The Brightest Blue Obi Belt

Written by Sophie, April 2021

The Victoria and Albert Museum YouTube channel is such a great resource. I loved their videos exploring the Kimono Exhibition that I couldn’t see in person, and last week I wrote about the video on Natural Dyeing that they posted on their channel. There are so many fascinating videos, covering all aspects of art and design around the world. Of course, it’s their videos about Japan that I particularly enjoy.

This week a video about Nishijin-ori – textiles from Nishijin, Kyoto – caught my eye. Literally that is, because the thumbnail shows the most incredibly vibrant blue flower, embroidered on an obi belt. The video details the process of making hikihaku obi. Hikihaku is a traditional weaving technique, that uses precious metals such as gold and silver. Thin sheets of foil are stuck to paper with a special lacquer. The paper is then cut into thin strips to make threads.

What’s even more impressive is that this same technique is used with mother of pearl. When the thread is woven into an obi, it retains the iridescent sheen of the mother of pearl. I can only imagine what it must have been like to see someone wearing the obi when it was originally made. The thumbnail obi was woven using thread made from lapis lazuli, the most brilliant blue to exist. I doubt the same vibrance could be achieved using synthetic dye.

Part of the beauty of hikihaku is that the sloth with oxidise and change over time, exactly how silver naturally tarnishes. This only emphasises the beauty of the natural materials used, and how luxurious the thread is.

In the video we learn that all the weavers of Nishijin-ori are over 70, so this really is an art that is disappearing. In fact, there is no longer anyone alive who can service some of the looms that the cloth is woven on. This really is such a beautiful art form, so I hope that people choose to learn how to weave this beautiful material.

You can watch the video here, I highly recommend it.

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