I often tell people my studio is knee-deep in kimono textiles, and sometimes I’m actually joking. Today, not so much. It’s raining outside, the snow is melting, and I’ve got a HUGE shipment of vintage kimono just waiting for me to tear into it. But first, a little project for your consideration.
Working on ways to use these vintage fabrics can be fun, infuriating, mind bending, or pleasantly time consuming, take your pick. Yesterday I decided to make some cloth napkins out of old yukata cotton I had lying around, and it worked out quite well. If you’re the sort of person who has a cotton yukata (summer kimono) sitting in the closet and have no plans to ever wear it, you might like to try this little project. If you ever hosted a Japanese exchange student, it’s quite likely they gave you a yukata as a gift and you’ve probably never worn it since then and likely never will. In that case, recycle it! If you do not have an old yukata but would still like to do this project, check out my Etsy store where I have loads of worthy yukata cottons: www.kimonomomo.etsy.com
First, wash it. Any seamstress worth her needles knows to pre-wash fabric to account for shrinkage and dye bleed. For this project, I used an old yukata I scored off ebay about a year ago. The cotton is very soft and somewhat thin, but of good quality. Some yukata cottons are stiff, but they often soften with washing and use. This one has some kana on it that reads “Yamanouchi”, which from what I can tell is the name of a small town that may be a summer resort-type destination in Japan. But honestly, I’m not 100% positive, so correct me if I am wrong.
Next, I took it apart. Most vintage yukata are hand sewn. The newer ones made in China tend to be really stiff, printed on only one side, and machine sewn. These do not work as well as the Japanese made, reversible cottons.
Each sleeve will measure roughly one meter long. This is a great length to work with, and will suffice to make two napkins/hankies or one double-thick one. I decided to go with two thin ones because I intend to use them as hankies and keep one in my purse (wadded up used paper tissues are not so nice).
The selvedge is very sturdy so you don’t have to hem the sides if you don’t want to. I’m lazy and didn’t want extra bulk, so I didn’t. Pin the raw edges neatly and sew by machine or hand. See how easy this is? You could even add fancy stitches for an extra challenge.
And finally, iron it to make it look nice. Some creases may take a while to come out if it’s vintage cotton, but using these and washing them often makes them softer anyway. And think of all the paper you’re keeping out of the landfill!… or from leaking out of your coat sleeve, or getting shredded at the bottom of your purse, or lost in a pocket… ew.
Send me photos of your completed project and I’ll post them!