Using All of the Fabric
The method used to make kimono is unique. A piece of fabric 12 to 13 meters (39 to 43 feet) long and 36 to 40 centimeters (14 to 16 inches) wide is cut into eight pieces. These pieces are then sewn back together to create the basic form of a kimono. All of the fabric is used; none is thrown away. Most often, the fabric used is silk, but yukata (informal summer kimono) are often made of cotton.
Weaving and Dying
Kimono get their colors in one of two ways: the fabric is woven from different colored threads, or the woven fabric is dyed.
For the first type of the fabric, the thread is pre-dyed into different colors and woven into a pattern. One example of this type is oshima-tsumugi, a silk fabric made on the island of Amami-Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture, which has a gloss to it and is strong. Another example is yuki-tsumugi, made in the city of Yuki, Ibaraki Prefecture; this fabric is sturdy so it is said to last 300 years. The word tsumugi means a type of fabric woven from spun silk threads as well as the kimono made of tsumugi silk.
Dyed kimono start with white woven fabric, which then has a design drawn or embroidered onto it. This technique produces vividly colored fabrics. One example of dyed fabric is kyo-yuzen, which is made in Kyoto and is characterized by elaborate, lavishly colored designs. Another example is kaga-yuzen, produced in the city of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture; kaga-yuzen is characterized by realistic images from nature. The word yuzen is the name for the stencil resist dyeing technique and the fabric it is used to create.
Wearable Over and Over Again
The advantage of the kimono made of fabric with color woven in is that the color goes all the way through, so if the front of the fabric fades, people can flip it over and use the other side. The advantage of the kimono made of dyed fabric is that if people feel the color is too vivid, or it starts to fade, it's easy to apply new color. This means people can keep wearing the same kimono over and over for a long time. It also means that the method of making a kimono, where one piece of fabric is cut into eight pieces, is logical.
A kimono is worn with a sash called an obi, which holds a kimono in place and keeps the front closed. Obi not only serve this practical function, but are beautiful as well. The two most common types of obi are fukuro-obi, which have a design only on one side, and nagoya-obi, which are narrower in the middle to make them easier to tie around the body. Fukuro-obi are about 4.2 meters (approx. 14 feet) long, while nagoya-obi are about 3.5 meters (approx. 12 feet) long. Both are about 30 centimeters (approx. 12 inches) wide. Woven obi known as nishijin-ori, made in Kyoto, are prized for the lavish colors such as gold and silver that are woven into them. Obi known as hakata-kenjo, made in Fukuoka Prefecture, are also well known.
How to Tie an Obi
There are various ways of tying an obi. The most popular bow is the taiko-musubi, or "drum bow." This bow is characterized by a cushion, known as an obimakura, which is inserted under the obi to give it more volume at the back and has been very popular since the late Edo period (1603–1867). Until this bow came on the scene, an obi was just a way of holding a kimono in place so the front would stay closed. However, once the taiko-musubi came out, many other styles of beautiful bows followed.
In the Meiji period (1868–1912), people began wearing an obi with accessories known as obi-age and obi-jime. An obi-age (obi bustle), which is sandwiched between a kimono and an obi to hide the strings of an obi-makura, also adds another pop of color without ruining the shape of the obi. An obi-jime is used to hold an obi in place. The use of these accessories in different color combinations became a way for people to show off their sense of style.
Other essential items worn with kimono include han-eri (half collar, a lining for the collar of the inner kimono) and tabi (split-toe socks worn with zori sandals). Wearing pure white han-eri and tabi is the basic style so as to show off the colors of the kimono.
Obi-jime and hair ornaments are an important part of the look.