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 imbedded 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.
Silk odoshi ito 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 delivery 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 become 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 increasing 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. One of Japan’s leading silk manufacturers were 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.
The Restoration Path
As we are aware lacing was replaced as a part of the armours routine maintenance, all silk lacing rots and the majority of armour that I encounter needs its odoshi replaced. Lacing has some rules, if you don’t follow them anyone with an eye for armour will spot every mistake. I know this because I’ve made them all over the years, yet each time I’ve been corrected I’ve taken the improvements onboard. I use a custom made jig for most lacing projects, each segment has to hang perfectly. There are special ways to anchor the braid in place using paper or leather plugs, knots have to be wetted, the tension has to be correct between passing through holes, cut strands have to be finished off in the right way.
Like all things katchu related there is no formal school to learn lacing techniques just people who know better. I’ve accumulated all the techniques that I have learned to date and with the help of Ian Bottomley have written a series of guides. On selected days during the year I hold lacing workshops. Lacing armours is expensive and time consuming, therefore if you would like to learn how to lace armour please contact me.
Facebook Group: Samurai Armour: Custom Building Restoration