Isesaki kasuri with a wide variety of kasuri techniques | Traditional Japanese crafts in Gunma


Isesaki Kasuri is also traditional Textile crafts in Gunma

Isesaki-Kasuri is a textile produced in and
around Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture. Typical examples are used for kimonos,
and its texture and feel have been highly valued since ancient times. Today,
ties and noren (curtains) are produced, and the more they are used, the more
the kasuri pattern and luster develop a taste and the deeper the fabric

Isesaki City in Gunma Prefecture was
blessed with well-drained land and an environment conducive to the growth of
mulberry trees, and sericulture has flourished in the town since ancient times.
In the Chronicles of Japan, there is a record of a textile called
“Ashiginu” being offered to the Imperial Court. The presence of
Shidori-jinja Shrine, dedicated to the god of textiles, and Akagi Shrine,
dedicated to the ancestor of weavers, both located in the city, shows that
textiles revitalized the region.

Isesaki textile

Characteristics of Isesaki Kasuri

Isesaki kasuri is characterized by its
dyeing technique. 
The techniques used are kukuri kasuri,
itajime kasuri, and katagami-shio-zokakko-kasuri, and most of the dyeing
process is done by hand. This dyeing technique is characterized by its artistic
quality like a painting, and can express designs and beauty that cannot be seen
in other fabrics or textiles.

Historical Background

The region has long been active in silk
production and sericulture, and the textile industry had already emerged around
the 6th century. As evidence of this, textiles made mainly of hemp have been
excavated from ancient tombs dating from that period. It was not until the late
1600s that the area actually began to take shape as a textile production
center. From the Taisho period to the early Showa period, the unique texture
and intricate patterns of the textiles captured the hearts of the people while
adopting the trend of industrialization. Sales of Isesaki kasuri grew steadily
as the Japanese government imposed a strict ban on foreign products in the
midst of the war.

However, as the war ended and Western
culture began to flow into Japan, the general public shifted from Japanese to
Western-style clothing. Demand for Isesaki kasuri, which was used as a fabric
for kimonos, quickly declined, and the number of producers gradually decreased
due to a lack of successors, which is common in traditional crafts. Nevertheless,
the textile industry association worked hard to carry on the culture of meisen
(a generic term for textiles made in the Kanto region), including Isesaki

Thanks to their efforts, today’s Isesaki
kasuri is a highly regarded traditional craft that has been preserved in the
modern age.

Isesaki textile

Production Process

The production process of Isesaki Kasuri is
divided into several steps, each of which is carried out by skilled
technicians. If even one of the technicians in charge of each process is not careful,
the textile will not be finished beautifully. Isesaki Kasuri is a textile
created by the harmony of human relationships. The process differs depending on
the method used to dye the yarn, but let’s take a look at the flow of textile

1Consider the

The producer (often called a
“weaver”) draws a pattern design on a sheet of graph paper, imagining
the finished textile and making it easy to produce. The composition of the
pattern and colors at this point is most important. Next, the length and width
of the cloth, the density and number of threads, and the production quantity
are considered to determine the amount of threads needed and the method of the

2. Prepare raw materials

Raw silk from silkworm cocoons is used as
the raw material, but we do not buy silk directly from farmers. Warp yarn is
traded mainly in Yokohama, and weft yarn is purchased from yarn mills in
Maebashi through suppliers.

3Yarn is cleaned
(refining and gluing the skeins)

Freshly purchased yarns are boiled with
soap and other detergents. This process removes soiling such as colorants,
fats, and proteins, and gives the silk its luster. This process is called
scouring, and is performed at a dyeing factory. Here, bleaching is also carried
out to make the silk pure white. Scoured silk yarns are glued to prevent
fluffing during the process, and then hung to dry.

4Yarn length and
number of threads are adjusted (yarn reeling, warping)

The glued silk yarns are then reeled in at
the warping shop. The process of reeling is to wind each silk thread onto a
bobbin or a wooden frame. At this time, the tension of the threads must be kept
constant or the fabric will not be good. This is followed by warping, which is
the process of adjusting the length and number of warp and weft yarns required
for the fabric to be woven. In warping, the yarns are prepared according to the
design. The warp threads are removed from the warping frame in bundles for easy
handling. This bundle of threads is called a hemedama.

5. Dyeing the threads

(1) Shimekubari

Based on the design, the area to be
patterned is marked with black ink. Then, according to the color scheme, dye
the area with a combination of dye and glue by clamping the dye and glue
together with a stick from above and below, and rubbing it in by alternating
movements. This is called “Surikomi Nassen. After the dyed area is dry,
this area is tightly bound with cotton thread or polyethylene tape to prevent
the dye from soaking through when the base color is dyed. After the threads have
been tied up, they are dipped in boiling water so that the heat will bring out
the color beautifully.

(2) In the case of itajime

The characteristic of itajime kasuri is
that it can be dyed with fine patterns that are not possible with hand-tied
shimekotsu. In this method, the warp and weft yarns are wound around a board
with grooves carved into it and piled on top of each other. The part not to be
dyed is then tightened well and placed in a dyeing tank (box containing dye)
for dyeing. This allows the dye to soak into the grooves, creating the unique
Itajime-kasuri pattern.

6Preparation for
weaving (gluing, warp winding, and drawing in)

After the warp threads have been glued,
they are wound into bundles, which are then carefully wound into a winding tube
by a makimiya (a thread winder). This process is called hemmaki (warp winding),
which incorporates the warp threads according to the design. Cardboard is
inserted between the warp threads to prevent the warp threads from being rolled
out of place. This is an important process to prevent the pattern from
collapsing during weaving.

The warp threads wound into the omaki are
then passed through heddles and reeds. This process is called “drawing in.
The warp threads are divided into upper and lower sections, and the weft
threads are passed through the openings. The warp threads are threaded one by
one through a hole in the center of the heddle using a needle.

Next, the warp threads are passed through a
reed. The reed is a tool that adjusts the width and warp of the fabric and
holds the weft threads driven through the shuttle to determine the density of
the weave. The teeth of the reed are called the teeth of the comb. To prevent
damage to the teeth, a tool called a warp threader is inserted into the gap
between the teeth and two warp threads are hooked onto the warp threads and
passed through the reed. Special care is taken when inserting the warp threads
into the heddles, making sure that the warp threads are threaded through the
heddles in the correct order and that there are no holes in the reed when the
threads are inserted into the reed.

7. Weaving (lifting and weaving)

After the warp yarns have been processed in
step 6, they are placed on the loom and prepared for weaving. This is called
hataage. The weft is wound onto several bamboo tubes using a manual tube winder
(yarn wheel) and attached to a shuttle. The weaving process works as follows.

  • First, both feet are placed on the step
    wood and stepped on alternately. The warp threads are bisected vertically by
    the bladder, creating an opening for the bobbin to pass through.

  • Next, pull on the pull rope with your
    right hand and the bobbin will move to the opposite shuttle box. At this point,
    the weft thread passes between the warp threads.

  • Finally, the left hand strongly pulls the
    reed toward you for beating.

By repeating steps 1⃣ and 3⃣, the
individual threads are combined to form a single piece of cloth.

Isesaki textile
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