Yuzen are dyed textiles from around the Kyoto Prefecture and they are known for
their vibrant colors and intricate designs showing nature, animals and mundane, everyday things. These beautiful handpainted fabrics are often used in Japanese kimonos. They involve an elaborate technique of painting dye directly onto a cloth and they feature precise and thin lines as well as captivating color gradients. What sets Kyo Yuzen apart from other textile dyeing methods is a process called the itome-nori. It is when the artist puts starch on the edges of the patterns so that the adjacent colors do not mix together. This technique gives way for designs that look clean and crisp.
History of Yuzen
Kyo Yuzen was developed in Kyoto during the Edo period of the mid to late 17th century. Back then, there was an artist by the name of Miyazaki Yuzensai, who was known for his exquisite drawings on folding fans. He had perfected a rice paste-dyeing method and from this sprung what is known today as the Kyo Yuzen technique. From folding fans, Yuzensai then ventured to designing Kimonos. He was inspired mainly by the persistent demand and relentless support of his patrons. With his innate gift, he quickly made a name for himself in the Kimono design scene in Kyoto, hence giving birth to the name of the dyeing method he pioneered, Kyo Yuzen.
Types of Kyo Yuzen
It is important to note that the art of Yuzen has evolved greatly through the years, and has branched out to three distinct types. The first one is Kyo Yuzen, originating from Kyoto. It is considered as the most lavish of all Yuzen types and it can be distinguished by the generous use of gold and silver leaf and embroidery. Found on the more muted side of the color wheel is the Kaga Yuzen. This particular dyeing method was born in the Ishikawa Prefecture. It was Miyazaki Yuzensai himself who introduced the people of the Ishikawa Prefecture to the art. KagaYuzen takes the realist route by depicting life-like plants and flowers. Lastly, Tokyo Yuzen on the other hand depicts the life of Japanese merchants. The aesthetic of Tokyo Yuzen is noticeably more sleek and simple compared to the first two types of Yuzen. Another thing that sets it apart is the fact that a single artisan carries out the entire production process from design concept to the finishing touches.
Process of Making Kyo Yuzen
From learning all about this utterly stunning Japanese art form, you must be curious of how it all comes together. Usually an entire Kyo Yuzen production is a collaboration of many skilled artisans. The first step involves sketch artists drawing the design motif. Then the design outlines are starched using the glue called itome-nori. After this process, the cloth is washed and then stretched out to receive a base coating of gojiru, or soybean broth. Then it is immediately set to dry before a fire. This process helps to soak the itome-nori into the fabric and it ensures that the dyes run smoothly. Probably the most important step is the application of the dye using a brush on the itome-nori starched cloth. For the finishing touch, additional decorations like gold leaves and intricate embroidery are applied. Kyo Yuzen making may seem intimidating for people with zero experience in fabric dyeing, but it is definitely a skill that can be acquired through training and practice if you have the enthusiasm and the passion to learn.
Kyo Yuzen Workshop
You can actually try your hand at creating your own Kyo Yuzen in a traditional style Kyoto house and learn directly from Masuhiro Kitamoto, a master of this Japanese art of fabric dyeing . It will definitely make your next Japan visit more memorable than the last because not only do you get to see picturesque Kyoto, you will also get the chance to have first-hand experience of this treasured Japanese art form. I actually joined this workshop and learned many new things about Kyo Yuzen techniques. You can learn more about joining a Kyo Yuzen workshop here.