Many people think of silk as something smooth and shiny, but Yūki-tsumugi is a little bit different and unique. Although Yūki-tsumugi is woven by silken threads, it is a luxury fabric that has rough texture. It has been designated as one of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Japan, and has also been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
According to tradition, during the era of the tenth generation emperor Sujin in the second to third century, a man named Ooyanomikoto who lived in a region called Mino (Present day Minou in Gifu prefecture) moved to Kuji-gun in Ibaraki prefecture and started a textile crafthouse called Nagahatabeno Ashiginu. Ashiginu is the cloth woven by thick silk thread which was spread in Yuki district and became the origin of the current Yūki-tsumugi.
If one was to describe the features of Yūki-tsumugi in a few words, one would probably mention it is soft as silk floss, light, warm and difficult to wrinkle. The more it is worn and washed, the better it will fit your body. Because its quality is long-lasting, it can be passed down from parent to a child, and from child to grandchild. There is a saying along the lines of, “wearing Yūki-tsumugi for three generations finally adapts it into the right texture for one’s body.
So, what kinds of Yūki-tsumugi are out there? First, there are flat-woven fabric pieces, which use yarn that is not twisted. There is also fabric that uses the strongly twisted yarn, with a texture that is completely different from our first example. When it comes to patterns, there are also several kinds, like plain, stripes, and grazing. These can be classified into four ranks based on how fine the pattern is. For example, the often seen “tortoise shell” pattern has ranks of 80, 100, 120, 160 or 200 (numbers indicate the numbers of turtles in the cloth) turtles, indicating the detail of the pattern. This means that for an 80 turtles rank piece of fabric, there are 80 turtles arranged in one width of cloth per pattern. Therefore, as the number becomes larger, the size of one turtle becomes smaller, and its weaving process becomes more complex and fine. Generally speaking, 100 turtle patterns are common. Patterns more detailed than this are rarely seen.
In Yūki-tsumugi making, all processes from spinning silk threads to weaving silk are done handmade; in other words, they cannot be reproduced by a machine. Therefore, it takes up to 3-4 months to weave enough plain fabric to make an adult size Kimono. Imagine how much more time it requires to make a fancy kimono with patterned fabrics? It can take up to 2 years. Despite its rustic appearance, a fine-tuned, time consuming process is required to weave Yūki-tsumugi. Now that you know how much work it requires to make kimono with Yūki-tsumugi, you’re bound to appreciate your moments of carefree leisure even more wearing articles made from the fabric.
Photo by Ibaragi Prefecture