5 days ago
The use of bast fibers for the production of clothing and utilitarian objects predates the use of silk and cotton in Japan. The cloth in the main photo is known as 'tafu', hand-woven many decades ago, and made from the fibers derived from the section between the core and the bark of the mulberry / kozo shrub. The entire process from preparing the fiber, to making it into thread, to spinning it into yarn suitable for weaving -- all incredibly painstaking and labor intensive. It is a dyeing craft form, practiced by only a few. On our textile tour, we visited the village of Kito in Naka, Tokushima Prefecture, home to Tafu-ori, a local society for preservation of this skill. The leader of the society, Mr. Oshawa, showed us the small plot where the mulberry bushes grow (in early spring, the towering growth is yet to come, so the plot looks bare). After harvesting, the mulberry shrub sticks are steamed in a cauldron, then go through several other stages to yield the raw fiber, a large bundle of which is in one of the photos. The fibers are then hand-twisted together, then hand-spun into yarn, both slow processes requiring extreme patience. Our short intro workshop on making a few yards of thread suitable for Tafu weaving was pretty trying for all of us. The antique and contemporary examples of tafu cloth we got to examine were all the more awe-inspiring, as a result. One of the photos shows a 19th century Tafu farmer’s jacket, next to a contemporary reproduction made here, in Kito. Such impressive, humbling craftsmanship. By the way, other bast fibers historically used in Japan are hemp and ramie. At Tafu-ori, the mulberry fiber bits too short to be made into thread go to a nearby washi paper making facility.
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