Tsutsugaki, indigo folk fabric of Japan

Discover the little-known art of tsutsugaki at the Musée Guimet in Paris! Thirty textiles belonging to one of the richest private Japanese collections, as well a dozen pieces thanks to the prestigious Riboud funds, will be presented to the public outside of Japan for the first time in this intimate and rare exposition.
Tsutsugaki, 描, (from tsutsu, “tube” and gaki, “drawing”) refers to a technique of indigo dyeing in which rice paste stencils are used to create designs. By extension, tsutsugaki also refers to the resulting printed textiles, whose usage permeates traditional Japanese family life.
Born in the era of Muromachi (1337-1573), this folk art technique peaked during the peaceful Edo period (1603-1868) before enduring a long, gradual decline and almost disappearing by the end of World War II.
The esteemed reputation of tsutsugaki comes from their intense coloration and the delicacy of their designs, comparable to master paintings lacking only a signature.
And a signature is lacking for good reason: tsutsugaki are collective works, the result of the meeting of three distinct creative personalities. First, a designer creates and applies motifs onto hand-woven cotton canvas. A craftsman then retraces the fine contours of the image with paste applied from a rather large conical tube, protecting the motif regions from the indigo dye bath. The dyer-colorist tints the background of the tsutsugaki in this bath before finally applying colors within the motif by hand.
A single tsutsugaki appears to be one piece of fabric, though it is in fact composed of four or five separately-dyed swaths of canvas joined so that that the seams and joints are all but invisible.
The final charm of these paradoxical objects— collaborative yet unique, traditional yet innovative, impressive yet elegant, luxurious yet unaffected— lies in the love and powerful prayers placed within them by families. The intentions of the commissioner of a tsutsugaki are expressed graphically, each motif an omen of prosperity and longevity for its owners. Though patterns vary by region, four fundamental categories persist: human figures, animals, scenes of nature, and household objects.
When celebrating the benchmarks of family life (marriages, births), tsutsugaki graced kimonos, the saddles of brides on horseback, marital beds, religious altars, nobori (festival banners), as well as the jackets of prestigious firefighters.
In the depth of indigo blue, amidst the shishi (lion), dragons, koi, Paulownia, bamboo and cherry trees, teapots and kettles, the demons of legend and the heros of myth, tsutsugaki are a sacred invitation into Japanese culture.