Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Kimono in Wool, Silk & Synthetics ~ What's the Difference?

Hello! Today I'll tell you about some different fabrics that most kimono are made of, and some of the pro's and cons of each. Let's start out with wool.
This adorable chrysanthemum and arabesque print that my daughter is wearing is made of wool. Wool?, you might say ~ That sounds itchy!
Well, let me tell you about Japanese wool ~ it's not itchy. It IS sometimes blended with silk, which makes it even smoother, and it is absolutely NOTHING like the course wools or tweeds that your brain automatically conjures up. In fact, if you didn't KNOW it was wool, you probably wouldn't even guess it.

See how it drapes? I'm telling you this isn't your everyday wool.

However, although it's not your everyday wool, because of it's extraordinary nature, wool kimono actually makes a great deal of sense for everyday use. It breathes well, it will keep you warm, it is durable, you can find wool kimono for fairly cheap prices, and best of all? You can wash wool kimono. Yup, it's true ~ toss it in the wash on cold/cold, put it in the dryer on NO HEAT fluff, take it out just before it's completely dry, hang it up for a few hours, and voila! your kimono is fresh and ready again! My friend, that is LOW maintenance for a kimono ~ ;-D


Not only that, but wool is versatile ~ Say you decided to go hime ( that means to use western wear in your kitsuke... I'll cover that in another post ~ :-D ), wool is easy and versatile. It looks just as great with a turtleneck & boots as it does an obi & tabi.

Also, wool kimono can come in prints, like this one, or it can come in weaves, like the one below.
Isn't this apple weave fun?

These weaves are pretty impressive, when you think about it ~they were dyed prior to being woven completely (that is what gives them the slightly ~off~, not quite crisp~ lines). That process is called ikat, or kasuri weaving. If you google it, you will see that it is quite a process.

This apple design is actually a rather unusual example of it ~ plaid woven apples in bright red, green, yellow and white, on a navy background!

You can dress it up or down, too. One small caveat about wool, however ~ it isn't very formal. So if you have a tea ceremony or a wedding or funeral to attend, wool is not going to fit the bill. It's too casual for that. On the other hand, we don't drink tea, and there just aren't that many formal Japanese weddings and funerals going on around here. In fact, I imagine that even if you live in Japan, you won't be going to a wedding or funeral everyday. As such, wool kimono is a smart investment. 

And here is an example of silk kimono. "Ahh", say you ~ "why didn't you wear wool, you just went on & on about how ~everyday~ it was, and here you are, going to the library in SILK? What gives?"

"Well", say I, "There is actually a LOT of vintage silk kimono out there. How else are we supposed to utilize / (justify!) this ridiculous amount of wafuku, if we don't dress up in it? Plus, the library is a safe, clean bet. Silk won't be ruined here."

Isn't homeschool amazing? You can dress up in your lovely kimono, go to the library, do your school work, and look completely amazing doing it the entire time! Well, that's what my daughter & I think, anyway. :-D

Back to my original point. The library is a perfect place to take your silk wafuku, because as long as you don't splash around in the koi pond, (only looking! :-D) your kimono is safe!
Annnnddd that's the one downfall to silk. It's true. Silk is beautiful, it breathes as well as wool (ro & sha breathe even better!), it always looks so CHIC, and of course, the formality level can be anywhere from everyday tsumugi to the very most formal kakeshita & uchikake for your wedding!
But you must be ohh so careful with it.
Isn't her obi beautiful?

This is what I mean by silk being versatile. The kimono she is wearing here is called a komon. A komon generally has small print all over the entire kimono. That is the lowest level of formality in silk kimono (still more formal than a wool kimono, however), yet just the addition of an obi with gold & silver threads can up the formality just a bit to make it appropriate for quite a few activities.  The reason it is the lowest level of formality is because the pattern didn't have to be matched at the seams, painted on after construction, or any of that more time consuming stuff. So it is considered a little cheaper. As you can see, however, komon are definitely not cheap, it is all relative to the most intense workmanship of highest degree. So yes, komon are less work than say houmongi (another level of formality / design in kimono), however, they are still a beautiful silk garment that is versatile and can be worn very regularly.

Adding an urushi woven haori can help  up the ante a bit with regard to formality as well.

Here is a sort of close-up of the urushi weave. It is a circle with arabesque flowers. ( They look like lotus to me, sort of like looking through a moon gate into the pond... well, that's what I think of when I see this.)

So you see, wearing silk to the library is a great idea! Especially if you have a komon you 've been wanting to spice up a bit. Being homeschooled doesn't hurt, either. :-D

Ahhh, and here we have a polyester or synthetic kimono. I think this is also what is called an odori kimono, because it's hitoe, synthetic, and seems to have large sakura on it. Odori means that it was used in a dance, or for performing. My understanding is that when there are large sakura or huge bold designs on synthetic, unlined kimono, it usually means it's odori.

According to some kimono enthusiasts, odori kimono shouldn't be worn to anything but festivals, but other kimono enthusiasts say that an odori can be used in place of it's regular counterpart for most informal occasions. It's probably a bit like running around in a tutu & leotard, or a flowing lyrical dance costume.  My thought on the subject is this ~ if you live in an area where no-one will know the difference, it won't make any difference ~ but just to be safe, don't head on in to a Japanese event in one, unless you are one of the dancers. Again, around here, we just don't have any Japanese Events, except for our one Sister Cities event in July. And that would call for a more formal silk houmongi ensemble, anyway.

Ok, so there must be a good reason to own one of these, right? Of course there is! First, let's be honest, it's really pretty! The designs manage to follow the body line in such a way that it looks very feminine & beautiful. They are perfect for dancing!

They are also very festive, and let's not forget that synthetic fabric factor. They are actually washable! This very kimono is an example of that! When I received it in the mail, I was so disappointed, because it had several bad-looking blots on it that looked like sauce of some sort. But then I noticed as I examined the fabric that it was a synthetic, so I got out a washcloth, got the corner damp, added just a touch of Dawn, and dabbed it on the blots. They all came off! AND no stains from the water, as would happen with silk. Eventually, I got really brave and just washed and dried the whole thing, and it came out BEAUTIFULLY!

So now you can begin to see the beauty of a synthetic kimono! Are they as breathable as silk? No. Are they as formal as silk? No. Do they in general have all that desirable handwork? No.
BUT ~ Can you wash it? YES!
That's a pretty big attraction!

And one last thing ~ it's not terribly obvious that it's a synthetic kimono from a distance. Well, sort of. But anyway, there are a lot of benefits in using a synthetic kimono.

In the end, for me, Silk trumps wool, and wool trumps synthetic, but synthetic trumps no wafuku at all, and still has a valid place in my collection. ~ :-D


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Ariel RZ said...

Thanks for explaining the fabrics. By the way your daughter look beautiful in those Kimonos.