This is my personal trove of strategies to make kimono wearing simple and inexpensive.

Well, relatively.



One of the more complicated bits of kimono these days is the collar. The recent traditional arrangement has been to wear a silk under-kimono with a cotton collar loosely stitched on, so that one can remove it for washing after wearing.

Of course, one also wears a cotton slip under that so that one doesn't have to wash the delicate juban very often.

The modern answer for ladies who don't want to trouble with three layers is to cut out the juban and wear the slip with an "easy collar", which is the sew-on collar attached to a back strip with side strings for making the collar sit properly.

Another increasingly viable alternative is the washable juban, with a firmly stitched collar, which serves as both pretty under-kimono, collar securing base, and also washable layer. I am strongly in favor of this option, since it reduces the number of separate bits that have to be all tied together.

However, this still leaves the problem of expense, since one has to either stick with one plain white or pink juban to go with all one's kimono or else get a buch of different ones to coordinate.



My answer to that problem is to choose one's yukata with care and use them as juban. This does require some patience, in order to choose yukata that are of sufficiently soft cotton to drape nicely and also in colors that coordinate with one's silk kimono, but it gives the greatest return for one's money.

It also allows for some very pretty and lively color combinations.

Alternatively, of course, one can make one's own yukata. Since they are unlined this is not as onerous as making a kimono, and one can pick cotton or rayon fabric exactly to one's taste.

With a little judicious shopping, one can also find synthetic kimono that will serve as underkimono or as a single layer on its own. While the fashions descended from upper-class (read, inactive) styles are all about multiple layers, people who actually had to move and work in their clothing left us with a perfectly viable tradition of single-layer clothing.



And now we come to the basic question of how to get kimono in Great Lakes patterns. Komon and yukata in abstracts are not all that difficult to find, but houmongi and tsukesage would seem, at first glance, a lost cause.

Some patterns are present on both sides. For example:

Other patterns are sufficiently stylized to represent other plants than they alledge to be. These include:

That still leaves a lot of patterns unaccounted for, though.

To remedy this, one must look to iromuji and fabric paints. Let me take an example from my own collection to demonstrate.

To start with, one needs an iromuji in a good base color. Say warm gray with a woven in water pattern.

Next, think of a pattern for it. In this case, pine branches. And, in my case, very simple branches--only the tip with a spray of needles--because I'm not a very good visual artist. If you are, or can come up with a stencil or two or three, this is ideal.

Get fabric paint in the colors you need. This may well be the most expensive part, but it pays to get the quality you need. Setacolor Opaque, Neopaque and Jacquard are some of the best options for this purpose.

After that it's just like grade-school art projects, aside from a certain amount of nerve-wracking over the quality and irreplacability of your canvas. I recommend practicing on scrap fabric first. Paint your pattern around the left hem, on the front of one sleeve, and on the back of the other, and lo, you have a new tsukesage or houmongi appropriate to your home region.



Now, if you want one of the obi with a ton of gold or silver, and brocade from end to end, you're looking at either ebay or a big sewing project. In either case, you're probably looking at spending a lot of money.

If, however, you want a softer texture and simpler designs, you can make a fukuro obi for about forty bucks.

Get twelve yards of 45" white silk (a standard bolt-size in the US) and dye it in whatever base color you want. Rit dye works just fine, as long as you wash it a bunch after to make sure it isn't shedding any more. Incidentally, a large plastic trash can works nicely as a dye vat. Or you can get a more serious dye and use your stovetop or washing machine.

Fold the silk in thirds, lengthwise, and sew the long side shut. Now you have a lined obi. Paint on whatever patterns or designs you please and there you are.

An obi of this weight and texture gives you much softer obi bows than most commercially made obi these days. If you're doing one of the fantastical musubi to go with a furisode, you probably want something stiffer. It makes a delightful otaiko bow, though, and a rather nice chouchou.

If you want a pleasently light and all-purpose obi, get black silk in 8mm habotai to do this with. This is a re-vivification of one of the casual obi styles that has fallen by the way.


Making washable

A lot of kimono are unwashable because the colors are not fixed, not colorfast and definitely not water or detergent resistant. On top of that, the thread often shrinks up at a different rate than the fabric. This, of course, is why kimono are, traditionally, unstitched, and very carefully handwashed and dried with all kinds of tricks.

There are things you can do about this, though.

If you are overdying a kimono, of course, all you need is to use a colorfast dye and/or fixative in your process.

If you have a pattern you like, and simply don't want it to run, you can wash it with an after-market fixative like Retayne for cotton, Afterfix for patterns on cotton and silk or Dharma Dye Fixative for garment fixing with any natural fiber.

As for thread-shrinkage, what you can do depends on the sturdiness of your fabric. If, after washing, you gently stretch the seams and then hang or lay flat to dry, that will usually take care of the seams bunching up. I don't recommend trying this with Showa or Taishou era garments, let alone Meiji. Silk is a strong fabric, but thin silk that's that old isn't something you want to take chances with.


Last modified: 07/26/09
First Posted: 2/11/2006



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