Every now and then I will buy a train wreck on purpose because
I love the pain it illustrates very well the absolute spine-twangy fucking insanity that is buying antique kimono in the USA. The hell does that mean? It means you will feel things. Lots of things.
And then you have pieces like this. I start these interactions with a fire in my heart like a nest of rabid bees ready to vibrate my ass into outer space.
Basically, I made an offer for it, stated my intentions, and without a word of negotiations my offer was accepted and here she is. The seller photos told a story of a kurohikifurisode that needed some tailoring.
Also they referred to it as being reversible and the star photo was this:
Legit question. My fellow Caucasian
motherfuckers humans: are we just very selective about recognizing things that have linings? Or do we just…forget about them when a magical Asian thing is in front of us? Like, I really can’t get into the heads of people who are so convinced that awase (lined) kimono–especially haori (jacket)–are reversible. Do you run around wearing your winter coat inside out, too? On what goddamn planet does that look reversible and not like it has a liner in the same way tons of western formal dresses, jackets, and even pants do?
Then again, the kind of people who list kimono inside out tend to also have my least favorite set of item tags: eThNic HipPiE BoHo ShAbBy ChiC!!1 So I assume they’re baked on oregano they thought was weed 24/7. I said what I said. Every time I see it I wanna slap the McShit out of someone with a live catfish.
To be very clear and fair, this seller did not use that phrase to list this item, and so I have infinitely more respect for them. They simply suggested it was reversible and that is just a thing that confuses me in general.
Anyway, it’s here and I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. It’s been altered, but the method with which someone went about doing the alterations is nondestructive. In fact, I think in order to find the alterations to be strange, you’d have to know a bit about kimono. I also think that in order to do the alterations this way, you’d have to know a bit about kimono.
And that’s how the understanding of the most likely cause of this whimsical fuckery trickled in to my brain. Because I’ve seen it before: I’m looking at someone’s best attempt to upkeep and resize a kimono while in internment.
The fuck am I on about? Well let’s have a look, shall we?
First, the very bottoms of the collar were sewn together. Because… reasons?
There I am the moment before I split it in half. There was no further damage to the collar caused by those stitches. Also none of you should be surprised that I do my evaluations with a goddamn knife.
Meet Knifu-chan. Some of us have wifus, I have a Knifu. She’s a vintage Japanese knife called “higonokami” given to me by an obaasan with some fabric quite some time ago. I like that she has a bell on her, so I always know when she’s still hooked on my finger. Obaasan reports that school children used to sharpen their pencils with these. I have no idea if that’s true.
And so, let’s start with the front:
If you’re like me and have PTSD from evaluating the kind of hardcore abuse that antique kimono tend to endure stateside, then perhaps you saw the length of this piece and your asshole puckered. It’s okay. Mine did, too. We puckered together. FRIENDSHIP.
Ladies and gentlemen, you may relax your buttholes! No scissors were used in the shortening of this garment. Instead, a seam has been sewn in around the waist area. Behold:
So to see what I can see, I picked the seam. The fabric is intact beneath the seam allowance.
The stitches were super tight, so this is going to take some time to pick open. If you’re observant, you’ll notice in the pictures of the whole front above that I did this before I took them. This is because I’m impatient and rabid. I’m not sorry. Winky face.
Oh look! It has pockets.
It’s worth pointing out that this is not a practice that’s completely unknown to kimono, it’s just usually not located here. Sometimes we’ll see kimono with this seam across the back, and taking in length is ultimately the purpose that it serves. Here’s an example on an antique irotomesode:
So yeah, not unheard of. The fabric is even neatly tucked in there the same way. It speaks of a person who doesn’t usually do things like this trying their absolute best.
Releasing it is going to present me with a challenge because there is no similar seam allowance sewn into the lining. (This is actually also typical when it’s done right.) Or at least, that’s what I thought until I used my goddamn eyes and noticed that the lining is entirely wrong.
We’ll start with the obvious: those seams are not even remotely correct with the exception of the back seam. The back seam is important for more than structural issues, so it stands out to me that this is the one that paid the most reverence to. Otherwise, though? Shit’s just wonky. For those who come here to learn (I’m so fucking sorry), the lining should be divided into panels the exact same way that the shell is. This lining clearly isn’t. And the seamstress…did their best. But that’s not the only weirdness! It’s time to BURN THINGS.
This is absolutely not an original red lining. How do I know that, other than the tailoring? Because it’s synthetic satin and not momi (red silk lining fabric). Burn test most closely resembles rayon, which makes sense because polyester isn’t going to be commercially available in fabrics for a few years after this was done.
But! I have seen lining replacements like this before. And Great Auntie Toshi and Michiko had mentioned to me before about getting materials in internet camps. Basically…you made due with what you could get, which was most often whatever someone else had. While Great Grandma Akiye’s wedding kimono had been stolen on the way in, there is plenty of evidence that this didn’t happen to everyone all of the time. In fact, festivals were still celebrated in internment.
These are the kinds of alterations I see coming out of the internment camps. Conversely, these are the kinds of alterations I see from stolen garments:
Not that this is true across the board, but the Japanese Americans in internment didn’t typically dump their kimono in washing machines and then hack off the best part of the artwork to make a shitty little belt. They’d install a seam to shorten it. They’d replace a faulty lining with what’s available to them. Breaking things down into parts was a last resort.
Let’s also take a look at the kinds of damage this kimono has, because it’s pretty rare that something this old isn’t at least a little fucked. Mostly my job is going to be sewing. I’m going to release the seam and then take the momi lining out of the trainwreck butchered furisode up there and replace the satin. But there’s questionable seams in a few places. Legit though? That’s just a symptom of being old.
While I was going over the seams for integrity, I came across this:
Look at this clinging on for dear life. Shit like this is is why I do my evaluations with a literal knife in my hand. I released this immediately before it did any damage to the fabric.
No harm done. Knifu-chan approves.
The other problem facing me is some fading. It’s pretty isolated to the topmost portion of the kimono, and the feel of it made me wonder for a moment if I was looking at liquid/moisture damage. I’m still not completely sure, but actually I don’t think so. I’m thinking probably just UV. Have a look:
Fun fact: none of that is my shadow. I have a confession, I have more than one God Light™, and for this shot they’re both on. I wanted you to be able to see what I can see, and why I thought liquid damage for a second.
The next thing is some very minor stain removal. It has -checks notes- one spot on it.
Do you have any idea how mind boggling it is to find only one stain on something like this? I ended up searching it twice muttering “What the actual shit…” a lot. I was not expecting that.
Some of the embroidery needs to be tidied, though, and that’s actually significantly harder for me. So don’t worry, there’s still plenty of suffering to be had!
Knifu-chan can’t help me with this.
And then there’s the fucking hem. At some point, it made contact with something that was corrosive. Whatever it was, it discharged some of the dye and ate the silk. It could have been chlorine bleach, but I would actually expect the damage from that to be significantly more…what’s a good word to use here…fucking catastrophic. Luckily, it’s stabilized now, so these aren’t trying to shatter. Which is surprising, and it tells me that there’s a non-zero chance that it was noticed when it happened, and that steps were taken to minimize the damage.
Troo Facks: If you get chlorine bleach on silk, you have a very small window of opportunity to naturalize it and stop it from literally disintegrating your fabric. You need baking soda. By the way, just because it can be done does not mean we’ve allowed chlorine bleach into the chat as a stain removal substance. Do not fuck around with this. Can you remove a stain and neutralize it fast enough to win? Sure, that’s technically possible. It’s infinitely more possible that you just literally destroyed the structural integrity of your fabric, and that’s not always visually apparent right away. Do. Not. Do. This.
What I’ll do is take material from the seam allowance, line up the texture of the chirimen (silk weave), and patch it from behind with very tiny stitches. It’ll be a similar process as from my patching a hole tutorial. It’s not a complicated repair, it just turns me into a whiny little pissbaby.
You know what’s really cool about this kimono? The artist could draw a fucking crane.
As for dating, I’m pretty convinced that this furisode is late Meiji to early Taisho. I have zero provenance, just lots of weird shit to look at. But look at the size of that juicy
ass kamon (family crest):
Hey baby, are you a beaver? Because dam.
I always have strange feelings about handling internment camp fuckery. I talk to my kimono a lot anyway in the same way that I talk to a lot of inanimate objects. I’m polite to these. I tell them what I’m doing before I do it. I have zero idea why, it’s just what comes out. But my intentions here are to fix her up like new again. Sit tight, little one. We’ll have you right as rain soon.
Join me next time when maybe I’ll actually go over that boat piece I picked up. Or something else. I dunno man, it’ll be whatever I feel like because I’m the manager.