Building a collection of vintage kimono is a hobby that is endlessly fascinating and absorbing, and I hope to share it with you here.
I began collecting kimono seriously only a couple of years ago, but the seed was planted long before.
When I think about it, and look around me, I’ve been interested in kimonos all my life. For years I would drool over Hokusai prints, devouring every detail. I wore Japanese-style smoking jackets and bedjackets in my teens as evening wear. When I left home for university in 1981, I found what I thought were kimono in vintage clothing shops, but they were so far out of my price range that they remained only a pipe dream. I settled instead for checking kimono books out of the library on an almost permanent basis.
It was a another book – called Sew Vintage – that changed all that. I’d been collecting western vintage clothing and textiles for 25 years by this time, but in this book, which is about how to make garments and household furnishings from recycled vintage fabric, I came across something new – listings for resellers who sold kimono pieces.
The Internet was really getting going by this time and my husband Steve bought me my first fabric online several panels about 32 inches long and (of course, as I would later find out) about 12.6 inches wide, from which I made myself a loose-fitting jacket.
I was entranced by the fabrics, which seemed so much more complicated than western ones. I later came to realise that because the shape of a kimono is simple, great energy is put into making the fabric beautiful – a single fabric might have a pattern in the weave, a different pattern applied with dyes, the centres of the pattern painted in gold or embroidered in silk, and then the outlines couched with metallic thread in tiny stitches. Complexity is layered upon complexity.
Having found the one reseller, I wanted to know more. It was clear these panels of fabric were from kimono which had been taken apart, which must mean that such kimono were available, and since the fabric had come from the US, not Japan, there must be some form of international market. I then had one of those lightbulb moments: I typed: ‘vintage kimono’ into the search engine on Ebay.
I had thought there might be the odd kimono. But I hadn’t expected what I found. There were thousands of them. Thousands, every week. Every day, tens of new kimono were listed and most of the sellers were clearly in Japan. Best of all, I couldn’t believe the prices. I’d seen one or two vintage kimono (what I now know to be uchikake) come up for sale at auction, but they fetched several hundred pounds. In contrast, these kimono started at 99 cents or so.
So began a habit that is slowly taking over my life – and my house – and I hope to be able to share some of that passion here.