FAQ: Vintage Japanese Kimonos and Fabrics Information

Frequently Asked Questions about Yokodana Kimono's Vintage Japanese Garments/ Textiles:

NOTE: These are our opinions & are not necessarily the definitive answers. We welcome more informed input to share with all who visit here. Also, as you are dealing with mostly vintage, one of a kind items, we recommend that in making an individual purchase-- from us or anyone-- please make sure you are satisfied with all the details before finalizing your purchase. If getting from us, please see our other statements re: our quality & return practices. Thanks for visiting! Yoko Lewis

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Can you tell me more about 'vintage kimono'? What does the term mean?

For thorough information on vintage kimono please see the links section of our site. In brief, vintage is defined differently by different people. For our use, used and recycled kimono from the 1970's or earlier are vintage. Our kimonos and fabrics are generally from the 1930's-1990's. Things earlier than that we classify as antique.

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Do you have a bibliography or references so I can learn more about Japanese textiles, culture and kimonos?  

One of our earliest customers, Susan Fatemi (previously known as OhNoKimonos) has an excellent bibliography page on her blog HEREShe is very much into what might be called upcycling of Japanese (and other ethnic) textiles. Her bibliography is superior and highly recommended.

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Can I use a "Jiffy" hand steamer on my vintage kimono?

We received the following unsolicited email from Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga, and thank her for sharing this with us. This is a most helpful tip in answer to a question we get quite often, and, important, is based on her experience with her personal collection of vintage kimonos and obi:

I collect haori and obi and rotate them often on my walls for decoration. I also wear most of my haori to the ballet and opera, usually getting outright praise or looks of admiration. But to get to the point, I have been steaming all of my haori and some obi (I use a standard "Jiffy" steamer) and so far, no problem. Just don't put the nozzle right on the fabric, as this can cause water spots. I do store each folded and separated by acid-free tissue paper. Of course, I do not own anything of "museum" quality---just some pretty nice vintage stuff that I love. Thanks for sharing all the info on your website. Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga

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Do you have patterns for making my own kimono or kimono style garment?

A number of patterns for making kimono (and other Japanese garments) have become available. A search on google for kimono patterns turns up quite a few we didn't know existed.. Also, there are a number of Japanese garment patterns available from:  Folkwear.com, (See #113) .

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I really love the obi (kimono/haori) I bought. Can I clean it? And how?

Unless you are knowledgeable about such things, we advise customers as a rule of thumb, to exercise great care. We recommend that you NOT wash any of our traditional Japanese garments: ALWAYS DRY CLEAN. In fact, depending on the type, age & quality of your purchase, it might be wise to have a specialist advise you before even doing that.

For our own needs with these garments, we have found a small, family-owned dry cleaner in our area. We point out stains & tell them the fabric etc. They have done alright by us. We are not sure that the dry-cleaning chain stores would be as careful (Just an opinion), you would just have to know your merchant. Also, we are overly specific in telling our dry cleaners which things we want specially cleaned. We even attach little notes, with arrows & everything, as well as WRITING DOWN very specifically what we may tell them in person. No losses yet.

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Can you tell me if your cotton kimono fabric is washable? Machine washable? Color-fast? That is of course an important consideration for a summer kimono.... (This applies to rolls/pieces of cotton kimono fabric which we have in our catalog)

Answers to your questions, with some elaboration: Yes, washable, BUT, treat the fabric this way when washing--
  • Wash separately, gently by hand in cold water, light soap. 
  • NEVER let the fabric sit in water for very long, remove it immediately after washing it. 
  • Tumble dry (no heat) until a bit moist, then lay flat, OR (preferred)
  • Gently press water out and lie on towels, flattening and pressing to get excess water out.
  • Then air dry, making sure to smooth the surface.
  • Other Option for machine wash: Perhaps some folks do wash in machines, but I cannot recommend it. 
  • If it is still a bit wrinkled after washing & drying, use low heat iron to press it but to avoid making the fabric shiny, put a thin cotton towel or some such over the fabric before ironing. This way it can be neatly pressed & not get that shine to it. 

    (We welcome anyone's wisdom in this area, send it along & we'll gladly share it here. Yoko
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"I spilled some barbecue sauce on a 100% silk jacket (dry-cleanable) over a weekend holiday when dry cleaners were closed & I fear the spill may have set in."
Are there any 'home remedies' I can use until I get it to the cleaners?"

We asked an expert & this is a paraphrase of what he said, "If this is a silk garment which you have been dry cleaning, then do NOT attempt any home remedies, as they'll make it worse in all probability. If it is a garment you've NEVER dry cleaned, such silk has none of the residual effects (chemical) of dry cleaning so it may respond to cleaning with plain water (cool). Still, once the cleaners opened it would be best to have it done professionally. All that being said, to be on the safe side In most cases it pays to just take it to the dry cleaners however."

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How do I care for or clean this wonderful old (silk) kimono I bought from you?

For the really special garments, with hand-painting & quite old, we recommend getting a professional opinion on cleaning. (We recommend Frank Connet a textile expert conservator and artist in Chicago, contact). However, we can share with you the common practice we know from being raised in Japan. So, here are some pointers on the care of the older silk:
  • When folded in chest, always fold in rice paper. 
  • The wardrobe/bureau in which it is stored must not be in any direct sunlight .
  • Dry heat is bad for it. 
  • Direct sunlight is bad for it. 
  • When displaying, choose a place which is cooler & shaded.(ex: being near a forced air heat vent would be very BAD for it) 
  • In Japan, after the rainy season we air them out in a shaded area for a day or so. 
  • For a lovely and detailed blog post from Japanese textile expert John Marshall on the traditional cleaning of kimonos, Arai-Hari, please see his 2013 blog HERE.

Other Cleaning Issues:

If your kimono (for example, our A Package bulk kimono) arrives and has a musty smell, if you hang them outside in a breeze, or in a shaded area which gets air circulation for a couple days, that usually does it. Otherwise,you might be better off to dry clean the 'offending' pieces. On rare occasions, if you detect mothball smells, then try to air them, but dry cleaning may be the only solution in that case.

There are some great suggestions on washing and caring for silk on Anneli's info page.

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...I have a beautiful Kimono, and have just purchased a lovely Nagajuban from YOKODANA...however, in the BOOK OF KIMONO, they say you must wear a type of undershirt and under skirt (wrap around type)....I am wondering where I can buy these things - or if I can make them - what are the dimensions and materials to use? What do others suggest wearing under their Kimono?

We thank Marie Couey-Strobel for her thorough & kind reply to this:

Get a copy of Make Your Own Japanese Clothes (by John Marshall) if you want to make your undergarments. This book does a very nice job of detailing how to make a kimono because there is no pattern per se, the garment is based on your own body measurements.

Although the undershirt isn't specifically discussed, the undershirt could be made based on the directions for the jimbei or wraparound top. Just make it a little tighter for an undergarment and skip the separate neckpiece. If you look carefully at the picture in The Book of Kimono, you can see that the undershirt is based on rectangular pieces. The back neckline appears to be cut a little lower than for a kimono and the two front
pieces overlap. The sleeves are also rectangles, much smaller than a kimono sleeve. Turn under all edges and stitch down.

The wraparound half-slip is basically a rectangular piece of fabric (no darts) with a tie attached to each top corner (kind like an apron). The fabric goes in front of you at the waist, overlaps in the back and the ties are brought to the front. Just like the kimono, there is no pattern; the dimensions depend on your own body measurements. The length from waist to hem edge should probably be a little shorter than the kimono you
are wearing and the wraparound length is whatever feels comfortable to you.

 On page 74, The Book of Kimono, (Norio Yamanaka) states that "the hem of the half-slip should be just long enough to hide the tops of the tabi". One nice thing about the wrap underskirt is that it can still fit with small to medium fluctuations in your body measurements. I'd used cotton tape for the ties to minimize bulk.

And you could do the skirt-type half-slip also mentioned in the Kimono book. A long, straight skirt with or without a waistband pattern would work. Skip the zipper and just leave open, finish the edges by turning under and stitching, and use a hook and eye at the waist or on the waistband.

Lightweight cotton or cotton gauze seems to be the choice for undergarments. It's the most comfortable and launders easily. Marie.

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I need an obi or sash for the wonderful wedding kimono (uchikake) I just received. Do you have one to go with it?

Actually, the wedding kimono you bought (iro-uchikake) is not worn with an obi. Think of it as a highly decorative, formal cape-of-sorts. It is worn over another kimono, which is of course tied. The 'uchikake' itself is a showcase piece, worn spread out. Also, practically, they are so heavy (some easily over 10lbs) & extra long to create the train, that it would be difficult and impractical for a social gathering. For a ceremony, it's
perfect. As an item on display, it's perfect. As a garment to wear to a social event -- well, it is less suited to that.

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Where can I learn more about how to tie obi, about kimono etc in general? ... and... I spent hours...still I can't figure out how to tie this obi! Help! ... and... How do I best get out the wrinkles from this silk haori after it's been packed awhile?

Well, at long last we are able to answer these kind of questions with some help from others; we have a few books recommended by some of our site visitors and customers, which they say should help folks with the whole matter of tying obis etc. And,we got this helpful email from a customer, for which we are most grateful:

I read your FAQ page on kimonos and I have a suggestion that people who are trying to wear a kimono might want to try. I bought a book called The Book of Kimono" by Norio Yamanaka from Amazon.com. The book shows how to put on a kimono, tie an obi in a drum bow, and how to store it. I also showed it to the owners of a small kimono store nearby, who could barely speak English. They said the book was pretty accurate. You might suggest this book to people who say they want to learn to wear a kimono. It was good enough to help me wear a furisode, 2 yukatas, a haori, 2 nagoya obis and a fukuro obi!

Update: Several customers tell us that they prefer a book by John Marshall as a reference over the above, but both are helpful in their own way:

Make Your Own Japanese Clothes
(by John Marshall). Also, see New Kimono: From Vintage to Everyday Chic , by Editors of Nanao Magazine.

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For getting wrinkles out of everyday Kimonos, haori and nagajuban only (NOT CEREMONIAL KIMONOS) here are some suggestions:

  • As for those wrinkles after it has been folded, you can let it hang a period of time and many will come out.
  • If you are knowledgeable about fabric use whatever method has worked for you in the past; though risky and not necessarily recommended, you can carefully use lowest heat iron to press wrinkled area, but to avoid damage, you must put a thin cotton towel or some such over the fabric before ironing and only do this for a few seconds at a time. See comments above about one person's success using a hand steamer.
  • As we've said elsewhere, IF IN DOUBT, SEND TO PROFESSIONAL (rather than risk ruining a one-of-a-kind piece); Any pointers, please drop us a line and we'll share them here.

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Other ways to use vintage kimonos and Japanese fabrics:

Since early 1999 we started keeping a list of various ways that customers use our fabrics and kimonos. Here is the latest, as of  June 4, 2022:

Here are some ways that our customers have used obi and vintage Japanese fabrics creatively:

  • Quilting
  • Table Runners
  • Centerpiece for Table (maruobi tied into ribbon) 
  • Place Mats 
  • Coasters 
  • Scarves (including some dyed)
  • Frame border, or make a picture out of it(fabric piece) Matting for pictures/framing
  • Wall hanging 
  • Window Treatment (swags, curtains)
  • Clothing items (many types, such as vest, blouse, or as part of other accessory or built into garments) 
  • Handbags/purses
  • Luggage rack (placed over a folding wooden frame luggage stand) 
  • Coffee table (used wooden stand, placed obi, then glass top) 
  • Pillows, cushions Just wear them as obi! 
  • "Katana" bag (samurai sword holder) 
  • Tote bag
  • Cabinetry, as runner in groove of sliding door of antique cabinet
  • Furniture (hand-made chairs and benches; re-uphostering)
  • High end fashion designers used kimono silks in making one-of-kind designer dresses, garments, accessories(Europe, India, China)
  • High end women's high-heel shoes (Europe)
  • Dyers and mixed media artists used kimono fabrics in their artwork and projects
  • Laptop computer bags
  • Costume Face Mask
  • Lamp Shades
  • Anime Cosplay Costumes
  • Rock n Roll Singer-Songwriter Wears on-stage when performing
  • 18th Century Boys Suit
  • Period Re-enactors Costumes
  • Bowties
  • Hair Accessories
  • Wall Hanging (asa/hemp)
  • COVID19 Face Masks
  • Wedding Dress made from vintage furisode kimono
  • Textile Multi-Media Art (hangings, frames)
  • Suiseki Art Stones Silk Bags from vintage kimono silks

Want to add your own? Please click here to let us know!

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Does Yokodana Kimono carry hangers or display stands for kimono?

A number of years ago we were able to get the traditional style wooden (& some of plastic) stands used by stores to display the heavier uchikake. However, the costs -- even wholesale for us to buy directly in Japan -- were exorbitant. So, we do not carry them as we doubt anyone will be willing to pay far more for the stand than for an uchikake. We then attempted to make our own uchikake/kimono stands using local artisans -- but the cost ended up being as exorbitant as the ones we got from Japan. So, no future plans or ability to offer the kimono stands for us. There once was an American woodworking artisan making them, but he has retired. So, sorry no good news on less expensive stands.

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As for options for displaying your ceremonial kimono or obi, we still recommend the fancier curtain rods (usually in black caste iron or solid metal) which are at Home Depot kinds of places: They have various decorative pieces for the end & work well -- only caution is that many of them are rough along the rod, so could catch on any embroidery. We suggest covering the rough part with saran wrap, tape or cloth before sliding the kimono or obi over it. Some decorative wooden towel racks have been adapted for this purpose; Also, some have used thick high quality velvet rope-cord (with tassels) supporting 2 inch diameter bamboo (unfinished) pole.

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    What is Kasuri?

    This is called "ikat" in Southeast Asia. A very nice source of information & treatment of the subject of these country textiles, with nice pictures, is Japanese Country Textiles, by Anna Jackson. New York/Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1997. It has an outstanding bibliography as well. We have an information page on kasuri as well.

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    I was wondering what kind of footwear is to be worn with a kimono? Both modern and traditional, casual and formal, etc. All that I have seen of Japanese footwear are tatamis and getas. Are they for day-to-day casual wear or are their certain styles for formal wear, or a whole other style
    of shoe?

    Yes, Japanese have traditional footwear, called 'geta' & 'zori'. They run from casual to dress types. What you see with formal kimono are more formal (ie, better made, prettier) zori which are worn with 'tabi' the special sock with a split for wear with geta or zori. What are called "zori" might include everything down to the rubber 'flip-flops' sold by the "zillions" around the world.

    In Japan, zori run in wide prices & style much like shoes in the West, but they are all in the same basic design. Geta are made from wood & zori from leather, vinyl. Some have tatami top. You will see overseas (ie, outside of Japan) some commercial ones with tatami & rubber combination. These are inexpensive for the overseas market.

    There a many kind of zori & geta. Even the type of wood geta varies, as well as the cords used. Some are lacquered; more recently you'll see some geta with contoured surfaces (where the foot goes). Basically, the zori (shoe) is worn with kimono & in Japan, they have them in all price ranges.

    But if I understand your question, the basic style is the zori & geta for wear with kimono, with geta being seen as far more traditional. If you look at many woodblock prints from the 19th century you'll see the women wearing geta, even the high ones.

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    A question asked by men and women: "Will Japanese be offended if I wear this (haori/kimono) to a social gathering?"

    Well, we can't possibly answer this to cover every conceivable social setting or cultural situation, but all I can say is that if it is worn in such a way to be respectful, even if it is not in worn in the 'stricter traditional fashion' I know that I (Yoko) take it as a compliment.

    Currently, an increasing number of non-Japanese women in the USA, Europe & elsewhere are taking to wearing haori modified in some way, as an accessory. If you have a very specific situation Yoko would be glad to at least venture her opinion for you. In the final analysis, the responsibility falls back on the one actually wearing it. The trend is toward new and exciting adaptations of old kimono with modern style and fashion.

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    I'm studying Textiles....and have to make something Oriental. I want to make a kimono but I am unable to find a pattern anywhere. Please can you help me?

    Threads Magazine's online forum "Gatherings" for all-things sewing/textiles etc. has evolved and changed host but is still active . Also a number of forums/blogs have sprung up since last we updated this question. To see the latest about blogs/forums related to Japanese textiles here's a focused google search: click here (Suggest you go to at least first 5 result pages as some of the better -- in our opinion -- content links are found even after page 3 of the google search.) The latest search for kimono patterns is here.

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     Several customers recommend"Make Your Own Japanese Clothes: Patterns and Ideas for Modern Wear by John Marshall.
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    I see in your descriptions of your bulk kimono packages that you talk about 'silk blends'. Can you tell me more about this?

    Silk Blends Kimonos: Beginning in the 1960's the Post-War Japanese economy began growing. As the economy improved so did the demand for domestic luxury items, including finer silk kimonos. As the Japanese middle class expanded in the 70's and 80's the demand for natural silks also grew considerably, making authentic natural silks increasingly expensive. 
    Because of this demand, the Japanese textile makers began experimenting with a wide variety of blends, using silk in different combinations with other fabrics; some of these fabrics are so good that even knowledgeable people have trouble telling the difference -- short of a burn test (hardly a good idea on a lovely kimono! :} ). Many of these silk blends kimono have almost the same look, feel and drape as silk. There are of course kimonos made of only Rayon and similar synthetics, but these are not considered what we call 'silk blends' and -- while nice -- can readily be identified as not made of silk. 

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    Do you know of any other forums or resources about kitsuke (wearing kimono) and/or authentic geisha-related information?
    Banner: Immortal Geisha Facebook Group
    For many years Immortal Geisha --first as a website in the 2000's, and then as a Wiki -- was created and run as one person's website. For years there was extensive, in-depth info on the Geisha, Geiko scene and kimono (kitsuke) culture. In 2019  both the Immortal Geisha website and its informational Wiki were closed. The community which had built up around it had evolved into a Facebook Group, whose logo you see above. So, in answer to this question (as of April 2020), this is the absolute best place to start looking for information in this area: Immortal Geisha Facebook Group.
    From their Facebook group page description:
    Immortal Geisha is a community dedicated to the expansion of knowledge and love of all things related to Kimono, Geisha, and other traditional Japanese cultural arts.
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