Honba Oshima pongee is one the most prestigious textile


The features of Honba Oshima pongee

This time we will introduce Honba Oshima Pongee. This Japanese traditional Tsumugi (pongee) is a textile with a tradition of 1,300 years. It is one of the three most famous textiles in the world along with “Gobelins” in France and “Persian carpets” in Iran, and is well known internationally. It is also known as the “Queen of Kimono” and is very famous for its high quality.

What is Tumugi (pongee) ?

Pongee refers to yarn-dyed fabrics made of silk threads and other materials, such as Yuuki Tsumugi, or Ijiya pongee. The silk threads are drawn from the cocoons of silkworms, and the fabric surface is made of the silk threads, which gives the cloth a unique silk luster. Yarn-dyeing is a technique in which the yarn is dyed in the thread state and then woven to express the pattern, and is a technique requiring very delicate techniques, in which pre-dyed yarn is woven by hand or by machine.

Compared to yarn-dyeing, where the pattern is dyed from the white fabric using various techniques, yarn-dyeing is characterized by the long time it takes for the pattern to be dyed into the yarn. Therefore, it takes a lot of time and money to weave a single pongee. Because they are extremely durable, they have been used for daily wear and as stray clothes since ancient times.

Oshima-Tsumugi has been produced mainly in areas such as Amami-Oshima, Kagoshima City, and Miyakonojo City in Miyazaki Prefecture. Among them, made-in Amami-Oshima has the certification mark “Amami-Oshima Tsumugi”, which indicates that it is the “Honba Oshima Pongee” and high value. (In this article, the word “Oshima Tsumugi (pongee)” means Honba Oshima Tsumugi, not for other Oshima pongee.

necktie of Oshima pongee
source: https://icchiba.com/c/tsumugi/20AAC9FKMK-001

Characteristics of Honba Oshima Pongee

Not all textiles are Honba Oshima tsumugi if they are manufactured in a specific region. There are clear definitions to keep in mind. The following is a specific list.

Made of 100% silk

Honba Oshima tsumugi is a textile made completely of silk. Since only natural high quality materials can be used, it has been recognized by people as a high quality textile. It is characterized by its excellent breathability when worn. Honba Oshima tsumugi has the advantage of being cool when worn in summer and warm in winter.

Plain weave

Plain weaving” is a method in which the vertical and horizontal threads float and sink one by one. And Honba Oshima tsumugi has been loved for its smooth feel due to plain weave. Plain weave is also the key to a less translucent and elegant appearance. Furthermore, in plain weaving, uneven threads are removed. This results in a beautifully balanced kimono.

Hand processing on a Shimabata

Another charm of Oshima tsumugi is the kasuri (kasuri) process. Kasuri is a pattern in which yarn-dyed areas and non-dyed areas are mixed together. Oshima tsumugi is also known as “Tobishiro” and is made with a shimame machine that processes the kasuri in both the vertical and horizontal directions. The end result is a cross or T-shaped pattern that creates a unique beauty.

Weaving on a handmade machine (tebata)

Oshima tsumugi is a carefully woven kimono made on a traditional handmade machine. Matching the vertical and horizontal threads requires a high level of skill. The experience of veteran craftsmen is reflected in the texture, which cannot be produced by machines.

Yarn-dyed hand weaving

Another key point of Oshima tsumugi is to dye the silk before weaving it by hand. The fact that the weaving process is done by hand, rather than by machine, gives Oshima tsumugi its sublime character.

Other General features

The surface texture shines elegantly. Moreover, it is light and comfortable to wear. Yet, it does not feel cold even in winter. Another advantage is that the more it is worn, the more it conforms to the body. Therefore, it is known as a kimono that does not easily slip off the body.

In addition, Oshima tsumugi is durable, with no two sides of the same fabric. It does not wrinkle easily and can be worn for a long time. Many families pass it down from parents to children and grandchildren. Oshima tsumugi weighs about 450 grams per 1 tsubo (about 12.5 m), which is lighter than a 500 plastic bottle, so you will not feel any pain when wearing it.

The color of Oshima tsumugi is produced by the decoction of a plant that grows in the Amami area called “teichigi (sharinbai)” and muddy soil containing iron. The organic shade of dark brown is popular.

kimono with Oshima pongee

History of Oshima Tsumugi

It is said that Oshima silk has a history of about 1,300 years. As an official document, it is even recorded in the donation book of the Shosoin of Todaiji Temple built in the Nara Period (710~794). In fact, it is said that in 661, Amami began to use tecchigi dye, which is also used for Oshima tsumugi.

In 1720, the prohibition of wearing tsumugi was issued, and while the use of tsumugi by the general public was restricted, Oshima tsumugi came to be woven as a cotton yarn offering. However, from the early Meiji Era, Oshima tsumugi began to be produced as a commodity, and from around 1895 (28th year of Meiji Era), it became popular among people.

In the early Taisho Era (1912-1926), the production of Oshima tsumugi was as low as 30,000 tons, but by 1921 (Taisho 10), as many as 330,000 tons were produced. In 1927, it is said that the production of Oshima tsumugi reached the highest level in the history of Oshima tsumugi, as much as 350,000 tons. Synthetic dyes were introduced after that time, and a wide variety of products such as mud-ani-Oshima, colored Oshima, and herb-dyed Oshima were produced.

However, in 1945 (Showa 20), due to World War II, all production of Oshima tsumugi was halted. After the war, in 1954, the Honba Amami Oshima Tsumugi Cooperative Association was established and production was resumed in earnest. Since the 2020’s, Oshima tsumugi has been used not only for kimonos but also for wallets, bags, neckties, masks, etc.

Oshima ponge
source: Oshima Tsumugimura

Manufacturing Methods and Processes

1.Design and textile design

Oshima Tsumugi is a woven fabric made through numerous processes, which take from six months to more than a year to complete. The production of this traditional craft begins with the creation of a design. The weaver designs the fabric according to the type and yarn density, and then draws a plan on a sheet of paper.

2. Glueing

This is the process of preparing to weave the kasuri using a shimabata. The required number of warp and weft yarns are prepared and glued to the shimebata in order to make the kasuri stronger and tighter.

The raw material for Amami Oshima’s seaweed glue is Igisu and Funori. The weft is glued together in batches of 16 threads and dried in the sun.

3. Kasuri Shimekakou

Using a shimebata, the silk threads are tightly tightened to match the pattern. Since this is a heavy work, it has been said since ancient times that using a shimeori is a “man’s job. The technique of weaving kasuri (patterned fabric) with weaving shimeori is a revolutionary technique that has improved production efficiency and the accurate weaving of the kasuri pattern. It was developed by Ieon Nagae and Tohachi Nagae, Oshima silk weavers in Kagoshima City. While other silk weaving centers use the itokime technique, Honba Oshima Tsumugi uses the shimebata to weave elaborate kasuri patterns.

4. Tecchi-wood Dyeing

The Japanese name for teche is sharinbai, which means “wheeled plum tree. The dye is made from the juice of the teach trunk and roots, which are split into small pieces and roasted in a cauldron for about 14 hours. 20 dyeing cycles are repeated, and the tannin in the teach wood dyes the yarn a reddish-brown color.

5. Mud Dyeing

The dyeing process is repeated 3-4 times: 20 times with Te chi dye and once in the mud field. The tannic acid in the teich wood and the iron in the mud combine to give the yarn its unique, austere black color. The advantages of mud dyeing include wrinkle resistance, flame resistance, stain resistance, static electricity prevention, and many others.

6. Preparation Process

Preparation for weaving involves 28 processes. The main processes include warping, yarn reeling, gluing, pasting, partial bleaching, dye-splicing, unraveling of the Kasuri, pattern matching, etc.

weaving oshima pongee
source: https://dime.jp/genre/874518/

7. Hand Weaving

Weaving is done by hand, one thread at a time, on a high loom. The warp kasuri is loosened and the kasuri is painstakingly matched one by one with a needle. The hand-weaving process brings out the pattern clearly. It takes more than one month to weave a piece of cloth, and several months or more for difficult patterns.

8. Kasuri adjustment

While weaving by hand on a high loom, the warp threads are loosened after about 7 cm of weaving, and the kasuri is adjusted with a needle.

9. Product Inspection

All woven fabrics are brought to the inspection center of Honjo Oshima Tsumugi Kyodo Kumiai. Experienced and experienced inspectors at the inspection center strictly check 20 items such as length, weaving width, uneven coloring, and uneven kasuri. Each piece of fabric that passes the inspection is affixed with a quality label and the flag trademark to prove that it is “Honba Oshima Tsumugi”.

mens' kimono with Oshima pongee

Key point

Oshima tsumugi is made of 100% silk. Oshima tsumugi is known for its lightness, weighing as little as 450g for one piece, and the more it is worn, the more comfortable it becomes on the wearer’s skin. It is also characterized by its resistance to wrinkling and durability. Because of its durability, it is said that Oshima silk kimono can be worn for decades. It is said that “the first generation is good for the parents, the second generation is good for the children, and the third generation is good for the baby. It is a traditional craft that is steeped in the Japanese culture of taking good care of things.

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