Japanese Fabric: 12 Things to Know About Kurume Cotton
by Nupur Singh & Teni Wada
Kurume Kasuri is a distinctive Japanese fabric that has long been an integral part of Japan's handicraft legacy. Today the unique cotton textile is redefining the future of Japanese fashion, but once, it was a local Japanese fabric that came into being only accidently.
Let's unravel the Kurume Kasuri Textile to understand what it is, how it’s made, and why you’ll want to be wearing Kurume cotton yourself!
1. What is Kasuri?
Kurume Kasuri Cotton
Kasuri is a traditional Japanese fabric woven from cotton. The cotton is first treated with a resist-dyeing technique, which gives the fabric an innate ability to appear blurry. The mostly abstract or geometric blurry trademark designs add to the appeal resulting in different variants; hence no two looms of kasuri are ever the same.
Kasuri craftsmanship first requires visualization of the patterns, then the cotton yarn is woven in patterns of alternating tension through the fabric to create a unique texture. The most renowned kasuri is from the city of Kurume in the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, where the designs have been passed down through generations of skilled weavers.
2. What is Kurume Kasuri?
Kurume kasuri is a 200-year-old traditional Japanese cotton textile named after the city in which it flourished: Kurume, in Fukuoka prefecture, Kyushu. Kurume is alone in Japan for continuing to practice the craft. The location of the city along the Chikugo River basin makes the perfect terrain for cultivating the perfect premium creamy shade of cotton that was original used for the fabric.
In the 18th century, households produced textiles were primarily for personal needs or supporting income during the colder months when farming was not an option. The Indigo garments that the commoner wore daily only came in plain Indigo or striped patterns until Kurume kasuri flourished.
3. What are the Features of Kurume Cotton Textiles?
The textured unevenness, intricate weaving techniques, bold indigo blues, and geometric patterns of Kurume cotton textiles evoke a natural, rustic feeling, reminiscent of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, that distinguishes it from other Japanese textiles.
Another distinguishing feature of Kurume cotton is its weaving process, which consists of 30 different steps taken over two months. Even today, a majority of production, such as the pattern making, weaving, cloth binding and indigo dyeing, is still done by hand in and around Kurume City.
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Kurume cotton is a versatile textile used to create a variety of traditional Japanese garments such as kimono, samue, light haori jackets, and thickly padded hanten jackets. These days it’s not just traditional garments benefiting from the fabric, kurume textiles can be used in the production of more familiar clothes and accessories from shirts and T-shirts to neckties and tote bags.
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It’s difficult to establish the exact birthplace of Kurume kasuri, as textiles do not last well in the historical record; however, it is speculated that during the 14th century, kasuri textile was a flourishing trade in the Ryukyu kingdom, and after the kingdom's capture in the 16th century, the technique spread around Japan.
In Kurume, it is also said that some 200 years ago, Den Inoue, a talented 12-year-old weaver, discovered the patterns made by a discolored thread while weaving. The young weaver quickly learnt how this error happened and later tried different weaves leading to the invention of kasuri in Japan.
6. How is Kurume Kasuri Cotton Woven?
Weaving Kurume Kasuri Cotton
Kasuri comes from the Japanese word kazureru, which translates to shift or blurred, and the secret to the hazy prints is in its structure. A humble collection of cotton yarn and indigo leaves begins the kasuri process: patterns are envisioned, and the yarn is handed over to the master dyer in a dye house.
The dyers were traditionally always men while women did the intricate weaving. The dyer follows a labor intensive process of repetitively soaking the bundles of thread in the dyes and beating them on the floor, followed by rinsing and drying.
Next, the skilled weaver gets the dyed Kasuri threads, and begins the weaving on handlooms. For even the most accomplished of weavers irregularities will appear, which results in a hazy blur. This recurring blurring effect is the defining characteristic of the textile. These days patterns can be more accurately programmed, but the established weavers of the Kurume area have found ways to recreated the charming irregularity of hand-woven fabric on automated looms.
Kurume Kasuri Cotton Fabric
Based on different styles of weave Kurume Kasuri can be divided into three categories: tate-gasuri, in which only the wrap is dyed as it follows the vertical layout, yoko-gasuri, in which only the weft is dyed as it follows the horizontal scheme, and the most complicated tate-yoko-gasuri, where both warp and weft are dyed, and designs are expressed by overlapping vertical and horizontal threads; this technique requires a highly-skilled weaver.
7. Who Wears Kurume Fabrics Today?
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Kurume textiles are still in vogue more than 200 years after their accidental discovery by a farmer's daughter. If you’ve always been keen to wear traditional Japanese clothes but felt intimidated by their complexity, you will discover literal comfort when wearing clothing made from Kurume cotton! The versatile textile can be used to make all manner of garments, so whether you’re looking for a jacket or a kimono, Kurume kasuri will be perfect for you.
Kurume kasuri is very durable, does not wrinkle easily, and the texture softens with extended wear, which Kurume textiles ideal for everyday wear. As a matter of fact, Kurume textiles were primarily used for daily kimono (whereas formal kimono were traditionally made from silk).To really take advantage of the comfort of Kurume cotton, you could try a comfortable two-piece samue, either as loungewear or even as pajamas.
When you’re heading out the door, you can wear a Kurume kasuri jacket: either a light-weight haori jacket if weather allows, or wrap up in a thickly padded hanten jacket.
No matter how you decide to wear Kurume textiles, the unique geometrical patterns and warm colors will add classic Japanese aesthetics to your daily living.
9. Which Seasons Can I Wear Kurume Textiles?
The breathability of Kurume cotton assures coolness in the summer as well as heat-retention in the winter, so can be suitable for any season.
In the summer a lightweight jinbei will keep you cool in the sun, and in the evening, you might throw on haori jacket. Summer is also yukata season in Japan, so a Kurume cotton yukata would be ideal. You can continue to wear a cotton yukata throughout the year however, if you wear a nagajuban underneath.
Samue can also be worn all year round, and you can easily pair them with an extra T-shirt when temperatures start to fall. When it gets really cold however, the best choice is to wrap yourself in a warm and thickly padded Kurume cotton hanten jacket.
Both! Remember that Kurume textiles were used to create kimono for daily wear. Therefore, clothing made from this Japanese cotton are essentially low-maintenance garments that can be worn indoors and outdoors, all year long.
Samue are 2 piece garments consisting of a waist-length kimono-like top and loose fitting trousers. They originally were work clothes worn by Buddhst monks, but have since found a new fashionable function as loungewear, and for light physical activities such as walking, meditating, and gardening.
Another versatile Japanese garment made from Kurume textiles are hanten. These are padded winter coats that can be worn indoors or outdoors in casual settings.
11. Do Kurume Fabrics Come in Different Colors and Patterns?
Traditional Kurume textiles are dyed with natural dyes such as indigo and feature white patterns and designs that have an almost blurry appearance around the edges. Aside from the deep rich Japan blue, earth tones are also popular. Many of the designs and patterns used on Kurume kasuri textiles are unique to the city.
12. What to Look for When Buying Kurume Kasuri Fabric?
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Kurume textiles, especially those women on handlooms, are known for their rugged texture and imperfectly imperfect geometric patterns on both sides.
When shopping for Kurume textiles, be on the lookout for its soft texture and weight. In particular, the weight of Kurume textiles dictates how the garment wrinkles, drapes on your body, and bounces back after wear.
Where can I order some of this gorgeous fabric?
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