Saturday, 8 September 2007

How Japanese gold threads are made

Our friends Ichiro and Yuka Wada who run Ichiroya send a regualar newsletter to all their customers and friends which contain interesting information about Japanese life, art, culture, and/or crafts. One of their recent newsletters was about how Japanese gold thread were made, I thought this would be of interest to readers following on from our previous post about stitching with gold thread and they have kindly given permission to reproduce it here. The links go to sites which are in Japanese but the pictures are interesting. "As same as other handicraft items, there are two kinds of gold threads, one is made with traditional technique and another is made with modern industrial technique. Traditional gold thread is made of real gold leaf. Here is the Japanese page about making gold threads. His making process is: ( you can see the images of these processes.) 1) Prepare very thin Japanese paper(washi). 2) Coat urushi on it with scraper. 3) Wait urushi drying. 4) Pick up very thin gold leaf with bamboo tweezers carefully. A gold leaf is 11cmx11cm (4.3in x 4.3in), and it only has 1/10000mm thickness. 5) Put it carefully on the urushi coated paper. Urushi bond the gold leaf to paper.Gold leaf is too thin, and wrinkles are easily made. And this process can't be retried. So this process is extremely difficult, and it takes more than 10 years to master this process. 6) Paper becomes 'hira-haku' (gold leaf paper), and dry it one or two days in 'muro' (urushi dry room) in basement. Urushi drying is not missing water process, but one kind of chemical change. It drys with getting humidity, so 'muro' is basement. 7) Cut the 'hira-haku' very finely. Cut 3cm-1.2in width to 60-100 strips! One width is only 0.3mm-0.12in !! In Meiji 25 (1892), hand-cut-equipment was invented, but before then craftman cut with only knives! This strips are used for weaving obi and other kinran fabric. 8) Wrap a thread with this strips, it becomes 'kinshi'(gold thread). 9) For core threads, yellowish silk threads are used. However, it is the top class kinshi, and 'jinken'(rayon) is often used for usual ones.You can get more precise image about how wrap a thread with gold strips here. Photos of the third column are this real kinshi's.After we know the details of kinshi, we understand why some kinran fabrics have incredible fine pattern and exceptionally soft touch, and some have stiff and textured touch. Quality of kinran is determined by the quality of kinshi, and it is determined by the gold purity, slimness of gold leaf and base paper and quality of core threads." With thanks to Ichiro and Yuka Wada - visit their blog at