Deconstructing Kimono

    My interest in things Japanese has never before extended to kimono. For me wearing them properly is too much like dressing up in a costume. I did buy a couple of used ones when I lived in Japan but at the time, they were difficult to find. I also bought a couple of bolts of cotton kimono cloth with the idea of making skirts out of them when I returned to America. But I haven’t sewn my own clothes since I was in my twenties. So they remained packed away.

    On a trip to San Francisco some years ago, I got this kimono used at Genji for about $40.00. I love the closeup of the pattern, how the balls (bells?) repeat and change size and complement the brocade.

    Unfortunately, this year the upper lining shredded.I did a fabric test on it and the upper lining is polyester. The entire kimono is probably polyester too. While I was mulling over my options, I discovered Shinei Antique Kimono Store. For $4 plus shipping, I bought a silk upper lining (more on that in a later post).

    Before starting my mending, I’ve done a lot of research into how kimono is constructed. And how kimono sewing techniques differ from Western sewing. And, of course, I bought new specialty tools.

    • First of all, the basic pattern of every kimono is exactly the same (with minor variations on sleeve shape, depending on gender and age).
    • And all the bolts of fabric are standard size.The fabric is not cut to shape. Two long strips are sewn together and fitted to the wearing by changing the width of the seams. Thus the kimono can be picked apart (as it is for washing) and resized.
    • That means there is no shoulder seam.
    • The hem lining and inner sleeve lining are called hakkake and are changed out, either because they get dirty or because the owner wants to update the look of the kimono. Sort of like turning or replacing cuffs and collars on a dress shirt.Linings with a gradiated pattern like this kimono is called bokashi hakkake.
    • Seams are not open and pressed flat but pressed to one side.The lining is pressed to be visible…creating a faux piped edge look. This is done so that the lining receives the damage (since it can be easily replaced).The upper lining is made of a different fabric.
    • At one time, when certain patterns and colors could be worn only by the aristocracy, rich merchants went all out with super fancy linings. This created a fashion trend where elaborate outer designs were considered crass.
    • The horizontal line across the back of the kimono is not a seam. It’s a kind of tuck, to take up the fabric and make the kimono the correct length. Because the kimono is taken apart to be cleaned (usually once a year), it’s held together by running stitches. The kimono I have are all hand-stitched…they’re not even machine-basted.

    Wait! Kimono are only cleaned once a year? Yes. Because silk should get wet. The colors run. The fabric shrinks. And water (from spot cleaning) can create stains. Also it’s really hard to find a kimono-cleaning expert these days, even in Japan.

    However, kimono is never supposed to touch your skin. It’s worn over two layers of special kimono underclothes.

    Here’s a great video on the process of cleaning a kimono.