2010 Weave of the week #6: Cute in crepe

The bunny shown above belongs to a collection of small Japanese fabric animals (this one is about 2″ high) that I have had for years,  but until I photographed it — and literally focused on it — I was surprisingly incurious about the fabric’s extremely crinkly texture.  The bunny’s costume is made of a woven crepe fabric that has so much movement it looks alive (see closeup below).

I did some research and discovered that this fabric is called chirimen (silk) crepe,  and that it has been produced in the Osaka and Kyoto areas of Japan since the 18th century.  It is a kimono fabric that is traditionally woven in silk,  but less expensive rayon and polyster versions are available.  Toys like mine — and accessories — are made from the kimono scraps.

Below is a detail of a fabulously embellished silk crepe kimono that was created by Japanese textile artist Kubota Itchiku (1917-2003) in 1981.  I chose it because of how clearly the crepe texture shows up in the large white areas.

Itchiku Kubota, Chirimen crepe kimono detail.

Mr. Kubota spent his life attempting to revive ancient Japanese textile dyeing techniques,  but ended up developing his own complex form of kimono art.  When he was unable to obtain the old-fashioned silk fabric he sought,  he substituted a thick chirimen crepe,  because,  as Tomoyuke Yamanobe explains,  in Opulence,  The Kimonos and Robes of Itchiku Kubota, ” With chirimen he is able to heighten the effect of wrinkles created in the shibori process and to intensify the impact of his colors and patterns.”  Here is more of the kimono:

Itchiku Kubota, Chirimen crepe kimono, 1981.

There is an Itchiku Kubota museum in Japan,  but the best way to see more of his remarkable work is to search the net.

Speaking of museums,  for more small objects made of chirimen crepe, visit the Chiri-men Craft Museum’s delightful website (link here).  It’s in Japanese,  but click around to find the pictures.

My animals are made of rayon or polyester.  Below is another chirimen crepe bunny,  wearing a wonderful crepe blanket with a rabbit on it,

and here is a third bunny,  looking dignified in a richly colored and patterned cape.

(All of the bunnies were photographed enthroned upon a small cushion made of chirimen crepe.)

Coincidentally, one of my recent blog posts (link here) shows a draft of a typical crepe weave that will produce a fabric that is described by Doris Goerner,  in Woven Structure and Design Part 1, as having an “irregular surface with small broken-up effects.”  But what was more interesting to me is what she says next: “Crêpe ‘effects’ can also be achieved with plain weave and the use of harder twisted yarns containing an equal combination of right and left twist.”

To find out more,  I contacted Takako Ukei, owner of Habu Textiles, in NYC, (link here ) to ask her about yarn for weaving chirimen crepe, and her reply was:

I do carry the silk for chirimen fabric.  It goes under the item numbers NS-7 & NS-8.  Comes in S or Z twist and a cone holds 3400 yds.  Please see below.



When I asked: “Do you know what weave is used to produce chirimen fabric?  Do you recommend an actual crepe weave to get that incredible texture with your yarn,  or will alternating the twists work with tabby and/or twill?”

Her answer was:

Chirimen is not woven in just one set way.  There are many variations of S + Z in many different picks.

Many of the articles that I read mentioned using a much heavier weft yarn,  and alternating  S and Z twists pick and pick, or two and two.  I haven’t experimented myself,  but if you have,  please share your results and I’ll post them.

Here’s a group photo of my three much-loved chirimen-crepe bunnies.  I have other crepe species too,  which I will introduce in future blog posts.  Unfortunately,  Old Japan,  a store owned by my friends Amie and Roku (link here),  and my source of chirimen-crepe animals and many other treasures,  no longer sells them.  Sadly,  the family-owned Kyoto company that made them  has gone out of business,  but from what I read,  interest in chirimen-crepe crafts is growing,  so maybe someone will make more fanciful,  adorable animals when the recession ends.


6 Responses

  1. Thanks for pointing me towards this post. These are fantastic! I hope you’ll be able to see the show – Sue’s toys are great.

    • Hi, Tali, Thanks very much for visiting and commenting. Glad you like the bunnies : ) I’m really looking forward to seeing the re:make show. It’s at the top of my list!


  2. Fern, I have experimented with differently spun yarns only to a small degree. But enough to see that the possibilities are limitless. Anne Sutton in her Structure of Weaving shows a vest woven in plain weave with s and z twist yarns to create a surface texture. The photo is dark but the caption said it all and led me to do my sample. This Japanese “crepe” also makes me think of collapse fabrics. Oh, to have time to play on the looms. Thanks for the article. I love my little critters made this way. Rachael

    • Welcome, Rachael, and thanks for the interesting comment. I don’t remember the vest you mentioned, but will look it up. And now your little critters are, unfortunately, collector’s items.


  3. I love the crepe bunnies and I also love Itchiku Kubota’s work! I have Kubota’s Opulence book that you mention, it’s so beautiful and inspiring, the colors and the intricate work, and to think that his first exhibit was at the age of 60 in 1977! What an interesting and wonderful post, thanks Fern, I really enjoyed it!


    • Hi, Eva, I looked at Itchiku Kubota’s amazing work again with new appreciation, and this time it struck me too that he was 60 when he had his first exhibit. Wouldn’t it be nice to have “scraps” from his kimonos?

      Thank you for your comment. So glad that you enjoyed the post.


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