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.
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.
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.
The loose end threads at the start and end of the stitching are tied by hand, hammered, and adhesive applied to prevent unraveling.
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.
Shaping the bag with a mallet until completion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.