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Yuzen. Hmm. On the surface a very easy subject. If you are at all interested in Japanese fabric, you will have come across this term repeatedly.

Miyazaki Yuzensai (1650-1736) was a very popular fan painter in Kyoto for most of his career. As happens even today, famous painters were often asked to apply their artistry to many surfaces, including the kimono of fashionable ladies. The drawback to painters, rather than dyers, practicing in this manner is in how permanent the imagery. To an exquisitely painted kimono add a little rain and you have the recipe for disaster. Miyazaki Yuzensai was able to develop a method by which he could create imagery on silk that in no way paled in comparison to his highly sought after fans - and remained colorfast.
So what is this technique? In a nutshell it involves painting with a washable fixative - to hold the dyes in place and keep them from washing or bleeding out later. Today this is technically referred to as sugaki-yuzen (lit. simple painted yuzen) or tegaki-yuzen (lit. hand painted yuzen), and is further subdivided into marubake-yuzen (lit. round brush yuuzen), ebabokashi (lit. pictorial haori with shadings), nuregaki-yuzen (lit. moist cloth painting), and so on.
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hand painted fukusa on chirimen
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Later, a resist was employed to create troughs, or dams, in which the colors could be contained until dry, giving very sharp, clear imagery in fine detail. The technical term for this process is tsutsugaki, literally cone drawing.

A cone, much like a pastry tube, is used to apply the resist. The resist protects areas of the cloth from absorbing any dye, creating an outline. This is the process most people believe they are referring to when they use the term yuzen. It is subdivided into various branches such as noriitome-yuzen (lit. thread paste yuzen, that is, paste lines as fine as thread), sekidashi-yuzen, and so on. Easy enough.
However, things became a bit complicated after new technology entered the arena over time. Today we may find the traditional cone-yuzen being practiced, as always. We also find wax resist (batik) yuzen, silk screen yuzen, block print yuzen, guta (latex) yuzen, shibori (tie-dye) yuzen, and on and on. Confused? You should be! Read on...
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koto cover

The outlines and background were coated with a resist paste to prevent them from receiving any color.
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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.
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