Repairing a 90-Year-Old Silk Kimono - part 2

Vintage kimono repair - assembling after washing

Continuing from where I stopped on part 1, it's time to re-assemble my precious kimono.

Since I just took apart the collar and lining from the shell fabric, all I need to do now is put them back together, right?

Hmm no. If it were that straightforward, I wouldn't be doing another post.

I love sewing, though, and hand sewing is a specially rewarding activity for me (I wouldn't dare try my sewing machine on those textiles). It was actually a very fun experience for me, plus I learned a lot - and hopefully it will be fun and educational for you, too, as you go through my process and all the lovely pictures!

Let's get to it.

Problem area 1: Upper Back

I already wrote on part 1 that kimonos are incredibly impractical, and vintage textiles are very delicate. That's specially true if that textile is made of silk.

Silk is an amazing fiber (repeat with me: I will not call every shiny fabric "silk”) with a very unique feel, but silk fabrics are a bit of a pain to care for, as they can rip or get threadbare quite easily.

It's understandable, then, that the upper back would be a problem area: the whole jacket kind of hangs from the neckline and collar, weighing them down and causing the fabric to stretch and eventually rip. That's also a spot that suffers a lot of friction and stretching if you're not careful when sitting down.

Besides that, the print didn't really match so I unpicked the whole Centre Back seam and sewed it back again so it'd look seamless. Well, not quite seamless as I added the large yellow stitching on top to hold the seam allowances in place inside the jacket.

Vintage kimono, back print- before repairVintage kimono, back print - after repair

I used fusible interfacing to back the entire print, and covered the bigger holes using a satin stitch embroidery, also in yellow because that was the most appropriate thread I had at home: a thick Japanese silk thread from back in my good ol’ studying in Tokyo days. I had it in black, too, so I could've done everything in the same colour, but I like the contrast.

As the fabric still felt very fragile, I decided to add the tiny sashiko stitches inside the orange circle (the black area around the red writing), and around some of the large tears. I could've used the satin stitch again to cover them, but that's not really my forte and I could do more harm than good.

Problem area 2: sleeves

Before I took my kimono apart, I'd already noticed two rows of stitching on the sleeves, one holding the lining hem, the other attaching it to the outer fabric.

Since the sleeve hem is also a spot that would be fused on a tailored jacket - my reference for repairing this kimono - I decided to keep the double stitching to give an extra hold and as a decorative feature.

Another area that deserved special attention was the sleeve bottom, where the sleeve is attached to the side seam in a fragile 90 degree angle: that area was fused on the inside, and the seam reinforced both in and outside, as the fabric was about to tear.

Vintage kimono, sleeve opening - before repairVintage kimono, sleeve (inside) - before repairVintage kimono, armhole - after repair

Problem area 3: hem/ overall fabric excess on the body

Vintage kimono repair - saggy fabric (front)

Vintage kimono repair - saggy fabric (back)

I had noticed that the silk chirimen looked a bit saggy on a few places, and always assumed the cotton lining was weighing it down. The opposite was true, though, and that's something I only noticed after separating them.

Technical sidebar here: That was quite a rookie's mistake on my side, if I'm honest, since the lining is a very stable plain weave, while chirimen is a sort of crêpe weave, therefore heavier and a bit stretchy on some directions.

The most obvious excess appeared on the Back, where I had to tuck some of the chirimen inside the Centre Back seam, and on the hem, that I had folded and pressed just where it was before but had to correct later.

Vintage kimono repair, CB - after repair

The lining might have shrunk a little after washing, but in any case there were other places where I felt the fabric looked a bit loose. One option was to open all the seams and cut the outer fabric just like the lining or smaller (linings are supposed to be slightly looser in Western dressmaking), which would mean rework for me + cutting away a very precious textile.

Vintage kimono repair - hem

So my creative solution was to do a running sashiko stitching around the prints where I saw some fabric bubbles forming.

Vintage kimono repair - loose fabric and sashikoVintage kimono repair - sashiko over print

Although I really loved how the embroidery made the prints pop while also working as reinforcement, on closer inspection it is very apparent that the fabric bubble problem is still there.

A lifelong project

Any garment that's survived for such a long time will have its issues, unless it's been kept untouched and neatly folded in a museum archive with controlled humidity and temperature.

My plan now is to keep embroidering my beloved kimono as a casual hobby now, as I see the need or whenever such inspiration pays a visit.

Over time, it will be a completely different garment 💖

Vintage kimono repair - sashiko and satin stitch

Vintage kimono repair - sashiko and satin stitch

Vintage kimono repair - final

Antique fireman haori - after repair

 I don't usually wear it closed, even before the pockets it made my hips look kinda funny. Working on some gym knickers to wear underneath it.

Want your own kimono that'll last a lifetime - even if you don't hand wash it? 

Long-lasting, easy to wash, easy to wear, made in a sustainable material... and with a unique print, of course - check out my kimono robe prototype, at a special price while I develop the final version with indigo-dyed lining.

Kimono robe in Tencel twill