The Art of Kimono Making

Kimono are made from single bolts of cloth, about 36cm wide and 11 metres long, which are cut into seven straight pieces. Two panels - each extending up the front, over the shoulder and down the back - create the body, two the sleeves, two more the overlaps, and a narrower panel the neckband.

This simplicity of construction meant that kimono could be sewn in the home. In the Edo period many households, particularly in rural areas, also had their own loom, and a woman's sewing and weaving abilities were considered very important. The creation of silk bolts, however, required the skills of specialist artisans, the majority of these being men. Fashion was big business and supported an extensive network that included spinners, weavers, dyers, embroiderers, specialist thread suppliers, stencil makers and designers.
The simplest way of weaving fabric is to pass the weft (horizontal) thread over and under each successive warp (vertical) thread. This is known as plain weave (hira-ori) and in Japan is the principal method used in the creation of cotton, hemp, ramie and certain kinds of silk fabrics.

Stripes and checks are produced by using different coloured threads, while more elaborate patterns can be created by weaving with selectively pre-dyed threads, as in the technique known as kasuri. Silk crepe (chirimen) is also a plain weave, but has a crimped appearance that is produced by over-twisting the weft threads.

Passing the weft over or under two or more warps creates what is known as a float. In satin (shu) long floats are created by passing the weft over or under four or more warps which gives the fabric a lustrous appearance.

In float weaves the surface of the fabric can show either predominantly warps or predominantly wefts depending on the weaving sequence. By using different combinations of floats, patterns can be created in the cloth as in rinzu, a monochrome figured satin similar to damask. Like chirimen, rinzu was introduced to Japan from China in the 16th century.