By Patricia Belyea
KYOTO JP. At Kawai Flag Factory, I saw all three—flags, cats, and koi!
As Rihei Kawai, the owner of this family business, explained: We use rice resist in the flag dyeing, so there are always mice! Hence the cats.
As for the koi—colorful carp—Rehei raises these fish. One artificial pond was alive with a school of baby koi. A deeper pond teemed with hefty koi snapping their wide mouths.
The flag factory was even more exciting. Using a traditional technique, shirushi zome, fabrics are dyed for temple banners, shop noren, company flags, and other commercial uses.
A screen for the artwork is readied, rice resist is applied through the screen to prep the fabric, and the dye is painted on with brushes. With some banners measuring 18’ to 20’ long, a very long hanging set-up is needed.
Regretfully the art of dyeing flags is in decline with less need and appreciation of traditionally dyed flags.
So Rihei’s cousin, Yuki Mizuki, got involved. An entrepreneurial artist, Yuki took over a corner of the factory floor and set up a graphic design studio.
Upstairs Yuki developed the Gallery filled with artwork inspired by the flag factory. Some of the textile goods are made with dyes from the factory below. Some are original artworks using leftover flag fabrics. Some are non-commercial banners especially made for home decor.
There’s even a souvenir book featuring the factory cats!
Rihei joined us upstairs to show me a hand-dyed banner made by his grandfather and a well-used screen for a wood sorrel nom.
The Gallery is open by appointment. The good news is that you have to walk through the flag factory to get upstairs. So you can see the 100-year old textile dyeing business, get a peek at the frisky koi, and catch a glimpse of the cats as they disappear from sight.
Please contact welcoming Yuki to make arrangements to visit Kawai Flag Factory / Gallery +here
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ABOUT US: Okan Arts, a petite family business, is co-owned by mother-daughter duo Patricia Belyea and Victoria Stone. Patricia and Victoria sell Japanese textiles online, host creative quilting experiences, and lead quilting & textile tours to Japan.
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