PERU: Weaving countries together

    In July, Peruvians marking their national independence day in Tokyo had a special addition to their celebrations -- a kimono created for their country.

    "I'm really happy. It's a thrill to see this wonderful work of art depicting Machu Picchu, the pride of Peru, here in Japan," said one woman at the event.

    Artisans around Japan have been creating kimono, Japan's traditional dress, to represent each country and region participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

    "All the Peru here," said Cristina Escala, wife of the Peruvian ambassador, gesturing toward the kimono on display at the event. "It's wonderful to see such a piece of art, inspired by 2 cultures."

    The work of making the kimono began in January, in the city of Yonezawa, in northern Japan. Goichi Suwa specializes in traditional dyeing and weaving, a craft that has been practiced in the region for centuries.

    Yonezawa is known for silk fabric made from threads that are dyed before they're woven.

    "There are colors that only come out when the warp and weft threads are woven together," Suwa said. "My aim is to create colors that are bright."

    Suwa only uses natural dyes. To create this Peruvian kimono, he worked with a red dye called cochineal. It's taken from insects that live on cacti. Peru is the world’s largest producer of this dye. It has been used to color traditional fabrics there for over 2,000 years.

    "I feel as if I am borrowing this dye from the people of Peru. I must care for it and use it well," Suwa said.

    Before he started using the cochineal, Suwa prayed for success. Even so, the color on the threads wasn’t deep enough.

    Suwa tried using different temperatures and acidity levels but it still didn't come out right. It was the most difficult process he has faced in his 20-year career.

    After four days of trial and error, he finally managed to obtain the vivid red color he was aiming for.

    Kozue Suto was in charge of the weaving process.

    She is an expert at sukui-ori, a form of tapestry weave that uses threads of many colors and thicknesses to create intricate patterns. This technique gives the fabric a 3-D appearance. But it’s very time-consuming.

    Carefully following the pattern, she weaved the complex design. For one single row, she had to work with as many as 12 threads.

    Usually, this technique is only used for small areas of fabric. But for this project, the area would cover nearly half of the kimono.

    However, adding so much intricate pattern to the weft threads can tighten the warp threads, and change the overall tension of the weaving.

    "I've been having dreams about the patterns not being aligned, and having to redo them over and over, and still not being able to fix it," Suto said. "Right now, that's my greatest worry."

    The main part of the kimono was finished, and it was time to check whether the overall patterns align.

    "It's OK! Machu Picchu fits perfectly," Suwa said.

    The kimono was finally complete -- 7 months after the first threads were dyed. Machu Picchu stands out clearly. The delicate rainbow is an auspicious symbol. Motifs based on the Nazca Lines glisten against the cochineal red.

    Finally the kimono goes on display.

    "I've taken their words to heart," Suwa said. "I feel a sense of accomplishment. Doing this has made me want to create even more complicated designs."

    Two young artisans; one very special kimono. Not only have they brought Japan and Peru closer, they now have the confidence to raise their craftsmanship to new heights.