the project: a matching set of “batwing” kimono for a wedding gift

i set out to make two japanese kimono for a wedding, starting from individual measurements. these measurements late r proved to be wrong. i’ll get to that later.

i used silk fabric for the robes and cotton for the lining and hand died and hand painted and cut and pieced and sewed everything. did i mention i designed it? because i didn’t. my husband jim drew the designs for the paintings, i used a make your own japanese clothes book to construct the costumes, and i took it from there.

detail of the dragon kimono front view of the water kimono front being painted

it’s for my sister’s wedding. i told her i was going to make her something special, and she immediately guessed, so i hemmed and hawed and told her that no, i was actually making them a pair of matching silk ba…twings. batwings.

and ever since i’ve been telling her little details of what i’ve been up to, without describing the article of clothing i was making. or completely lying, things like ‘i’m working on your little claw right now, and i had a hell of a time getting the wing struts the right tightness.’ but in the meantime, i took pictures, and i’m glad i have, because this simple task, which balooned all out of proportion, ended up producing not just two elegant matching garments of surpasing softness and exquisitely decorated by myself, but also a pair of silk pillow sheets made from the cuttings, as well as what has become a production line of silk scarves, all of which aare drawn from two sketches that my husband jim, also an artist, provided me with.

The idea

Design ideas started with my sister’s, ‘well, i hope my batwing has a dragon on it, right?’ because i’m always making dragons on silk. something my husband jim has helped with, because i take such bad care of the patterns that he keeps having to make me new scarf sized dragons that i use in making one of my favorite scarves. i make loads of them, and they end up selling pretty well, but i don’t keep track.

my sister gets the dragon ‘batwings’. her hussband is not ldragonlike, but softer and more of a watery disposition. so we ran thru all our japanese art books in our shelves and then went to the library and google images. and he designed me a lovely flowing stream with a crane and a bunch of irises. very nice.

so i got her to measure herself nad her husband, -to-be, of course, and sent me all the measurements. really strange things like the distance from your neck to your belly button. but i feaar she wasn’t paying attention, because her husband’s arms end up being 80 inches long by her measurements, and that just won’ work. anyway, i finally got measurements off an actual bathrobe that fits him well, and i ended up adjusting the size of his batwing accordingly. which means i end up with scraps off a mostly-completed garment that i get to make pillows with.

anyway, i got the fabric, a nice silk noil and the heaviest habotai i ccould find, and i made measurements and cut stuff out and pieced it together and didn’t start sewing. i took the body of the clothing dwon to the studio where i stretched it, traced jim’s drawings on, and then painted with silk dyes, actually acid dyes (i’m not up on the chemistry). then i steam set them, and then i fit them together and sewed them. but not without trepidation. both of the linings started out way too bright. this is a middle aged couple here, don’t want to expose them to bright colors first thing in the morning, especially with hangovers. so my sister’s lining, which started out irish-tourist green, and my brother in law’s lining, which was fuscia red, got sewn, then folded up and stuck in a plastic tub, weighted by bricks, and a mess of black die went all over them. thus the richly textured patterns, see below.

the lining of the dragon kimono the lining of the water kimono

i thought sewing it was going to be easy. it’s such a straightforward pattern – attach the sleeves to the body. attach the sides below the sleeves. that’s it, you’re ready to sew in the lining.

with right sies together, attach lining to garment fitting the lining to the sleeve and shoulders

but every time i sewed something, i sewed it wrong, and i had to rip stitches out of half of my seams and start over again.

when i sewed the lining in, it didn’t fit the garment, even tho the lining was exactly the same size and shape as the garment. so i had to tear out the stitching on the red lining and completely redo it, and i had to remove the stitching on the dragon kimono and redo the shoulder seams to fit the lining.

things like that. very frustrating. and i was doing both sets of batwings at the same time, so i repeated a lot of my mistakes twice.

and in the meantime i took jim’s patterns and traced them out on silk scarves, and made silk paintings of them. theyy were exquiisite. and then someone at choir asked if i was doing any silk painting, because sometimes i bring my stuff in and fire-sale it to the girls, and it turns out she needs something special for some family members who are recovering frmo surgery, so okay, i’ll do a bunch of dragon and water scarves.

and you know, i haven’t gotten to the symbolism behind the two designs and what i did with them.

but never mind that, i’m going to upload a bunch of photos of the work in process.

the dyes on the collar and belt fabrics, of habotai silk

steaming in a home-built device

the front of the dragon kimono after setting the dyesthe front of the water kimono after steaming

the back of the water kimonothe back of the dragon kimono


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