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Edo Period Itajime Silk

Written on September 20, 2008

These images are details from a late Edo Period (1603-1868) aigi or silk under-kimono which is made of fragments of silks dyed in the itajime method.   So much to say about this, but before we get into all of it, just know that these incredibly beautiful textiles–all dyed using botanical dyes–are NOT ‘printed’: they are the result of an intensely artistic and somewhat ancient process.

Itajime is a  dyeing process using clamps which exert great pressure on cloth, so the parts of cloth that are highly pressurized resist dye.  To achieve the designs on these textiles, an artisan had to carve a block with the designs shown; then another block, in mirror image to the original had to be carved and they would be set face-to-face.

Cloth would be slipped between the two carved blocks, the raised areas of the carving would clamp down on the cloth and would resist dye: a length of cloth would be fed through a  high stack of many identically carved blocks, the entire tower of blocks would be clamped, and this big,  bundle of cloth under pressure from layers of carved blocks would be lowered into a dye vat.  The white designs were under so much pressure that the dye did not penetrate those clamped portions of cloth.

On the top photo, from left to right, we see dyestuffs of gromwell root (purple), overdyed indigo (green), probably some kind of nut or maybe loquat (brown), and safflower (orange).

Here’s a stack of pieced aigi or juban, in my showroom: they are quite loud with color and pattern; these underkimonos were made from old clothing or borrowed scraps from family members.  In Akita Prefecture, in Nishi Monai, these undergarments are worn by women as kimono (not as under garments) during the late summer ancestor-honoring festival of O-Bon: the ladies of Nishi Monai wear these as ceremonial costumes (called hanui for this purpose) for their festival dancing in which they call upon their forbears.   See a photo here and read more about it here.

Here is another reference to itajime, from the Sri website.

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  1. Comment by Ss:

    god! the color!

    August 13, 2009 @ 10:10 am