Japanese kimonos are long robes that literally translate to mean a “thing to wear.” Kimonos first emerged in Japan in the late 700s and were used to separate ranks of formality. Today, kimonos are mostly only worn for special occasions, and they are mostly only seen on women. The pattern of choice for a kimono is what defines the person wearing it. While it once described a person’s rank, it now describes a person’s age, marital status and personality.
When kimonos first emerged in Japan, the pattern of the kimono represented a person’s rank in formality. Three types of kimonos were recognized: the Komon, the Tsukesage and the Homongi. The Komon demonstrated the lowest level of formality, and this category included one stenciled or painted pattern that covered the entire kimono. The Tsukesage was a higher level of formality, which displayed designs that began at the hemline, and were sewn upward to the top of the shoulders. The Homongi pattern was the most formal category. These showed off asymmetrical patterns that continued without a break from the seams. In order to accomplish this style, the kimonos had to be sewn, painted, taken apart, dyed, and then re-sewn.
Today, repeat patterns are still considered informal, whereas multiple patterns of free-style colors are considered customary and accepted. A kimono includes two main strips of cloth that cover the body, two more main strips used for the arms, and smaller pieces of material used for the front panels, the collar and the belt. Because a traditional kimono uses at least five to six different patterns, each one of these material strips is usually a different pattern. Multi-layered kimonos used to be customary, but now a single layer is acceptable.
Young women show off more extravagant patterns and colors than older women, and single women wear sleeves that extend all the way to their wrists. The patterns of choice complement the season of the year, much like in U.S. clothing. Spring kimonos represent bright colors or floral patterns. Summer kimonos show off watery designs and pastel colors. Autumn kimonos display fall color patterns, such as falling leaves. Winter kimono patterns include bamboo, pine trees or plum blossoms, all of which signify wealth and luck for the New Year.
To create a kimono, choose how many patterns you want to use, and what type of patterns to display. Once you have your patterns picked out, then you can use a basic, self-made sewing pattern to piece and sew the kimono together. Measure from your neck to your ankles, for the length of the kimono; measure the width of your back and the width of your front, for the width of your kimono; measure the length from your shoulder to your wrist, for the length of your arm pieces, and then measure the length from the top of your arm to your waist, for the width of your arm pieces. Add about 2 to 3 inches to each measurement, to make up for the hemming. (For both easy and difficult sewing patterns, see Resources.)