During our summer trip to Japan we visited many of the country’s famous attractions. Every now and then, through, I dragged my kids a little off the beaten pass to see some textile-related wonders. This is how, during our visit to Kanazawa, we ended up in the Nagamachi Yuzen-kan Silk-Painting Museum.
Housed in a modern, indistinct building in the Nagamachi district, the museum was a bit hard to find. Although not big, it was very informative, and is a worthy stop for any textile-loving tourist. The first room in the museum depicts the process of silk painting, describing each stage of the process in both Japanese and English (!). The second room displays some spectacular samples. The museum also has a small gift shop that sells some hand-painted items.
Hand-dyed silk is a work of art that requires many hours of work by several highly-skilled artisans. Since I assume some of you might not be able to visit the museum, I thought I’d give you a virtual tour. All the explanations below are based on the signs in the museum.
Room One: The Stages of Painting Silk
The Kaga Yuzen designs combine traditional design elements with the artist’s observations of nature. Each design starts with a pencil sketch on paper, in the same size it will eventually appear on the finished product.
Once finished, skilled artisans trace the design onto white silk. They do this with fine brushes and blue ink, and use a steady hand to draw flowing, evenly-thin and quick lines.
Then, artisans apply a thin line of rice paste onto the sketch. They put the paste into a Japanese paper tube with a brass tip, and squeeze it out (similar to how many of us decorate cakes). After they cover all the lines with paste, they spray the silk with water and then let the paste dry.
Once dry, specialized artisans paint the design with fine brushes. It takes seven years to learn the technique, ten years to refine it, and a hundred (!!) kimonos to practice it on…
When the design in all painted, artisans carefully cover it with rice paste before moving on to dye the background color. They have to do this with great precision, so that no white patches are left.
After they cover the design with paste, the artisans dip the silk into soy bean juice to prepare it for absorbing the background dye.
A day later they use large brushes made of deer hair to evenly apply the background color. They let the color dry slowly, and repeat the dyeing several time to achieve an even dye.
Then, they put the silk in a large steamer for about an hour to set the colors. This, too, requires skill and experience.
After steaming, people immerse the cloth in water to wash off the remaining paste and access dye.
And the fabric is finished!
Artisans use the painted silk to make screens or sew kimonos.
This first room had a little staging area for visitors to make-believe and take pictures. I couldn’t resist 🙂 My kids love it, too!
Room Two: Some Amazing Finished Examples
The second room in the museum, as I mentioned above, has some exquisite samples of both painted screens and kimonos.
Japanese buy a hand-painted kimono for several tens of thousands of dollars (!!), mostly for special occasions like weddings.