Castles & Dreams–Restoration Complete

Vivid Pink Plum Blossoms Against A Gilded Temple With The Seven Treasures On Purple Silk.

If I’m being accurate, I have been finished with this piece for a few weeks now. I wanted to wait until my new iko (kimono stand) was ready to do this entry. Originally, she was the first piece I was going to display on it, until I stumbled ass-backward into this hikizuri. Now that’s out of the way, and I want to give the spotlight to this majestic beast of an antique uchikake (wedding kimono) that was given to me for restoration by the lovely Nancy McDonough from Kyoto Kimono, that has been joyfully occupying a great deal of my downtime.

This one took me awhile. My main task for this piece was couching repairs–so much of it that it even starred in its own tutorial entry where I went over how to do them. I went over the damage in the original post here, but to recap, pretty much all of the gold couching needed to be re-affixed to the surface. In some places, that meant just holding it down and making new stitches. Sometimes I was just reinforcing what was already there and in good holding condition. But, in most places, that meant straightening and untangling the gold threads, removing them to repair overstretching, swapping them around to things that fit better in different places, or otherwise simply redoing an entire section.

I don’t know how to properly describe it as a task. I’ve deleted a lot of sentences as of right now. Part of me wants to insist that it wasn’t particularly complicated, but that’s kind of bullshit. Untying massive knots of gold threads is, by its very existence, a complication. I also want to sit here and say it wasn’t very hard, but that’s also kind of bullshit. Straightaways aren’t too bad, but when you’re trying to tack down a pair of gold threads that want nothing more than to continue to twist with each other and the thread you’re using to reattach them, and they snag for the hundredth time and you have to calmly stick the needle in the fabric somewhere while using a very fine pair of tweezers to…undo that situation…yeah, that’s hard. I think that what I keep wanting to lean towards, though, as a good description of what this project was, is extremely time consuming. I spent many hours with sections of this piece but inches from my face while muttering “Easy…easy…FUCK.”

Good times!

I also spent a fair amount of time just maladaptive daydreaming getting lost while admiring the details of this piece. I wonder who wore this on her wedding day. Did she know what it was going to look like beforehand, or was it a surprise for her? What did she think of the tiny yellow pollens in each little ume (plum) blossom? Did she enjoy the wonderfully organic motions of the cranes in flight as much as I do? Did she take the time to look at the brush strokes in the matsu (pine) branches? I wonder if she was as floored to receive it to wear for her big day as I was to receive it as a gift to repair.

Honestly, something I always quietly wonder about when I finish a restoration is what the original owner might think of my work. If they would approve of any changes I had to make. Probably the hardest part of learning and insisting never to risk the structural integrity of a piece while chasing perfect is the small conversation that I have in my mind with the original owner as to why something is still wrong with it. I hope they’d understand. I hope I would have done them proud.

LOL That got weird. Moving on.

I also managed to pull off something that I don’t normally do, but might start doing with my restorations. I actually kept a goddamn log of how long it took me to do it. Getting me to even remember take any “before” photos of what I’m doing has been a task by itself, as some of my readers lament with me; getting me to make a note of it when I start and stop a task? Fucking heresy. What kind of organization do you think this is?

Pictured: Human Resources

So! Loose timing, then. How long did I spend doing this? -Drum roll-

Approximately eighty hours.

Eighty hours of untangling, stitching, fixing seams, a tiny bit of stain removal, and just a touch of care to see if I could do something about the very light fading on the shoulder. The good news there is that none of the stains were really interested in hanging on that hard, with the exception of a dark spot on the rear right sleeve that looks quite a bit like a palm print up close. As far as fading goes, most of my expertise in that is on black fabric, so I approached it very cautiously. There are a few tricks that you can do to sunbleached silk that might bring the pigments back around, but it’s not perfect. There is still fading, but it is less severe. I’ll take it.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it several dozen more times: never jeopardize the integrity of your piece chasing “perfect.” These are antiques, it’s okay for them to show their age a bit. And as this piece is dated to be late Meiji, so that puts her just over 100 years old. She looks amazing.

Let’s have some before and after shots, shall we?

-Music playing- I wanna be YOUR SLEDGE HAMMER.

The pagoda was actually the easiest part. Also, I know that I called this entry “Castles & Dreams,” but upon further research, I’m actually pretty convinced that this is Yasaka no Tou in Kyoto. I kept the naming convention for the blog to avoid confusion, though.

Those were my successful runs, but not everything could be saved. Unfortunately, I did lose one treasure. The threads were incredibly flaky on this part, and the fabric integrity was…questionable. These threads didn’t give out on their own from age, as most of the other pieces did in other areas. I think this one got snagged on something many moons ago. While there’s no sign or threat of shattering, the needle holes and thread holes are absurdly large in this spot, and trying to repair the couching over it would have been a risk to the integrity of the silk. So instead, I carefully removed what was left, and repurposed the gold threads that were still in good shape elsewhere. The fabric in this area has been stabilized to avoid any risk of tearing under stress, since it’s right on the seam. She’s right, tight, and structurally sound. That’s what matters.

Pictured: A mess.

Oh well. You can’t win them all.

Oh by the way, can I take a second to remind everyone that this uchikake is completely lined in red chirimen (crepe)? Because it is. I literally took this shot just to show you the amazing, decadent texture of the inside of it.

Pictured: No evidence of me rolling around in it.

Now as we come to the end of this entry, I am fully intending to set up an ensemble with this kimono. But I don’t own a full bridal ensemble. So fuck it, guess what I’ll be hunting for. Fucking guess. Yeah yeah, I’m already married, blah blah.

Pictured: Figuratively me.

In the meantime, here I am, looking at least semi-presentable and happy with my piece as she’s finally restored.

Pictured: Side-eyeing the fuck out of that hammer. IT KNOWS WHAT IT DID.

But probably a more accurate representation of how I feel about being done with this finally is:

Pictured: Literally me.

You might love kimono, but are you rolling around on the floor and snort giggling at the hem of a piece you restored? No? You should fucking try it. Come on kids, do hot lines of kimono with me.


10 thoughts on “Castles & Dreams–Restoration Complete

  1. Oh Becky. 80 hours. Wow. Such an amazing restoration. And as always, I love the narration and the wondering about this beauty’s original owner. I know you don’t do this for money or fame but I feel like I’m watching Picasso paint something and then put it under a bushel basket. I so wish you would let that light shine because what you’re doing is so unique and so valuable. But I’ll leave that discussion/fight for another day. In the meantime, thank you thank you thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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