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SAGA NISHIKI Japanese Weaving 佐賀錦

I am fascinated by fabric and weaving, and Saga Nishiki Japanese weaving is so elegant and even glamourous! 

In my late 20’s, I had the chance to live and work in Japan for a year in a tiny prefecture called “Saga” in the northern part of Kyushu.  During that time I was fortunate to learn about several types of local Japanese art works that you wouldn’t hear about much outside of the Prefecture itself.

The first of those was a type of Japanese weaving called Saga Nishiki (nish-ki is probably the best approximation of the pronunciation). It is sometimes called Saga Brocade. The video below shows the process.

Saga Nishiki weaving is time consuming, but a very meditative process...

In a nutshell, this woven art form is done on gold leaf bonded to traditional Japanese washi paper and finely spliced to form a superfine warp.  The weft is then woven into it (usually using colourful silk thread) into intricate patterns and the final woven product is often made into beautiful articles of clothing, purses and handbags, jewellery, kimono obi (belt) and smaller trinkets.

For the novice, this kind of Japanese weaving is a hugely time-consuming art form that does not produce significant results quickly. Yet, given time and (extraordinary) patience, the results can be truly spectacular. In my own experience I went to visit the artisans weaving their craft and sat with them for a few hours to learn the ropes of Saga Nishiki. I had to get my head around how to create a pattern and then how to weave the weft carefully without breaking any of the paper warp! It was tricky but it hooked me in. I was allowed to borrow and take home my loom and I paid for 1 metre of gold paper weft and several different colours of silk thread.

This is the gold leaf on washi paper warp. It is so fragile.
The other ladies I worked with to learn Saga Nishiki.
Dreadful old photo of me trying out Saga Nishiki Japanese weaving!

Initially, it took me about two hours to weave one centimetre of pattern into the weft but over time I got this down to one hour per centimetre. It sounds time consuming, doesn’t it! But, I had been bitten by the bug and soon I was dreaming of patterns in my sleep and would wake up and hurry over to the loom to see if I could recreate the pattern I had just thought of.  

Over the course of the one year that I was in Saga, I found that there were times when I could dedicate much to the nishiki weaving and times when it sat in the cupboard doing nothing, but by the time that the year was up I had woven about 60 centimetres of silk in various colours with various patterns.  I was excited to see what I could create with this new piece of fabric!  

This side has lots of weaving errors, but the pattern looks good don't you think?

However, in my haste to create new patterns and change colours I had accidentally done myself a disservice! To make most interesting items like a purse I needed at least 20 centimetres of the same pattern/colour to make anything of any substance!  So my 60 centimetres was cut and used to make much smaller items like jewellery, business card holders and embellishments on inkan (personal stamp) cases.  I still have some jewellery and two of the business card holders all these years later and can still zone in on the areas where I know I made a pattern mistake but couldn’t bear to unravel it!

We will see the weavers creating their Saga Nishiki Japanese Weaving in a presentation during the Art and Craft Tours to Japan!

Next time I am in Saga, I plan to visit the artisans again and purchase a proper loom and several lengths of warp to take home and keep going on with.  It has been a long time since I was in Saga, but the memory of creating such beautiful woven art pieces is as fresh as yesterday in my mind!

I have since learned that nishiki is also used with other prefectural and historical names. A link to info on Saga Nishiki Japanese weaving can be found here.

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