A kimono might be difficult to get, especially when you’d like to try it on or find the right size for you. An easier, or rather, more customisable option would be to make a kimono yourself. For that you would need a sewing machine, fabric, interfacing (known as vlieseline in many languages – a thin fabric with a glue on one side to make another piece of garment more rigid) and good scissors.
Let’s start with the basics – a kimono was historically made from long pieces of fabric, approximately 37,5 cm wide, sewn together along the back and with sleeves attached to the sides. Therefore, most of the seams would be going lengthwise on a typical kimono. Nowadays fabrics come in about 1,4-1,8 m width, therefore making a historically accurate kimono would actually create more work. In terms of the fabric – choose the one that you like, preferably not the stretchy type. Stretchy fabrics are more difficult to stitch together, as you may pull too much while sewing, thus creating creases.
There are also several other aspects to consider; for example, I’m using polyester fabric, easily maintainable and washable, however, it’s going to be problematic to wear it on a hot summer day. In warmer climates consider cotton or silk fabrics, or blends (i.e. where cotton or silk are the main component). Important to note is that these materials in many cases crease a lot and require more maintenance. Choosing a cheaper fabric like polyester is also a good decision for someone who’s not used to sewing. After trying to sew the kimono for the first time, you can upgrade to a more expensive material.
On a picture above you can see a schematic drawing of a kimono with measures for size M in cm. The sizing chart is taken from a kyudo shop’s website, however, sewing the kimono yourself allows for some freedom to adjust the measurements – making sleeves longer or body – wider. As this kimono body is cut from a single piece of fabric, to make it overlap, an additional panel was sewn onto both sides on the front. The width of the extension panel was measured in accordance to the body width on one side, approximately 1/3 of it. The collar is usually 5-12 cm, in this case 7 cm has been cut. Altogether, 3,5 meters of fabric have been used to sew the kimono. Before calculating the overall fabric consumption, read the rest of the article.
|Size||Sleeve width||Sleeve length||Half body width||Body length|
Take into consideration the weave of a fabric when buying it – some of them do not allow cutting in different directions, and a longer piece may be needed. Calculate the length of the fabric adding 2 cm seam allowance on all sides. You can see the needed cuts below.
Cutting the material
Take a look at the pattern above – in this case the front and the back of the kimono will be cut from a single piece of fabric. Lay out the fabric on the floor and measure out the pieces. The easiest way to do it is one by one:
- Measure the width of the body from the edge of the fabric
- Make very close markings for cutting the first 20-30 cm – I use dry soap, as it’s visible on the fabric and easy to wash out
- After you’ve cut the first 20-30 cm, fold the cut piece over the rest of the fabric, align it with the edge, and keep cutting until you have the full length. This way you’ll ensure that the edge is cut evenly.
- Proceed the same way with the rest of the pieces
On the main body piece mark of your shoulder line and measure the centre line in front. Make an incision from the centre of the bottom until the shoulder line. On the top (on shoulder line – No. 4 on the drawing below) make 2 incisions from the centre to each side, approximately 7 cm. The length depends on circumference of your neck, remember, that couple of cm will become seam allowance. In the illustration below you can see that 1 ¾ of inch has been cut, or 4,5 cm.
Sewing process of a kimono
French seams are used most of the time to join the garments together. They are made by putting wrong sides together and making a plain seam approximately 0,5-1 cm from the edge, with rough edges sticking out to the right side. Then fold the fabric over the seam (if it’s too stiff, iron it) and cover the rough edges by making another plain seam. For the edges of the fabric just fold it twice so the rough edge is tucked inside, iron it and stitch with a plain seam approximately 1-2 mm from the edge. Read more about seam types here: https://sewguide.com/how-to-sew-seams/.
Assembling the body
First of all, you will need to make a centre seam on the back. That’s done by measuring the centre on the back and folding about 0,5-1 cm inwards. Make a plain seam to settle the centre of the back.
Now, secure the outer ends of side extensions and sew them onto front from both sides. There is another way of extending the front wrap sides – instead of cutting 16 cm width – cut twice as much. This way you can iron the outer 0,5-1 cm of the edges inwards on the extension pieces (from both sides), and sew it on the side as a double layer. I.e. you wrap the outer edges of a kimono body with extension pieces.
Next comes cutting out the neck opening – diagonal line marked with No. 5 on the diagram above. It’s a bit tricky to find the right length, but measured against another kimono, the line from the outer edge of the neck opening to the the end of the cut on the front side of the kimono is about 75 cm. With seam allowance, the cutting line became 70 cm long. Take a ruler and make a line from the neck to the cutting point, cut out the collar line. Handy tip – the cut for the collar is about 3/4 of the kimono length.
Take the collar and iron interfacing on the inner side of the fabric, leaving 2 cm seam allowance from both sides. Fold the edges inwards and iron them to set in place. Fold the collar in the middle to hide interfacing and ends and iron it once again for easier sewing. Locate the centre of the collar and pin it around the centre of the back. Pin the rest of it around the neck/side line and sew the edges to the body. The bottom ends of the collar are then folded inwards and secured with a plain seam.
Take sleeves and secure the outer sides with a French seam. Mark the centre of the sleeve’s inner side and measure 25 cm on both sides. These 50 cm will be attached to the body. The edges of the rest of the inner side can be now secured. Pin the sleeve to the shoulder – starting from the centre and sew the sleeve to the body. Afterwards, the bottom part of the sleeve can be sewn together. Lastly, measure 30 cm from the bottom of the sleeve an sew the outer sides together, leaving an opening for the arm.
The sides of the kimono can now be joined, leaving 15 cm from the sleeve edge for an opening. In my case, these 15 cm were then hand stitched to hide the edges. You can likewise trim the edges with an overlocker before joining sides, this way it would not be necessary to sew the edges by hand.
The bottom of the body is secured with a French seam and the kimono is done. The white kimono undergarment (juban) is sewn the same way, however, add extra 1-2 cm to the collar, so it would stick out when worn.
For more inspiration and instructions, have a look at Jenny Dobson’s book “Making Kimono And Japanese Clothes”, 2004. It may be difficult to find a hard copy in shops and online, but my local library had one to borrow, it’s also possible to find a digital version of the book.
If you have any questions or need an advice or tip, comment down below.