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Manufacture & Fabrics

The kimono takes its form only when worn, and is thus created by the individual. As thetraditional kimono is a standard size, it is a more versatile garment than most, accommodating all sizes. The date in which a kimono was made  can be identified by it’s pattern and colours. Kimono fabric is sold by the bolt, traditionally 36cm wide and 11 metres long. Today, the fabric is woven as wide as 42cm to accommodate a larger contemporary society. The fabric is cut into seven panels, two panels which extend from the front, over the shoulder and down the back which create the main body, two panels for the sleeves, two for overlaps and a smaller panel for the neckband. The bolt remains in the garment without being cut, so the garment can easily be altered. For smaller bodies, the extra material is simply tucked into the seam allowance. Men’s kimonos should stop at the ankle but a women’s kimono has to allow for the ohashori, the tuck under the obi belt used to adjust the kimono, so should be longer. When the arms are lowered, the sleeves should fall to the wrist.

Kimonos were often sewn at home, due to their simple design, using looms. A technique known as tsumugi involved farmers spinning kimonos from left over silk in cocoons. The kimono fashion industry consisted of spinners, weavers, embroiderers, dyers, designers and thread and fabric suppliers. Drapery stores then sold on the kimono fabric in bolts or tailor made kimonos upon request. Books were published full of kimono designs and patterns to provide inspiration for the buyers and the sellers but were also looked at for pleasure, like today’s fashion magazines.

Dyeing plays an important role in the kimono industry. Most of the techniques date back to the 8th century, although the Edo period saw more sophisticated techniques. Shibori, more commonly known as tie-dyeing, involves dyeing the cloth with areas scrunched or folded up which in turn leaves areas of untouched fabric, creating a unique pattern. Kanoko shibori, is a similar technique which uses small circles in diagonal rows sewn on before the dyeing. Kasuri is a technique brought over to japan in the 15th or 16th century from India, and is a tie dyeing technique used for basic cross designs and more complex pictorial patterns. Kata-zome, is when the kimono is printed with patterns from woodblocks but when these were replaced with thick paper the designs became more intricate and were known as komon. Katazome, stencil dyeing, involves applying a rice paste onto stencils which then blocks out that area of the cloth when it is immersed into the dye. When the dye dries, the paste is washed off, leaving a beautiful pattern. The use of rice paste is also used in the yuzen technique. First the designs are drawn using juice squeezed from spiderworts, the rice paste is then applied to the cloth through a cloth tube, rather like an icing bag, allowing areas of the kimono to be sectioned off whilst others are dyed. Soybean juice brushed onto the cloth is used to enhance the dye before the colours are applied. The cloth is then steamed at 100C to set the colours. The yuzen technique produced kimonos in the Edo period that were highly sought after and prized as it allowed the kimono designers more freedom in their designs. The 19th century saw the introduction of chemical dyes and by the 20th century these modern methods were used alongside older techniques.

Embroidery was often used alongside dyeing to add texture and detail to the garment, but also often used with plain satin. Different styles of stitching are applied to the fabric to create further texture and variation in the kimono. Metallic thread, made with gold or silver leaf is used for more luxurious garments but must be attached with small stitches onto the fabric to prevent it from breaking. Alternatively gold leaf can be embellished onto the garment for even more luxury.

The kimono is traditionally made from silk, silk brocade, silk crepes and satin weaves but rayon, cotton, polyester and other synthetic fabrics are being increasingly used as a cheaper and easy care alternative. Wool kimonos have also seen a rise in popularity because of their practicality in washing as well as being a good option for colder months.

Posted On: 07/02/2011

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