An overview of saki-ori, or 20th-century obi waist sashes from rural Japan, are described in Riches From Rags: saki-ori & other recycling traditions in Japanese rural clothing, an exhibition catalogue published by the San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum.

The catalogue features superlative examples of the tradition and the garments are of museum quality.

I thought I’d take a closer look at other examples, somewhat lower in quality but which  nevertheless display the general features of the saki-ori.

The first one is 120″/3m long and 10″25.5cm wide. The weft (a sett of 17 warps per inch) is a thin black sewing cotton and the wefts are 0.5″/1cm-wide lengths of material (reed around 12 per inch), presumably from recycled kimono. Both ends of the obi feature 0.5cm or 3/16″ weaving done in silver metallic thread.

The design is a strict sequence of strips, 3 or 4 or 5cm or approx 1-1.5″ wide, in black, red and yellow. The black is flecked throughout with silver metallic thread, so the original kimono must have been an-all silver-on-black pattern. The red is a vermilion-orange with equal amounts of white, with occasional warps of vermilion and bright yellow-gold and areas of silver metallic, so the original kimono must have been white with areas of yellow embroidery and silver metallic embroidery. The use of metallic thread leads me to think they were recycled from silk kimono, but I reckon the yellow comes from a yellow monochrome kimono (with very small amounts of gold metallic thread) made from wool, or something similar highly-textured.

The only other design element is the addition of long horizontal lines of gold – warps (roughly 4″ long) which have been loosely added while weaving the black.

Each colour seems to have been woven separately, with separate shuttles for each colour, since there is no linking of colours at the edges. Care has been taken to bunch up the black warps at each edge to strengthen the finished product.

The plain weave, done on weaving loom a simple 2-shaft hand loom, using recycled kimono cut or torn into thin strips, can be easily replicated on a 2- or 4-shaft loom or rigid heddle loom.


Yoshida, Shin-Ichiro & Dai Williams. Riches from Rags: saki-ori & other recycling traditions in Japanese rural clothing. San Francisco, San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum, 1994.

Weave: handmade style. Designs by Wendy Cartwright, Helen Frostell, Mary Hawkins and Lynne Peebles. Millers Point, NSW, Australia, Murdoch Books, 2007.






Sanada himo

January 10, 2012

When I tie up

the Sanada cord, a turtle

starts crying1

– Yamao Tamamo

I first came across Sanada-himo in 2003 at the gallery shop of the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum. There were examples of sanada-himo alongside kumihimo braiding with the characteristics of both standard warp-weft handweaving and the flat, long characteristics of kumihimo.

Here’s a photo of kumihimo and sanadahimo braids in modern guises (luggage identifiers, mobile phone cords, hair clips) purchased at the Kyoto Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum shop. From left the sanada-himo examples are the first, sixth and seventh, the rest being kumihimo (takadai braiding stand, #2, kakudai #3-5 and marudai #8):

During 2007, while taking a walk up the steep hill towards the popular Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, in amongst the numerous souvenir stalls I came upon a shop that sold sanadahimo by the length, presumably catering to tea masters, tea schools, temples, shrines and art collectors. By this time, I’d ascertained that it wasn’t kumihimo braiding per se, but standard warp-weft weaving on a small, narrow scale. Sanada-himo ‘ribbons’ are much used in Japan to secure the lids to the ubiquitous traditional wooden boxes containing tea cups and other valuables. These wooden boxes offer some protection against damage by earthquakes and are convenient both in terms of transport and storage of small items. I bought two small lengths for 300Y/$US5 each. Each is a 2-metre lengths, with a standard width of 12mm, the central design being 3-4mm wide. In terms of colour, the one on the left is a blue with a greenish tinge, with a cream central design; the one at right, is a dark navy blue/black with a central design of orange and blue-grey with an outline in red.


To put sanada-himo in context, here’s a photograph of one wrapped around a wooden box containing a tea cup (chawan) from the Japanese tea ceremony. You’ll notice that there’s a slit in the bottom of the box to allow for the sanada-himo tape to pass around without scuffing or affecting the balance of the box. The third photo shows the chawan inside the box, wrapped in its own silk bag with braided cord (braided on a marudai or kakudai braiding stand – an extremely simple braid structure because elegant simplicity is prized in the tea ceremony) – outside the box is the tiny ceramic tea-caddy, with its ivory (these days resin) lid, again wrapped in its own silk bag with braided cord. The braids were often tied in very elaborate knots. Sometimes those knots were a family secret or tradition so that the owner of the very valuable ceramic utensils or the even more expensive tea could be security-packaged by its owner. Any potential thief would have to know the secret method of tying the braided cord!

History; sanada-himo vs sageo

In many Japanese textile traditions, there are two options when it comes to historical origins. Either the tradition came from China or it was entirely homegrown, the former explanation being part of the cultural homage to China (and perhaps a throwback to the centuries when Japan suffered a “cultural cringe” because everything of value seemed to come from that country) and the latter being part of the Japanese ‘independent’ thought or nationalism, that significant innovations or inventions must be the product of the Japanese mind. We see this with kumihimo and temari, for example. As a rule, I never discuss historical origins with the Japanese – ascribing their tradition to the Chinese could verge on a diplomatic incident. Part of the problem too is that the Shosoin Treasury of ‘Japanese’ textiles in Nara, the foundation stone of all things textile in Japan, is a mix of homegrown textiles and tribute textiles from the court of China from the 8th century; the experts are in constant dispute about which textile came from which country. Some Japanese experts have re-created Shosoin textiles using traditional Chinese methods, which surely doesn’t go down too well with the Japanese. Unsurprisingly then, there are two explanations of this type when it comes to the historical origins of sanada-himo.

Some say the flat woven cord technique is said to have originated in China, specifically Tibet (sanaaru) and come to Japan via the Silk Road around the 9th or 10th century (Heian Period); thereafter it was known as “small weaving” (sa-no-hata), which was later changed to sanada. Closer to home, others say it can be traced back to Yayoi Period (300BC-300AD) patterning, when textiles were pressed into clay to create surface patterning. Sanada-himo is also been identified with the well-known Sengoku Period 16th century samurai warrior, Masayuki Sanada and his family, who used this cord to wrap around his sword handle. The cord was sold in the town of Sakai (now a suburb of Osaka) as Sanada-no-himo.

While sword handles were also wrapped with braided cords (sageo), the woven sort graduated into the tea ceremony as supported by samurai where it took on the life as “samurai ribbon”, used as an all-purpose wrapping or tying cord for utensil boxes made from paulownia wood. The distinction between sageo and sanada-himo is blurred these days; by their very nature, sanada-himo will be very thin, while sageo will be thicker or even rounder in shape.

Here’s a photo of samurai swords on show at the Osaka City Museum.The top shows the blade only, the lower one showing the sageo braided cord in place with the blade sheathed in its lacquered case. The sageo was used to secure the sword to the warrior’s waist.

A five-metre length of sanada-himo is said to take a month to weave by hand. Obviously for use with samurai weaponry, the tight weave provides the tape with strength.


Sanada-himo is traditionally made from natural dyes: brown from the Japanese chestnut, yellow from Cape Jasmine, red from safflower, purple from gromwell root, in total around 70 plant species.

Modern manufacture

Orimoto Sumiya Co. Ltd. ( defines sanada-himo as a traditional textile originated from the Sanada family. The sanada-himo was and is still made of cotton, though silk is often mixed with cotton in manufacture for items relating to tea ceremony. Sumiya started business in 1928 and move from Kaga City, Ishikawa to Kanazawa in 2008. They use terms such as “shouken”, “kaganishiki” (Kaga City brocade), “fukuro” (wrapping) and “hirahimo” (flat braid) to distinguish between cotton and silklon (silk and nylon presumably), all-cotton, and double-woven and plain weave varieties.

Apparently the technique of sanada-himo developed into a weaving style (sanada-ori) and also applied to making obi, hence the term sanada-obi. It is used as bands for traditional wooden geta sandals (sanada-uchi), wristwatch bands, belts, dog leashes and bag handles.

While individuals might have their own designs created, there is a wide range of so-called “public” patterns available to anyone.

Weaving your own

I’m not aware of anyone copying traditional sanada-himo in the West by hand. Obviously it’s within reach of a handweaver familiar with warp-faced weaving. Theoretically braiders can braid it either on the ayatakadai stand which allows for perpendicular warp to weft ‘weaving’. The same goes for a karakumidai braiding stand.


See history and tubular manufacture to facilitate cutting trimming ends at

See a variety of surface design patterns, associated with sanada-himo as sword sageo used in iaido (swordplay art) at[1].htm.

1Sanada himo musubeba kame no naki ni keri: see

Meibutsugire are “famed fabrics” or “named fabrics” associated with the Tea Ceremony. Fragments of incredibly valuable fabrics, very often of exotic origin and highly complex in terms of weaving structure, were patched together to form the pouches surrounding tea caddies. Such tea caddies were small ceramic containers with ivory lids and the fabric pouch (shifuku) was closed with a simple thin braided cord. As with other objects in the Tea Ceremony, the fabrics are designed to inspire conversation and admiration. They certainly represent the obsession of complex textiles among the Japanese; here they are recycled and preserved in aristocratic settings of luxury, not entirely different from the scrimping and saving of thread and fabric among peasants and farmers at the other end of the social spectrum. For me, they represent textiles earning a place of respect in the Tea Ceremony, alongside ironwork, ceramics, bamboo, calligraphy and paper – all the arts are thus represented.

Today, craft books are published in Japan which explain the making of drawstring pouches based on the Tea Ceremony model, with the characteristic fringe-less braided cord and splits down the side. Obviously such pouches and bags are put to contemporary uses. Just as daimyo of the seventeenth-century scoured their domains for fragments of old fabrics imported from China and India, I’m sure today’s tea ceremony enthusiasts scour Kyoto’s antique shops for old shifuku pouches, if not old fabric fragments.


Ken Kirihata, Meibutsugire (back cover)

As a braider, I’m particularly intrigued not only by the extreme simplicity of the braid, but by the fact that there is no fringe at both ends. Only when I saw the minute size of the tea caddies in my local State Art Gallery – those in the Art Gallery of New South Wales have no fabric pouch with them – did I realise how thin the silk braid would have to be. The tied knots could be extremely elaborate; part of that elaborate was they must have acted as a sort of security alarm – anyone tampering with or stealing the tea would have found it impossible to re-tie some of the more difficult knots, thus leaving behind evidence of their having been there. I’ve been following shifuku for sale on eBay for many years: it’s impossible to import original caddy lids made of prohibited ivory of course, but resin is the contemporary substitute. The caddies themselves are often high-quality Japanese ceramics in their own right; the shifuku might imitate the traditional Japanese stripes, popular from Edo Period onwards; often they might come with the traditional pinewood box and the woven (not braided) flat braid used to tie the box shut. 


Ken Kirihata, Meibutsugire (Front cover – example is from Kyoto National Museum)

Ken Kirihata describes various examples drawn from high-ranking Japanese museums. On the whole, they resemble Chinese or Silk Road fabrics – and indeed those collected from the C17 tea enthusiasts onwards would have been on the lookout for Chinese, Persian and continental and SE Asian examples – , but on closer examination of course, there are many locally made, replete with Japanese motifs. Kirihata mentions not just weaving techniques, but includes gold stencilling, sarasa Indian chintz techniques and European velvets.

The chapter headings are as follows:

1. Kinran. I guess today this refers to Kyoto brocade incorporating gold thread. Think priest kesa cloth as well – in fact some kesa cloth ended up in Meibutsugire. Many of the examples in this chapter are Ming Dynasty. The use of gold would have to be one of the chief characteristics of meibutsugire.

2. Donsu. This is a softer more gentle version of kinran, done in satin weave. This is obviously more pliable, and less like upholstery fabric in appearance.

3. Nishiki. This brocade came to be introduced into Japan in the C7 and continues to be woven today in Kyoto, of course.

4. Shuchin. Various coloured pattern wefts in satin weave – geometric patterns result.

5. Futsu. Double-weave.

6. Kinra/kinsha. Ra, ro and sha are gauzes and “kin” refers to the goldleaf strips used as wefts.

7. Inkin. Gold-stencilling on gold cloth, often on gauze.

8. Biroodo. Velvet, introduced by Dutch and Portuguese in the C16.

9. Kando. Chinese stripes and checks which were taken up by with vengeance by the Japanese.

10 Moru. Moghul cloth – metal filaments wound around a core of silk.

11. Sarasa. Indian chintz – indigo and madder-dyed using batik methods.

The absolutely incredible thing about this book is that it features closeup photos of both the front and back of some of the fabrics; this is the only time this technique is adopted in the Kyoto Shoin art library series of books.

Ken Kirihata, Meibutsugire. Kyoto Shoin Art Library of Japanese textiles, Kyoto, 1994. ISBN 4763670549.

Here are two pieces of kinran – obviously with a focus on kin/gold:


This was bought from a fabric wholesaler in the same street as the Nishijin Textile Centre in Kyoto. They had thousands of these, all roughly the same size – about A3-sized – and all packaged in plastic bags. I can only assume this business fed directly into the lucrative doll/ningyo market where small-patterned gaudy fabrics, looking as close as possible to genuine kinran or nishiki (Japanese brocade) as possible; I can’t account for the small size of the fabric otherwise – certainly way too small for any garment use, for example. The size of the original can be judged from the diamond which is about 2″ across.  Inside the diamonds are of course stylized kiku/chrysanthemums.


Here’s another example, still machine-made but of slightly better quality. Again, because of the small size of the original, I can only assume it must be for dolls/ningyo, or at a stretch, fabric for obi. Certainly this one and the one above are somewhat flexible but generally what we would consider to be on the way to being upholstery fabric. Stylized flowers against a geometric background.

I understand the Tokyo National Museum ran a temporary exhibition, Jan-April 2009, of meibutsu-gire, which they describe as “a type of dyed and woven fabric brought to Japan from places such as China, from the Kamakura to the early Edo Periods”. Emphasis seems to be put on fabrics from the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties and they were originally owned by daimyo (feudal lords) or by temples and shrines and were uased as mountings for calligraphic workds and paintings, and as shifuku for Tea Ceremony. The exhibition blurb emphasises the use of small motifs.

Other internet references talk about 400 or so fabrics, named after the people who collected then, for the places where they were made, for the potters, after the famous objects they housed, or after some historical anecdote. Originally they were apparently called jidaigire, “fabrics from ancient times” and came to be called meibutsugire when used for famous tea containers, known as meibutsu chaire (meibutsu referring to Tea Ceremony utensils). The fabric was also used for garments of the ruling military class and for nou/Noh costumes (noushouzoku) but were particularly favoured by famous tea master Kobori Enshuu (1579-1647). Interestingly, they influenced later Japanese dying and weaving patterns in textiles.

Two books have come to my attention:

* “Meibtsugire, by Riichi Urano (Tokyo, Bunka Fukuso Gakuin Shuppankyoku, 1969)

* Tilden, Jill, Joachim et al. “Silk and stone: the art of Asia” (1996, hardback, ISBN10 1898113203).

Now for some tourist-talk….
Weaving associated with the Nishijin weaving quarter is synonymous with traditional textiles in Kyoto and is far and away the most dominant of all the textile crafts on show to tourists, local and foreign, in Kyoto.
This one-stop shop for Nishijin textiles is the tourist showcase of the quarter. The days of walking around the quarter and hearing the clack of looms in action are long gone. Kawabata in his novel “The Old Capital” talks of the fate of single-loom weavers and those who rent looms compared to those with many looms creating small weaving factories.
Nishijin Textile Centre is located in a large multi-storied building on one of Kyoto’s widest busiest streets with an extensive carpark out the back large enough for tourist buses. From the outside, it resembles more a bank than a cultural institution with its glass doors and marble-floored foyer. I’ve mentioned previously the first floor open area devoted to 15min kimono fashion parades on the hour every hour. There are small looms scattered around the first and second floor areas for hands-on experience in plain weave for tourists. The second-floor retail area is department-store like in character selling men’s ties and other popular products made from Nishijin weaving. There are several jacquard looms nearby on which weavers work, demonstrating the time-consuming nature of the weaving as well as the heavy obi made from them. For the weaver, there is the added attraction of seeing painted colour cartoons and machines skeining up the yarn. On the third floor is a museum showing kimono, obi and weaving equipment.


This establishment is set in a Nishijin side-street amid a streetscape of two-storey buildings in the old wooden style. Its façade is discreet and there is no signage in English. The interior is traditional too – shoes off, tatami mats. This is the “Japanese” version of Nishijin Textile Centre. I had to revisit Nishijin Textile Centre several times to take in all of the demonstrating craftsmen and women; most of the large jacquard looms were unattended, but I was able to take better photos than previously. At Orinasu and Nishijin Textile Centre, I witnessed only the `ordinary’ nishijin-ori, not the fingernail tsuzure weaving.

Orinasu turned out to be a shop, working obi weaving factory, textile outlet and museum all in one. Their website shows the kimono in their main foyer. Upstairs however was a long gallery space with examples of just about all the major Japanese textile styles – one example of each. So this is where I saw single examples of kogin,kasuri, Kurume, shima, komon, etc. Another upstairs room is home to
dozens of woven obi for sale. The shop assistant organised for four of us (a Japanese couple, a Japanese man and me) to visit the obi weaving factory area where a supervisor explained the jacquard weaving process. He showed us how the fabric was woven from the back, with the help of a mirror to show the front, the cartoon and jacquard cards, etc. My Japanese was sufficient to nod in all the right places, especially since he wasdescribing textile processes I was familiar with. One woman weaving a nearby loom, away from the commentary provided by the supervisor, was weaving silk – half a dozen continuous 1″wide temples were in place, but more curiously she brushed on ?water every inch or so (on the back of the weaving which was facing her) with a very hot bar heater set up immediately on the underside (the front face of the weaving). I doubt this was any sort of dyeing, but probably had more to do with setting the silk as she worked. Those of you with more extensive experience with silk and jacquard might be able to explain this – I hadn’t seen such proximity of heat and fibre like this before.

Here and at Nishijin I was exposed to the painted graph paper cartoon designs for the obi. Nishijin had on show the machine which punches the jacquard loom cards.  Orinasu’s museum space across the road was a giant hall full of Noh costumes spread around three walls, probably designed to coincide with a similar exhibition on at the Kyoto National Museum. These large kimono/furosode were identical to the ones I’d seen in the shop foyer and in the weaving factory, so these tried-and-true designs were being reproduced.


The Trad Arts & Crafts Museum of Kyoto is one of my favourite places – it’s modern, comprehensive, free, has a great library to rummage through and a wonderful area just to sit and watch a pond and water curtain. It’s not frequented by massed tours of tourists. This is the academic version of the Nishijin Textile Centre and Orinasu. There are objects on display made from Nishijin-ori,and the following written information is provided for visitors:

Typical Techniques of Nishijin-ori
tsuzure-ori, weft-faced
futsu, multi-layered (moire?)
tate-nishiki, warp-patterned weaving
mojiri-ori, gauze
nuki-nishiki, multicoloured wefts where the wefts create the pattern
honshibo-ori, warps and wefts with different twists are combined then immersed in hot water
donsu damask, alternate warps and wefts are raised velvet
shuchin satin, warp or weft are raised and the pattern is created with special weft threads
kasuri-ori, silk crepe (Nishijin), dye-masking paste on warps and wefts
shoha, heavily twisted yarns for both warp and weft, fine herringbone horizontal patterns or chevrons
tsumugi, embroidery over this handspun floss.

The loop video accompanying the exhibits mentioned
* tsuzure bata (initially woven with the fingers and tamped down with the filed fingernails, followed by a beater and a final run along the edge of the weaving with a “pen” before moving on to the next weft);
* monisyozu, painting the cartoon on graph paper;
* tebata, jacquard loom weaving, at an astonishing speed.

Over time, I’ll upload photos relating to nishijin-ori. Photography was not possible in Fureaikan or Orinasu, but was allowed at Nishijin Textile Centre. I’ll try to assemble all my Noh costume info for a later post, also the sagemono – smoking/tobacco stuff, as displayed at the Sannenzaka Museum off Teapot Lane (weaving incorporated into the tobacco pouches, alongside metalwork).






I’ve yet to come across a definitive, comprehensive study in English of weaving looms in Japan. All I can do while waiting and looking is post pictures I’ve taken myself and information I’ve retrieved from scattered sources. I guess this will be a work-in-progress, but my initial aim is an 1000-word summary. So come back later for more info and photos!

1. Part the First. The Weaving Experience for tourists in Kyoto.

loom 1   loom 2

There are references elsewhere on the net to this location, including film clips of the hourly fashion shows on the ground floor, but here is a student loom available for domestic and overseas tourists to try, as part of short scheduled lessons under the watchful eye of a local weaver. Despite being a knock-down loom held together with nuts and bolts, it has foot pedals and is a tw0-shaft loom relflecting the fact that most traditional weaving in Japan, as in the rest of the world, is plain tabby weave.

loom 3

2. Part the Second. Jacquard looms at Nishijin Textile Centre, Kyoto

From one extreme of weaving to the other, Nishijin has several jacquard looms on its first floor public demonstration area devoted to weaving, textile and related crafts. These looms are identical to those in operation at the Orinasu factory not far away in this Nishijin Quarter, the traditional weaving quarter of Kyoto. I wasn’t able to take photos of the weavers at work in Orinasu, but more on this entity a bit later. I include here some rather blurred photos taken behind glass of model jacquard looms, on Level 3 of the Nishijin Centre. These looms would have been much larger obviously in real life.

3. Kasuri loom, Nishijin Textile Centre.

4. Orinasu, Kyoto: retail outlet, coffee shop, weaving factory, textile museum.

5. Traditional Arts & Crafts Museum, Kyoto.

Draft essay… a work-in-progress…
Over the last few years, I’ve found the contributions to issues of the newsletter of the Complex Weavers Japanese Textiles Study Group relating to saki-ori weaving from recycled silk kimono very informative and inspiring. I’ve supplemented that knowledge with watching sakiori auctioned on eBay, including textile dealers in Japan who buy at auction and re-sell to the West via the internet(1). When last in Japan, I noted several examples sold at the regular antique dealers market at Toji Temple in Kyoto held on the first Sunday of the month in the temple grounds- this is the smaller, more specialised version of the larger general temple markets held late in the month. I was very pleasantly surprised to see saki-ori weaving included in the San Francisco Folk Art museum book devoted to recycled Japanese textiles (2), which confirmed my impression that this was a textile activity that was popular in the first decades of the 20th century, apparently having flourished allegedly since around 1750. It looked very much a ‘lost art’ in Japan, and relatively little studied outside Japan, until details emerged recently of a Sakiori Association in Japan (3) which seems to have moved the art form from historical re-creation and isolated indvidual weavers back towards centrestage in the variety of weaving forms of contemporary Japan. As we know, organising individuals into formal craft associations is the key to longterm survival and promotion in Japan – Associations lead inevitably to public exhibitions (e.g. saga nishiki) and sometimes graded certification (e.g. temari) and worldwide networks (e.g. shibori), sometimes to loose gatherings of individuals meeting at conferences (e.g. kumihimo and loop-manipulated braids).What follows is an overview of some design considerations surrounding sakiori, since information in English to date is very often limited to the technical aspects of how they are made – how to prepare the warps and the possibilities of using paper, hemp and silk as wefts. Since my discussion is really only based on several dozen examples at most of 1920s/30s sakiori, the discussion is inevitably a bit simplistic.
Obi, lags and vests
The first thing to be said is tha the vast majority of early 20th-century sakiori, those which are extant, are obi – a very informal obi considering the recycled nature of the materials. Secondly, sakiori must, of necessity, be linked to rural Japan(4). And thirdly, much use is made of colur – karafuru or colorful, seems to have been the overriding approach (5). Many sakiori obi are thinner than the standard Japanese woven textile width of 13inches – very manyseem to half that width, some as narrow as 4inches. I think the appropriate term is han-0bi or half-obi. It’s thick enough not to require folding. Where sakiori stick to the standard 12-13″ width, these obi lengths are sewn together to form lags or blankets and they seem to fall in line with a standard of five obi widths, with a length of the same total: most are about 65″ square, e.g. 65×65, 47×47, 68×55, etc. – the largest one noted is 70-76. Comparartively few of these come on the market, compared to the informal obi. The lags are invariably of the same type: plain stripes. I’m aware of some sakiori obi transformed into blanket-type lags but used as welcome mats at the front doors of houses and ‘carpet’s (cotton wadding used as padding and backed with plaid or check fabric). I’m also aware of a rug with a detachable square in the middle perfect for a family sitter around a brazier in the winter. Even more rarely, sakiori vests, sometimes with sashiko stitching, come on the market. I’m aware of a bunch of American recently who created knitted sakiori vests in the sleeveless style, known as sodansha – sleeveless, so that Japanese agricultural workers didn’t get their long sleeves wet planting rice I imagine. 
Sakiori entails the recycling of not just one kimono, but many. So it makes sense that the vast majority of early 20th-century sakiori that have come on the market recently feature horizontal stripes. Different coloured kimono translate into carefully placed different coloured stripes, sometimes of differing widths.
sakiori red yellow black  orange red stripes on pink
Left: detail of a full-width obi. Right: entire width of a half- or han-obi.
Plaids and checks
With a lot of additional planning, especially with repeated sets of different coloured warps, sakiori weavers create plaids and checks. Very occasionally, checks can become ichimatsu/chequerboards.
 scan0027  scan0028
Both photos show only part of the entire width. Right: shows loose rag weft.
“Feature” stripes
To add interest to the overall look of the obi, sometimes a contrasting pattern of a stripe or stripes is added to a more or less monochromatic background.
Ichimatsu/chequer-board surface design. Both are full width with fringes, han-obi.
Vertical central stripe
Very occasionally, a design feature is made out of a central vertical stripe running along the entire length of the obi. This is done by using warps in the centre of a different colour.
White warps with a central group of red warps. Full width, han-obi.
While saki-ori weavers can achieve a greater subtlety using very pale and pastel colours, in contrast to the karafuru(5), it’s possible to find sakiori obi which are entirely monochromatic. This seems to imply a considerable number of kimono all of the same general, plain colour or very close to it.
Rags of pink kimono with a red pattern, emerging in the sakiori as calligraphic spots. Full width, han-obi.
Very occasionally, so rarely they defy the rule of plain stripes, sakiori obi with rather more complex surface designs come on the market.
 scan0015 scan0024
Tapestry weave as used extensively in formal silk obi sashes from urban areas such as Kyoto. Both are full width; han-obi.
Less formal use of tapestry weave in blank against a grey and pink ‘background’. Full width; han-obi.
(1) In Japan, Osaka dealer, Ichiroya; Ryujapan – ;  In America, SriThreads and among others.

(2) From rags to riches

(3) Vavmagasinet. Scandinavian weaving magazine, Sep/Oct 2008 issue. A Sakiori Association was formed in 1996 at a meeting of 120 people at Nagano, followed since by four juried public exhibitions in Tokyo.

(4) I’m aware of Izumo sakiori, produced in Hirose City, Shimane Prefecture. The idea is that this was promoted in areas such as Northern Tohoku (near present-day Aomori City), Sado Island – that bastion of traditonal Japanese culture – and Sanin District, where cotton does not grow well, so using valuable cotton (and/or hemp) for the warps freed up the wefts for recycled fabric in lieu of cotton. From the Japanese monograph, “Weave and Dye”. Iwao Nagasaki also mentions that sakiori was predominantly produce in San’in and Sado; on Sado Island, gold miners wore sakiori for its warmth and sturdy nature.” The traditions of folk textiles in Japan, p.17 in Rathbun.

(5) Explained by Steven of SriThreads NYC in one of the descriptions of his sakiori for sale as typical of eastern Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, perhaps to counter the tradition till then of using mainly earth tones and pale blues.



Yoshida, Shin-Ichiro and Dai Williams, Riches from rags: saki ori and other recycling traditions in Japanese rural clothing. San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum, 1984.

Rathbun, Beyond the Tanabata Bridge: traditional Japanese textiles. London, Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Weave: handmade style. Designs by Wendy Cartwright et al. Murdoch Books, Sydney, Australia 2007.

Vav Magasinet, Sep/Oct 2008

kasuri weaving

Three photos I took in November 2007.  I will incorporate a higher-res copy when I discuss kasuri later on. The two ‘portrait’ ones are of a weaving looom in the public demonstration area on Level 2 of the Nishijin Textile Centre in Kyoto, a large area where traditional craftsmen and women work in a variety of media, but especially in traditional weaving. This kasuri weaving loom was unoccupied on the several times I visited, but because the work was relatively ‘open’ and the loom not covered over with cloth and signs in Japanese, I assume the weaver was never too far away.  The crisp black-and-white warps form a traditional yabane/arrow design but what I was pleased about was the very obvious displacement in the loom structure required to obtain the graded colour which is the chief characteristic of kasuri.

For the magazine cover, I needed a ‘landscape’ photo to match, but had nothing similar in the weaving vein, so added a photo of the resident taka-dai demonstrator, hard at work at the Iga Ueno Braiding Centre. The small relatively industrial-looking town of Iga Ueno is roughly midway from Kyoto and Nara to Nagoya in Mie Prefecture, nestled in heavily wooded forests. It is home to the Ninja martial art tradition. Once a prominent braiding centre providing Kyoto with its braids – and the home of a double-layer takadai pickup tradition using calligraphy and other designs known as Iga braids – it’s obvious the tradition has been completely supplanted of late by the Ninja in terms of domestic tourism. The participants of the international braid conference in Kyoto in November 2007 managed not only a visit to this Braiding Centre, but also a small retail outlet for braids – complete with adjoining factory space where takadai braids are still being made by hand, as well as a small factory across the road making the machine-made version. More photos of both factories to follow.