OUR CRAFTSMANSHIP

Under the din of the sewing machines and mallets, craftsmen carefully make bags in the workshop. We use specially woven high-quality cotton canvas and linen cloth, dye it with our own unique colors, and customize the threads and metal fittings. Cutting and sewing are all done by hand and Singer® sewing machines more than 80 years old are still active today.
At the workshop, veteran craftsmen, who work the sewing machines, and the apprentices, whose job it is to mark the canvas and attach metal fittings (Shitashoku) become a two-person team that makes each bag. Normally, craftsmen start as apprentices honing their skill for seven to eight years until they can begin to use the sewing machines. Because a skilled hand at the sewing machine and pride in their work is guaranteed to the end, our Ichizawa Shinzaburo canvas bag are delivered with confidence to each customer.
Our rate of efficiency may not be suitable for mass production, but because of this, the skills of the craftsmen improve day by day, while the sense of responsibility and accomplishment of manufacturing bags with their own hands is a joy that is unparalleled. Furthermore, there is no manufacturing manual used in our workshop. This is because we feel that if we rely on a manufacturing manual, wisdom and ingenuity will not be born.
THE 6 ESSENTIALS WE CARE ABOUT
"Ordinary but a little special” embodies what we hope to deliver through our ICHIZAWA bags
The six elements that go into making long-lasting, simple, easy-to-use, and timeless bag are:
  • BAG MAKING
  • CANVAS
  • DYEING
  • MATERIALS
  • TOOLS
  • DESIGN
  • BAG MAKING

    1. CUTTING

    First, the shrinkage of the material is estimated before cutting. Then, the material is measured so that there is no wastage, checked for stains and weaving flaws and last, cut with a pair of scissors by hand.

    2. FOLDING SEAMS

    The material is then placed on a smooth tree stump and beaten with a mallet (wooden hammer) to create the creases as our canvas is too thick and difficult to sew without going through this step. The regular thump-thump thumping of the mallet striking the material and tree stump is an ubiquitous sound in the workshop.

    3. SEWING

    Only trained craftspeople can sew the thick material freehand with perfectly even stitches. Sewing machines used include one that has been in use for over 90 years.

    4. FINISHING OF THREADS

    The loose end threads at the start and end of the stitching are tied by hand, hammered, and adhesive applied to prevent unraveling.

    5. REVERSAL OF BAG

    After stitching, the loose threads and lint are swept clean with a brush and the bag carefully turned inside out so that it does not wrinkle.

    6. SHAPING

    Shaping the bag with a mallet until completion.

    CANVAS

    COTTON CANVAS

    Canvas is thick cloth weighing over eight ounces (227 grams) per one square meter. As canvas was originally for industrial use the sail of boats and as tent material, and not for clothing, throughout the history of our company, those of the most superior quality have been sought and used. However, even these were not entirely free from weaving flaws and hence did not measure up to our standards. It was therefore decided that the material would be specially woven to Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu specifications and thanks to this decision, we have been able to ensure the quality of the materials used.

    LINEN CANVAS

    We import threads of linen, weave them in Japan, and dye them to our original colors. It was Shinzaburo’s wife, Emi, who happened to find some rolls of old linen material in the shop in the 1980s. It was learned that the material had been used as sheets to cover weapons during World War II and was the country’s national defense color at the time. Since they were very soft and smooth in texture and an interesting dusky green in color, we tried to reproduce them. After many trial and error, high quality linen canvas was successfully made. Since linen canvas is as durable as cotton canvas, it has become as popular as cotton at our shop.

    DYEING

    DYEING COLORS

    Natural fiber canvas is different from synthetic ones and has a lighter color tone when dyed. However, there are not many factories in Japan capable of dyeing thick material to the very core of the fabric. Moreover, the material has to be dyed so that the color does not fade even after many years of use. Therefore, at Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, all our materials are dyed to our specifications at a dyeing factory with which we have had a long business relationship. Some of our material is waterproofed according to purpose. This waterproofing is also a most delicate operation. Depending on the strength of the waterproofing, the canvas becomes either pliable or stiff. If it is too stiff, it is difficult to work with and bags may fray at the edges due to abrasion. Therefore the material must be waterproofed just right so that it is neither too pliable nor too stiff. Thanks to the efforts of the craftsmen working at the dye factory, this last hurdle has also been overcome.

    DYEING PATTERNS

    The patterns of the bags are dyed with the same technique used in kimono dyeing: make a mold for each color, place the mold on the fabric by hand and dye the material carefully. The beautiful patterns are made possible through the skill and intuition of the craftsperson; such as the subtle adjustment of the color while considering the temperature and humidity at the time of dyeing, and the technique to accurately place the mold on the fabric. The design of the pattern is essentially designed in-house.

    MATERIALS

    THREAD

    To sew thick, stiff canvas, the thread needs to be durable as well. Therefore, the same thread used to sew tents used in expeditions to the Antarctic is used to sew our bags. These threads can withstand the friction which occurs during stitching, and through shrinkage, become stronger with the passage of time. With use, the color of the canvas bags fade and becomes muted. As our threads are also dyed to match the color of the bag material, the end result is a perfectly synchronized fading. Thus the threads we use can be said to have been created specifically for our needs.

    METAL PARTS

    About 30 or 40 metal parts are used at Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu. From an aesthetic viewpoint as well as harmony with the canvas material, the plating and coating of parts are mostly in antique-silver which imbues them with a feeling of warmth.
    The care given to the selection of plating and coating of the metal parts has also spilled over into the creation of our original metal parts. For example, at the suggestion of a craftsperson, the zipper tab was shaped to resemble a bag complete with tiny stitching. Functionality has not been forgotten either. The tabs are of a thickness that makes them easier to grip so as to ensure user-convenience as bags are used every day. Playfulness and whimsy are also very much in play as can be seen by the buttons, zippers and metal eyelets which have been stamped with the company’s logo and brand name.

    TOOLS

    SEWING MACHINE

    Sewing machines, which were produced before World War II, are still in use. Our large industrial sewing machines are Singer® sewing machines. Some of them are share-used by the craftspeople to sew on labels and to over-lock the edges of the bag material. When apprentices gain experience, they are permitted to have their own machines. After using their personal machine every day for years, an affinity grows between the craftsperson and the machine so that when they are required to use another one, they find it does not respond as well to their touch, making their work a little difficult.
    At Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, we do not use computer-controlled sewing machines. This is because each craftsperson is assigned the sewing of several different bag parts. Moreover they are made in small lots as we do not mass-produce them. The craftspeople use their expertise and knowledge of their sewing machines to sew together each part of the bag, finally sewing all the parts together to complete the product. The affinity and affection felt by the craftspeople toward their machine is such that some have even named them!

    MALLET

    Our canvas is densely woven and is therefore a stiff and difficult to manage material. Apprentices start their careers by learning how to make creases using a mallet. The crease must be exactly one centimeter with no allowances made for even a difference of one millimeter. This is because when the creases are exact, the craftsperson’s work is made easier and results in beautifully sewn together parts. Each apprentice has a particular way of using his/her mallet and therefore each is given a set for his/her own use. The mallets are often personalized by wrapping the handle with tape or shortening the length of the handle so as to best fit the hand of the user.

    SCISSORS

    There are many essential tools to bag making and in this we are supported by the expertise of various experts working in various fields. The most important of all our tools are the scissors. As they are used every day, they become blunt after a month. They must therefore be taken to a scissor-grinder for sharpening. Since work must continue even when the scissors have been sent out for sharpening, each craftsman has two pairs of scissors. After repeated sharpening, the scissor blades gradually become thinner and shorter. Thus the shape and size of the scissors is a sure indication of the craftsperson's expertise and experience.

    DESIGN

    There is no one designer at Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu. Not only the styles of the bags but also the designs, metal fittings, catalogs and DMs, as well as the T-shirts which are the staff's uniform, are all designed by us. At Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu, while emphasizing the characteristics of canvas, we have fun designing items that we think may be of interest.
    As new items and redesigns often reflect the customer's opinions and requests, this also makes our customers Ichizawa bag designers.

    A special meeting to make prototypes of new products is held once a month which is open to all our craftspeople and staff. We go over each person’s proposal of new ideas and opinions. If an idea reaches a certain level of interest, we implement a trial-period with the staff to test the usability. Keeping in mind that customers of all ages may use the product, staff of different genders and ages will take turns using the bag during the trial period. The bags are checked for durability and other specifics. Then, if the owner, Shinzaburo gives the go ahead, the new bag will begin to be made for the shop. It usually takes several years to complete a new product. Therefore new items are not always produced on a yearly basis. Years may pass before a new product appears in the shop as we must be absolutely certain that each one satisfactorily meets all our requirements.