The Wool of Wisteria

Fujifu fabric

Wisteria is a woody climbing vine that is a member of the pea family. It is native to the Eastern United States, China, Korea and Japan. In Japan, images of the flowers have adorned china bowls and plates for centuries; temple crests, scenes of photos and even in paintings of young women immaculately dressed in kimonos, standing in front of the purple drape of wisteria blossoms.

Fuji-iro (iro – meaning color in Japanese) is said to have been named after the fuji flower--the color of wisteria in Japan. According to Japanese historians, during the Roman Empire the Japanese Emperor would only wear clothes of this color as the dyed silk had the same value as gold. Dyeing textiles in the purple hues of wisteria was a challenge for dyers, making it the color only used for nobility around the world.

Yushisha, a well-known silk manufacturer based in Japan has supported the resurgence of fujifu fabric production over the last 30 years. Through the company’s prolific production, fujifu is recognized as a “material cultural good.” During September’s Premiere Vision, Yushisha was one of the 13 exhibitors that had an opportunity to showcase their unique artisan skills and techniques within the Maison d’Exceptions Hall.

The process of turning the wisteria into a workable yarn is a complicated process according to Orimono-san from Yushisha. “The task at hand is quite labor-intensive and one has to be very focused,” he said. A great deal of patience is required to go through the numerous steps, which include chopping the wisteria, removing the bark, slicing and splitting of the vines, soaking the strips, boiling, rinsing and hand threading the fiber. And this is only the start from there the artisan hand-threads and spins the fiber, dyes it in its yarn state and finally weaves it.

Fujifu in its undyed state is a pale, creamy wheat color that has a rugged look and feel--unlike the finished fabric that is silky. In recent years, it has become softer with a silky sheen appearance, although this can vary and largely depends on the dyes used.

Yushisha is a pioneer in producing fujifu. The company ensures they are upholding both craftsmanship and traditional production methods. By combining this artisan skill and knowledge, Yushisha has been able to create lustrous fabric that is also soft. The texture is similar to hemp or linen, which provides designers a wide range of diversity including interior design or fashion pieces and can also be sewn into coats, dresses or bags.
During 2010, Yushisha began planting wisteria in their local area to help reintroduce the plants back into their natural environment. Fujifu is recognized as a designated traditional handicraft in Kyoto, Japan and is also produced in the Niigata and Ishikawa prefectures.

Ngaire Takano runs a consultancy that provides buying, sourcing and traceability (route mapping services) for businesses, individuals, fashion houses, designers and fashion students. Ngaire has a wealth of practical leadership in training, cultural awareness and business etiquette and has shared her knowledge to students and businesses for many years. This article first appeared on Ngaire’s blog at www.ngairetakano.com. To learn more about Yushisha, please visit: http://yushisha.com/

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