Backstrap Loom


Backstrap Loom

Hokkaidō Ainu

19th century




The Ainu people who have inhabited Hokkaidō and its surrounding islands skillfully utilized in their daily lives a wide variety of resources that were readily available in nature. A type of cloth called attus that was used to make clothing and bags is a fine example. This exhibit is a “waist loom” used to weave attus since ancient times.

The threads used to weave attus are made using the bark of several species of elm tree. The bark was soaked in hot springs or marshes to soften its fibers, which were then separated into fine strips to create thread. The ends of these threads were tied to a stake approximately 10 m from the weaver and stretched to the reed of the loom. The reed is a part of the loom that is used to arrange the warp threads and run the weft threads through them. The weaver repeatedly ran the warp threads back and forth between the reed and the stake to prepare them. Once the warp threads were prepared, the weaver put on a backstrap board and wove cloth by running the weft threads through the loom that was positioned in front of the weaver.

Producing attus was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. It required at least two to three months to weave enough cloth for a single garment.

Clothing made of attus was widely worn by both men and women on formal and informal occasions. Because it was highly water-resistant and tough, it was popular among not only the Ainu people but also Japanese boatmen and fishermen based on the main island of Japan.

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