Product Introspection: Albumen coated hemp cloth



Albumen Coating

The albumen coating process, which utilizes egg whites as a means to increase water-resistance and gives materials a natural luster; is a traditional technique passed down through generations among the Miao people from the Guizhou province in China.

The embroideries (left page) and the albumen coating process (right page) used to make the traditional costumes of the Miao people.
"One Needle, One Thread - Miao (Hmong) embroidery and fabric piecework from Guizhou, China" Author: Tomoko Torimaru/ Seibundo Shinkosha

The Miao people, who are known for their excellent embroidery techniques, have a wide range of different costumes that they use for various occasions. The techniques and patterns that have been passed down through generations vary among members of the Miao people depending on what regions they inhabit, and it is said that you can distinguish what tribe someone is a part of by looking at their embroidered patterns.

Indigo dyed cotton is often used as the fabric to embroider the patterns, but sometimes fabrics processed with a glossy finish are used instead. There are various methods to produce this glossy finish, one uses broth made of pigs blood, others use wild water buffalo skin, and another uses egg whites, but similar to the embroideries, this varies by region.

The hemp linen after the albumen coating was applied.

After applying the liquid albumen (left) and drying, the gloss is produced by rolling a stone tool (right) wrapped in leather across the surface of the fabric.

The Miao people have their own spoken language but do not have a written language, and have passed down stories about the history and culture of their tribe for generations relying solely on the word of mouth.

The countless woven textiles that have been carefully handcrafted are relics that preserve their traditions and techniques to this day.

The process begins by growing hemp and cotton, spinning the yarn and weaving the fabric, then applying a glossy finish after indigo-dyeing the fabric, and finally creating the embroidered patterns one stitch at a time. Each of the advanced techniques required to complete a single costume have been passed down from their ancestors, who spent years perfecting their own distinct dyeing and weaving culture.

The completed garments not only serve as important traditional costumes, but also tell the story of their peoples' history and culture more than words could ever express. The feeling of happiness that parents wish for their children and those closest to them is a part of the foundation of these techniques.

The hemp linen before the albumen coating is applied.

Hemp Cloth

There are several different methods that apply a glossy finish to raw fabric, but reenacting the albumen coating process, one of the primary methods used by the Miao people, within a modern-day production line is an extremely difficult task.

The natural luster, which subtly reflects light depending on the angle one looks at it, allows for an even coating to the surface of the fabric. This process was made possible with complete hand application onto the hemp linen fabric that was used to make the "0118105013003 YUKATA COAT (N.D.)" and the "0118105013013 GREASE MONKEY COAT US (N.D.)."

Compared to fabrics made with flax, which is commonly referred to as linen, hemp linen is very strong, durable and tends to get softer with more use. Since ancient times in Japan, the word "Ma" (which is the kanji character for hemp) has been used to depict hemp linen.

However, after World War II, the Narcotics Control Law enacted by GHQ (General Headquarters) resulted in a significant decrease of the cultivation and distribution of hemp leading to decreased production of hemp linen fabrics, and a gradual disappearance from everyday life. Another reason for the disappearance of hemp was due to its fibers, which contained short filaments, considered unsuitable for spinning and as a result hemp fell behind when industrialization took hold.

Bringing back and reestablishing production of a fabric that had essentially disappeared from everyday life once is a difficult task. The "majotae" project, led by natural fabric expert Shinichiro Yoshida, has ensured the production of items utilizing a hemp that does not contain any hallucinogenic substance and by repeatedly refining and purifying the hemp fibers, they have succeeded in spinning yarn that closely resembles the texture of handspun yarn.

The project continues their endeavors to ensure that hemp linen, which used to be an integral part of Japanese culture, will once again become a commonly used fabric.

0118105013003 YUKATA COAT (N.D.)

0118105013013 GREASE MONKEY COAT US (N.D.)