Kimono Workshop : Part I

I just finished my first of three weekends at The Workshop Residence in a Kimono Workshop handstitching a summer yukata. I've written about The Workshop Residence over at Handful of Salt, here. Our hosts are master kimono maker Tsuyo Onodera and her daughter Maki Aizawa. Here was our tool set below. Beautiful, no? The needles are handmade with the tiniest eye holes I've ever encountered and incredibly sharp. Quite a few people broke needles the first day trying to sew. We each had our thimble finger measured and handmade leather thimbles made for us before the class began. I eventually switched back to my old standby which I bought in Japan, it's hard to break a habit!

I knew I would be in for a treat as I'd peeked in on the previous kimono workshop that took place earlier this year. And I knew I would be learning some new techniques but I had no idea how different those techniques would be. It's a whole other way of sewing and approaching pattern making. Below, Tsuyo demonstrates how you measure out the panels for each individual yukata. We worked on four pasic panels this weekend: two front and two back. There were the tiniest measurement variations in all of them to fit our bodies perfectly. A lot of it didn't make sense at first but once the panels started to come together, we had a lot of 'ah ha' moments among us.

Since there are only nineteen hours in the workshop, we're just making a simple yukata which is what you would wear if you stayed in a ryokan or are visiting an onsen. It's a more casual kind of kimono. The colorful summer patterns were designed by Maki and printed by Zoo, Inc. who prints a of lot of fabric for The Workshop Residence. It was hard to choose a colorwave! One of the more exciting discoveries for me was the use of a tiny iron to make markings in the fabric. No tailor's chalk, no fading ink, just lines pressed with a sharp, hot iron point. I have to find one of these! The lines last for days and go through four layers of fabric. All measurements are in metric so we had to brush off our school brains and remember how much easier it is then the imperial system. The fabric in the foreground below is my colorwave choice, yellow and grey.

Day one of the workshop had us sewing the four main panels together, along with the okumi that attach to the front panels. A lot of us had a little homework that night to catch up. Tsuyo demonstrated her sewing technique to us before we started and I was completely floored. Just watch this video and you'll see what I mean. I can't even come close to mastering this.

Day two consisted of Tsuyo checking our work, including finishing off our main panels and okumi before moving onto sewing the sleeves. It was quiet at times while we furiously sewed but the mood was casual and fun. Some students had never sewed before and some had some experience. We were all on the same level in this class, learning such a new technique.

At the end of the second day, we started in on the sleeves. The basic sleeves are below and what looked like a simple sewing job was a challenge at first. All of the lengths of stitching is done with a single piece of thread, no knots and start overs halfway through so you had to make sure you had enough thread before you started. The sleeves had a single thread that turned 90 degrees with backstitching halfway so you had to remember to push your fabric to the end to avoid bunching before you backstitched or you had to start over.

There was a lot of millimeter and centermeter measurements that made sense once we started. Tyuyo demonstrates the final stitching below for a sleeve: at 21 cm from the top of the sleeve, 3 backstitches at 8mm, 3 backstitches at 9mm and then three backstitches at 1 cm to secure the sleeve opening. Such detail!

We sewed all of the hidden stitches for the first two days to give us some practice for what was to come next: the top stitching to be done at home during the week, eek! I snapped a few photos of the finished yukata example to help me figure it all out!

This is where you can really be creative, choosing a topstitch thread color. Look at those stitches, perfect! I know I can make a pretty top stitch when I'm working from the top but on some of these stitches, we'll be working from the back, in reverse, so I better up the quality on the backside of my stitches fast or this is going to look bad!

I choose a dark blue/turqoise thread as a top stitch, very high contrast with the white, grey and yellow. Wish me luck! Next weekend we will attach the sleeves, add more top stitching, finish the waistband or obi and make a collar. A lot more to do! In the meantime, if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, stop by Thursday night, November 14th from 6 to 7:30 at The Workshop Residence to hear Tsuyo speak about her experience as a kimono teacher for the past fifty years in Sendai. Yes, that's right, Sendai. Go here for more information. Learn more about The Senninbari Project that Maki started with her mother here. It is a sewing collective of women in Tohoku, Japan who lost their homes and livelihoods to the tsunami of 2011.


ersimarina said...

Oh, lucky you! It must an experience of a lifetime. What a wonderful, fascinating workshop. I wish I were in the San Francisco Bay area but I'm half way around the world. I hope you'll post some more about your exquisite class.

Oh, and that sewing technique on the video is stunning!

Flaming Nora said...

Amazing. What an opportunity to be able to take part in such a workshop, and the hand stitching. How fantastic, years of practice to be able to do that!

eva a(r)t work said...

I envy you so much! I've learnt sewing kimono many years ago, wrote down and sketched every single step of the process, enjoyed the hand-sewing. I could really need a workshop to "refresh" it. Coming to San Francisco would have been an extra bonus!
Advice: take lots of notes, pictures!!!


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