Obi Makeover: The Beginning

Project 2, part 1 – Mottainai and Getting Started

You really can’t have too many practice weapons…

Welome back to Mukashi no Sewing! I actually hadn’t intended for my second project to also be Japanese (or at least, Japan-adjacent), but another project is taking a bit longer to prep than anticipated, and this one is something I need! Along with being Japan-adjacent, I would also describe this as being “historical-adjacent” – the project utilizes a vintage obi, and relates to my martial arts practice (which has a very long history), but is not itself a recreation or restoration. I hope you’ll stick with me nonetheless because using old fabric for projects when possible also has a very long history! (And if you’re reading these in the order I published – don’t worry! – I haven’t forgotten the finale of Project 1! As I end up in different stages of projects at different times, you’ll see posts from them as they happen rather than in an ordered sequence.)

Pictured: very long fabric to go with said long histories!

In Japanese, the term mottainai (勿体無い) means something like “a wasted resource/opportunity” – with the implication that it’s a shame to let something go to waste. You might hear it in the context of recycling/global use of resources, not wasting food, or even as an expression of humility. In my iaido practice I often hear it when I’m being reminded to not make unnecessary motions – to make my waza as efficient as possible with no wasted energy. Because of this, when I decided that I needed to make a dropcloth to place my weapons on during practice (so they aren’t just on the ground – both disrespectful and possibly dirty!), I knew that I wanted to use this opportunity to remake something rather than to buy all new cloth.

However, I’d forgotten how much work unpicking an obi can be…

I decided to use a vintage obi that I picked up from Shinei for about $10. It’s mofuku (喪服) – clothing meant for funerals or mourning – and as such is commonly seen on secondhand markets for very cheap. It’s extremely common to see mofuku being made over into new garments or crafts because of the narrow use case for wearing it intact combined with a desire to not waste the beautiful fabrics.

A friend in Japan found this gorgeous blouse as an example…
As well as people stuffing their toys with recycled kimono silk! (PS – sorry for the lack of attribution, but if either of these photos are yours, let me know!)

Additionally, black is the color of the hakama and keikogi I wear for practice, so it’s appropriately subdued compared to making something in a brighter color or busier pattern that would stand out (in a not-so-good way). The first step was unpicking all the seams that held it together – mine was a Nagoya obi so it had some extra folds and stitches along one half of it. I left the stiff interlining basted to the outer silk shell in place – no sense taking it off only to have to re-sew it later!

You need some space to unstitch obi. This is the second one I’ve done, and I’m still surprised by how much fabric there is!

Once I was done, I was left with plenty of fabric to form both the top and bottom of the dropcloth! I did need to order some pre-quilted black cotton padding to give it some loft, and piping cord to finish the edges so my jo (the staff in the first picture) doesn’t roll away.

Pictured: more than enough fabric!

Unless something crazy happens while sewing the piping (which, since I’ve never actually done it before, is always a possibility), this should be a fairly quick project to complete. Join me next time for what will be the sewing process as well as (hopefully) the final product!

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6 thoughts on “Obi Makeover: The Beginning

  1. The concept of mottainai appeals to me as well as your plan to reuse the obi for a landing spot for your weapons.
    I look forward to seeing how it turns out.


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