Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Disassembly (Stage 2)

Project 9, part 3 – Made With Love (Part 1, part 2 here)

This book doesn’t have essays like the V&A kimono exhibition one, but it makes up for it with stunning detail shots of not just kimono but also accessories, obi, jackets, and even shoes!

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! I was able to do all the disassembly on the Edo coat itself this week, and it was so fascinating! Much like with the Meiji era kimono project, I spent a lot of time wondering about the (likely) woman who made it. Was it for a brother? A husband? A son? There are some little details that speak of love (more on that in a moment!), so I felt particularly close to her while taking care of her precious work.

Here is the front of the upper right toggle closure…
The process of meticulously unpicking all the padded sections…
…and the reverse.
…and the result!

When disassembling antique garments like this coat I try to avoid pulling long threads through the fabric when at all possible since there’s no way of knowing how strong the surrounding fibers are. This meant stabilizing the fabric with one hand and gently cutting through each stitch, then removing the tiny pieces of thread one by one after the fact. It takes a lot more time, but avoids potentially shattering fibers weakened by age or dye processes. One of the loving details I found as I removed all the passmenterie was that all of the pieces were not only secured with stitches, but also with an adhesive – you can see it in the fourth photo above. I suspect it is probably sokui (続飯), or rice glue, as one of the reasons for its use is a lack of acids which would degrade the materials it’s adhering. The good news is that, although it is water-resistant, it isn’t completely insoluble, so the soaking that will occur when I clean this jacket will likely loosen it if not completely dissolve it.

If I’ve learned one thing from assisting my husband with car maintenance and upgrades, it’s to carefully label all your parts as soon as you remove them!

There are a few questions posed by removing these toggles and their reinforcing anchors – most of which I don’t have answers for yet. One toggle seems to be missing entirely – should I replace it with a convincing replica, try to find a period replacement, or go with something totally different? Should I attempt to remove the paper backing to the extant ones (replacing it with cotton batting), or just leave it? The piping along the collar just stops at a certain point – do I replace all of it, or just add on new piping where the extant is missing/was never added? The toggles in general seem to mimic those I’ve seen on jinbaori – a type of sleeveless vest or overcoat worn by samurai.

Detail of jinbaori, from the book mentioned above.

Beyond that, of course, there is further embellishment or embroidery to consider. Here again I’m drawn to jinbaori styling, so I may go with something similar:

Full photo and sketch, same book.

There are a few steps to go before I get to that point, so at least I have some time to consider my next move!

After removing all the padded additions, I had one final task which was to extract the paper padding from the collar. I initially thought I would be able to pull it out through the tear that had already formed in the top, but when I peeked in, I saw that the paper had in fact been delicately stitched in to the collar itself!

This woman did not cut corners, and her construction techniques are a huge part of why this coat survived as long as it did!

The fabric of the collar is honestly in pretty bad shape – it’s worn thin in many spots, and the top crease was starting to split in multiple places. So I made the decision to carefully cut all the way along the top of the crease to give me access to the interior. Once I did that, I was able to unpick the stitching holding in the paper – and I’m so glad I did:

When you zoom in you can still see the brushstrokes, and where the ink soaked into the paper!

I read printed Japanese just fine, but I’ve only taken one lesson in shodo and I can barely read calligraphy. It’s nearly a different language, as each writer might have a slightly different way of condensing a character. Also, the padding is comprised of two pieces sewn together – the top part is correctly aligned, but you may notice that the bottom part is turned on its side and is mostly cut off. Luckily I have a Japanese friend who is not only extremely accomplished in traditional arts, but also very gracious with her time, and she was able to read the top part instantly. ❤ It says 謹賀新年 (kingashinnen) – Happy New Year! Specifically, this is a formal, written greeting used on New Years’ cards (nengajo) – the first two kanji (kinga) mean “wishes of happiness” and the second two (shinnen) mean “new year.” Whoever made this coat wanted to ensure that its wearer carried this wish for good luck and happiness with him where ever he went. I can just imagine her smiling as she sewed it in, hoping for his safety and success.

This is definitely the “ugly duckling” stage of the project!

With that, all the bits and bobs likely to be damaged by immersion in water were removed! The next step will be to thoroughly clean the coat (which, like with the nightgown, means another round of thoroughly cleaning my tub!), and then I can start making a few decisions about putting it back together! So join me next time for adventures in removing 160+ year old adhesive from fabric! 😀

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