Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fabric challenge – Kimono silk wedding dress

Sometimes a project comes along that delights me from the beginning.  I was contacted last year by Susan, who found me on the web and asked if I would be interested in making a wedding dress for her using some Japanese kimono silk.  We talked briefly on the phone and then decided to meet in person so she could show me the fabric and talk about possibilities.  Once in a while you meet a person and have an instant connection. That night she decided to have me design and make her dress.  Talk about faith – I have never made a wedding dress before, but faith is her business, so to speak, as she is a hospital chaplain. She had a roll of kimono silk which she received as a gift many years ago when her family lived briefly in Japan.  Pink floral silk, 14 inches wide!  Very beautiful but certainly unusual for a wedding dress.  I was shaken a bit by this fabric challenge, but she told me she and her fiance were committed to a green lifestyle as much as possible, her words were “we are having a casual hippie wedding in Golden Gate Park” and she liked the idea of using this vintage fabric instead of buying something new.  So challenge accepted and I got to work on the design. 

First task was to measure the roll and see how much I had to work with.  Once I unrolled the bolt I was really struck by the quality of the fabric. 

Here is a closer look at the end of the fabric.  The length of fabric was folded in the center and rolled on a 1" dowel. There were a series of colors on the end which seemed to be hand painted.  The gold stamp in the lower left corner says "Daikey Kyoto".

That sent me to the web to do some research and I came to the conclusion that this fabric was hand painted in the Yuzen Dye method. The artist creates the outline of the design on the plain white silk fabric, then goes over it with a rice-paste resist which acts as a barrier to contain the colored dyes.  The colors are painted on and then it is heated to affix the design.  One of the final steps is to add the background color. The fabric is heated several times during this process to make it colorfast.  I have simplified this greatly and found some very interesting websites describing this method, Yuzen Dyeing at Ishida Mansen Koujo, Kyoto and Kyoto Yuzen Dyeing.  If you are interested in textiles they are worth reading. 

So onto the dress design.  Creating the skirt portion seemed quite possible, using the fabric lengthwise but the bodice was a puzzle.  And there was the pattern to consider.  The floral motifs were quite large, about 12 inches across and I didn't want them to look uneven.  In the end I cut out the front bodice piece across one of the floral sections and then cut out each piece based on that.  A couple of additional challenges to note, Susan is tall, 5'8" with a long torso, and she wanted to be able to enter the wedding ceremony on a bicycle.  Other than that it was up to me.  And as things turned out, she was a dream client who loved every detail I chose.  What more could a dressmaker ask for?  
Here is a look at the first muslin design. I made it in pink cotton so we could get an idea how it would look in the final fabric.  I cut out 14 inch wide panels and sewed 5 together to create the skirt to replicate the actual fabric.  For the bodice, I needed pieces that could be fit on the fabric width with the pattern in a horizontal orientation.   Not too promising when I finished this but when does a cotton muslin look good?  For the bodice portion I did use a pattern, New Look 6002.

The fit was just about right, I shortened the midriff portion a bit as I had lengthened it too much but otherwise it was good.  I had some doubts about the gathered skirt but that request for a bicycle-friendly design kept that for now.  As it turned out I changed that which you will see in my next post.  Until then,

Happy sewing,  Beth

Here is a link to the next post in this series.


  1. Such a beautiful post and the fabric is gorgeous. The muslin looks good so far... Keep up the good work.

  2. lovely dress! can't wait for the next post. Did i need correctly...a bicycle friendly wedding dress?

  3. UBER COOL! What a great project, using a great fabric, for a great client!! I look forward to seeing it as it progresses.

  4. So interesting! I'll be following your progress closely, Beth.

  5. Can't wait to see how this turned out! I love the idea of biking into your wedding ceremony...