Kanoko means fawn (literally, baby deer).   It is in reference to the tiny white camouflage spots a fawn looses as it grows older.
   I’m often amused when I hear someone tell me that kanokoshibori is created by tying the silk around a grain of rice. I’m sure the origins of this “myth-conception” (sorry!) are based upon a very logical misunderstanding, however it is passed along by people who seemingly have never cooked rice. When rice it cooked it swells, this would not only rip the silk, but would also leave you with a very sticky mess to wipe from the fiber before it could be sewn.
   To create the complex kanoko designs you see on this page, several steps are
required. After the artist has created a repeating pattern or image, it is transferred to hand-made mulberry paper (very similar to that used in katazome). The design is then translated into a series of dots and the holes are punch accordingly. If it is a repeating pattern, one stencil is used over and over again. If a single image for the garment, then several stencils are designed to work together.
   Through this stencil is brushed a very unique dye called aobana (blue flower). It leaves a blue-grey spot wherever there is a hole in the stencil. It is a very fugitive dye, and in this case ideal for the task at hand since it later disappears entirely on contact with water.
    The skilled craftsperson assigned to tying the silk must be sure to “pinch” every single spot as the minute portions are tied off. This is done by professionals using only their fingers and a
spool of thread that looks somewhat like a tatting shuttle.
    The tightly wrapped thread acts as the resist, preventing any dye from seeping into that portion of the fabric. Once the fabric has gone through one or more color changes by being steeped in dye, the string is removed and the white portions revealed. The heat of the dye not only sets the color, but also sets in the wrinkles that give shibori one of it’s many endearing qualities.
above and right: A man’s nagajuban (under-kimono) with the image of performers doing the Sparrow Dance. The grey, black, and brown sections are divided using nui-shibori.
    Many people believe this intricate work to be done by machine. Perhaps this is true in some cases, but everything illustrated on these pages is hand tied. I have not been able to find any information on any mechanized method of tying kanoko. If pressed, the Japanese professionals admit that they have no personal knowledge of this, and further admit, reluctantly,  that a great deal of contemporary work is done in China.
    Unfortunately, many collectors and connoisseurs believe that being produced in China lessens the inherent quality or value of a piece. I don’t. What difference does it make if the production is moved to the next prefecture, or a few more miles away? Beautiful work is beautiful work – no matter to whom those talented hands belong!
with John Marshall
Welcome new friends and old! I've often been asked to write about a variety of Japanese textile and culture related subjects. This page allows me the opportunity to address your requests and to ramble off on side subjects wherever my whim and imagination lead.
Ichiroya has graciously allowed me to use images from their site to illustrate my ramblings. This is not a financial arrangement I have made - I simply believe them to be wonderful people with whom I enjoy doing business, and wish to support their endeavors. Ichiroya is a web based treasure trove of Japanese textiles, antiques, and information. If you haven't visited them in the past, just click on the icon to the left! Or, click on any of the images below to be taken directly to their page for more images and information.
right: Entirely kanoko shobori, this kimono combines the clustering method with the outline method to create dynamic movement. Detail in banner above.

left: Heko obi (a man’s obi for casual wear) are frequently decorated with kanoko. This stunning example makes use of both positive and negative space to define the outlines of the castle in contrast to the clouds, trees and foreground images.
copyright logo.jpg
    Just what is shiborizome? The term tie-dye just doesn’t seem to cover it. Shiborizome is a compound noun, derived from the verbs shiboru and someru (when in compound form the “s” changes to “z” in pronunciation).
  You’ve seen -zome used in many other terms such as katazome (stenciling), yuzen-zome (Kyoto-style dyeing), ro-zome (wax resist) and so on. It simply means dyeing. 
  Shiboru is a little harder to define in English. According to Kakugawa Shoten’s Kokugojiten (Japanese-Japanese dictionary), it means 1) to wring (as in wring out the water from a wash cloth), 2) to squeeze ( as in squeeze the juice from a lemon), and 3) to gather (as in gather up  a curtain).
   All of these terms are clues to the process. Basically, if you are going to gather, tie, fold, stich and pull, or just plain bunch up the fabric to dye it, it will qualify as shiborizome. Officially, shiborizome is referred to as  manipulated resist in English.
   An excellent description of shiborizome appears in English on the web page by the Arimatsu Narumi Tie-Dye Museum.