Ancient Crafts: Explore the Art of Silk in Tochigi Prefecture

Source: Gaijin Pot

Through the window, the weavers are silhouetted as they lean slightly forward into the frames of their looms. Inside, I hear the rattle of the shuttles moving back and forth before I see them: four women concentrating on their work. A belt fastened around their lower back connects to the loom, creating the tension that holds the warp, or vertical threads, straight. Another strap, looped around their right foot, moves the heddles that hold the strings up and down after each pass of the shuttle. Thread by thread, cloth emerges.

“Many kimono lovers long for yuki tsumugi (hand-woven silk) understated colors,” says Kazuhiko Soutome, the director of the Tochigi Prefectural Industrial Technology Center.

Established by Tochigi’s prefectural government 50 years ago, the center teaches new generations a craft practiced here for more than 1,000 years. On a raised tatami platform, Hitomi Oota, a teacher at the center, demonstrates how to pull a single strand of silk from the flossy fibre and apply the slightest bit of saliva to the new section before letting it fall into the bucket in front of her.

Local farmers originally fashioned work clothes from damaged silk worm cocoons — something that would otherwise be considered waste — and found the lightweight material to be surprisingly sturdy and insulating. “It lasts for three generations,” Takeji Okuzawa, the director of the Tsumugi Fabric Museum, tells me during a visit. None of the buildings surrounding us are older than the Meiji period and all are dedicated in some way to the local craft.

During lunch at Ichinokura, I watch the café’s manager, Kimiko Suzuki, measure out bocchi (flossy silk) for the spinners. Each bag contains about seven bocchi, or enough for one kimono. Yuki tsumugi tends to be slightly rough …continue reading