At Faburiq, we search Japan for centuries old traditions in fabric making. In our recent trip to Japan, we had the chance and privilege to meet Atsushi Tomita and his son, Takashi Tomita, whose family has been manufacturing Komon kimono fabrics since 1914. Located in the Shinjuku-ku area of Tokyo, their family run factory lies on the upper stream of River Kanda where there is ample supply of neutral river water essential for dye works. Komon means "small repeated patterns" and dyed Komon goes back to the Muromachi period (1333 - 1573) where the samurai class began to use them as daily clothes. In the Edo period (1603 - 1868), Komon was used for kamishimo, the samurai's formal wear. Each samurai family has it's own pattern and the pattern was only unique to one family. As each family competitively created original designs and techniques, dyed Komon eventually developed into a form of craft. Today, Komon dyeing has been adopted into ordinary life. The modern and sophisticated Komon kimono with a 600-year tradition is mostly worn for tea parties and chic casual today.
The process of Edo Komon are divided broadly into 5 steps:
- Designing the template and pattern carving. Groups of most skilled pattern-carvers from Ise, modern Mie prefecture, have been specializing in this demanding task for more than a thousand years, probably since the Heian period.
- Coloring Adjustment and Paste Mixing. Powdered glutinous rice and rice bran are mixed with water to make a soft dough. The dough is steamed and kneaded with the required dye solution until it looks like paste. Dyes are tested carefully on cloths until the right shade is found. "Ji-iro-nori" is the paste for the area outside the pattern and "Me-iro-nori" is the paste for the pattern itself.
- Katatsuke or Pattern Dyeing. The pattern is placed on a white silk cloth on a long board and the "Me-iro-nori" is spread evenly. The patterned cloth is then dried in the sun.
- Shigoki or Field Dyeing. When the paste is completely dried, colored paste is spread evenly on the cloth so that it covers the whole cloth. This step is called "Shigoki". Sawdust is sprinkled over the paste-covered cloth to prevent it from adhering to other sheets of cloth.
- Finishing which involves steaming, washing and drying. Before the coloring paste dries out, the cloth is put into a steam box for 15 to 30 minutes at 90 too 100 degrees Celsius. This process allows the dye contained in the paste to permeate evenly into the cloth. Until 1963, dyed fabric has been washed in the river Kanda. But now, underground water has been used to splash the paste off the cloth with a machine. Lastly, the cloth is spread onto a board to dry, and then smoothed out with steam and iron.
The Shinjuku dyers along the River Kanda have played a big part in Tokyo's busy kimono industry since the beginning of Japan's modernization. Tokyo became one of Japan's three main production centers of kimonos, with Kyoto and Kanazawa. In recent years, many tradesmen in the Tokyo dyeing industry have been designated as Masters of Traditional Crafts under Japanese laws for preserving traditional crafts. The visit served as a perfect opportunity to scout for new fabrics and get inspired. Shop culture, shop Faburiq.
Author: Aruña Quiroga