A brief primer on kimono fabrics, uses and careIf you are unfamiliar with kimono fabrics in general, first off I'd like to point out that they are an entirely different animal than anything you'd pick up in a typical American fabric shop. The variety of colors, textures, weaves, dyeing techniques and style are a tip off of course, but most important is the size of the fabric as it averages about 14 inches in width. The point of this guide is to give you a brief primer on the basics of using kimono fabrics in your craft project, and maybe even inspire you to expand your horizons and recycle some of the most beautiful fabrics available on the market today.
A bolt of kimono fabric, be it silk, cotton, rayon, linen or other textile, is only made long enough for a single garment. A full length kimono bolt is usually 12 meters, or about 13 yards long. This fabric may be hand painted in a technique known as "yuzen", or it may have an interesting pattern woven into it on the warp, the weft, or both. Some of these weaving techniques are called "ikat", "meisen" or "kasuri" and involve dyeing the threads before weaving them which often results in a slightly fuzzy look to the design. Another woven technique called "rinzu" gives the fabric a textural interest. If there is a pattern dyed or painted over it, the rinzu weave may not be as noticeable to the eye, but you can certainly feel it with your hand. Some dyers will accent a rinzu woven pattern by dyeing over parts of it and emphasizing the design.
You will also find "yukata" here on ebay. These are summer kimono style garments made from light weight cottons and are ideal for quilting. Often the patterns are dyed through the fabric so that there is no "back" side. The patterns for women are often floral and will have a meter long image that is repeated the length of the bolt. Some are woven with geometric patterns. There are ebay dealers who specialize in antique indigo kasuri pieces that were hand woven and worn by Japanese farmers and country folk, usually before WWII. These pieces, while not as colorful as summer yukata, are very charming and enjoyable and appeal to collectors.
So you've found a pretty piece of fabric here on ebay and you'd like to bid, but how do you know if it's worthy of your stash? A few tips to consider:
- Photos. If you can't see much of it, you can't get a good feel for it. Does it have major flaws such as large holes or stains? How big is the overall pattern? Is it a good color representation?
- Description. Does the seller disclose a lot of detail about the item, or very little? Do they tell you about the length, age, condition, dye or weave techniques, fiber content?
- Price. Recycling kimono fabric takes a lot of time. Some dealers such as myself will unpick all the hand stitching from a kimono, wash and iron the fabric, photograph it, etc. and that takes several hours just for one kimono! You can find pieces starting for less than $5 and some auctions that end at over $50 just for a one meter (40 inch) panel.
- What is it?! There are several US manufacturers who make beautiful Japanese inspired cotton prints, Alexander Henry and Kona Bay among them. If you are looking for a lot of cotton yardage at an affordable price, you can find those fabrics here on ebay. They are NOT, however, kimono or yukata fabrics, but will show up in searches for "Japanese kimono cotton fabric". Be aware.
Cleaning kimono silkSo maybe you've won a piece and it's arrived at your door. What do you do with it next? If it has wrinkles, loose threads and creases or it smells bad, it probably hasn't been washed yet. Kimono silk can take a lot of abuse, unlike more delicate Chinese silks you can buy domestically. I use Bi-O-Kleen laundry liquid which you can find in the US in many natural food stores like Wild Oats or Whole Foods. I would NOT suggest any major label such as Tide as these detergents are far too harsh. Use just a dab of soap in a sink of cold water, agitate for a minute or less, squeeze out the suds, rinse well and hang the silk for a while on a shower rod or such. Don't let it dry, though! While it's still damp but not dripping wet, iron it on a low setting. Some silks will react differently than others. Some shrink, some bleed dye, some will stiffen, some sail through with no change at all. Think about how your finished project will be used. If it will not need to be washed in the future, you might choose not to wash your silk now. If it will be handled and washed in the future, pre-washing is a good idea.
Cleaning yukata cotton
This is easier, obviously! Most yukata cottons can be tossed in the washing machine and dryer with no worries. If you are concerned about dye bleed, you may choose to hand wash first, or simply machine wash separately. Expect the fabric to shrink as any new cotton would. If it is from a used yukata, it is more likely to be clean and pre-shrunk already.
What next?There are so many possibilities. I've made purses and scarves from these fabrics, placemats, table runners, curtains, wall hangings, clothing, baby quilts, herb-filled sachets, toys, even gift wrap in the traditional Japanese style known as furoshiki. Imagine not throwing out a ton of paper on Christmas morning because you've used fabric instead! Reduce, reuse, recycle. That's exactly what you're supporting when you buy used kimono fabric, and isn't that a wonderful thing?
A little about meIn 2005 I opened a business making new items from old kimono and obi, Kimono Momo. Here on ebay I sell vintage kimono silk and yukata cotton fabrics by the panel and also new kimono silk and yukata cotton by the meter through my store Kimono Momo Outlet. I list items almost every day so you're bound to find that perfect piece, it's just around the corner! If you have questions, I invite you to contact me through the above link and I'll respond within 24 hours. Thanks for reading, I hope it's been helpful! -Carol Z., Kimono Momo Outlet