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 – optional) 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. The most important aspect of choosing the right fabric is that first and foremost, the kimono needs to be convenient. Thicker fabric creates thicker edges that might affect how tou move in it. After trying to sew the kimono for the first time, you can upgrade to a more expensive material.
The most important measurement you need to know is yuki – the length between the center of your neck, along the shoulder and all the way down to your wrist. You can see yuki as the red line on the picture below. This measurement is taken when standing upright with your arm in 45-degree angle. Take the measuring tape to the base of your neck and follow along the shoulder and arm all the way to the knuckle.
The other important measurement is your hip width from hipbone to hipbone. This will determine, how wide the body of a kimono will be. The sizing chart below 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, called okumi (衽), is fixed. Altogether, 3-3,5 meters of fabric have been used to sew the kimono. Before calculating the overall fabric consumption, read the rest of the article.
|Half body width
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. You can see the needed cuts below with approximate sizing, more instructions to follow in the next section.
Putting measurements together
Here’s a schematic drawing of a kimono:
Kimono for kyudo does not need to be the full length, however, if you use some nice fabric that you’d like to wear on its own – any kimono lenght can be worn with hakama. You just simply fold it on the waistline. For kyudo purposes it’s enough to have kimono up to your knees only – so usually about 1 meter long.
Now, you need to calculate, how big do you need to cut the panels. This is where your yuki measurement comes into play – we will cut all the pieces of front and back body as one big rectangle – where yuki + sewing allowance will be your width and your body length x2 + sewing allowance will be your lenght. Following, sleeve width is half of your yuki, length can be taken from standard measurements. Then you a cut for okumi, which is 15 cm + sewing allowance from both sides; two of those. Last cuts are 2 rectangles for the collar, one 2m long and 17cm wide and another one that is 90cm long and 17 cm wide.
Check the width of your desired fabric, and now you can calculate the necessary lenght of it.
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.
- On the main body piece mark of your shoulder line and measure the centre line in front and back.
- Proceed the same way with the rest of the pieces, remember to mark fold lines on the sleeves.
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 cut in the centre of the front panel to make an opening, cutting 3 cm into the back pannel. Then, make a plain seam along the center back line. Iron it right away. In eastern sewing, the seams are protected by ironing fabric over them, so make sure to fold 1-2 mm of fabric over the seam on the right side. Next, make an opening for your neck, which is 9-10 cm from the centre, on your shoulder line.
Measure and mark 38 cm from the shoulder line on all of the pannels. Next is where your hip width comes into consideration – take your hip width and subtract 15 cm – this is how much you will need to mark from the center seam to the side all the way from the bottom up to your 38 cm mark. Now you can stich the sides together with a simple seam. You will have quite a lot of fabric on the sides – I recommend either to fold it in and handstitch, or to wait until you attach sleeves, as you will need the full width of your body here.
Next, sew on the okumi on both sides. I have used French seam to attach it to both sides. Remember to iron the fabric every time you make a new seam.
Having now about 10-15cm difference between the side seam and shoulder width on the body piece, let the fabric fold in naturally, as all the full shoulder width will be necessary to cover the length of your yuki. Press the fabric with an iron.
Measure 23 cm on outer sides from the top fold on the sleeve fabric. These will be left open – the inner side will be left open completely. Draw the tamoto (rounding of the sleeve outer edge). Then, secure the inner side of the sleeve and use a french seam to attach the rest of the sleeve together. To make the wrist opening prettier, I have secured it by hand. You can use the machine, it’s easier.
Now, mark out 23cm from the top of the sleeve from both sides – they will be attached to the body, the rest will be left open. Pin the sleeve to the body – starting from the shoulder line and sew the sleeve to the body.
You can now secure the remaning fabric of the body along the sleeve opening by handstiching it.
Secure all the edges around the bottom of the kimono and okumi.
Mark the centre of both of the collar pieces. The shorter piece needs to be attached to the centre of the longer piece. Mark out the sewing allowance on the shorter piece, fold it in, and pin it to the long collar piece. To make the seam prettier, stitch it together 1-2 mm further towards the centre from the fold – this way you will have fabric covering the seam. Proceed to do the same on the other side.
Measuring the neck opening
Collar meets okumi seam on 23 cm mark. From there you can draw a line with a ruller – from okumi to neck opening and from okumi to the edge of kimono on both sides. Cut along the line with 1-2cm sewing allowance. I have actually cut it with 6 cm allowance from the marking, as I wanted extra fabric to make the collar sturdier (I was going for 6 cm wide collar). This is not a good idea with thinner fabrics, as you will be able to see the edges of the cut, especially where you have secured the edges.
Attaching the collar
The next step is absolutely optional, but you can add interfacing to the collar. I skipped this step. Mark the sewing allowance on your collar and draw a curve in the bottom part of the centre of it that goes 10 cm to each side. That’s the round opening for your neck. Measure 12 cm from the curve and copy the curve to the other side. Then, measure 25cm sideways from the top curve, and make 13 cm mark from the bottom sewing allowance. Connect the top curve with the markings. On the edge of the collar mark out 15 cm from the sewing allowance, and connect both lines.
Now, pin bottom of the collar to the kimono and sew it together, starting from the center seam. Be careful around the shoulder lines, this is the trickiest part where you have to make sure that fabic doesn’t fold in. If you have a collar piece that’s too long, when finished with attaching, you can fold the ends inwards. Iron the collar so the fabric folds over the outer seam on the kimono.
Next, fold the top of the collar inwards and pin it 2mm over the first seam. Make sure that it aligns with markings. Next part is tricky, as you can either handstitch the collar, or slowly make a seam on the outer side following the first one. This is where it’s important to check, whether the inner side still covers the seam inside. Ironing the fabric before sewing will ensure, that the second stitch won’t be visible.
That’s it – you have now a kimono. If you’d like to know more about kimono history or see video instructions on how to make an authentic kimono, you can visit this Youtube channel: https://youtu.be/rW-Cz9HbkqA. I have taken quite a lot of inspiration for this instruction from there. Making an undergarment for the kimono follows almost the same measurements +/- 1-2cm on the sides, more instructions on measurements here: https://youtu.be/ClK-39Cfp-k.
For more inspiration, 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.