「クリエーションに必要なことは、できるだけ多くのものを見たり、体験したり、勉強したり、また遊んだり、そんないろんなことで自分自身の感性を豊かにしていくことだと思います。経験は時間やお金に変えがたいものです。一日一日すべての事の積み重ねが自分達を成長させるエネルギーです。」今井 淳裕、千總 図案家

(my own translation) “To be able to create something you need to look at, experience, study and play with a wide variety of things. I believe all of these things enrich your own sensitivities. Money and time are no match for EXPERIENCE. The accumulation of your experiences each and every day become the energy that allows you to grow and move forward.” Imai Atsuhiro, Designer for Chiso, Kyoto-Yuzen Kimono Company


I have these words pinned up above my desk. I was able to sit in on a talk given by Imai-san at Kyoto Seika University last year as part of the regularly run course “Kyoto’s Traditional Arts & Crafts”. As a creator of sorts just starting out, these words really resonated with me. It’s true that you can’t force creation in a vacuum and something will always be lacking if you produce work with blinders on. Having just entered the 2 year master’s course at Kyoto Seika, I am especially keen to make the most of my time and widen my experiences as Imai-san suggested. And so, partly by chance, it happens that I visited 3 different dyeing studios in Kyoto in the past 2 weeks.

The central garden space in Takahashitoku 高橋徳YDSの庭。素敵!


The first was “Takahashitoku” a Kyoto Yuzen Dyeing Workshop that has been around for 100 years or so in the heart of textiles territory in Kyoto’s west. They create quite traditional looking yuzen dyed items and work as a contractor for other kimono companies in Kyoto. It’s in this beautiful old building with a gallery and shop downstairs and the magic happening upstairs. We were able to see some kimono being dyed and…just, wow! The resist lines of the yuzen were so fine that you would barely see them were they not using a blue rubber based resist paste. The dedicated workspace for each dyer, with rows of brushes and small dishes with the various colours of dye all ready to go really appealed to the perfectionist in me! I’m standing there thinking, “What am I doing in Master’s?! I want to come here and just concentrate on dyeing this ridiculously detailed kimono for 6 hours straight a day!” Call me crazy, perhaps. I was also happy and relieved to see that what I thought were my shonky methods (using laundry pegs and old plastic containers etc) are totally legitimate! Well, I’m not the only one, at least. 

Laundry clips and plastic containers and creative mess is legit! Phew!!


The second atelier I visited was “Kuriyama Kobo” a katazome studio out on the beautiful western edge of Kyoto. I went with a fellow textiles fanatic, Tallulah who was visiting from Australia. We were given a tour of the various parts of the studio. First, the dyeing area where a group of dyers were each quietly working away on one entire length of kimono fabric, kept taut on a special roller system. Clever! Also the pasting room with a very low ceiling where one man was busy smoothing a length of kimono silk (approx 12 metres) onto a sticky wooden table, making sure it remains straight and wrinkle free. This then gets left in the hands of the very skilled paster. There wasn’t anything being printed while we were there but the pasting man kindly gave us a quick demo on some paper, flicking the spatula around with such confidence. The studio had a great family vibe about it, the older staff supporting fresh graduates who have recently entered the company and everyone working closely together.

The dyers at Kuriyama Kobo. I want one of these roller systems! 栗山工房の染所
Mmm, blue resist paste. They put this strong blue coloured pigment in their paste to make it easy to see. Looks nasty though. 栗山工房では糊に青いを入れています。使いやすいかもしれないが、見た目はなんか気持ち悪い。
He’s never done this before. Not. 全然糊置きしたことないようね。嘘です。
perfectly matched detailed printing. 完璧にあわせた細かい模様。
apparently there are some avid bird watchers at the studio!工房の誰かが鳥が好きそうです^^
one of the dyers was dyeing a goldfish pattern. I think this was on linen. 金魚の模様が色差し中。


And finally, (I’ve just realised that I managed to visit 3 different studios using 3 different resist dyeing techniques! Go me!!) “Aono Kobo” a rouketsu-zome (wax resist dyeing) studio tucked away in the suburbs not too far from Kyoto Station, near Nishi Honganji Temple. This place was such a treat. Aono Yasuo the master of the place is such a character and we were lucky that he was there that day. The walls are decorated with Beatles paraphenalia and the bathroom has become guitar storage, The Kimono that Aono kobo produce are so different from what I have seen before and I think it’s really the playful, independant attitude of Aono-san coming through in the designs. Think kimono with words like “PEACE” and “LOVE” spelled out in large abstracted lettering or flame designs or bright blocks of colour with aztec-like border designs. 

Aono-san doing his thing. Applying dye after the wax resist had been hand-painted on. ロウが筆で置いたあと、手早く染めている青野さん。
Aono-san working on this kimono influenced by city nightscapes.

It was great to hear Aono-san talking (and laughing) about what Kimono mean to him and how others in the Kimono world may view his style as almost taboo but that making something the same way as someone else serves no purpose. He is dedicated to the traditionally held virtue of kimono, that is, beautiful to look at on display as well as bringing out the beauty of the wearer. But at he really builds on this is very playful and unconventional with the placement of design elements, use of colours and fabrics. It was a breath of fresh air to meet someone (especially someone who is Japanese) with an open-minded approach to Kimono. It gives me the hope that Kimono may be able to be kept alive and relevant to young generations.


Visiting a studio is like going inside somebody else’s creative brain. You see how they work, what they are influenced by, how they integrate their life and their creation. I’m really grateful to have been allowed to see inside these quite private places. These visits have given me new insights and ideas and the energy to move forward that Imai-san spoke about in his lecture.