Patterns and Colors
Part of the fun and charm and complexity of kimono wearing and design is the effort to match the colors and pattern of the clothing to the season in which it's worn. In many ways, this consideration was the start of the whole project, since it seemed to me that, to be true to the spirit of the thing, a kimono worn in Michigan should have colors and patterns seasonally appropriate to Michigan, not Japan.
Of course, if one doesn't make and paint one's own kimono from scratch, this can be a difficult proposition. There is some overlap of appropriate patterns, but not all that much. See Strategies for my own answer to this problem.
Nevertheless, here is my collection of motifs that might be found or easily produced on Great Lakes kimono.
When listing colors I give sets both to harmonize and contrast with the strong seasons (summer and winter). Which set you use depends entirely on whether you feel like celebrating the season in question or human response to it. Note also that the colors are base colors, predominant colors to start with, and the traditions of kimono decoration allow for combinations from the very subtle to the astoundingly gaudy.
A good seasonal pattern should be not only accurate about what's blooming/ripe when, but also quickly recognizable. Ideally, these two things coincide.
This is not, I hope I don't need to say, an ideal world.
So I've made some compromises. There are, of course, tons of flowers blooming at any given time, but only a few of them are readily recognizable to a non-gardener, or iconic of the season. In some cases, what is iconic of the season does not bloom the whole season long. Thus, below, you will see Apple blossoms as a general spring pattern, and also as a specific spring pattern for April-May.
I have also tried to stay with plants that appear in the wild, as well as in gardens. Thus, Irises are listed only for June, despite the fact that some ornamental varieties bloom in late spring or even early fall. I have not, however, stayed with only native species. Many of the most recognizable plants, in the Great Lakes Basin, were imported and simply took over a large niche when naturalized. Daisies, Lavender, Morning Glory and Queen Anne's Lace are part of the landscape, now, and I think we might as well acknowledge that.
I have also placed roses as a season-free motif. Roses, in particular, have such cultural weight as the one flower everyone knows, and as an icon of romance, that it seemed appropriate.
So, in decending order of specificity:
These patterns have little strong association with any specific season, and are appropriate to any time. Season-free colors are more difficult to define, but one general guideline is to go for strongly contrasting colors--black and white, blue and red, pink and black, that sort of thing.
- Geometrics, such as stripes, diamonds, checks, etc.
- Feathers (from local birds such as blue jay, cardinal, various blackbirds, red tailed hawk, etc.)
- Pine without a strong color contrast (see particular seasons for seasonal contrasting colors)
- Lake sunrise or sunset (possibly with the Mackinac Bridge, if you like)
The other way of getting a lot of wear out of one kimono is to have a pattern that combines motifs from several seasons. For the Great Lakes, this might include:
- Rain (the prime three-season pattern of this area)
- Lightning would also make a good three-season pattern
- Patterns that include spring and summer flowers, and autumn leaves; add snowflakes to make an all-season kimono
- Chicory, one of our few three-season flowers
- Morning Glory, which is another
- Dandelions, yet a third
- Red-winged Blackbird, for Spring through Autumn
- Bees, for Spring and Summer
- Daisies, for Summer and Autumn
- Queen Anne's Lace, for Summer and Autumn
- Sunflowers, for Summer and Autumn
- Black or white with strongly colored patterns
- Cool dark blues, purples or greens to harmonize with the season
- Reds or dark yellows to contrast with the season
- Snow (you can do marvelous houmongi and tsukesage patterns with snowflakes)
- Great Horned Owl
- Pine with snow or, say, drawn white on green
- Bare branches
More specific patterns
- Midwinter holiday motifs to be worn only during the holiday in question
- Earth tones
- White with bright patterns in purple, blue or pink
- Running water (this being the thaw)
- Apple blossoms
- Violets (can extend into summer, as they bloom wild until July)
- Grasses (flattened with green underneath)
- Branches with buds
More specific patterns
- Pine, dark green on gray, for very early spring (February-March)
- Crocus and Hyacinth, for very early spring (early March)
- Forsythia, for early spring (March)
- Pussywillow catkins, for early spring (March)
- Strawberries, for mid spring (April for blooms, May-June for fruit)
- Apple blossom, for late spring (April-May)
- Lilac for mid spring (April-May)
- Tulips, for late spring (May)
- Iris, for late spring (May)
- Light or bright reds, yellows, pinks and peaches to harmonize
- Bright blues and greens to harmonize
- Dark blues and greens to contrast
- Rivers and Lakes (this being swimming season)
- Branches in full leaf
- Water Lilies
- Pine, say dark green on a golden yellow ground
More specific patterns
- Tiger Lily, for mid summer (June-July)
- Iris, for mid summer (June; that is, the native and wild variety blooms in June)
- Raspbery/Black Raspberry, for mid summer (July)
- Cherries, for mid summer (July)
- Lavender, for late summer (July-August)
- Intense reds and yellows
- Warm purples
- All the orange shades
- Falling leaves (our varieties of oak, maple, birch, etc.)
- Apples, corn ears, pumpkins if you think you can pull it off
- Grain (wheat ears actually make a really cool pattern)
- Grasses (tall and tuffted with blown seeds, as it gets in the Fall)
- Asters (the native flower that looks like tiny daisies and comes in many colors)
More specific patterns
- Black-eyed Susans for early fall (August-September)
- Lobelia for early fall (August-September)
In recent tradition silver goes with Winter and Spring while gold goes with Summer and Autumn. In general this seems like a reasonable rule to keep. However, also in the tradition of kimono, a kimono with both gold and silver is appropriate to any season.
Colored metallics, on the other hand, are totally up for grabs. If it works with your pattern, go for it.
A Word About Appropriation
Some patterns, such as the crane and the fan, have a great deal of cultural weight in Japan and very little in mainstream US culture. I admit to a certain amount of emotional conflict over the idea of taking these patterns and deploying them as simple summer patterns within a US kimono matrix. My personal feeling is that it is more appropriate to wear those patterns in the manner of their home culture, and not include them in the above symbol set despite the fact that cranes are as much a seasonal indicator, in the Great Lakes, as geese. I might change my mind, later, of course.
Last modified: 07/26/09
First Posted: 2/11/2006