Kimono & Other Information
Further Kimono Information
1 About Kimonos
Kimono make absolutely stunning wall hangings. Many women's kimono are things of sheer beauty and look superb displayed on a wall. Men's haori jackets with highly decorative linings, men's and boys' jubans, children's ceremonial kimono and many nagajubans make equally striking but smaller displays than full sized women's kimono, if space is limited An obi is beautiful worn on a kimono but also makes an absolutely exquisite table runner, down the centre of a dining table, or placed down the centre of or across a bedspread.
Japanese clothing is not only beautiful when worn, it is fabulous for interior design too, whether it's a kimono, haori or an obi If you wish to use a kimono as a display piece, you can use a long piece of thickish bamboo or a wooden pole, the thickness of a broom handle (less likely to bow than a narrower one), with a string or cord loop attached to the centre to hang it from. They are usually displayed with the front edges of the garment pulled out to the sides, with either the back or the front displayed, as in the pictures at the top of this page. Men's Haoris are sometimes displayed inside out, with the back on display, to show off the exquisitely decorated lining Most of the printed fabrics are hand printed. On a few, this can be seen by very slight variations in the print, due to varying pressure applied by the printer or tiny specks of dye transfer and such. It doesn't detract from the fabric, it adds charm, as it's a character of a print done individually by hand and not just mass produced by machine.
One often sees saaya designs on kimono fabric, saaya are what the western world call swastika, but this is not as odd as it may seem to us in the West. The saaya is actually the Buddhist cross, a very ancient design, adopted during the 21st century as the German military insignia but a sign of peace in Buddhism for centuries before that and still seen as that in Buddhist culture. The kimono is worn with the left front over the right front, on both males and females; right front over left is only for corpses at burial. The side to which traditional Japanese clothing is worn is based on life and death; so both men and women wear the front wrapped left over right, whereas in the West it is based on gender, with women wearing right over left and men vice versa.
The traditional way to clean a kimono, called araihari, is to unpick all the stitching, lay the pieces out on a wooden board and gently wash them, then hand sew it all together again, this must be done by a specialist. However, as you are unlikely to want to continue this tradition, you may want to ask your dry cleaner's advice but be sure to select one who knows what they are doing with vintage garments and can advise you properly. This site's kimonos are mostly not presently in need of cleaning but, if you do opt for dry cleaning, ask the cleaners to handle it lovingly, tell them that it is hand stitched, vintage and if it is made of silk; ask your dry cleaner's advice and make your decision based on that. Nowadays, most Japanese opt for dry cleaning by a specialist who knows kimonos. Some of the kimonos can be gently hand washed, especially the synthetic ones, but that's a decision for the owner to make about their particular kimono, All CLEANING IS DONE AT THE OWNER'S RISK, as is standard with any vintage garment, the information given here is purely a guideline to help you decide whether or not to clean your vintage garment and decide how to go about it. I have some that I only dry clean and some I gently hand wash. The crepe silks and shibori fabrics tighten up when washed and are hard to iron out to original size, over ironing can flatten out shibori too, so washing them is extremely risky and I would certainly advise against it.
One thing to bear in mind with kimono is that the colours are often not colour fast, they can run dramatically if washed, even in some synthetic ones, though many synthetic and cotton ones are hand washable. The cotton kimonos are often hand printed, so treat those with gentle care too, Dry cleaning is, of course, the safest bet for the silk ones but ask your dry cleaner's advice and again it is at your own risk. If the garment is washable, hand wash only (with perhaps a machine short spin to remove most of the water before hanging up to dry), as almost all vintage kimono are hand sewn and the stress on them in a washing machine may cause damage. Do not tumble dry.
Some vintage silks get foxing, a yellow or brownish coloured speckling, especially some of the lighter, finer ones and especially in a country like Japan, which can be hot and very humid in summer. I doesn't weaken the fabric and most often happens on the linings, so doesn't show when on. It's just a characteristic of vintage fabrics, though an amazing number have no foxing at all.
There is a specific variation in kimono sleeves, especially among women's kimonos. Men wear narrow obi, so their kimono sleeves are attached to the kimono body all or almost all of the way down their depth but women wear deep obi, so their sleeves are only attached down part of their depth, to keep the kimono body free for the deep obi sash. Sleeves have varied a bit over time, it is one area where one can see changes in fashion; much deeper sleeves were the fashion for all in the 30s and earlier, but the sleeves on basic women's kimono shortened somewhat after that, though they do still have a lot of depth. Unmarried women, from the age of 13, may wear furisode kimono, which are formal kimono with exceedingly deep sleeves (furisode means swinging sleeve) and little girl's formal kimono also have especially deep sleeves, which they traditionally wear with big, depth shortening, external tucks in them; maiko (trainee geisha/geiko) also wear stitched in external tucks in their kimono, in the sleeves and in the shoulders, the same as little girls do, as maiko are supposed to look like porcelain child dolls. Once married or over about late 20s, women no longer wear furisode kimonos, they wear the shorter in depth, kosode sleeve kimonos instead. Once they become fully fledged geisha/geiko, they no longer have the tucks sewn into the sholders and sleeves and no longer wear the furisode sleeved kimonos either, they wear more adult versions of kimonos, to look adult and sophisticated, rather than doll-like.
Many women's kimono may seem very long and, once upon a time, trailed on the ground but that habit died out, although the kimono remained longer than the wearer. The Japanese wear a narrow, tied belt (koshi-himo) around the waist of the kimono, above which they pull up the excess length, then fold that fabric down in a fold, over the belt. They then wear a narrow-ish obi (han-haba obi) on top, with the folded edge of the kimono fabric showing below the sash; over that they wear the large, decorative obi, with the fold of fabric still showing below it. Instructions on how to adjust to length can be seen on a the next kimono information page. This also allows them to wear the kimono pulled low at the back of the neck, as is traditional. If a formal obi is worn, it is worn over the narrow one. However, most kimono can simply be hemmed instead, depending on the pattern on them, if too long for the wearer. Japanese women wouldn't dream of hemming their kimono to the right length but, in the west, we often find it more convenient, as we want to be able to put them on quickly, since we usually wear them as robes. Sometimes jubans and men's and children's kimono are stitched to the right length by the Japanese, not with a hem at the bottom, like on western garments, but by stitching a tuck all the way round at waist level, either with the fabric fold on the outside, like in the length adjusting pictures below, or with the tuck stitched to the inside, where it isn't seen, and the obi sash worn over the loosely hand stitched seam. For those of us in the west, this works particularly well for any women's kimono that have a pattern around the bottom, like tomesode kimono, the pattern of which would be spoiled if hemmed.
The Japanese often use mothballs to preserve them, as moths do like silk and wool fibres, but one can use cedarwood or lavender essential oil instead to help keep moths away; do not apply it directly to the fabric, though, just have it nearby, perhaps on a cloth or tissue that does not touch the garment fabric or around the outside of the container. The Japanese also store them in cedarwood chests, especially made for kimono storage.
Fabrics for wafuku are woven specially for the garments, that is, a kimono is made from a roll / bolt of kimono fabric made in one specific size only. Most are made especially for the wearer, not ready made and off the rack, and any size variation is due only to the amount of seam allowance given by the tailor (who is actually more likely to be the woman of the household than a professional tailor), the fabric is never cut in width or darted to make a smaller kimono. The pattern is already woven into or printed (usually hand printed) onto the fabric roll for most kimonos. If it has a band of pattern around the bottom and on one sleeve, the roll is printed in such a way that, when cut into sections, the pattern will be in the right places. The buyer chooses a design, takes the roll of fabric home and makes it into their kimono, making the seam allowance a little less for the larger wearer and a little more for the slimmer wearer. All kimono use the entire roll of fabric, none is ever discarded, no matter what size of wearer it is made for. They then make another from lining fabric, if it's lined, then sew both together.
Every type of traditional Japanese garment is like that, there are rolls of fabric woven specifically for making haori, others specifically for obi, different rolls for the various types of obi like the narrow hanhaba obi, the kaku obi, the maru obi etc, again in one specific, fixed size for each type of item. To make the item, the entire roll is always used and the width of the actual pieces used to make that type of garment does not vary, only the seam allowance may vary slightly
More information can be found on my Wafuku blog For example...
Mon & Kamon
Japan’s 20 Year Old Girls’ Seijin-No-Hi Celebration & Furisode Kimonos
Below is a diagram of the layout for cutting a bolt of kimono fabric (not accurately to scale). The body section will be cut into 2 equal lengths, each length providing half the front and half the back, as there are no seams across the shoulders