Ikat Kimono

Ikat kimono

This project came about because of dire necessity. A few years ago I made myself a kimono style dressing gown out of cheap and cheerful cotton. In terms of number of wears it’s probably the most successful thing I’ve ever made, but it is showing its age! I’d been resisting replacing it for a long time because it was still basically functional, if tatty, but when it developed huge tears running across the front from under each arm I finally caved in. And after using it for seven years I had thought of a few improvements I could make too.

Here is the new one.Ikat kimono

I had a hard time finding fabric. I originally set my heart on an ikat fabric I saw on Pinterest, but there were no details about the source in the pin and I couldn’t find anything like it in my usual online fabric shops. Eventually I gave up on the idea of ikat and started considering prints. After hours of online searching I still couldn’t find anything I really liked that wasn’t outrageously expensive. I very nearly splurged on a beautiful but pricey palm leaf print, but luckily I sent off for samples first because when it arrived I found I didn’t like the feel of it. Finally I looked in John Lewis more in hope than in expectation, and there was the very fabric I’d seen on Pinterest in the first place. It turned out to be a John Louden fabric called Cross Hatch in black and white, although the black looks dark navy to my eye.

Once I had the fabric in my hands I found it was quite a tricky one to work with. The weave is very open so I had to line it. I don’t normally finish seams on lined garments but I had to do these otherwise they’d have frayed to nothing. It’s also narrow – 110cm – and a kimono takes up a lot of yardage even on normal width fabric. Finally you have to match that very geometric pattern, so it consumes even more fabric than you might expect. But it is pretty and I like the irregularities that come from the ikat weave.

Ikat kimono back top view with mirror

The ‘pattern’ is a very basic kimono pattern, ie all rectangles. I originally got it from a cosplay website that has sadly ceased to exist or I’d link to it. Anneliese’s Fibres and Stuff was the site name (be careful if you google it because the domain it was hosted on has recently been redirecting to a site serving malware). There are no paper pattern pieces involved. You work out the sizes of your rectangles based on your body measurements and chalk them straight onto the fabric. I’ve made a few of these over the years both for myself and other people, and always been happy with the results. I normally make them with what I understand are the traditional kimono sleeve style for younger women: very wide ‘swinging’ sleeves which are only attached half way down the armscye, so there’s a gap under the arm. It looks great but isn’t so good for toddler wrangling, or decency when answering the front door come to that, so this one has narrower sleeves with no gap.

This time around I added a few refinements. It has belt loops and a hanging loop. Those were made from some cream coloured twill tape I had lying around that was almost the same colour as the shell fabric. There are large patch pockets on the front, although they are invisible in these pictures. I interfaced the belt with Vilene F220 to give it some body. I wish I’d done the same with the collar. It works OK without interfacing in something crisp like cotton poplin, but this fabric needs a bit of extra help.

I bagged the lining and it’s not quite right; the lining is too short for the shell so there are sometimes wrinkles at the hem. I measured really carefully but I think the shell fabric grew. But it’s only a dressing gown so I’m not going to go back and fix that. I’m very pleased with the pattern matching though. There is a centre back seam but it’s almost invisible.

Ikat kimono back view

I was a bit frustrated with this when I finished it because of the hem issue, and also the fit isn’t quite right – I had to compromise slightly on the width of the panels in order to match the pattern and not require a truly outrageous amount of fabric. But it’s grown on me and I’m going to wear it anyway because it’s a vast improvement on the torn one. I hope this is going to last me the next seven years!

Ikat kimono lounging view

Kimono jacket construction: patch pockets

I actually remembered to take some construction photos of my last project, the teal kimono jacket. I made an effort to document how to line the patch pockets because I originally found the process confusing. Lining the pockets rather than simply pressing the edges under seems like a faff, but it is totally worth it when you put your hands into them because the lining feels so nice!

My pocket fabric piece is 7″ wide by 9″ long and my lining piece is 7″ wide by 6″ long. The interfacing is 7″ by 4″. Seam allowances are 5/8″ and the pockets end up square.

Pocket piece with interfacing

Pocket piece with interfacing ironed to wrong side

Pocket piece with lining attached

Pocket piece with lining attached

There’s a gap left in the stitching for turning the pocket later on. I always think I’ve made this too small, and yet manage to turn the pocket anyway.

Pocket and lining after pressing

Pocket and lining after pressing

Pocket and lining after pressing (wrong side)

Pocket and lining after pressing (wrong side)

Pocket folded in half and stitched around edges

Pocket folded in half and stitched around edges (lining side)

Pocket folded in half and stitched around edges

Pocket folded in half and stitched around edges (outside)

Pocket with edges trimmed (lining side)

Pocket with edges trimmed (lining side)

I could just use a smaller seam allowance rather than doing so much trimming!

Pocket with edges trimmed (outside)

Pocket with edges trimmed (outside)

Pocket after turning (lining side)

Pocket after turning (lining side)

Pocket after turning (outside)

Pocket after turning (outside)

Turned and pressed pocket (lining side)

Turned and pressed pocket (lining side)

Turned and pressed pocket (outside)

Turned and pressed pocket (outside)

And here are the pockets top-stitched on.


Teal kimono jacket

I’ve made this kimono jacket before. And practically lived in the original ever since; it can work both as a cardigan and a coat, has lots of pocket space, and is extremely warm.

This version was made for my sister. She wanted a teal colour, and I couldn’t get a boiled wool in that shade so it is made from a wool melton from Calico Laine. The surface is slightly smoother than boiled wool and you have to be a little more cautious when pressing it, but it works just as well for this style. And it was a dream to hem. I normally find hand hemming very tedious, but this fabric is so easy to hem neatly it was all over before I had time to get bored – and that hem is about 60 inches long.

Blue kimono front view

I bound all the inside edges in a bottle green satin bias binding. It looks lovely with the teal, but you’ll have to take my word for it because I forgot to take any pictures of the finished insides, although I did take some construction pictures that I’ll post soon. It could be worse though – this is actually the third version of this jacket I’ve made and I forgot to photograph the second one at all. That one was for my mother and was a lovely sable brown boiled wool with brown satin bias. I’ll have to borrow it to photograph at some point!

I experimented with rounding off the inner corners of the sleeves in this version to try to get a nicer finish. I’m not sure it makes any difference on the outside but it makes binding the seam edges easier because you can just bind around the curve rather than having an awkward corner to deal with.


Here’s a side view. The back collar is very high, which I like because it keeps the neck warm. But you could easily reduce it by folding the collar over. Apparently that is is how proper Japanese kimono collars are supposed to be worn.


Back view. There’s meant to be quite a bit of ease in the jacket which ends up falling naturally into pleats at the back when you belt it.


You can keep things in the sleeves of this sort of jacket but I also put patch pockets on the front. I lined them with some navy blue poly taffeta lining. They were meant to be placed on the left front so the jacket wraps left over right like my original version does…but I got it wrong! Left over right is the ‘wrong’ way for western womens’ clothes but correct for a kimono. I find I don’t notice mine is the ‘wrong way’ much when wearing mine, and the pockets mean I automatically wrap it the Japanese way without having to think about it.


If anyone’s curious about how to make this then there isn’t really a pattern as such – it’s a series of rectangular panels which you work out the sizes for and chalk direct onto your fabric. There’s some more detail on my previous post. However I’ve refined the process a little since I made the first one, and I intend to get around to writing it up properly one day. Not least because I suspect this won’t be last one of these I make!

Signs of spring? Kimono-style cardigan

Kimono jacket

The weather in the UK has been so miserably cold that I decided what I needed to make next was a really warm cardigan. For one reason or another it took me a while to sew, and of course the very day I finished it the weather warmed up. Guess I should have sewed faster.

I chose the kimono style after a bit of snoop shopping on the Internet. I wanted something with a bit of shape to it but not too girly. Waterfall cardis are great but I find they look best in lightweight fabrics and worn open, OK for spring but certainly not for winter! The kimono has a very generous wrapover and you can make the collar as wide as you like to keep your neck warm. Here’s a better view.

Kimono jacket

You don’t need a printed pattern to make a kimono and it makes very efficient use of fabric. I used a tutorial that used to be at fibers.destinyslobster.com/Japanese/Clothes/japmakekimono.htm for the basic construction steps but am no longer linking to it because the site seems to have been taken over by someone else and last time I looked was dangerous to visit. The original can be found on the WayBack Machine at https://web.archive.org/web/20100130095013/http://fibers.destinyslobster.com/Japanese/Clothes/japmakekimono.htm . I added patch pockets to the front because I had a little bit of leftover fabric and also I figured it would stop me stashing too much stuff in the sleeves. The patch pockets are on the left front because a kimono always wraps left over right whether worn by a man or a woman.

My fabric was 60″/150cm wide charcoal coloured boiled wool jersey from Truro Fabrics. This is how I laid out the pieces. Units are all inches because the sizes I needed divided into inches more nicely than centimetres. I could have made the collar piece quite a bit shorter. When I made the layout I hadn’t decided where I wanted the collar to finish so I erred on the generous side.

Seam allowances are 5/8″ except on the belt where I used 1/4″ to keep as much width as possible. The pockets are lined with a scrap of leftover cupro lining. The lining pieces are cut the same width as the pocket piece and about 1.5″ shorter because the fashion fabric piece folds over to make a facing. I fused a wide strip of interfacing to the top of the pocket pieces but there’s no pattern piece for that; I just eyeballed it. In the event that anyone wants to use the layout below as a basis for their own version, I’m about a size 10 in Big Four and 5’10” tall with an 18″ back waist.


The fabric I used doesn’t ravel at all but I bound all the exposed edges with satin bias because I like the finish and it’s quick and easy to do with a binding foot. I finished most of the hems with the blind hem foot on my machine. The fabric is so thick that stitches just sink into it and vanish so it’s ideal for a machined blind hem. Here’s the inside of the front showing the binding and the collar attached with ditch stitching from the outside.


The sleeves are the least practical feature of this pattern. I can just about fit these under my coat but it’s a squeeze. I sewed up the wrist edges most of the way so I can use the sleeves as pockets, but left the back edge open as is traditional. I was a bit worried I might not be able to move my arms if I sewed the underarms right up. Kimono sleeves make great pockets; I’m always amazed by how much stuff I can get into the sleeves of my kimono dressing gown. I used to worry that things might fall out through the open back but they don’t seem to.

Kimono jacket

And here’s a back view. Not a lot going on here. You can see that I topstitched hems on the sleeve backs rather than breaking out the blind hem foot. The hems are a lot narrower here so this was the easier option.

Kimono jacket

I’m pleased with the way this has come out. It’s a really simple garment to make too. By way of contrast, while I was googling I came across this free download for an Alexander McQueen kimono jacket pattern. It’s beautiful but amazingly complicated! I intend to give it a try at some point so I’ll post a comparison when I do.

The red kimono

I made some kimonos for Christmas presents last year. One was made from a dark red cotton poplin from John Lewis that I was rather sorry to part with. Despite the fact that most reds clash with my (entirely artifical) hair colour I am still drawn to anything in that shade. So when I noticed the same fabric was back in stock last week but running out fast I grabbed the last five metres to recreate the red kimono. I needed a really simple project after the seriously fiddly Burda 111-02-2012.

And here it is. Excuse the indoor pictures; it was snowing heavily when we took them so no way were we venturing out of doors! The first one’s a little orangey. The colours are much truer on the back view.

Red kimono front view

Red kimono back view

This particular kimono is a very quick project when made in a solid coloured cotton. (If you pick a print and have to match the pattern, not so much!) It’s the fifth one I’ve made so I have it down to a fairly fine art now, but it’s easily doable in a weekend from cutting out to photos. And most of it’s sewing in straight lines which was about all I was up to after an unusually exhausting work week. It comes from this tutorial. The tutorial leaves finishing seam allowances to the end, but I find the end result is improved by finishing all the edges before sewing any pieces together. I made a narrow hem on these but I’ve used binding in the past.

Kimono sleeve hems

At some point I want to make a much more authentic version with lining and things (check out Chanel No 6’s detailed series on the subject for inspiration) but this week I just needed some instant sewing gratification. And I like the Cardinal Richelieu effect of all the red draping.

Dragon kimono pictures

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I’d been making a kimono for my mother. It is now with her, so I can post some pictures of the finished object!

Dragon kimono close up

Dragon kimono front full length

Unfortunately you can’t really see the sleeves when it’s hanging on the dressform, so here’s a better shot. The cuffs were an improvisation because I got the length of the sleeves wrong when I was working out the layout, but I think they work well.

Dragon kimono sleeve

It’s not lined. The brocade is a lovely gold colour inside.

Dragon kimono showing inside

And here’s a completely gratuitous shot of the seam and hem finish. I’m normally the queen of not caring what the inside of a garment looks like (after all, who’s going to see?), but this fabric frayed so much it absolutely required binding the edges. And I will admit it looks nice, but I doubt I’ll be doing this on any well-behaved fabric.

Hong kong seam finish and hem with binding

The job isn’t finished until you’ve tidied up

I’ve finished my mother’s kimono. Except I haven’t, because the sewing room looks like a bomb has hit it. Every surface is covered with fluffy polyester threads, including me. I think I’m going to have to vacuum everything, and I doubt the ironing board cover is ever going to be the same again. I never liked that ironing board cover anyway.

I had just enough fabric. I had worked out yardage for 45″ and 60″ width fabric before going shopping. When we found the perfect fabric in a 36″ width I had to do some hasty mental arithmetic. It worked out in the end. We will draw a veil over the fact that I got the sleeve lengths totally wrong and had to add deep cuffs. I think they look really good so clearly it was inspiration rather than incompetence!

The picture’s an in-progress shot, just after I’d finished the collar but before sewing up the sleeves. I’ll share photos of the final result after I’ve given it to my mother. And now to attempt to clean things up. I love the fabric but I’m going to be finding threads from it for months, I know it. Do you guys have to tidy up straight after finishing a project, or is it just me?

Binding feet

This little thing is magical. It’s a binding foot. I’ve had it for a couple of years but never got round to using it until this week, when I realised I was going to have to bind fifteen metres of raw edges on my mother’s kimono. I’d normally use a narrow hem for this, but that clearly wasn’t going to work with the poly brocade fabric we chose. It ravels as soon as you look at it. The edges show so binding it had to be. I armed myself with a large roll of satin bias binding and the binder foot instructions.

I am a girl racer on the sewing machine. I like to sew as fast as possible. This is probably the reason why I’ve never had great success with my rolled hem foot, which requires slow and careful feeding. Not so with the binder foot. It takes care of feeding the bias binding correctly all on its own. I just sat there keeping the cut fabric edge aligned with the foot and the pedal right down. Here it is in action.

The end result is pretty good. Right side.

Wrong side. I think if I was doing this again I’d probably reverse the fabric and feed it wrong side up to get the slightly narrower edge on the right side, but I’m still really pleased with the results.

Of course it wasn’t perfect from the start. I found the hardest thing was figuring out how to start and stop neatly – something the instructions that came with the foot didn’t mention at all. I had most success when I started by sewing just the binding with no fashion fabric. After a few stitches I stopped and inserted the fashion fabric into the foot, pushing it all the way to the point where the feed dogs would catch it. A tapestry needle was a great help for that.

At the end of an edge I found the best thing is to keep sewing right off the edge of the fabric. The foot is then sewing the binding together with no fabric between. Then cut the binding off behind the foot, insert the next edge at the front, and start sewing again.

The bound edge has a tendency to pucker slightly. A good press afterwards seems to help with that. Now onto the assembly of the kimono.

Upside down dragons – patterned fabric and symmetry

Thank-you all so much for the nice comments on my last post about Vogue 1220. I can report it stands up to wearing at work pretty well.

What I’m doing at the moment is making a kimono for my mother. I’ve made kimonos before. The one the one I posted about last year was made from a patterned fabric but I made no effort to match the pattern or worry about which way up it went, and the other couple I’ve done were solid colours. My mother has picked some lovely dark blue and gold Chinese-style brocade with dragons on it and I decided to put some effort into laying it out to best effect.

Here’s the fabric design. I’ve darkened the picture so that the design shows more clearly, but the base colour is really a midnight blue rather than black. The medallion-like motifs are about three inches across and turn out to be curled-up dragons when you look closely, so the whole design is made of dragons and little clouds.

Warning: geekery ahead. At first sight the design looks as if it has a fairly small pattern repeat, something like the cell I’ve drawn below. I assumed the design was ‘one-way’ and had a good look at the curled-up dragons to see which way up they should be placed.

But when I looked more closely I saw that half the curled-up dragons are upside down. The pattern repeat is twice as large as I thought. Whichever way up the fabric is used, half of all the dragons will be upside-down. I’ve drawn the real pattern repeat below. It’s actually rectangular but I must have taken the original picture on the skew.

At this point I thought that the design had two-fold rotational symmetry – in other words you could turn it upside-down and it wouldn’t make a difference – and I started trying to figure out its wallpaper group. It’s possible to classify 2D repeating patterns, such as those on wallpaper and fabric, into exactly seventeen distinct types. I thought I had one of the five types with two-fold rotations. Once you know what rotations there are you start looking for reflections to narrow it down to the exact type. There clearly aren’t any ordinary reflections in the pattern, so I started looking for glide reflections. Then I spotted the clouds. Have a look at the two I’ve circled below, which are next to what appear to be otherwise identical (apart from rotation) dragon motifs. The two clouds are different! The smaller cloud only appears in one orientation within the design, so it is a one-way pattern after all. It’s the simplest of the wallpaper groups, called p1. Once I started looking for it I found a few of the other cloud-like motifs were strictly one-way as well.

It still doesn’t really matter which way up this particular design is placed as long as it is consistent. I put the centre back on one of the vertical lines of medallions, and then tried to lay the rest out so that the pattern matches at the side and sleeve seams as well as possible. I don’t think I’ve done a completely perfect job on the matching, but the fronts and back will demonstrably be the same way up even if you have to squint at the small clouds to tell. I would never have noticed something like that before I started sewing. I’d like to find some wearable fabrics with more elbaorate wallpaper groups.

Zen and the art of sewing

Print kimono

My kimono is finished. And here I am trying to radiate zen-like calm in front of the Japanese maple in the garden.

I have to say it has probably come out a touch too large, but on the other hand this means it’s an effective coverup. Which I was quite glad of on Saturday morning when one of the neighbours came round before I’d got dressed.

The thing about kimonos is that you don’t use a pattern, you just cut a bunch of rectangles. So for anyone else trying to make one and get the sizing right, I’m a 10 or 12 in Big Four patterns and I used the layout in my previous post. I made the smallest French seams I could, so the seam allowance is probably half an inch at most.

The sleeves are huge. I suspect I am going to knock cups of coffee over with them. I also had to make a very deep hem on them or they’d have covered my hands.

And here’s the back view.

I think this is a success.

If I was doing it again I’d do a few things differently. In particular I’d finish the edges before sewing the pieces together. Traditional kimonos are made out of very narrow widths of fabric, so there is no need to finish seams as all your edges are selevedge. You fit them by varying the seam allowance. I’d also make it a bit longer so I could make a deeper hem on the body. And I think I’d go for a solid colour or a larger print. Not that I shall need to make another one of these for a while!