Kubota’s creative process – Itchiku tsujigahana

25th March 2019

kubota kimonos in exhibition

Itchiku Kubota considered many factors in creating his extraordinary kimono, and his choice of method depended on the type of kimono to be made. Pattern and color were just two of the factors that went into the decision making process, as Kubota continued to develop new techniques through his life. All aspects of production required the kind of patience and skill that can only be gained by years of experience, as one Itchiku kimono could take up to a year to complete. The intensive labor and care required in the making of these special garments can be understood by reviewing some of the steps involved in the process.

Drawing the design:  A length of plain silk crepe is cut and temporarily basted into the shape of a finished kimono. A rough design is first sketched on the silk with charcoal, and then a more detailed design is drawn with aobana, a liquid from the dayflower plant (Commelina communis L.) that washes out during the dyeing process. The kimono is then taken apart and the design is extended to the fabric’s edges.

Tying the resist: When the design is complete, the large parts are outlined with vinyl thread (which is dye resistant), which is then pulled tight to create puffed areas. This is a stitched tie-dye technique called nuishime shibori. The puffed areas are then covered with plastic sheets and secured with more vinyl thread. These areas will resist the dye and remain white during the dyeing process due to the tight wrapping and plastic covering; they are referred to as resisted areas.

Dying the ground and brushing on colour: The cloth is sewed back into one long strip, then immersed in a dye bath for the ground color. Kubota initially used natural dyes but eventually moved to synthetic dyes. Although these dyes sometimes separated or became mottled when heated, after several years of experimentation Kubota learned how to use this effect to advantage in his work, sometimes using shaded gradations of colors that added richness and depth to the design. The areas protected from the ground dye will then be uncovered and resist-tied to produce smaller designs in the white areas. Dye colors are applied to those areas by brush, sometimes many times to make sure the dyes penetrate well. Kubota’s training as a yūzen dyer gave him extensive experience in brushing colors on fabric to create the fine detailing for which he is known.

Steaming and rinsing: The cloth is then steamed to fix the dye. It is usually steamed at about 82ºC for about forty to ninety minutes. This process may be repeated up to ten times to assure proper dye penetration. The fabric is then rinsed between the successive dye baths to remove excess dye, as silk can absorb only a given amount of dye at a time.

Removing the thread and drying: The resist threads are carefully removed and the fabric mounted on bamboo stretchers to keep it taut while drying. Once dry, the entire piece may then be re-stitched, and the whole process of dyeing, steaming, rinsing, drying, and restitching in various combination may be repeated numerous times to gain the desired effects.

Ink painting and adding texture: While the fabric is still held taut on the bamboo stretchers, additional designs may be drawn in and shaded with brush and sumi ink in the areas protected from the dyes. The fabric may then be re-stitched again to bring out the texture created by the tie-dyeing and stitch-resist techniques.

Finishing: After the resist threads are cut for the last time (a process that requires great care), the fabric is lightly pressed with a steam iron to open some areas and make the edges lie flat. At this time, free-hand ink drawing, embroidery, or gold or silver leaf may be added to further enhance the design. Finally, the fabric is ready to be reconstructed as a kimono.

Kubota’s process – Itchiku tsujigahana – by Dr Jacqueline M. Atkins, Collection Curator