It’s a rainy day.
The scenery looks familiar but blurred.
There’s no boundary between the colors and they start to blend together.
A brightly colored umbrella is just what you need for days like that.
If you look closely at the umbrella, you can see the patterns blurring, as if a soaked watercolor brush were sliding effortlessly over them.
The special weave of the umbrella creates this special effect.
A style where dyed fabric is loosened and then re-woven.
This weaving technique is called "Hogushi Ori".
Funakubo Textile mainly produces fabrics for umbrellas. At one time they delved into the market of neckties with jacquard weave, but that didn’t last long due to the lack of demand, so they returned to their roots of loose weaving, or “Hogushi-ori”. But instead of simply returning to their roots, they decided to make major changes in production equipment to increase their value.
Loose weaving is a technique originating in India and was established in Lyon, France in 1788. It’s based on the imported splash pattern called "Chiné Weave" (French name: chiné à la branche). The technique itself originated from the splash weaving called "Ikat" in India, which was brought to France through maritime trade. As an imported product, Ikat was very expensive, so the Countess of Pompadour had a textile company in Lyon make something similar to Ikat. This is said to be the beginning of chiné weaving. It features watercolor-like patterns, making it popular as a summer dress fabric for royal aristocrats. Even Marie Antoinette was a fan. This technique was introduced to Japan around 1890. It started in Saitama Prefecture and then spread to Gunma and Tochigi as well. It was brought to the Yamanashi production area through Hachioji, Tokyo.
As the name suggests, the loose weaving process includes "unraveling" the fabric. What this means is that first you temporarily weave the warp threads through the weft threads at several centimeter intervals. This is placed on a flatbed, and the pattern is dyed using a silkscreen and a round brush of deer hair. After dyeing each color in its own layer, the next step is to press the woven threads between sheets of newspaper to absorb the excess dye and then steam them in a high-pressure pot to let the colors set. After that, you reattach the warp threads to the loom and weave again. The warp threads that have been hardened with dye glue are "unraveled" here, and the weft threads that were temporarily woven are manually pulled out one by one. Only colored warp threads remain on the loom. This is woven again with new weft threads as the main weave. A soft, bleeding effect like watercolor is created by weaving the warp threads through weft threads. Other factories continue to loosen and weave, but Funakubo Textile is the only one that does both dyeing and weaving on its own.
While the Hogushi-ori process takes many times the effort as ordinary woven fabrics, it was difficult to set a price that matched its worth due to the preexisting wholesale distribution system. Now that dyeing and weaving can be completed together, the weavers have more control over pricing than before, but ultimately they cannot raise the price too much because of the established standard. That’s why it’s necessary to create new products that cannot be easily imitated elsewhere, says Katsu.
For example, there are textiles called "chambray" and "tamamushi'', where the warp and weft threads are woven in different colors, so it looks different depending on where you’re positioned. Funakubo Textile is trying to combine the "triple” and "quadruple weaving" techniques to make it look even more three-dimensional by stacking three or four thin fabrics at a time and weaving them all at once. By using different colored weft threads in each layer, the color is more complex than that of normal chambray. At first glance, it looks like a piece of cloth, but because there is a layer of air between them, the light that enters through the cloth is refracted, and its shadow looks three-dimensional.
Katsu says, "Anything you can do can also be done by others.” But he forgets to mention that what’s more important than simple actions is the effort and determination behind them. It takes hard work and creativity to make a prototype in order to create something new, not to mention all the research and testing also required. But as human beings, we are drawn to experiment and try new things. Using traditional techniques that have been passed down through history, one can strive to create products that have never been seen before. This level of ingenuity is what will spark the interest of future generations to keep pushing on and trying new things.
Funakubo Textile is open every third Saturday of the month. You can purchase an umbrella with an original design, or even experience the thread winding of the "mini weaving shuttle" that can also be used as a key chain and accessories (1,700 yen) or make a book cover using loose-woven cloth (3,000 yen). We hope you can experience this transcendental technique with your own eyes someday.