Our Kyoto Pouches are perfect for keeping small items handy in your bag, such as make-up!
Nishijin-ori is a unique textile from Kyoto, and as you can see the colours and patterns are very pretty. So, what exactly makes Nishijin-ori different from other fabrics? And what is the historical significance of this craft?
In this article we want to explore these questions. Let's start off by taking you through our experience in Kyoto, and how we met the amazing artisans of this precious Kyoto textile.
Our Nishijin-ori Journey in Kyoto
We visited Kamiya-san in his office, just outside Kyoto. We were able to sift through boxes of beautiful products to find the items that we are now presenting in our store. Ladies sat nearby smiling, and packaging up the items on tatami flooring. I must stress, that our items are affordable beacause they are made from man-made materials, not silk, but Kamiya-san is committed to making beautiful, high quality Nishijin-ori items. I was there with Yukki’s friend, Mai, who kindly translated for me. Later, on impulse, she took me to visit her uncle, who is a very special weaver indeed.
Kitamura Takeshi is a Japanese National Treasure – he is a very highly regarded craftsman in Japan, whose exquisite work features in our own Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He has been weaving in Nishijin since his teens – and ingeniously recreated the ancient ra-weave – which he described to us as being like the wings of a cicada. It’s an elegant, translucent fabric. We were extremely honoured to be able to watch him on his own personal loom, weaving in the rear of his machiya-style workshop. We were able to step into the nishijin-ori workshop, and watch artisans weaving with single strands of golden thread. The experience has left a big impression on me!
Weaving in Nishijin, Kyoto
Nowadays, you can walk through the Nishijin area and still hear the looms: the area has echoed with this evocative sound for over 1200 years.
What is Nishijin-ori?
According to the Nishijin Textile Association, the Nishijin textile is a general term for sakizome (the dyeing of the thread before the textile is woven) for figured cloth produced in or near to the Nishijin area of Kyoto. It has been designated as a national traditional craft.
Dyed yarns are woven with golden threads to create shimmering, intricate brocade: this is called kinran, introduced from China in the 16th century. It is a very specialised process, and produces a material of an extremely high quality. The obi sashes that are woven are considered to be the most beautiful in Japan, and while expensive, one is considered enough to last a lifetime. Different methods of weaving are used to create the many variations of textiles, but generally either mon-ori (weaving using vertical and horizontal threads), or tsuzure-ori are used. Tsuzure ori is an extraordinary process of Kyoto weaving, whereby the weaver’s nails are shaped like the teeth of a saw, in order to fix the threads into the design!
We like to use our Nishijin-ori items when we travel! On the left, Yukki and Cally went to see the ballet in St. Petersburg. On the right, they used the card case to keep their loose euros on a trip to Lisbon. I use my pouch to keep my makeup handy in my bag!
The History of Nishijin-Ori
Nishijin is a small area to the west of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which historically provided beautiful and elaborate woven textiles to the Kyoto Imperial court: the Imperial family, the aristocracy, and the court officials. Quality fabrics were woven such as ra and sha (fine silk gauze), aya (figured twill), kome ori (a kind of gauze) and nishiki (brocade).These beautiful textiles, which are used to create elaborate kimono, obi, and Noh costumes, have been woven since the founding of Kyoto as the capital city of Japan in 794. The Heian court loved the intricate fabrics so much, they occasionally used the same textile patterns to cover special books.
The Snow in Nishijin, Junichiro Sekino
Our pouches and coin cases spring from this incredibly rich textile history of Kyoto, which of course includes furoshiki, and washi paper too (as many of the textile designs were replicated in washi). Here at Zusetsu, our aim is to support these fascinating and historically rich artisan skills, and give you the opportunity to experience the immense beauty too!
Nishijin-ori, The Cultural Foundation for Promoting the National Costume of Japan