Kudzu-fu (Kudzu Cloth)
The cloth has earthy sheen and plain grace.
Although it is made from vines, which exists everywhere in Japan, its simple beauty attracted many people in the past and it was used to be used in various products. In spite of that fact, most of today’s people don’t even know the name of that craft.
Kudzu-fu is a cloth that is interwoven fibers of kudzu vine as weft*. The fiber of kudzu has beautiful glossiness on its surface and the color shifted into levels of brown year by year like the picture below.
* Weft: Threads which are woven horizontally when you weave. Vertical threads are called warp.
Kudzu is so familiar in Japan because it can be seen everywhere and it can be an ingredient, livestock food and a kind of medicine, too. Unfortunately, because of their growth speed, kudzu is considered harmful in some area in the world. However, kudzu-fu became popular both in Japan and outside of Japan.
It is said kudzu fibers has been used since ancient times. In Japan, kudzu-fu became very popular and was used for outfits of samurai and nobles in the Edo Period. In the Meiji Period, kudzu-fu was sold as the textile for fusuma (Japanese slide panels which act as doors). For outside of Japan, it was exported as curtain and wall cloth. The production of kudzu-fu was at its peak at that time and there were lots of kudzu-fu manufacturers and weavers in the Kakegawa area in Shizuoka Prefecture and surrounding area but the number of manufacturers and weavers has been dwindling, and now very few people are working on kudzu-fu production.
Weeds to Shiny Yarns
Kudzu grows on mountains and fields, everywhere. And the fibers of kudzu, which will become the yarn of kudzu-fu, can be obtained from vines of kudzu. Looking at the cross section of the stem, you can see outer skin, the bast, which is inner white skin and a core inside the inner skin, and the bast will become the yarn. To separate the bast from other parts, it needs some process. Kudzu vines need to be boiled for a few minutes and after that the boiled vines are soaked in running water for one night and next it is placed in the pile of grasses and fermented for two days.
These procedures should be done with great care; not as easy as it sounds. Boiling vines sounds easy, like just put plants into boiling water, but it doesn’t. The time of boiling changes with humidity, temperature or season. Soaking vines in running water is not done with tap water; the quality of water is important so people who work on this use clean river water in upstream. The span of fermentation is exact process too. If the time would be too long, like one day over, strength and toughness of fibers would weaken.
It takes a lot of time and care just to separate the bast from vines, and yet the fibers obtained for the yarn of kudzu-fu can be 1% of the vine’s weight.
After they got the bast, they wash it with river water and soak it into bran or water that has been used to wash rice to get rid of oils on the surface of the bast and wash it with river water again. At last, to get kudzu fibers, they dry it in the sunshine, and finally they get fibers for the yarn. And then they start tearing it into the needed size for each product at the direction of a manufacturer of kudzu-fu, who already checked the dried fibers and decided each size of yarn, and interknot those fibers to make it into long strings. Because it is interknoted, kudzu cloth’s characteristic knots appear on its surface when it’s weaved. After that, the interknoted long yarn is spooled and become the wisp of the strings which is called “Tsuguri.” By the time kudzu vines are into this tsuguri, the quality of sheen is getting more sophisticated.
The yarn made of kudzu is such a delicate thread that it is woven by hand and needs to be woven carefully. As for warp, many kinds of yarn can be used; usually what would be used is silk or cotton. The combination of kudzu weft and various kinds of warp shows calm and beautiful patterns.
Introduce A Shokunin of Kudzu-fu
A female shokunin I interviewed, who is working as a weaver, was diligent, conscientious and considerate.
She told me she doesn’t want to make shoddy things. That is because she puts herself in a customer’s shoes and she imagines if she would buy this product she is making right now. She thinks providing bad products to customers is rude and disrespectful to them so she would never make shoddy products. That’s her way of thinking. Although customers may not be able to judge the quality of kudzu-fu and they may never know if the product they bought is of poor quality, it doesn’t matter for her. She knows that and she can judge the quality. Therefore, she can always do her quality work.
Also, she told me she needs to put forth her best effort to make good products. Otherwise customers probably would not buy their products again. The effort means to heighten her own skills and never cut corners at work. “When my workday is done, I always get in the mindset that I will weave more tidily and complete products better tomorrow and will do that much more the day after tomorrow.” She tries to improve her skills and the quality of products everyday.
At the end of the interview, she said, “Kudzu-fu is a simple craft but it takes a lot of time and many hands to produce. I hope that care and the warmth of kudzu-fu could reach and touch customers’ hearts.”
Ozaki Kappu Kougei
Address: 3-4, Shiroshita, Kakegawa-shi, Shizuoka, 436-0091, Japan