As I sit here on the floor, typing this entry out on my phone, rubbing my temples near violently to chase the pain away…I can’t help but feel my heart being pulled in two opposite directions. Inside me are two
deeply disturbed beavers wolves. One wishes with its whole being to be gentle and understanding. The other desires to be the Shitlord Extraordinaire that I was born to be.
We will start with the gentleness.
In my quest to make this blog very accessible, I sometimes fail to recognize what details are most necessary to include, and that might give someone the impression that I’m not frighteningly familiar with what I’m showcasing. This is something I prefer to handle gracefully, so when something is weird to me and someone suggests a normal kimono reason why it might be, it actually makes me very happy to read it. This is evidence that someone loves kimono as much as I do, and there is only joy in that. And one of my dearest values is also to learn gracefully. If I had been wrong, their pointing it out would have been invaluable to my quest to learn all the things.
This is where things might get complicated though. What tends to put me in an awkward spot when it comes to evaluation is that I’m working with entirely different parameters than most others when it comes to condition issues. Damaged, antique, and/or remade kimono coming out of Japan or even most of the world have particular flavors to them. The kind of damage. The way they were remade. It’s difficult to put into words until I make the comparison.
So let me speak very directly for a moment.
I’m in The United States of America, and a huge number of my purchases are domestic. Not only are we an Allied nation that invaded and occupied Japan–which is fucky in the way that all war is fucky. But there’s a darker, more insidious monster that I have to contend with that I think gets overlooked sometimes, even in the context of this blog. That’s my fault; this monster still has teeth and I tend to be careful about how I speak of it. Maybe I shouldn’t be. And this monster has left scars on even my own family.
1942, Executive Order 9066. The immediate relocation and internment of all persons, including US citizens, with Japanese ancestry.
I don’t actually know of many people seeking these items out the way I do, but this is a monster you’re not seeing unless you’re here doing it. You don’t know what it looks like unless you’re having to sift through it. We’ve all seen a beautiful antique kimono with some damage on it and lamented her glory days. But I don’t know if many of you reading this have ever felt the stillness, the ache, the swell of mourning that I feel when I get one these in my hands. The utter sorrow of knowing that someone’s wedding gown, coming of age dress, favorite article was reduced to being a war prize while the rightful owner tried to make due in a shack in the desert.
My own family has a missing parcel of valuables–kimonos, jewelry, and other things–buried in the ground somewhere in California to prevent them from being stolen. No one knows where they are. I’m actively restoring Great Grandma Akiye’s wedding kimono, which was taken from her in a suitcase full of her things on her way into the camps for “inspection.” She never saw it again.
I am very largely dealing with kimono that had been taken by force from people rounded up for what they look like, and those kimono were treated irreverently. Some were sliced up in weird ways, strange additions were made to them. Elaborately designed hikifurisode had their hems hacked off and lazily stitched into belts and used as bath robes and lingerie. And when they were dirty, they got chucked into a closet forever for me to deal with if I’m lucky. Or, they got chucked into the washer and destroyed. Hung in direct sunlight in a smoking room. Stuffed in a corner somewhere in a hoarder house covered in cat piss. That’s a real thing I’ve worked with by the way.
When you read an evaluation of a piece that I’ve purchased domestically, these thoughts are the lenses I’m seeing through. And so sometimes, shit gets really weird and hard to explain. These parameters I’m working with are chaos incarnate, and that means that sometimes to figure something out I need to think really far outside the box. It means my thought process is often not about what an item’s cultural history entails, but rather how someone with contempt for that culture would treat it. Or otherwise, how an interned Japanese American would have done their best with nearly no tools to maintain the item, or turn it into something more useful for their daily lives out of necessity.
I have recently been asked why I go so very far to fix pieces that are in near shambles and research ways to clean them. It’s because I think that someone has to. And I can.
But equally importantly, forever and always:
Enter the Shitlord Extraordinaire
This brings me to today’s motherfucking train wreck. Here’s my actual face when I was taking notes about condition of this thing when I realized that’s exactly what in the fuck had happened to it.
Fuuuuuuuuck. Just. Uuugghhhhh.
First some info on this piece specifically. This is an antique ro furisode. Once upon a time, someone who knows more than I did back then described this type as “ro awase,” because it actually has a full white layer of ro silk (a weave for summer) sewn in. It’s not free floating like a hiyoku (a partial layer meant to give the appearance of wearing multiple layers). And indeed, on this piece that layer is fully sewn in to all seams including the very bottom of the hem. It has now, however, been explained to me that “ro awase” might not be a proper term. This is very limited available information to research specifically in English, so I thought I would just point out this whole thing I am learning about.
It is decorated with waves and large figural nadeshiko (dianthus flowers) with all kinds of spring flowers in them. I do not have provenance on this piece, but it was a domestic purchase. Comparing it to my other ro furisode, I would guess this to be early Showa Era at the youngest.
Okay let’s have a look at this little shit then.
It started with me just tilting my head a lot at it. Look how weirdly it hangs. That drove me fucking bonkers. It was pillowy and ruffled along some edges. Sometimes that means it got wet and wasn’t allowed to dry flat. And you know what, for all intents and purposes, that’s technically still true.
Okay so start looking for potential moisture damage. Aaaaaand, there it is.
Oh golly gee willikers, I’m just so overjoyed to see red dye run. Thank God. I’m just so happy. Can you feel how happy I am? Getting that close to it, though, made me realize that everything about the colors in general is fucked. Everything is kind of muted in a way that isn’t quite right. Then I started clenching my jaw because that low, horrible high-pitched sound that plays in my head when things are just groovy started going.
You know what this is? Yeah hi, some absolute fucking degenerate soggy pancake bitch spilled her drink on this and felt the need to huck it unceremoniously into her shit-ass washing machine.
And I wasn’t expecting it because for how fucked up it is–no we’re not done with flaws yet–it’s not in horrible shape. That sounds contradictory until we acknowledge this simple truth: furisode do not typically survive being put in the washing machine at all. That it came out looking even vaguely decent is an act of god. A shitty, mischievous god, but a god nonetheless.
The couching. Oh god the couching. It was the couching that made me
start dumping gasoline on the floors snap. And in reality, I guess it’s all here. Sort of. In that this area is still technically couched.
And that should give you a pretty decent idea of the anatomy of a couching thread, because they’ve been goddamn skinned. We’re doing some fucking taxidermy up in here, I guess.
A recreation of my reaction when I found this:
So we’ve got dye run, fucked couching weird fading–oh yeah I didn’t show you that. Here, it’s best illustrated on the kamon (family crests), but pretty much all of the black areas are more of a dusky grey.
There was also once ginsai (silver leaf paint) on it that got riggety-REKT, so I’ll have to deal with that.
Let’s make this worse for me. All of the seams are ultra stressed, which will happen when you put a fucking kimono in the wash, and the seam allowance did not dry flat. So basically my option is to take the whole goddamn thing apart,
continue to contemplate arson redo the creases, and sew it back together.
Speaking of dye run, though…I was actually pretty impressed. Really, shouldn’t this be significantly worse than it is? There’s a lot of evidence of color displacement–basically when a shape that’s not colorfast is all fuzzy or runny looking–that I’m not seeing the dye deposits of elsewhere. Guess I’m just lucky today. Oh well, let’s have a look at the lining and… oh. There it is.
I’ll DIE I’m gonna have to bleach (reductive, not chlorine, step away from the Clorox) that.
So. There you have it. The damage.
Now what am I going to have to do? Well I’m gonna take it apart, correct the black tones, fix the kamon, clean up the dye run, replace missing pigment in some of the flowers, redo the ginsai, replace the couching threads, and take the lining through a reductive bleaching process before sewing it all back together again.
And I’m doing this because this was a highly formal furisode. It is a ro (notice the weave) kurohikifurisode. This was possibly someone’s wedding dress, and it has been treated like it’s some kind of crappy over shirt. Not on my watch. She deserves her name back, and she’s gonna get it. In the meantime, I need to check my molars for cracks because fuck man.
Join me next time when we get to see the glory of the pre-WWII b-game. Proving that there have always been lazy, clueless motherfuckers in the workforce.