Young, Inspired and Passing the Thread of Tradition
The hand woven silk is characterized by its soft texture and dye patterns referred to as kasuri.
The tradition began as a side job for farmers and grew in popularity. The crafting techniques became perfected, producing a light and elegant finish that would be sought after as luxury items in the Edo period.
The techniques have been handed down, passing through the generations to reach the artisans of today. The floss silk is hand spun, then wrapped and dyed so the pattern will emerge when finished on a special hand loom called a jibata. This particular process called Honba Yuuki Tsumugi(*), and is officially recognized and protected. Some of the many processes are valued to the point that they have been registered with UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, however, the reality is that fewer and fewer new weavers are taking up the trade.
In order to keep the tradition of Yuuki Tsumugi alive, Oyama city in 2014 instituted the official title of "Tsumugi Artisan" and hired Akiko Imaizumi for the position. Ms. Imaizumi studied dying at university thinking she would like to work in textiles in the future. Of the prospect she said, "[i]t was a terribly frightening responsibility. Yet, I wanted to do my part to preserve this heritage, so I jumped into it wholeheartedly."
This is her third year in study as a Tsumugi artisan. She spends her days both as an apprentice under the traditional craftsman/ craftswoman husband and wife of Noriaki and Akiko Sakairi, and doing PR work for Oyama City's Industry Promotion Division to promote the Yuki Tsumugi. "It is said that it takes at least 10 years to become skilled in any of the processes, and I must admit that I still have quite a ways to go. I have come to understand how great the masters of this craft truly are," Imaizumi said. She is attempting the pre-dye wrapping for the first time, working the shuttle in a struggle to keep the pattern aligned.
It is also her wish to bring producers together. It the process of creating Yuki Tsumugi it is common that the individual jobs of those who spin the silk, the dyers and the weavers on up do their jobs without ever having seen the faces of the workers coming before or after. As just one person along the path to the final product, it is often she wonders of the unseen workers, thinking, ""this thread is easy to weave, who is tying this one?"" Although this way of doing things has become matter of fact, Imaizumi muses, ""If the process was more open, those involved would surely want to do better and be happier for it. And the local silkworm farmers would likely also want to stay."" From that experience, she wants to bridge the connections of those involved in the process to encourage more pride and joy in their work.
Clack, clack, swish, swish. With every pass of the shuttle, she gets closer to the essence of Honba Yuki Tsumugi.
*Honba Yuki Tsumugi:
A process of silk weaving that is done entirely by hand from the thread spinning through the weaving; and is treated separately from the broader term of Yuki Tsumugi.