Dyeing of the yarn must be done by “hand-kasuri”, “hand-surikomi” or “itajime”.

The following is an explanation of the manufacturing process that incorporates the above.

1. Design

The pattern position is decided based on the original plan and samples, and the plan is drawn on a sheet of graph paper. The length of the yarn and the position of the kasuri pattern are all designed in order to make the kasuri threads and weave the cloth. This is an important process that forms the basis of Shiozawa tsumugi because the cloth is woven based on this blueprint.

2. Yarn making and twisting

Raw silk, balled silk, and hand-spun cotton are used for Shiozawa Tsumugi. Cocoon cocoons are boiled for several hours, then scoured and stretched one by one by hand to make multiple layers of cotton. The cotton is then opened with one hand and carefully pulled out with the fingertips of the other hand to a uniform thickness, and wound into a single, ultra-fine thread. The thickness of the thread is determined by the amount of effort used to pull it out. Cotton handspun yarn is produced in this way. Raw silk used for warp threads is separated according to use, and twisted to uniform thickness and strength.

Tamayo (ball) thread is the thread taken from a “tama-moon” (cocoon), which is formed by multiple pupae in a single cocoon. Since two or more silkworms make a single cocoon, they are entangled in the process of making thread, which is why it is also called “knot thread. The threads are pulled out of the cocoon and twisted together to make them uniform in thickness and strength.

3. Sumiing and Kubori

Shiozawa tsumugi is characterized by its fine patterns woven with pre-dyed kasuri threads. The first step is to mark the pattern. Using the kasuri ruler we made at the beginning of the process, we mark the position of the pattern on the weft threads stretched on the stretcher with black ink, and bind the marked area tightly with cotton thread. The marked areas are then tightly bound with cotton threads. The dye will remain in the bound areas, but if they are not tightly bound, they will be colored during the dyeing process, causing the kasuri pattern to shift.

4. Surikomi

Using a bamboo spatula for surikomi, the dye is slipped into the weft threads according to the inked weft markings. After dyeing, the fabric is steamed at 100°C to fix the color, and then dried.

5. Preparation for weaving

Once the threads are ready, the weaving machine is prepared. The warp threads are wound tightly around the warp threads according to the pattern, and the ground threads are wound tightly around the warp threads so that the kasuri will not be displaced. The warp threads are then threaded one by one through the weaving machine’s heddles and two by two through the reed. The warp threads are then threaded through the reed, which moves up and down, and the weft threads, which are wound onto a boat-shaped shuttle, are passed back and forth between the two. The standard warp threads of Shiozawa tsumugi are approximately 1,260.

Weft yarns, on the other hand, are made from kasuri (patterned fabric) and then wound onto a tube used for spinning threads. The right- and left-handed twists of the base yarns are separated and wound onto separate tubes.

6. Weaving

The warp and weft yarns are carefully matched to ensure that the kasuri pattern does not shift. Shiozawa tsumugi has many fine kasuri patterns, so this process requires a lot of patience. The loom is called a takahata (high loom).

7. Finishing and inspection

After weaving is completed, dirt and paste are washed off, the width is adjusted, and the weaving is inspected for stains and unevenness.

Shiozawa pongee
Source: Niigata Prefecture Traditional Crafts Industry Promotion Council

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