Hokkyoku Shirokumado’s Product Making
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1. Ring slings and Heko-obi fabric of Shijira-ori weave
A ring sling called “Cute Me!” which wraps around the mother and baby holding them together is a good example of the use of Shijira-ori fabric.
Shijira-ori is a fabric originally woven in the Awa region which would eventually become Tokushima Prefecture. More recently, it is also produced in both Nigata and Shizuoka prefectures. In order to produce the Shijira-ori cloth, a special machine is required which makes it hard to be produced in foreign countries. This is why it is considered an original Japanese weave. Hokkyoku Shirokumado has been working on increasing the strength and breathability of Shijira-ori cloth since 2004, making it an appropriate fabric for use in our slings and baby carriers.
It’s possible to buy Shijira-ori cloth in fabric stores. Commercial Shijira-ori cloth is usually used to make Jinbe or Japanese traditional summer clothes. These use thicker threads and sober colors. Thinner thread would make the more glossy fabric but would be more expensive. By weaving thinner threads together, the fabric becomes stronger. We have been producing our original Shijira-ori fabric with appropriate strength for our sling since 2004.
The story of weaving
Fabrics are made by yarn woven in two directions, vertically and horizontally.
Plain weaves called “Hira-Ori” are fabrics made by alternating vertical and horizontal single threads during manufacturing.
Shijira-ori however is produced by weaving three single thin threads together twice and single thread six times vertically and three horizontally for the parts of three vertical threads and one thread horizontally for each single vertical thread going top and under.
In plain weave fabrics (illustration on right), cloth will become flat easily unlike Shijira-ori because the elasticity are balanced by using the single thread each weave. It can also make wider fabric with less thread. However, that also means the fabric is easy to stick to the skin when sweating because they are very flat.
Shijira-ori on the other hand, has wrinkles and they are not flat. Unlike plain weave, it does not touch the skin with all the surface, and breathes easily. It feels cool to wear. That is the reason why this particular weave is used for Jimbei and Yukata which are Japanese traditional summer wear.
The parts with three vertical thread is called “Hiki Soroe” and the single thread part is called “Hira-Ori”(plain weave).
The parts of “Hiki Soroe” weave is thicker and stronger and has different elasticity compared to single weave. This creates the wrinkle or the uneven surface. This effect is what makes Shijira-ori fabric so special.
When we decided to use Shijira-ori fabric for the “Cute Me!” sling, we told the textile weaver that we wanted to improve strength of the material without making it thicker. In order to achieve this, the weaver twisted two No.60 count threads together more tightly than they usually are. This created ripple effect on the fabric and even felt better on the skin than the usual Shijira-ori. This trial also brought us unexpected surprise. The fabric became much glossier.
More the thread number, the fabric becomes tougher.
The weaver said, “There is No.60 count thread which is the half size of No. 30 count, but it will cost you…”
But we thought this fabric is for carrying babies. The safety for the product is the most important.
This is how Hokkyoku Shirokumado’s original “Shijira-ori” was made.
It is not using regular No.30 count thread but uses double of No.60 count.
In a microscopic level, No.0 count threads are fluffy and can see small fibers around it. When two No.60 count threads are tightly twisted, the threads become beautiful and shimmering.
The strength and beauty of the Shijira-ori fabric that is manufactured into Hokkyoku Shirokumado’s ring sling “Cute Me!” creates a comfortable and safe place for the baby.
At our fabric manufacturer, they use innovation loom machines to make the cloth. They told me, “We used to use shuttle looms but changed to this innovation looms. Shuttle looms are faster and produce a lot more but they keep the thread tightly straight. The threads are made tough but also damages faster. We think the fabrics are too hard. It doesn’t have the roundness, the kindness. It feels like weaving metal threads.
One leading textile company used to use fast looms but their products stop selling. They switched to the old shuttle looms. Must been hundreds of them. They are even half as slower than the innovation looms. Very slow, but these old Japanese machines gives gentleness to the thread.”
We want to wrap our customers and their babies in these gentle fabric. The users don’t need to “break in” to our products because they are woven with slow looms. We will continue to provide fabrics that are tender to mothers and their babies.
2. Nylon ring and sewing.
The perfect fit for the ring on sling isn’t just their strength. The ring is required to be smooth but won’t shift easily and strong but not too heavy to carry. Nylon rings can provide all that. In addition, nylon rings are safer when babies put it in their mouths. However, the mold for the nylon ring making is quite costly. They are difficult to make in different colors and they must be made in bulk.
Up until now, we have produced many proto-types in different shapes and styles of nylon rings and considered its dynamics. We learned that the balance in size of the ring and the cloth that is attached to is very important. The ring must also have a shape which can utilize friction so as not to fall off while a baby is being held.
As of 2018, we use four different types and sizes of nylon ring according to the cloth it is paired with.
Various materials are used to make the sling rings. In foreign countries, rings used are mainly metal such as aluminum or steel. However, we feel nylon(plastic) is better suited for the sling and chose virgin nylon for its strength.
The Hokkyoku Shirokumado Babysling Products
Hokkyoku Shirokumado is producing the following three types of slings.
- Cute Me!: This sling has shoulder pads plus soft cotton stuffed padding for baby’s neck and back of their knees. The padding can be removed or adjusted in place. (Patented)
- Cute Me! 823: Half the thickness of shoulder padding than “Cute Me!”. No inner cotton stuffing. It can be compactly folded.
- Cute Me! Simple: No shoulder pads or inner cotton stuffing for the back. This is the most compact type of sling. The shoulder parts are sewn in pleated style.
This is our product line for slings
The Japanese traditional baby carrier: Hokkyoku Shirokumado’s Heko-obi
Heko-obi is the obi or belt for kimonos. In Japan in the past, women would use familiar cloths as baby carriers. During the Meji era, from 1868-1912, Heko-obi was used to carry babies. Hokkyoku Shirakumado’s Heko-obi has been designed with size, and material considered for carrying babies in our modern life style. The width is 38cm and length is 450cm in size, which is half of normal woven wraps. The cloth is thin, breathes well and convenient as it can be folded in a small compact size for easy carrying.
Click here for the Heko-obi products
Onbuhimo (Back mounted baby carriers)
Our back baby carriers are made in the same manufacturing process as they were done traditionally in the old days.
Our back carriers use the same patterns used in the year 1955 which our manufacturer found for us.
At that time, the baby carriers were made of corduroy, the waist cord was designed to be relatively long and the D-rings were made of metal.
Our manufacturer has a history of over fifty years.
To create the carrier which are both traditional and fitting for our modern life, fabric and material have been updated. However, many parts about the form are based on the products from fifty years ago. It is to recreate the back carrying style which has been practiced in Japan for decades.
Since its release in 2002, “Mukashi Nagara No Onbuhimo” (Old Fashioned Onbuhimo) have been developed in following variations.
Old fashioned sling
Old male sash style
Knee to knee
Wide back and standard length
For large babies
Larger back width and length for babies with disabilities
Special Size: Standard back with shoulder straps in 60cm. For larger adult user.
Click here for Back mounted baby carriers
4. Baby wrap “Wrap you?” by jacquard
This baby wrap is a single large sized cloth which is used all over the world to carry babies. Originally, Hokkyoku Shirokumado knew about this type of carrier but was hesitant to produce them because we were worried that Japanese mothers wouldn’t accept such a large sized cloth.
However, the world of baby wearing is going crazy over this wrap so we consider it our duty to spread information about this comfortable carrier to Japanese parents. We worked diligently trying to develop a baby wrap cloth suitable for Japanese women’s use.
Hokkyoku Shirokumado has been dedicated in developing thin and light fabrics best suited for slings and Heko-obi. However, we have discovered that this baby wrap’s relatively thick cloth affects the weight distribution.
Japan, compared to many other countries which baby wrapping are popular, is high in humidity and hotter in climate. So the product most have very good breathability otherwise babies may have heatstroke. Therefore, good baby wraps suited for Japan must have a certain thickness and breathability for the comfortable use.
And considering hygienic nature of Japanese, the wrap must withstand many cycles of washing. The color most stay and they shouldn’t shrink and of course the price must be reasonable if to spread this wonderful culture of baby wrapping in Japan. To overcome these challenges, we decided to use natural fibers that are easy to wash. We also decided to use a jacquard machine to manufacture the cloth. This machine is quite an antique and it cannot weave large designs. But instead, it can produce gentle and soft cloth that doesn’t have to be broken in which cannot be manufactured with high speed looms or electric jacquard machines.
Although enjoying the beauty and fun designs of baby wraps are part of the fun, we first had to adjust the size and material fit for us Japanese physical frame and climate.
Hokkyoku Shirokumado will always strive to create new materials and weaves for our users and their babies.
Click here for the baby wrap products