Woven kimono from the Taisho and Showa periods are about my favourite kimono of all time.
Most of the kimono that I actually wear on a daily basis are woven, or ‘predyed’ kimono. These have a lower degree of formality in Japan than kimono that are printed, and are used for at-home wear, casual occasions, parties with friends, etc. The principal weaves in my collection are Meisen, Tsumugi, Omeshi and Sha and most of the kimono date from 1912 to about 1955. I really love these cosy, well-worn kimono, which are often lined in very thin pongee or even cotton.
This is about my favourite weave of silk, made from damaged cocoons by a process that was invented in the Meiji era, bringing silk kimono within the reach of the general populace for the very first time. Meisen feels something like a thick taffeta and is strong and lustrous – a real delight to wear. Production ended by the 1960s.
Orchid Taisho Roman with big grey peonies. This is the first meisen kimono I ever bought. I love the subdued quality of the grey and orchid-purple silk. It’s in Taisho Roman style, which is influenced by the Art Nouveau movement in the west, but the colourway is quite unusual – such kimono are usually far more gaudy.
Purple Taisho with grey stripe. This simple striped kimono has a wonderful lustre and is lined in the usual red silk. The hakkake is purple rawsilk – a fabric I’ve never come across elsewhere.
Brown stripe Taisho. This kimono was only a couple of dollars because it’s in very poor condition, with numerous holes, ladders and worn parts. I fell in love with the complex stripe, which contains many different shades of brown, coffee and orange, the scarlet doura and the lime green hakkake, and I am slowly and painstakingly restoring it, using appliqué strips cut from the han-eri.
Cream Showa with red and black lattice. This was an impulse purchase costing a dollar, because I noticed no-one else was bidding on it. A lovely, simple, everyday kimono, whose red sections are almost op-art in real life. The photograph appears to show squares, but in reality, the diamond shapes are more prominent.
Black hitoe with shaded green yabane. This is my first meisen hitoe – an unlined kimono for spring and summer outside of the usumono months. It’s a Taisho Roman item (hence the huge pattern) and the shading on the yabane (arrow-feathers) is very rare. This kimono is simply lovely to wear – light as a feather itself at only 300-odd grams and with a wonderful crispness, but it’s also surprisingly warm, as the silk is very tightly woven.
Flesh-pink with black cross hatching. A truly lustrous kimono with the most gorgeous richness to the silk. Probably Showa era rather than Taisho, as it’s a tad more subdued. A lovely kimono.
Soft brown meisen with holly leaves. A kimono with a complex weave similar to the orchid meisen, and in real life, it’s rather browner than this picture – not so coffee-coloured. Taisho era, but the design of holly leaves and berries is highly unusual and may be influenced by the west. In keeping with the winter theme of the holly, it’s heavy for a meisen, at 780g.
Black Taisho Roman with gigantic fuchsia crosses. A wonderful thick, cosy, satin-like weave containing thousands of tiny red lines. Again, it’s a Taisho item, hence the large pattern. A wonderful, lustrous kimono.
Tsumugi is a hand-woven silk traditionally woven for at-home wear by silk farmers, using up spent or spoiled cocoons. It has a natural slub, similar to shantung, and is always considered informal, but is nevertheless beautiful and expensive. Modern tsumugi kimono woven on a traditional hand loom can cost over a thousand dollars.
Peach with orange flower trails. This is a fairly modern kimono and much as I have a downer on modern ones, I also have to admit that it’s my best tsumugi, with huge slubs in the weave and wonderful multicolours of pink, black, brown, orange and peach. It softened up nicely with wear and is one of my cosiest, cuddliest-feeling kimonos.
Green and yellow tatewaku. From the feel of this kimono it may be early Showa, but it’s in Taisho Roman style and in strong colours, so who really knows? This is a super little kimono, with a lovely horizontal weave in the silk, and a quiet asanoha pattern in the green bits of the tatewaku (rising steam) motif. The doura is cotton, which is a sign that it’s been lovingly worn.
Taisho blue and beige stripe with gold thread. A new purchase, in very lightweight tsumugi with a lovely complex stripe made up of other stripes, and a tiny gold thread in between. Gorgeous.
Showa russet with black abstract pattern. I self-designated this kimono as tsumugi, as it was just described as a komon by the vendor. A really lovely kimono with an oh-so-subtle black pattern in it that is almost like tweed. I really love wearing this kimono, with its cafe-au-lait hakkake.
Omeshi was formally the highest-level of predyed kimono silk and in fact its name is an honorific term. It’s technically a silk crepe, with a tightly woven twist and is heavy in feel – quite close to a furnishing-weight silk. The heyday of omeshi kimono was the 1950s and 1960s, when they were used as ‘townwear’ – a quite dressy level of everyday wear.
1960s with urushi roses. My first omeshi haori, with a gorgeous lustre to the silk, brocaded pink roses and – not visible in this photo – pale bronze-coloured swipes, like abstract leaves, in glittering metallic threads.
1950s with urushi leaves. Bought soon after the yellow one, this highly textured omeshi has metallic brocaded leaves in burgundy, blue, green and pink – a lovely colourway.
1940s with genroku sleeves. Not the kimono in the photo, in fact, but a near-identical one that I was sent in error. Mine is red and white striped, with the stripes so fine that they look pink at a distance. The red stripes are raised, and the kimono is the most lustrous I possess.
Black 1960s with urushi clouds. All-over urushi kimono are rare beasts and I’ve bought the only two I’ve ever seen. This one has a rust-red doura and hakkake that give a pleasing pop of colour, and the abstract clouds are in gold, old gold, silver, copper and pink.
Purple 1960s with abstract urushi. The urushi on this komon is more abstract and the omeshi is a tad softer. The urushi is more copper-coloured than in the black one, with occasional orange and bright silver sections. The colourway reminds me of a 1930s dress I once owned, in burgundy lamé.
Black red and white 1960s with zig-zag pattern. This is a relatively new purchase to wear every day, which attracted me by reason of its massive zigzag pattern. A good everyday komon with a bright colourway that should brighten a winter’s day.
Sha is one of the Japanese silk gauzes – the other being ro, part of the ‘usumono’ group of fabrics – translucent fabrics for summer wear. Sha was originally a highly proscribed fabric – it could ONLY be worn by those travelling to the Emperor’s palace in the month of August. Now, it’s considered suitable for in July and August, though here in France I’ve been wearing it throughout June and now, in August, it’s too cold. In feel, sha is like a stiff organza and stands away from the body – this sturdiness makes it a useful fabric for supporting woven techniques such as urushi, which would distort ro.
Red sha with big grey flower rondels. This is my only woven sha kimono (my other sha is a print – see Gallery Part Two – komons) and is made from incredibly stiff fabric with quite a scratchy feel. It really does require underkimono, as you’re meant to wear with usomono silks, because otherwise the neck would be uncomfortable, but it’s wonderfully cool to wear in hot weather. This deep red colour is a traditional summer colour in Japan – beni-hitoe – and I think this kimono is probably Showa era.