Sunday, October 18, 2015

One last Studio Visit - Edo-style Komon Dyeing 工房見学 ‐ 「古今」 江戸時代の小紋を守りながら、現代の染色を作り出す

**This post is really going back now...I visited this studio over 6 months ago! I was so warmly welcomed there though, that I at least owe them this blogpost...better late than never!**

In the last weeks of my big Kyoto Adventure, I was invited out to visit a dyeing Atelier in the west of Kyoto called "古今 Kokon". I was taken there by a friend of a friend, Kumie-san, resulting in Chinese-whispers style communications that meant all I knew was that we were going to see a dyeing studio that does "amazingly detailed katazome". Okay, I figured, count me in!



We walked for about 10 mins from Shijo/Nishikoji streets through backstreets and L-shaped short-cuts to arrive at the Kokon Atelier, established on a narrow suburban street in between ordinary looking family houses.

Mr Yasue, the fourth-generation head of the company, was there to greet us and kindly showed me all the different steps of their process in creating their unique line of kimono and obi. Turns out I even got a mention on Mr Yasue's Blog as "a very enthusiastic" visitor!


You can see Kokon's website HERE ←これは古今のホームページです!
The process they are using at Kokon is "komon", (lit. small motif) very fine and detailed stencilled patterns. It is a form of katazome, popularized during the Edo-period when elaborate and showy clothing was periodically banned by the government.

Super-fine Komon-dyed fabric on display at Kokon 古今の超細かい小紋はステキな色で染められています。
Komon-style dyeing, in it's most traditional form, involves: 

- Carving a stencil from katagami stencil paper, using fine metal-tipped punches, or by hand with a fine cutting blade

- Applying a soft, sticky rice-flour based resist-paste through the stencil onto the fabric

- Dyeing the fabric by brush or dip-dyeing (in the latter case, the stencil is used to print the resist paste onto both the front and back of the fabric, matching the tiny pattern perfectly!!! brain explosion!!)

- Steaming the fabric to set the dye

- Rinsing off the resist-paste and revealing the delicate tiny komon patterns, which remain the white colour of the base fabric.

Just one of the crazy detailed Katagami stencil papers on display at Kokon, this one carved by a National Treasure, Nanbu Yoshimatsu 1894-1976 人間国宝南部芳松に彫られた細か~い型紙!


☆ 型紙を細かい刀で彫る、それとも丸きりなどの道具で模様を彫リます。

☆ 場合によって型紙を丈夫するため、漆で絹の紗を表に張ります。

☆ 型紙を布に載せて、柔らかい餅粉と糠からできている糊をヘラで敷いて、模様は布に置かれます。

☆ 刷毛で布の表を染めます。乾いた糊は染料を防ぎます。浸染する場合もあって、その時は布の両面に糊を置かないといけない。しかも、両面の模様がぴったり合うようにしないと!(なんてこと!!

☆ 染料を布に定着するため、100度で蒸します。

☆ 布を洗って、糊を落とします。やっと繊細な模様が見えます。糊が置かれたところは布の色のままです。つまり模様は白いです。

multicoloured patterns are their trademark at Kokon. Yasue-san said he spends hours figuring out colour combinations that  are just right. 古今に特有の色合い。

At Kokon Atelier, they are using a more modern technique which allows the application of multiple colours. That is, instead of applying plain resist paste onto white fabric resulting in a dyed background with a fine white pattern, 
they are also sometimes applying a coloured resist paste and dyeing the background, resulting in both a coloured background and finely detailed coloured patterns. This way, none of the white base fabric is left showing through.

If I managed to confuse you just now (sorry!), then check out the below photo.
The black and white fabric has used traditional resist paste + black dye, whilst the second fabric has used a khaki paste, then a black dye.

Top fabric= normal rice/bran resist paste, then dyed black.
Bottom fabric= a green tinted resist paste, then dyed black.


The practice of using coloured resist paste became popular during the Meiji era when chemical dyes were introduced from Europe (they had been discovered and developed in France, England and Germany) which could be mixed straight into the traditional rice flour/rice bran resist paste. This meant the paste was both colouring the fabric where it was applied as well as resisting the colour of any additional layers on top of it. Clever, huh!



Normal paste on left, dye concentrates, then a Blue paste getting mixed on right. 左は普通の防染糊、真ん中は各色の染料、右はできた青色の色糊。とても濃く見えますが、蒸して洗うとかなり薄い色になてしまうから何回も確認しないと。

Mr Yasue showed me their rows of tubs of mixed coloured resist paste and was explaining to me how they mix the colours.  He told me they don't use measures or a notebook of dye to paste ratios but by mix their colours by eye. Every time!

To do this, they have various dye concentrates all lined up and add these to a bucket of plain paste little by little to produce a batch of paste in the desired colour. This colour sample needs to be dried, steamed and washed to check what the true resulting colour will be. They continue to adjust and repeat the tests until the desired colour is achieved. This seems like an awfully tedious way of mixing colours, but as Mr Yasue pointed out, this ensures they achieve rich, subtle colours; colours that do not look like they came "straight-out-of-the-tube".

Yasue-san showing me their swatch book of paste colours. This is only a visual reference though because they remix the colours by eye each time! (写真は古今のブロッグから)


After the paste-mixing room, we had a look at the different kinds of stencils and cutting tools for komon. Aside from tiny blades, punch shapes are also used for cutting stencils (dougu-bori). The stencil-cutting artisans tend to make their own punches, hammering fine strips of metal to form the desired blade shapes (like dots or moons or small leaves). Many stencil-carvers have been designated as "National Treasures"; their craft is so skilled. Aren't the punches also beautiful objects?? They will become national treasures themselves before long because there are now very few craftsmen actually making these amazing tools.

The one-off handmade cutting tools, some shaped like crescent moons, others circles and dots 美しい道具。
次は大きな作業場へ入りました。頭の上に5メートルの糊板がたくさん並んでいて、背が高い人はここで働けないなあと思いました!笑 いくつかの板に帯や着物の反物が貼っていました。
Next, we went into the biggest workroom. The ceiling is very low as all the 5 metre long wooden pasting boards are stored up above their heads. Many had kimono and obi-belt fabric in progress pasted on them.
Three staff were working in the space. One was applying layers of lacquer to old stencils to prolong their use. Another was printing fabric, matching a ridiculously fine repeat pattern down a length of fabric and washing the stencil between every repeat (! they take pride in their product!)

Lacquering old stencils to extend their life. 古い型紙に漆を引いていました。 All the 5 metre long narrow pasting tables are stored overhead. Couldn't be a tall person working here!

In the middle of printing a fine pattern with coloured resist paste, very carefully matching the pattern repeat each time. You can barely even see the pattern at all here, but check out the next photo!!

ギャー!こまかい!eeeeek! Super fine komon pattern freshly printed with a coloured resist paste.

Best of all though, was Mr Nomura. He has been with the company since he left school at 16 (I think his spine kind of gives that fact away..) and as such, he is the resident expert. He was printing when we went in, working to combine multiple fine patterns on what will become the ornate hemline of a kimono. 


Nomura-san, looking like a pro. because, well...he is. プロのしぐさですね!

Nomura san printing different patterns selectively to create the impressive effect below ↓
various komon patterns printed carefully within the design of "noshi" a curly ribbon-like motif in Japanese art and design.

Yasue-san surrounded by his company's products

Before heading out to a sushi lunch, Mr Yasue took us to a second compant building and showed us some of their finished products. After having seen the complex process Kokon uses to dye their fabrics, it was even more impressive to see the final products, all shiny and packaged up.

Obi with the same pattern in different colourways.

I was really taken with the modern colour pallete they are using in their products. Without modifying the traditional process, tools or fabrics, they are giving their kimono and obi a really contemporary look just by using really unique colour combinations.

After all, this is reflected in the name of the company: Kokon. The two characters mean "Old" and "Now"; Bringing together the knowledge and expertise of the past generation and utilising it to skillfully make beautiful clothing for the generation of today.



1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting such wonderfully detailed information! I am planning on starting my own katazome journey later next year and this is giving me so much to think about. Love your work! : )