【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Kumejima Tsumugi (Okinawa Prefecture)~

【Introduction to Traditional Crafts】 ~Kumejima Tsumugi (Okinawa Prefecture)~


Kumejima Tsumugi



【Production area of Kumejima Tsumugi】

Kumejima Town, Okinawa Prefecture



【What is Kumejima Tsumugi?】

Textiles produced in Kumejima Town, Okinawa Prefecture.

Kumejima is said to be the birthplace of Japanese pongee.

There are various tasks such as “selecting the design”, “collecting the raw materials necessary for dyeing”, “dyeing the yarn”, and “weaving” until completion, but all are done by one craftsman.


In February 1975, it was designated as a traditional craft.



【Features of Kumejima Tsumugi】

The main features are “good touch and feel”, “rich colors”, and “manual work by a single craftsman”.

There are two types of thread used as materials:


・Pongee thread

Poor cocoons that do not turn into raw silk are made into a state similar to floss (cocoons are boiled and stretched to make cotton), and after being twisted, they are spun by hand.


・Pull string

Thread pulled out from the cocoon without any modification


Craftsmen use methods such as “mud dyeing” and “plant dyeing” using plants that grow naturally in Okinawa Prefecture.

The reason craftsmen use natural dyes is not because of the dyeing process in the manufacturing process.

This is for customers who have purchased finished Kumejima Tsumugi.

Products woven using natural dyes lose their lye every time they are washed, so the colors gradually become brighter.


A kasuri pattern is a pattern woven using both colored and uncolored threads.

For areas that are not to be colored, it is necessary to perform a process called kasuri kukuri, in which cotton threads are wound in advance.

It is a very delicate and energy-intensive process, but at Kumejima Tsumugi, it is done by hand by craftsmen.

In general, most of the tying work is done with a dedicated machine.



【History of Kumejima Tsumugi】

According to the Ryukyu Kingdom Yuraiki compiled by the Shuri royal government, the origin of Kumejima Tsumugi dates back to the end of the 14th century, more than 600 years ago.

The people of Kumejima traveled to mainland China (then Ming) and brought back the knowledge and techniques necessary for sericulture.


In 1511, Kumejima came under the rule of the Ryukyu Kingdom and began paying pongee as a tax.

In 1609, the Satsuma Domain launched a military campaign against the Ryukyu Kingdom, resulting in a heavier tax burden.

In order to deliver higher quality pongee, the royal government invited Somi Nyudo from Echizen to teach them the necessary techniques, such as mulberry cultivation, sericulture, and floss making.


In 1632, Kagetomo Tomoyose, who was from Satsuma and was familiar with Hachijo weaving, came to the island.

He taught the islanders how to weave pongee and how to dye the threads, which led to great technological progress.

Through Sankin Kotai, the name of Kumejima Tsumugi (then Ryukyu Tsumugi) came to be known all the way to Edo.


Production continued to pay taxes until the tax system was changed in 1903.

Two years later, Kumejima Tsumugi began to develop as a locally rooted industry.



【Production process of Kumejima Tsumugi】

①Thread spinning

Once the cocoons are placed in an alkaline aqueous solution, they are slowly boiled until they become soft.

After that, prepare the warp and weft according to the following procedure.



・After floating the cocoon in lukewarm water, turn it inside out and cover it with your hand.

・Stretch it out so that the thickness is even, and make it into square floss.

・Take out the thread while loosening the square floss, and wind the thread around the small tube while twisting it lightly.



・When the thread is pulled out from the cocoon, it is made into a single thread.

・Using a thread winding tool called a counter-reeling machine, the thread is wound around the small tube while being twisted in the vertical direction.




Decide on the design while referring to the “picture book”.

The picture book is a collection of designs (approximately 600 types) created by the picture magistrate of the Ryukyu royal government, and is characterized by detailed specifications such as not only the pattern but also the method of dyeing.

There are patterns with motifs such as plants, animals, and daily necessities.


③Kasuri tying


Kumejima Tsumugi is produced by using dyed and undyed threads.

The threads used are called “kasuri threads” and are dyed in advance.

The procedure for tying the Kasuri is as follows.


・The warp threads are glued with starch and wound around a wooden frame, etc., for “reeling”.

・”Warping” is performed by cutting to a specified length and arranging the number of threads required for production.

・Mark the areas not to be dyed with charcoal, cover with vinyl, and tie with cotton thread.


In order to make it according to the design, the position of the mark and the position to tie must be done accurately.

Also, the strength when tying is important.

For example, if it is too strong, the boundaries between colors will be too clear, and the unique soft beauty of Kumejima Tsumugi cannot be expressed.

This process requires not only accuracy but also tenacity in order to make the pattern look exactly as designed.


④Standard thread removal


Standard thread is the original thread that determines the position of the Kasuri.

Follow the steps below.


・Apply glue to the cotton thread and hang it on the picture stand.

・After carefully applying ink according to the design, make standard threads.

・The weft thread is warped to the length of the standard thread after reeling.

・After the standard threads are stretched along the weft threads, the marked points are tied.



One of the characteristics of Kumejima Tsumugi is that only plants that grow naturally in Okinawa Prefecture are used for dyeing.

Dyeing will start around September.

This is because the humidity is low and the sunlight is soft.


Typical colors include reddish brown, yellow, warbler color, sooty bamboo color, and silver gray (bright silvery gray).

The color changes depending on the “raw material plant” and “raw material used for mordant”.

Mordanting is the process of coloring and fixing the pigments of plants on threads.


⑥Temporary reed threading and winding


A reed is a comb-like tool used to space the warp threads and align the weft threads in place to smooth out the weave.

In addition, the ground threads are warped after reeling.

In order to express the kasuri pattern according to the design, the kasuri threads and the ground threads are split, and two threads are passed through each eye of the temporary reed.

The warp threads are combed and tightly wound.


⑦Unraveling Kasuri


The warp is made by untying the bundled cotton threads, applying glue, and then pulling.

After separating the weft threads one by one, they are wound together with the ground thread around a small tube and attached to the loom.




After completing the preparations such as passing the warp threads between the two base threads that are threaded through the temporary reed, the weaving process finally begins.

Craftsmen use “Takaori”, a type of handloom.

The shuttle is thrown left and right by hand and the weft thread is passed through the weft, then the reed is driven into the shuttle using a traditional method called “hand-throwing shuttle”.




After the weaving process is complete, the fabric is folded back to the same width and folded.

After that, wash it with lukewarm water of about 30°C and dry it in the sun.


When it is almost dry, adjust the weave and fold it again while folding it back to the same width.

Then, after wrapping it in cotton, kinutauchi is performed.

Kinutauchi is a technique in which two people hold a pestle or a wooden mallet and beat the cloth hundreds of times.

By doing this, the pongee comes out with a lustrous and astringent color, so it is a very important work.


Finally, after drying it in the sun, the wrinkles are smoothed out and the finish is complete.





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