Making ikat patterns after all the work was done
The clan lord in Yumihama, Tottori, encouraged the women of the domain to weave cloth to supply their own needs and make some extra income. So when they were not working in the fields or doing housework mothers and their daughters spun thread or dyed yarn ready for ikat weaving. It came to be said that young women who wove ikat well found the best husbands. Thus it was that women gradually acquired the techniques to develop the simple yet beautiful cloth we know as Yumigahama ikat.
Simple patterns and a crisp texture
Yumihama ikat is a cotton fabric using pre-dyed yarn to make ikat designs of white on deep indigo that was originally made by the farmer women for their own needs. Mr Katsuyoshi Murakami has been devoted to the making of this fabric for more than 40 years and now makes it with his wife Kazue. Both are accredited master craftsman.
Mr Katsuyoshi Murakami, master craftsman
Pride in its role
Mr Murakami explains the features of Yumihama fabric like this: "First of all it was made for farm clothes so it had to be strong and durable and the genuine indigo coloring became more beautiful every time the fabric was washed. Secondly it has a marvelous texture: the cotton used to make it has the warmth of wool but it is softer. And thirdly, the patterns are simple. These patterns have been passed down over more than 200 years from farming women who put their whole heart into their weaving and I love them."
Working on one of their well-used looms
A tradition maintained by being open-minded
Mr Murakami looked back over the years of his association with this cloth that he loves so much and says: "I am from Hiroshima originally and I came to Tottori in search of cotton thread after the war when there was a shortage of everything. One of my relatives was making ikat cloth here and I learned how to do it by watching. I didn't become an apprentice or study with a teacher or anything. So I learned everything from scratch, but I don't remember suffering very much in the process. I suppose it was because I was always so intent on the work and I never had time to think about such things." By the Meiji era (1868-1912) Tottori Prefecture had become the third biggest producer of ikat cloth. But with the advent of Western spinning technology and changes in lifestyle from Japanese to Western most of the weaving companies went by the wayside in the years that followed.
"I suppose if our company had been too insistent on sticking to the old-fashioned products we would have folded too. But I was intent upon building up my techniques so that I could keep developing new products." Mr Murakami smiles disarmingly and his wife beside him smiles in support.
A reappraisal of cotton
There has been a revival of interest in cotton, to the extent that a cotton futon cover that Mr Murakami developed was recently featured in a fashionable magazine. "I think Japanese people feel most comfortable with the simple gentleness of cotton and I just want to continue making the kind of products that Japanese people feel most at home with," he says. As we talked the clack of the loom continued at its own gentle pace from the workshop in the back.