Yuki Tsumugi | Silk fabric made of the highest quality cotton


Traditional Japanese texture, Yuki Tsumugi

Ibaraki Prefecture is the third largest agricultural prefecture in Japan. In fact, it boasts the highest production of many foods in Japan, including melons, eggs, chestnuts, lotus roots, and green peppers. In the Yuki region of Ibaraki Prefecture, the sericulture industry has long flourished, taking advantage of the fertile soil created by the Kinugawa River, which flows slowly through the Kanto Plain. Today, we will introduce the representative work, Yuki Tsumugi. 

Kinugawa river

Characteristics of Yuki Tsumugi

The most distinctive feature of Honba Yuki Tsumugi is the threads that are hand-knotted from cotton. Cotton is made from silkworm cocoons that have been boiled to soften and expand, making it soft, airy, warm, and very comfortable and gentle. The best quality threads are made from these cocoons by hand, without sacrificing the quality of the raw material.

Yuuki tsumugi cotton

In addition to being soft, light, and warm, Yuki tsumugi is also strong and wrinkle-resistant. Its durability is so strong that it is said to “develop its own taste after being worn for three generations. The taste of the kimono grows with each wear, and many people continue to cherish it as a lifetime item.

Of all the silk textiles in Japan, only Honjo Yuki Tsumugi uses hand-knotted threads for both the warp and weft. This is the reason why Honjo Yuki Tsumugi is considered the highest quality silk fabric. The essential quality of Honba Yuki Tsumugi has attracted many people since ancient times. Yuki tsumugi has been offered as a gift since the Nara period (710-794), but it was not until the Edo period (1603-1868) that it became popular in the market. In the encyclopedia of the time, “Wakan sansai zue,” it was introduced as the highest quality silk.

High-quality Yuki Tsumugi was loved by great writers and the imperial family.

Yuki tsumugi was favored by writers and actresses with a high sense of beauty. There are records that Riichi Yokomitsu and the haiku poet Hekigoto Kawahigashi wore it, and Fumi Koda and Masako Shirasu also featured Yukino Tsumugi in their works. It is said that Sawako Ariyoshi and Atsuko Suga loved to wear Yukitsumugi, and Shotaro Hanayagi, an actor of the new school, owned several chests full of Yukitsumugi. In our museum, there is a letter written by Takamine Hideko titled “Yuki Tsumugi and I”, and there are countless famous people who are said to have loved Yuki silk. The Empress wore Yuki tsumugi on the 20th anniversary of her accession to the throne.

What is Mawata (true cotton)?

Mawata (true cotton)” is indispensable when talking about Yukino silk. Cotton, which is soft and contains a lot of air, has a warm and comfortable feel and its texture attracts many people. Momen” refers to cocoons that have been boiled in hot water to soften them and then stretched into a cotton-like material. Because it is soft and light and contains a lot of air and is rich in heat-retaining properties, people in the past used this cotton as a tool to protect themselves from the cold by wrapping it around their necks or putting it in a hanten. It is said that about 2,000 cocoons are needed to make one piece of Yuki-tsumugi silk.

silk cotton

Manufacturing Method Designated as an Intangible Important Cultural Asset

Honba Yuki pongee was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010. The production process itself is highly valued. The production process is based on the division of labor, and all manufacturing processes are done by hand. 30 processes are involved, of which the three most notable are “yarn spinning,” “kasuri weaving,” and “jibata weaving. These three processes were designated as national important intangible cultural assets in 1956.

Yuki pongee is made of warp and weft yarns both drawn from cotton. This is the biggest secret behind the unique texture of Yukitsumugi. Honjo Yukitsumugi is created using 100% hand-drawn threads from cotton. On the other hand, Yuki tsumugi is made using threads drawn by hand and power. (Cotton power-drawn thread)

manufacturing process of Yuuki cotton

In addition, in order to make the weaving process as unbreakable as possible, strong and thick yarns are used for the warp and thin yarns are used for the weft in order to increase the density of the weave. The use of thicker threads in the warp emphasizes the vertical lines of the garment when worn, creating a beautiful appearance.

Sophisticated craftmanship, Yarning

Yarn spinning, which produces the unique silk threads that support the texture of the cloth, is done by winding cotton around a stick-shaped tool called a tsukushi. The yarn is pulled out by twisting the end of the cotton with the fingertips, and then pulled together using saliva, without twisting, so that it retains its soft texture. The technique is called “kasuri kukuri,” in which the cotton threads are tied around the area marked with black ink before dyeing to prevent the dye from seeping through. Some of the more elaborate patterns require more than half a year to complete. When the silk threads are finally ready, they are woven using a technique called jiki-ori. The warp end is wrapped around the weaver’s waist on the jiki, which is called an “isari-ki” in the Yuki silk workshop.

yuuki tsumugi manufacturing

Warp silk yarns are glued and hardened, but they are not twisted, so they break easily, and the weaver’s habit varies from person to person, so delicate adjustment is important. For this reason, a jiki is used, which allows the weaver to adjust the tension and force of the warp threads with his or her own body.

Types of Woven

There are two types of hand-woven “Honjo Yuki Tsumugi”: one is woven on a high loom and the other is woven on a jiki (dismantled loom). The high loom is the most common handloom, and 99% of the hand-woven cloth produced in the world today is woven on the high loom. On the other hand, the jiki is said to be the world’s oldest weaving machine. The warp threads are tied around the weaver’s waist, and the weaver weaves in unison with the machine, which requires a great deal of labor. However, it is possible to weave without stressing the warp threads by delicately adjusting the tension of the warp threads, and the delicate and luxurious beauty of the fine kasuri threads is irreplaceable. There are more than 20 processes to complete a single piece of Yuki-tsumugi silk.

Traditional technics for modern age

While it is becoming increasingly rare and distant as a luxury item, it continues to evolve into a more accessible and affordable updated “Yuki-tsumugi” by making the most of the textural qualities of cotton and streamlining the production process through trial and error, thanks to technological innovation and efforts by the production areas.


Kasama ware

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