April 17, 2023 1 Comment
The Reason Kimono Are Works of Art
By Susu Smythe
Yuzen is the name for the Japanese surface dyeing and decorating technique that uses dye resistant paste to separate the different colors on the fabric. It was invented in the 17th century by, and named for, Miyazaki Yuzen who was a fan artist. It is a form of painting that uses the kimono silk as the canvas. Throughout the centuries, Japanese artists who painted on fans, scrolls and other medium have also been also in the creation of kimono designs.
There are several different types of yuzen and all involve a number of different steps, each of which requires a high degree of skill and a lot of time. The first step involves creating the design to be transferred to the kimono silk. With some types of yuzen, the design was then drawn on the silk using a water soluble ink. Then dye resistant paste is applied to the outline of the design which prevents the dye in one section of the design from bleeding into another section. Throughout the process, areas are covered with dye resistant paste while other areas are dyed, the paste is washed away and the dyes are set with steam. The original yuzen process required all designs to be hand painted with brushes. As with the industrialization of meisen silk production (see blog MEISEN SILK: the intersection of Japanese and Western cultures - Kiku), at the turn of the 19th century, paper stencils were introduced into the yuzen process which greatly reduced the amount of hand painting required. Upon the completion of the dying process, additional features are often added such as gold leaf elements and embroidery.
It is said that the iconic Hawaiian shirt was the creation of Japanese yuzen artists who moved to Hawaii after the World War II and brought with them old worn kimono that they repurposed into shirts. The resulting bright shirts were noticed and admired and the Hawaiian shirt industry got its start.
Today, Kiku is refashioning yuzen kimono into celebration scarves. We are hoping these will become as popular as the Hawaiian shirt.
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