Hand-Sewn "Thing to Wear"

A kimono is the quintessential Japanese garment. The word kimono actually means “thing to wear” from “ki” = wear, and “mono”=thing. So, why am I writing about Kimonos?
Sass Brown from ecofashiontalk.com had a very thoughtful post on the Japanese company ‘Ichiroya Kimono Flea Market‘ which sells kimonos and related items. Not only was her article inspiring, but I found the world of kimonos fascinating and thought provoking.

One kimono uses up an entire bolt of fabric measuring about 14 inches wide and 12½ yards long. It’s traditionally hand stitched. Today, it still requires a substantial amount of hand-sewing, even if a sewing machine is used.

Kimonos from Montgomery Collection 1920-1950

A friend of mine in Cologne took a kimono sewing class and explained to me that when a kimono is washed, the garment is taken apart by removing the thread and the garment re-sewn after drying. I use button hole thread, because I don’t ever have the intention of taking my skirts and shirts apart and certainly not reassembling them. However, the care which goes into a kimono is humbling.

Kimonos are “zero-waste” products as they contain a whole bolt of fabric without cutting. Although the garment uses a lot of fabric, the life of a kimono doesn’t end in a landfill.

Instead, it’s re-used, creating many different items such as children’s kimonos, covers, hand bags and other accessories. Damaged or soiled kimonos were often re-sewn to hide their flaws.

Now, if that isn’t green, I don’t know what is.

But it goes even further. Historically, when kimonos were worn out, the silk thread was laboriously removed (can you image the work involved?) and rewoven into a new textile. This weaving method is called saki-ori and was found in rural areas. Not sure, if it’s still done. Below is a fragment of saki-ori fabric.

Textile Society UK

Of course, I was also intrigued by the fact that kimonos are hand-sewn. 
Here’s an authentic video showing the small running stitches used for sewing the kimono. Who would’ve thought that even the feet can play a small role in hand-sewing (at 4:12):
If you live close to Macon, Georgia, and are interested in seeing some kimonos “in person” there’s an interesting exhibit featuring 100 beautiful garments from the Montgomery Collection in Lugano.
Fashioning Kimonos (Traveling Exhibit) now in Macon, Georgia through April 10:
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11 Responses to “Hand-Sewn "Thing to Wear"”

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  1. Mary says:

    Thanks for the tip about the kimono show at MAS in Macon. I live about 30 miles from there and was not previously aware of this exhibit.

  2. Sass Brown says:

    Fabulous posting! I cant believe the hand sewing video! I love that kimono's are zero waste by traditional, and the fact that they are actually dismantled for cleaning still amazes me! There is something fascinating and beautiful about kimono's almost irrelevant of pattern. The occasions in Japan when you see someone in traditional dress, whether female, male or a child always stops me dead in my tracks with the sheer beauty of it. I was honored a few years ago to watch a traditional Edo period kimono tying demonstration in Tokyo, that took a full hour to perform, with 14 layered kimonos, two assistants and brought the entire audience to tears by the end, with the silent beauty of the measured steps in the process, that appeared as predetermined as a tea ceremony.

  3. A Mom's Choice says:

    Nice video. I love the precision of the tailor. Surprising how straight the stitches are. Mine are a work in progress to say the least. I straight out straight then they wonder diagonally.

  4. catherine says:

    Amazing video. I love the fact that the maker speaks with hand gestures. So appropriate and beautiful. Thank you for finding and sharing.

  5. Jannette says:

    That's a lovely video..
    I lived in Kyoto, in Japan, for a year as a student, and I remember visiting a friend's house once, whose family ran a kimono business. Her grandmother was sitting in a corner sewing, so fast that the needle seemed to have a life of its own. She was singing, very softly and slightly out of tune. (But had the loudest cackling laugh when I was moaning about pins and needles in my legs from kneeling..)

  6. sarita says:

    Hi! I visit often, but don't think I've ever really left a comment. First time for everything, right? Love your blog very much, especially the bits about hand-sewing, my passion…:) After reading about the kimonos (wonderful post!), I realized you would probably enjoy this blog, another of my favorites. In addition to hand-stitching, she always speaks frequently and knowledgably of fabrics. Give it a peek if you haven't…:)


  7. Katie Bee says:

    I cannot believe they would take out the stitching. I get so frustrated just ripping out a few stitches and don't even think of saving the thread (unless it's a lot). That's really incredible.

    oh, and I saw this today and thought of your skirt from a few weeks ago (which, by the way, I tried to make for myself and failed entirely in fitting it…): http://www.shopruche.com/new-way-to-fly-ecofriendly-skirt-by-synergy-p-5295.html?zenid7=e1104f2dada202371ec1a8c7095da4e7

    It's interesting, no?

  8. Anonymous says:

    We still think about starting the next hand sewing project, soon. The Kimono was so much fun! We actually sewed it in a little different way, where you push the needle with the palm of your hand just under your middle finger. A ribbon with a sewn-in little coin protects your skin (although clover has a more sophisticated ready-made tool for it, too). It took me quite a while to get used to this way of sewing, but then one can sew really fast.
    Thanks for reminding me with this post.

  9. annekata says:

    Thanks so much for your comments.

    @ Thanks so much for the reminder. I actually do know spiritcloth's work and have been admiring her outstanding work and beautiful blog.

    @KatieBee: The skirt is really similar to the one I made down to the wide waist band. It's a bit shorter and looks more modern, which is what will do with my next skirt. The design is beautiful. How come, you didn't fit into your skirt? Did you sew it too small? You can always add a panel to the sides, I did that with my patched jeans skirt and it worked.

    @Elke: Yes, I was thinking of you while writing the post! I would love to learn the technique of kimono sewing. Especially the running stitch. I need to research, if they don't offer something here at the University! Hope you're well! Liebe Gruesse, K.

  10. Carmen says:

    absolutly beautiful, i love all about kimono!


  1. […] On a different note: The wonderful C. who lives in Japan sent me some silk and kimono fabric.  What a pleasure to finally see what I had blogged about here. […]

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