Odoshi-Ito: Lacing for Yoroi
Odoshi ito is the name for the silk or cotton-hemp lacing used to link samurai armour plates together. Sometimes leather is used which is referred to as kawa odoshi. When an armour was in service, it was common practice to have the lacing replaced at least every 10 years, or sooner should it have returned from a campaign. The Samurai were proud of their armours and after all, second to the sword, armour was a form of status. Shoddy appearances were frowned upon and allowing a suit to fall into disrepair was disrespectful. When the samurai class was abolished in 1873 armours became defunct as they only represented the past with no further requirement to maintain them. Many were sold off by their owners to dealers as export items for foreign customers.
Over the years UV Light damage fades the lacing and the original dyes damaged the silk fibres, this eventually degrades it to a level where it simply falls apart. There are methods of supporting the original lacing by backing each strand, but this type of conservation cannot be applied where the braiding is embedded between the odoshi-no-ana holes. There comes a time when it really has to be replaced. The issue with replacement is the cost of renewal, but this outlay can be recouped in time as the value of the armour increases.
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Odoshi-Ito: Technical Correctness
Lacing an armour is not as simple as one may first imagine. There are a number of rules that must be adhered too in order to produce a professional finish as all errors made with the lacing will be visible to the viewer and will live with the piece until corrected. There are techniques that require special twists to form shapes, leather anchors are inserted into the holes to lock each section in place, cross knots have to be wetted and flattened, the tension has to be correct in passing through holes, cut strands have to be finished off in the right way, and most importantly the plates must hang naturally within the correct distance of each other.
I have been lacing armours for over 30 years, and have received training in Japan under the leading Katchushi masters such as Nishioka and Ogawa Sensei ensuring that my standard is equal to that of the Japanese studios.
All lacing commissions are conducted in my dedicated textile studio which has a clean and dust free environment equipped with all the custom frames needed to lace any type or armour. Katchushi have to order their lacing from a manufacturer based in Kyoto, therefore, maintaining a stock of all the colours and widths can become problematic. As all my braids are made in-house I can guarantee that the best-sized braid is selected for your armour. In some cases, I have decided to make a special size to ensure that the best possible finish was obtained. I can also offer Shikagawa odoshi 鹿革威
Making Odoshi outside of Japan
Silk Odoshi has a special weave, the strands are compacted tightly together, yet the depth is very thin. This weave prevents the braid from stretching and allows it to be fed through the small holes in the armour plates.
Using alternatives like synthetic rayon or cotton will never deliver the same results. During the lacing process the braid is wetted with water and pressed into shape, cross knots become flat, the tips of the strands adopt a triangular appearance. Once dry the silk retains the shape. Synthetics expel the water making it impossible to create the same finish. Cotten braid is also not acceptable as the fibres fray and becomes fluffy after being fed repeatedly through the holes of the armour. It has to be silk, and it has to be the correct weave.
For years the only place to obtain odoshi was from Japan. As a restorer, I could never pre-empt what commissions were going to turn up, or how much odoshi I should stock. Exchange rates, order levels, delivery times, communication issues and availability were becoming increasingly problematic.
Therefore in 2014, I decided to take on board a venture to produce odoshi in the UK. This was a massive and challenging undertaking for me as I knew absolutely nothing about the process For months I researched braiding machines on the net, youtube, talked to suppliers and manufacturers. By complete luck, I stumbled upon the right contact who could custom make the machines and provide the training. I also fell on my feet when sourcing the raw silk as one of Japan’s leading silk manufacturers were so impressed with my ambition that they agreed to supply me with pre-dyed silk in authentic colours.
In 2016 I was able to produce the first-ever odoshi outside of Japan, made from authentic Japanese silk and weaved to exactly the same specification.