You may recall that I dyed my own Kimono about a year and a half ago.
You might also remember that the whole process took a full 6 months from beginning (trying to get my brain around how you even design a kimono) to end!! (holding the precisely folded, shiny, freshly sewn, expensive beast in my very own hands) 

my kimono. started in September 2012, finished march 2013.

They say that things which you fear are probably the things that are most worthwhile doing. There’s a mild pulse of terror going through me when I admit to myself that I may want to try dyeing another…kimono *gasp! There, I said it. I’m envisioning vivid flocks of parrots streaming across the sleeves of a pale heavy silk or white Corellas on a desert sand rusty orange background…

Little Corellas in Central Australia by Geoff Thompson 
But I’m held back from committing to it by a whole array of reasons and things I don’t understand.
The thing that confounds me most when it comes to designing Kimono is the dilemma that you can do anything on a kimono but at the same time, you can’t. There is this push and pull between absolute freedom and very defined limitations.


the age of the wearer determines various features of formal kimono: brightness, size of motifs, level of decoration, sleeves…and on and on… 年齢によって礼儀もかなり変わりますね。袖、色合い、模様の位置など。

Colour, motifs, size of said motifs, sleeve length, fabric type, fabric weight, location of pattern on the body, amount of decoration, lining… these are just some of the variables you can adjust to give infinite outcomes. How about that for freedom of creative expression!?


the variations are endless….着物のバリエーションは無限でしょう。

Oh, but wait, that’s right! There’s also rules for each of those variables. Young women wear long sleeves, older women wear more subtle patterns, unlined kimono can’t be worn in winter, heavy silk is too nice for everyday kimono, spring flower patterns shouldn’t be worn in autumn, a giant flower that sits right on the wearer’s behind when worn is probably not a good idea, et cetera, et cetera.

So while it seems like a creative free-for-all which then has all the fun taken out of it, this is something that is present in many art-forms in Japan. Take the example of Ikebana – Japanese flower arranging. I was actually a member of Ikebana club for one year at my university and it was the very embodiment of taking virtually any kind of flower or plant, and creating something of beauty within very strict principles.

some of my arrangements from 1 year in Ikebana club. Arrangements have to take into account curves, negative space, colours, simplicity, shape of vase….嵯峨御流の華道部に入っていた1年間の写真から。色、花瓶、枝の形、花が咲く方向などを考えないと。
We were being taught to take into consideration the natural curvature of the stems you are working with, the spirit of each of the materials, the negative space created in the arrangement, the choice of vessel, the season, the angle from which to view it…and so on.

I suppose what I am saying is that I am encountering this concept of ‘controlled beauty’ and finding that it is not an approach that comes naturally to me. 「抑えた美しさ」という考え方はなかなか慣れないわけです。

old kimono with a pattern of books
kimono with a pattern depicting the old capital, Kyoto

Despite the rules, (in terms of kimono these are probably just perpetuated and perceived rules, not as hard and fast as some would have you believe) there are some fantastic examples of fun, unique and sometimes just plain wacky kimono even from the Edo period (1603-1867). We are so used to the serene and conservative kimono of today that some of these designs seem pretty edgey. We tend to forget that there has always been innovation and boundary pushing; in every generation.

Some great examples can be seen in so-called ‘hinagata’ booklets which flourished around the 1660’s to the 1820’s. They were basically printed catalogues of fashionable kimono designs which were used by dyers and kimono producers as a kind of custom order starting point. The black and white line drawings give a broad design idea which a customer could then have dyed to their size and colour preferences. Some of these would have been pretty interesting if they were actually created. (These books are amazing, I think I’ll have to do another post just on hingata)


two-page spread of fairly classic kimono designs in a hinagata book. 雛型に見える古典的な着物デザインもあるけど。。。
or how about some scholarly young boys all over your kimono!?
or a selection of caged animals? 籠に入っている動物の模様どうですか?
perhaps some swords…I guess this is intended for Men’s or Boy’s kimono刀の模様。多分男性用。
This design appears to be imitating imported block printed designs これは更紗に似ていない?
Perhaps some flower arrangements dancing around your back? 生花はいかが?!

When I made my first kimono, I think I was trapped by ideas of “what a kimono should be like” and also some professors seemed to be telling me certain ‘rules’ about kimono. But you know what, after seeing these old hiinagata and looking around me, the kimono is as diverse of a  ‘canvas’ as it is standard. 


Anything goes: Designs 67 & 68 from this particular hinagata book, showing design options for some very extravagant hem linings.
Like any venture into a field you are inexperienced in, the more you step inside, the more you realise just how deep and vast the place is! You scrape the surface of kimono design and realise what a can of worms it is. Having sort of bluffed my way through my first kimono I am having visions of can after can of worms if I were to dye another one.
素人として新しい分野へ入って勉強すればするほど、自分が何も知らないと分かリます。着物の世界も、知識が深い玄人がいっぱい居ますし、とても複雑な勉強だと思います。初めての着物をなんだか染めましたが (ビギナーズラック)もう一回染めたら、色んな失敗が出そうです。 

I also have doubts about dyeing kimono as a foreigner. Whilst in no way do I have plans to make some kind of sloppy imitation kimono or treat it like a novelty, I am worried that people may see it as an unusual novelty, once they know I am not Japanese. This is an idea I come across often in making my work in traditional techniques and I don’t think it is easily explained away or ignorable. I am still feeling with this topic and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Japanese fashion
foreigners + kimono. contentious. from flickr
But Kyoto is THE Textile and kimono industrial centre of Japan. Around me I have the facilities, the space, the tools, the traditional materials, the old traditional shops selling the various fabrics, the teachers with the knowledge to impart…
Perhaps it’s time to take the risk of being misread and just put my parrots on a kimono.