Obi Makeover, the Sequel: The Beginning and Sewing

Project 11, part 1 – I Heard You Like Obi

Women’s obi for kimono are SO LONG. I wear them semi-frequently, and I still forget every time how long they are.

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Nearly a year ago, I used a secondhand obi to create a dropcloth for my weapons for iaido, and I’m still using it regularly! This week I started a little project with a different secondhand obi to make…another obi. 😅

Ok, ok, hear me out though. 😀 Rank testing is coming around again for iaido for me, which is always a good time to spruce up my wardrobe. In iaido, we wear obi (which really means something like sash, although it’s often translated as “belt”) to both hold up our hakama and secure our sword. In my dojo, at the lower ranks everyone wears a basic black belt (usually cotton or poly – mine happens to be cotton), but at a certain point approval is granted to wear a colored obi. Iaido isn’t like karate – our ranks don’t correspond to specific belt colors – so this is one of the few ways in which one can customize the uniform.

This is one of Sensei’s obi that he lent me for this project.

I’m delighted to say I’ve reached that point! However, nothing I found online suited me – my accent color is scarlet, and it’s a bit difficult to find. Sensei then suggested that since I have the skill to do so, perhaps I might duplicate one of his (also handmade) obi!

Reverse side – you can see that it’s silk folded over cotton, then topstitched into submission!

Well, that’s a challenge I’ll never turn down! My first job was taking exacting measurements of every aspect of the obi. That’s a job I’m always here for. Fiddly detail work with calipers and a seam gauge? Let’s go! 🙂 Then I had to figure out what fabric to get. The ties at the end are cotton; they’re a tighter weave than I had laying around, but I went ahead and used the quilting cotton I had because it would absolutely do the trick.

It did take me two tries because for some reason on the first go-around, I made them 1/2″ too wide. SO annoying haha!

The center portion of Sensei’s obi is silk, and as soon as I held it I was positive it was tsumugi – and almost certainly made from a kimono obi originally. It may have been cut down from a women’s Nagoya obi (as I ended up doing), or repurposed from a men’s kaku obi. Tsumugi silk is made from broken or misshapen cocoons, and together with its tight weave it makes a very durable fabric. For iaido, we need the obi to be durable as the saya – the scabbard – moves around quite a bit and would easily shred a softer fabric.

Even though I had a lot of fabric, I’m always a little anxious cutting into silk, so I measured and marked very carefully first!

I went to Shinei, my favorite secondhand kimono goods store online, and found myself a deep scarlet tsumugi silk Nagoya obi for about $4. When it arrived I was delighted to discover I’d chosen correctly – it has the perfect weight and drape for this project. Also the color is superb. My photography isn’t perfect here (having trouble with my lighting and camera settings again, sorry), but I hope you can see how rich the color is!

I will never stop telling you how much I love Wonder Clips. They’re just the best for projects like this!

Once the silk was cut, all I had to do was clip it to the cotton ties, and then begin endlessly topstitching. Sensei’s belt has 25 rows of topstitching, end-to-end, spaced approximately 1/8″ apart. It serves several purposes, the most important of which is to keep the two layers of fabric from shifting in any way. It also further stiffens the belt and gives it enough structure and heft to hold everything in place. I so wish I could speak to the late seamstress who made the originals – I would dearly love to ask her some more question about the construction, but at the very least I hope I have done her proud with my duplicate!

The seams extend past the silk into the cotton to hold everything in place. It’s more visible on mine since I went with black cotton ties rather than red!

The topstitching took FOREVER. My valiant Featherweight is not built for this kind of work, and I could only do two lines in a row before needing to give its motor time to cool off. I’ve been looking into heavy-duty machines though, so…stay tuned! 😉 Eventually, though, I managed to finish – mine has 24 rows of stitching, as my obi is just slightly narrower.

Turning an obi into an obi has been just the sort of relaxing project I needed this week – my creative juices have been a little low, and being able to just do endless lines of stitching was deeply soothing. So join me again next week when I finish up my belt and show it off here on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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