Itchiku Kubota's first encounter with Tsujigahana dyeing took place about fifty years ago, when he was twenty. While Kubota was the working on hand-painted Yuzen textiles, he noticed a fragment of ancient Tsujigahana cloth in the Tokyo National Museum collection.
"There was a piece of clothing - probably a remnant of apparel dating back several centuries - that displayed, before my dazzled eyes, a bed of small flowers printed on nerinuki cloth. And while only a ghost of its former splendour remained, through the faded colours I could imagine how it looked from the nuance of the colouring. I 'saw' it as it must have appeared several centuries ago.This small piece of textile used a process called "ghost dyeing". He decided then and there that, one day, he would recreate that dyeing method.
My heart was beating faster; I was moved, trembling and fascinated in the face of such mastery and refinement of beauty. For over three hours I remained transfixed there in the deserted museum hall contemplating this little fragment of fabric which seemed to have been on display in the showcase for me alone.
The encounter had been intense, charged with mystery. I later thought that, if such a thing as reincarnation did exist, then the creator of this tsujigahana dye would have been me."
- Itchiku Kubota
Tsujigahana appeared as a consequence of the desire to create beautiful patterns on kosode (small sleeve kimono). Towards the middle of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), shades and embroidery appeared and predominated in Japanese fashion trends - for example, among generals and their wives. From the 15th century on, people preferred wearing multi-coloured garments rather than those of a single colour.
Tsujigahana is a method for dyeing pictorial patterns that originally involved tie dye. The Tsujigahana process stretched tie-dyeing to the limit of its possibilities. For those parts that could not be tie-dyed, other methods were freely adopted, such as black or vermilion outlining, shading, imprinting with gold or silver leaf, embroidering, etc.
Because of technical limitations, early Tsujigahana has a rather rudimentary finish, but at the peak of the Momoyama period (1574-1614) this dyeing method developed into an extremely refined craftsmanship. However, it declined during the first part of the Edo period (1615-1867), and later disappeared entirely. Nowadays, examples of Tsujigahana and relevant literature are extremely rare, and there is no well-founded theory for the etymology of the term, nor the technical aspects involved.
There are many methods for producing Itchiku Tsujigahana and each method is chosen to suit the type of kimono required. These are a few basic procedures.