Tsumugi (Pongee) (紬)
Tsumugi is a kind of fabric that tsumugi yarn, spun from floss silk, is used as either warp thread or weft thread, or both of them on weaving.
It also refers to a kimono (traditional Japanese clothes) which is completed.
Tsumugi yarn is different from cotton yarn unraveled and spun from floss cotton or the silk yarn from so-called hon mayu (real cocoons) which are oval in shape.
This kind of manually spun yarn (tsumugi yarn), which is naturally uneven, is used as either warp thread or weft thread, or both of them on weaving. Compared to the fabric using silk yarn from hon mayu, which has the luster of its own, tsumugi has the dimmer luster and small bumps on the surface, which makes it have the unique feel. Pongee is so durable that it can be handed down for generations, and naturally it is suitably expensive.
Because of its durability, pongee has been used as everyday clothing and farmers' working clothes for a long time. This is the reason of the taboo: Don't wear pongee on formal occasions even though it is made of silk; people often wear pongee when they go out and when they need to be dressed up, and they might wear it on semi-formal occasions these days.
Major varieties of pongee
Oshima pongee (Amami Oshima Island)
Enshu cotton (Enshu cotton pongee)
Things about pongee
When a connoisseur found pongee in the Edo period, it was farmers' working clothing, and it eventually became popular because the color was austerely elegant and it didn't have the silky luster although it was made of silk, all of which made the fabric seem chic, and people showed their good taste wearing pongee. Therefore, weaving pongee was an important source of income for young women in villages. It was said that women in the Yonezawa region, famous for its pongee, slept with their pongee, meaning they were reluctant to bid farewell to their works the night before shipping. The pongee fabrics woven with the utmost care by women are strong enough to be used for generations. Weaving is time-consuming, so nowadays kimono fans exclusively purchase the expensive pongee to wear it for pleasure.
Pongee is durable enough to be used as working clothes, and it has been a heritage from fathers to children. On the other hand, the new fabric feels stiff, and it is not comfortable to wear it, so wealthy merchants often let their head clerks wear it till it softened up, and later they wore it themselves. It is unbelievable, but there is also a recent episode that a well-known rakugoka (commic storyteller) let his apprentice wear his pongee and took it back later when it was soft enough.
In the Edo period, when a ban on luxury was initiated, wearing expensive silk clothes was prohibited. However, some say that wealthy townspeople never gave up silk clothes, and preferred pongee pretending they were wearing cotton because pongee looked like cotton from a distance.