How the most elaborate Kimono are made

Written by Sophie, June 2021

This week I have been learning about Yuzen dyeing. This is a dying technique first used in the late 17th century, becoming popular during the Edo period. It is most often seen on Kimono and is known for bright colours and patterns, depicting flowers and animals.

Yuzen is a skilled art form, that involves many stages and many different artisans. The pattern is first designed on paper, with seasonal motifs often incorporated. One the design has been finalised it is carefully sketched onto the fabric. Next comes the itome-nori or starching. Here a skilled craftsman pipes a rice-starch line (similar to icing a cake) onto all the previously sketched lines. This is a technique similar to batik, which originated in Indonesia, but is used all over South-East Asia. Whereas batik uses a wax-resist method, Yuzen uses a rice-paste resist. This allows the artist to create elaborate and delicate patterns, and paint very fine areas in different colours without colours bleeding together and marring the design.

Yuzen Kimono

A Kyo-Yuzen Furisode Kimono from Chiso Kimono©

Large areas of the design are painted with the rice resist paste, and then the entire piece of silk is painted with a wash of the base colour. The colour is repeatedly painted over the silk until the desired shade is reached. The silk can then be rinsed, and the rice paste washed away. The silk underneath remains the crisp white of the undyed silk. The artisans then continue this method, marking out the pattern in rice paste, and painting over with dye, to create more and more intricate and vibrant designs. As you can imagine this is a very painstaking process, as any mistakes could ruin the entire piece, and mean they have to start from scratch.

The silk is then steamed to lock the colour into the fabric. It is rinsed again to remove any residue of the rice paste. Especially elaborate kimono, perhaps for a wedding, might have gold leaf applied to silk. The silk is then embroidered to further detail the design.

You can see why the majority of kimono are made with pre-printed designs. The sheer time and skill that goes into Yuzen dyeing, as well as the cost of the silk and gold leaf, makes these Yuzen kimono only appropriate for the most special of occasions, such as weddings or seijin-no-hi (coming of age day).

There is a great video that shows every stage of the Yuzen dyeing process. I highly recommend you watch it!

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