Patterning in threads that blur. Indigo-and-white, naturally-dyed cloth with hand-woven designs. Cotton fabric so soft from years of wear that parts are threadbare. This kasuri yukata I wear has a story and I long to know it.
Kasuri is a Japanese word from the verb kasureru meaning “to blur”; you may be more familiar with the term “ikat”. Either way, it’s a method of creating patterns in cloth through a dye process whereby threads are bound or resisted before the dyeing. I’ve written about various ways and peoples who still practice this art in these blogs: A brief overview of the types of ikat, warp ikat, and weft ikat.
If I could pull a thread that has woven its way through aspects of my life, kasuri would be one of them. And every so often, it tugs at me wanting me to unravel its origin. Maybe it started in Chicago in the early 80s when Nana Sullivan visited my store the Weaving Workshop with armloads of Japanese country clothes. She was just home from studying in Japan, finishing her field work in cultural anthropology, and had fallen for this indigo-and-white garb. From her, I started my small, at that time affordable, collection and bought my first yukata (summer kimono).
The thread began tugging again. I re-read the chapter on “Ai” (Japanese word for indigo) from Indigo: The Color that Changed the World (Thames & Hudson, Inc., 2013.) According to the ai calendar, polygonum tinctorum grown in the Awa region on the island of Shikoku, Japan, March is time to sow the indigo seeds. Author Catherine Legrand writes, “On an auspicious day in the ancient Japanese calendar, when the swallows return from the southernmost tip of the archipelago, Osamu Nii, the man in charge of the ai and his son Yuji sow the indigo seeds harvested from last years’ flowers.” It’s March now, vernal equinox–an auspicious time. What’s known the world over as traditional cotton indigo-and-white kasuri stems from this region.
Kasuri What’s What
Let’s look at a few kasuri cloths and learn just a tad more about it. The classification of kasuri is done first and is named by the technique and direction in which the resisted or tie-and-dyed yarn is done. Warp kasuri (tate gasuri) refers just to the dyed resist of warp threads (the horizontal threads on the loom). Weft kasuri (yoko gasuri) is the method where each vertical thread must be placed in an exact position to create the design. Warp and weft kasuri (tate-yoko gasuri) encompasses both as in these examples.
The process of creating double ikat is both complicated and time-consuming. The warp and weft yarns are wrapped and dyed to coincide; the resulting design has feathery or blurred edges on both sides of the intersection, as well as top and bottom. E-gasuri is a type of picture kasuri and this butterfly one arrived in time for spring.
Further kasuri classification is done: by color, by technique, by design, and finally by place of production. But that’s all for other days of exploring.
Is there a thread in your life that you are unraveling? Share it with us and share this on. By doing so, you help sustain the artisans and their traditions.
If you already weave and want to learn more about ikat and Japanese kasuri, follow artist Polly Barton and her work. Polly studied under master weaver, Tomohiko Inoue, in Kameoka, Japan in the early 80s and continues to weave on her Japanese tsumugi silk kimono looms. Take an ikat workshop with her. Here’s her schedule.