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What is Rozome?

ROZOME (ro-zo-may) or Roketsuzome is an ancient Japanese textile art dating back to the seventh and eight centuries when it was called rokechi -  wax was stamped on cloth. It soon fell out of favor, and was rediscovered in the 17th  century as stencil and paste on cloth.  It was in the early 20th century with access to native and imported wax, roketsuzome or rozome was reawakened.  Roketsuzome best describes the technique ro (wax), ketsu (resist or block out) and zome (dye).   The distinctive beauty of rozome is its luminosity and graduated shading of color.

It is different from the familiar Indonesian technique of batik, which uses the canting tool to draw lines or dots, and the metal stamp or cap to apply wax before immersion dyeing. Multiple repetitions layer color over the whole cloth to create a pattern or painting.

Japanese rozome is distinguished from batik in the variety of  tools, brushes and techniques of wax application.  A mixture of waxes is used with great control and dexterity to prevent cracks, as well as, to allow textural effects. Dye is brushed on with different flat-bottom square or round brushes that are fat or thin. Thus color is not layered like batik.  Different techniques of controlled dye  application result in luminous color and shading that makes rozome so elegant and distinctive in its beauty.

The cloth - silk or cotton - must be stretched taut for the wax and dye application. Heat resistant wax brushes are pointed or flat, and made of sheep hair.  Wax temperature, brush technique, dexterity and speed of application are important.  The wax must penetrate the fabric with an equal amount of wax on the top and bottom of the cloth to resist and prevent any seepage of dye to penetrate the resist.

Different wax techniques can result in multiple effects.  Critical is the controlled depth of dye penetration. The techniques employed are: total barrier resist, half barrier resist, wax drawing, wax stencil, wax splattering, wax etching, coarse brush trailing, wax stamping, wax rolling, and more.

The dye application is very controlled and refined to produce luminous color and the distinctive shading of rozome.  The variety of brushes for specific use are all handmade.  Unlike the pointed brushes, these are short, flat and packed tight to be used in a circular rubbing style to push dye into the fabric.  There are different types and sizes of brushes to achieve different effects.  For background color, or for graduated color shading to rub the dye in, the brushes (flat rectangular, flat square, or flat round) are made out of tightly packed badger hair. For detail, the thin knife-edge brushes are made of soft badger hair to stroke the dye in.

"The World of Rozome" by Betsy Sterling Benjamin is the definitive and comprehensive source for the history and techniques of roketsuzome.  The book is rich with images of stunning kimonos, as well as, the work of and interviews with 17 of the leading innovative and contemporary rozome artists.

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