Patternless sewing: Kimono style

Don’t ever buy a bathrobe again. You can make a better better and cheaper robe in just an hour or so. Yes, the ubiquitous bathrobe is a universal garment we all know and love, and we all know it’s not much different, construction-wise, than a kimono with pockets tacked on the front. This is a garment that you do not need a pattern for, and you can adapt it in countless ways.

The Japanese word “kimono” is actually a generic term for “clothing”. We, in America have taken it to mean that-garment-that-Japanese-women-wear-with-the-big-wide-sash-and-giant-sleeves. That specific garment is the furisode, with obi. It is not an easy garment to wear, if one intends to wear it like a lady. One must move, sit and walk in a way that allows the furisode to stay in place, and not flop around and become “messy”. Here in the States, we just toss a self belt around our version of it,  and revel in our sloppiness. It’s a shame, because these garments are really a lot more versatile than that—and they do not require a pattern.

Kimonos are made the way they are because of the width of the looms used to make the fabric. The fabric runs only about 14 inches wide, and comes in approximately 11 yard bolts—though wider and longer can be found. There is a center back seam, side seams, and center front seams for the front overlap. All these seams are made necessary by the narrow width of the fabric. The full width of the fabric is used, as is. On the plus side, the width of the fabric also provides finished seams, because the selvage edge is not cut away.

We can delete most of these seams if we use our wider, western fabrics. I am all for deleting unnecessary seams. The very nature of the kimono-like garment welcomes these, and countless other variations. If you have wide enough fabric, you can eliminate all but shoulder seams (not present in Japanese kimono) and armhole seams from the body of the garment. We can delete the center front seams, and the center back seam. I personally like that back seam as it is nice design line, tends to be slimming, and the seam allowance offers a small amount of support to the back of the garment. Yes, ignore that bit in Wikipedia that says “the entire bolt remains in the finished garment without cutting”, because that’s insane. You can’t possibly put on sleeves without cutting. THAT would be something closer to a sari.

Since you’ll be making your kimono for a western body, and we have many widths of fabric available to us, we’ll actually need to take a measurement or two. Take the measurement around your body at its widest point, whatever that may be. Add a about 4 inches for garment ease. Ease is the amount you add to your measurement so that you have a little room to breathe in your garment. Divide this final number in half. This number is your front and back garment finished widths. Add about 24 inches total to only the front measurement so you will have a 12″ front overlap. You can do a little more or less, if you like. Decide how long you want your kimono to be, and take a center back measurement down to that point. Kimono is adjusted for height by folding it spat the waist. This is how exactly all 11 yards can be put into every kimono.

Armed with these measurements, go ahead and cut your kimono: width by length. Generally, put the length of the kimono alone the selvage edge of the fabric. Cut two fronts and one back. You should have three rectangles now: two fronts and a back. The fronts will need to have the area under the neck removed in some way. Pin the fronts to the back, rights sides together, at the shoulder, lining up the OUTSIDE seam. The fronts will have their overlap pooling in the center front area now. Stitch to about 3″ from center back on both sides. This 6″ space in the middle is your “neck hole”.

Measure down about twelve inches from the top of the free edge, and fold back the triangle that is made by the “neck hole” edge at the top, and the mark you made twelve inches down. Slip your scissors in that fold and cut it off.

Now all that is left is to decide how deep and long you want the sleeves to be. To keep this simple, make the arm slit match the width of the non-hanging sleeve—or skip sleeves altogether.  A good starting point for sleeve width is twelve inches. The length is as you like it. Cut two rectangles 24″ wide (twice your sleeve width) and as long as you wish your sleeve to be. mark the center point of the width of the sleeve (12″) along the top edge. With right sides together, pin the sleeve to the body of the kimono matching the shoulder seam to the marked center point on your sleeve. Stitch. Repeat for the other side.

Fold the kimono at the shoulder seams, right sides together. Pin sleeves, matching the shoulder seams, sleeve cuff, and hem of the kimono. Stitch. Repeat for the other side. Turn it right side out and try it on. All that is left to do is the hem, center fronts, and sleeve hems. You can turn under, and stitch, or use packaged binding, or make your own binding.

So go to it. Create. Start with that ubiquitous bathrobe. In my youth, I searched high and low for terrycloth as thick and nice as you find in the high-end store-bought bathrobes. I could never find it. My dear mother, however, did look at me as if I had three heads, and told me not to be silly, but to just use bath towels. They even come hemmed! If you change the fabric, and adjust how the front overlap works you can make a nice wrap dress. Diane von Furstenberg made her name on this simple shape for her iconic wrap dress. Shorten it for a jacket. Make it out of a light cotton for a great blouse. Just reduce the overlap to 1.5 inches or so and put in buttons and buttonholes. Go wild. This is a great theme to experiment on and a good way to teach yourself patternmaking

For more info: .If you are too afraid to go it alone, go ahead and get the kimono pattern from Folkwear. Other simple garment construction to learn from can be found in the Chinese Jacket pattern, and once you want to play with darts, the cheongsam. Play with that by taping pattern pieces together to get what you want. Then jump off and solo.

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