Kasuri: Japanese textiles

2 - 31 July 2019

Kasuri is the Japanese name for a fabric patterning technique usually denoted by the Malay word ikat. The threads are partially dyed prior to weaving; the pattern results from crossing the warp and weft threads. Because the pre-dyed threads never precisely line up, kasuri fabrics can be identified by their seemingly frayed contours.

Most kasuri fabrics feature a white motif on an indigo-colored background, meaning that the pattern-forming sections of yarn do not need to be dyed. This is achieved either by tightly wrapping the yarn or with the aid of a rice paste applied using stencils.

Kasuri designs can be divided into two main groups: geometric and figurative themes. Whereas the former are generally created by partially dyeing the warp and weft threads (tate- yoko-kasuri), figurative kasuri are almost always weft ikats (yoko-kasuri). The themes of these ‘picture kasuri’ (e-gasuri) are primarily intended to bring good fortune. They show plants, animals, mythological figures, as well as buildings, landscapes and symbols of good luck. Kasuri with geometric and figural motifs are particularly attractive, but complicated to make.

It is thought that the kasuri technique initially arrived in Okinawa from India via South East Asia and reached the rest of Japan in the early 17th century. It was here that the autonomous technique of picture kasuri (e-gasuri) evolved, with their wealth of complex patterns. The main centers of kasuri production were the regions Kurume (Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyûshû) and Matsuyama (Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku), but kasuri were also produced in other regions of Japan. The textiles, mainly woven from cotton or hemp (asa), were used above all for kimonos and bedding (futon). Today they are sought-after collector’s items.

The exhibition features geometric and figurative kasuri from the 19th century.