The best kind of umbrella is one you can enjoy as much when it’s closed as when it's open.
This particular umbrella texture is soft and squishy, exactly what you’d expect from a natural ingredient like vegetables.
The making of this umbrella weaves threads that will shrink together over time; a technique normally used for clothing fabrics.
The carrot umbrella really feels like a carrot, and the napa cabbage umbrella feels just like its namesake veggie. The process for making each umbrella is different since the way the material shrinks differs depending on the vegetable used. It’s quite amazing.
Such precision and dedication are only possible because the weaver can control all aspects of the umbrella making from start to finish.
Makita Shoten, which mainly deals with yarn-dyed silk fabrics, made a major shift as a textile company specializing in umbrella fabrics in the 1960s when chemical fibers such as nylon and polyester first appeared. It’s the only company in Japan that handles the entire umbrella-making process - dyeing the threads, weaving the fabrics, and finishing the umbrellas - in-house.
Here’s an umbrella that you can tell is made from a weaver. Let's take a look at the brilliantly woven hydrangea and sunflower flowers of the "Eh-ori" umbrella. The fabric of an umbrella is cut into triangular pieces and attached to the ribs, so it’s difficult to match the patterns across, but the patterns of an Eh-ori umbrella are neatly connected across the seams. Kimonos are actually made this way, too. Because of this level of precision, if one piece gets scratched or dirty, it will be very difficult to make a replacement, so there’s no room for error. Even so, Haruko Makita, wife of fifth-generation CEO Norio Makita, says that only a true weaver can work fabrics so deftly.
Makita Shoten has implemented new equipment, like an electronic jacquard machine that allows you to freely weave designs into a huge fabric with a maximum width of 180 cm. With this new loom, you can design landscape paintings with an umbrella as a canvas.
In recent years, the company hired Misato Inoue, a young designer who participated as a student in the Fujiyama Textile Project in collaboration with Tokyo Zokei University. The "SAI＝vegetable" parasol series was designed by Mr. Inoue and applies the stretched fabric that Makita Shoten specializes in. If this stretchy fabric were waterproofed, it would lose its characteristic squishy texture. It wasn’t a fabric originally meant for umbrellas, but when they dared to incorporate it, it became a parasol that you can’t help but want to touch.
There are seven designs in the "SAI=vegetable" lineup: corn, napa cabbage, carrots, purple okra, enoki mushrooms, runner beans, and green beans. For example, the "napa cabbage" umbrella’s crimpy texture is achieved by gradually changing the threads after stretching and contracting them. And in order to make it squeaky, they had to wash and dry it after weaving, soak it in UV processing liquid, then dry it again. After that, the fabric is finally attached to the ribs, and the final touch is added by manually removing any remaining debris. Haruko says that the time-consuming "SAI＝vegetable" series is very popular, and it’s rare to find all the types available in the shop at once.
Not only does she hire young designers, but she also continues to stock traditional designs to this day, like the "1866" series. Named after the year of its establishment, this umbrella uses a double-layering technique called “Kawazu-bari.” The external layer is a changeant weave that uses different colors for the warp and weft and shows different colors depending on the viewing direction. A delicate pattern is woven on the inside, making use of the cut jacquard technology used for clothing fabrics. Though the material has changed to polyester, the bold and gorgeous tradition of Kaiki silk lives on here.