Taisho/Showa Furisode–The “Crown Jewel”

A Proud Peacock In Flight Over Crashing Waves & Snowy Mountains

I often refer to this piece as my “crown jewel.” And that’s actually not because of its classy-AF colours and themes, it’s because it took me two years to restore it. I also refer to this furisode as the piece that THIS prepared me for. I had to learn a number of new skills in order to do this.

I’ve had this for long enough now that I only know that I purchased it domestically off of eBay, and that I didn’t spend very much on it. I knew I was in for an…adventure?…when I bought it, because some of the damage was evident in the seller photos. (It’s worth noting here that I very rarely encounter any sellers that are deliberately trying to misrepresent their item–most often, in these situations, they simply don’t know what it is.) And when it arrived to me, I got to see exactly what kind of adventure I’d signed up for.

All of the threads holding the panels together were decaying, the lining was a complete loss, the gold couching threads lining the massive peacock were absolutely wrecked, pulled, or completely missing. The kinsai (gold leaf paint) in areas were chipping off in giant flakes. Stains everywhere. Fraying. Shattering.

Suffice to say, there was a lot to do, and a lot to learn. But I decided I was up to the task, and so I took this piece apart panel by panel and started cleaning what I could and researching what I didn’t know. And over the course of that two years, I collected the parts and components I would need to save it. I learned to grind sheets 24kt gold leaf into gum Arabic and a few other ingredients to make the gold paint to properly replace the kinsai. I ordered the thick gold wire threads direct from Japan to replace the couching. I found appropriate parts to replace the hiyoku (the inner layer).

Some parts of this were mind-numbingly frustrating. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I didn’t probably crack a molar or two clenching my jaw at some of this. Scraping off filthy, sticky, crumbling kinsai remains while the fragile silk fabric is threatening to shatter beneath it is probably my closest personal approximation to having defused a bomb. That sounds dramatic until literally bits of it come off in your hand and you have to walk away to figure out how to put a goddamn mountain back.

When the stains were gone or at least as dull as I could get them, the gold restored, THE GODDAMN MOUNTAIN PUT BACK, the shattering backed up and reinforced, the fraying controlled, and the couching replaced; it was then that I could finally sew each panel back together by hand. Kimonos are traditionally hand sewn–every time I have to take one apart or pop a seam to do anything, I sew it back by hand. This came with its own set of challenges, because while most of the threads holding the seams together had rotted away, some of the fraying and shattering problems to be addressed were on the seam allowance. This required me to reinforce the fabric from behind here so that I could even sew it back together again.

Between this furisode and the one I had restored before it, I had learned a valuable lesson. To temper my expectations after I can reasonably assess the project live and in person. Sometimes, even though my goal for every kimono I restore is to be as close to new and wearable as I can get it–well, sometimes that’s just not an option. This kimono wasn’t stored properly for a very long time. Even after all of that work, she’s still very fragile. I can control the damages to the fabric to a point, but they can’t be undone. I can conceal chunks of shattering beneath kinsai, and I can reinforce areas of wear, but the overall structural integrity of this piece is questionable at best. And so unfortunately, she’ll never be worn again. It’s just not safe. I can’t risk the further damage.

But! She’s clean, she’s tidy, and she’s whole again. She lives on my wall out of the sun, a fantastic display of gorgeous craftsmanship. A literal piece of art for a bride to wear on her wedding day. And it really is an explosion of colours! This furisode is adorned with five Kiri kamon (paulownia crests), making it very formal. As a side note, photographing this properly was not as difficult as restoring it…but it wasn’t easy, either. Kinsai glows. It also gives to some beautiful contrast of an insanely bright peacock, flying low over wild waves and stones and giving you the side eye and flashing his mighty gilded feathers against a backdrop of snow covered mountains. And for whatever that’s worth, I’m glad to have her.

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