Probably the most destructive thing you can do to your kimono is to actually wear it. However, kimono are made to be enjoyed and simply packing them away in a box for posterity will bring joy to neither you nor the splendid garment. So here are some fundamentals you should keep in mind as you are laying out your wardrobe: Bathe your body and wash your hair thoroughly, avoiding all lotions, creams, and hair products. Refrain from using any perfumes or colognes, and never smoke while wearing kimono. If you are to eat or drink while kimono clad, take great care not to spill. A clean handkerchief on your lap while sitting will help to take care of any crumbs and allow you to discretely wipe any oils from your hands if napkins aren’t available. If necessary, a handkerchief discretely placed upon a park bench before sitting down is also appropriate.
If you are able to plan ahead of time, remove your folded garment from its storage envelope (tatou) and allow it to hang on an emonkake (Japanese style kimono hanger) for two or three days before the event is to take place. If you have used mothballs in storing it, this will allow time for the smell to dissipate. Brush the garment with a soft clothes brush and use a lint remover to take care of any static problems. If there are any really major fold lines remaining after a day, gently steam them out.
Hanging a Kimono to Air Using an Emonkake
Once you’ve returned from your outing, wash your hands before removing your kimono. Your garment will have absorbed moisture and sweat from our body. Hang your garment back on the emonkake and allow it to air for two to three hours. This will help to prevent mold and spots from forming later.
Be sure to take time to carefully look over your kimono at this stage. Areas that soil easily are the wrist area of the sleeve, the collar, and the hem. If you have worn a kimono with long sleeves, be sure to check the front-bottom, rounded portion of the sleeve for any spots or dust. Next gently pat down all of the trouble spots with a folded piece of velvet, terry cloth, or soft cotton to dislodge any dust from the street. If you have found any spots that can’t be dislodged in this manner, move on to more aggressive techniques. Lastly, with a low, dry iron setting, press out any severe wrinkles. It is best to press from the lining side, but if you must iron from the front be sure to use a press-cloth.
Treat your obi, haori, and other garments in the same manner outlined above.
If you have just purchased a used kimono, then you may also want to follow the steps outlined above before and after wearing it.
Now you are ready to pack your precious garment away.
Garments are not normally just laid out on the table or floor to be folded. Prepare a clean flat area and wash your hands before proceeding. A freshly wiped tabletop or the top of a freshly made bed will work quite nicely.
Using shitajiki to protect your kimono while changing garments.
Japanese often keep large shitajiki on hand for this purpose. When spread open, the shitajiki may also be used to sit or stand upon when you must change into kimono when away from home. This will keep your garments clean regardless of the environment in which you find yourself.
A large sheet of new butcher paper (un-waxed) or clear newsprint will work just as well.
If you’d like to get a little fancy and make your own shitajiki, you may papier-mâché the butcher paper with pages from an old Japanese songbook or other decorative text.
Old books may be taken apart and used as a decorative element when making your own shitajiki.
You may use white butcher-paper as the core to your shitajiki, or an old white sheet, well ironed. (If using a sheet, you may want to starch it heavily first.) Use a runny consistency of wheat paste or rice paste to apply the decorative paper sheets to both sides of the shitajiki, allowing one side to dry before starting the other. Sew cotton bias tape around all of the edges once the layers are completely dry. Crease the shitajiki into six segments the long way, and four the short way. A common size is 60” (150cm) x 40” (100cm).
Let’s discuss folding your kimono. Every type of kimono has its own special way to be folded–most often this is based on the methods of construction used. The diagrams below illustrate the proper way to fold most kimono types. Almost always, if your kimono is new or if you have bought it from reputable dealer, it come properly folded and you will note that the fold lines generally remain visible even after the garment is worn. Use these fold lines when folding away your garment.
Standard kosode (includes furisode):
Kosode are what most people think of as kimono. Kosode literally means smaller sleeve. However, regardless of the actual length or shape of the sleeve, all garments constructed in a similar fashion to the above will be folded as shown. The key point of construction is the okumi, or extra panel in front.
Tomesode qualify as kimono as described above, however they will often have family crests or intricate patterns at the bottom that require extra care in storage.
Placing a small piece of tissue, or basting a scrap of cloth over the crest, will help to keep the imagery clean, and in the case of embroidery, protect it from abrasion.
Depending on the dyes used, it is wise to cover the intricate pattern at the hem of a tomesode to keep the white areas pristine and the dyed areas pure of color. Some dyes will migrate to undyed areas if left in contact for long periods of time in storage. Also, the imagery in modern pieces may not be dyed at all but applied with acrylic paints. While these may be very beautiful and artistic, the acrylic sections have tendency to stick to one another if left in contact over time.
You may find that a smooth wooden dowel or broom stick will come in handy for making clean, straight folds when many layers are involved.
Wadded tissue may be used to keep some of the thicker folds from becoming wrinkles during storage.
You will want to leave the tissue in place, but remove dowel once you’ve finished folding the garment.
Nagajuban are basically slips. It is the garment worn between the kimono and your underwear (which is worn against the body). Unlike the kimono shown above, a man’s nagajuban normally has no okumi, or extra panel, in front.
A haori may be easily identified by the gussets at the side and the fact that the collar is turned back.
The first step is to pinch the collar bands together as shown in the illustration to the left.
A Michiyuki have an extra panel in front. It always snaps, buttons, or ties closed when worn.
You may want to use something to keep the bugs away. Mothballs do work well, but are poisonous and have a lingering odor. I recommend using camphor cubes (shounou). They are inexpensive, have a moderately pleasant smell and the aroma dissipates quickly once the garment is hung to air. Whatever you choose to use, take care to wrap it in porous tissue so as not to allow it to come into direct contact with your garment–otherwise it may cause discoloration.
Never use plastic bags to store your silks. These can trap moisture and cause spotting. The ideal way to store your garments is in an unfinished Japanese tansu. If this is not an option, large dresser drawers will work; camphor and cedar hope chests, as well as map drawers or cabinets all offer a wonderful options for storing and viewing; and large flat cardboard boxes will always work in a pinch. I use them all. In each case I place my garments in a kimono wrapper (tatou). When using cardboard, I take the extra precaution of lining the box with well-washed old sheets to protect the wrappers and the garments from the acid in the corrugated paper.
Tatoushi – Paper Kimono Wrappers
A little extra time invested in caring for your garments will give you years of extended pleasure.