This article is Part 2 of the interview with the married couple Fumiko and Homare Yamashita, who have their atelier “Kihachijo Meyu Kobo” on the island, Hachijo-jima.
Fashion Headline (FH): How have overseas buyers reacted to Kihachijo silk?
Fumiko: In France, a world conference named the “Natural Dyes and Pigments Conference” is held. When I went to Paris to attend the conference with my husband, I walked the city wearing a kimono. A little boy I met on the metro was very interested in what I was wearing, and I think that if I'd been able to speak in French, I'd have been able to teach him more about the fabric and aroused his interest. It’s very important to communicate the story behind the products.
FH: How are natural plant dyes from Japan different to those overseas?
Overseas, the dyes are extracted from wooden chips, where as in Japan, the dyes are created by simmering the ingredients. Clothes dyed overseas are washed after wear, which causes damage to the fabrics and once damaged, the clothes get thrown away. In Japan, we use the dyes for kimonos, which are usually cherished over a lifetime and often passed down to the next generation. That’s why it’s important for us to think about this when we implement the dyeing techniques.
FH: Kihachijo silk is one of the many things about Japan that we’d like to communicate overseas. I’m sure that with the right communication, people outside of Japan will come to learn about the many charms of our country.
The Yamashitas: We agree. When we talk about how Kihachijo silk is created to people from overseas, they are very surprised and interested. On the last Sunday of every October, an event about Kihachijo silk is held in Ginza. We walk around the city wearing kimonos made of the fabric. This event is very popular among foreigners.
FH: Earlier, I saw a kimono made of wild silk and the translucent blue-green color was beautiful. It made quite an impression on me, and I’m amazed that it’s made with just one material.
The Yamashitas: Silkworms live outside, so when a bird tries to attack them, they stop producing their thread. When they resume producing their thread, they produce it from a different part of their body, so it’s very difficult to obtain large amounts of thread from one silkworm, even though they are relatively big in size. It’s very hard to spin the thread because it can’t be stretched, and the dyeing process needs to be repeated nearly 30 times.
FH: So creating wild silk fabrics is time consuming, difficult and cannot be produced in mass. Why do you go through all these efforts?
The Yamashitas: The dyeing process for Kihachijo silk needs to be repeated 15 to 20 times, so 30 times is not much different. If you try to dye the wild silk in one go, it’s difficult, but if you spend the required time, it’s possible. It’s worth the effort.
FH: So there really isn’t any task that you find bothersome?
Fumiko: No. I guess it comes down to the fact that we love what we do. When I have a challenging project in front of me, I tell myself, “Who’s going to weave this if I don’t?”
FH: Homare handles the dyeing process, which includes growing the plants, picking them, creating the dyes and then drying the threads under the sun. Everything is done by hand.
Homare: What we do is simple, so it’s really about making the most of our experiences. The natural environment is uncontrollable, and it often creates surprises for us. I think the most important thing is to continue to work with our hands and make the most of what nature offers us.
FH: Is weaving the same way?
Fumiko: Yes it is. If there is a particular weave that I want to create for the first time, I concentrate on calculating the specifics of the weave. By trying out new weaves, I discover new forms of expression, and that’s what makes the process so special to me. We aim to create new values with what the natural environment prepares for us.
【Kihachijo Meyu Kobo】
Address: 2542 Nakanogo, Hachijo-machi Hachijo-jima, Tokyo
*Tours of the atelier are available upon reservation.
Return to Part 1.