Sericulture and weaving are said to be brought in Chichibu city, the west part of Saitama prefecture, around 300 AC by the 10th Emperor Sujin. Since then, silk fabrics for daily uses such as for clothes and bedclothes have been produced in this area.
Until the modern period, the silk fabrics produced in this area were called “Chichibu Kinu” and loved by samurais and citizens for its toughness as a result of artisans’ skills.
For Chichibu Kinu, Tama Ito (a cocoon with two silkworms in it) is usually used to twit the thread. The weaving and pattern making is unique; first, the provisional weaving is done. Then the thin, provisionally woven fabric with vacancies is dyed by stencil dyeing method. Finally, the thin fabric is set back to the loom and the weft is added so that the fabric becomes thick and tough, while loosening the previously woven weft. The finished fabric has soft impression, even though the patterns are bright and vivid, since the loosening step and added weft improved the texture.
Because the fabric has same patterns and same looks on both sides, it can be reformed when the surface becomes dirty. The unique patterns and this practicality became to be loved by ladies in Meiji era (1868-1912) as fashionable but easy to use kimono, and the name of Chichibu Meisen became popular. It is said that 70% of Chichibu citizens from Meiji to early Showa era (1926-1989) were related to weaving or sericulture industry.
The artisans of Chichibu Meisen kept this traditional way of weaving since the loosening step cannot be automated. Japanese style kimonos, goods, and cushion covers are currently produced by hands in this area.
Chichibu Meisen was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 2013.