Tie-dyeing in Japan dates back to the Nara period (8th century), when kanoko techniques to create dappled patterns, like those found on young deer, reached Japan across the Silk Road from central Asia. Arimatsu tie-dyeing started about 400 years ago. The tradition began when Takeda Shōkurō tie-dyed long Japanese hand towels made from Mikawa Momen cotton. He started his new business and attracted customers who were traveling the Tōkaidō feudal highway, which passed through Arimatsu. As business flourished, so too grew the town of Arimatsu. In the mid-19th century, with the coming of the modern age, the highway trade fell off. Adopting some mechanical techniques to increase production, the local crafters increased the range of design possibilities by developing a number of innovations, including Arashi Shibori, which involved binding cloth wrapped around poles. Through cycles of growth and decline, the craft of Arimatsu Shibori has been marked by the constant pursuit of something new.
Variety of design is the outstanding feature of Arimatsu Shibori. As well as a legacy of tied motifs such as tegumo hand spiders, history has endowed the craft with sewn designs including mokume woodgrain, karamatsu larch, and orinui fold and sew patterns. In the whole world, only Arimatsu has such a rich legacy of more than 100 traditional designs. Tying, sewing, folding... the crafters create an astounding variety of designs which, because they are hand-made, possess the beauty of the human touch. Overall, the designs project a subtle dimensional effect. Their warm and inviting look, along with the fit and feel of the cloth, makes them suitable for yukata and other clothing worn next to the skin.
This picture shows tightly bound spires of cloth before the dyeing process. The pattern is revealed afterwards, when the threads are removed. During Arimatsu Shibori, cloth is usually dyed in the stages listed below. In a finely separated division of labor, through to completion, the hands of a number of crafters work on each product. Because the vegetable dye and natural fabric subtly vary the coloration, and because the artisans do not consistently apply precisely the same force during operations, the finished designs may vary greatly. It does not matter how seasoned the artisans are – it is extremely difficult to reproduce exactly the same pattern on different pieces of cloth.