Itchiku Tsujigahana

Tsujigahana is the term given to a group of rare and beautiful textiles that were in fashion in Japan in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They are distinguished by designs created through an intricate combination of stitch-resist dyeing complemented by hand-drawn stylized floral motifs and pictorial vignettes rendered in ink. Gold and silver leaf and embroidery were also used to embellish the designs.  

Some translate tsujigahana as ‘flowers at the crossroads’ as a reference to the floral motifs and intersecting pathways, but little is known about the original meaning of the word and how it was used. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, other styles of dyeing and surface design (such as yuzen) became increasingly fashionable and tsujigahana vanished, leaving little trace of how the designs were created. 

Tsujigahana’s original technique is still a mystery, which Itchiku Kubota tried to discover relentlessly, until he opted to reinvent it.  

Kubota used chirimen (silk crepe) as a fabric base for his kimono, which were mostly Furisode (long sleeved). Through the process known as Shibori, the panels of fabric were shaped and dyed independently, before being joined together and assembled to form the robe. 

The artist felt that it was meaningless to cling tenaciously onto the past and ignore the highest-quality contemporary silk textiles and synthetic dyes that were products of the modern world. Kubota uncovered many of tsujigahana’s mysteries, but rather than simply replicate the technique, he decided to create it in modern form, by combining his yuzen dyeing skills, modern textiles and modern dyes with the complex resist-dyeing, delicate ink painting. 

The artist devised a new method of dyeing that produce unique richly coloured products, and he experimented with modern fabrics that would take well to the dyes and stitch-resist work. As homage to the original tsujigahana and its legacy, he named the technique Itchiku Tsujigahana.  

Itchiku Tsujigahana is a complex process comprising several steps: first comes the preliminary drawing where the pattern will be stitched on the white fabric; then comes the tying; and thirdly, the dyeing of the fabric. The dyeing step has to be perfectly mastered to achieve the desired result – the dye will react differently according to the fabric and the colours used. To get a multi-coloured fabric, each tone will have to be applied separately from the others. The result will be a superimposition of one-colour layers with, or without overlap. 

The next steps, unthreading (revealing the design), steaming and fixing the colours and textile are followed by the ultimate one, when the designer draws patterns on the white-out areas of the fabric in ink. 

Working without a preparatory draft, Itchiku Kubota considered each piece as a work that revealed itself during the fabrication process. The oversized format he used for some of his creations, such as the Mount Fuji series, undoubtedly reveal the intention of the craftsman: similar to a canvas, the kimono then becomes a work of art.