For our July meeting, Katie from Japan Crafts came to talk to us about the art and history of kimono wearing. Katie has the envious task of travelling to Japan several times a year to pick up textiles and craft supplies for her business. She also collects vintage kimonos and kimono accessories and she brought a selection of these with her along with some craft kits and Japanese fabric which were very popular with our members.
Katie has a kimono teacher in Japan so she really knows her stuff: she’s very knowledgeable about the history of kimono wearing as well as all the different styles of kimono and accessories that go with it. She began the kimono demonstration by dressing a mannequin in cotton underwear that looked like a dressing gown.
She explained that in the past kimonos used to be everyday wear but now they are kept for ceremonial and formal occasions, often to do with matchmaking, and are extremely expensive. Part of the reason for this is that the fabric is often handwoven and handprinted and can take a long time to produce. Katie told us that it can cost £2,000 to buy a handprinted silk kimono but could cost ten times more than that. Many kimonos are made of silk and they need to be kept away from the body because they can’t be washed. We were surprised at how much padding goes underneath a kimono to get the body to the ‘right’ shape which is basically a rectangle. The bust has to be flattened and the waist padded out and there are a number of ties that need tying around the various undergarments along with accessories to attach like collar stiffeners, so a kimono wearer may need up to 3 dressers to help her into her outfit!
There are different styles of kimono to suit the season and the summer one Katie dressed her mannequin in was deep red with multicoloured flowers. She finished off the outfit with an obi which is a wide silk belt. There are many shapes the obi can be tied into at the back of the kimono, and Katie showed us one called ‘plump little sparrow’ which required a great deal of skill.
To finish off the outfit, the fashionable Japanese woman would wear white ‘tabi’ or split toed socks with wooden sandals. The complete kimono ensemble looked amazing but for the wearer, maybe not so comfortable and not so easy to visit the loo in a hurry!
by Polly Williams