yukata cotton devotees :: Okan Arts
yukata cotton devotees

yukata cotton devotees

By Patricia Belyea

WAUCONDA WA  At Okan Arts, our big thing is vintage Japanese yukata cottons. We’re crazy about them!

The luscious hand-dyed cottons inspire us to make out-of-the-ordinary quilts. And we’re thrilled to share our finds with other adventuresome quilters.

Okan Arts sources the cottons from over 30 vendors in Japan—antique shops, vintage warehouses, used kimono shops, and pickers. We select the yukata cottons based on three criteria—the design, the price, and the condition of the 20- to 60-year old fabrics.

This month a 50-pound box of yukata cottons was delivered by Japan Post and USPS to Okan Arts. Inside were 27 bolts, most in individual packages, that had been shipped from across Japan to a warehouse in Tokyo. The packages were consolidated into a big box and then air shipped to Seattle.

Opening a box of yukata cottons is like Christmas morning! Not only is there the delight of seeing all the wonderful colors and patterns, there’s the huge mess of packaging.

Each rolled bolt is protected with a plastic sleeve. Turquoise threads need to be clipped to remove the sleeve, as well as more threads securing paper labels to the yukata cottons.

Some of the newer yukata cottons came with little tags that Japanese sewists can add to their finished yukatas (an unlined casual kimono). The satin tag below shows that fashion icon Junko Koshino designed this dramatic yukata cotton.

Three older bolts—indigo yukata cottons for men—arrived in very special packaging. Printed wraps with cotton strings protect the fabrics in the handmade paper boxes. These fabrics will be sold as full bolts with their glorious packaging.

The majority of the patterns in this shipment were flora or butterfly patterns. The small amount of pattern that you can see along the side of the rolled bolts does not tell the whole story. Roll out this navy blue yukata cotton and see where one red morning glory contrasts with the other ivory blossoms!

Two bolts in the box were audacious abstracts. Abstract patterns are not common; even rarer is an orange yukata cotton.

Traditional geometric patterns are typically dyed in an indigo and white. In this shipment, there was also an indigo bolt with a bamboo pattern and one with an overall flora pattern.
Indigo and white yukata cottons at Okan Arts

To prep the bolts at Okan Arts, we unroll all of the yukata cottons from their narrow cardboard cores. Each bolt measures 11 to 12 yards long. We check for damage—age blemishes, sun fading, or water deterioration—and discard the spoilage. Then we note the number of remaining yards, re-roll the fabrics, and post the yukata cottons in our online store.

We believe Okan Arts boasts the largest collection of yukata cotton in the world, outside of Japan. Right now, we count just over 750 yukata cottons between our online shop, our trunk show inventory, and our studio stash.

Last year we celebrated our tenth anniversary of importing and selling yukata cottons. We truly appreciate YOU—with your shared love of Japanese yukata cottons and your fearless style. Thanks for supporting Okan Arts!

To read about a chusen-dyeing workshop in Tokyo where yukata cottons are hand-dyed +click here

To listen to a 25-minute podcast abut yukata cottons with Patricia Belyea of Okan Arts and Lizzy Logan of Collecting Culture +click here

To shop for yukata cottons at Okan Arts +click here

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30 comments to “yukata cotton devotees”

  1. Carolyn Burton says:

    ..I got cut off by a pop-up. Please save me three yards of the orange abstract swirly one. Thank you! Carolyn Burton.

  2. Donna says:

    Can’t wait for your posting! Have my faves picked out!

  3. Judy Lawrance says:

    Thank you for sharing a “look” at these gorgeous fabrics!!! A special cheering treat on this worrisome day!

    Judy Lawrance in Tallahassee, Florida

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Judy—Folks have asked me about what a shipment of yukata cottons looks like. It is one BIG box approximately every month. PB

  4. Marsha Burdick says:

    Very beautiful.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Marsha—I agree. Because the yukata cottons are hand-dyed, the colors are richer. That adds to their beauty. PB

  5. David Owen Hastings says:

    What fun to open those packages and discover the treasures inside! Please save any cool paper labels for me, I am definitely going to make some paper artwork from the ones you’ve given me so far. : )

  6. Vicki Anderson says:

    Oh, that abstract white/grey with the blue lines and turquoise and purple squares. I covet that!

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Vicki—It is a fun, naive abstract. There is quite a bit of damage to that fabric so I don’t know yet how much yardage that bolt will yield. PB

  7. Katrine A. Eagling says:

    They are very pretty, but that is way to much plastic!

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Kae—I agree. The plastic sleeves are about 14″ long, not the whole length of the bolt! Today very few bolts of yukata cotton are produced with chusen dyeing as it is almost a lost art. So the problem is the packaging of the vintage bolts. PB

  8. Dawn Nock says:

    Thank you so much for showing us the unpackaging process. Not only are the fabrics beautiful but the thought, care, and consideration of the packaging is in itself amazing.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Dawn—Yes, there is a lot of thought, care and consideration involved with each bolt. That might be why each of these old bolts of yukata cotton is in such good shape! PB

  9. Jackie says:

    How yummy! I truly regret that I was not a quilter when we lived in Japan from 1988-90. I will set my clock to visit the online shop on the 21st.

  10. Rebecca Grant says:

    I loved seeing this! Thank you so much and please do it again!

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Rebecca—You’re welcome. I doubt we will write a blog post like this again as we just wanted to show you what’s involved in our micro-importing operation—one big box a month and lots of handling of the materials. PB

  11. Marian B says:

    Thanks for sharing these exciting new patterns. I’ve become a devotee.
    Hope all is going well for you and the big move later this spring. Look out Wauconda!

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Marian—Thanks! It’s rather addictive to use yukata cottons in your projects as they are so special. PB

  12. Grace Lombardo says:

    Your delivery yielded so many treasures! I’m in love with the indigo and blue stripe!

  13. Giuliana Nakashima says:

    Thank you for the sweet post. I was just thinking of my grandmother and how I loved Sewing with her

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Giuliana—You’re welcome. I was just thinking about my mom and how much I have enjoyed stitching with her! PB

  14. Helen Hall says:

    Thank you for sharing – very interesting. I’m interested in the damaged pieces that you remove to use in fabric collage. Can they be purchased?

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Helen—We are like the Canadian inuits with their caribou. We cut around any damage and use the smaller pieces for Scrap Packs or as little delights that we include in our orders. Nothing goes to waste. PB


    My dear friend, Tomoko, was born and raised in Japan. She lives here now for many years but returns to Japan at least twice a year. She knows I love fabric and recently gifted me a bolt of yukata fabric that she had found while going through her mothers belongings. It’s glorious.
    I forwarded this blog to her thinking she would enjoy it. She REALLY enjoyed it because amongst the fabrics shown, she found one piece that she identified as her father’s yukata. She was so excited and thrilled. Thank you, Patricia.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Lolly—I remember you mentioning Tomoko. I’m sure thousands of every pattern were made at the time but today only a few bolts remain of vintage patterns. So glad that Tomoko enjoyed the post. PB