Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Crafting: Kimono in the Making

I could go into great detail as to why I haven't written anything for a couple of weeks. I could say that I haven't had time to properly dress, but that wouldn't be true. I simply haven't had a chance to photograph any of my more recent outings, and it's very difficult to talk about style and ensemble without visual reference.

Even when I'm not in kimono, I still find myself thinking of wearing them, and deporting myself with the same calm and grace as I hope that I manage when dressed. It is a gentle reminder for more stressful or aggravating times. I sat down earlier this week to try to write on this theme but found myself distracted. More to the point, I had a sewing project that I wanted to be working on that was far more relevant to this blog than my idle musings and I realized that I wasn't going to be able to write anything worth sharing until I'd done something about it.

Snow Bunnies, uncut
This is a roll or tan of yukata fabric. It is a fairly lightweight cotton and has a wonderful feel. The pattern, is quite charming and will be a wonderful, cooling reminder when worn in summer. I took this photograph a couple of weeks ago, after I finished ironing it.

Snow bunnies, cut. The sleeves are at the bottom left of the frame and you can see that I gave them a girlishly young, rounded corner. For my age, I should have perhaps gone with something a little more squared off, but the pattern is so fun and whimsical that I couldn't resist.

The cut yukata from another angle. This is the wrong side of the fabric.
I took these photos after finally cutting the pieces for the yukata. I use the Folkwear Japanese Kimono Pattern (#113) and I plan to do a more in-depth photo essay in the future as I make another kimono. I can't recommend this pattern highly enough as the instructions are quite clear and straightforward and Folkwear is very good about adding cultural details and information along with the pattern instructions. I did not get any more photos of my assembly process this time around, but I can assure you that this yukata is now complete and that I will be sharing photos of it as I go out in the near future.

This particular length of fabric has been waiting a very long time to be made into a garment. It was originally purchased for my roommate, Ann, and she had hoped to make a yukata for herself. To that end, she had purchased some additional burgundy cotton that she felt she might need to augment the original fabric so that she could have a garment that fit. (I used this fabric to face the sleeve openings at wrist and near the body.)

Through one thing and another, the fabric was never cut and eventually she handed it off to me as I was more likely to actually make a yukata. Even then, it sat in my fabric stash for quite some time until the kimono bug really took hold on me and we decided that not only was this a color that I could wear, but that such an adorable print really needed to be made so it could be worn and shared.

Part of my delay was also concern for not showing proper respect for the fabric. I was afraid that I would miscut something and render it unusable  After all, this was a unique tan-- it wasn't like I could go out to our nearest fabric store and buy more. It was also fabric that had been given to me, and I wanted very much to show my respect and appreciation for that. Of course, the best way to show that was to actually use the fabric for its intended purpose and with that in mind, I continued with care, laying out my pattern several times to ensure I could get all of the pieces I needed before finally cutting.

Because of the nature of the pattern, I feel more comfortable treating this garment as a hitoe (unlined) cotton kimono rather than a yukata, and plan on wearing it for the upcoming holiday season, as well as for Obon next summer. It really is the pattern that makes it so versatile-- I simply can't bring myself to wear my other yukata at this time of year; their patterning is simply too 'summery.'

I have other fabrics waiting to become lovely garments, and now that I have had some success with this one, I feel that I can move with more confidence onto these other treasures that are simply waiting to be brought into the light.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Okimono Kimono

Like any fashion, there will be different ways to approach assembling looks and ensembles. Where "The New Kimono" presents a classic, chic approach, Mokona's "Okimono Kimono" offers a whimsical, playful take on bringing the wearing of kimono into everyday life.

Mokona is an manga-ka (a Japanese illustrative/"comic" artist) who is perhaps better known as a member of the all-female studio CLAMP. "Okimono Kimono" is her first solo work, stemming from her own interest in the art of kimono.

The book is divided into several sections, the first being "Okimono Art." This section is dedicated to several pieces that Mokona designed herself.  The designs are quite modern and the models in kimono are depicted against CG backgrounds that another CLAMP artist created. While the creations didn't particularly suit my personal style, Mokona's explanations of the designs and her process were undeniably interesting.

Throughout the whole of the book, Mokona brings her own artistic flair to the wearing of kimono. In the second and third sections, dedicated to ensembles, many of her selections are quite bold. In some cases, it can be difficult at first glance to see just why the outfit as a whole works, but her commentary provides clues to her process.

She has a distinct fondness for accessories, both traditional and western, and isn't at all afraid of mixing and matching to get the best effect. The fourth section of the book is dedicated entirely to these little touches that bring together the whole of the look. There is very little commentary but the pictures are quite inspirational (especially for someone such as myself, who crafts some of their own accessories).

The fifth section is a digital-camera photo diary that Mokona kept in 2005-2006. With each photo she explains just a little bit about the kimono and the event for which she chose to wear it. For me, this was very refreshing as it is clear that she is wearing these garments out and about, not just for posing for pictures. Also, it's a little reassuring to see that even Mokona's obi isn't always picture-book perfect.

Though this is not the first book that I consult when I'm trying to figure out how I want an outfit to come together, it is the one I turn to for creative ideas. The hand of its writer is present in every page, but the artistic flairs do not come across as ostentatious or overbearing. Instead, there is a sense of play, though not of irresponsibility. After all, these garments are meant to be cherished and admired, and there is no doubt that Mokona loves her kimono so much that she hopes others will join her in the wearing of this classic garment. I was a fan of her work with CLAMP before, but this sentiment has left me admiring her all the more.

"Okimono Kimono" is available through Amazon if you can not find it in your local bookstore.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Adding Some Color

When I decided to go out yesterday, I knew that it was going to be warm. In fact, we've been having several days of unseasonably warm weather, and I'm sure that no one would have faulted me if I wore one of my yukata to go to Nihonmachi- San Jose's Japantown. Unseasonably warm though it may be, I am something of a traditionalist, and I simply couldn't bring myself to break out the yukata, the quintescential summer garment, in the first week of October.

Fortunately, I do have some hitoe (unlined) cotton kimono and just finished making a very light-weight juban so that I could go out without feeling that I was doing some disservice to the calendar, even if the weather was paying no mind to the date.

The kimono that I decided to wear is the lighter-weight cotton kimono of the two that I currently have, and it's patterning is very subtle, so picking an obi to go with it was something of a challenge. For such a demure kimono, I needed something that would be very striking. My roommate Ann (who is responsible for many of the photographs that appear here, as well as tying my obi and keeping my collars straight) has a stunning nagoya obi that fit the bill perfectly.

Front view. With so much of the obi-age showing, I'm presenting a very youthful look.

Back view. You can tell I had help-- my taiko is perfectly level. Also, note the little tassels peaking out from under the bottom fold; this is not a usual feature of this musubi style.

I don't usually reach for so much red in my wardrobe, but there were several things I did with this look to keep the vibrant color from being overbearing. My han-eri is a cream color and breaks up the space between my skin and the kimono collar and keeps the red of the kimono from becoming unflattering to my complexion. My kanzashi has a very long fall of flowers, so the extra white and cream helps to soften and frame the look. For contrast, my fan is black, with hints of a yellow-gold tone, bringing the hints of black in the obi a little father up into the whole ensemble.

The nagoya obi is a very formal sort of obi, especially with all of the gold embroidery, and so pairing it with such a casual kimono might be considered a bit of a faux pas if the whole look didn't come together as well as it does. I decided to use two obi-jime for this look; both are in yellow tones and complementary to the obi. Normally, one obi-jime would be sufficient, but I like the look of the two tones (and have used it in other ensembles). While Ann was getting my bow tied, it occurred to her to let two of the little tassel ends of the obi-jime hang down, just peeking out from the bottom of the bow. Normally these would be tucked up and out of sight, but I liked the little touch of whimsy that they added to my bow. This also helps the look of the obi feel a little less formal.

Now dressed, we headed off to my favorite place in San Jose's Japantown: Nichi Bei Bussan.

Nichi Bei Bussan is located at 140 E. Jackson St. in San Jose. The San Jose location has a history that dates back to its opening in 1947, though the original store opened in San Francisco in the 1890's. Today, Nichi Bei Bussan's focus is on traditional Japanese goods ranging from ceramics to kimono, fabrics and futon. They also carry a select range of books in English regarding many aspects of Japanese life, culture and craft, as well as martial arts books and equipment. Many of their items are heirloom consignment pieces, with some of the proceeds going to the Yu Ai Kai, a local senior center.

This display greets visitors as they come in through the front doors.

The display to the right of the photo is set up to look like a traditional room with tatami floor. Behind me there is a large selection of women's kimono.

This is where many of the obi on consignment can be found, and one of my favorite places to browse.

Several displays are dedicated to housewares and ceramics. Here you can find tea pots and sake sets, as well as traditional lacquer-ware and heirloom pieces.

These photos represent only about half of the store-- we didn't browse the books or fabric on this day, both of which are in the back-half of the store, along with a display of traditional futon and tatami sets.

Arlene, the proprietress of the store, came out to chat for a few moments and even took some photographs for the store's Facebook page. In our conversation, she asked if I would be walking about, adding a little color to Japantown. I answered that I would be-- after all, that was part of the reason I had dressed for the day.

The wearing of kimono is all about "adding some color." Where to add color is a question that I always consider as I dress, though the question doesn't apply simply to the ensemble. Where I will be going in that ensemble? Will it be too much color or too little? I'm still learning the best way to answer these questions and I am sure that I shall find more questions in the process. I think, though, that this day's venture was a success and for now, I will save the color that is the rest of our Nihonmachi for another day.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Crafting: Eri-shin

In my last post, I introduced to you some of the items that make the wearing of kimono a little easier. One of those items was the eri-shin, or collar stay. These can be bought online or in a store if you happen to be in an area that would have such a store. They can also be made, and the purpose of this post is to show you how I go about doing just such a thing.

The pattern piece. 
I traced my pattern from my store-bought eri-shin. This is that pattern piece folded in half to give you a sense of how long and wide it should be. Note the slight curve that happens at the left-hand side of the pattern (at the fold) and the very slight dip in the middle: this shaping helps preserve a natural roundness to the collar when worn.

The materials. 
Most eri-shin are made from a fine mesh so that the fabric will breathe. What I'm using here is a needlepoint mesh that I felt had the appropriate weight and structure (the ideal is something sturdy but with a little flex). The material on the card is single fold bias binding. You'll see where that comes into play later.

Pinning the pattern. 
The pattern doesn't need much pinning as it's fairly narrow, and it can be difficult to get the pins into the mesh neatly. Here, though, you can see the pattern unfolded.

Pattern piece on top, new eri-shin on the bottom.
 It's not laying flat, but you can get some sense of where the subtle curves of the pattern are.

Beginning sewing. 
This is where we bring in the bias binding. Because it is cut on the bias, it makes going around curves very easy. The pre-folded areas also mean that you can get a neater finish (even if no one is EVER going to see this but you). Rather than pre-cutting the bias binding, I simply worked with it off the card. This way I wouldn't have to worry about cutting it too short and having to add pieces in later. When I started sewing, I started  at a relatively straight stretch of the eri-shin and about half an inch down from the edge. You'll see why in a moment.

Continued sewing. 
Here, I am almost at the end of my bias binding. So that I can have a neater finish and hid the raw ends, I have taken my 'active' end (the one at the top, now cut free from the card) and folded it back slightly. I will lay then 'inactive' end over this and finish my sewing.

Sewing finished. 
At this point, I have one full edge of the bias binding sewn down to the eri-shin. At this point, you may want to trim away any excess mesh. This will make turning the bias binding easier.

Sewing, again. 
Here I am folding the edge of the bias binding around to the opposite side of the mesh eri-shin. All of the raw edges will be hidden under these folds. Just where my thumb is, you can see where the two edges join and how both raw edges are hidden.

Sewing continued. 
If I didn't use bias binding, this curve would be quite messy and full of little tucks and folds. This way, we get a nice rounded edge.

The finished product.
This is the second eri-shin that I have made for myself. When I did the cutting for the piece that I use in this walk-through, I went ahead and cut about eight more that I will be working on finishing in my free time. I don't need that many eri-shin, of course, but I think it would be nice to not have to move the one eri-shin that I had from one juban to the next, depending on what kimono I want to wear.

This is a little more utilitarian than some of my previous ventures, but the wearing of clothes, at its most basic, is a utilitarian thing. It's how we arrange those clothes that elevates the basic covering of ourselves to an art.