Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Embellishment (Stage 1)

Project 9, part 5 – Collaboration (Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 here)

I know you probably can’t tell at first glance, but I swear I’ve done like 10 hours of work to get to this point…

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! It snowed all week while I was doing this work, lending some urgency to my desire to finish the project and get to wearing it. 😀 So I got some traction on the embellishments on my coat – both reattaching previously detached passementerie, and adding some new flourishes.

I matched every wiggle of the markings to ensure the toggles went back into precisely the same place.

Thanks to my careful labeling of all the toggles I removed for cleaning – and also thanks to the marks from the rice paste adhesive that remained – clipping the toggles back into their original positions was super easy. The tedious part was sewing them back into position. It took about three hours just to sew the five toggles back down, but once I had them secured it just didn’t look right.

Wonder Clips are the besssssssssssssst. Pins absolutely would not have worked here.

Looking at the original images, the cotton twill backing for the cord toggles was stretched down over the paper interfacing, giving the whole piece a more finished look. They were stable so long as they were untouched, but when I removed them from the coat it was clear that the fibers would not hold up to such treatment a second time.

They just look…unfinished, I guess? In any case, I wasn’t happy with how they looked.

So, I bought a metric ton of black paracord (why does it only come in humongous bundles?!), and cut lengths to edge each toggle. This was the really time-consuming part – it was a solid hour+ for each toggle because I had to first secure the paracord to the disc, and then carefully circumnavigate each disc a second time to tack it to the coat itself. Luckily I had a lot of back episodes of the Uncanny Japan podcast to listen to!

Also powering me through the tedium was my friend Dave’s fabulous game review YouTube channel All Games New and Old!

I’m a big fan of Dr Eleanor Janega and her fabulous blog Going Medieval. She writes about a lot of really important things like sex and politics and plagues in the European medieval period and connects them with the same important things going on in the modern world which is often both hilarious and concerning. Back in November she wrote a post called “On Cathedrals and Cooperation,” and I really have to urge you to take a minute and go read it. Her closing thesis is particularly poignant:

The past is never done, we are still working with it and as a part of it all the time, cooperating to make the next chapter for humanity as a whole.

Dr. Eleanor Janega

She’s talking about cathedrals here, and she lists some incredible examples of cooperation across time on that front like St. Albans Cathedral which was built, expanded, and repaired across about three and a half centuries. When I went to Athens about ten years ago, I had the privilege of standing in the Temple of Olympian Zeus that was erected during a span of nearly 600 years. Cooperation and collaboration across centuries, each person respecting the work of the person before them, yet adding their own embellishments, ideas, and skills to the whole.

I deeply respect the work of the woman who sewed my coat – the sheer amount of work just to restore it is nothing to what it must have taken to construct it in the first place!

This is precisely how I view my own restoration work – it’s never a case of me imposing my will, but rather a dialogue with the original creator. This is why I re-used all the original toggles, and chose to not re-dye the fabric of my coat. I did, however, want to leave some mark of my own that was more visible, and decided to add a mon – or crest – to the center back.

Your eyes aren’t bad, my photography is. 😆 But I can’t exactly go back in time to retake the shot lol…

After a great deal of deliberation, I selected 霊 – rei – which is the kanji I use for my name if I’m not writing it in hiragana. There are many ways of writing rei that range in meaning from “formal etiquette” to “small bell” to “zero,” but this particular kanji means “ghost” or “spirit.” I love it because for me it’s a memento mori, as well as a reminder of the great debt I owe to all those who came before me. I picked a metallic gold embroidery thread, and in about an hour I had made my mark! 😉

I’m so happy with it! ❤

I’m now in a really good position to keep moving forward. I am going to create a sixth toggle to allow the bottom flap to be secured, as extant photography seems to indicate one would likely have existed. I can actually start attaching the lining while I wait for the fabric for that to arrive, however, so join me next time as I hand-sew multiple yards of quilted cotton to my coat and question my life choices! ❤

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