What is Kurume Kasuri?
Kurume Kasuri is a traditional cotton fabric typical of Chikugo, an area in Fukuoka Prefecture, and is mainly made in the villages of Hirokawa, Chikugo and Yame. It is also used in the manufacture of the traditional “Happi” coat, which is worn while carrying wagons during the popular Yamakasa Festival.
Together with Iyo Kasuri (from the town of Matsuyama, in Ehime Prefecture) and Bing Kasuri (from the town of Fukuyama, in Hiroshima Prefecture), Kurume Kasuri is one of the three most famous Japanese Kasuri fabrics and its traditional technique has been recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Japan.
The Kurume Kasuri pattern is not realized at a later stage. Firstly, the cotton threads are tied with a rope and dyed in advance according to the drawing which will be created (following a technique known as “Kukuri”); the design is then built by weaving together dyed and not-dyed yarn.
Among its features, Kurume Kasuri is cool in summer, warm in winter and gets stronger and softer after each water washing.
With more than 30 steps, the Kurume Kasuri realization process takes around 2-3 months to be fully completed. Besides hand weaving, it implies the use of loom machines dating back to more than 100 years ago. Each Kurume Kasuri thread has a weaving width of 1 shaku (37 cm), which is the same used in the manufacture of kimonos. In addition to the typical indigo dye, other pigments have been adopted so to create a wider range of designs, still realized according to the traditional technique.
The history of Kurume Kasuri
Kurume Kasuri was invented by Den Inoue (1788-1869), a rice trader’s daughter who was about 12 at that time (approximately in 1800, during the second half of the Edo period).
Den noticed how the discoloured stains on old cloth may have shaped an image and therefore tried to untie the fabric threads: by doing so, she ended up discovering a new technique to create Kasuri patterns based on dyeing yarn with indigo colour according to the “Kukuri” method. The fabric immediately got strongly positive feedback. At the age of 40, Den counted more than 1000 disciples and her manufacturing is now considered as the main industry of those times.
Later, experience and ability allowed artisans to develop new models and more complex Kasuri designs, whose production became popular after the introduction of the electrical chassis. However, this kind of production dropped drastically during the post-war economic boom, when synthetic fabrics and Western fashion styles started to get known in Japan. But even if the manufacture of Kasuri has disappeared from other industrial areas, Kurume Kasuri is still an essential and traditional part of local industry.