Mujizome, a plain style of dyeing with profound depth.
The Tokyo Metropolis declared Tokyo Mujizome as ‘Traditional Craft’ in 1991. Further in 2017 it was designated as ‘National Traditional Craft’. The history of Mujizome goes back to the introduction of Buddhism into Japan. With the introduction of Buddhism, indigo and safflower came to Japan as well, leading to the birth of Mujizome (a type of Shinzen, meaning dying cloth by soaking it in a liquid with dissolved dye), making use of these ingredients. In the Nara Period (710-794) and Heian Period (794–1185), the unique dyeing techniques of the Japanese people were established. In the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) Shinzen evolved with the development of vinegar, iron mordant and lye, which are necessary for Kusakizome (a dyeing method using mainly plants), as well as the emergence of silk fabrics. Then, in the Edo Period (1603-1868), Edo Murasaki, or ‘Edo Violet’, was popular with the Edokko, meaning persons born and raised in Edo (present day Tokyo). This was so much so, that there was even the saying ‘Edo Murasaki ni Kyo Ka no Ko’ (Edo Violet and Kyoto ring-pattern tie-died cloth). Mujizome is the most basic dyeing technique to colour in the white cloth for one adult sized kimono to the client’s liking, though the variety of colours which the clients can choose from is immense. In the colour sample book released by the ‘Tokyo-to Sensho-Kogyokumiai’ (Dye-Works Craftsmen Union in Tokyo), the place of origin for the Mujizome, a hundred and few dozen colour samples are listed. All these colours are created by mixing the five colours red, yellow, blue, green and black just right. This means that while being the ‘most basic dyeing technique’, at the same time it is actually quite profound. The Kondo Senkou Dye-Works Atelier was founded in 1951, and is a Mujizome Workshop. Using their honed dyeing skills, they dye other materials then textiles here as well. Showing us the steps of the dyeing-process is Mr. Yoshiharu Kondo, craftsman in the second generation at the Kondo Senkou Dye-Works Atelier.
Mr. Yoshiharu Kondo, craftsman in the second generation at the Kondo Senkou Dye-Works Atelier. Steam is rising from the dyeing machine in the workshop.
Dyeing ‘Irokago’, a Coloured Bamboo Basket.
Today Mr. Kondo showed us how he dyes bamboo strips. The finished bamboo strips are woven by a bamboo craftsman to form the ‘Irokago’ Coloured Bamboo Basket developed by TOKYO Teshigoto. “When dyeing textiles white cloth is used, but bamboo already comes with a light colour. The mixture of colours is different than when dyeing white cloth, so this is what is difficult.” says Mr Kondo. For the Irokago, red, blue and green bamboo strips are used, though apparently red is especially difficult. “Red is a colour without any murkiness. When looking at different colour sample books, too, for the same red colour you see slight differences, such as a red close to vermilion etc. Even when dyeing white cloth, you would usually pay extra attention to the sample colours of the red colour palette. And when dyeing bamboo, you have to be even more attentive.”
An ‘Irokago’, woven with bamboo strips coloured in red, blue and green.
As the bamboo strips already come with a light colour, it is very difficult to find exactly the right mixture of colours.
“It is especially difficult to get the colour red right.” Mr Kondo explains while showing us a variety of colour sample books.
Accumulated experience and intuition, as well as attentiveness.
To mix red dyes, two colours, red and yellow are used. Dye in powder form is scooped up with a long silver spoon, and dissolved in a ladle filled with water. The suitable amounts are recorded in detail for each colour, though the kind of material you want to dye, as well as the humidity and temperature on the specific day also have a slight influence. While adjusting these slight differences in amounts through experience, when moving on to the dyeing phase, with the utmost carefulness the ingredients are added in little by little. The correct order is important as well, red is added first. Every now and then the bamboo strips are lifted up to check upon the progression of the dye, and adjustments are made by adding another small amount of dye. “The colour looks different in a wet state as opposed to a dry state. In case of white cloth the moisture is removed to directly confirm the finished dye, though bamboo strips need time to dry, so this is not possible. You can only rely on your experience.”
Dissolving dye in powder form in a ladle.
First the red dye is added. Next comes the yellow dye. Even when using the same amount of dye, depending on the order added, it might not mix well.
Every now and then the bamboo strips are lifted up to check upon the progression of the dye, carefully continuing the dyeing process.
Dyeing difficult materials with difficult colours, and getting it just right.
After having silently continued the work process in the workshop foggy with steam, Mr. Kondo, with the expression ‘Now!’ on his face, lifts up the bamboo strips and puts them into a bowl to stop the dyeing process. Later on, the sundried bamboo strips are woven together into an ‘Irokago’, with the splendid colours complementing each other.
After stopping the dyeing process, the bamboo strips are being dried. Comparing the wet strips to the dry ones used in the ‘Irokago’, the latter took on the same colour as in the colour sample book.
In the Kondo Senkou Dye-Works Atelier, factory visits for students and hands-on dyeing experiences for the general public are offered. For details please visit the following website: http://kondosenkou.com/
Kondo Senkou / Kiyosumi 2-15-3, Koutou-ku, Tokyo-to TEL. +81-3(3641)2135
Business hours (10:00 ~ 17:00) Adjacent to the workshop you can find their store as well.