What’s The Damage? Antique Kiku Kuromontsuki

I’m going to retire the “Restoration In Progress” label, because that suggests sometimes that I’m actively working on a piece when I’m not–I have a rotation. We’ll pretend it’s very organized. But anyway, I don’t want to wait until I’m working on a piece from start until finish just to post the evaluation, because I do evaluations pretty much the moment they arrive. Unless I’m a sick, anxious mess that has a pile of packages in the corner…which is more often than I wanted it to be more recently but I think I’m starting to smash out the other side. Whatever, I’m not going to plan on being a mess because that’s a dumb thing to do. I don’t plan for meteors to hit my house tomorrow, either.

So welcome to “What’s The Damage?” A house of my own making, a magical world of whimsical fuckery where you’ll get to watch me have a goddamn aneurysm at vintage and antique silks, because it’s what I live for apparently. Some little girls wanted to be marine biologists. Some wanted to be president. Turns out, I wanted to taste the remains of questionable fluids on antique garments for the purposes of restoration, from the literal other side of the world while hurling obscenities into the world wide web. Big damn dreams.

Moving on. Let’s talk about this fantastic thing I almost called a train wreck–which is not an insult, that’s just become an accurate description of what I do here–but turned out to be wrong about on account of the fact that it isn’t what I thought it was. Holy whole sentence, Batman. Allow me to explain. What I thought when I bought this was that it was a pre-WWII furisode or similar that had had her wings clipped and had been hemmed. Behold one of the seller photos as to why I might think this:

Let me be real fucking clear–I had a fantastic experience with this seller. They are honest and wonderful, and I’m happy to have worked with them. This is usually my experience. I know a lot about the items I go shopping for, and I’m often quite purposefully seeking out pieces that need restoration. In no way should anyone misinterpret a lack of understanding for what this item was as a bad experience. Especially considering that I was fucking wrong, too.

So looks pretty cut and dry, right? Too short, weird sleeve drop, matching belt–all hallmarks of a kimono that has been severely altered. (Re: too short: basically an adult woman’s kimono should be at least as long as she is tall, or it’s technically too short.) And I’ve run into a ton of those here in the United States, as well. Pieces that have had their hems cut off and formed into some kind of belt for western style wear are common. I once encountered a beautiful purple irotomesode that someone had straight up installed a heavy metal zipper on the front of. Nothing is off the table in this game. In the case of this piece specifically, I actually thought that such a good job of reorganizing had been done with this one that I could probably work a nice and correct haori or douchugi (they’re jackets) out of it.

That’s not what happened here. What happened here is that I don’t know what in the actual fuck I’m looking at.

What is reality? Who is time? What in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

Don’t get me wrong. This is not anger you’re seeing here. I live for moments of confusion like this. Give me weird shit all day, every day. I don’t do drugs, but I do get absolutely fucking baked on the insanity that is real, unfiltered art history.



I’ll let you study it for a second. Some of you come here to learn (I’m so sorry), some come because you also enjoy kimono and find my screeching to be funny. As such, there’s a non-zero chance that some of you are looking at this thing already going “What the shit, what the fuck? What in the actual…wait, is that…?” Just. Like. I did.

So yeah she’s a little short but I actually don’t think anyone ever hacked it short to make a belt. One, I have no idea where on the body that thing came from because that spacing in the kiku (chrysanthemums) is not seen anywhere else on the body. Two, the hem is done correctly and perfectly, with significant seam allowance and Meiji–no I’m not kidding–reminiscent padding. Have a look:

Image one is to highlight the thickness of the padding. She thicccc. Image two is to highlight the correct placement of the seams for the hem–it is exactly right. And image three is where there was a popped seam anyway, so I didn’t have to open one, but I pulled the seam allowance out to show how much more fabric is inside of the hem. I didn’t put too much effort into pulling all of it through the hole, but it’s a good bit longer than my finger. So there’s about 6inches/16cm of extra fabric in there for both sides. And having peeked inside, the design continues inside. Basically, if this item was shortened, it was done by taking in seam allowance a lot, not by hacking material off.

Okay so it’s short. I think I’m gonna let that go for a moment. You know what exists? Children and short people. The construction of this kimono is basically correct in that it could be perhaps for someone significantly shorter than I am. I could only find one “error” in the construction of the whole, and that is that the collar is missing a panel. I wondered if that was what might have been used to make the belt, but that seems unlikely because the belt is quite a bit longer than that piece would be.

Speaking of the belt, the reverse is lined in the same momi (pre-WWII red silk lining) that the rest of the kimono is. It also has tassels done up on it as though it is a shigoki obi.

You know what this makes me think? Why, that looks like the person who made it knows what the fuck a shigoki obi is, and therefore it makes me think that the person who constructed this kimono the way that it is made it this way on purpose, and that this is not an alteration.

I have more reasons for that. You ready? It’s about to get weird. Buckle up, here they come.

Take a look at the kamon (family crests) on this sucker. They’re massive, there are five of them–making this garment a kuromontsuki–and they’re the iconic Tokugawa Aoi. Look at these fuckers. Contemporary mon decal for scale:

So big!

You know what else is big? The kiri mon that appears randomly throughout the garment but was clearly purposefully colored in. The fuck is this shit?

Why in the Mighty Blue Fuck would these be here, let alone that there are fucking six (counted) of them, randomly throughout the body of this kimono? And they’re huge. See?

Pictured: BBiiGG

And while we’re on the subject of The Mighty Blue Fuck, behold the intact and correctly installed shitsuke ito (basting stitches) on the bottoms of the sleeves:

Pictured: I’ma eat me that goddamn flower.

And just to make sure we’re not leaving anything out, let’s also pay good attention to the beautiful details on the yuzen (resist dye technique) kiku (chrysanthemums), and a fully intact momi lining.

So let’s add some shit up. We’ve got a 99% correctly sewn short-ass kimono with correct hem, correctly tailored sleeves, a momi (pre-WWII red silk) lining, that is made of thick and decadent chirimen (crepe silk) with actually quite artistically done yuzen (resist dye technique).

What the fuck is this thing?

My best guesses include:
-Sent from the past explicitly to fuck with me.
-A souvenir kimono made from leftover black chirimen–which would explain the kiri being filled in but not why it’s so close to a ton of other resist dyed shit.
-A kimono that was altered by a person knowledgeable in these textiles. I’ve seen some interesting choices like this come out of the internment camps before.

But to be honest, these are just guesses, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get an answer. What I do get is what is physically in front of me, and it needs my help. The dye that was used to fill in the kiri mon has failed, and so I will need to color match to those to the rest of the shell.

…what…? Did you think I wasn’t going to fix this little shit up? You bet your sweet ass I am. We’ve got some problems, and I’m gonna make her shine again, goddamn it. That is what I do here. I try very hard to give things back their names. I might not know what name to give back to her in this case, but I do know how to make her fucking sparkle again. And that’s something, right?

So what’s the damage?

Mostly our problem is fading. I see no signs of moisture damage anywhere, so I’m thinking this is probably UV damage. No problem.

A few paragraphs ago I pointed out that there was already a stitch popped open for me to inspect the hem. There are weak seams throughout, so I’ll be doing a stress test to find out what needs to be resewn and what doesn’t. I am also going to redo the hem to give her back some length. Don’t worry, I know how to do it the same way, so we won’t lose any of that perfect weighty glory.

The collar is missing a piece of fabric; the kake-eri . I don’t know if it was lost or if it was never there to begin with. It seems weird to me that someone would go to such great lengths to sew this kimono correctly but not install this piece. But if you compare the front of this kimono to this green furisode, you’ll see what I mean. Notice on the furisode the seams that are closer to the top of the collar? This kimono is missing those.

Anyway, the point to that is that I do just have black chirimen lying around, so I’m going to replace that piece myself.

After that, I’ll remove this thing:

Pictured: NO. BAD.

Okay so. If you’re going to hang any kimono with sleeves of considerable weight, do not put them on a regular clothes hanger, and do not install THIS SHIT at the back of the neck or so help me, I will come to your house and beat you to death with a live catfish. Do you want to know what happens when you hang a kimono with weighty sleeves like this long term?

Pictured: Your shitty fucking future if you don’t pay attention.

If your kimono has weighty sleeves it needs to be either folded or the sleeves need to be supported by a pole. Folded is better. You can basically get away with keeping contemporary haori on regular hangers, but mind your risks.

That about concludes this episode of…whatever the fuck it is I do here. I’m not even going to try to date this thing. It’s old. Tadaaaaa.

Join me next time when I’ll be literally threatening the old gods with a tack hammer over a ro furisode that some hippy dippy whoever jammed into a washing machine, and going literally insane with laughter over the best possible example of pre-WWII B-Game. Does that sound insane? It should.


8 thoughts on “What’s The Damage? Antique Kiku Kuromontsuki

  1. Any time I see Tokugawa crests; I assume something made for import. I might guess with the old kamon trying to say HI in the worst possible way; it could’ve been a bolt that never got sewn up for whatever reason and then somehow ended up in tourist kimono hellshop? Given it had previous crests; maybe the purchaser-to-be fucked off before the thing was tailored and then ??????????

    I *THINK* I saw this one on Poshmark; but I saw the crests and did a HOT nope; but it IS a gorgeous piece. I have seen pieces for import look very much like this though; with the missing kake eri and the properly constructed shigoki with frills and all like yours too; though I’ve never handled the garments in question, so take that how you will.

    I once had an oddball Black furi that was shortened very similarly(squat af) and was missing its kake eri; but no shigoki came with it had it’s original crests while also being a little newer than this monster. I sold her probably a decade ago because I was young and stupid and didn’t know what to do with her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In this case, it’s worth remembering that 20’s era souvenir kimono were often made to order with lots of craftsmanship behind them. This is most certainly no newer than the 1920’s, and that brings me the confusion. At that age, the Tokugawa aoi wasn’t necessarily a tourist trap.

      The kiri kamon are also not placed where they should be. There are six of them and they’re randomly scattered.

      I did get this from Poshmark, and I was like “challenge accepted.” 🤣🤣


      1. Huzzah, I remembered correctly!

        And no, I absolutely agree the older tourist pieces are really gorgeous and well crafted, but I’m just like ‘wtf do I do with this,’ in regard to picking them up.

        The crest kerfuffle is certainly something, hmmm, maybe someone’s total fubarb and this was one way to recoup the mess up? I mean, the artists aren’t ALWAYS perfect, I can certainly feel a couple of f bombs ( or at least the Japanese equivalent ) on a piece I just got in when the artist INSISTED on DYING AROUND the goddamn birbs versus just painting them on, and he got into the lines a little with the black dye.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. OMG, as a bad artist, I love bad artists! I also love good-bad art; things that are rendered really well but at the same time ridiculous af. The only thing I can’t do is badly rendered karako; which is about a 50/50 of the time you see karako. I’m not into Chucky meets Candy Land. I mean, I’ll look at it and cackle, but the chance of me buying that mess is a big NOPE.


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