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A Rare Glimpse at Hand Carved Itajime Dyeing Boards

Written on November 11, 2010

The antique, hand carved boards used in the itajime or kyokechi dyeing process have become increasingly difficult to find, which is why I call this posting a “rare glimpse.”
On this blog, in the past, I’ve shown textiles that have been dyed using these boards, but I’ve not yet had the opportunity to show the boards themselves.Kyokechi or itajime is a laborious and ingenious dyeing process using these hand carved wooden boards: cloth is clamped under great pressure between the boards, so the parts of cloth that are highly pressurized resist dye.   Sometimes boards are carved and fitted with drilled holes which let dye in in very specific areas (the boards shown above), or, in other cases, boards are carved in relief and in sets of mirror-image.  These relief carved boards would be clamped face-to-face and the raised areas would meet when clamped, and would resist dye (the boards shown below).

In these detail photos, above and below, you can see the holes which are intended to allow the flow of dye.  The pattern on the top photo is of wooden box measures, or masu, while below is shown cranes amid wisteria.On the relief block, below, we see roundels of cherry blossoms and masu.Below we see cherry blossoms and maple leaves that are host to hemp leaf and tortoise shell motives.The backs of the boards are shown below.

The network of holes on the back of the two examples of kyokechi boards is very interesting, and to the taste of some, moreso than the carvings on the front.This kind of clamp resist dyeing has a long history, and it was introduced to Japan from China. probably around the early 8th century.

Historical examples of both early Japanese and Tang Dynasty itajime cloth are carefully preserved at Japan’s Shosoin, the treasure house of Nara’s Todai-ji, where some of Japan’s most important cultural property resides.

Each board measures approximately 9″ x 18″ or 23 cm x 45.5 cm and dates from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.

These boards come from the store house of a family of  itajime dyers in Kyoto.

In my next posting I will be showing two garments dyed using the kyokechi process.  Stay tuned.

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  1. Comment by velma:

    wow. how often have i just been blown away by your posts? but this one, seeing the tools, imagining how they work, the tracery of holes and lines…marvelous!

    November 11, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

  2. Comment by Eva:

    Can’t wait to see the results! A revelation!

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:03 am

  3. Comment by diane:

    thank you for posting. I’ve never seen these. Always on the look out for carvings as tools.

    November 17, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  4. Comment by marina urbach:


    I am one of the admirers who prefers the back side.

    June 18, 2014 @ 11:57 am