Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the spirit of yukata ("I gotta make a yukata...")

A few months ago, a close friend introduced me to the products of a  lovely business, named Okan Arts, dedicated to artisan quilts and vintage Japanese textiles.  Located in Seattle Washington, and owned by the lovely Patricia Belyea, this shop offers beautiful fabrics designed for specific traditional Japanese casual garments, called "yukata". Both a brick-and-mortar and e-commerce business, the uniqueness and quality of the textiles offered translate well without much explanation.  Why?  The strong, sturdy 100% cotton fabrics are functionally perfect for their category of Okan Arts' recommended uses, whether yukata-making, or quilting.

I held on to my yukata pieces, not knowing what they should become. I had a million ideas in my head, and wanted to somehow respect the intention of the fabric in my use of it.  I consulted my best friend's dad, who spent a good number of years living in Japan, who told me what the characters on one of my yukata pieces meant. (And thank God, really, because I didn't realize that the fabric was one length with a motif upside down on one end, and right side up on the other, so it could traverse the shoulder without needing a seam.)  

Because I like to think about my pieces before creating them, I considered the definitions of two traditional Japanese garments before deciding.

The kimono (着物?, きもの) is a Japanese traditional garment. The word "kimono", which actually means a "thing to wear" (ki "wear" and mono "thing"), has come to denote these full-length robes. The standard plural of the word kimono in English is kimonos, but the unmarked Japanese plural kimonois also sometimes used.

yukata (浴衣?) is a Japanese garment, a casual summer kimono[1] usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined.

I do not know how accurate the explanations are in this video I found while perusing YouTube (the video is under the heading of "Life in Korea", although she does seem to be taking a wider scope view of her Asian experience, which includes yukata. I can certainly say that this level of complication and adornment would never fly in American culture.  But it fascinates me nonetheless...

So what would this mean in my American life?  What information can/should I use?  What should I take away?

I pondered this...

So, I thought, if there were such a thing, what would the American equivalent of yukata be?  Well, we currently embrace athleisure, which adds sport or movement to the idea of casual loungewear, but takes away tradition and beauty (for the most part).  Summer  weather might not be the garment's focus for me, since I spend so much time in climate-controlled environments.  Personally, I would need something that straddles the worlds of hot and cold, so the most versatile garment would be ideal. For my family, trips to take the kids to various activities, or to the supermarket/library/mall equals no audience, and thus, no effort, really.  Truth be told, comfort is key, and beauty is a plus. To create a relatively shapeless, soft, roomy garment that prettily responds to the body, but not necessarily the dress form, became my mission.  What would make this particular garment unique?  The beauty of the yukata fabric.

Planning to ignore much of the essence of the yukata, I did investigate some interesting yukata links (below), which informed my making:

  1. In Japan, students given a special school day to wear yukata.
  2. How to wear a yukata.
  3. How to make a yukata.

In a very happy moment of east meeting west, I looked at one of the great yukata fabrics I have, and was reminded of a favorite cotton from B&J Fabrics here in NYC.  Combined with a powerful green unifying fabric to join pieces, these three fabrics will sing together to become project #2.  Project #2 will embrace a bit more of the yukata idea, especially in the sleeve design.

Yukata fabric (base) looks like matches, right?

Before beginning, there were things I had to/wanted to notice/avoid/embrace: 


A yukata is a great travel garment because it folds neatly into a square, effortlessly.
Body movement is unrestricted, and there is no "fitting" required.


No belts or closures needed.  Any dressing complication would take away the "easy" wear for me.
T-shirt fabric for body, with only a lower border, allows me to cut the yukata piece differently, to allow faces to be upright and comical on the finished piece.


The oversized sleeve trend reminiscent of yukata
Even in Asia, this Denim yukata evokes western culture

Historically, these funny Japanese characters, represent wisdom and foolishness, according to my friend's dad.
Prettier on the body than on the dressform, the epitome of loungewear.
It folds up into a flat rectangle.  Perfect for travel.

So, in a nutshell, the irony/humor of this much thought to sew four rectangles together.  But, I promise you,  these will be some very well-loved rectangles!

You can shop for yukata fabrics on the Okan arts website -!


  1. Thanks for the great mention. I'm thrilled that you have the fabric with the two folk characters as most Americans are not drawn to them. Amy Kathoh of Blue and White in Tokyo wrote a whole book on Otafuku—the joyous one.

  2. Love what you have done with the yukata faces. I knew that these fabrics would speak to you.


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