Blackcabbit (aka. Dionnie Takahashi) is an illustrator living in Japan. She loves drawing whimsical animal characters, as well as doing handmade crafts to beautify the world she lives in.
This month, my brother is getting married and I wanted to wear something “Japanese” for this special occasion. Initially, I thought of wearing a kimono since I love the traditional garment (and had worn it once for my own wedding). However, I had to dismissed the idea because of these reasons: (1) it will be too uncomfortable to wear it in hot humid Malaysia; (2) buying a Kimono and its accessories is way out of my budget; and above all… (3) I STILL do not know how to put on a kimono by myself.
After much deliberation, I decided to make a recycled kimono dress instead. So, I went to a second-hand store to browse for used kimono(s). Since I love black, I was naturally drawn to a particular one with beautiful gold-red embroideries and hand-paintings of fans and flowers. But before I buy the kimono, I had to ask my mum if they mind the base color. Usually in Chinese weddings, a solid black dress is frown upon, as opposed to the auspicious red, gold or other bright colors. My trendy mum laughed and said “At this century, of course no problem” (Whew!)
When I showed it to my MIL, I learnt that it is a Kuro Tomesode (黒留袖) with five Mon (紋 /emblem or crest). The black shorter-sleeved kimono has elaborate designs only from waist down. This type of kimono is the most formal for a married woman, typically worn at weddings of one’s relatives and other special occasions. Wow, a perfect buy for me! ^_^b
Since this is my first attempt at a dress, I wanted an easy dress pattern. However, my search for the simple dress pattern was not easy at all. I bought a lot of sewing patterns but realized that most of them were unusable. Unless you are really slim or a misses-fit, most individual panel of the patterns are too flare so there isn’t enough kimono fabric at the width.
Maybe I should elaborate further… Almost all Kimono are NOT WASH per wear (except for modern kimono with washing labels). Instead, they are often hang in cool airy places before they are put away carefully. Only if it is absolutely necessary, washing the kimono is done professionally and will cost an extravagant cleaning fee. The Kimono’s straight and flat panels (width 33-36cm) are taken apart for washing as separate panels during the cleaning process, then reassembled and hand-sewn back to its original form again.
The narrow width of the panels is the reason why I was unable to find my perfect dress pattern. I had no choice but to adapt, which can be nerve-wreaking for a beginner. The narrowest pattern I have was from this book: ドレスアップドレスダウン Simple Chic by Machiko Kayaki (茅木真知子). It was a frilled one-piece, which I did not follow exactly. I lengthened it, added darts and linings, and improvised along the way. Thank God, I have my sewing books and MIL to turn for advice.
Once I have decided on the sewing pattern, I went ahead and dissembled my black kimono. The usual practice for any crafter (who wants to recycle the kimono into wonderful handiworks) is to wash, dry, iron and pre-shrink (in the process) the disassembled pieces. However, in my case, I was strongly advised NOT to wash it at all. I had a looooooong discussion with my MIL over this because the very thought of it upset my strong sense of cleanliness and gave me an icky feeling. :P It was a used kimono and I gonna add my perspiration to it as well.
In her defense, my MIL said that in reality most owners of the Kuro Tomesode will NEVER washed it during their lifetime. It is too formal and precious to undergo any cleaning process. Additionally, the original linings would have kept the outer kimono “clean”. Besides, it will definitely shrink and I’ll end up with insufficient fabric.
Well, being as stubborn as a mule, I did a test wash on an extra piece. True to her word, the kimono fabric shrunk 10 cm or more, and the hand-painted color on the design was less vibrant! I accepted her advice compliantly, and proceeded to work on the kimono with my dress pattern. Anyway, this is how I disassembled the kimono:
FRONT of the dress:
Actually before I worked on the kimono, I did a mockup with my spare lining fabrics, in order to practice on marking, pinning, cutting, sewing, as well as testing the darts and fittings. Nonetheless, that didn’t reduce my tension when I worked on the actual kimono. My heart “stood still” when I was cutting the Kuro Tomesode and was literally in cold sweats throughout! LOL~
BACK of the dress:
The zipper I used on the kimono was 50cm long. Since it was my initial attempt, I practiced on a shorter zipper with kimono scraps prior to the actual piece. I am so thankful to YCMTTV for her wonderful and easy-to-understand tutorial “How to Install a Zipper.”
The linings was the most difficult part for me. In fact, I followed a wrong tutorial and it almost ruin my dress. Now I know that sewing a lining to a bodice is totally different from sewing it to a long dress. (DUH!) For the mistake, my MIL said I have to un-stitch and hand-sew a big portion of it. Since I sew badly and have needle-prick tendency, I prefer machine-sewing as much as possible. Fortunately, I managed to fix it while fumbling around and only had to hand-sew the zipper-lining portion. (Fewer OUCHs thankfully!) >_<”
I guess I will never be able to wash this dress. I hope that everyone will be too busy admiring the dress to notice its musty smell. LOL! Oh, BTW I didn’t use my dressform at all despite of all the hoo-hah we’d been through. So I use it to display the dress for picture taking instead. :P