Upcycled Antique Kimonos

Sharing this article: https://mymodernmet.com/kimono-wedding-dress/

I winced. The article mentioned taking antique kimonos with the long sleeves, and transforming them into modern bridal gown silhouettes. My imagaination exploded with images of gasp cutting those gorgeous heirlooms.
I believe in repurposing, upcycling, and using the things you have. I don’t believe in gasp cutting a perfectly awesome traditional garment that is a family heirloom steeped in significant cultural heritage. My brain needs time to adjust to that.
But look at what was made! Beautiful gowns. I love their silhouettes and fabrics, and how each tells its own story. :kimono: :dress:

Have you ever been conflicted about repurposing something?


I have an obi which my sister bought for me when she went to Japan ages ago. She bought one for herself as well and that was made into an evening coat (very fancy given all the gold threads). I was supposed to make mine into an evening coat as well and it is still untouched, but admired for its own beauty now and then.

Of the dresses pictured in that article, I think only the first red one makes good use of the fabric/kimono. The others, while very stylish, have made poor use of the kimonos, they look chopped up rather than enhanced in a new way. (just my opinion)

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I inherited many kimonos from my family…as an American, what am I going to do with them? I could display one or two, but that takes a large space and then it just hangs on the wall…after a while, it becomes dusty and invisible…everyone you know has seen it, and most are not interested.

Years ago, I started buying old kimonos and taking them apart and salvaging the usable parts for kimono projects. I made sort of patchwork kimono purses and used the fabric to make everything from pincushions to prayer flags.

People who had kimonos that they had purchased on trips to Japan or were given to them by their families started giving them to me to use. I would make smaller items for them that were practical, maybe placemats or a table runner. Still, lots of left over fabric.

I guess it is like an old wedding dress…sitting in a box in the attic does not preserve the memory or the dress. Kimonos can cost thousands of dollars, especially if made of silk, and silk will disintegrate over time. Yes, I am sort of conflicted, but unless their families have a vested interest (if there is even family), all of those kimonos would probably not be used.

I think this is an incredible way to show case the beauty of the fabric and reinvent them into something usable…it is no longer a kimono…they will still exist as long as traditions exists…but as time goes on, so does the memories of the people…you don’t see togas saved and repurposed…

Excellent discussion question!


I admit to feeling this way about some of the “recycled” sweater garments. A lot of the people I’ve seen talking about making them seem to think buying a perfectly wearable sweater at the thrift store to cut up is recycling. Which is not to say that a lot of thrift store donations don’t end up shipped overseas or tossed in the dumpster, but there are also a lot of people out there who really do need boring but functional clothes.

Not quite the same dilemma as scavenging silk from antique garments, tho; that’s more the question of whether it’s better to have things archived in perpetuity or being used and enjoyed.


Yes, exactly. You hit that nail squarely on the head. Conscience vs. craft isn’t always clear cut.


I understand that a kimono is rarely used now, so turning it into a wedding dress does sound good. However, I couldn’t do that with a vintage kimono. If I should buy a new one which I know hasn’t taken as much time to put together as those over super old ones then I won’t feel as bad about it.

And for me buying from thrift shops is similar as looking at my old clothes and and knowing that it’s still usable, but not something I will want to use, and then reuse it for something else. If the new item will be used far more than the old then I think it’s great.

I recently came across a recycled books video on pinterest, and the people in the comment section were all “they ruined a perfectly good book for that?!” With books I’m even more lose about it because there are so many books that are thrown every year, and so many books I will never want to read, and there is no need to even mention the amount of books in a language I don’t even recognise. The book on the video was in Danish, but based on what I could “read” it was not something I would have spent my time reading.


@imera you raise an excellent point.

Yes, being useful is the ultimate goal. I guess sometimes I let sentiment get the better of me.

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But that is how we all are. The things I save to use for crafts are seen as junk by others (especially non crafty people).


@AIMR, I am the recipient of one of your kimono totes, and I have to tell you…it is one of my favorite bags and I am always looking at the fabric of the kimono on it.


awww–that is so sweet of you…I wish I knew the stories behind some of the pieces I have…but I imagine that just like in our country, a lot of people just threw them out or put into a recycle to be claimed by people like me! I am sure the imperial kimonos are saved and carefully taken care of.


I kind of have mixed feeling about this too. I guess it depends on where the “sourced” objects come from.

Talking more in general than here than the kimonos, I know very little about kimonos in general honestly. So I can’t speak to them specificly.

In general though if something is damaged and unloved/not sentimental I think it makes sense to upcyle it into something else. But a lot of upcyled projects I see are made from undamaged things that are perfectly useable as is and already beautiful. So buying perfectly good useable things to tear apart seems wasteful in a way to me, unless you have already had it for a while and aren’t using it.

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I don’t really see much of a problem with the practice. If it’s your clothes, and it’s just sitting in a closet somewhere never being used, it seems like turning it into something new and functional would be preferred.

A lot of Japanese people I’ve known will repurpose old worn kimonos into something else (reasonably nice ones are sold to second hand stores or given to children/family members) - maybe a dress for a doll, or new kanzashi. I’ve always worked with new silk, but a lot of the kanzashi artists I follow use salvaged kimono silk. If the silk is too worn to make a good accessory, they’ll take it apart to the threads and use the thread to make temari balls.

After the industrial revolution in Japan left parts of the country black with smog, they really made a concerted effort towards recycling, and now it’s basically part of their cultural identity. I thought it was annoying that I had to sort my recycling because different materials were recycled every day, but now I kind of miss it. I knew everything was really being recycled.


This is a lovely idea, just like updating grandma’s wedding dress for a modern looking gown. I am all about turning old into new, reusing what will just hang around to make something functional, practical, or just turn it into a new beauty.
When I salvage garments for a project they are always holey, ugly, or otherwise unwearable. There is more than enough of that stuff, no need to use up stuff that’s still good. This world is full of garbage/cheap-free crafting supplies!


I had never heard of temari balls before your post, so I thank you for broadening my horizons. After googling, I am gobsmacked at the intricate patterns created by threads and perseverance. A forty year apprenticeship attests to those artisans’ skills. :open_mouth: :kimono:

One thing I really love about this site is learning of different cultures and ways of doing things, both modern and historic. Crafts unite us in a wonderful way.


The kimono wedding dress company seemed to just have those five gowns for rent. That’s kind of a great idea; instead of using hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of time and material just once, then storing it forever, the garment gets worn by several different women. I bet when it gets worn or stained, they’ll reuse the fabric for something else.

Or maybe they already have reused the fabric; some of the gowns looked like they might contain fabric from more than one kimono.

I think preserving a few best examples of something is important, but it’s not practical or “green” to save every piece of clothing. Can you imagine keeping every garment you ever owned? I used to work for a woman who kind of did that. Her two car garage was converted to a giant closet, with custom racks holding clothes from the 1950s forward. She never wore them, or even looked at them, and didn’t really care about them, except in a hoarding way. Most didn’t fit her anymore, were so outdated that she wouldn’t wear them if they fit, and in many cases they were downright ugly. I mean, brown polyester pants from the '70s. Ugh.

It would have been far better to donate them and let them become something else…costumes or rugs or recycled fiber; anything would be better than garage stuffing. When she died, it did all go because her husband and grown kids didn’t want any of it.

James Laver said,
The same dress is indecent ten years before its time; daring one year before its time; chic (contemporarily seductive) in its time; dowdy five years after its time; hideous twenty years after its time; amusing thirty years after its time; romantic one hundred years after its time; beautiful one hundred and fifty years after its time.

Yeah, I’m not sure what my point was. It’s after 6am, and I haven’t gotten to sleep yet.


I don’t think that taking something beautifully crafted, but dated/unfashionable, and repurposing it into something that will be used is a bad thing. It’s what was done before fast fashion, and I believe it’s what we need to get back towards.

Buying new, new, new and discarding when the next trend hits the shelves a week later is not sustainable.

I don’t mind the practice of buying a sweater or some books or whatever at the second hand store in order to upcycle/repurpose. I eye-twitch a bit at the thought of buying brand new fast fashion in order to do the same thing, but I guess it shouldn’t be any difference. I guess the important part is then taking care of that garment and NOT discarding it weeks or months later.

I treated myself to a (second hand) hand printed cotton yukata that is now my fancy bathrobe. I have a feeling I will use it for a very long time.