Nishijin ori (西陣織, lit. 'Nishijin weaving') is the name given to a traditional Japanese textile and the techniques to manufacture it. It is a rich brocade created using pre-dyed silk thread in usually brilliant colors.
It originated in a district in Kyoto called Nishijin. For this reason, authentic Nishijin ori fabric needs to be woven in this area.
Nishijin ori is traditionally made using hand-dyed silk thread, woven by hand or with the use of a jacquard machine. It is said that there are about 150 different techniques and styles, each with unique naming. This makes it difficult for non-experts to recognize the wide scope of existing nuances.
However, most people address the textile by its generic name, sometimes naming an easily recognizable style or technique, such as Kinran (金襴, which includes gold thread) or Tsume tsuzure (爪綴れ, lit. 'nail rag', where the artisan uses his or her nails to weave thread instead of a jacquard machine. Also called Tsuzure ori, 綴織).
While it is traditionally used to manufacture obi (kimono sash), Nishijin ori's stiffness and high strength make it suitable to manufacture a large number of home goods, such as curtains and wall decorations. Several manufacturers make virtually any apparel item and fashion accessories that include wallets, purses and neckties.
Thanks to the extreme care that artisans put in the weaving process, Nishijin ori is characterized by an incredible longevity, especially when woven using the jacquard machine. Some well-preserved obi sashes are more than a century old, and they still feature rich colors and a solid structure.
Nishijin ori is known to have evolved from Chinese weaving techniques, imported to Japan in the 5th and 6th century. It falls into the ikat category of weaving techniques, called 'kasuri' in Japanese. It reached the state of art around 1500 AD when unique designs and techniques required specific naming to distinguish it from its original form.
A piece of fabric must meet two requirements to earn the naming of Nishijin ori:
- It needs to be woven in Kyoto
- It must be made exclusively using thread that was dyed in advance, called kasuri in Japanese.
Traditionally, Nishijin ori fabric is woven in the Nishijin district of Kyoto, using only hand-dyed silk thread with the occasional addition of precious materials (often gold and silver). However, as the naming regulations only address the city of origin and the nature of the thread used, manufacturers have found several ways to cut costs. It is not uncommon today to find items made with the use of fully automated weaving machines, synthetic fibers instead of silk, and with thread made overseas. Some will also work with artisans that are indeed in Kyoto, although not located in the Nishijin district.
Despite the loose regulations, Nishijin ori items featured on KiGinKin are made using fully authentic fabric woven in Nishijin, using traditional methods and natural raw materials.
Did you know?
• An obi sash made with authentic Nishijin ori fabric may cost several thousand EUR or USD. The high price is caused by the high quality of the materials and the time required to make it. In some cases, weeks or even months will be spent to make a single obi–and that doesn't include the time required to prepare the thread made by a separate artisan.
First, the artisan will hand-paint on paper the design that will be woven into the sash. Next they will select the threads and apply them to the jacquard machine, or prepare them individually by hand in case of Tsume tsuzure (nail rag), before moving on to the actual weaving.
The result is a long-lasting fabric, which will also preserve its rich colors for decades. It is common for an authentic obi to be worn for generations.
Sometimes you will find authentic Nishijin ori at lower prices. This may be the result of a few variables. Trends (prices are lower for designs that are particularly popular or, on the contrary, very peculiar), sizes, or partial use of the precious fabric on the inner side of the obi all factor into cost. When you are looking at an obi sash with a suspiciously low price, it is recommended to ask questions about materials used, weaving methods, and country of origin.
Showing interest and basic knowledge is often appreciated by manufacturers and artisans, so don't be shy and go ahead with your questions!
• At KiGinKin, we steer clear of fabric that is not made using silk thread, or woven using fully automatic machines.