Ever since I passed my teacher’s license exam in May, I’ve been thinking about what my next step should be in this kimono journey. I really enjoy and am fascinated by the process of weaving, but when I am honest with myself, I don’t have enough time to become anything other than a beginner weaver, and that skill will have limited use to me outside of Japan. Sewing, however, would be very useful. After all, how many times have I found a kimono that I love only to find that it’s a few centimeters too short, or the yuki is slightly too short. Usually something is too short. And I already know how to sew using western methods. So with some nervousness, I went to my first wasai lesson over the weekend.
My teacher is the same woman who granted me my teacher’s license. She has an incredible history with kimono. She has studied with multiple schools of kitsuke and passed exams for all of them. She knows how to sew kimono and has been doing it for forty years. She is also a master weaver. Her weaving teacher was a contributor to the nishijin-ori scrolls depicting the Tale of Genji. Overall, she has more knowledge in her little finger than I could ever hope to achieve in a lifetime.
She also doesn’t speak English; which means these lessons won’t only be good for my sewing skills, but also my Japanese skills.
The first lesson was really trying to get familiar with the different tools and terms that are used for wasai. My teacher gave me sets of different sewing needles, all different lengths and widths, and all used to sew different types of fabric. long thin needles are used to sew silk, short, thicker needles are used to sew tsumugi, and somewhere in between is the needle used to sew cotton. I was also introduced to all the tools of wasai including their unique iron, marking tools, scissors, and rulers. A lot of my teacher’s tools were high quality bamboo, ivory, or metal and had lasted her for over forty years. I’m hoping mine will last me that long as well. Once I get the money to purchase such high quality items.
Five different types of needles, all for sewing different types of fabric. I only know what three of them are for at the moment. Study time!
The measurements used for wasai are very different too. After WWII, Japan changed to the metric system, but before that, they used their own unique measuring system, which my teacher still uses for wasai. In fact, she told me that I’m not allowed to use centimeters in her lessons, so I have to learn REALLY fast!
The smallest unit is called a gori.
Two gori are equal to one bu.
Ten bu are equal to one sun.
Ten sun are equal to one shaku.
Ten shaku are equal to one jyou.
Jyou are still in use today to measure the size of tatami mats.
This is my bamboo ruler. Traditional measurements are on the top, and centimeters are on the bottom. Gori are not indicated on the ruler. The distance between each line indicates one bu. One sun is shown with the longer lines. The circles indicate 5 bu.
Measuring rulers come in two different sizes, one shaku or two shaku. My rulers have shaku/sun/bu as well as centimeters, but my teacher’s tools only have the old system. Imagine my confusion when she started adding up measurements in a system I just learned, and in Japanese. My head was spinning!
I was asked to bring a few kimono that were too small that I wanted to resize. I ended up bringing three. A yukata, an awase tsumugi, and an awase houmongi. I thought the yukata would be the easiest to resize since it’s cotton and only one layer. I also thought that the houmongi would be the most difficult to resize since the pattern extends over the seams. I was wrong on both counts.
Turns out that the only resizing that needs to be done on the houmongi is the yuki, so the pattern on the skirt won’t be affected at all. We decided to tackle that kimono first. My homework was to unstitch the sleeves, and the top half of the side seams. One thing we discovered was that the seams were originally sewn with a sewing machine. This made it very difficult to take out the stitching. The combination of tight machine stitches and delicate silk made for a few mishaps and small rips in the silk despite my best efforts. It’s just the lining so far, but I’m not finished yet, so I have my fingers crossed. It definitely makes me appreciate hand-sewn kimono more.
The yukata we decided to leave until last. It’s too small in every way that it could be too small. I knew that when I bought it, but the seam allowances looked large enough that I thought I could make it bigger. Well, the seam allowances are smaller than expected and it will require major surgery to make this yukata wearable. We decided to insert a gusset to make it wider and longer. The gusset will be hidden by the obi when I’m wearing it, but it will be very, very visible on the hanger.
So, my homework for my next lesson is to rip apart all three kimono, iron everything as flat as I can make it, and study all the new terminology that was thrown at me during the lesson. And I’m very sorry about the lack of photos in this post. I simply forgot to take any during the lesson. I was to busy and occupied with everything else!