Unstitiched kimono by Patricia Belyea

getting unstitched

By Patricia Belyea

SEATTLE WA  It takes about four hours to pick out all the hand stitching in a kimono. Reclaimed fabric, silk threads, hidden knots—they all intrigue me. The meditative exercise takes me on a journey through textural time and space.

Specially woven, kimono fabric measures 13" to 16" wide. Two long rectangular pieces form the body of the kimono—with no shoulder seams and a join down the back. Shorter panels make up the wing-like sleeves. Partial-width strips of the kimono fabric create the shawl collar.

Using my Clover ripper, my joy is to deconstruct the garment stitch by stitch. Usually there is backstitching at the beginning of seams. Sometimes I bump into tacking stitches, hidden fold stitches, or gnarly knots. The heaviness of the thread changes to match the stress on the stitches when worn. So I pull out different kinds and colors of threads.

The main panels and sleeves yield about 9 yards of full-width fabric with the selvedges intact! (If the kimono needs to be narrower, the seams are wider.) Plus there are the long skinny strips from the collar.

The experience of taking something apart instead of sewing it together is tangibly different. There is no stress in worrying about the outcome. I can become wholly present in the simple act of cutting and pulling out decades-old stitches.

The t-like character with the three crossbars (below) translates to wool. So this kimono is made from 100% summer wool printed with a classic peony pattern on rich indigo blue.

This snippet of silk was found inserted into the back of the collar to give it shape. The lines on the burgundy shine with metallic gold!

After a cold-water wash, this fabric is ready to be up-cycled into clothing or home decor. Just as important as the yardage is a calm feeling from handling such alluring fabric and all the threads that once held the kimono together.

What do I do with this fabulous reclaimed fabric? I often take apart yukata, the Japanese unlined summer kimono made with hand-dyed cotton. There’s just enough yardage to construct the back of a mid-sized quilt. The vintage yukata used for the backing of Sakura Spring (from my book East-Meets-West Quilts) was bought in a used kimono shop in Kyoto.

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  • Patricia Belyea
    Linzee—It would be great to see you in the Okan Arts Shop for a day. You would go crazy for all the vintage fabric here. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Nancy—How fun! I have not found a little scrap in every collar but in many. PB

  • Linzee
    What a fabulous day—so wish I was closer and could join you!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Sue—There is no reason to take apart a kimono unless you want to. I agree that they are perfect just the way they are. So don’t feel pressured to move forward unless you feel compelled to experience your kimono in a different way—in some ways understanding its inner workings. PB

    I agree Patricia, picking apart a kimono is a great joy and stress reliever of mine! My brother has joined me in the past and I recently gifted him an indigo quilt made with many patches of fabric he helped to unpick. My favorite part is finding a unique piece of cloth long unseen in the collar. I like to refer to it as “Cracker Jack” as it’s such a surprise to find it!

  • Sue Kersey
    It sounds like a lovely idea but I don’t know if I can do it. I love all my kimonos so much and find such joy that someone made it so lovely and perfect. But I will try with the hope of finding fabric that will be reused in another quilt. Getting unstitched is really a great way to say it!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Agnes—Wouldn’t that be great! PB

  • Agnes
    Dear Patricia. Just this past week , wanting to make myself a vest, I contemplated undoing a haori jacket , I have tucked away. If I can arrange to be in Seattle over that weekend, will let you know soon !

  • Patricia Belyea
    Cheri—Happy birthday! PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Becky—I have also included lots of clothes in my quilt projects which I deconstructed with a rotary cutter—removing all the seams and plackets quickly. When you do find a kimono at a garage sale or flea market, enjoy the slower process of taking it apart. The full-width fabric is just one of the rewards. PB

  • Cheri Searles
    Patricia, thank you so very much for my beautiful birthday fat quarter! It is gorgeous…hung it on my design wall and adding fabrics to it as we speak!

  • Becky DuBose
    I deconstruct garments quite often and they find their way into my quilts. I am now gathering a collection of silks to be used in a quilt. Shopping therapy is a side benefit to the deconstruction….my local Good Will has bins of garments for $1.50 a pound…..I would love to find a Kimono there!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Donna, I am pleased that you are a collector and truly understand your concerns. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Pamela—I believe we will do this again next year. I hope you can make it. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Janet—Good for you. PB

  • Donna conklin
    I collect vintage kimono and I can think of nothing more painful than to unpick one. I started unpicking my favorite years ago to repair it and even that made me so sad I had to put it away

    It’s like destroying a work of art.

  • Janet Wright
    What a lovely idea. I have taken apart a kimono given to me by a Japanese friend and can testify to the calming effect it has on the person.

  • Pamela V
    This sounds like heaven. I’m very tempted to sign up. I hope you will offer this again in the future, too. Thank you.