Wednesday 27 July 2011

Part II Sewing the Kimono

Well, I really haven't the slightest idea what Burda thought I was going to do with their instructions. I have to buy my copies in French, but when the instructions just break out into German accidentally, I sign off.

So I just got out my antique kimono, which is exquisite and figured it out from that. Also, I wasn't using finished lace so Burda's instructions regarding keeping the lace hem distinct from the lining weren't applicable. If you are using lace, you won't want your seam margins of the lace showing through to the outside, a mistake I see a lot of girls making when they back lace shift dresses. So in that case, you would stitch lace and lining together in one seam (lining used as underlining, technically) and finish the seams on the interior.

First, I stitched the front and back long edges of the two side inserts to the body fronts and back,
then both shoulder seams for the basic shell.

I did the same for the lining.

Notice the the interior of my Tokyo original has no open seams or even French seams but is completely enclosed. So this became my goal as well—no visible seams surplus. In the end, I was able to sew the entire Burda kimono using my machine, except for closing the interior edge of the bands and the hem. I have to tell you, though, that my antique is completely hand-stitched, so that's not only okay, but mega-kosher.

Now for the rectangular pocket sleeves, the key feature of any kimono. 

1. Sew the botton seam of each sleeve part to make a closed circle, i.e. two tubes of lining and two tubes of velvet.
2. Taking each piece separately, sew closed the outside edge of the sleeve down from the notch to the bottom seam. Leave open the upper part of the sleeve on both sides where your arm will emerge. This seam meeting the bottom seam at right angles is the beginning of the  deep rectangular sleeve cachement where you will hide your love letters. You'll do this for both lining and velvet = four pieces.

3. Now you're going to connect each sleeve to its lining at the outer armhole, laying the lining and shell of a sleeve right side to right side, stitching around the outer armhole, velvet to lining, and then turning the sleeve right side out.

4. You've now got two sleeves instead of four pieces. Push the lining, right side facing out, into the bag of the velvet and make sure the closed outer lower corner of the lining nestles neatly into the closed corner of the shell.

5. You're going to finish their lower inner edges, lining to velvet, below the armhole notch before attaching the sleeves to the body. Pin the lining to the shell, right side to right side, stitching from front to the back, so that when you turn it back out, you have a closed seam of velvet to lining below the notch, but an open loop of sleeve unlike the opposite lower "closed bag" corner. Above the notch, you have raw sleeve edges in both velvet and lining. Put the sleeves aside.

6. Now you have to finish the lower half of your body's armhole before attaching the sleeve. There is an open "breathing" area between the sleeve and the body at the lower half, and you shouldn't be trying to attach the sleeve to the body all the way around. You want what I'll call an "armpit window" for lack of its Japanese term (which is no doubt far more poetic around Tokyo's tailoring shops.) Notice what I'm calling the square "jog" at the top edge of the body's side insert, underneath the armholes of both the authentic kimono and the Burda design:

And take note: your armpit window must make two sharp corners where both sides of the side body insert meet the front and back. So sew right side to right side, in three hops, breaking your stitching at the seams you've ironed flat beforehand. Don't cheat by trying to just stitch your way around the corners.
(The Kimono Gods are Watching.)

Turn your kimono body inside out and breathe deeply, reciting the words, "Toshiro Mifune" ten times. Press well.

6. Now, stitch the upper half of the velvet body armhole to the upper shoulder edge of the velvet sleeve, leaving the lining of both to be finished as a last step, (also by machine.) The best way to pin and stitch the linings right side to right side was by coming up between the layers from the open hems.

7. The rest is straightforward, as you've got only the raw front edges and bottom hem edges of the kimono to worry about. If you're using lace, do whatever Burda says. The bands are sewn along one long edge to the kimono edge, turned and pressed halfway, edges turned in again once the seams are pressed band-ward and enclosed and hand-stitched or topstitched.

(If you're top-stitching your kimono band to avoid hand-stitching the whole band down, well, I know you're tired, but it won't impress the Sushi Authorities at all.)

 Make sure when you finish your band, you attach the ties at the inner edge on the inside and that they peek out from behind the width of the band. Do not, repeat, do not, attach your ties at the outer edge of the bands somehow. No, no, no, no, no. I know it's not logical.
It's Japanese. But actually it makes sense, because when you wear your kimono untied, the ties dangle down invisibly inside.

9. Finish the hem any way you want. You've earned it. If you want to bag the hem somehow, well, that would be grand.

Notice that the ties on my Tokyo garment are actually looped through a loop on the garment, so that they swing nicely down out of the way when the garment is worn open. I stitched my little ties and turned them inside out and felt like I was making real progress, because I hate turning little ties, especially when using velvet! But silk velvet turns like a dream. Also, btw, silk/rayon velvet presses like a dream. But when I attached them I simply hand-stitched them down well inside the band.

Part III The finished blue velvet kimono


  1. Can't wait to see the finished kimono. Glad someone else - namely you - has figured out the precise steps. It's like an intricate origami! Amazing.

  2. Actually, it's just stitching in straight lines and very easy and fast to sew if you follow the correct order. I made mine in one day.

  3. Wow, great post! That makes it really clear how this works, and thanks for the pictures of the armholes - I couldn't really visualize the jog. I really want to make another kimono now and try out finishing the interior using your technique.

  4. Getting the order right is where I fall flat on my face (and why my sewing projects always drag on forever!) So glad to have your instruction, especially with the insights into the authentic stuff! :-)