The traditional Kurume Kasuri is the most well known kasuri in Japan. Kasuri(絣) is a Japanese word for fabric that has been woven with fibres, dyed specifically to create patterns and images on the fabric. Only three countries in the world use this kind of method. While Japan is one of them, the other two are India and Indonesia. It might be known as “ikat”. The techniques and styles are quite similar, yet the each country has their own unique identity.
To carry on the traditional Kurume Kasuri technique, the government provides support to the kasuri industry by assisting in maintaining the levels of the market prices. Growing cotton and indigo is cherished in the area of Chikugo. In the town of Hirokawa, a textile Indigo Artist, Tetsuhiro Moriyama has a family business going on. The kasura bolts are all self made by hand and old-fashioned machines. The threads of the cotton requires to be dyed in a special way. The dye is made out of indigofera leaves, which is grown in the area of Shikoku. The leaves will be harvested, dried, and fermented until they form a paste, which will be fermented again until it is formed into liquid. It will be mixed with a substance called alkaline.
Afterwards the cotton threads will be drenched into the previously mentioned dye, then will be squeezed out by twisting the threads together with the support of firm bamboo sticks. In order to let the dye infuse into the threads, it will be smashed on the ground. This process will be repeated for at least 30 times. And depending on how dark the cloth has it to be, they have to repeat the process even more. They usually use indigo as their main colour, which will turn into blue eventually. This is were the alkaline plays a big role. A fun chemistry fact, alkaline and oxygen are positive and negative ions which attract each other. Therefore, the color of the dye stays in the thread forever.
While dying the threads, it is important to cover the parts that should remain white and leave out the parts that’ll be coloured blue. The traditional way of doing that is to gather cotton threads into bundles, stretch them out, and knot hemp leaves around the parts that has to stay white. Actually, before dying the threads, they have to consider which parts needs to stay undyed. Thus, they draw on a piece of paper the patterns they would like to knit into the cloths. The threads will be aligned on the drawing, which will allow the user to carefully put the hemp leaves on the correct position of the threads.
After the cloth has been dyed, it will be brought to the weaving workshop. The previously mentioned old fashioned machines are used in this workshop. Every inch or millimetre is carefully threaded. Also the patterns will slowly be visible on the cloths. This job really requires a lot of precision and patience. It is said that per day one person is only able to weave 15 centimeters of cloth. It has to be weaved gently in order to have thread becoming really soft, which is quite common. Nevertheless, there are also Hakataori where the threads are weaved tightly which lead into the material becoming more firm.
Mr. Moriyama is a very kind person who is willing to let you have a look around his workshop area. It is amazing to see that the traditional craft from way back is still on going for years, and will probably not stop anytime soon. By seeing this at firsthand, you will realise their workload and their passion. The knitted bolts are not that cheap either, but there’s a reason. The effort and the time compromises well with the amount of their output. It is beautiful, yet, knowing the work behind it makes it more special. Please visit Moriyama Kasuri studio and try to experience it.