Kiryu city is placed in Gunma prefecture where is known for the production of good silk. Cultivation of silkworm and mulberry also has long history. There is no doubt silk weaving became a big industry here.
However, the beginning is based on myth of Princess Shirataki. She lived about 1200 years ago in Heian-kyo and brought everything necessary for silk fabric from there when she married to a man in Kiryu city. She still is celebrated in Shirataki shrine.
Kiryu Ori became famous across Japan when Tokugawa Ieyasu (The founder of Tokugawa shogunate) requested silk flag for Sekigahara war in 1600. A lot of, and Good-quality white flags made of silk were soon gathered for him and the productivity and quality stunned everyone.
Later in Edo era (1603-1867), Kiryu Ori artisans started high-class fabrics using gold and silver thread. One reason for this is the support from Tokugawa shogunate, but another is the skills of the artisans became high enough for complicated designs, for they learned techniques from Nishizin Ori after Edo started. They are called Kinran Donsu or Ito Nishiki.
Modern Kiryu Ori has another characteristic, using Jacquard loom, the mechanical loom invented by a French person, Joseph Marie Jacquard, for more complicated, detailed design. By using punch card (“Mon Gami”), the machine can choose which weft should be on warp and make the production much easier. It was difficult and time consuming to set the thread before, however after adopting this, numerous number of design is available by only changing punch card and thread setting.
Techniques and designs of Kinran Donsu and Ito Nishiki probably suited for the Jacquard loom. The procedure still need dyeing threads, setting them on the loom (called Hatagoshirae), and weave a fabric. Now Kiryu Ori is used not only as daily Kimonos but also as stage clothes.
Kiryu Ori was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 1977.