Japanese weft kasuri (ikat dyeing)

Practice with weaving Japanese weft ikat (緯絣, yokogasuri).

For the first course of the Fall semester, we had the choice between weft kasuri (緯絣, yokogasuri) and hogushi-ori, a technique that combines silk screen printing and weaving. I chose weft kasuri because it is a very traditional Japanese technique, and because while I could somewhat wrap my head around hogushi weaving (because of having seen some of the 4th year students working on it), weft kasuri was a complete mystery to me! For the weft kasuri all dyeing (both warp and weft) was done with indigo, which was another deciding factor for me. We had dyed our warp with indigo for a previous project, but I really wanted to get a better grasp at it.

It turns out that weft kasuri is much more simple than I thought! The patterns it creates look complicated, and weaving them is quite slow and requires a lot of attention, but the overall method is really quite simple. The basic idea is that a simple tie-dye pattern on the weft yarn (which one would expect to yield a rectangular pattern, or no specific pattern at all) can produce either block, angular or curvy patterns on the loom, depending on how the weft was measured. Let’s see how!

Tied kasuri bundles waiting to be dyed with indigo

We were taught three main “methods” of making a pattern: no.1 being a block-design pattern, where a weft bundle matching the fabric width is made, and sections of the weft bundle are tied in one or more places. The dyed weft is woven to the fabric as is, producing rectangular blocks of different width and length depending on the tying. I have no samples of this, as we already used this technique in the warp kasuri course.

First trials on the loom

Method no.2 bundles are produced in the same way as in no.1; however, when weaving, the weft is not matched to a block shape but shaped by pulling the weft forward ever so slightly after the first pick. By continuing to weave as is (no more pulling!), the dyed pattern with move forward little by little, creating a V-shape. The shape can then be reversed at any point by feeding a little more weft than usual to one pick and continuing to weave as is. The shape starts to “decrease”, creating a diamond shape. 

In method no.3 bundles are not matched to the fabric width, but made wider (tying the bundle and dyeing are done exactly the same as in methods 1 and 2). Anywhere between a 1cm to 8cm increase in width worked quite nicely. This extra length in the weft gives freedom to shape the patterns freely in any way you want (or almost), making curvy lines and uneven shapes possible. This method leaves extra weft hanging on the sides of the fabric though, so those need to be tucked in or at least cut off at the end of the project.

Bottom: A wave pattern woven with method 3; top: diamond pattern woven with method 2.

While it took a couple of samples to figure out how it was possible to move the weft and shape the patterns, I found this project incredibly liberating in the sense that the patterns did not need to be planned out in advance, but they could be freely decided on the loom. The samples I made were quite small (8-15cm in height), so I was able to try many different kinds of patterns. It was also interesting to see how the placement of the tie wraps produced different kinds of designs: small, frequent wraps result in more dense, whereas wide wraps that are more spaced out produce calmer, big patterns.

Patterns woven with different kasuri bundles

Although I did not do advance planning for my samples, it is an option though, and could come very handy when wanting to be able to weave a very specific pattern, or when designing a longer repeat pattern instead of short samples. This would mean drawing the pattern shapes out and calculating the width and spacing of the ties, thinking about how dense or spaced the ties should be to produce the desired effect. 

Weft kasuri designs can also be used as samples for warp kasuri, especially when one has access to a warp shifter. This is what I’m actually doing for my last project: taking one of my weft kasuri designs as a starting point for a new warp kasuri pattern. Stay tuned!

Click here to view more pictures of this project, and here to read my post on tate kasuri (warp ikat)!

© 2019 Elisa Penttilä

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