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Salvage or Sacrilege? The story of a kimono

In late June of this year I traveled north of Sacramento to Marysville to visit the Yuba-Sutter Valley Quilt Guild. The lecture I gave, ‘Everything but the Cotton’, is about quilts made from what I call ‘Not Cottons’ -- any material not bought by the yard from a quilt store. These are the kinds of fabrics I like to use in my own quilts.

The accompanying trunk show of my work features quilts made from all kinds of reclaimed textiles, from neckties and thrifted clothing to saris and kimonos.


As is often the case, guild members gathered around me at the end of the evening, eager to share their stories about the bag of neckties they have at home, or the length of silk they bought on a trip to India, Indonesia, China, or Japan. All too often, these beautiful textiles languish in a closet or drawer because the quilter who owns them cannot bring herself to cut into them. (More about this problem later!)


Among the quilters I spoke to at that guild meeting was Linda, who promised to send me a kimono she had had for too long. She had won it in a raffle 20 years earlier and had done nothing with it. She felt sure I was the right recipient. Sure enough, it arrived on my front porch a few days later, and was I in for a treat!


This heavy, ivory silk kimono was just gorgeous. My daughter was visiting and she’s as petite as a Japanese woman, so I put it on her and took a few photos. The kimono was a perfect fit! The sleeves were just the right length and the hem trailed behind her about 24”, stuffed with a roll of batting to give a padded edge. The design of the woven silk features pairs of peacocks with sumptuous feathered tails, and hexagons containing snow flakes or flowers.



I had never seen a kimono like this, so I shared photos of it on social media to poll my friends and followers to see what they knew*. Of course I also paid Google a visit!


Here’s what I found out:

This is a shiromuku, a traditional bridal kimono. It’s worn with a white under-robe and white obi (sash). The groom wears a corresponding formal black ensemble called a montsuki hakama.

It’s a furisode, meaning "swinging sleeves". Its elegant, long sleeves end around knee level.

The trailing, stuffed hem is called a kakeshita.



Although white is more commonly associated in Japan with death and mourning, in Samurai families a white shiromuku is traditional. I learned that white has symbolized the sun's rays since ancient times, and that western influence from the Victorian era also served to make white a fashionable choice for a wedding kimono. As in the west, white suggests virginal purity, but it also has another meaning in Japan; that the bride may take on the colors of the family of the groom she is marrying. In addition to white, red and black are the two other common color choices for a bride’s kimono.


The woven design in the luscious silk fabric shows a pair of peacocks showing off their plumage. In Japanese culture, depending on the context, peacocks and their feathers bring good luck. In a wedding kimono, the peacock symbolizes fecundity, fresh opportunities and personal growth.

The hexagons are turtle shells, symbolizing longevity. The stylized flowers in the center of each hexagon could be the popular choice of chrysanthemums, representing longevity, and when white, as they are here, truth and purity.


This kind of shiromuku is commonly rented by brides. One website quotes rental fees for ensembles between $1500 to $3000. Here in the west, there are used ones for sale on e-Bay from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000.

This shiromuku is machine sewn, with some hand work at the curved corners of the hanging sections of the sleeves. The outer fabric and the lining are pure silk. (I burned a corner of the lining just to check it wasn’t polyester). There is a fine cotton interlining throughout the garment.

As far as dating this garment, one friend placed it in the second half of the 20th century. It’s in good shape, smells clean and has only a few tiny stains, which suggests it is not that old and/or has been well cared for.


So much for the research. Now I know what I have.


Dear reader, you may not like this next part: I sat on the couch, switched on season 3 of Bridgerton, and took the kimono apart. Carefully unpicking this kimono yielded 14 yards of silk jacquard, 14 yards of silk lining, and 13 yards of cotton interlining. All three fabrics are the traditional 14” wide, typical of a bolt, or tanmono, of kimono cloth. Since the kimono is the origianl 'zero waste' garment, there were only a few cuts interrupting the unspoiled yardage.




Did your blood pressure just shoot up? Is this deconstruction a crime? Have I no respect for a gorgeous garment? Is this salvage or sacrilege?


Let’s revisit that problem so many quilters encounter:

When we acquire an unusual textile that is either vintage, antique, from a far flung country or very expensive - or all of the above! - we freeze! These fabrics are irreplaceable, after all. No one wants to be the one to reach for her scissors, start snipping these gorgeous materials into quilt blocks, and make a blunder.

I myself experience this kind of trepidation too.


To help decide what I should (and shouldn't!) do with an item, this is my thought process:


Questions

  1. Is this item unique or historically important? This may be a beautiful kimono but it’s not unique. There are many others like it in the world. By deconstructing it and putting the fabric in a quilt, I am not felling the last great, old-growth redwood tree.

  2. What is the best use for this item? I won’t wear this kimono and it’s too subtle, and too big, to hang on a wall.

Thoughts

  1. Textile waste is a global problem. There’s just too much clothing and fabric not being used, and headed to landfills.

  2. Every quilter I know has more fabric than she will use in her lifetime. I am no exception. We’re all aging: It’s time to cut up the good stuff.


I’ve made it my mission as an instructor to teach people the techniques they need to handle difficult fabrics that fray, slip and stretch. With stronger technical skills comes confidence and an increased willingness to finally cut into those precious fabrics. I encourage my students - and you, too! - to make a beautiful quilt from those special fabrics, be they Grandpa’s ties, the grandkids’ prom dresses, or, in this case, a stunning kimono.


I’m going to take the time to marinate some ideas for how I might use this silk in a future quilt. Watch this space - but don’t hold your breath! My book, Patchwork Luxe, comes out this fall so I have some busy months ahead.

If you've made a quilt from kimono fabrics, I would love to see it. Contact me through my website, Instagram account or Facebook page. Or tag @seehowwesew in your IG post.


Big thanks to Linda for gifting me the beautiful shiromuku.

*Gratitude to Anne, Lois, Cindy and Jami for their input.


Here are some of the websites I enjoyed browsing for information on kimonos:


150 views6 comments

6 commentaires


Beautiful. I loved the story/research on this garment. Can’t wait to see it remade.

J'aime

Do you have an idea of what you want to make before take a garment apart or do you wait until you see the final fabric to think about how to use it?

J'aime

Looking forward to seeing what becomes of the 14 yds of silk brocade!

J'aime

Pati Fried
Pati Fried
09 juil.

Such a wonderful post! I love that you took the time to researched photographed and gave a history lesson on this beautiful garment before creating a new life for the fabric!

J'aime

Your whole story is such a treat to read and the fabric is glorious! Can't wait for the next chapter....

J'aime

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