Now I get it.

Remember back in January when I was taking apart an old obi and looking at the lining fabric? Now the tables have turned, and as I sew more obi for Fanime, I find myself considering what I will line some of these new obi with. I have several bolts of fabric for Nagoya obi that I held on to because I planned on using them for making purses, but I never had the heart to cut them, and I’m glad I didn’t. These are now being used for their original purpose, and I’m beginning to understand why the vintage obi I’ve taken apart were lined the way they were.

If you are unfamiliar with obi in general, there are several types of obi. The most commonly used are Fukuro, Nagoya, and Hanhaba. There are many others, but these are the ones you will most likely find being worn today. The history of obi in Japan is actually quite interesting–narrow cord becomes a foot wide swath of fabric over a few centuries, tied in front, on the side, in the back–I could fill pages of posts with just what I know about them, and my knowledge isn’t exactly comprehensive at this point (but I am working on it). At any rate, here’s a basic idea of the three styles I’ve mentioned:

Fukuro obi – full width, solid color fabric on back side, 60% patterned on front. The area in front that does not have a pattern is hidden when worn. This obi can be tied in several ways, from the simple drum (very common) to more elaborate styles such as chidori, or “plump sparrow” which I find quite charming but have yet to master.

Nagoya obi – roughly half is full width, the rest is half width. Easy to wear because it’s less bulky and not as difficult to tie. Sometimes only has two patterns, a large design that shows at the back and a smaller design that shows in the front. Can only be tied in the drum style.

Hanhaba obi – narrow, often quite soft, obi. Worn with casual kimono or yukata. Simple to tie, especially in the bow style or clam shell. Very comfortable, and doesn’t need all the extra accessories the other obi styles do, such as extra cords, pillows and ties. For everyday wear around the house or in casual company, I wear Hanhaba.

I really should mention one more, the Maru obi. This obi is what the Fukuro and Nagoya evolved from, and it is quite a lovely beast. I say “beast” because it is heavy, elaborate, and generally more expensive than the other styles. The Maru is woven in a single piece, double width, fully patterned, then folded in half and lined to make a wide, gorgeous work of art that can be difficult to tie due to its bulk, but this is just my experience.

So, here I am sewing Nagoya obi and thinking “do I really want to drive out to the big box fabric store and get something to line this with?” The answer, considering the added expense and bother, is a resounding NO, so I look around the studio and what do I see but piles and piles of old obi that I have cut up for other projects? Pieces that were too stained or old to use for anything else sit patiently, waiting to be recycled, and that’s when the light bulb goes off in my head. Of course people used old fabrics to line their new obi! Why spend more money buying new fabric you won’t ever see or touch when you probably have plenty of old fabric you don’t even want to see or touch? Why waste any of it when you can put it to good use?

It explains the rough woven cottons, hemp, and old bed linens (not like thin modern sheets, but rather heavy futon covers from a century ago), often cobbled together in odd pieces. When you look at the finished obi, these ugly leftovers are simply the backbone within the butterfly, so to speak. Obi fabric is heavy to begin with, but without an appropriate lining, it cannot hold itself with much dignity when worn. Instead it will flop about and look weak and insipid, which is really not what wearing kimono is all about.

I will write more about obi another time, but for now I am back to the sewing machine. Don’t forget to leave a comment anywhere on the blog to be entered in the Free Fabric Giveaway drawing that ends midnight (Pacific time) on Tuesday, May 13.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. LJ says:

    Thank you for the wonderful descriptions of obi. I learned a great deal. People were practical the world ’round. Old quilts also often had interesting ‘fillers’, back in the days before polyfill. (:

  2. shiborigirl says:

    hope you post some photos of what you are making!
    i remember some time back a vintage textile seller selling me that often he found some very interesting fabrics that were used on the insides if some of the obis he had collected and taken apart. thanks for the obi lesson!

  3. Denise says:

    Great informative post.

  4. Sybilla says:

    I agree, I love all the information you spread around so generously! It’s always a pleasure to read your lovely blog through my Bloglines, thanks for everything!

  5. Esther says:

    Interesting post!

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