Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


This paper will explore how the introduction of chemical dyes to Japan influenced the technique and designs of yuzen dyeing. Yuzen-zome, a resist-dyeing technique in which freehand designs were created with multiple colors, developed during the mid-Edo period, at the end of the 17th or beginning of the 18th century. The technique allowed for the creation of large pictorial images, unburdened by the repetitive patterns that characterize most textile techniques. It revolutionized kosode decoration.

Traditional yuzen-zome was a true handcraft, extremely labor intensive and, as a result, very expensive. Only the wealthy could afford kosode patterned in this method. As the technique gained in popularity, labor-cutting and cost-cutting methods, such as the use of stencils, were developed to make yuzen-dyed robes more widely available. By the early 19th century, designs became standardized and there was little variety. The introduction of chemical dyes by the middle of the 19th century brought about a renaissance in yuzen dyeing, making more complex designs possible while, at the same time, decreasing the amount of time needed to create them.

Two developments that changed the character of yuzen-dyed textiles of the Meiji era will be discussed in this paper: kata-yuzen, a stencil technique in which dye and paste are applied at the same time, and the use of Japanese artists to create designs for yuzen dyers to follow. The first technique was an evolution of the stencilresist technique. The newly introduced chemical dyes could be mixed with a starch resist paste and both applied through a stencil at the same time, thus combining two steps into one. It sped up the process and allowed for very precise, complex designs to be achieved.

The second change brought about during the Meiji period was the growing use of artists to create yuzen designs. Many painters, whose work was considered old fashioned and not modern enough for the Meiji rulers, sought work in the textile industry. The artists revitalized the late Edo-period designs and introduced more realistic patterns. This paper will examine the designs introduced by artists and their impact on kimono decoration.