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The Making of: Sakura's Fire Kimono from Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles [Feb 28 - May 25 2008]

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Stage 1: Constructing the white Kimono

I used the book Make Your Own Japanese Clothes: Patterns and Ideas for Modern Wear by John Marshall [Fitzhenry & Whiteside 1988] for reference. We found it at Wastewise (a re-use centre near me) for 50¢. The book's photos in particular are rather humourously dated but it has a lot of wonderful cultural information and structural knowledge of kimonos and the other garments detailed. It is a bit lacking in clearly laid out or straightforward pattern directions so you'll be doing a lot of your own pattern drawing, calculations and tailoring if you're using this. Its not going to be friendly for a first time sewer. With just this book as a guide you will also need to do some complementary research to fill in the gaps. It took a lot of planning and patience on my part and I have some experience sewing and tend to be pretty methodical. Yay scientific method! :3

These are some of my initial sketches and calculations to figure out how much fabric I'd need, my rough pattern, whatever exact measurements I had, and the best layout to use for cutting the pieces out of the fabric:

Rough sketches and calculations.

Once I had my initial pattern calculations I knew how much fabric I'd need depending on the width I could get. I would have required much less fabric if I wasn't nearly 6feet tall and adding a lot of extra fabric to make the skirt and sleeves fuller. Standard kimonos fall pretty much straight down from your torso and custom made ones are actually constructed using ratios measured directly from your body. They can be truly one-of-a-kind fitted garments!

My cheatsheet. « This is the top quarter of my "cheat sheet" for this costume. Its a folded letter-size print of my reference picture with all my measurements that I'd need to buy the right amount of fabric, and a list of any other materials I need to look for while out shopping scribbled in the margins. I had this with me anytime I went shopping anywhere from the time I started looking for my fabric. I was so used to having it with me that I actually ended up bringing it with me to the Sunday of the convention! Which ended up being really cool because I got to talk structural points and details with several people who weren't familiar with the costume.

I looked at a lot of white fabric for this costume. What I managed to find was a heavier upholstery weight fabric on sale with a very subtle floral pattern to the weave. It was actually a slightly creamy white which I got complemented on at the convention because it photographs warmer than most whites do (most white will actually photograph slightly blue). All I knew was I wanted a creamier white to go with the fireyness of the costume. Its pretty awesome when photographers take the time to compliment you on the colour of white you're wearing.

The white fabric I bought was 6m (meters) of fabric at 2.8m width. Thats WIDE for fabric. I'm glad it was because I could buy several meters fewer than I thought I would need. I washed the lot of it as soon as I got home. There did end up being some staining on one end of the fabric (likely why it was so discounted) so I had to be even more particular about my pattern placement.

[ Note: Pre-washing is pretty much recommended for any fabrics you might use -- it hopefully sets the fabric's dye or washes out the excess so it won't stain/bleed if you have to wash it with other colours in future (particularly important to pay attention to with any dark pigments like reds or blues), cleans out any resistant chemicals and anything that might have gotten stuck to it in the store, and hopefully lets it do whatever stretching or shrinking it might do before you start cutting or sewing. It could otherwise warp afterwards and noone wants that. ]

After the wash process I set about ironing my 6m x 2.8m of fabric...

Far too much fabric.  And work.

I had to shove everything in my room as far to the walls as I could and put as much else away as possible. And the fabric still stretched across my entire floor and over my bed despite having a pretty big room to work in! I spent a lot of time with edges folded up on themselves as I attempted to get the whole thing ironed smooth. The ironing board is on the floor because the weight of the fabric dragging on it probably would have toppled it over at least a few times (a very bad thing when working with a very hot iron). It actually went more quickly with being able to just tug it back and forth across the floor over the ironing board and then roll up the ironed part by my knees as I went along.

It still took a good 2-3 hours of just ironing. I'm so lovingly devoted to my projects. >_>

I look silly making things.

It took even longer to keep the whole thing flat and tediously mark out and cut all the measurements that I'd planned. It was really good strength training but I never claim to not look ridiculous while making things.

Challenge: Adding the fabric needed to make the kimono flare out the way I wanted it to.

Solution: Math, lots of it. Traditional kimonos fall smoothly in very straight lines, this design called for volume. Wanting to have as few extra seams as possible required having all main inserts added at the seams. I did end up with two additional triangles of fabric added to the back. If I couldn't get the extravagance of this costume in length then I wanted it in its volume.

⇑ These pictures show the reverse of the fabric texture nicely. The first picture shows the insets at the side seams. A normal kimono body when layed out like this would be a rectangle, you can see here that is not the case. The second image is when I was trying to calculate and mark out where the insets would sit evenly in the back of the kimono. Here I've already got the front slit cut and the sides sewn together. The trick was keeping all the math and measurements balanced so it did not end up lopsided.

Challenge: The sleeves; getting them to flare witout adding insane amounts of fabric or having them drag on the floor.

Solution: Some sketching, measurements and guess work. I love how they came out. They are very sleek in motion and still have a wonderful fullness. The interesting part with the sleeves is that instead of adding lots of insets to the rectangular butterfly kimono sleeves, I actually pulled the sleeve back at the hem and used a sweeping curve from my wrist to the bottom. Its almost cut like a medieval bell sleeve but at much larger proportions.

Planning the sleeves.
Planning the sleeves.

The plain sleeves laid out flat.
The sleeves laid out flat and ready for painting.

A later issue that arose discovering that the kimono sleeves needed to be lined after being painted as the reverse of the flames showed through all blotchy when the sleeves fell open and it didn't look nice at all. This wasn't that tricky since I could just use the layout I already had but it made for a nasty last minute scramble to get it all done in time.

[Note: If you can ever avoid having your costume drag on the floor at a convention I would say its advisable. Otherwise it will get disgustingly dirty, stepped on, caught on things, and occasionally accidentally trashed. For few-time-only wear costumes its one thing, but if you want to have it around for a long time make your decisions carefully.]

» Stage Two: The red undertunic.

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