Kodai Yuzen Experience

Back in April, I went to Kyoto to experience several traditional crafts, including yuzen dyeing. There were a couple of places that offered it, but honestly, neither of them are true yuzen dyeing. It takes years of experience to get to that level. I chose Kodai Yuzen simply because I liked their designs better.

I’ve actually been struggling to write this post ever since. I wanted to write one post that would describe the process of yuzen, and my experience trying it out, much like I did with aizome. However, because it wasn’t a true yuzen experience, I found that I couldn’t connect the two. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a fun experience, but it really doesn’t tie into the true process of yuzen. So, I’ve decided to treat this post as more of a review of a Kyoto attraction than a post about the process of yuzen.

 

To start off, we phoned to make reservations and was pleasantly surprised to find that they offered English language support. We showed up and were surprised and excited to discover a true yuzen artist working on a kimono in the waiting area. His stand was incredible. The kimono was stretched over our heads in three different layers and the artist could move the fabric to any place that he chose. The area where he worked had a heat source underneath to dry out the fabric. It was incredible watching him work as we waited.

The artist's workstation.  It's a great shot of his dyes, and his heat source.

The artist’s workstation. It’s a great shot of his dyes, and his heat source.

The structure used to hold the bolt of fabric.

The structure used to hold the bolt of fabric.

A close up of the detail work.

A close up of the detail work.

The artist himself!

The artist himself!

Once our appointment time came around, we were shown into the workshop. It was a large room with a private class happening in the back corner. If I lived any closer, I would want to take this weekly class that teaches you genuine yuzen techniques!

We got to choose our item, and then the design. And there was a huge variety of designs to choose from. I chose a tumbler.  We were also able to customize our designs to a certain extent. For example, I didn’t like the black leaves that were originally on the pattern I chose. I was able to change them to blue. I just had to keep track of which stencil piece the leaves and hair were on and only use the black on the hair pieces.

Our base fabric was laid out on a board and secured with tape. Then two reference points were marked on the board to line up all the stencil pieces. Each piece was laid out, we were given a brush with the correct color, and got to work brushing in the dye. Honestly, when I was looking at my progress, I wasn’t that impressed. After the last stencil I was starting to doubt it. It looked like blobs of color that only just resembled my original design of a woman in a juni hitoe. But then, magic happened. The gentleman helping me placed one last stencil on with white stuff on it (sorry, I can’t think of a better way to describe it), scrapped it over the stencil, and suddenly, everything was outlined in white and looking beautiful.

My chosen design with the fabric secured to the board.

My chosen design with the fabric secured to the board.

One of the stencils

One of the stencils

Hard at work!

Hard at work!

Half finished.

Half finished.

The final step was to apply white paste to mimic the white lines that are a characteristic of yuzen.

The final step was to apply white paste to mimic the white lines that are a characteristic of yuzen.

The final product, signed by the artist of course!

The final product, signed by the artist of course!

Was it fun?  Yes.  Was it yuzen?  No.

It’s up to you if you want to experience it.  And it does make for a really unique and cool souvenir.

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Kyoto Shibori Museum

We arrived at the Kyoto Shibori Museum on a rainy afternoon. The first thing the master did when we opened up the door was to hand us all towels to dry off. It was a sign of good things to come!

We had booked ahead for our shibori experience. There were two choices. A scarf would require folding and clamping techniques while a furoshiki (wrapping cloth) would require winding and knotting. We all chose the furoshiki class. We were led into the classroom and to our pleasant surprise, the teacher offered to do the whole class in English!

We had twelve designs to choose from. Each one already had the stitching in place.

If you look carefully, you can see the threads already stitched into the furoshiki.

If you look carefully, you can see the threads already stitched into the furoshiki.

Six would be completely our work, and six had hari-hitta shibori knots pre-tied in them.  We all chose designs that included hari-hitta shibori.

My furoshiki came pre-tied with hari hitta knots.

My furoshiki came pre-tied with hari hitta knots.

The hari-hitta shibori knots pre-tied in my furoshiki.

A close up view of the hari-hitta shibori knots pre-tied in my furoshiki.

We also had to choose the colour of dye we wanted, red, blue, or purple. Our guide mentioned that all the shibori dyeing done in Kyoto was done with silk fabric. Cotton dyed with shibori (including yukata) was always produced in Arimatsu. Finally, we started. Everything was already stitched into the fabric. We had to pull, wrap, and tie off the threads. We were taught how to do two different techniques.

Hira Nuishime Shibori

This technique involves stitching along a line and then pulling the thread tight.

that type of shibori

Hira nuishime shibori pre-dyed and post-dyed.

My final hira huishime shibori knots.

My final hira huishime shibori knots.

Kasamaki Shibori

This technique involves stitching around the shape you want to create, pulling the thread tight, and then wrapping the threads around the cone of fabric several times.

Kasamaki shibori

Kasamaki shibori pre-dyed and post-dyed.

My completed kasamaki shibori.

My completed kasamaki shibori.

We got to use a shibori stand when we did our work. It’s basically a base with an arm holding a piece of metal that has been bent in on itself. The space is large enough to let untied thread through but it will stop a knot from passing through. We used it for all of our shibori tying. I had heard that a lot of shibori is done by machine now, and when I asked about it, our guide explained that yes, it is done by machine, and the shibori stand is the machine. Without it, a person can tie 300 dots per day. With the “machine” a person can tie 3000 dots per day. Mind blown.

All three of us working with our shibori "machines"

All three of us working with our shibori “machines”

Once the tying was done, it was on to dyeing. We had each chosen a different colour, so when we got downstairs, there were there vats of dye bubbling away merrily on the stoves. We were given GIANT chopsticks and told the keep the cloth moving until the timer went off.

Me and my giant chopsticks!

Me and my giant chopsticks!

Double, double, toil and trouble!  Fire burn and cauldron bubble!

Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire burn and cauldron bubble!

Rinsing off the excess dye.

Rinsing off the excess dye.

After rinsing, we passed off our furioshiki to be dried and went on a tour of the museum.

hon-hitta shibori knots, the ultimate level of shibori tying.  Using a stand, an artist can tie 3000 knots in a day.

hon-hitta shibori knots, the ultimate level of shibori tying. Using a stand, an artist can tie 3000 knots in a day.

We got to experiment with taking out the shibori stitching after the dyeing is complete and we got to see several different examples of different techniques.

Practicing pulling apart the knotted threads.

Practicing pulling apart the knotted threads.

We also got to try on full shibori furisode. All three of us have experience putting on kimono and were able to do it ourselves. Our guide commented that it was the first time that he had never had to help a visitor get dressed. I think he was quite amused.

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The wall hanging behind us is completely done in shibori.

The final step was to take out the knots and reveal the patterns. Our guide told us to cut off the knots, but not to pull on any of the threads yet. Once all the knots were cut off, magic happened!

I think the Kyoto Shibori Mueseum was one of my favourite activities from my weekend in Kyoto. It gave me a whole new appreciation for shibori products and I’m very temped to go back and do it again. I’d love to learn more and try to do shibori on my own. The English language support was an unexpected and priceless bonus. I also have to thank our guide for taking so many great pictures of our experience.

Their website is here and they recommend that you call ahead to make a reservation, especially if you would like the class taught in English.  Their website also has an incredible amount of information on different types of shibori. The scholar in me was drooling over it.  Rest assured, this will not be my last post on shibori!  I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of it yet!