Here I would like to present some information
about the fabrics used in the Vintage Japanese
garments, and how to tell them apart. The
information is courtesy of my Japanese friends, so
can be taken as fact directly from the source.
There are three kinds of kimono textile that look
(2) Jinken (Rayon)
(3) Polyester, acrylic, and other synthetics.
Silk, as you know, is made from the cocoons of
silk worms, so is therefore a protein-based textile.
It is one of the most indestructible natural fibers
known, although it has a texture which make it seems
so fragile. Mummies that have been excavated
after thousands of years have been known to be
wrapped in silk that was at least semi-intact; in
many cases, the silk was more intact than the body
Jinken was invented in 1884 in France, and
entered commercial production in 1892 in England.
In Japan, Jinken began to be produced in Taisho 7
(1918), and after WWI, Japan became the largest
producer of jinken. Many kimono from pre WWII
were made of jinken, and many other textiles were
woven with silk and rayon. For example, many
maru obi from pre WWII were woven of jinken and
cotton (or silk) and pure silk maru obi were rare.
"Jinken" is the Japanese word for rayon, and it
is defined as follows: 'jin' (human made)
'ken' (silk). Jinken has a touch similar to
silk, but it is sometimes stiffer or crisper than
silk. The most important point is that rayon
is made of wood pulp, the same as paper. It is
considered more of a natural fabric because of this,
and is not truly a synthetic.
Polyester was invented in 1941 in England, and
mass production began in the 1950's. This
textile is oil based, and is strong, fade resistant,
and also more wrinkle resistant than many fabrics.
After WWII, polyester was used for kimono,
especially washable kimono. Today's polyester
feels VERY much like silk, and even very skilled
professionals cannot distinguish it from silk only
To confirm textile content, a small piece is
burned; usually a small piece of the hem from inside
the hem fold; even a few stray threads will
sometimes do. The result of the burn tells you
the type of fabric:
(1) Silk burns like hair. It does not
flame, and the burned material is a black wad, just
as though you burned a few hairs. It is rigid,
and if you press the burned material between your
fingers, it shatters, and it smells just like burned
hair. This is because both silk and hair are
(2) Jinken burns like paper, since it is made of
wood pulp just like paper. When burned, if
flames just like paper, and you have to blow it out,
just like burning paper. It smells the same as
burning paper, and the ash is similar also, in that
it does not hold together in a wad.
(3) Polyester (and other petroleum based
textiles) flames and melts. The burned
material forms a wad which is usually white
(although sometimes black), and the wad is very
stiff and does not shatter when pressed between the
fingers. It is exactly like what happens if
you burn a piece of plastic.
Identifying polyester by burn test is always
easy, but sometimes determining the difference
between silk and jinken can be more difficult; this
is because many times silk and jinken are woven
together. In this case, you can authenticate
this fact by burning the weft and warp separately.
Now let us move on to some
common words used to title and describe kimono.
I will add to the list as the words are defined for
Fukuro Obi: 12 inches wide and 10 feet or more
in length, this obi is patterned only on one side,
for about 60% of the length. The section that
wraps around the body is blank on both sides.
The Fukuro can be worn either formally or
Fukusa: Covering cloth for food gift.
Furisode: Most formal kimono for unmarried
Furoshiki: Wrapping cloth for gift.
Hakama: A loose
fitting pleated trouser for men, it is worn over
kimono to make a formal ensemble. Some are
divided like trousers (originally only for riding
horses) while others are not divided; more like a
Han haba Obi: Han
haba obi is 'half-width' obi, being only 6 inches
wide. It is less formal than other obi, and is
the easiest to tie.
Hitoe: Kimono without lining.
Homongi: 'Homon' means 'to visit' and 'gi' means
'wear'. Homongi is formal wear for both
married and unmarried women for visiting or at
Hosyoguruma: Wheels (in a kimono pattern).
Iro: Without patterns.
Iromuji: A single color kimono of satin,
crepe, or tsumugi weaving. It is for married
and unmarried women, and can be worn formally when
it has a single crest on the back.
Irotomesode: Second most formal garment for
married women, it is like tomesode except that it is
not black, but light in color, and also
has five crests.
Kasuri: Known as
Japanese ikat, kasuri is a popular design of lines
running parallel or crossed. There are more
complex kasuri known as the pictorial kasuri, where
designs include pine, bamboo, cranes, tortoises,
plum blossoms, etc. Kasuri weaving is the
result of threads being bundled and tied with cotton
threads, and then dyeing the bundles. Where
the bundles are tied, the dye does not penetrate.
The bundles are then untied and loaded to the loom
for weaving these interesting patterns.
Komon: A small repeating pattern printed on
kimono for everyday wear.
Kurotomesode: A very formal kimono for married
women, it is black with large floating patterns
along the bottom of the garment. It has five
crests and is worn with a white underkimono.
Maru Obi: The most formal and expensive of all
obi, it is 12 inches wide, and 12 feet or more in
length. It is fully patterned on both sides,
with no blank section where it wraps around the
body. It is usually brocaded of either silk or
a silk/rayon blend.
Momji: Autumn leaf (in kimono pattern).
Muji: One color.
Shichi-go-san: 7-5-3 (ceremony of growth for
Shishi: Lion dog (foo dog).
socks for wearing indoors or with zori worn with
Tomesode: Most formal black kimono for married
women, it is black with five crests.
Ume: Plum blossom.
Zori: A flat
wedge shoe with a thong for wearing with kimono.
They are covered in cloth or leather, and covered
with brocaded silk to match kimono.