Japanese Textiles 3: Local Environs, Local Touch

Where did the patterns seen in contemporary Japan originally come from? It has been six years since we first travelled the country, looking at local fabrics and asking how each local textile pattern came to be.

The patterns seen on Jomon pottery, the oldest pottery in the world, are similarly fascinating. Although there are various theories as to why these world-renowned patterns are known as “Jomon” (literally, “rope-patterned”), we do know that our ancestors discovered some 16000 years ago that patterns could be created by rolling rope over clay. Just imagine how exciting this discovery must have been to the people of the time. In Jomon pottery, we see patterns made by pressing rope, nails, fingers, shells, wood, bamboo, and other objects into the clay. Created when two different objects come into contact, these patterns clearly show both form and material.

The same can be said of textiles. Adding pattern accentuates the materials and techniques used to make the fabric. These patterns feature colours firmly rooted in the local climate, the heart of the local community, and the qualities of the light and air of the land.

Found MUJI Japanese Textiles toured areas of textile production, established connections and interacted with locals in order to explore new ways of creation.

Wool-blend Fur (Hashimoto City, Wakayama Prefecture)

The woolly fabric is brushed meticulously to create a warm, soft coat. Wakayama Prefecture is a centre of knit fabric and produces a wide variety of styles. Having cultivated cotton since the 17th century, Koyaguchi Town in Hashimoto City is home to a thriving cotton fabric industry, with brushed cotton flannel production that has been active here since the late 19th century. Today, the town produces blanket and coat fabric using a cut pile technique to shear the yarn and expose the end of the fibres. Crafting this fabric takes a great deal of time to complete as there are many steps required to steam, heat treat, cut, trim, and brush to a soft and fluffy fur.

Velour (Hashimoto City, Wakayama Prefecture)

Soft and smooth with a beautiful sheen, velour is another type of cut pile fabric produced in Koyaguchi Town, Hashimoto City. Featuring patterns created by differences in fabric thickness, the velour is used for a variety of goods, from shawls to train seat fabric. The fibres are carefully cut to the same length for a beautiful finishing. Textured patterns are created by finely adjusting the density and yarn length settings on the jacquard velour circular knitting machine.

Loop Weave (lchinomiya Ciry, Aichi Prefecture)

The Bishu region, whose centre is Ichinomiya City in Aichi Prefecture, is home to the Kiso River, a source of abundant water as well as to the fertile and temperate Nobi Plain. These geographic features provide the ideal soil for agriculture and textile material production. Thanks to the soft river water, which is ideal for dyeing, processing and finishing yarn and fibres, the region has been home to a thriving wool weaving industry from the late 19th century. In Japan, Bishu is the area most intimately familiar with every step of wool production from yarn spinning to finishing processes. Loop weaves are made from loop yarn, which is crafted in a rhythmical tempo on the spinning wheel. The soft fuzzy textures of these warm fabrics exemplify the best of Bishu craftsmanship.

Stud Embroidery (Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture)

Kiryu City in Gunma Prefecture has been a centre of silk production since the 17th century, thanks to soil that is especially suited to growing the mulberry leaves that silkworms feed on. When machine embroidery was introduced from the West in the early 20th century, craftspeople here began embroidering kimono and obi. Today, the mills employ computerised embroidery. This innovation has expanded design possibilities, though the skilled hands of masters remain essential to the process. The pearl-like stud embroidery unique to this area is the result of collaboration between designers and artisans.

Bulky Jacquard Fabric (Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture)

With a wealth of weaving techniques, Kiryu City in Gunma Prefecture has long been a thriving centre for silk and jacquard production. In recent years, the area has begun to produce wool jacquard as well. Thick, plump, and warm, the bulky jacquard cloth features different weaves for the base fabric and the patterned areas, which highlights the materials and techniques used. The fabric is finished with fulling, creating a textured feel by causing some parts of the cloth to swell and others to shrink. Perfecting the pattern is an arduous process of trial and error, requiring incredibly precise calculations on the part of the craftsperson.

Kurume Kasuri (Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture)

Appearing in the mid-to-late 19th century, the geometric patterns of Kurume-kasuri (a tie-dye technique similar to ikat) are said to have originated in Kurume, rather than outside of Japan. These bold patterns continue to fascinate to this day. Created with precise calculation and exacting techniques, the beautiful patterns fluttering in the breeze evoke the climate and the temperament of the people here.

Certified as an important intangible cultural property, Kurume-kasuri is the most well-known Japanese tie-dye style of weaving. These traditional techniques and processes have been handed down the generations and are still in use today.

Pleats (Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture)

Artisans in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, use a fascinating technique of partial pleating to create pleated fabric that looks patterned. The thermal plasticity of polyester allows the thread to change and retain a variety of shapes depending on the heat setting used. In Fukuoka, fabric woven from a mix of polyester and natural fibres is manipulated to create partial pleats. Although pleats have a long history in fashion, this technique makes the most of the unique properties of the materials to create entirely new possibilities.

lntarsia Knit (Mitsuke City, Niigara Prefecture)

Originally a weaving centre, Mitsuke City in Niigata Prefecture adopted knitting techniques from Tokyo, Nagoya, and other cities after World War II, growing rapidly to become a producer of knits. The area began with jersey knits for undergarments and now employs many different techniques to produce a wide variety of knits. One of these is the intarsia knit, which allows patterns and colours to be switched freely during the knitting process. With this type of knit, the yarn is not carried across the back of the piece, resulting in a beautiful continuity with no distinguishable right or wrong sides to the fabric. Despite the complicated movement of the yarn during knitting, intarsia has a clean, light finish that feels great against the skin.

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