Pongee fabric is a soft thinly woven cloth. It is usually a plain weave of light–medium weight fabric that has slubs (small lumps of yarns) on the surface and comes in natural light tan color. The slubs cause pongee to have a warm feel on the skin. Pongees originated in the 16th century from China along the banks of the Yangtze River in Sichuan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces where it was usually home woven (Datta & Nanavaty, 2007). Some places in Japan such as Kyoto and Joshu can also be credited with the invention of the pongee (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013). Originally, pongee was woven at home out of silk obtained from leftover cocoons. In the early 20th century it was an important Chinese export to the United States (Datta & Nanavaty, 2007). Currently, pongee is being made in several Asian countries such as Japan whose brand called Ojiya Pongee has gained popularity in Europe, the Americas and several other parts of the world (Datta & Nanavaty, 2007). Pongee is a quality fabric whose manufacturing process yields unique warm and light characteristics to adapt it to make different types of clothing.
The process of making pongee
The manufacture of pongee is delicate and complicated. The raw material from which pongee is made is silk from silkworms. The first stage is the design where the ikat weaving diagram is drawn on a board or thick card usually as a series of groves as a linear representation of the ikat design (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013). The design is then copied onto a template resembling ruler comprising of a binding of several thin boards. This makes it possible to mark which parts of the weft (yarn woven across the warp yarn in weaving) are colored to produce a pattern in the ikat pattern. Two shots of the weft in the pattern are represented by one “ruler” on the template. The process of making the yarn goes on to make sure the weft bears the entire pattern on the ikat pattern (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013).
The next stage is the preparation of the yarn. Cocoons of silkworms are opened up using fingers and drawn to spin a very fine thread. The thickness and suitability of threads for the ikat are determined by the speed at which floss is drawn. The threads for the weft and the background of the warp are than twisted (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013). Hot water is used to refine the threads.
The third stage is the marking and binding of the weft. It is stretched and marked with black ink using the template. Using the markings, the weft is tied tightly to old pieces of ramie bindings which act to provide a “resist” preventing the thread from being dyed (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013).
The fourth stage is dying in which dye is rubbed into the threads using a spatula while adhering to marks made earlier. Thread is then made into skeins (Coils of worsted yarn) prior to being repeatedly rubbed with dye as well as the background threads (non ikat threads) (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013). In order to fix the color the fabric is steamed and then starched to ease its handling during weaving.
The fifth stage is the setting up and weaving. Threads are tightly wound onto a beam while using a weaving diagram to check the positions of the threads. A warp is passed through a heddle one at a time. Two threads are then passed through one dent of the reed. A standard fabric has 1200 warp threads. 8-16 threads are hand-wound onto a reel and placed on individual frames. This occurs after the binding on the wefts has been removed and the threads separated. Once the thread is fixed the weaving begins. Patterns appear following marks earlier drawn on a cloth called a Mimi (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013).
Lastly, the cloth is immersed in warm water to remove excess starch. It is then dried and beaten in order to bring out that distinctive texture of silk floss. As a final step the cloth is checked for marks or flaws that it could have obtained in the preparation process (Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre, 2013).
Uses of pongee
Pongee fabric has a soft glossy and warming feel on the skin. It has a quiet, homely appeal and though it lasts a few years, its beauty grows with age and the fabric has been described as very comfortable on the skin. It can be used to make a variety of clothing. Its light properties are suitable for making light summer clothes while its warming effects can be suitable for clothes suited for moderate temperatures (Van Rensselaer, Rose & Canon, 2008). Pongee is mostly used to make dresses, pajamas, blouses and linings. Pongee is currently a sought after fabric because of its unique lightness yet warm feel on the skin.
Pongee is a soft, thin and warm fabric that originated from China and Japan. It was originally woven at home from leftover cocoons. The process of making pongee entails extracting yarn from the silkworm cocoon, preparing wefts and templates, marking them and eventually weaving a designed pattern onto a loom. Hot water and starches are used to refine the threads and make them ready for weaving. When ready, pongee is used to make pajamas, dresses, blouses, linings among other applications requiring warm yet light clothing.
Van Rensselaer, M., Rose, F. & Canon, H. (2008). A Manual of Home-Making. Applewood Books.
Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Centre. “Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square | Ojiya Pongee.” 伝統工芸青山スクエア. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
Datta, R. K., & Nanavaty, M. (2007). Global silk industry: A complete source book. New Delhi: APH Pub. Corp.