Textiles are an integral part of Japanese history and culture. From ancient times, people have learned to spin yarn out of plants such as hemp, wisteria, kudzu (a Japanese herb), kouzo (Japanese mulberry paper), and later, silk and cotton. In each region, people developed skills and tools to weave them into beautiful textiles with unique colors, patterns, and texture.
In Fukuoka, the local textile is called Kurume Kasuri. It is a cotton textile, known for its unique blurry ‘ikat’ patterns, which is still made in a complicated resist-dye technique of yarn.
Learn about how it is made in our previous article: fukuoka-now.com/kasuri
Kurume Kasuri was commonly used to make everyday-wear kimono until Western clothing became mainstream. Since then, the production of Kurume Kasuri declined drastically in the last seventy years, leaving just twenty-three from three hundred weavers at its peak period.
However, the remaining weavers survived for a reason. They are open to change, thrive on creating fresh colors and patterns, and are determined to pass down this two-century-old textile heritage to the next generation. Let’s look at some new projects taking place in the area.
International Designer Collaboration Projects
Patterns of Kurume Kasuri are made using a resist-dye technique known as ikat in English which were originally developed in India and later spread around the world. However, as printed ikat-like patterns became easier and cheaper to make, authentic ikat textiles, in which the yarn is tied and dyed before weaving, became a rare craft. It’s almost a miracle that such labor and skill intensive craft has survived in an industrialized society such as Japan.
This rare tradition now is drawing attention from textile lovers overseas and the international creative community. As a result, there have been several collaborations with Kurume Kasuri weavers and international designers from countries such as Finland, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, in the past several years.
One of the recent projects was a textile craft exchange venture between Sweden and Japan, by Lisa Juntunen Roos and Shogo Hirata, called ‘Intertradition’ (www.intertradition.com). Lisa and Shogo took inspiration from the Swedish weaving and pattern tradition and filtered through a Kurume Kasuri, a Japanese traditional weaving technique, to create an “intertraditional” fabric that doesn’t belong in either of the cultures.
Working with Shimogawa Orimono (www.oriyasan.com), a small Kurume Kasuri weaver in Yame, they created a beautiful new kasuri textile in an exotic yet traditional pattern of orange and navy, as well as several art pieces which were inspired by the process of this collaboration. In 2018, they had several exhibitions both in Japan and Sweden, including at MUJI Grand Front Osaka and Fiberspace in Stockholm, to share their experience and artwork.
Such international collaborations are significant for a traditional craft like Kurume Kasuri. It brings new possibilities of expression in colors and patterns and triggers new ideas for the weavers. Mr. Shimogawa, who has collaborated with Lisa and Shogo, once said he feels like he can communicate with the world through the weft and the warp yarn, a universal language of textiles.
Photo credit: Intertradition 2016-2018 by Lisa Juntunen Roos & Shogo Hirata in cooperation with Shimogawa Orimono
New Upcycle Products using Untied Yarn
Another ongoing project is the product development of socks made from scrap untied yarn created in the process of making ikat patterns of Kurume Kasuri.
When making patterns, yarn is tied with cotton thread (or hemp in some cases), and after dyeing the yarn, the tied parts are taken off. Usually, the cotton threads that are untied, and taken off are thrown away because the randomly dyed parts are considered too inconsistent for weaving.
A considerable amount of untied yarn is generated, and although some weavers sell this material to people who use it for knitting, there hasn’t been a coordinated project between the makers and wholesalers to reuse the scraps for use in a new product.
This year, a new upcycling project was launched by the Kurume Kasuri Union, involving Kurume Kasuri weavers, wholesalers, initiated by Unagi no Nedoko, a manufacturer and store based in Yame. The collaborative will use this precious yarn to make socks. Through many discussions with members of the Union, and experiments with sock manufacturers in Nara, Japan, these untied yarns were confirmed to be usable for knitting machines, and a prototype was recently delivered. After some final refinements and package design, these socks will be ready to be sold in 2020.
A New Brand for a Venerable Textile
A new brand to connect Kurume Kasuri with trend-and-fashion conscious consumers is set to debut in mid-March of 2020. The new brand, Cathri, was developed under the supervision of the director of BEAMS Planets and is part of a Fukuoka Prefectural government project to raise awareness of the local traditional textiles. The delicately designed pieces are all made of natural materials and can be worn comfortably in all seasons. The products will be available at Beams Planets in Yokohama and Osaka, Beams Fukuoka, and Jibasan Kurume.
The Revival of Oshiro Kasuri
This autumn, Mr. Ikeda from Ikeda Kasuri Kobo began a personal project to revive the traditional oshiro kasuri (Castle Kasuri), a classic large-scale pattern of Kurume Kasuri traditionally used for futon (bed) covers.
Back in the day, when newlywed brides entered the groom’s family, the bride’s family prepared kimono, furniture and other necessities for starting a new life. This was called yomeiri dougu (dowry), and futon covers made of oshiro kasuri were popular and prestigious.
Considering that Kurume Kasuri is woven into kimono width, just 38 cm and with a repeating 24cm long pattern, these large scale patterns are extremely complicated and very time consuming to make.
Since the tradition of using these futon covers for dowry has ceased to exist, oshiro kasuri became a cultural heritage item only found in museums and old estates.
It is, however, a piece of art with some of the best techniques of Kurume Kasuri reflected and with a rich history. Mr. Ikeda doesn’t want this tradition, and associated processes to disappear and has decided to revive the tradition by completing an old oshiro kasuri found hidden in their warehouse for many years ago.
Kurume Kasuri Events & Tours 2020
See Kurume Kasuri for yourself at these upcoming events
23rd Kurume Kasuri Ai • Ai • Deai Festival / 久留米かすり 藍・愛・で逢いフェスティバル
A festival for kasuri lovers with stalls selling the latest textiles and finished goods. Workshops show off modern as well as traditional Kurume Kasuri items in a fashion show. This is the largest Kurume Kasuri event in Japan!
• 3/21 (Sat.), 3/22 (Sun.)
• Free entry
• Jibasan Kurume
• 5-8-5 Higashi-aikawa, Kurume City
• 0942-44-3701 (Kurume Kasuri Association)
Kasuri Workshop Visits in Chikugo / 絣の里巡りin筑後
Twice this year kasuri studios open to the public. Stroll through the area and enter workshops to see craftsmen in action. Shop for materials and finished goods! Rental bicycles are available too.
Hirokawa Kasuri Matsuri / 広川かすり祭
Two days where you can buy Kurume Kasuri items at discounted prices and visit workshops using free shuttle buses.
• Held on a weekend in September (TBA)
• Hirokawa Industry Exhibition Hall
• 1164-6 Hiyoshi, Hirokawa-machi, Yame
• 0943-32-5555 (Hirokawa Tourism Association)
Kurume Kasuri Museum / 久留米絣資料館
Visit here for an easy-to-understand overview of the history of kasuri textiles, including a display of fine examples, looms, and a display of tools used by Kurume Kasuri founder, Den Inoue. Shop for textiles, kimono, finished fashions and goods too!
• Free entry
• Open: 10:00~17:00
• Closed: New Year holidays
• 2F Jibasan Kurume, 5-8-5 Higashi-aikawa, Kurume City
For more information on Kurume Kasuri and event details: fukuoka-now.com/kasuri
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn253, Jan 2020)