During my latest trip to Japan I had a pleasure of visiting a town which have fascinated me for a long time. That is Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. Kanazawa is a castle town of the Kaga Clan known as "Kaga Hyakumangoku", which has been known for its traditional crafts,
such as Kaga Yuzen dyeing, Kutani ware, and Kanazawa lacquerware since ancient times.
The era from the 17th to the 19th centuries is called the “Edo Period” in Japan. Although the Tokugawa Shogunate functioned as a central government at that time, each
region was ruled by a feudal clan called a ‘han’. The financial and military power of each clan ‘han’ was expressed in terms of its annual rice yield. The Kaga Domain, which covered the area now known as Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures, had among the highest yields of any ‘han’ in Japan, at one million koku (around 150,000 tons) of rice. This high yield led to the region being known as “Kaga Hyakumangoku” (Kaga of a million koku)” and earned it special treatment from the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In order to alleviate the threat from the Shogunate, the Kaga clan lords, over many years, developed a strong interest in cultural initiatives and promoted the advancement of craftmanship. Craftmanship and performing arts were not only the preserve of the samurai class; gardeners and roofers were also fond of them, to the extent that it was said that “songs could be heard from the sky.” The inheritance of this culture and traditional craftmanship has continued unbroken until today.
My attention was paid to a particular traditional craftwork of this region:
‘Kaga Yubinuki’ (Kaga thimbles).
A thimble is a very useful, if not essential, tool designed for handling needlework.
It helps to push the back of the needle when sewing and prevent the needle from slipping.
Kaga Yubinuki is said to have originated as a work tool for seamstresses who made Kaga Yuzen kimonos. During the process of making these high-class kimonos, the threads were changed according to the dyed colours of the kimono patterns, and at times there were excess threads.
The leftover threads were still valuable, and the seamstresses would spend a year saving the colourful leftover silk threads, cloth, and silk floss used in Kaga-Yuzen and other works and would utilize these leftover materials to make thimbles during holidays such as New Year's. That was the beginning of “Kaga Yubinuki” and Kanazawa is the home of this craft.
Kaga Yubinuki is a paper-and-silk thimble in a shape of a ring, often around 1.5cm in diameter.
It is covered with a characteristic pattern made out of tightly woven, beautiful silk threads, while on the inside it is layered with silk floss and cardboard, which makes it very durable. This thimble is worn like a ring on the middle finger to help push a needle through stiff fabric or multiple layers of fabric. It is commonly used in traditional sashiko stitching (which involves ‘quilting’ two or three layers of cloth in one stitch) but it is also very useful for stitching temari balls.
While staying in Kanazawa I visited a shop called "Kaga Temari Mariya". This shop specialises in Kaga temari balls and Kaga Yubinuki. (There will be a separate blog article about "Kaga Temari Mariya" and their temari balls).
Thanks to their work to promote this traditional craftsmanship, making Yubinuki thimbles has been increasingly popular in recent years.
The beauty and the joy of creating the thimbles have been revived, and new lovely patterns are continuously being created. Kaga Yubinuki thimbles are now wore as beautiful and precious pieces of jewellery as well. I regularly wear Yubinuki earrings, which are among my favourite pieces in my jewellery collection.
These days Yubinuki thimbles are made from a high-quality pure silk threads. Orizuru hand-sawing silk threads have been used for yubinuki making and general Japanese dressmaking for decades.
They are recommended by many artisans across whole Japan. The Orizuru brand inherits Japanese tradition, but it also represents the country’s highest quality product.
Orizuru hand-sewing silk threads are loved by a wide range of people, from the general public to sewing professionals, for their vivid colours, beautiful lustre and texture.
Our range of Orizuru silk hand sewing threads comes in many beautiful colour variations. You can purchase them individually or as a set of 25 beautiful colours that come in elegant gift box.
With these threads you can have assurance of highest quality product that will enable you to create amazing colour variations and patters for your own Yubinuki thimbles.
You can also find on-line YouTube tutorials on how to make these lovely items. But the creation depends on your imagination and a bit of practice!