Blackcabbit's World

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.

An Evening Dress from an Old Kimono

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

Choosing the Right Dress Pattern

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.

Understanding the Kimono’s Construction:

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.

Simple Chic

Preparing the Kuro Tomesode

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:

Making the Dress:

Pattern LayoutFabric layout with the sewing Patterns:
The actual length of the paper pattern is about 108 cm but I extended my dress length to 130 cm approximately.

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!) >_<”

Finally… Presenting my Kimono Remake dress!

Kimono Reform DressI 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


Blackcabbit’s Handmade Adventures


25 comments on “An Evening Dress from an Old Kimono

  1. karen
    June 24, 2016

    Thank-you for this post. I have 2 kimonos I want to turn into evening dresses and I would not have known that they shouldn’t be washed unless I had read this. I live in the Philippines, and I definitely want to at least be able to dry-clean the dresses after wear as it is just too hot here. But I will do a test of some of the extra fabric first.

    • blackcabbit
      June 24, 2016

      You are most welcome, Karen.

      Yes, please do a fabric test. My MIL said she will never wash her Kuro Tomesode. As for other type of kimono, most people will get professional laundry services. Super expensive because the pro actually take the kimono apart and sew it back after cleaning.

      Nowadays, there are some Kimono that can be hand-washed at home. My Iro-Tomesode (色留袖), which I bought from a second hand store, has a laundry label. I hand-washed it and it didn’t shrink.

  2. Françoise
    February 7, 2016

    So beautifull ! You are gifted 😉
    I am sure you was wonderfull in this dress

    • blackcabbit
      February 12, 2016

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Françoise. Yes it was a beautiful dress, thanks to the kimono. Too bad I can only wear it once ;(

  3. monthly
    October 23, 2015

    wow! that’s really cool!

  4. Julia
    June 14, 2013

    Would you mind sharing where you got the kimono and what price range you paid for it? I’m looking for a second hand kimono, and having a hard time finding one I like that I can afford – maybe I need to downselect to polyester?

    • blackcabbit
      June 25, 2013

      Dearest Julia,
      Sorry for the late reply. I just came back from a long tiring journey (with a super whiny toddler and a unwell baby)… >_<;

      I bought the above black kimono from OFF-HOUSE (a second-hand store) for less 1,000 Yen. I was very blessed. It was really cheap because that inner linings was very old and stained. The price was perfect since it was my first time trying to recycle a kimono into a dress.

      However, having said that. Prices for kimonos in thrift stores are unpredictable and extreme. Say, ranging from 1500 to 35,000 yen! If you are lucky, you may stumble upon a beautiful kimono that is inexpensive because it may have some imperfections somewhere. So, my advice is to check the used kimono thoroughly.

      Finding the perfect kimono in a second-hand is very much like treasure hunting – fun and exciting! May you find one that suits you soon! ^_^Y

      Have a blessed day!

  5. Tina
    July 5, 2012

    This is lovely! Thank you so much for this tutorial. I’m inspired! I am thinking about doing the same thing myself for a destination wedding, and I am also new to making clothing.

    • blackcabbit
      July 5, 2012

      Dearest Tina, wonderful of you to drop by and thank you so much for your comment. I’m so glad my experience above had encouraged you to make a kimono dress too. Hey, do share pictures of your dress once its done, I’d love to see it. Let’s continue together to learn more as we embark on challenges, my fellow budding sewing adventurer. ^_^Y

  6. Yokota TravelBlog
    April 17, 2012

    Absolutely LOVE it. I’m attempting something similar, although strapless. I have a question: In your diagram above of the harvested kimono pieces, you show five yellow panels, with one a little narrower. Is that narrow one actually the Okumi front piece? My donor kimono, a tomesode, has two back panels, two front panels and two Okumi. (Actually 4 Okumi, since each is faced with the outer fabric.) I’d love to use the Okumi, because the pattern is super nice on them. TIA

    • blackcabbit
      April 17, 2012

      Hi, thank you so much for your encouraging comment. If my memory served me right, the narrow panel was the Okumi. I only used one okumi (the front one with the most design). That’s why my front part of the dress was made up of 3-panels, unlike the back of the dress (only 2-panels). I hope I had answered your question and did not add any confusion to it. I wish i can contribute more but I’m still very new to dressmaking. Thank you so much for dropping by. Hope to see your strapless dress soon. Happy creating! ^_^

  7. Emilie
    December 7, 2011

    Just…awesome!! The dress looks perfect. Wear it on!!

    • blackcabbit
      December 7, 2011

      Thank you for your encouraging comment but I’m still too SHY to show meself wearing the dress LOL *^_^*

  8. Nancy
    September 25, 2011

    I found your blog and that excellent, excellent step by step process for converting a kimono into a dress. Many of my customers ( are so interested in this – I hope you don’t mind if I link to your blog from mine. I apologize in advance if you start getting inquries requesting you to make these dresses for profit!

    You did a beautiful job, both on the dress and explaining the process.

    • blackcabbit
      October 4, 2011

      Dearest Nancy, Sorry for the late reply. Thank you for sharing my DIY adventure with your kimono-loving customers, I really appreciate it and am really encouraged by your comments.. Hee hee, but to be honest with you, I still a “baby” in the sewing world, I doubt I can make any dress for profit. Think I stick to illustration and digital art instead. :D Once again, thank you. U made my day! ^_^b

      P.S. I’m too shy to show meself in the dress LOL.

  9. Mama's Sewing Room
    September 21, 2011

    Beautiful! Great tutorial!

    • blackcabbit
      September 21, 2011

      Thank you #^_^#

  10. Alan Zulch
    September 20, 2011

    Wow, a gorgeous dress! The fan pattern is stunning against the black. Very beautiful contemporary adaptation…I hate to think of commercializing the idea, but perhaps you should consider opening such a dress business! :-D

    • blackcabbit
      September 20, 2011

      Thank you Alan! I did initially put a lot of thoughts into a kimono-remake dress business (when I was buying the dress form). But after executing the dress in reality, I decided it may not be my forte after all! Without proper fashion background, I’d overworked my brain this time. :P Nonetheless, I’m onto a new business idea recently and will be launching it shortly on my blog (after my holiday trip). Do drop by again. Thank you so much for your continued support and wonderful comments! ^_^b

  11. Anonymous
    September 19, 2011

    哇,so smart! 天才!

  12. Purin (=`ω´=)
    September 19, 2011

    very elegant …and I think you’ll look somewhat mafia-like wearing it LOL!!

    • blackcabbit
      September 19, 2011

      I will try to behave in the dress, I promise. But Purin, You know me best! LOL~

  13. Bev
    September 19, 2011

    absolutely brilliant Dione
    you are so clever
    Love the idea………… you and the family r doing well
    kindest regards

    • blackcabbit
      September 19, 2011

      Bev, So wonderful for you to drop by. We miss you a lot! (Hug)

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This entry was posted on September 19, 2011 by in Craft / DIY Projects and tagged , , .
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