Matsue’s neighboring town of Yasugi is most famous for the renowned Japanese style garden at Adachi Museum of Art and the bumbling but endearing Dojou-sukui folk dance, but got Amago-clan samurai history to boast of, as well as a number of traditional crafts. I had originally heard about the indigo-dyeing classes, but I wound up trying Yasugi-style weaving (Yasugi-ori) first, one of a handful of local styles.

I was invited to the home of a family that produces Yasugi-ori, a style of picture-weaving that originates in the Edo era. After getting to see a handful of their completed projects, I went to the workroom next to the house to try it out myself.

They had one of the looms set up with basic white warp threads (the ones pulled taunt on a loom that you weave through), and had dark indigo and white weft threads (the ones you weave with to fill the pattern) ready for me. They are not limited to these traditional colors in their weaving, nor are they limited to the thick cottony threads prepared. Yasugi-ori was originally made in silk, but today you can put in whatever ribbon you think would have an interesting color and texture–theoretically, anyway. Most people would be surprised when if they went to buy Yasugi-ori and didn’t see the traditional face of Kannon in white and indigo! Another characteristic of Yasugi-ori is that the picture gets stronger and more distinct as you use and wash an item.

To make the picture-patterns, they start by preparing the weft threads for indigo dyeing. It starts with a number of spools of white string…

…which is hung from the ceiling…

…then woven around this thing.

I was told that this is where they divide portions to make a picture. Being easy overwhelmed by crafty things (I’m more comfortable with two dimensional art, thanks!), I can’t really fathom how this process actually works, but the result is that the areas that are to remain white are bound tightly so as not to left any dye seep through.

These threads are long are you can drag them across the room or make a large pile of them, but if you arrange them correctly, the picture-pattern begins to emerge.

Ta da!

In this piece (something to drape over a mirror when it’s not in use), the warp threads are all dyed indigo so as to soften the effect of the white blocks. In other styles, they might dye both the warp and the weft to result in a more stark contrast. You could also use different shades of indigo on a singe thread if you’re patient enough to dye one, bound again, and then dye again… but I am not this patient, so I can say nothing else about the process.

I did finish a little cloth of my own, though! It’s too big to be a coaster for a cup, but I can put it under flower vases and stuff to be decorative. I was so focused on not getting tangled up at first that I was stuck with a very, very simple pattern, but once I got going I regretted that. Once I got the flow of the loom, I could have gotten so much more creative in my pattern! Oh well. I suppose I could always go back and weave more, though I don’t expect to reach Kannon-levels of details.

My first attempt