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Yuzen Dyeing 友禅染め

The Art of Dyeing Silk for Japanese Kimono

Have you ever wondered about Yuzen dyeing or considered how the Japanese paint onto beautiful silk kimono?

Yuzen is a technique for dyeing silk panels with elaborate and highly colourful designs. It can also be used on other fabrics such as cotton and hemp however, the technique is considered a Japanese art form and it is most commonly used in the decoration of traditional silk kimono.

Most notably, the kind of kimono that women would wear to a celebration such as a wedding, university graduation or for the "coming of age" ceremony when Japanese people turn 20 years old. 

where does yuzen dyeing originate?

(c) Melinda Heal Textile Artist. Image used with permission.

The technique took its inspiration from the batik dyeing methods that had been found in Japan as early as 710AD1, and it is said that yuzen was created during the Genroku period of Japan (1688-1703AD) by a fabric artisan called, "Yuzensai Miyazaki"4. His first name was applied to the technique and it became known as "Yuzen". 

However, unlike batik, it is not wax that is used to prepare the patterns onto the silk panels, it is a rice paste resist which is applied to the silk which contains the dyes to certain areas and which protects previously dyed areas. The rice paste resist is more flexible than wax and does not crack nor allow dyes to bleed into areas where they're not wanted. 

Kyoto is where the original yuzen technique was born making Kyo-Yuzen (Kyoto Yuzen) the base inspiration for yuzen around Japan. Another very well-known yuzen is called, Kaga-Yuzen from the Kaga region of Ishikawa Prefecture. Both follow the same techniques and are arguably almost identical however, each method claims something unique.

Kaga Yuzen's claim to fame is that it uses 5 colours (indigo, crimson, ochre, purple and black) and applies the colours to blend from the edges.2  Kyo-Yuzen uses a much more expansive range of colours including yellow and vermillion and further embellishes the silk panels with gold leaf and exquisite embroidery.3 

In a simple explanation, you could say that the two Yuzen are sisters from the same family - Kaga-Yuzen is modest and reserved, and Kyo-Yuzen is showy and exuberant. 

Where can I learn how to do Yuzen Dyeing?

To the best of my knowledge, yuzen dyeing techniques (whether they be Kyo-Yuzen or Kaga-Yuzen) are only taught in Japan. There are a few places in Kyoto and Kanazawa that offer workshops to help you get the feel for this art form and I have included a Kaga-Yuzen workshop in my art and craft tours to Japan. There is also an atelier in Kyoto that makes beautiful kimono with the Kyo-Yuzen dyeing techniques. They have a page dedicated to the process of making kimono with yuzen here

But I have a surprise for you...

Did you know that Australia has our very own yuzen textile artist?

Melinda Heal has spent over four years training at university in Kyoto, Japan in Kyo-Yuzen and Katazome stencil painting!

I interviewed Melinda in February, 2019 to ask her some burning questions I had about how to experience this art form for myself. Read on for Melinda's story...

References used: 
1: accessed 15 Feb, 2019
2: accessed 15 Feb, 2019
3: accessed 15 Feb, 2019
4: accessed 15 Feb, 2019

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