How to Make a Kimono

You may expect making a kimono to be relatively difficult, after all there is the obi, dasho, the haori, and a host of other things that make wearing the kimono (or haori) traditional and beautiful...but it really isn't all that difficult. Like a cloak or a vest, it's really almost all straight lines and boxes. In fact, a simple bathrobe pattern can often be adjusted simply to make a good kimono pattern. Only the sleeves would have to be altered. You will need basic sewing skills and some imagination (it's hard to show these things over the web), but you can do it if you've ever made any other article of clothing. I would definately recommend that you make a test-run out of muslin or something inexpensive first to make sure you have the measurements right.

A kimono should be worn with an obi as a belt. An Obi is simply a self-tying belt made of contrasting, accentual fabric, such as a dark blue obi on a brushed gold kimono. Just sew a big rectangle of the measurements that will go around your waist about twice and knot in back to secure it (though you could pin it instead of tying it if you liked). The obi is usually about as wide as your stomach (about 8"), just as you might imagine a medieval bar wench's leather belt. A thinner cord could go on top of the obi for further color or contrast. Maybe a black kimono, white obi, and black cord? Imagine the possibities...

A few notes on fabric: Traditional kimono were obviously made of silk, embroidered by hand and very expensive. Everyday kimono could be made of linen, cotton, or other fabrics, once they became more widely available in Japan. These days, some lovely bridal satins or rayon blends are available with or without screen printing that mimics the embroidery of old. Men usually choose more somber colors, such as brown, dark gold, or black, while women wore bright jewel tones or soft pastels. Complicated, flashy patterns are usually reserved for the young. I find that a simple pattern along the edge, like waves or small dragons, is elegant and stunning. You may incorporate metallic threads, tiny crystals, or whatever you like into your design, as long as you aren't going for the more traditional look.

The first thing you need to do is measure your body:

Measurement A: Take a measurement from the back of your neck (where that little round bone sticks out) to your ankles or to wherever you want the kimono to end. Add about 2-3 inches for hemming.

Measurement B: Measure the width of your back from the center of your side over the ribcage from one side to the other. Add about 5 inches for moderate fullness and another 2 for hemming. If you want the kimono to be skinnier or fuller, adjust this measurement accordingly.

Measurement C: Measure from the top of your shoulder (where it starts to curve onto your arm) down to about an inch past your wrist bone. Add another 2 inches for hemming. This will the length of the sleeve.

Measurement D: Have someone help you with this one. Hold your arm out and have them measure from the top of your arm down to about your waist. Add about 2 inches for hemming. This is the width of your sleeve.

Measurement E: Take measurement B and halve it. This is the width of the front pieces, but add about 5" to each side to allow for overlap and modesty. If you are particularly large-chested or worried about kneeling, etc., add a few more inches. Measurement A will tell you how long it should be. These are your front panels to which you will sew the collar (Measurement F).

Measurement F: Take measurement A and double it. Measure around your neck and add this number to the doubled A. Total this. This will become the colllar and front flap. You will want this piece about 5 inches wide (3" for the collar, 2" for hem). If you want your collar taller or shorter, you may adjust this number with impunity.

"What of the armholes" you say? Well, traditional kimonoes simply inserted the sleeve into the side seam, causing a narrow shoulder opening and relying upon the fullness of the sleeve to arrange for comfort. I recommend laying out the pieces as they would fit together and hollowing out semi-circles on front and back pieces where the arm would go from body to sleeve. This will mean you have to sew on a curve for a small distance, but will make it more comfortable to wear.

The drawing below gives you a rough idea how things will fit together. The asterisks represent where your arms would go out to the side in order to show how the wide sleeves should fall. The diagonal lines to the side show you the front panels being spread flat to try and show three dimensions. Clear? Good.

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