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:


Season Free

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.


Combined Season

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:



Base Colors


More specific patterns





More specific patterns





More specific patterns





More specific patterns


About Metallics

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



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