Kimono Diary September 28-October 4 2015

Hello again!  I hope you all had a good week.  My week didn’t start off all that great.  I’m collaborating with a friend to create a kimono based video for youtube (she’s a fantastic video editor).  While I was casually flipping through my notes, my heart sank.  I realized that I had used the wrong word to describe a garment.  What a goof on my part!  It only got worse when I messaged her and she said she no longer had the editable versions of the section in question.  AHHHH!  However!  When we got together on Friday, we found the autosaved edits on her external harddrive.  Thank you Adobe gods!

I managed to post about a couple of new motifs this week too.  I’ve decided to expand my geometric patterns section, so I added asa no ha and same komon to the list.

I also got together with my kitsuke teacher to practice dressing children for shichi-go-san.  In two weeks, my weekends will be taken up by helping my sensei dress small children for shichi-go-san for a local photo studio.  We started off by practicing on a small, child-sized mannequin lent to us by the photo studio to practice on.  And after that, I got to practice on my teacher’s grandchildren who are just the right age and size to practice on.  And they were so patient with us too!  Until it got too hot that is!

Photos or it didn't happen, right?

Photos or it didn’t happen, right?

Finally, I went kimono shopping with a friend of mine and managed to grab the steal of the month!  I gorgeous kimono bag in great condition that was originally 120,000 yen, and I only paid 700 yen.  I was really lucky that I spotted it before my friend.  One of us would have gotten it in the end.

Have a good week!

The bottom is a separate compartment for your zori.

The bottom is a separate compartment for your zori.

In the top half, there is a built in hanger for your kimono.

In the top half, there is a built in hanger for your kimono.

To-ji Temple Flea Market

The To-ji Temple flea market is one of the biggest flea markets in Kyoto. It’s a great place to find some bargain kimono, obi, and accessories, as well as other weird and wonderful things.

My first time stepping through the temple gate and seeing the size of the compound and the flea market.

My first time stepping through the temple gate and seeing the size of the compound and the flea market.

History of the Temple

I can’t talk about the flea market without talking about the temple too. The two are interconnected, and I’ve always loved visiting temples and shrines.

To-ji means east temple (東寺) and it was originally part of a pair of temples to guard the capital from evil spirits. The other temple was called Sai-ji (west temple 西寺). They stood on either side of the large Rashomon gate that marked the southern entrance to Kyoto. Unfortunately, both Sai-ji and Rashomon no longer exist.

The main temple at To-ji with the flea market in front.

The main temple at To-ji with the flea market in front.

Construction on To-ji began in 796. By the year 823, construction still wasn’t completed, so Emperor Saga asked the influential monk Kukai (空海)to administer the temple and complete the building project, which he eventually did. He included plans for a five-story pagoda that would be the tallest in Japan. This pagoda, unfortunately, doesn’t survive. The pagoda that is currently on the site was built in 1644.

the current pagoda at to-ji.

the current pagoda at to-ji.

Kukai was responsible for several things during his lifetime. He founded a new sect of Buddhism called Shingon Buddhism. To-ji Temple, Kukai’s retreat on Mount Koya, and the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku, are all Shingon Buddhist temples. The 88 temple pilgrimage is a circle of 88 temples around the island of Shikoku. Traditionally it is walked, but it is also perfectly acceptable to drive, bike, or take a tour bus. When I moved to Shikoku in 2009 I started the pilgrimage. Just over a year later, I completed it. It’s an accomplishment that I’m very proud of and I have very fond memories of it. Because of this, Kukai and his temples (including To-ji) have a very special place in my heart.

Me at the beginning of my pilgrimage.  I'm standing next to a signpost guiding henro (pilgrims) to the next temple.

Me at the beginning of my pilgrimage. I’m standing next to a signpost guiding henro (pilgrims) to the next temple.

 

The Flea Market

The To-ji flea market is held on the 21st of the month in order to honour and commemorate the death of Kukai who died on the 21st of the third month in 835. Locally, the market is known as Kobo-san. The name is taken from Kobo Daishi (弘法大師) Kukai’s posthumous name.

The market runs from dawn to dusk, but usually wraps up around 4:30. The biggest market of the year is the one in December, and this year, luckily, the 21st fell on a Sunday so I leapt at the chance to go!

Of course, I was on the lookout for bargain kimono.  Most of the sellers had their wares in a jumbled heap in the middle and it was a free for all.

Of course, I was on the lookout for bargain kimono. Most of the sellers had their wares in a jumbled heap in the middle and it was a free for all.

Other sellers had all their kimono wrapped in tatoshi.  I didn't stay long at these booths because it was really hard to look through everything.

Other sellers had all their kimono wrapped in tatoshi. I didn’t stay long at these booths because it was really hard to look through everything.

This merchant was selling geta and zori.  She also took custom orders.

This merchant was selling geta and zori. She also took custom orders.

I love this one because the fur wrap looks like santa's beard.

I love this one because the fur wrap looks like Santa’s beard.

There were also a ton of weird and wonderful things that were not kimono on sale.  This is a window in the shape of a kimono.  I couldn't quite figure it out.

There were also a ton of weird and wonderful things that were not kimono on sale. This is a window in the shape of a kimono. I couldn’t quite figure it out.

Bonsai on sale.  There was an entire section devoted to plants and gardening.

Bonsai on sale. There was an entire section devoted to plants and gardening.

Lunchtime!  Some yakisoba really hit the spot and charged us up for the rest of the day.

Lunchtime! Some yakisoba really hit the spot and charged us up for the rest of the day.

Maneki neko (waving cats) and calligraphy brushes on sale.

Maneki neko (waving cats) and calligraphy brushes on sale.

dried fish.   The WHOLE fish.

Dried fish.
The WHOLE fish.

Anybody looking for a cannon to furnish their living room?

Anybody looking for a cannon to furnish their living room?

As you can see, we did alright.  We can't agree on who won the flea market because we both love what we bought.

As you can see, we did alright. We can’t agree on who won the flea market because we both love what we bought.

 

Now for the goodies!  Final cost, 5200 yen.

A nagoya obi with lobster and origami cranes.  This was my first purchase of the day and I love it!

A nagoya obi with lobster and origami cranes. This was my first purchase of the day and I love it!

A second nagoya obi.  This one was only 300 yen.

A second nagoya obi. This one was only 300 yen.

A fancy obijime.  When I bought it, the merchant called it "mecha cheap!"

A fancy obijime. When I bought it, the merchant called it “mecha cheap!”

three date eri.  I'm trying to expand my collection.

Three date eri. I’m trying to expand my collection.

haori himo

Haori himo

A collection of old photos with kimono.  They were 100 yen each, but I was only charged 1000 yen for 15 photos.  What a deal!

A collection of old photos with kimono. They were 100 yen each, but I was only charged 1000 yen for 15 photos. What a deal!

My one purchase unrelated to kimono.  This is a small statue of a tanuki.

My one purchase unrelated to kimono. This is a small statue of a tanuki.

Thrifting Part 1

Today I went to my all time favourite secondhand store in my city.  This place is dangerous to my wallet.  It’s only a fifteen minute drive away and the prices are very, very, cheap.

The best known chain of secondhand stores in Japan is the “-off” series of stores.  Book-off, Hard-off, Hobby-off, and Home-off all buy their stock at unbelievably low prices (five yen for a piece of clothing) and sell them at a jacked-up price.  Kimono that are sold at the “-off” chain go for a range of prices from 1000 yen to 50,000 yen.

These kimono are expensive when compared to my favourite store, The Sun and Green Recycling Association.  This store is actually a non-profit recycling center.  It exists in order to give people in the community with developmental disabilities a place to get some work experience.  They only take donations and they sell things for ridiculously cheap.  Kimono there sell for anywhere from 300 yen to 4000 yen.  I have yet to see anything priced higher.  I have to be careful every time I go in there or I’d buy out the place!

Here’s what I got today.

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A hitoe kimono in Halloween colours. I think I’ll try a Halloween kitsuke next year.

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A lovely autumn haori with Korin giku on it.

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Three beaded haori himo, price tags still attached.

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A brand new kimono apron. Shorter than I’d like, but at the price I paid, I’m not complaining!

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A men’s Hakata ori kaku obi. I’ve been wanting to add one to my collection for a while.

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A reversible kinchaku purse.

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An incredible, brand new, men’s hakama. I still can’t believe this wasn’t snatched up before I got there.

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Everything all together.

 

Total damage to my wallet?  drum roll please!

 

4400 yen.  Even I couldn’t believe it when the register finished adding.  I love this store!

 

For more information on The Sun and Green Recycling Association, check out their website http://www2.ocn.ne.jp/~t-midori/

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff!  But if you’re interested, check out my facebook, twitter, and instagram for the small, spur of the moment ideas, articles, and activities that I find and do related to kimono!

http://www.facebook.com/readysetkimono

http://www.twitter.com/Readysetkimono

http://www.instagram.com/readysetkimono

 

Oshima Tsumugi

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My newest baby!

This past weekend, I got my first oshima tsumugi kimono. My local kimono store was having a sale for 80% off their secondhand oshima kimono. That, combined with my “every time you bring a friend in here, they buy something” discount meant that I got a wonderful secondhand oshima kimono (that fits me!!) for 10,000 yen (about $100) when the original price was 58,000 yen (about $580).

In honour of this purchase, I decided to do some digging into the process of oshima tsumugi and how it’s made. There are several types of tsumugi that fall under the oshima category, but in this post, I will be focusing on doro-oshima (the mud-dyeing method) simply because that was the method used to create my newest kimono.

Doro-oshima was created on Amami Oshima, an island that is officially part of Kagoshima prefecture, but it’s actually about halfway between Kyuushu and Okinawa. The process is long and labour intensive. A single kimono can take up to a year to complete. Here’s the process that they use.

  1. Creating a graph of the pattern

The pattern is created and drawn onto graph paper to be used as a blueprint. The blueprint will determine the number and length of threads that are needed to complete the finished fabric.

  1. Starching

The silk threads are starched with a liquid made from boiled igisu seaweed, native to Amami Island. The starch has several reported benefits besides holding the threads together. These benefits include making the threads easy to handle, giving the threads a good gloss and texture (more on oshima’s unique texture later), acting as an insect repellent, and helping the threads retain their colour when they are dyed. After the starch is applied, the threads are strung out in the sun to dry.

  1. Binding

Binding involves preparing the threads for dyeing. Oshima uses a resist method of dyeing in which certain parts of the thread are bound with cotton thread so that these areas don’t absorb the dye. There are several ways to do this.

By hand: the threads are individually bound and tied with cotton thread where the craftsman doesn’t want the dye to go. As you can imagine, this is extremely time and labour intensive.

By a press: the threads are sandwiched between two plates to create the resist.

Resist loom: A loom is used to weave in cotton warp threads among the silk threads. The cotton threads prevent the silk from picking up the dye. This is the most common method used nowadays.

  1. Teichigi Dyeing

Techigi is also known as Yeddo Hawthorn. The wood is boiled for a length of time (some websites claim it’s for ten minutes, others for 14 hours, and some say it’s for two days. I tend to think it’s probably somewhere in the middle). The tannin in the wood is what creates the reddish-brown hue of the dye. The wood is harvested in the winter before it blooms so that the dyers can harvest the maximum amount of nutrients in the wood. After the wood has been boiled, it is used to feed the fires for the next batch.

Once the dye is ready, the bound threads are dipped in the cooled dye and worked by hand for about 15 minutes. Lime is added to help the colour set. After fifteen minutes, the threads are left in the sun to dry. Once they are dry, a new batch of dye is prepared and the process repeats. And repeats. And repeats. 20 times is the standard.

  1. Mud Dyeing

Once the threads have been dyed in the techigi 20 times, it’s time to dye them in mud. The mud on Amami Oshima is very rich in iron. The reaction of the iron and the tannin in the techigi turn the reddish-brown threads to a gray colour. The process was discovered in 1878 when a woman doing the laundry thought she had ruined her family’s clothes. She washed them in the muddy water of the rice patty and they changed from red-brown to gray. I really wonder what the conversation was like that night when her family saw their clothes.

For every twenty dips in the techigi dye, the threads are dyed in the mud once. The full process (techigi and mud) is repeated several times until the threads take on a dark black colour. This colour is extremely difficult to reproduce even with chemical dyes.

  1. Processing

Done, right? Not quite. Processing the thread includes a whole list of things to do. This includes unbinding the threads, aligning the threads according to the design, giving the threads another coat of starch, and adding any other colours. Adding colours is another labour intensive process. The dyes are rubbed into the threads at every point they appear on the pattern. Sometimes thousands of times over.

  1. Weaving

Finally, the weaving can begin. The weaver must align the patterns perfectly, one thread at a time. Every seven centimeters, the weaving must stop for inspection. During the course of weaving, the warp threads tend to slacken on the loom, and years of experience have shown the weavers that seven centimeters is the magic number to adjust all the threads again.

Unlike other woven fabrics (see meisen) where the pattern has a blurred look, oshima is precise with no blurred edges. In order to achieve this, the weavers use a needle to make minute adjustments to the threads and create a perfectly aligned pattern. Weaving a full kimono bolt takes minimum one month to complete, but it could take much longer depending on the complexity of the design.

  1. Inspection

Finally, every bolt of fabric must be inspected by a cooperative of experienced dyers and weavers. There is a list of 18 or 24 checkpoints (different sources give different numbers) that the bolt of fabric must pass including things like width, length, pattern accuracy, colour, and the weight or thickness of the fabric. If any of these checkpoints don’t pass, then the bolt of fabric is rejected as authentic oshima tsumugi.

It’s now been six months to a year since the first step in this long, long process began, but the oshima silk is finally ready to be turned into a beautiful kimono.

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I still find it hard to believe that so much intricate work goes into oshima. Every place where you see red is where the threads were bound with cotton threads.

When I first started learning about kimono, it was hard for me to appreciate the work that went into oshima tsumugi. I preferred big floral designs, but I have to admit, oshima is growing on me. The texture of the silk is one of the weirdest textures I’ve come across. When I first felt it, I thought “oh, synthetic.” I kid you not, it felt like a raincoat. It was very smooth with an almost plastic feel and it was shiny. Since then, I’ve been told many things about oshima (none of which I want to test on my own kimono!) including that they don’t wrinkle and that they are waterproof. Oshima is quickly becoming one of my favourite kinds of kimono. They’re so versatile and subtle.

One of the things that I don’t understand about oshima is that, with all the work that goes into creating one kimono, it’s still only considered a casual kimono. You’ll never see one at a tea ceremony or formal party. It seems such a shame to relegate such an intricate kimono to such a low rank. Especially when you start to dig into the history and discover that for a long time, regular people were not allowed to wear them. They were used to pay taxes only. Obviously somebody high class was wearing it. It was only after the Meiji era that regular people could wear oshima tsumugi again.

Another thing I questioned was why it fell under the tsumugi category. Traditionally, tsumugi uses the silk cocoons that are not fit for sale. The broken silk threads are reeled together to create the thread. The resulting fabric shows the lumps and bumps that come from using uneven thread. Oshima is nothing like that. The only answer I can find is that when oshima was first created, they used tsumugi, however, now they use traditional, smooth silk thread.

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This is traditional tsumugi. Notice the bumps and lumps in the threads?

I really hope I’ll be able to add some more oshima tsumugi to my collection some day.

Sources for this post:

https://sites.google.com/site/tsumugienglish/CreationProcess

http://www.marcopoloni.com/oshima-tsumugi-japanese-silk.htm

http://www.kimono.or.jp/dictionary/eng/ooshimatsumugi.html

http://kougeihin.jp/english/crafts/0122/d0122-4-1.html