Preservation In Progress: Meiji Uchikake–Majestic Minogame

As you can see, even though I do a lot of restorations, I’m using the word preservation in this title. Well! Now seems like a good time to have this conversation, because I do make a distinction between the two, and it’s a good question to ask:

When do I decide that the goal is preservation rather than restoration?

I have had to face this decision a few times now. I don’t like making it, and I think the reason I don’t like making it is because the idea that it’s a “decision” that I get to make is entirely fabricated. It’s a lie I tell, where I get to convince myself that everything is under my control. And I believe that lie right up until the idea of restoration with the purpose of wearing undermines my first rule: never to compromise the structural integrity of the garment to chase visual perfection. The shitty fact of the matter is that the structural integrity isn’t always up to me.

I’m of the opinion that it’s restored when I can wear it safely, and it’s preserved when the damage has been done, has been stabilized and reversed to the best of my ability, and the garment is otherwise protected as an example of its art. But in the case of preservation, wearing it would present a danger to it.

Now, due to the nature of the damage on this uchikake (outermost layer of the bride’s wedding ensemble), I could make an argument that this decision is still up in the air. And that’s a fair argument. It’s really going to depend on how well I can stabilize and recover some of the damage present on this piece before I can say whether or not it’s sturdy enough to do shit other than be fucking majestic.

So let’s get to it, I guess.

I saw this one and threw down an offer for it, because my favorite pastime is extreme self loathing it was being sold as an item to be cut up for appliques or projects. And while I don’t have anything against the idea of reusing kimono materials until they literally disintegrate, there’s a deep part of me that wants to save the ones that I can–the ones that call out to me in a way. The ones that feel like an example of art that deserve to retain their forms as long as they can.

Something beautiful happened when I made that offer. I offered less than they wanted for it, because I’m a shrewd little kimono goblin or some shit, and then I put all of my cards on the table. I told them straight up that I make a habit of restoring antique and vintage Japanese kimono, and that my intention was to try to restore or preserve this piece. And you know what happened? They said to me, “I’m so glad that this will be going to the right hands!”

Two strangers came together over a work of art that was in desperate need of help, and both parties in the end were more interested in saving the art than the money. The history was more important than the money. It made me smile, and gave me a case of the warm fuzzies that just won’t die. Stab them, they’ll come back and hug you.

…what…

I like to put a lot of research into slapping dates on things if I can. I know that this is now probably the oldest piece that I own, although exactly how old is a bit in question. I think I have a pretty goddamn good idea, and I’ll take you though the whole thing. Let’s start with the full spread, shall we?

I call this kimono majestic in the title. I apologize for nothing. Also, I’m saying this here and now because I’m looking right the photo, but there is actually a kamon (family crest) in the center of the back, it just crept over the top bar of my iko (kimono stand) when I had it spread out. It’s not missing, it’s there. Oddly enough, the kamon on this uchikake are embroidered, though. I have one other uchikake of a similar age with kamon on it, and they’re resist dyed in. On this kimono, the kamon are tsuta (ivy), and it’s embroidered.

Pictured: I am just so happy I don’t have to try to restore any of those.

Now, the star of this kimono, the minogame:

Minogame is something between a myth and a cryptid, really. It’s a turtle that is hundreds if not thousands of years old, has seaweed or moss growing off of its back. It’s an auspicious symbol of longevity, and therefore a very likely thing to find on an oldschool wedding dress like this. This uchikake sports two of them in a rather heavenly looking water garden that’s heavily decorated with beautifully embroidered botan (peony), ume (plum blossoms), momiji (maple leaves), matsu (pine), ayame (irises), and I think I see several tsubaki (camellia) in there, too.

For the most part, the embroidery itself is in good condition, and the fabric behind it is in good shape, too. The couching does need repaired in a few places, because fuck my life why wouldn’t a garment this old need a little love? There isn’t a lot of staining, but what’s there doesn’t look too awful. I haven’t yet decided that I’m even going to bother to try to remove the stains. Here’s an example of the stains and the couching damage:

The hem of the uchikake, for the lining being so old and so thin is actually in fantastic shape, with no major signs of wear. There’s some dark staining on the far right, which I didn’t get a good picture of because I’m lazy and who gives a shit. But I did grab some pictures of it being fine and thicc as hell. Behold:

Going further through, the transition to the grey silk is actually more even in person than it is in the photographs. This uchikake is actually a little bit of a bitch to photograph in good color because my SCIENCE BITCH lights actually reflect off the mirror behind it–which is a fucking great backdrop by the way, what the fuck was I thinking–and straight through anything that’s kind of thin. And even with the lining, the cotton padding between the lining and the shell, and the outer shell which is in good shape in that area, you can totally see the light coming through. It gives the illusion that there’s some serious goddamn fading when there actually isn’t. It’s actually just an honest, delightful, dusky fucking grey. It’s grey in the seam allowance, too. Imagine that.

On the back of the kimono, I observed these little threads that can be found poking through to the lining, too. I think someone had sewn a modification to this piece at some point and then removed it.

And of course there’s this shit:

Pictured: …I’m going to start charging this specific repair rent.

That specific issue shows up on more than half of the kimono I bring home whether they’re coming in under the assumption that I’ll have to restore them or not. If someone wore it, I might have to fix a sleeve. I should give that problem a name, social security number, and then start making it pay for the fucking space it takes up in my life.

Speaking of the sleeves, someone lined the very edges of the sleeves with a luxurious chirimen silk. I’ve seen one other uchikake with this, but that one is fully lined in it. The rest of the lining on this piece is in pretty good shape insofar as being whole, free of tears or shattering, and not falling off goes. It’s got a fair amount of sun bleaching, though. Because of the age of the kimono, I probably will not attempt to remedy that.

Pictured: Is it hot in here, or is it just her?

So far, nothing too bad, right? To be frank, I’ve handled worse. But none of that is what scares me or what makes me whip out the word preservation. What made my butthole pucker was this shit:

Full disclosure: I knew these were there when I made the decision to bring it home, and I understood that there might not be very much that could be done other than stabilize them. My first instinct was shattering because of how much they look like a sad banana rip. But they don’t tear further under pressure. You see, from the piece I already linked further up, I call shattering “the sad banana” rip. And that’s because under even the slightest effort, it will just peel away like a very depressed yellow fruit. That doesn’t really happen here, though. You can also tend to roll around shattering fibers in your fingers, and they’ll disintegrate. I snagged a sample of the fibers to do that, and it refused to die.

I kind of still think it’s shattering, but I think it’s something about the blue or white lines that were made in the design of the flowing water that made it do it. In each spot, when I give it a little more than a gentle tug, it refuses to rip further, showing that the silk around it has maintained its structural integrity.

WAIT. STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY IS BACK ON THE TABLE. OMG GUYS RESTORATION IN PROGRESS: no.

I don’t want to play that game.

My plan here is to pop the seam here and take some of the raw silk from the seam allowance (there’s quite a lot of it) and mount it behind the tears/shatters. I’m then going to trim up the loose fibers and redraw what is missing. But once I made the decision to treat something as though it is shattering, I must invoke the first rule: never sacrifice structural integrity. When this is finished, I will do my best to preserve it. She’s a work of art, and she’s come a very long way and has been in the hands of people that didn’t understand what she was, even if they loved her. The best I can do for her now is give her back her name, and let her shine the way she was meant to.

Now we get to the age part. I spent a good deal of time over the last few days that she’s been in my care letting her air out and doing a lot of research. The style of embroidery on this piece is different than even some of my other Meiji Era pieces. An expert opinion from another kimono restoration expert in Japan guesses later Meiji, while my own comparative research brings me items from the 1880’s that have a very similar embroidery style. This is a good place to remind us all that the Meiji Era was October 23, 1868 to July 30, 1912.

So there we have it. A mid-to-late Meiji Era Uchikake whose ass is kind of falling off. I know what I said.

BYE.

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