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Nishijin weaving has been famous in Japan for centuries for its detail and beauty. Although technology has improved since they began weaving in the 5th century, the Nishijin of Kyoto still prefer to do everything by hand. The entire process takes place in 5 stages: pattern design, yarn preparation, loom preparation, weaving, and final processing. Each individual step within the stages is done by an expert, ensuring that the quality of whatever is made measures up to Nishijin standards.

The key to Nishijin weaving is the combination of the woof (thread carried by the shuttle, horizontal) and the warp (the "filling" threads, vertical). This method is very time-consuming, but gets the most detail. There are 12 types of Nishijin weaving : tsuzure, tatenishiki and nukinishiki (brocades), donsu (damask), shuchin (satin with raised figures), shoha and futsu (brocades with patterns), mojiri-ori and honshibo-ori (brocades with twisted threads), kasuriori (patterned velvet), and tsumugi.

Pattern Design :
  • A basic design is created; the image is copied onto graph paper and painted.
  • A punch machine is used to mark the card to indicate where the loom should be raised or lowered during weaving. These are called a Jacquard punch cards.
Yarn preparation :
  • The yarn used in the weaving is very thin. Strands are combined to make the desired thickness of the thread. To get different textures, more or less strands can be used.
  • The yarn is dyed according to the pattern and spun onto a reel so it's easier to work with.
  • Usually Nishijin patterns will call for between 3,000 and 8,000 types of yarn. Larger reels are made for bigger projects.
Loom preparation :
  • Depending on what technique of weaving is being used; a power loom, tapestry loom, or handloom must be chosen.
  • The jacquard is set up underneath the loom, which transmits the info from the punch card to the loom.
  • The heddle is set up. This is part of a harness which helps guide the threads through the jacquard and up to the loom.
Weaving :

Power looms and tapestry looms both use the Jacquard punch card system. Weaving on the handloom is done with only the shuttle. Usually larger pieces like kimono or robes are woven on power or tapestry looms. Nishijin obis are woven by hand on the handloom, and so are highly prized.

Final Processing :

When Nishijin weaving comes off the loom, there are two basic types. One is in the form of a long belt. These are already finished and so are rolled into bolts. Other textiles such as velvet or those with brocade must be steamed and cut before they are finished.

Because of the complexity of the whole process, it's easy to understand why the tasks are broken up. Some weavers have been experts in their area for centuries, the secrets passed down to them by their families. This dedication to art and beauty is what I think gives Nishijin textiles such appeal.

If you're interested in the history of Nishijin-ori, please see my node on Nishijin.

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