Here’s a random post that I didn’t plan in the slightest, but I got a hair up my ass and decided it was a good place to showcase the absolute fucking anarchy and chaos that kimono shopping in the United States is. I have for you today a selection of three pre-WWII furisode (kimono with very long sleeves for unmarried women) that I purchased a few weeks apart from each other. They came from places that are hundreds of miles apart, and the only thing the sellers had in common was that they really had no idea what they were looking at.
Now this isn’t Vegas and this isn’t blackjack, but there is a certain risk/reward situation when it comes to buying the USA like this. For one, nine times out of ten, you’re buying from someone who doesn’t know what they have. So, you might get an amazing deal. Or, you might buy a -checks notes- fucking train wreck, because not knowing what they have comes hand in hand with not knowing how to evaluate it. They take one look at the beautiful and bold colors and go IT’S PERFECT.
Basically, so that I don’t drive myself further batshit insane, I treat every domestic purchase like it’s going to be a restoration. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, but most of the time I can guarantee someone has kept it on a hanger, or tried to clean it, or hung it for decades in a sunny room, or attached belt loops or some shit to it, or it’s got god knows what kinds of fluids on it. My dudes, lemme tell ya, people by and large are not kind to their pre-WWII kimono over here.
All of these were listed to be in good condition. Honestly, every train wreck I’ve ever bought online has been. This can be hard, because I don’t think I was swindled or that anyone was trying to pull a fast one. I have been straight up lied to about a piece before, and that experience is entirely different. That’s only ever happened once. In the cases of even my train wrecks, and I have a few now, I imagine the seller looked at them and called them good condition because they had no idea what these things are supposed to look like. Pre-war furisode are often busy as fuck, and if they miss some stains and smudges, or even pulls and holes, I’m not surprised. You usually don’t notice them in person until you start treating them like they things that they are.
As an aside, I do often see a “Amazing condition for its age!!!!” in listings for shit that’s actively falling apart. I don’t think the seller is trying to scam anyone–I actually think it wouldn’t occur to them that 100 year old kimono are very often fully intact and completely wearable. Why would they? Most hundred-year-old shit here in the USA has had the everloving fuck beaten out of it.
So I see a lot of AMAZING CONDITION falling apart komon listed for like a thousand dollars. As my husband once said, “Everything is a geisha princess wedding kimono when you don’t know shit about kimono.” I laughed so hard at that I started dry heaving. And indeed, none of these listings had the word “furisode” in them. None of them had an accurate date–although to be fair, one made a wild guess. And none of them were able to accurately describe basically anything about the kimono.
It’s super important to me, before we get started, because some of the sellers might actually be reading along here, that I point out that I am in no way displeased with my purchases. I’m happy to have all three of these and my transactions were pleasant as fuck. I chose these three because I got them basically one after the other, and they illustrate a point that’s been hard for me to make for awhile. And just because a listing was wrong or missed things doesn’t mean that I’m upset about it. Hi, have you seen the rest of this
shitshow blog? I breathe this shit. These were honest sellers that I had good experiences with.
And with that out of the way, let’s begin.
Buckle up, chucklefucks.
These delightful motherfuckers are listed in the order in which I received them, and that’s the order I’m gonna go over them in. Some of ya’ll need to collect your jaws off the floor because yeah, I know.
The Best Case Scenario
This is a hikifurisode that I would pretty confidently put in the earlier 1930’s. There’s a pretty consistent use of stencil work on the images, and the red lining indicates pre-WWII. The seller made a guess and listed it as being from the 1960’s. Soooo, swing and a miss. Remember what I said about anyone over here having any concept of what a damn near 100 year old kimono looks like? That’s how that kind of error is made. They look at it and see the colors and go “Woah! So psychedelic!”
They also said that it was royal purple. We are going to have to agree to disagree on what color “purple” is apparently. I’ll just go sit over here with my actual degree in illustration and call this fucking blue. Ultramarine at best. To be fair, it wasn’t purple in their pictures either.
In terms of condition, we have some very minor spotting. In a fucking Christmas in July miracle, the sleeves do not need to be re-affixed to the body. The staining itself is light enough that if you weren’t being a goddamn nerd about it like me, you’d miss them. If any of those spots puts up much of a fight with the vinegar method, I will be legitimately fucking shocked. I expect them to lift right out.
And further, this piece has fantastically sweet and delicate gold couching which does not, I repeat, does not need to be repaired. On a US purchase that almost never happens. Can you hear me squeaking from there?
That isn’t to say that my inspection didn’t turn up anything weird as hell, though. In order to point this out, I’ll first need to explain just what in the mighty blue fuck you’re even looking at. So! For the uninitiated, when a kimono is made it starts out as all on one bolt, and the designs are painted/resist dyed all on that long-ass bolt. Very frequently, there will be little resist-dyed dots where seams are supposed to meet each other when the bolt is finally cut and sewn together. Typically, you won’t see these, because they’ll be hidden inside of the seam allowance.
Well, on this kimono, the tailor must have been either two days from retirement or had just simply run out of any fucks to give that day, because you can just see all of them.
I picked that spot to showcase here because it’s the most obvious, but if you study the other pictures, you’ll see them pretty much everywhere.
This piece is going to get its own entry later, because those dots are driving me literally the fuck insane, and so I’ve made the decision to color match and fill them in. Fight me.
Apart from that weirdness, enjoy this delightful mirrored image and pretty much flawless lining:
Fucking sweet. This was a good purchase, and I love the colors. I really can’t ask for an antique in better shape.
And on the exact flip side:
The Train Wreck
-Sirens in the distance-
This was once a kurohikifurisode. It exists now as a butchered silk robe that was either very worn and loved or otherwise extremely neglected, and nowhere in between. Like many kimono I’ve purchased that fall into this category, the seller probably didn’t know what I know, and so I have come to accept that this is just part of playing this game. Unfortunately, this is not a restoration.
This falls under total loss/salvage. I can’t fix this. Primarily because it’s missing pieces.
At some point in this kimono’s life, someone decided to do this shit:
So for those of you who gasped when you saw it, and those of you who are still looking at it sideways trying to figure out why it looks so funny, I am here to help you. You see, one day someone straight up hacked off a good foot and a half of material at the bottom and fashioned some of it into this belt. But if you’re like me and have eyes, you can see that this belt alone clearly doesn’t account for all of the missing fabric. And there is only about a half of a centimeter of seam allowance at the hem. Trust me, I checked.
What does that mean? It means where ever the missing fabric is, it’s fucking gone.
-Rubs temples- I…can’t get inside of the heads of people that do this. Don’t get me wrong, I am not fundamentally against kimono remakes. But I feel like there’s a threshold of WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS on some pieces. On a komon (casual kimono often with repeating pattern), sure, I can see altering it for everyday western wear. But on a fucking kurohikifurisode…why literally hack off where the most decadent parts of the design were? Ugh.
Okay, fine. I can’t restore it as a furisode, but if the rest of it is in good shape, I can probably make it into something else. I bet I could make an amazing douchugi out of this. Oh wait. No I can’t. Because it is -checks notes- entirely fucked. This piece was either drenched and then jammed in a bag or otherwise washed in a washing machine (and this is your best hope if you do something dumb like that to a piece like this), because it is REKT. Have a look:
So. It got wet. Very wet. Maybe it was crying about having the entire hem snipped off. Yeah I’m gonna be salty about that for a bit.
There is dye run everywhere. There is nowhere you can look on the body of this furisode that isn’t smeared with dye from another panel. Most fugitive (when a pigment isn’t lightfast or colorfast for some reason) are the reds, as they tend to be. The moisture also took all of the kinsai (gold leaf paint) with it.
Also there’s just randomly a paint stain on it that feels like the kind of paint you paint walls with. On the one hand, nani the fuck? On the other, if someone decided to DIY their room in this kimono and this is the only paint splatter they got on themselves from it, respect. That’s talent.
Now I’m pretty utilitarian at times. This fabric is luxurious. I could just…you know, use a reductive bleaching method to discharge all of the dyes, and use the fabric for something, right? Well…there’s a reason I think someone threw it in the washer once. Did you know if you treat certain dyes with certain detergents, it will accelerate the shattering process? It’s true. I touched a bit on what shattering is here, and why it happens. And unfortunately…theeese aren’t holes.
That makes this furisode a fucking time bomb. I can’t fix this.
What is in shockingly good shape, however, is the lining. Most of it is sturdy and the dye bleed didn’t seem to bother it too much. So my plan is to carefully remove the lining, and I can use that material to restore anther piece in the future. As for the rest of it? It’s a new guinea pig to see what kinds of stain removal, dye correction, and other kinds of restoration techniques I can get away with on this fabric.
We can’t win them all. I would have loved to see her new, though. I really wonder what was on the foot and a half of missing material. There’s embroidery on the belt piece that doesn’t appear anywhere else. Ouch, bruh.
Somewhere In Between
This, too, is a kurohikifurisode, but it is completely intact. For those of you who were having trouble visualizing, there’s a reason I say that there’s a foot and a half missing from the last piece. Behold:
As far as age goes, we’re still in pre-WWII territory, although I think the mangled one is probably a little older. This piece is actually probably closest to what I encounter the most often when buying domestically. If I buy an antique kimono here in the united states, it’s probably gonna look like this or have equivalent needs. Usually I’m cleaning and sewing more often than I’m replacing pigments, but the work load is about the same.
So what’s the damage on this sexy momma? I’m glad you asked. It’s faded all to hell and there’s a little bit of moisture damage. I don’t think it got slam dunked into anyone’s Whirlpool with extreme prejudice, but the hem most certainly got a little damp at some point.
Although, the more I looked at it, the more I wondered “damp with what” because typically blacks are actually not terribly fugitive unless there’s something in the water that gets them moving. I also really only see this kind of bleed at the bottom.
There are other types of moisture damage on the body, though. It’s sweat. I mean one of the more obvious spots is on the armpit. We’ve got a little bit of dye bleed in the purple there. On black kimono, if there are white areas that are truly white and not more of a creamy fleshy tone, then they are painted. And you can see here that the white accent around the matsu (pine tree) is kinda fucky. That’s probably moisture, too, but I don’t see that it ran anywhere, so I don’t have to go chasing it at least.
The big task with this piece will be handling the fading. Because that basically means applying more dye in layers until it doesn’t suck anymore. I’m actually working on a tutorial for that. This lovely girl spent too much time in someone’s sunny living room, I think. And although usually I don’t have to take a kimono completely apart to address fading, this one I probably will. Frankly, there’s just too many tiny details for me to dance around for doing it all whole to be easier. Remember, if it made your life harder to skip a step, it’s not a shortcut.
And then, of course, because the concept of a just world is an illusion, there’s tons of super fine lined kinsai (gold leaf paint) for me to repair. -Ugly sobbing- The couching is all intact, so I do have that going for me.
And lastly, the hakkake and the lining are in fantastic shape. Also, as you’ll see in the second photo, I had the God Light shining on the lining and because of that you can actually see the patterns through it. I don’t know why, but I giggled at that like and idiot for a bit.
Well there really isn’t one. I’ve made a lot of commentary about what it can be like buying pieces to restore domestically, but I haven’t had a great opportunity to show just how wildly pieces can vary in condition. It’s also kind of a different ballgame than the kind of damage I usually see on the pieces that I get from Japan. Basically, I just wanted to show a good example of the kind of chaos and anarchy that buying in the USA can be. Come and get it, because I love the shaaaaaaaaaaaame.
Anyway, join me next time when I’ll be warbling mindlessly about who knows what. I hope to have a tutorial done. Maybe I’ll have finished the tansu. I am getting very close to the finish line with Great Grandma Akiye’s kimono as well. But my brain is basically a box full of pebbles and highly caffeinated bees, and someone keeps shaking the box. I’ll have something neat for you to look at anyway.