Friday, January 12, 2018

New Year, New Home

As many of you have likely noticed, and one dear follower commented, I have been long absent from my blog. It is not that I have moved away from kitsuke, but instead, have moved out of San Jose, and into the lovely area around Jackson, California. Despite many stresses, including leaving a company I'd been with for eleven years, the move was most undoubtedly for the best, even if it means I am now a two-hour drive from my beloved Nihonmachi.

The move also meant a period of limbo, as we stayed with family until we could find a home that we could call our own. That, in turn, meant that all of my kimono, accessories, and the computer holding all of my photos were all in storage, decidedly inaccessible.

It feels very right that we were able to move into our new home right before the Winter Solstice, settling in as the light returns to the land. Slowly but surely, boxes are getting unpacked, and new routines are being established; new job, new commute, and remembering where we unpacked the silverware.

Along that vein, I wish to make a concerted effort at more posts this coming year. I have so many themes and topics to touch upon, new books to review and new adventures to share. I hope that you will join me as we approach 2018 and the year of the Dog with renewed purpose and energy!

Nothing says 'auspicious' like a furisode. Photo courtesty of Thad Gann,

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Thrifted Kitsuke: Findings in the Wild

Last year, I did a brief series on Thrifted Kitsuke (part 1 & part 2) and finding items to compliment the wardrobe, even if you are not in an area or region where kimono are likely to show up at your local thrift store of choice.

One of the things I stressed at that time is the usefulness of revisits to  your preferred store, as turnover of items is entirely dependent on the donations those stores receive. Patience is rewarded, whether it's in a new scarf that can be used for obi-age or han-eri, or handkerchiefs to keep kimono tidy while worn. And, very occasionally, you may find genuine obi lurking among table-runners or kimono shoulder-to-shoulder with bathrobes and nightgowns.

Quite recently, my own patience was rewarded, as I found a lovely stenciled han-haba obi, simply hanging and waiting for someone to spot it for what it was.

Green han-haba obi with fan motif stenciled in gold.

My other find on that same trip was... well... let's say informative:

From several technical points, this could be considered a women's kimono. The sleeves certainly mark it as such, but there are many points against calling it a proper kimono. The first point is that there is no back seam, meaning that the garment was cut from fabric much wider than a traditional tan (which is usually only about 14 inches or so wide).

The spacing of the patterning is another point: while the embroidery work is beautiful, having such prominent work across the back and symmetrical on both sleeves is neither typical nor traditional placement for patterning. The fact that all of this beautiful thread-work goes WELL past the waist is also quite telling. Remember, on women's garments (which are usually at least as tall as the woman wearing them) a fold would be taken at the waist and all of this work would then be hidden under the obi. This would also be quite uncomfortable, as there is a certain dimensional quality to the embroidery work, and it would likely feel quite lumpy under the obi.

The next point to observe is that the fabric (rayon, according to the printed-in-English label) does not have the hand that one generally associates with the silk, or even synthetics of lined kimono.

Finally, there is the lining itself. Many of the lined kimono in my collection have the lining pieced from two different solid colored fabrics, with the paler fabric used for most of the body and the overlaps and lower portions in a darker, generally complimentary color to the kimono. (Vintage and antique kimono will often have vibrant red linings, but more modern kimono will generally have white.)Whenever I have encountered lined kimono where all pieces of the lining are composed of a white fabric, the edges and hem are often dip-dyed in a color complimentary to the outer fabric. This robe's lining is entirely white, with no coloring at the hems or edges.

A garment like this was most likely manufactured specifically for the tourist trade. It even came with a matching narrow sash, to tie it closed as one might a western-style bath or dressing robe. It is certainly not a garment that should be passed off and worn as a traditional kimono, but there is no reason to not enjoy it's unique artistry around the house.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Nikkei Matsuri

A Nikkei Matsuri several years ago.

One of my favorite festivals of the year is tomorrow, and so, I'm going to take a moment to write about that and put on hold the other two posts I've been working on to catch up with my April Alternative Challenge.

This year, the Nikkei Matsuri promises to be especially lovely because San Jose is hosting a delegation from our sister-city of Okayama, celebrating 60 years of friendship. This will also be the 40th anniversary of the festival itself.

In appearances and timeliness, this festival adheres a little more closely to "Children's Day" than to a "Cherry Blossom" festival, but it is very much a Japanese American Celebration-- hence 'Nikkei Matsuri.'

Artists both local and far come to vend their wares, often featuring traditional techniques in ceramics, fabric-arts and origami. There are exhibits of ikebana and calligraphy, martial arts demonstrations and, of course, great food. It is a wonderfully immersive cultural experience in a community that has over 125 years of history in San Jose.

More information on the festival, as well as the Sister City partnership with Okayama can be found at 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Vocabulary: Asa

A non-geometric representation of asa leaves on yukata

Last year, I began the April challenge with a very similar entry: Asanoha. At that time, I was focusing on examples of the motif, but this year the focus is, of course, a little different as I endeavor to define some of the more common (and not so common) terms that I have come across in my own studies.

Many of the motifs we looked at last year were derived from natural elements and asanoha (hemp leaf or hemp flower) was no exception. But why should the humble hemp plant be immortalized in such a manner? It does not carry the romance of sakura or nadeshiko (both considered to be exemplars of fleeting and feminine beauty).

To my mind, the simple answer is because hemp is practical. Asa can be cultivated and utilized not just for rope, but spun into finer fibers as well. It is a very popular alternative to cotton, and though the weave might be a bit stiffer, it is not uncomon to find unlined (hitoe) kimono woven from asa suitable for summer wear.

Asa also has associations with purity, and as such is often used for the raiment of Shinto priests. With such powerful implications of protection as well as purity, it's no surprise that the asanoha motif would be a popular pattern for garments not made of the fiber itself.

Geometric motif known as Asanoha on a (likely synthetic fiber) obi
If you'd like a little more in-depth history of asa in Japanese culture, I found this article from The Japan Times to be quite informative.

I hope that you will continue to follow me in this more casual survey of terms and phrases as we wend our way through the month!

Monday, March 27, 2017

April Alternative Challenge

Cats know how to take it easy. Sometimes humans need the reminder.

Last year was my first time participating in the A-Z blog challenge and I found that it really helped me focus on what I want this blog to be-- informative. With last year's theme of motifs, I was able to reinforce some of the knowledge I'd already garnered through my study of kimono and kitsuke and then expand upon it.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed participating in last year's A-Z challenge, I've had to admit that, this year, I'm just not going to be able to make that sort of commitment. I won't be totally idle, though! Thanks to last year's challenge, I found a fun blog whose author is hosting an alternative: The April Alternative Challenge

I'm quite certain that I'll be able to manage four posts in one month. I might even push for a little more, since I was already plotting out daily entries for the A-Z challenge, but frankly, some of the letters were stumping me. There will still be an overarching theme this month, while I parse through some common and not-so-common vocabulary in the kimono and kitsuke world. If you have any particular words or phrases you'd like some help in decoding, please feel free to mention them in the comments!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Thrifty Kitsuke (Part 2)

Welcome back to Tips and Tricks Tuesday, where  you can expect to find a wide range of tips and curios that might not otherwise have a forum in my regular crafting or kitsuke posts.

I missed posting this last week as I was recovering from an absolutely amazing experience at Clockwork Alchemy. To anyone who has found this blog after attending my panel, 'Don't be That Gaijin,' welcome!

As I mentioned in my last installment, I've been a long-time fan of thift-store shopping, for day-to-day wearables as well as more unique treasures. I've had a lot of luck in finding kimono and accessories in thrift stores, but I know that not everyone has time or luck, so I thought that I would spend a little more time this week talking about finding kimono in online venues.

You won't be able to handle the garments as you would if you found them in person, so you have to rely on the information the seller provides to determine if the garment will fit. For this to be a successful venture, you need a little information beforehand, specifically, your own measurements.

To get the best, most accurate measurements, have a friend help you figure out the following: Height, 'Wingspan' (the distance from wrist to wrist across back with arms outspread), and Hip Circumference. Make note of these measurements in both inches and centimetres, as not all sellers will list measurements in both systems. Once you have these, you're ready to venture deeper into the web to find your own kimono.

A quick google search will show you that you can buy kimono (or garments calling themselves kimono) from a multitude of places. Amazon has listings for kimono, for instance, but many of these will likely be of synthetic material and more appropriate for use as a dressing robe than wearing out in public. If you are looking for more authentic garments but are not ready to go down the etsy/ebay rabbit hole, I recommend starting your search at Kimono Flea Market Ichiroya.

Ichiroya has 15 years of experience in selling kimono on line. They are very thorough with their documentation of any stains or flaws in their pieces and the information is always clear. New items are added almost daily, so there is always something different to see. They are based in Japan, so shipping might be a little pricey, depending on where you are, but there is no doubt that you can buy from them with confidence.

Another kimono-exclusive vendor from whom I have received excellent service is Ai no Kimono. This is run by a kimono enthusiast living in South Korea. Updates are not as frequent as Ichiroya, but the quality is always well documented, and the vendor is very easy to communicate with. I have made purchases from her in the past (this is where I found my bat komon hitoe), and I was absolutely delighted with the service.

If you are feeling adventurous, then ebay or etsy might be the place for you. I would still recommend having a good look at Ichiroya, though, because their listings can be an education in kimono vocabulary and will give you a better idea of terms you might want to use to refine  your searches. They are also the best example of the sort of information you want to find from a trustworthy kimono vendor.

I would like to stress this last point because your success with ebay or etsy is going to rely on the fact that you can not only refine what you're searching for, but be able to recognize authentic kimono from 'silk robe.' Sellers will tag or title items with a myriad or descriptors that might not have anything to do with what you're looking for-- they're just trying to get as much visibility as possible. Even if you are searching for specific terms like 'yukata' you may come up with things that sellers have mis-identified, or accessories that go WITH yukata, like han-haba obi.

Beyond what I mentioned above, both ebay and etsy have pros and cons when it comes to kimono shopping, even once you have found some items of interest. With ebay, you have the chance of finding quality garments for a lower price, whether the listing be auction style or 'buy it now.' It's more likely that in this venue, you will then be contending with shipping from overseas which can sometimes cost as much, if not more than what you paid for the garment itself-- and can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to arrive.

On etsy, I have found that the price is likely to be a little higher to start,but your only option is to buy, rather than bid, so you don't have to worry about being out-bid. You will still be contending with shipping, but that shipping may be from within your home country, so you won't have to wait nearly as long for your item to arrive.

I have had a great deal of success in acquiring garments and accessories from both ebay and etsy at what I consider to be bargain prices (remember, if you buy several items, the seller will often reduce the shipping cost!). My success has a lot to do with patience, diligent searching, saving sellers whose offerings I like and service I trust, and waiting for items to be on sale. With the pointers I've offered, I'm sure that you, too, can expand your own kimono collection to suit your tastes, and not hurt your wallet (too much).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Crafting: Hadajuban (Part 4)

Welcome to the Workspace Wednesday crafting series. This week, we're concluding our inaugural project, sewing a hadajuban. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here, and here. Part 3 can be found here.

This week, we're going to pick up with finishing the neckline of the garment, and we'll also cover final steps for finishing! After today,  you should be able to complete your own hadajuban! This week's entry is a little lengthy, but I didn't want to stretch this out for another week, so let's get started!

The instructions in the Folkwear pattern are very clear for the stay-stitching. I recommend starting at the bottom of the slant on the left overlap (because of how the fabric will feed through a standard machine) with the recommended 1/2" seam allowance. As you approach the the beginning of the neck, you'll want to ease that seam allowance out to 3/4" and by the time you hit the back and are headed towards the back seam, you will want to be at a full 1" for your seam allowance. Stay at 1" across the back of the neck opening until it's time to ease around that curve into 3/4" and then back down to 1/2" for the rest of the front of the body and overlap.

You should be able to make out the curving guideline of stitches. Getting a neat curve can take some practice.

If your sewing machine does not have guidelines going up to a full inch, you can use a small ruler and put down a line of masking tape to mark where the edge of your fabric will be when it is an inch from the needle. This has been an invaluable marker on my own sewing machine, given how often I find myself needing it for projects like this.

Once that line is in place, we are ready to really diverge from the pattern and set down our bias-binding finish for the neck edge!

For this, you will want double-fold bias binding. You can use a complimentary or contrasting color-- no one but you is likely to ever see this. I like using the double-fold bias binding because it keeps all of the edges clean and is actually a little easier to ease around the curve of the neckline because of the slightly stretchy nature of fabric cut on a bias. You should only need one pack if you aren't making the binding yourself, but it's better to get two, just in case.

Open double-fold bias binding pinned along the stay-stitched guideline

When you first open your bias binding, you should note that one edge is slightly wider from fold to end than the other side. You'll want to use the fold that is closest to the narrower side as your guideline for pinning. This will make our final finishing steps a little easier. If you can't tell, or it seems the the folds are equidistant, then don't worry, the bias binding will still do it's job.

Pinned bias binding eased around the curve.
You're going to be applying the bias binding all the way around the same area as  you would be applying a regular collar-- along the sloped edges of the overlaps and around the neck. The straightaway isn't a problem, but that pesky neckline curve is. You can do a preliminary pinning, starting at one end and working around to check how much of the binding you'll need, remembering to leave a little extra at each end to tuck into themselves to finish.

For the actual pinning, you'll want to be sure to open one side of your bias binding. The fold-line is going to be what you line up with the stay-stitching, as you can see in the photos above. Start with the center of your length of bias binding, and pin to the center back of your hadajuban, right sides together (the valley of the fold will be facing up, so that when it's sewn down, you can fold it towards the edge of the fabric, then around to finish). I like to pin working from the center around to one side, and then from the center to the other side.

By starting from the center and working out, you have a lot more play in the fabric to ease around that curve. You want all of the fabric to sit flush, without any tucks, wrinkles or folds getting caught. It sounds very counter-intuitive to be able to take a straight piece of fabric and work it around a curve without folding, but it's totally doable!

First seam is done! You can see a few stitches peeking out, but this is pretty normal and they are easy to remove with a seam ripper. Remember, those were just there to be a guideline.

Once you have your first seam done, fold the bias binding up to check for any tucks or folds that may have gotten into your seam, particularly at the curve of the neckline. If all you're seeing are a few little stitches like the ones above, you're doing great! Those stitches can be picked out, by the way-- they're not integral to the structure of the garment. Just be careful that you don't rip the fabric when you pick out the stitches.

Next, we're going to trim the excess fabric from our neckline. Trim carefully, and leave at least 1/4" inch of fabric in your seam allowance-- you don't want to risk getting too close and cutting into the seam you just sewed. This does mean that you will be trimming more fabric away from the back of the neck than you will be from the front, because of where the stay-stitching guideline ran.

Trimming excess from seam allowance.

Next, we're going to fold our bias binding over to hide all of these trimmed edges to give our hadajuban neckline a more finished look. Because the bias-binding has folds already pressed in, it will fold back on itself quite neatly. Remember to tuck the little bit of excess that you should have left at the ends back on itself before pinning closed. This way, you won't have raw edges at the bottom of your neckline. If you forgot to leave excess, don't worry-- this is underwear, after all.

Using the 'stitch in the ditch' method for an invisible seam on the right side of the garment.
Once the bias binding is pinned down (the image above shows the right side of the garment up, with pins on the inside. This is not ideal for pin removal during sewing, but this is what I usually wind up doing anyway.) you have two options. You can sew the bias binding down with the wrong side facing up, so that you can be sure you are catching the folded edge in your seam, or you can utilize the method in the photograph above.

At the top of this post, I suggested looking for a slightly narrower side to the bias binding and using that to pin down. All that comes into play here-- by having that wider edge folded over, it should overlap the original seam by just enough that you can 'stitch in the ditch,' running the needle very carefully in the space where the two fabrics meet, and catching the folded edge on the reverse side. This method offers a much cleaner finish on the right side of the garment, but it can be tricky. Pin carefully and sew slowly, and you shouldn't have any trouble. Once you've sewn the length of the collar, be sure to turn it over and check for any places where the needle didn't catch the bias binding.

Now that the neckline finishing is done, we can finish this garment!

Sleeves are Step 3 in the Folkwear pattern and I mentioned early on in this project that the sleeves were optional for the hadajuban. If you decide not to attach any, you'll need to figure out how wide you want your arm opening to be (you can use the marks on the Folkwear pattern as a guideline) and finish that area in a manner similar to how the overlaps were finished before sewing your side seams.

If you do decide to attach sleeves, you can still use many of the steps outlined in the pattern. The biggest difference is that we're making tube-sleeves, not kimono sleeves for the hadajuban. You'll want to finish one edge of each sleeve with a hem, and this can be done before attaching the sleeves to the body of the garment so that they are easier to manage.

Your other option for finishing your sleeves is to attach them to the body first, then sew your tube closed. In the photo below, you can see how this hem catches the seam allowance so that it is not sticking up like a little tab.

Hemming tube sleeves with 1/4" hem, similar to how the overlaps were finished.
This will definitely give a cleaner finish to the sleeves, but it can be a little tricky if your sewing machine does not have a drop plate to accommodate the sewing of sleeves.

After your sleeve is attached (or not!) all that remains is the side-seam and hem! These fall under step 4 of the Folkwear pattern. As this is an undergarment and should have minimal seam allowances, we don't need to worry about the finishing notes that the pattern gives. A simple seam at your usual seam allowance will do the trick.

Once the side seams are done, you'll want to head back to the ironing board to press the side and back seams open, and to make sure the overlap seams are pressed towards the overlap. This will reduce bulk in your hem when you go to sew and helps the garment to have a more even drape overall.

For my hadajuban, I pressed up about 1" for the first fold in my hem. All pressing for hems should be done to the wrong side of the fabric so that the folds are not visible from the outside.

Unfinished hem

Next, I made a little triangular fold, bringing the bottom edge of the outside fold even with the inside unfinished edge. Repeat this for the other overlap edge.

Fold one in creating a neater hem.

To finish the hem, brought the folded edge to the wrong side of the garment, all the way across the bottom, again using 1 inch for my guideline.

The angular fold keeps unfinished edges away from the outside edge and creates a cleaner, more finished appearance overall.
Once you have pressed and sewn this hem, your hadajuban will be completed!

If you have followed along for this project, I would love to see some of your own completed works. If you have any questions that will help you finish your garment, I would be happy to help you with those as well!