Making Kimono

Tyo wants a new housecoat. Her old one, to be fair, no longer reached her knees and was past due to be handed down to Syo. I had her almost convinced that she could take mine and I would make myself one, but I wasn’t really feeling it (I have a vision of a Lady Grey Sweater-made-full-length insane housecoat, which would be awesome but will require like six bajillion metres of fabric.) And then she found Simplicity 7640, the “kimono” pattern in my box of kids patterns.

This particular pattern has been in the “stash” for a long while. Once upon a time, c. 1988, my mother-in-law used it to sew Karate Kid Hallowe’en costumes for my husband.

Of course, I can’t just whip up a costume-grade Simplicity pattern into a housecoat and leave it at that. That would be too easy. Not when I have “Making Kimono and Japanese Clothes” by Jenni Dobson on the shelf.

This is one of a slew of helpful books I acquired back when we lived in a condo with a communal garbage-house.  Aside from the big trash bins, people were always leaving stuff for others to take—furniture, curtains and, on one notable occasion, a really good selection of books. I wasn’t sewing much at that point, but how could I leave something like this behind? Aside from lots of information on traditional Japanese cloth, decoration styles, and clothing construction, there’s pattern-drafting instruction for a number of garments including kimono. (Incidentally, while the Simplicity pattern describes the blue and white version as a kimono, I suspect Ms. Dobson would disagree. The short, jacket-like garments in her book, though similarly constructed, have their own names.)

I dutifully pulled it out, ogling the gorgeous designs and weighing how much energy I was willing to put into a housecoat for my eleven-year-old. Sashiko? Not happening. Shibori? Ah, no. Applique? … now that might be about my speed. Depending on the applique. Not terribly traditional applique, either.

Which brings us to another book scored at the same time.

I'm scared. Are you?

It’s, um, a little dated. But covers a variety of basic applique techniques, even if the projects make me want to scrub my brain. The big one I hadn’t tried yet? Using a fusible web to stabilize and hold the appliques in place until they’re stitched down.

Apparently this is a big deal.

So I swung by Sewing World on my way home one day, and upon asking for fusible web was handed a metre of 18″-wide Steam-a-Seam Lite.

Yes, the same stuff I’ve been using lo these many moons in my knit hems. Apparently it’s the bomb for the applique. Who knew.

Tyo wanted a lotus.

Lotus Layout (asymmetry and odd numbers are common features of Japanese kimono decoration, according to Ms. Dobson)

Even better. You can make a lotus out of just a bunch of spindle-shapes, which is a shape that I actually CAN zig-zag around without beating my skull in.

So, in a fit of zeal, I set to work one weekend afternoon.

I have to say, I think the White has already paid for herself in just this one project. Dude. First off, the wide-mouth zig-zag foot is EXACTLY what Ann Boyce (and, no doubt, everyone else who does applique) recommends. Win. And there’s no way my light, plastic Janome could’ve kept up the constant, heavy, top-speed motion of doing that much zig-zagging. She would’ve shimmied across the table and un-threaded her bobbin at least once per leaf.

Open-toed zig-zag foot

The White may not straight-stitch well, but she can zigzag like a trooper. The stitches are even and smooth. The bobbin-threading messed up once during the entire marathon applique-session. One other time, the sheer amount of vibration rattled the fly-wheel just loose enough that the stitches started losing power. Other than that—perfect. Smooth, even feed. No complaining about the continual, high pace. The heavy metal machine stays where she’s put, not moving around under her own vibrations.

Just so the Janome’s feelings aren’t too hurt, it was really handy having a spare machine just to wind bobbins. The bobbin-winder system on the White is pretty much the same one as on the Featherweight… i.e. a little primitive. And you go through a lot of bobbins doing applique…

So using  a fusible web totally does the trick. Well, at least for these simple shapes. I still have doubts about my ability to make the stitch turn tighter curves, but for this shape it was easy.

The one other bit of technique I learned from Ann Boyce was about making narrow points. When approaching the point, you start cranking down your stitch width gradually (doing this while still guiding the fabric one-handed is a bit of a trick…) to almost nothing right at the tip. Then you pivot the fabric, start again, and gradually bring the stitch-width back up to full (whatever your full width is. I like 3.)

This is not the most super-easy technique. Sometimes I got it, sometimes (maybe more often) I didn’t. But it was worth a try, and when it did work it looks super nice. When it didn’t, I have clumps and loose threads showing at the points.

Appliques and hem binding.

Still, I’m pretty proud of myself. The print fabric is a Japanese-inspired quilting-cotton that was perfect for the design, plus some black shirting with a textural stripe that looks great in real life but doesn’t show at all in the photos. I wish I’d had enough of the print to bind all the internal seams, but I only did the hems.

I could go on about the instructions, the points of difference (and similarity) between the Simplicity costume pattern and the “traditional” kimono (as described by Ms. Dobson, anyway), and where I screwed up and where I completely abandoned ship. But I think this post is already long and rambling enough, so I’ll end it with a quick sum up:

  1. Random scrounged books finally come in useful. YAY!
  2. Good job, White! (Don’t worry, Janome, I still love you too.)
  3. Applique fusible web for the win!
I’ll get full, finished pictures in a few days when I can wrangle Tyo into modeling. She’s got a bad cold this weekend and is VERY happy to curl up in the half-finished robe as much as I’ll let her, but is understandably unwilling to have photos taken.


Filed under Sewing

20 responses to “Kimonology

  1. I have that Kimono book too, it’s probably one of the best books I own actually 🙂

  2. Fabulous! I just love the applique (and seeing it done)—it’s something I’ve been wanting to try myself and it looks really great!

  3. Shams

    OMG, I used that same pattern to make my nephew a Karate Kid costume back in the 80s. Hey may well be the same age as your husband. 😉

  4. Amy

    How fun to use a pattern that’s traveled a generation. I’ve never tried applique or used fusible web that way before. Do you cut the web to the shape of the pieces?

    • You rough-cut the web to about the right size, trace your shape on it (it’s got paper on both sides like double-sided tape), fuse one side to your applique fabric, then cut it out precisely, peel off the other piece of paper, fuse it to the fashion fabric, and then satin-stitch down. Easy peasy. I will have to try a more complicated shape next… I usually have a really hard time doing tighter curves sewing.

  5. It’s beautiful! I love the fabric used in the applique. She’ll be super cozy!

  6. This looks gorgeous! She’s going to be super happy and get lots of use out of this. 🙂 And congrats at your new machine making the job easier for you!

  7. See! It’s a good thing you rescued those tossed out books and sewing machines! They DO come in handy (even if it’s years later).

    I really like your applique on the robe. Will we get a pic of Tyo wearing it? And more importantly, WILL she wear it? Is she over the moon (or lotus)?

  8. LOVELY! Incidentally, I’m almost done with Felicity’s Grandma Robe. I found a plain old bathrobe for Simon at Walmart that had skulls on it and got him that to go with the Betsy Johnson skull knit he’s getting pajamas out of.
    Also, remind Tyo that you tie Kimonos left over right. Right over left means you are dead and ready for cremation. (My best friend sells vintage kimonos and teaches lessons on proper wearing and making of kimonos. At times so much that my eyes glaze over.)

  9. That is some awesome appliqué! Funnily enough, I discovered Steam a Seam for appliqué first and didn’t realize they made strips for hems until I came across your blog. Yep, I learned that technique from you. I actually have the kids’ initials on their Christmas stockings attached with the sheet type of Steam a Seam — so far it’s holding strong, although the edges are showing a teeny bit of fraying. No stitching! My machine doesn’t do a good satin stitch without tunneling.

    I wear my short, kimono style robe right over left all the time. Maybe I should embroider “Not dead, just sleeping,” on it. I wouldn’t want to cause an accident!

    • Perhaps wearing it right over left is proper for goths 😉

      I would think a non-sew version would be fine for Christmas stocking. Someday I’ll be organized enough that I don’t lose the stockings every year… then I’ll make nice ones. 😉

  10. ElleC

    I have that book too, and I love it. Not that I have ever used it to sew anything, but I do like all the pretty pictures. And you got it free, I got mine used and I paid $10 for it, not that it’s not worth it, but I do suffer from free sewing crap envy 8-). The “kimono” looks fantastic, love the fabric you are using for the applique.

  11. Joy

    I love the applique! This is one fabulous housecoat (and a one-of-a-kind one at that)!

    You highlight a little known, but important, sewing skill: The ability to find treasure in materials that fall in that awkward range: dated but not exactly vintage.

  12. Can I be reborn as your kid please?????? I love it! You are so unselfish with your sewing.

    • Aww! I actually think I’m kinda avoiding sewing for myself the last little while. It’s so much easier to bang something out for the kids… hardly any fitting to worry about, I can be less picky about my finishing, it doesn’t take much fabric…

  13. Thanks for sharing the tip about appliqueing points! Those lotuses (loti?) look very nice!

  14. Meg

    Wow. It looks amazing already! I cannot wait to see the finished project!

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