The Six Year Kimono

I LOVE this kimono now, but it was a definite struggle! It began with vintage Japanese fabrics that I loved, pieced together, put in a drawer, dragged back out, re-assembled and finally finished. Six. Years. Later. Yes, you read that right. Six. Years. And, both the kimono and I lived to tell the tale!

For many years, I’ve collected pieces of vintage Japanese kimonos. I’m particularly drawn to the indigo cotton ikat designs and had dreamed of stitching them into pieced fabric. In March of 2012 I decided it was time to cut into my indigo treasures. It was tough, but after a lot of deep breathing and the aid of the calming scent of lavender, I started cutting. I developed a plan for a vest that would use 5″ wide rotary cut rectangles pieced into strips to create a “new” fabric.

strips original piecing

I had a wonderful time laying out the pieces, rearranging them and envisioning how they would look.  Each of the indigo pieces is a bright and shining star on its own and I didn’t want them to just become a lump of indigo after they were sewn. Since most of the pieces had a touch of red in their design, I combined them with red dupioni silk.

The red dupioni needed stabilizing, so I backed it with my favorite Easy Knit Fusible Interfacing. The dupioni was cut into 1”  x 5″ strips, the same width as the indigo rectangles. All of the cutting was done with a rotary cutter and my 6.5″ straight ruler to keep the strips as straight as possible.

back close up

The really fun part was sewing the indigo rectangles and the red dupioni strips together. Every section was different and it was fascinating to see how the fabrics were going together. My piecing process was fairly random, but I did space out the various indigo designs, occasionally using a red Japanese ikat piece instead of the dupioni.

close up back strips

The vest was cut from a pattern I hadn’t used before. And, as it turned out, should never have used. Once basted together, it looked awful – seriously AWFUL! Kind of a cross between something funky from the 1970’s and a rag you’d expect to find in the giveaways behind the thrift store. Not at all what I had envisioned! So, I did the only rational thing I could do. I gathered up all the pieces, stuffed them in a bag and shoved the bag to the back of my UFO drawer. And there it sat. For. Six. Years. Am I the only one who does this??


Early in 2018, I fell in love with Sew Caroline’s Florence Kimono pattern. It’s a beautiful, easy to make, well drafted design and, after making it once, I knew it would be perfect for my failed Japanese indigo vision. Fortunately, there’s no expiration date on unfinished objects! But . . . (and I did try) those assembled “vest” units just refused to re-form themselves into a kimono. So, astoundingly, I took out my ripper and dis-assembled all the joined strips!

Using my Florence pattern, I laid strips on the pattern pieces and puzzled them into place. There wasn’t enough for the whole kimono, but I had a gorgeous cotton/silk chambray that allowed the indigo and dupioni units to become focal pieces.

This stunning red motif (shown from the inside) had been cut to star on the back of the original awful vest. I really loved that piece and began my new design with this strip. Once I latched onto a renewed vision, it was fun again and re-piecing flowed easily from there.

Most of the strip units were used for the body, so the sleeves required a bit of special piecing. Fortunately, I had an unused ikat that fit in beautifully and, in August, I finished everything except the front band. In September, I spent four days at an American Sewing Guild retreat and decided to take my “almost finished” 6 Year Kimono with me.

After input from my fellow sewing retreaters, I put aside the navy linen I had planned for the front band and used more red dupioni instead. The red was a great choice and really makes the indigo pieces shine. In my excitement about actually finishing the kimono, I forgot to interface the dupioni for the front band. It likes to curl a bit at the neck and I may decide to re-do the band with interfacing.

Although, I’m already wearing it, I will definitely add lining. It just looks too messy on the inside. I’ll use this gorgeous Yukata cotton at the top of the back and have purchased a soft navy lining fabric for the rest.


And, there are earrings, of course! I love this with my artist-crafted glass ball earrings that reflect the indigo designs when the light hits them just right.

I wish I could tell you step by step how this went, but the best I can say is: I just kept playing until it worked! As always, I want to encourage you to have a fabulous, stress-free and thoroughly enjoyable Sewful Life. It may take six years, but that’s OKAY! Don’t think a project is over when something goes wrong or looks AWFUL. There are no mistakes . . . only new designs!

with chicken

Our sewing superpowers can take us way beyond what we think we can do, so do not fear. It’s just fabric! It’s there for you to play with and you don’t need rules. Just play. Enjoy. Take risks. And, sew with GREAT joy. Sew like no one’s watching. Get up and dance to get your creative heart pumping, but sew. Just sew. And. Don’t Give. Up. EVER!!

Sew with joy and I’ll be back soon!

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Moment of Further Truth:
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