Contemporary homongi, itajime shibori. Length: 66"
A contemporary full shibori homongi, this one proving that shibori can also be subdued, rather than the exuberant designs and colours of young womens furisode. Though this kimono is almost entirely shibori, the inclusion of embroidered areas within its cartwheel design drop it into a category known as tsujigahana.
Itajime shibori is one of the many differing methods of creating shibori, this time using a stitched rather than the more usual gather-tied technique, which gives
the final shibori a line rather than a dot-style finish, considered to look like tree bark (hence the name). The itajime shibori is so fine and subtle here throughout the entire background as to
appear as a single pale grey colour, though it is actually two-tone pale and dark grey.
Note that because the design must be accurately matched across each panel, this kimono is considered a homongi. Despite the shorter sleeves which generally identify
a married woman in higher categories of kimono, homongi--like tsukesage and the more casual komon--can be worn by unmarried women. In the past, for the type of event that homongi frequented, most
single women would wear a furisode. However, wearing a homongi at special events when single has become the accepted norm more recently, since women often choose to marry later, and don't
wish to either advertise their marital status, or feel a little too old to be wearing a 'young' woman's furisode.
The separate levels of homongi can be further divided not simply by the number of mon applied, but by the gloss of the fabric, pattern design and placement, and the pattern's method of application. This kimono, with no kamon identifying a family crest, is the least formal of homongi, but still stands above any tsukesage, simply by being a homongi. The differentiation of levels of kimono is a huge topic, and one which despite well over a decade and a half of collecting, I can only brush the surface of--something I'll try to do in other kimono, as this piece is already running very long! Sourced in Osaka, Japan..
Vintage Ro silk tsukesage with yuzen and surihaku. Length: 59.5"
The term ro denotes an open weave worn only at the height of summer, and can be used for juban (undergarments) and obi, as well as kimono. In the height of summer kimono are worn unlined, and the sense of air travelling through the open weave is considered cooling both for the wearer and the onlooker. As Japan moved to yófuku (Western dress) the expense of buying not just ro but all hitoe (unlined) kimono compared with the short season that they are worn seemed prohibitive, particularly when the hand-washable yukata was beginning to move from its onsen and festival roots into everyday summer wear, so the few that were made tended towards high-end pieces.
This yuzen design with hand painting and small areas of surihaku is not that old--probably 1970's--but the mix of clean graphic design with traditional ukiyo-é style gives it a chic edge which I love. Bought from Nigata province, Japan.
Vintage Grey Rinzu Homongi with Yuzen and Surihaku. Length: 61"
This is one of the very early pieces that I bought, and I still have a little soft spot for it, as an easy-to-wear piece. At a distance it looks very simple, but up
close the silk is rinzu (damask) with a sea-wave design, and incredibly soft. The yuzen could arguably be simple katazome (stencilling), save for the odd leaf and the birds themselves, which are
lighter than the background grey.
Close up, the simplification of design that came into vogue in the fifties and sixties is evident, as is the wave and sea-foam design of the rinzu background, though it is the design simplification which places this piece squarely in the middle of the Showa period.
It would be easy to look at this kimono and see the individual isolated areas of design and call it a tsukesage,
but in actuality each isolated area runs over at least two panels, meaning that it steps up into the homongi category. It has no mon, and so sits to the bottom of this category, perhaps
even falling into the contemporary grouping which is a tsukesage/homongi crossover, save for the fact that I think it pre-dates the arrival of such hybrids, and is instead simply an understated
piece in the best Japanese style. Bought from Osaka, Japan.
Vintage Homongi with Yuzen and Kinkoma. Length: 63"
Another mid-Showa awase homongi, this time a lot more dynamic, with a clean, simplified chrysanthemum design typical of the era, on soft chirimen silk. Again, this homongi has no mon, as they would elevate it to the point that it would
barely find any occasion to be worn, save a wedding. Instead, the lack of such means that this piece comes in slightly more casual, and so would be suitable for any number of events from visiting
a friend to smart meals out in the city.
The unmistakable flow of the design matched over seams defines this piece as a homongi though, lifting it higher than its close cousin the tsukesage.
You can see the synthetic dyes coming into their own in this piece, whose colours have a clear brightness, but a lack of complexity
that plant dyes afford. The kinkoma--gold-covered thread sewn onto a design in the same way as European couching--is a mixture of gold and silver, changing from one to the other often on a single
flower, as you can see in a close-up of the front left panel. This type of bold mid-Showa style has been out of vogue for a long time, but is now beginning to enjoy something of a revival
with more lively Taisho-roman designs being incorporated into part of the Kimono-Hime wardrobe. Sourced in Osaka, Japan.
Vintage Homongi with Hand Painting, shibori and shishu. Length: 60"
A slightly earlier Showa homongi this time, as can be seen from the less Eurpean-inspired design and the fact that the aniline dyes are still trying in part to
emulate traditional plant-dye colors. This piece is a mix of the three most important techniques in kimono design, namely hand painting, shibori and shishu, or embroidery. As ever, you can
see the left-front to right back sleeve bias of the design, though in this case both sleeves are decorated. It could be that this is because it was originally a furisode, though at this time
designs were beginning to lift onto the upper part of the kimono. Many historians feel that this change was an example of traditional designs modifying to contemporary lifestyle,
as people moved to Western seating which rendered the skirt of the kimono hidden beneath a table. Thus kimono fashion
moved with the times, and made more of its design visible on the kimono's upper half.
The ground of this kimono is a rinzu (damask) silk with a fine pattern, visible only close up, and the red areas are still being dyed
to resemble beni, the dye gained from safflower petals. In close up, you can see all three techniques a little better. The embroidery is both plain silk and small areas of gold-foiled
silk, in hira-nui (satin-stitch) style, to add subtle luster. Although this kimono has managed to avoid the dreaded bleed-through from its bright red lining, it isn't in great condition, with
numerous small thin stains, as pale kimono tend to show. But as a comparison piece, it illustrates its time perfectly. Sourced in Osaka,
Vintage Homongi with tsujigahana. Length: 60"
Another kimono which is difficult for me to place, time-wise. Although it was sold as antique and has Taisho-length sleeves, the fabric feels stiffer and more
recent. The dyes also look a little too clear to be plant-based, and the imagery, though consistent with the period, is
a little too sharp on close inspection, and in places is beginning to move towards Western stylization, making me suspect that this is a mid-Showa dated kimono.
Even so, it's an interesting piece as it encompasses just about every technique used on kimono, including yuzen, shibori, bokashi, shishu (embroidery) and surihaku
(gold size work), though the shishu has a definite machined look. As ever, you can see the left-front to right back sleeve bias of the design, though again both sleeves are decorated, something
which pulls its date to a more recent piece.
The kimono is a rinzu base of matt and gloss areas in a cracked ice design, with a liberal scattering of surihaku both in the worked areas and out into the pale
cream background. The lining is cream habutae, and again although a lack of red lining doesn't exclude it decisively from the early Taisho era, the combination of all these small facts nudge it
pretty definitively well into the mid Taisho period. Despite its gloss rinzu base it has no kamon, thus making it suitable for just about any semi-formal occasion. Bought
in Nigata province, Japan.
Vintage katazome homongi hybrid. Length: 62"
One of those difficult-to-place hybrids now, this time due to its type rather than its age, which is probably very late Showa or even Heisei.
This is a katazome kimono, meaning that its surface design is made by a rice-flour paste resist pushed through a stencil then dyed. Traditional katazome is always
done by hand, and true versions can be hard to come by, as its nature as a repeat design makes it a popular choice for modern printed copies.
For the genuine article stencils are used to create hold-out areas via the rice resist forced through them and allowed to dry, then colours are applied one at a time and often several times each, to reach the desired density, before finally the fabric is left to cure, often for several months. There's no setting through heat or steam in true katazome though, making this one of the most unpredictable of finishes--more so even than hand-painting.
As I mentioned earlier, katazome is a popular subject for modern print techniques because generally it is a continuing repeat pattern, making it easy to mimic and
popular for use on komon or yukata. But in this case the pattern has been varied and intensified as it travels down the kimono, thus making it necessary to match each panel pattern very closely
across the seams--the sign of a homongi. It's less common for the katazome technique to be seen on a tsukesage or homongi, but not unheard of, particularly in this intensifying style. This
example stretches the boundaries in its obvious reference to a simple staggered komon repeat, taking it either down a peg or two in the homongi formality stakes, or more likely, up a little in
komon status. Modern kimono which cross such divides are becoming more widespread as the strict rules of event and place are gradually relaxed, allowing these hybrids to
flourish. Bought in Osaka, Japan.
Antique hikizuri homongi with yuzen and surihaku. Length: 69.5"
Hikizuri are kimono which literally 'trail the hem', and are seldom seen outside of odori (dance), weddings, or geisha communities. Since this one has no symbols
associated with weddings, and no identifying kamon for a geisha house, it can pretty reliably considered an odori hikizuri. Hikizuri simply refers to the trailing of the hem, and in fact can be
narrowed down into more recognizable groups by their details. With short sleeves and a pattern that crosses its seams--the individual pattern shapes look at first to be isolated, but look
closely; several have been matched across side, front and back seams, and the background design of yabane (arrow flights) has been carefully matched across seams--this hikizuri is a homongi,
which would be typical for dance recitals.
Hikizuri which have been used repeatedly tend to have had their linings replaced several times, often by more robust cotton. But this one retains its original intact red silk, just visible at the arms, and though they seem short in comparison to the overall length of this hikizuri, the sleeves are actually Taisho-length, locking this kimono down to around 1912 to the mid 1920's.
This is kinsha silk, with what could be katazome stencil work for the yabane, or simply full yuzen--it's hard to tell. Katazome, by its very nature, would eventually produce repeat stencil designs, but it's hard to find a repeat amongst the irregular edges of the arrow flights, and their 'combed' ends have a hand-applied yuzen look. Yuzen was also at its height and very widely used in the early Taisho period. The design, though it initially resembles stylized flowers, is actually a traditional snowflake pattern, in some places very conventionally contained with a neat surihaki line, and in others almost freehand-drawn with no visible edging, white or gold (note the two flakes overlapping each other in the detail shot). The yuzen snowflake design is also echoed without surihaki work in the hakkake, and the fuki-wata is very lightweight, as is typical of Taisho pieces. Unfortunately there is failure of the silk at the edge of the yuzen work around a few of the snowflakes, as can happen on very soft kinsha, but with a little patience and know-how that's invisibly repairable. Sourced in Kyoto, Japan.
Hikizuri homongi with yuzen and surihaku Length: 72"
Another hikizuri homongi, this one with a dynamic pattern of cranes in flight over an inset image of crashing waves. The yuzen design is rendered in shades of
grey and soft blue, with the lightest touches of silver size (surihaku) to lift it against a plain blue chirimen silk
Without the decoration applied to the right sleeve, this kimono would qualify as an iro-tomesode, but the inclusion of the design anywhere on the upper part of the body renders it a homongi (homongi rather than tsukesage because as you can see, in this case the design must be accurately matched over the seams).
Again, this piece is likely for odori (dance), as despite its subject it lacks any kamon which would take its rank to something that might be worn by the bride at a wedding, or identify the wearer as a geisha belonging to a particular ochaya.
In detail shots you can see the line-work and the delicacy of the main cranes, with the background cranes reduced to washes of colour, which gives the sense of a very clean, dynamic image. It's these stylized touches in the background of this piece which drop it a little later into the early to mid Showa era, when Western influences were beginning to creep into even this very traditional type of kimono. Sourced in Osaka, Japan.