The technique of weaving cloth first arrived in Japan from China around 300 B.C. After archaeologists found 40 textile fragments from the first century B.C. to the third century A.D. on the island of Kyushu, a Kyoto Institute of Technology team decided to use traditional methods to re-create the original silk and hemp fabrics. It wasn’t easy. The team analyzed the cloth’s makeup, thread width, and density of the weave under a microscope, then asked skilled artesians to make a nobleman’s silk tunic (left) and a commoner’s hemp jacket. Experts dyed the silk red using extracts from an herb called madder. “It was much more difficult than we expected to dye it evenly,” says Susumu Shirai of Tatsumura Art Textiles. Other craftsmen had even more trouble spinning coarse hemp fibers into a fragile thread a hundredth of an inch in diameter. “It seems techniques of making hemp cloth had already reached their most sophisticated point in Japanese history,” said one artesian.
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