summer fun: koinobori

summer fun: koinobori

By Patricia Belyea

WAUCONDA WA Koinobori decorate the landscape of Japan from April to early May, culminating in the celebration of Children’s Day on May 5. Typically hung off a pole, a set of carp streamers represents a whole family. On top is a big black fish for the father; then a rmedium-sized red or pink fish for the mother; and smaller fish below for the children.

I love the way koinobori playfully dance in the wind like koi swimming in a stream. This summer I decided to make koinobori with traditional Japanese yukata cottons and contrasting solid cottons as a birthday gift for my twin, Pamela.

My first attempt failed. The prototype didn't look like a fish and it had many production flaws. On top of that, the wind sock couldn’t fill with air as the mouth was smaller than the width of the body.

Learning from my mistakes, I refined my design and made five successful koinobori. To follow are step-by-step instructions in case you want to make one or a whole school of koinobori!


2 yards of Japanese yukata cotton (see Shopping Resource at bottom)

50wt cotton thread for sewing the fish, plus matching thread for the eye oval background and eye swirl detail

Scraps of contrasting solids for the eye oval backgrounds, eye swirl details, and fins

12" x 16" piece of solid cotton for the flanges

10" x 20" piece of solid cotton for the tail facing

24" of spring wire, wire cutters

1 barrel swivel, monofilament


Trim a yard of 18" wide freezer to 14" wide.

Draw a pattern similar to the one shown below: 10.5" wide and 32" long.

With paper scissors, cut out the pattern on the outside lines.

Note: the mouth needs to be as wide as the main body. (The longish head will be shortened with a 1" hem.)

With tracings from your big pattern, cut three separate pattern pieces out of freezer paper with paper scissors—eye background oval (5" high), eye swirl detail (smaller than oval), and fin (5" from corner to corner).


Cut your main paper pattern apart on the curved line behind the head.

With the two yards of yukata cotton on top of one another, press the pattern onto the top piece—leaving a 1/2" gap between the head and the main body pattern pieces.

Handling the pattern/double fabric sandwich gently, cut tight to the paper pattern with fabric scissors—all around the fish shape. Then cut down the middle of the 1/2" gap.

Press the patterns for the eye oval background and the eye swirl detail to the top of two stacked pieces of solid cotton. With fabric scissors, cut the pattern/double fabric sandwiches tight to the paper patterns.

Press the pattern for the fin to the top of four stacked pieces of solid cotton. With fabric scissors, cut the pattern/quadruple fabric sandwich with a 1/4" allowance around the paper pattern. You can eyeball this measurement.

With a rotary cutter, cut out two flange strips, 1 1/4" wide x 16" long, on the bias. Press in half, lengthwise.

With paper scissors, cut off the tail facing pattern piece from the main pattern. Press the pattern for the tail facing to the top of two stacked pieces of solid cotton. With fabric scissors, cut the pattern/double fabric sandwich tight to the paper pattern.


Pin the eye swirl details to the eye oval backgrounds. With matching thread, sew close to the edges of the swirls to secure, then satin stitch around the swirls.

Pinned in position, with matching thread, sew close to the edges of the eye oval backgrounds. Then, have fun sewing back and forth across the ovals to secure. Finish with a satin stitch around the ovals.


Sew the two fins together with 1/4" seam allowances. Trim the corners and turn right-side out. A chop stick is handy for pushing out the corners. Press flat.

Sew the fins into position on the front side of both body pieces with 1/8" seam allowances.

Add the flanges by sewing onto the front edges of both body pieces with 1/8" seam allowances. Trim the ends of the flanges.

With right sides together, sew the head pieces to the body pieces with 1/4" seam allowances.

Press the seams so the flanges lie flat to the fish body on both sides.


Sew both tail facings to front sides of the body pieces with 1/4" seams. Cut a nip to the stitching at the central V of both tail pieces. Turn the facings to the inside and press to create flat edges.


Open up the tail facings. With right sides together, pin the top edge of the fish together, including the tail facing. Stitch with a 1/4" seam allowance along the top, making a pivot at the seam where the body joins the tail facing.

Press the top seam open, to the best of your ability. A sleeve ironing board is helpful.

With right sides together, pin the bottom edge of the fish together, including the tail facing. Stitch with a 1/4" seam allowance along the bottom, making a pivot at the seam where the body joins the tail facing.

Press the bottom seams open to the best of your ability. Where needed, finger press.


After pulling the tail facing to the inside, double roll the straight edge (each roll is 1/2" wide) to the inside and press. Lay the facing flat to the fish body and stitch around the facing twice. You’ll need to remove your sewing machine bed and sew with just the arm of your machine.

If the facing is not fitting well, open up one seam a little and continue. This will be our little secret.


Find the center point of the head by folding in half and making a small crease at the mouth edge.

Make a 1" cut along the crease through both front and back of the fish head. Fold the edges of both cuts to the inside, at an angle.

Double roll the straight edge to the inside (each roll is 1/2" wide) and press. Secure the mouth hem with two lines of stitching.


Following the dispensing instructions for the spring wire, cut a 24" piece of wire with wire cutters.

Thread the spring wire through one of the V holes and push it around the mouth hem. Tuck the extra wire ends into either side of the V hole, once the wire completes a full circle. No securing of the wire is necessary.

Spring wire is like a little miracle. It always springs into a circle shape. Although you could use a hanger or other wire for this project, once your circle of wire gets crushed, it’s impossible to make a circle shape again.

Tie a barrel swivel to the center of a 24" piece of lightweight monofilament. Tie both ends of the monofilament to the spring wire where it’s exposed at the V holes in the mouth hem. Trim the end knots.

Head outside and hang your koinobori in a windy place.


Freezer paper can typically be found in your grocery store by the waxed paper and plastic wrap. Make your pattern design on the matte side of your freezer paper. Press the shiny side of the freezer paper to your fabric with a DRY iron.

Spring wire can be found at a music store.

Barrel swivels and monofilament can be found in a family member’s fishing tackle box or at a sports store.

Everything mentioned above can be purchased online.


Yukata cotton is hand-dyed, so both sides look the same. Mark, with a set of crossed pins, the outsides of the fish (head and body for both sides) so you don't make one side backwards!

When trimming tight to the pattern pieces, don't cut into the paper pattern. Try to cut exactly beside the pattern piece.

If you’re having trouble cutting through the pattern/fabric sandwiches, it means that your fabric scissors are dull. A great investment is a pair of Japanese KAI pro shears. They cut through fabric like butter.

Relax when you make this project. If nothing is perfect, your carp banner will still bring happiness as it dances in the wind!

Shopping Resource

To purchase Japanese yukata cotton from Okan Arts +click here

If you have any improvements or suggestions for the pattern or instructions, please leave a comment below.

If you make a koinobori, I’d love to see a pic! Email me at

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  • Patricia Belyea
    Jennifer—Absolutely. Knowing you, you’ll dye your own fabrics. Please send pics! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Hi Maria—Great to hear from you. Enjoy making your own koinobori but remember even it will not last forever! PB

  • Jennifer Cooper
    Thanks for sharing this pattern and how to. I just may have to make a few to swim here.

  • Marcia Rymarchyk
    Hi Patricia! I’m Marcia (the one who loves all things Japanese & has been lucky enough to visit Japan several times ). I met you at our class in Pittsburgh last fall.

    I had brought back a “fish” the last time we were there and hung it on our 2nd floor deck. It made me so happy. Not surprisingly, and because it was nylon, it is now in tatters. Your pattern couldn’t have come at a better time. I plan on using the pieces I got from you. Thank you!!!
    Be well,
    I put my Hinamatsuri dolls out in the Spring. Love them !

  • Patricia Belyea
    Melinda—The koinobori are easy to make. You can even leave off the fins! Have fun. PB

  • Melinda Cox
    I love these! I built a koi pond and I plan to hang a few of these around the pond.

    I will send a pic when I have a few swimming in the wind.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Mona—Enjoy! My twin sister loves her school. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Hi Rosalyn—I used a music spring tempered wire with a diameter of .039" and 1/4 weight. A lighter weight would be fine as well. PB

  • Mona Roberts
    Thank you for such a beautifully presented tutorial! Such fun. Can’t wait to stitch up our family of fish.

  • Rosalyn Schultze
    I would love to make a koinobori. They are so joyful! Would you please tell me the size/dimension of the spring wire you used. There are several dimensions available and I want to choose the correct one.

    Thank you,.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Debi—Please send photos to my email. I look forward to seeing your koinobori! PB

  • Debi
    Loved making my koinobori! I think the pattern needs directions for the bias tape (unless I overlooked it). I would add a picture if I knew how… Thank you for sharing your pattern and directions.


  • Patricia Belyea
    Susan—What a great idea—it would be a fun class! I hope you enjoy making your own koinobori. PB

    Patricia, I love this project! Of course, yours look wonderful, but I am going to try it. This would be a fun class!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Laurie—So delightful to see the koi flying in the wind. Especially nice, I’m sure, in Hawaii! PB

  • Laurie Badenoch
    Great project ! Living in Hawaii, we see the koi go flying every Boys’ Day, and folks have sewn them for decor using tropical prints. And yes, there is a Girls’ Day in April, and an attempt has been made to combine both days as Childrens’ Day. Old tradition seems to be entrenched, however, and the koi fly every year..

  • Patricia Belyea
    Beverly—How wonderful that your young neighbor gets creative time with you! There are many ways to approach making a koinobori. My pattern works just fine but you might figure out something easier—like no tail details. PB

  • Beverly Longford
    Thank you so much for sharing. I sometimes do some sewing adventures with our 8 year old neighbor but because of Covid-19 that has not happened for 4 months now. Something to plan for as we are beginning to open up. Hair cut first though, my appointment is July 28th also because of age we will continue to mostly isolate, only bubbling with our family at the moment.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Marie—I usually don’t make patterns as I want others to find their own way to new designs. So kits is way beyond my interest! If you have a musician friend and a fishing friend, you are golden. As for fabric, you can use anything! PB

  • Marie Z Johansen
    Oh! These are so darn cool! You should sell kits …or the supplies (barrel swivels and wire etc). I’d snap ‘em up!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Penelope—What a wonderful story. And impressive that you made a 10-foot koinobori! I’d love you to use my pattern. But wait! I remember that you like to make up your instructions. So just take my idea and fly with it! PB

  • Penelope Torkington
    My mom bought me my first fish when I was 11 years old when we lived in Hawaii. Now at almost 77, I still have this huge paper “Boys Day” flag. It was hand painted with real gold leaf, it is so fragile and old that I had to take it down and store it away. I replaced it with a fabric one that I made to hang in our Mall this year, but it is not as successful as the the original. Thanks so much for your instructions and pattern, I see I made the same mistake, the mouth was not large enough. I will try to send a picture of it one of these days. The new fabric one hangs in our Mall and is about 10 feet long. I am eager to try making your pattern; they are just wonderful. I have always loved the image and idea of hanging the fish during this time of year. Our Sundries Court Mall Koi flies all year long and has tulips coming out of her mouth. She delights tourist and children all the time.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Penny—Children’s Day in Japan used to be Boy’s Day. Hmmm. Things change! PB

  • Penny Miller
    thank you so much for sharing.

    My 2nd granddaughter (the one that will change the world) when she was 5 asked. Grandma theres a fathers day and a mothers day why isn’t there a kids day. The Mothers revolted that everyday was kids day. Grandma declared a kids day in Aug of every year! We have water fights and ice cream cake. These will be a perfect addition along with the history behind them!!!