During Design Week Kyoto, I visited the traditional company Tomihiro Senko. Here, silk fabrics for the brand RITOFU are dyed completely by hand and in the traditional way. This technique is called Tegaki Yuzen. Depending on the region, there are different methods for this technique (also different styles, designs and patterns). Here I introduce Kyo Yuzen (Yuzen from Kyoto) to you, as practised by Tomihiro:
The whole process is carried out not just by one but by a total of 14-15 craftspeople who are specialists in their respective fields: from drafting, sketching, applying glue, yuzen dyeing, to completion.
1. First and foremost, the fabric is cut into ten pieces and temporarily stitched together to form a kimono, so that the pattern on the seams does not get unpleasant interruptions. Then the design is transferred to the fabric. To do this, you place the drawing on a glass plate illuminated with light from below and above that the fabric. So you can see through the pattern and trace it. For this, writing brushes and ink which is made from Spiderwort flowers are used. This technique is called Sashi Yuzen. This ink is later simply washed out with water.
2. The kimono is unstitched again and the individual panels are stretched. With a paste of resin glue and gold dust called Itome Nori (Itome = thin thread, Nori = glue), which is filled in a small forcing bag with a thin tip, the artisan traces all the lines. Not only do these fine lines look beautiful, but they also separate the colour areas so that the ink does not dissolve. After the glue dries, the blue colour is washed out.
3. Thereafter, the entire fabric is coated with Gojiru. This is a juice made from soybeans that is made by swelling soybeans, crushing, diluting with water and filtering. The fabric is then allowed to dry overnight. This procedure called Jiire causes the glue to stick firmly in the texture. In addition, the pigments can be distributed more evenly later.
4. Now it’s finally time to dye. For this, brushes are used which can take up more dye than writing brushes can. This allows the textile to absorb more pigments and the colour gains in depth. Depending on the size of the colour area, wider and narrower brushes are used.
5. After dyeing, the fabric is steamed at 80-90°C to solidify the pigments in the fabric and increase colour intensity. Subsequently, all excess pigments and adhesive residues are washed out. It had been done in rivers and streams until about 1965, but nowadays the fabric is more likely to be washed in pools. It is said that Kyoto’s groundwater is extremely well suited for washing dyed fabric.
6. After the fabric has been stretched again so that it does not shrink and become stiff, gold leaf and silver, as well as embroidery can be added. Kyo Yuzen is especially known for its lush patterns.