Attention, ladies! Tsumami-kanzashi are exquisite hair pins made from thin silk called ‘habutae,’ often designed to resemble filigree flowers or butterflies. This ancient Japanese craft dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867) and, sadly, nowadays they are only worn with traditional Japanese attire on special occasions such as Shichi-Go-San or Coming of Age Day. To change that, PingMag talks with artist Yonuko who aims to revive that craft with her beautifully modern style tsumami-kanzashi that are made of old kimono fabrics.
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
First, how did you get started making tsumami-kanzashi?
I went to a vocational school in Nara to study Japanese clothing manufacture, but they were extremely strict in their teaching method. I couldn’t take it any more and decided to quit and return to Tokyo. To turn over a new leaf, I opened a photo exhibition just for fun. It was a bit boring to fill the exhibition space with just photos, so I remembered a tsumami-kanzashi kit that I had bought at a workshop, made it in my own special style, and displayed it as well.
No doubt, a lacy tsumami-kanzashi adorns every hair.
Quite unexpectedly, someone who runs a shop in Tokyo took an interest in my hair pin at the exhibition. That was really how it all began, and I started an original brand called Himeko, meaning ‘princess child.’ Since all females, from children to elderly women, should experience what it feels like to be a princess.
What a soothing colour combination of violet, yellow and green!
Oh my! What a cute shape, you have to admit!
Moreover, this one has a nice name: “Parasol.”
This elegant one with a pearl can also be used as shawl pin.
Himeko tsumami-kanzashi hair pins have quite modern designs…
Traditional kanzashi hair pins have a certain dignity that is really beautiful, but they are difficult to coordinate with Western clothing. That is why they are not worn so often. That is too bad, as it is sad to see a tradition fading away with the passing of time. So, I am making Himeko kanzashi for women to easily wear them with everyday clothing and in various seasons.
Imagine, this design is based on mountain flowers. Photo by a-yarn
And this marvellous one is based on rape blossoms! Photo by a-yarn
What kind of materials do you use?
Most tsumami-kanzashi pins are made from a type of silk called habutae, but I use old kimono lining. Habutae is quite thin and shiny. However, the material I use is a bit thicker and the colours are a bit muddier to make the feel and colour really go well with casual clothing.
And how do you transform the fabric into tsumami-kanzashi?
First of all I cut the fabric into little squares. Holding the squares with tweezers, I fold them to create shapes. While they are still folding into the shapes, I paste them one by one onto a piece of fabric that serves as the base. Then I add beads or small natural stones for decoration –– and it is finished.
Fabric cut into small squares…
…folding the fabric into shapes…
…lastly adding beads to finish the piece.
The tools for a simple tsumami-kanzashi.
This work is so detailed! Your experience in studying how to make Japanese clothing must have been quite useful for that. How long does it take to make one piece?
Well, I try to finish in one or two hours, but I often can’t finish within that time. (Laughs) With tsumami-kanzashi, the balance of the feel of the materials and the combination of colours is very important, and you really don’t know what it will be like until you make it and see it with your own eyes. So even if I draw the design first, it turns out different in the end. So, the only thing I can do is to think of a design in my mind. I have gotten a little better at imagining designs, but often the actual piece still doesn’t turn out that way. Perhaps the only way to improve is to get more experience…
Another rainbow array of colours with this piece, entitled “Heart.”
Just like real flower petals — a piece, entitled “Pink.”
And you never run out of ideas for new designs?
At first I was really absorbed in making these, so I had lots of ideas. However, now three years have passed and it is hard to think of new ideas, and I often get stuck. (Laughs) I think that as I get more technique and experience, I will probably become more conservative in my designs.
What do you do to get new inspiration?
I go back to a piece I made at the beginning, when I was really into it, and remake it. I feel that at that time I had a very energetic sense of creativity, but I didn’t have experience, so I was full of vigour to try challenging pieces. Now I am trying to improve on those.
Very well! What would be your next challenges in terms of making tsumami-kanzashi hair pins?
I am planning to hold solo and group exhibitions. Also, I am hoping to hold more workshops, because I want to spread the art of tsumami-kanzashi.
Yonuko, thank you for telling as all about this fascinating art!