After listing two new panels of kimono silk recently, I realized I’ve never posted about yuzen. Yuzen as a technique was first developed by Miyazaki Yuzensai, a fan maker in Kyoto in the early part of the Edo period (1603 – 1867). Yuzen is still a very popular kimono dyeing technique today, one that enables the dyer to imbue the silk with subtle variations of color and create shades that make a flower petal shine with dew and sunlight, all with the sweep of a paintbrush.
Starting with a concept sketch and an undyed bolt of silk stretched on springy bow-shaped bamboo frames, the artist applies a paste resist made from rice starch to the fabric using a tube with a fine point, not unlike decorating a cake. Once the work is completed and the reisist washed away, these white lines will give the completed design visual pop.
Once the resist has been applied, detail colors are added. Typical yuzen designs include plant motifs, as careful brushwork can produce very lifelike foliage and visual depth. Traditional stylized motifs are rendered with incredibly delicate detail. The resist allows many different colors to be applied in a small area without bleeding into each other. This requires a high level of skill and craftsmanship. Heaters are used to help the dye set faster, even in summertime.
After the details are completed, the background is filled in. Color is applied with a broad brush, quickly and evenly, allowing the details to stand out over the solid background. Once the bolt is completely dyed, it is steamed to set the dye and layed out–all twelve meters of it–in a river or custom built bath to rinse.
As a final decorative touch, gold leaf or embroidery may be added, or the artist may prefer to keep the overall design very subtle and sedate, depending on the taste of the client who will be wearing the finished kimono. If the kimono is for formal wear, family crests will be carefully dyed by artisans who specialize in such work.
Over all, it may take between seven and ten craftsmen at least twelve different steps to create a yuzen dyed kimono.
To see this process in action, simply search for “yuzen” on YouTube. There are several short videos both in Japanese and English that will give you a glimpse inside working yuzen studios in Japan. To learn gutta, a similar resist-dye technique, check out Silk Painting With Jill Kennedy in my Etsy shop.