Kyo-Yuzen is a technique of hand painting and dyeing silk mainly used for kimonos. It is a combination of beautiful colours and pictorial designs such as flowers, trees, birds, and scenery drawn and dyed on white silk by brush and often finished with gold leaf or embroidery. The beauty of nature is expressed on the fabric. Kyo-Yuzen has two dyeing styles: Tegaki-Yuzen, hand-painting, and Kata-Yuzen, stencil-dyeing. Hand-painting techniques were originally developed by Yuzensai Miyazaki in Kyoto in the middle of 17th century, therefore, the artform came to be called Yuzen. After that, stencil-dyeing techniques were developed by Jisuke Hirose in Kyoto during the 19th century.
Founded in 1555, CHISO is one of the oldest YUZEN dyeing companies in Kyoto. They have been honoured with many awards over the years. They were ordered to create a kimono for the crown princess Michiko in 1958 and when prince Akishinomiya married princess Kiko in 1990 they were asked to create a kimono for the princess. They have developed the technique of velvet Yuzen and in 1994 began to reproduce kimonos from the 18th century to create a beautiful fusion of traditional and innovative designs into their work. They are striving to promote the wearing of kimonos today as Western clothing continues to influence the streets of Japan and cultural traditions are cast aside.
Nowadays they are working in collaborations with other companies using the Yuzen technique. For example, last year they launched a travelling suitcase with Globe Trotter, Chiso provided the hand painted, silk lining for a limited edition range of bags.
One of them encompasses a pattern which is a fusion of the Japanese chrysanthemum (the symbol of Japan) with the classic English rose.
Another case is opened to reveal a design of the crane which symbolizes luck in travel or flight. Despite the ¥2,300,000 price tag they have already sold 5.
Last year they celebrated their 460 years of opening with an exhibition at the museum of Kyoto.
We met with the production department director, Mizumura Hironobu and Chiso gallery curator, Ishida Naoko who took us to Takahashi-Toku, one of Chisos business partners to meet Mr Takahashi who showed us the extraordinary process from beginning to end.
We have been hearing a lot about the Japanese method of separating out each process and designate a craftsman for each stage and Yuzen is the perfect example of this. As we watched each of the master craftsmen at work, painting on to the silk with no hesitation and perfect accuracy you realise you are holding your breath in pure concentration for them. One of the reasons Kio Yuzen is so intensely beautiful is that, at the hand of the artist he or she can create anything like from the end of the brush using a kaleidoscope of colour (bearing in mind it takes several years to be able to mix the dyes, master the technique and achieve the desired colour). Each kimono is completely unique.
A kimono requires around 16 metres of pure silk which is all painted separately, here is a breakdown of the process which takes around 6 months and quite often longer if the design is very intricate or complicated.
- (Zuan) First the designs are drawn by hand on paper with charcoal in actual size.
- White silk fabric is cut into 10 pieces and sewn together to create the form of the kimono.
- (Shitae) the design is traced on to the white silk with juice extracted from flowers, this blue compound can easily be rinsed away with water.
- (Itome Nori) The outline is traced on the white silk with narrow lines of resist paste, this not only separates one colour area from another but also imparts a decorative quality of its own. (The kimono will then be taken apart and worked on in separate pieces once the design is in place ready to be matched up again later)
- (Aobana Otoshi) white silk pieces are put into water to remove blue lines.
- (Fuse nori) the pattern areas that are not to be dyed are covered with a rice paste.
- (Jiire) after the rice paste has dried the whole piece is brushed with gojiru liquid extracted from soy beans.
- (jizome) the background colour is brushed over the entire silk piece using a thicker and wider brush.
- (mushi) to set the dyes, the silk pieces are steamed at 100 degrees in a cypress box for around 40 minutes.
- (Mizumoto) all the rice paste is carefully rinsed off in cold water – they specifically use water from very deep underground to be very cold and clean.
- (Jire) the pattern area is brushed with gojiru to prevent bleeding of the dyes.
- (iro-sashi) after allowing to dry, each silk piece is attached to a bamboo frame and the dyer artist brushes the colour onto the design outline.
- the piece is then steamed again.
- (gomu-suisen) the silk piece is then washed in a special kind of oil because the resist paste is made of gum.
- Putting the finishing touch (Yunoshi)
- metallic leaf (inken) embroidery (shishu) precious metallic leaf or powder is bonded to the dyed silk piece using various techniques.
As the finale of our tour we were taken to see a special kimono lit up in a room which was made and presented to Mr Takahashi’s daughter on her 20th birthday. You can see from the long sleeves it is for an unmarried girl (Furisode). This kimono is so intricate with many layers of patterns, hand dyed and painted separately that it took a whole year to make. The lightness of the silk combined with gold embroidery and red silk lining make it such a work of art. The sheer beauty and monumental amount of work involved makes the finished piece truly stunning.