The Fin de Siècle Kimono

The Fin de Siècle obsession for Japanese art and textiles fueled the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist painters and the Arts and Crafts Movement.  The kimono is featured in many paintings from this time period. Although demure as a full length gown, the kimono exudes sensuality and decadence. The kimono in luxurious silk with an opening down the front secured only by a belt or traditional obi suggests a state of déshabillé. I would even say that the kimono became a symbol of freedom for the modern woman because it could be worn without a corset.

This painting by the Belgian, Gustave Léonard de Jonghe (1829-1893), is an early example of Japonisme. Although the model is wearing a kimono and obi, the fullness of the skirt indicates she is wearing a crinoline under it. She does not appear to be wearing a corset, however. The fabric apears to be a very fine silk kimono with embroidery, woven designs and hand painted details.

The Japanese Fan or L'admiratrice du Japon. Gustave de Jonghe , 1865.

The Japanese Fan or L’admiratrice du Japon. Gustave de Jonghe , 1865.

The American Impressionist, William Merrit Chase (1849-1916), painted many portraits of women wearing kimonos. In the paintings, the kimono appears to be worn as a tea dress. The informal poses show the women are relaxing at home, reading books or casually holding Japanese prints.


The Girl with a Book. William Merrit Chase, 1902.


Japonisme. William Merrit Chase, 1898.


The Japanese Book. William Merrit Chase, 1900.

These painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 1901), a post-impressionist, shows Lili Grenier in a kimono. Both appear to painted at the same time. Lili Grenier was an actress and a model, who with her husband René Grenier, lived with Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1880’s. The kimono she is wearing apears to be a kasuri woven in silk or wool and is possibly lined in a red silk habutai.


Lili Grenier in a kimono. Henri de Tououse-Lautrec, 1888.


Lili Grenier. Henri de Tououse-Lautrec, 1888.

This is another painting featuring a kimono and a Japanese screen by Robert Lewis Reid (1862-1929). This painting depicts traditional Japanese symbols, such as a crane on the screen and a kimono. The opulence of the fabric is detailed in the deep folds of the silk fabric. It almost looks like velvet.


Blue and Yellow. Robert Lewis Reid , 1910.

Henrietta Emma Ratcliffe Rae (1859–1928) was an English painter. A dragon is featured behind the model. The model is wearing a blue kimono and is holding a fan.


Azaleas. Henrietta Emma Ratcliffe Rae, 1895.

One of my favorite Impressionist artists is the American artist, Mary Cassatt (1844–1926). Though her subjects do not include kimonos, her etchings and paintings are influenced by the simple stye of Japanese woodcuts.

Maternal Caress. Mary Cassatt, 1891.

Maternal Caress. Mary Cassatt, 1891.

The Atomic Era Kimono

The Atomic Era Kimono is a curious artifact of the Space Age. Even after WWII and the bombing of Hiroshima, the atom was perceived to be a symbol of hope, because many people saw atomic power as the solution to an impending energy crisis. This wonderful silk haori features an atomic design in blue silk and metallic threads:

Traditional kimono motifs during the Atomic Era morph into suggestions of atoms, solar systems and stars. If you have ever seen a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram for the classification of stars or a Periodic Table of Elements illustrating the relative sizes of atoms, you may understand why I think this is a spectacular example of an atomic kimono featured in the WordPress blog Daily Japanese Textile:


Circles in traditional Japanese textiles can represent family crests, chrysanthemums or snowflakes. Japanese Daily Textile has suggested that circular designs in traditional Japanese textiles represent an “Enso,” or circle, a common Zen Buddhist symbol.

Sara Sakakibara, of TokyoModern on Etsy, has a wonderful collection of Atomic Era kimono textiles for sale. Here is a spectacular example of overlapping stars in silk meisen:

This is another atomic kimono textile I purchased from TokyoModern. Again, a circular element is used. I see atoms or stars in this design.

Perhaps distant galaxies or cytoplasmic streaming come to mind ?


This beautiful example featured in Japanese Daily Textile shows atomic symbols woven in red silk meisen:


You can finish off your look with an electromagnetic spectrum obi:


The Martha Clutch

I was inspired by a page of clutches featured in a Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine. I really liked the one with the ruffle down the middle, so I sketched a plan and decided on the dimensions my clutch will have. I used a 9 inch vintage metal zipper for this clutch because I like to incorporate vintage, fair trade and/or organic materials as much as possible.


The fabric I choose is a fair trade handwoven silk bought from Tammachat, an Etsy shop buying from Thailand. The fabric is very heavy. It is probably a 6 or 7 oz. fabric. It is really a little too heavy for this project but I love the natural gold color. The check wool is from a vintage Japanese kimono wool.

DSCF3439-001Here are all of the pieces cut out. I am using the Gold silk as my lining and as the ruffle down the front.

DSCF3551I used a bias tape maker to make the piece that will be top-stitched onto the ruffle.


The ruffle is made from two strips sewn on each side and then turned inside-out. I then ironed the ruffle flat.


Using large stitches, because of the weight of the fabric, I made a gather down the middle of the ruffle strip. In retrospect, I probably should have made two parallel gathers.


I pinned the smaller strip of wool down the middle of the gathered gold silk. I pinned the ruffle to the middle of the kimono wool piece that will become the outside of the clutch. Then, I topstitched the strip and ruffle to the outside piece of the kimono wool.DSCF3590 DSCF3594DSCF3607

Here I have laid out the pieces to attach the zipper. This is the outside of the bag with the ruffle attached. I am using one piece that I will fold in half, rather than two pieces, because I wanted the ruffle to be one continuous piece without a seam running through it at the bottom.


Two tabs are sewn onto either end of the zipper.DSCF3615 DSCF3616 DSCF3622

I pinned the zipper to one side of the fabric and the lining and sewed them together.


Pull the zipper open about half-way before you sew the lining piece and zipper to the other side. If you don’t you won’t be able to turn it right side out.



After the zipper is in place, sew the sides of the lining and outside while everything is inside out. Leave a gap in the lining to pull everything through when you turn it right side out. Hand sew the gap closed after it is turned right side out.


For a decorative pull, I am using waxed linen thread and some vintage Czech beads. I think the colors match the kimono wool.


Et voila!  My version of the Martha Stewart Weddings clutch:


Zipper works! And beautiful lining is peeking through the opening.DSCF3672 DSCF3673

Notice the front and back are different because of the patterns in the wool.

DSCF3678 DSCF3682

Smoking Geisha Jacket

Dressed for an Odori, 1920s  A Geiko (Geisha) in costume for an Odori (Dance) as a country girl, smoking a pipe and carrying a basket of flowers on her back.

Dressed for an Odori, A 1920s Geiko (Geisha) in costume for an Odori (Dance) as a country girl, smoking a pipe and carrying a basket of flowers on her back.

This is a cropped jacket I made last summer. I purchased two 60 inch panels of Japanese silk tsumugi at auction from a dismantled vintage kimono. The silk is beautiful, but as it is vintage, it has flaws.




With exactly enough fabric to make this jacket I really had to get creative with the cutting layout. Unfortunately, as I was cutting out the cuff on the right sleeve I noticed a tiny scorched hole in the fabric and I imagined it was made by a smoking geisha who once wore this silk. You can imagine my frustration as I did not have any fabric to spare. I flipped the cuff so the hole is on the underside, barely noticeable unless you know it is there. I lined the jacket in a cream colored handwoven raw silk tsumugi from Japan from an unused vintage bolt I also bought at auction. The pattern did not call for a lining, but I felt it would make the jacket a little more formal.

It almost looks like this 18th century jacket with the three-quarter length bell-sleeves and gathered skirt.

Jacket  Date: 1770s Culture: British Medium: silk Dimensions: Length at CB: 17 in. (43.2 cm) Credit Line: Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 2010 Accession Number: 2010.342
 1770’s British Silk Jacket. Made from Chinese Silk.

My jacket was made from a Japanese pattern in this book. I love this pattern because it is simple and feminine. It was easy to adapt this pattern to the width of the kimono fabric which is typically about 14 1/2 inches wide.

One Day Sewing Summer Clothes 2007

One Day Sewing Summer Clothes 2007

One Day Sewing Summer Clothes 2007

Here is another jacket I adapted from this pattern. This jacket is unlined. I used strips of wool kimono fabric and a bias tape maker to cover all of the seams so that all of the seams were covered or bound. These were machine sewn on one side and hand stitched on the other. I used a hook and eye closure at the neckline. The floral fabric is a from a vintage silk tsumugi kimono. I used two 60 inch kimono panels to make this jacket in a women’s size small.