I sat silently on the floor in my room with both hands over my mouth after I hung this up. My little ritual when I open up a new kimono package is to avoid inspecting it closely until I have it hung up properly. Then I just sank to my knees; I was speechless. I am still struggling for words as I type this. Here is one of those rare moments where my classic strings of hard R expletives just won’t do. Look at this beauty.
Just how in the hell did I end up with this literal work of art in my house?
Well, I’ll tell you! I received this kimono as a gift–that’s right, she freaking gave it to me–from the lovely Nancy McDonough of Kyoto Kimono. We’ve crossed paths several times at conventions over the years, and it’s always a pleasure, but I can’t say that we know each other well. She reached out to me and told me she picked this up in Kyoto many years ago, and that it’s been with her in need of repair ever since. She gave it to me because, after seeing my blog and restoration projects progress, she believes that I can repair it and give it a good home.
I glanced around the room to see if I was on a prank show–but it’s still Pandemic-ing outside and that would be a bizarrely specific prank, so no. Obviously not. She went on to say, and I am paraphrasing here, that surely I can understand how attached we can become to these pieces, and that knowing they’re being properly looked after is a big deal. You know what? Yeah, actually, I do. I understand every time I receive a kimono that’s been poorly stored by someone who called it “spoils of war.” Or every time I clench my jaw and put new cracks in my molars as I try to clean one up and piece it back together again. I understand.
But there I sat, staring at this beautiful royal purple, decadent garment wondering, “Am I worthy of this?“
Well, seeing as how it’s here, we’re past that now. So. Let’s begin.
After a very close and detailed inspection (LOL legit, it was like 3cm in front of my face with an LED flashlight in my teeth like a goddamn psychopath), I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a later Meiji Era uchikake. The texture of the silk and the sweet, small gold wire threads used for the couching are what make me believe this.
Then there’s a question of the lining. I’ve never seen a kimono lined like this in person, but I have seen them on display elsewhere. Nancy had wondered if the lining had been replaced at some point–this is possible, but if it was, it wasn’t recently. And if it was, they chose something very interesting to replace the lining with. The lining is screaming red chirimen silk. Chirimen, for those who don’t know, is a crepe style silk. It’s textured and just a delight. But you would more often find chirimen to be the material that makes up the shell of the kimono. The lining silk for kimono tends to be thinner, flatter. The red linings of the later Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa Era are a silk that has a near satin finish. Someone chose to line this uchikake with thick, perfect crepe silk that is textured in much the way that is consistent with the shells of the few Meiji susogara pieces that I own. This is incredibly interesting to me.
The whole of the kimono is decorated with tsuru (cranes) in flight, a castle (I’m still researching to find out which one), ume (plum blossoms), matsu (pine), nami (waves), and the treasures of the Seven Lucky Gods, as well as a few other Shinto classic auspicious symbols. The pictures are very accurate for colours–it is a sweet, perfect purple. There are speckles of kinsai (gold paint) between the branches of matsu, and the garment is padded throughout.
Most of my work on this piece is going to be sewing. I will need to purchase the silk threads to refasten the gold couching; I don’t have anything quite that colour. But the couching threads themselves appear to be all present and in good condition. If I find that I have to replace some, I am already equipped to do so. Pretty much all of the couching needs some love.
But! The fabric where the couching has come away is undamaged. I can’t find any holes, tears, shattering, or pulls anywhere on the body of this kimono. Most of the seams are in excellent shape, with the areas just beneath the sleeves needing a touch-up. I find this to be typical on most of the kimono that I bring home, whether I bought them for restoration or not, actually. This is an area that almost always needs a little attention.
The presence of staining and fading is minimal. Sure we’ve got a few patinas here and there, but they are very minor. I had to be basically an inch away from the fabric to even see them. There is some sun bleaching on the very top of the shoulders near the collar, and near the rear left sleeve. I had to crank the brightness on the photos to make the two “major” patinas visible here. They’re really so very minor that if I were to show you the kimono in person, I would dare you to find them in under five minutes.
Also, as an aside, Nancy knows how to fold and pack a kimono properly. I didn’t have to sacrifice any goats or pray to the Exacto gods for mercy. That was a nice change in pace.
In conclusion, the damage is minimal on this piece–these are just the signs of time passing. Fading from the sun, the decay of tiny silk threads causing them to drop the gold wires they’re holding. What’s going to take the most time is reseating all of the couching, of course. Depending on how close to the original holding threads I can get, I may just repair what’s there. If I can’t find something at least almost indistinguishable, then I’ll redo the couching entirely for consistency. But the gold threads themselves are not damaged and are usable.
Now here are some pictures with the beautiful treasures of the seven lucky gods, because oh my god(s).
I intend to fetch some threads by this coming weekend–I need to replace some of the fastening threads for this piece as well, as I finish it up. Once those are In hand, the restoration will begin. I haven’t decided if I’m going to address the fading. There are a few little tricks that work for bringing colour back to silk that has lost some, but this isn’t the same thing as a silk party dress from the 70’s. I may just let it be. She’s over 100. She looks goddamn great for her age.
I will do my best to be worthy of this. I’m still just so blown away.