The origin of YUZEN dyeing, 1,300 years ago

We can enjoy foliage season here in New York. Compared to mid-Manhattan, the place which I live has many natures. I am impressed by the colored leaves through my room windows. They evoke me kimono’s pattern and color. I think autumn is one of the best seasons to wear kimono in NY.
The other day, I was reading about YUZEN and came up with an interesting YUZEN history.
The original technique of YUZEN dyeing started in the Nara period (710-794). It is called “Roukechi”, meaning wax resist textile (“Rouzome”). YUZEN uses sticky rice for a starch to substitute for wax. The Nara period was the first golden age for pattern dyeing. At that time, three popular pattern dyeing were established; “Roukechi”, “Kokechi”: origin of tie-dyeing (“Shibori-zome”) and “Kyokechi”: origin of board-band-dyeing (“Itajime-zome”). Furthermore, the origin of drawing (“Egakie”) and Woodblock printing (“Surie”), both of which are made by dye and pigment, were established in this period.

Unfortunately, the origin of the YUZEN technique had diminished temporarily. The reason is that people’s fashion had changed. The main fashion of the court in the Heian period (794-1185) was multi-layered court dress (“Kasane-shozoku”), for example twelve-layered kimono (“Jyuni-hitoe”). People focused on Ksane-no-irome, the gradation of the color. You may read about it in my previous article;
Kimono demonstration at Van Gogh Museum”.
There were more than 200 combinations in multi-layered color patterns. The fabrics were dyed by just one color and weaved with the background pattern called “Jimonn”. It’s possible that increased demand of mono-colored fabrics caused break of the complex techniques for pattern printing of fabrics. It’s interesting that the change of beauty sense might cease transmission of original “Yuzen” techniques.

Pictures from catalog of Shoso-in-ten
"Sheep and Tree Rokechi Byobu folding screen"
"Elephant and Tree Rokechi Byobu folding screen"
The exhibition “Shouso-in-ten” was held at Nara City, Japan. Shoso-in is the treasure house that belongs to Todai-ji, which was found in the mid-8th century. Unfortunately, we cannot directly see Shoso-in’s treasures, but we can see them twice a year, because of airing for the treasures. These are the representative works made by the technique, Rokechi, in the Nara period.

In the Jomon period (BC145-BC10), people used season’s flowers and grasses to color the fabrics. These ancient people wanted to trap the natural beauty to their fabrics. I understand their feeling when I see beautiful autumn color of leaves.


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