Kyoto has a long tradition of Japanese craftsmanship and manufacturing. For outsiders, it’s usually difficult to look behind the scenes of the workshops, factories and studios, but once a year the doors are opened during the DESIGN WEEK KYOTO. Visitors have the opportunity to speak personally with the masters and managers, to ask questions, to get to know techniques and materials and to participate in workshops. This year I went there for the first time. I had put together a brimming plan for five days and gathered a lot of impressions and inspiration during this time. In this article I would like to introduce a few places that I visited. More will follow in the next few weeks.


Design week kyoto ironenkin weaving kimono obi traditional

In this traditional company very special yars are interwoven. These were developed when the TOKUGAWA MUSEUM asked the company to restore an antique cloth. They found that the technology for the production of the used silk had already been forgotten. After intensive research and numerous trials, the old technology was revived.
The yarn consists of two components: a silk thread and a skinny strip of gold wound around it. The silk thread is handspun as it is important for this texture that the thread has an uneven thickness. When the gold strip is wrapped around it, it’s more closely spaced in the thinner areas than in the thick ones, as you can see in the image:

Design week kyoto ironenkin weaving kimono obi traditional

gold strips wrapped around hand-spun silk thread

Design week kyoto ironenkin weaving kimono obi traditional

The fact that you see the coloured fibers shimmering through, makes the special charm of this yarn. For machine-spun threads that have a uniform thickness, the whole thing looks like this:

Design week kyoto ironenkin weaving kimono obi traditional

gold strips wrapped around machine-spun silk thread

Design week kyoto ironenkin weaving kimono obi traditional

Of course that’s nice, too, and it’s used for kimono embroidery, for example. But I find this interpretation even more interesting. The technique itself is actually quite old, but is hardly practiced today because of the effort and price. This can already be seen from the way the gold strip is made: the basis is washi – Japanese paper. Then urushi (Japanese lacquer) is used as an adhesive for gold leaf or other metals. When the layer of washi, urushi and leaf metal is dried, the paper is cut into skinny strips. Washi is not waterproof, which is why these fabrics are not washable.

the whole process from the thread to the finished product

Mainly MASUYA TAKAO manufactures traditional products like obi (kimono belt). A few years ago the brand IRONENKIN was founded, which is dedicated to a larger and more modern product range. Obis are machine-woven via web programmes, formerly with punchcards, later with floppy disks, today with USB sticks. For IRONENKIN, a special fabric (called Kagayaki no Nuno) is even hand-woven, for which a wooden loom was custom-built, with which one can weave wider panels than with old traditional looms. IRONENKIN offers truly unique high quality products that bring wonderful old Japanese traditions to life.






The KODO family business was founded in 1945 and has three generations of extensive experience in the processing of washi paper. This is mainly about cutting, binding and gluing paper. Its main products are firmly rooted in Japanese culture:

  • Calligraphy paper
  • Shikishi (square cards for ink drawings and calligraphy)
  • Goshuin-cho: a traditional note book for collecting stamps of temples and shrines

When I visited the company, I was able to watch how goshuin-cho are glued together:

KODO sells its products internationally and works with various companies. In 2013, the company launched its own design label kami-mon, which explores new ways of using washi paper. Take a look at the possibilities for ingenious ways to integrate Washi into our interior.