Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Silk washing and anatomy of a michiyuki coat

This gorgeous silk fabric is an old michiyuki - a kimono outer coat - from my sale rail.  I'm surprised no one else grabbed it for the fantastic rinzu silk damask - deep, rich purple, and super soft - they don't make rinzu like that any more.  I suspect the fabric dates from c1930 but it is possible it wasn't made up into a garment until the late 1940s.  The fabric may even have been made as a kimono bolt, as there's a lot of it, even for a michiyuki, where the outer fabric folds up to make the lining almost as far as the sleeve/shoulder seams.  The sleeves don't seem long enough for a thirties garment, when everyday kimono usually had longer sleeves than now - the austerity fashion for shorter sleeves came in as a patriotic fabric-saving measure in the late 1930s. 


It was much to small to wear nowadays, so I decided it would be the perfect fabric for a 'kimono reform' (remade) dress.  I've already made a version of this one, and I think it would be great in all purple.  Plus there's enough fabric in a michiyuki to make one of these all in the same fabric, because the front overlap panels are made with a fold along a full-with length - the two overlap panels can be opened out and, with the sleeves added for the 'wrapped skirt' sections and the two longer pieces from the michiyuki back for the front & back panels, there's enough for the whole dress. It's like a tabard, so you can wear it over a T-shirt & leggings when the weather is colder.  I got my copy of the book from - link here - but it looks like it is no longer in print.

So I started on the unpicking, which turned out to take A LOT longer than expected.  All the main seams were machine sewn, with very small stitches, so it took ages - hours and hours.  It has never taken me this long to unpick kimono!  First steps - remove the press stud fasteners and the false 'buttons' - pic shows one of these half unpicked.

I salvaged the inner ties.  I may use the lining fabric to make a sleeveless top, if it washes OK, and I can reuse these.

The sleeve and wrist openings are 'topstitched', with tiny white stitches - often seen on good quality black tomesode kimono collar guards.  I say 'topstitched', because that's the effect, but the stitching is actually done from the wrong side.  Think of how tiny the hand quilting stitches look on the back of a quilt and you will see why.  There is a little cross stitch at the join of the sleeve to the body (first pic below) and also under the wrist opening, where the topstitching also holds the two sides of the sleeve fabric flat together.

Like all kimono and related garments, the best way to take them to pieces is in the reverse order from their making.  So the first step is usually to remove the collar. The next set of photos shows the collar edging.  This is very much like a wide binding edging the square collar.  Now I've seen how many layers are folded in and how carefully the mitres need to be sewn, making zigzags at the turns, this coul be a reason why V-necked versions of michiyuki are shown in 1930s Japanese home sewing books.  The collar edging was machine sewn first, then turned under numerous times and hand sewn in place.  Typical for michiyuki, thereis also a hanging loop in the back, although I doubt many people hung them up this way.

The features above are all different from what you'd find if you unpicked kimono.  Another different point is the lower edge.  Like a haori jacket, this is not actually the edge of the fabric, because the outer fabric is folded up inside the garment to become part of the lining.  Unlike a haori, the michiyuki's lower edge is one continuous run, so it can have extra fabric inside to help maintain the edge and give it some body. This michiyuki had a lovely piece of dark indigo silk tsumugi inside - looks like this was recycled from another garment, as it is pieced.

Having spent so long taking the michiyuki to pieces, I saw that there were quite a few nasty grubby places - just small spots, but here and there, like inside of the wrists.  Michiyuki were outer garments and one of their functions is to keep the kimono clean from dust and dirt.  I could imagine this one had been in contact with old train and tram seats years ago.  This was my chance to clean it.  I knew it would shrink and I knew the purple dye would run - this purple is notoriously unstable!  I decided to experiment with washing it in a very mild shampoo (Neutragena), in lukewarm water.  After several rinses, I gave it a final rinse and spin in the washing machine, with distilled vinegar in the rinse.  It was air dried and I ironed it the next day.  Although the fabric felt very crispy once dry, ironing brought back the softness and shine, and it was easy to press the shrinkage out.  The weave is slightly crepey, so it shrank.  I would NOT recommend washing a whole kimono, michiyuki or haori like this, as it would almost certainly shrink - the lining at a different rate to the outer fabric, and probably colours would run into each other as well.  I wouldn't recommend it for unlined kimono garments either, because it wouldn't be possible to iron out the shrinkage in places like the inside of the collar.

Now it's clean and awaiting making up.  The colour is still as strong. Unfortunately I ran out of time to sew it for yesterday, but will do sometime soon!

No comments: