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Throughout Japanese textile history, Kyokechi or itajime shibori has been known as a resist dyeing process wherein a piece of folded cloth is sandwiched between wooden boards clamped tightly to protect selective areas of fabric from dye. This paper introduces a lesser known group of itajime textiles called beni ita, beni itajime, Kyo beni -- fine, lightweight silks patterned by clamp resist using boards carved with pictorial designs of flowers, birds, etc. These silks were used exclusively for under layers -- shitagi, an underkimono worn by women in the latter Edo Period (1603-1867) through the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and into early Showa (1926-89). Because they were under layers, these textiles have been overlooked and given little documentation or serious study until recently.
Kyoto, the Imperial capital from 741-1869, was for centuries the center of fine silk dyeing. Certain fabrics were prized, like momi -- a fine red silk dyed with beni, the precious red fugitive color from safflower petals, one of the most expensive dyes in history. Kyoto had a monopoly on production of beni itajime silk until the 18th century. Then beni dyeing began in Takasaki in Gunma Prefecture which had long been a production center for lightweight silk. A recent discovery of an archive from a dyework in Takasaki revealed that in 1845 substitutes for safflower were used: sappan (Caesalpinia sappan L.) and turmeric (Curcuma longa L.). In 1875, newly introduced chemical red dyes were adopted. The manufacturing of red itajime silk began thereafter, capturing the popular market. This illuminating archive contains 74 carved boards and documentation that sheds significant light on the research of Japanese clamp resist dyeing methods.