Dyed textiles give us simple but rich life
I would say that a representative dyed textile in Japan must be a hand towel, Tenugui. It’s a cotton cloth, so called Japanese handkerchief, whose size is 32 to 35cm wide and 90cm long. Tenugui is used when you dry your hands as its name suggests; ‘Te’ means hand, nugui refers to wiping in Japanese. Historically speaking, Japanese people used to take ‘nugui’ with them when going out, and it was not until the handkerchiefs were exported from the West and then people had incorporated it into their culture switching their use from tenugui to handkerchief.
Katsuta Nasen, a dye works, is located in Hachiouji, Tokyo, where a wide range of dyed goods is produced by hand printing, such as the Japanese wrapping cloth, Yuzen (printed silk), hanten (a traditional Japanese short coat), noren (a shop curtain), dropped curtains, and tenugui. They employ a variety of fabrics from cotton to silk, and the price is set from 50,000 yen for one hundred custom-made tenugui, which could be broken down to approximately 500 yen per tenugui. How are the workers at Katsuta Nasen dyeing the goods? Yes, they push the cloth by hands. A white cotton cloth is spread over the board with a total length of 25 meter, on which resin is applied and heated at the temperature 45 to 50 C°. The fabric has to be stretched out equally on the board, otherwise printing misalignment may occur.
Toshihiko Senda is stretching the cotton cloth to be printed on the board. He never allows any distortion on the cloth, and modifies even a few millimeter deviations on the fabric of 25 meter length. He applies another cloth on top of the dyed cloth and one more extra to the bottom side, where a thin gap, almost the size of a single hair, is provided at between layers. This is because the fabric to be dyed will be distorted anyway during the hand printing process even after a worker perfectly performed stretching without any looseness on the board. The role of the applied cloth is to correct the aberrations over the dyed cloth by absorbing the contradiction of distortion. A worker must be required to take meticulous care for providing a fine gap, height of a single hair.
A silk screen is placed on a white cloth, on which a rubber brush called the squeegee moves across as well as presses dyes. The dye has been blended with starch so that it can be adhered to the fabric. If the dye isn’t spread over the screen evenly, the textile may contain thin printed area; as opposed to this, if the screen is pushed too hard the dye may be immersed into the back side of the cloth. The craftsmen may appear to be moving squeegees upward and downward monotonously, but they are actually trying to perform the best coloring work using the finest technique they own. They squeegee dye from the bottom to the top, and then move the squeegee down in ten to fifteen seconds. The work could be repeated when it’s necessary. This is the way how one coloring is completed. In case where more than one color needs to be added, another silk screen will be mounted over the initial textile having been dyed and another color will be printed, so called overprinting. In case of two-color dyeing, the second craftsman will take over the work applying another screen to the textile and squeegeeing another dye.
We have been accepting mass production or mass consumption as a symbol of affluence. On the other hand Japanese tradition has been containing art, richness, and beauty, in itself that produced by superior craftsmanship, and people have been awing them as the objects appearing aloof and in accessible to them. Of course the product having made with master techniques of a worker has great values, whereas they become too expensive to be purchased in broad market by general consumers. Taking look at the scarves or ties as representative works of printed textile art, CARRES for men made by HERMES costs from 80,000 yen to 100,000 yen.
So if we don’t pursue the artistic element in dyed textiles and keep mass-producing or mass-consuming a simple cotton cloth in efficient and uniformed style, would it be a proof of affluence? Tenugui, a plain white hand towel, can provide enough function in terms of usability. However is it fun to use? Will you feel attachment to it? Maybe not. The people who find that it’s not fun to use tenugui desire for affluence in psychological sense, where the substance of rich product is to make a consumer fun to use them.
The cotton cloth sized 32 to 35cm wide and 90cm long will never be able to obtain approval for its naming “tenugui” until it applies beautiful printing. Design, decoration, and coloring are so fun that bring richness in our ordinary life. Once Shinsho Kokintei, a Japanese comedic story teller, composed a humorous poem (senryu),
“How pity a tenugui is used just as a cotton towel because of its boring pattern printed.”
It expresses an essence that a master piece of tenugui containing full richness inside can be produced not only by printing artistic illustrations to a fabric but by careful dyeing techniques employed by craftsmen, or otherwise it can become no more than a “cotton towel” practically functioning as drying material for your hands.
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