Victorian Era Nightgown Restoration: The Beginning

Project 3, part 1 – Meet the Nightgown and the Victorian Era

Intrigued yet?

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Today marks the beginning of a new project; the restoration of a Victorian Era nightgown.

I won’t make you wait – she’s so stunning! Even Totoro is excited.

I adore the Victorian Era; it was a fascinating and complex time worldwide. In the history of the United Kingdom it is the period encompassing Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1837 until her death in 1901. (As you can see, it overlaps the Meiji Era from when the kimono in my first project originated – which may or may not be part of why I love that kimono so much.) During this era women’s suffrage finally gained traction, tremendous advances were made in science and medicine, and many novels and poetry still beloved today were written. On the flip side, it was a time of oppressive colonialism, the Industrial Revolution, and an event which still reverberates in American politics today – the Civil War. People who lived in this time had to be flexible in their mindsets due to the rate of change; open to new ideas while still depending strongly on their traditions and families to sustain them.

Plus the fashions were FABULOUS.

Pintucks, gathers, AND lace!

This nightgown was given to me by a friend who found themselves in possession of a family heirloom, but with no desire to manage the project of restoring – and then storing – one. I don’t have enough words in my lexicon to express how honored and grateful I am to be the person now entrusted with this precious piece of history. I can only hope to do it justice!

Seriously, just look at all the work that went into this beauty.

Family records dated this garment to around 1860, but your girl is always going to do her research. In this case, it turned out to be a good thing I did! Not because of the date, but because of the original use case for the garment itself.

You already know it’s a nightgown – but when I received it, I did not! The family records listed it as a car coat – a coat meant to be worn by a lady over her dress to protect it from dust or grime while driving – and I originally had no reason to dispute this assertion. As I began preparing for this project, however, a few problems presented themselves.

It’s all white, for one…although in fairness quite a few driving coats were, in later eras
  1. No one was driving cars until the late Victorian Era – a good 20-30 years past the date of this garment. Really, you’re looking more at the Edwardian Era for dusters and driving coats, and they looked quite different from what I have in my possession.
  2. Carriage coats, as they were called in the mid-Victorian Era, looked wildly different from my garment as well.
  3. My garment is made of a fine cotton fabric, as far as I can tell, with absolute truckloads of fine detailing – pintucks, ruches, lace, shell buttons…not the sort of things you typically would find on a practical overcoat.
Translucent buttons aren’t usually a feature of sturdy jackets.

So I started poking around. Could it be a chemise (a garment worn under the corset to protect it from sweat)? No, buttons would be terribly uncomfortable. How about a camisole, or corset cover? No, they tended to be short and low-necked, and my garment has a very high neckline. Then I had an epiphany – nightgown!?!?

A quick image search later, and I found my answer: YES! Dropped shoulders with self-piping in the seams? Check. White cotton with ruching and pleats? Check and check. Bingo.

So now that I know what I’ve got, what needs to be done? Some mending, naturally.

Although honestly this is the worst of it!

The biggest issue is the stains; it has a whole panoply of them; mostly across the back, but there are a few lighter ones on the front, and overall it has yellowed with age. It’s missing two buttons (at the bottom, fortunately), so I’ll need to either replace all the buttons or locate two suitable replacements. Other than that, it’s in tremendous shape! So tune in next time as I begin my adventures in cleaning an historic garment and searching eBay for two dang buttons!

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Obi Makeover: The Sewing and the Reveal

Project 2, part 2 – Learning New Skills is Fun! (Part 1 here)

Everything you need to make a dropcloth, apparently.

Welcome back to the obi makeover project! As predicted, this was a pleasantly quick project to finish – about 8 hours total including things like unpicking the obi and pinning up 3.5 yards of piping. I’ve never done piping before, so I leaned heavily on Treasurie’s posts on making piping and sewing it into a project. It was surprisingly easy – I just pinned bias tape around piping cord, then swapped over to a zipper foot on my sewing machine to stitch it up.

I did briefly worry that I was going to lose too much width with the piping, but there was no going back at this point.

Once the piping was sewn, I pinned it to the front of the dropcloth, and stitched it on. This whole project used only my zipper foot (and some judicious hand-sewing). Having also never used a zipper foot, I was excited to try it out!

My aunt Sue introduced me to Wonder Clips and they are just fabulous for things like this where a pin wouldn’t work.

Speaking of hand-sewing, my quilting wasn’t long enough (I only bought a yard, to be economical), so I had to stitch together two pieces to get the necessary length. Then it was time to pile it all together into a fabric sandwich and sew it all up, following the stitching lines from before and the line of the piping. I left the bottom open, then inverted it and hand-sewed it shut. A quick press with my iron later, and…done!

The piping makes it look so finished! I’m a huge fan now; I can definitely predict more piping in my future.

The final test was to pile it up with weapons…in addition to my worry about the width, I was also afraid that I’d lost too much length and that my jo (staff) wouldn’t fit. My worries, however, were unfounded:

Left to right: jo, shinai, bokken, mogito.

Everything fit! Just as planned! The bulk of the seams inside provide resistance so my jo doesn’t roll away, and the padding is more than enough to protect my weapons from the ground. I’d actually originally contemplated two layers of quilting but I’m very glad I stuck with one – I’m not sure my machine could have sewn through two, and one is plenty poofy.

Closeup of everything snuggled in nice and tight.

I’m tremendously happy with how this project finished up. The dropcloth is light enough to roll up and stash in a backpack or bag, but substantial enough to protect my gear. I wouldn’t use this outdoors without something underneath like a towel, as it’s not really washable and is definitely not waterproof. For indoor use, though, I think it will hold up quite well! Being black, it’s not too flashy, but up close the patterns give it some visual interest that would be lacking if I had gone with just a plain fabric.

Coming up on Mukashi no Sewing is another restoration project, as well as a 1960s minidress I’ll be sewing from scratch, so I look forward to seeing you here again soon!

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Meiji Era Kimono Restoration: The Reveal

Project 1, part 5 – Revealing the Finished Kimono and Sharing Final Thoughts (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 here)

I’ll make you wait just a bit for the head-to-toe shot!

Welcome back to the Meiji Kimono Restoration project! Today I’d like to share with you a bit about the obi I chose for the ensemble, along with my final thoughts on the project and the big reveal! Let’s start with the obi, or belt, since that’s how the kimono is held closed around the body. (Well…that and a lot of himo, or ties, underneath it all. But the obi is important!)

I’m going to say this a lot…but isn’t it beautiful!?

I have a few vintage obi in my collection, but this is the only antique. I bought it from Shinei for a whole $9 due it being listed as “for fabric only.” In other words, its delicate state meant the auction site didn’t want potential buyers to be disappointed if it became damaged from the process of tying it on. However, I mostly use obi clips for my kitsuke (kimono wearing), which allow for the wearing of more fragile obi – perfect for my needs!

I can’t be certain of the exact age of this obi (Shinei listed it only as “antique”), but the wave pattern like this was extremely popular in the Meiji period as you can see from this obi in the collection at The Met:

Public domain image courtesy of The Met

Thematically it seems like an odd choice…until you look at the hem of my kimono and realize that it also features waves!

The stains on the hem came free with the kimono. 😉

My obi is a bit of an oddity; it’s a sha weave – a light, airy summer weave that is stiffer than ro gauze, but not particularly formal.

You can see right through it in the light!

At the same time, the metallic embroidery marks it as a more formal obi. Is it suitable for the extreme formality of my irotomesode? Ehhhhhhh…maybe? The blue color and wave themes are considered “cooling,” perfect for summer. I think this ensemble could possibly be worn by a guest at a summer wedding – still formal and appropriate for the occasion (formal, crested kimono with auspicious iconography), but taking into account the heat and humidity of Japanese summers with a lighter obi that evokes the nostalgia of playing by the seaside.

My otaiko (drum bow) on my obi is pretty crooked…but just look at those crashing waves!

Given that scenario, I went for more formal zori and a white obiage (the sash peeking out of the obi), and formal white tabi socks to complete the outfit! I do want to take a moment to acknoweledge that I haven’t had a lot of practice wearing kimono, and those of you who are experienced at kitsuke may spot a few issues. There’s no ohashori (the fold in the kimono at the bottom of the obi), for example, as this antique kimono is almost 20cm too short for me and I don’t have quite enough experience to finesse it. It took me nearly an hour to dress for these photos – wearing a real kimono is nothing like putting on a Western-style robe that might carry the same name! So I appreciate your kindness in overlooking any technical difficulties in favor of appreciating the beauty of the kimono in all its glory. 🙂

Wearing a piece of history put such a huge smile on my face!

This project was a lot of fun. In the course of my research I learned a lot about kimono and obi of the Meiji era, and about the lives of the women who lived in (and just prior to) the era. I developed some new hand-sewing techniques, and got very lucky on matching my donor fabric to the lining. Plus, I learned camera and photo-editing skills! Thank you for following this project to its conclusion, and I look forward to sharing all the upcoming fun in my pipeline!

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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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Meiji Era Kimono Restoration: The Finishing

Project 1, part 4 – Finishing the Mending and Previewing an Obi (part 1, part 2, part 3 here)

What lies within this unassuming tatoshi (kimono wrapping paper)? Read to the end to find out!

Welcome back to the Meiji Kimono Restoration project! I’ve finally finished up all the mending – huzzah! When I sat down I thought “oh, there’s not much more to do,” but in reality it was another four hours or so of careful hand-stitching.

The background entertainment of this session was catching up on my backlog of videos by Janet on Occasion.

Honestly, I was pretty tired by the time I got to the final bit, which was securing the shredded hem section, and my somewhat ragged stitches bear this out. It’s an inside hem, though, so I decided that it was good enough for now – the important thing is keeping the silk from fraying further!

Pictured: not my best work.

At last it was done! I was particularly happy with how the sleeves looked when I finally got everything right-side out. Not with how badly the silk needs to be steamed, but with the fact that it’s very difficult to tell at a glance which sleeve has the donor silk and which is all original.

If anyone’s getting close enough to me to tell while I’m wearing it, they’re probably a little too close!

As I was sewing and listening to the soothing tones of my favorite British gaming YouTuber, I couldn’t help wondering about the woman who originally owned this kimono. The Meiji Era was marked by tremendous societal changes in Japan; the largest of course was the (forced) opening of the country to the West after around 200 years of relative isolation, as well as changes in government and policy that created opportunities for movement along the social ladder that hadn’t existed for centuries. While men in the Meiji Era were pressured (and in some cases, required) to wear Western dress, women were encouraged to retain the kimono as a symbol of their role as “mothers and cultural protectors.” Did my kimono’s owner love the link with Japan’s history and culture, or did she wish she could wear Western styles instead? What did she think about the maelstrom of cultural exchange happening at the time? Was she a Tokugawa sympathizer or a Restoration supporter? With the rapid rate of change and effects of globaliztion today, I can’t help but feel that we might have understood each other a little – caught between tradition and novelty, in a world simultaneously too big and too small. I hope that by mending her kimono and giving it new life, I can honor her and all the women after her who wore it!

Marie Kondo would be proud…so flat!
All wrapped up and ready for storage – and to wear soon!

There’s really only one thing left to do to wrap up this project – metaphorically speaking…since literally it’s already wrapped in paper and put away – and that’s to wear it! As teased in the intro picture, I’ve already chosen an obi for it, and it’s also an antique. So here’s another peek at it:

Now that’s some stitching…

Join me soon for the last part of this project, where I’ll discuss the obi and its provenance, as well as show off a photoshoot of the ensemble as a whole!

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Meiji Era Kimono Restoration: The Mending

Project 1, part 3 – Pinning, Mending, and Musing (part 1, part 2 here)

The tanchozuru, or red-crowned crane, is a symbol of longevity. The pines symbolize vitality and strength.

I’m back for part 3 of the Meiji Era kimono restoration project to cover the actual mending process! I spent approximately 1 hour pinning things into place in advance of sewing – I’ve found that I am far more excited to sit down to a project if it’s in a “ready to go” state as opposed to having to start my sewing session by cutting patterns, pinning, or other “prep” work. I had already pinned all the loose seams, and just had to add the cut and pressed piece of replacement silk lining.

I’ve not yet joined the cult of basting, so for now pinning does just fine for me!
Securing the lining to the outer sleeve material without it showing on the front took a lot of patience!
The original lining was also loose inside, and needed to be repaired as well as attached to the outer sleeve material.
No one is perfect…I failed to catch the outer sleeve fabric, and had to remove and redo a solid 8″ of stitching. Oops!
Finally, the entire outer seam of the damaged sleeve was repaired!

This part of the mending process took approximately four hours; it was very relaxing! I’ve found that I love taking photographs during my sewing time – it keeps me from crunching up too long in the same position, as I have to stand to get my camera, so I take the opportunity to stretch, drink water, and change podcasts if need be. I do need to remember to keep my notebook nearby to jot down notes, however!

The replacement lining silk definitely isn’t a perfect match. The weave is smoother (possibly machine-woven, as opposed to hand-woven?), and finer, and the color is more toward the red end of the spectrum whereas the original lining has a more orange tint. It’s possible that I will keep searching for either loose antique fabric, or a damaged kimono of the same era that could provide “donor” lining, but for me it’s more crucial that I get this garment structurally sound and wearable than that I get a perfect color match or exact historical authenticity. That’s a personal decision – every person who does historical costuming or restoration has to make their own! This is the right choice for me, as someone who aims to wear all their vintage/antique clothes, but I would never judge someone who preferred a different mode of restoration. I hope all types of sewers and historical enthusiasts feel welcome here!

One last bout of pinning…

After four hours I was starting to lose focus, so I decided to call it a day once I finished mending the outer edges of the sleeve. I pinned the replacement lining fully into place so that I’ll be all ready to go – I just need to sew that, mend the hem and collar, and sew some snaps into the collar to make it easier to secure the eri-shin (collar stiffener) when dressing. So join me next time when I will finish the project and preview the beautiful antique obi I’ve chosen to pair with this for the full outfit!

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Meiji Era Kimono Restoration: The Materials

Project 1, part 2 – the Materials and Plan (part 1 here)

Seriously, just look at this. Gorgeous!

Welcome back to the Meiji Era kimono restoration project! Today in part 2 I wanted to share the materials I’ve obtained to complete the restoration.

Well, material, singular, I guess.

I already have plenty of thread; I have some vintage green and red cotton threads in the right colors. I’ve heard that one should mend with a weaker thread than the base material (to allow the mended seam to break at the thread, rather than ripping more of the material), but I’ve also heard that one should match the thread to the material, or always use silk thread so it’s less visible… I’m going to be honest, I have a lot of thread, and since I had it in the right shade I’m going with what I have. Japanese silk didn’t tend to be weighted like Victorian-era silks from the US or Europe, so there’s a much lower risk of shatter or other damage due to using modern materials here.

I did, however, need replacement silk. So I headed to Shinei, one of my favorite sources for vintage and antique kimono and related accessories, and searched for red kimono silk. Lucky me! Only 500 yen (approximately $5 USD) for a small bolt of antique scarlet silk. I fired up Zen Market, my trusty shopping service, and they were able to acquire it for me in short order.

(Not familiar with shopping services? They allow you to purchase things from another country that don’t ship outside that country. I give Zen Market the link to the item I want, and they purchase it on my behalf and have it shipped to their warehouse. I pay them for the item, domestic shipping, a small service fee, and then the international shipping, and they send it to me – usually by DHL these days, since EMS is currently not operating due to COVID-19 limiting international flights. I use Zen Market for commercial transactions, and TenshiShop for person-to-person or in-store transactions!)

Not a bad match – it’s actually better in person!

The silk is a really close match. It’s even a little closer in person, but I’m still getting the hang of using Lightroom and my husband’s camera so the picture doesn’t quite do it justice. More importantly than the color, actually, is the weight – it’s an almost perfect match for the weight and drape of the extant silk lining in my kimono. This means it won’t feel weird when I wear it, and the sleeve will drape correctly rather than being weighed down by something that’s too heavy or stiff.

The next step will be to patch the sleeve, and perform all the other outstanding mending needs, so look forward to the next stage of this project!

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Meiji Era Kimono Restoration: The Beginning

Project 1, part 1 – Origin Story and Starting Point

Detail of the pine and red-crowned crane motif

My first project to share with you all is the restoration of this beautiful green Meiji Era irotomesode kimono.

Isn’t she lovely?

Restoration means different things to different people, and honestly means different things to me depending on the item in question. In this case, my aim is to repair all the ripped seams, replace the missing/shredded sleeve lining in one sleeve, and mend as many of the small holes/tears in the collar and hems as possible, with the aim of being able to (carefully) wear this beautiful piece of history. I believe clothes are meant to be worn if at all possible, and I love dressing up!

I acquired this kimono in 2020 from Kyoto Art & Antiques in Seattle. It’s a silk irotomesode (colored tomesode), with a length of 144cm and a wingspan of 130cm. It has 5 mon, or crests, which are the Omodaka, or three-leaf arrowhead design.

Information about this crest can be found here and here.

This is quite a formal kimono – one that nowadays would likely only be worn by a guest at a wedding. Tomesode are considered suitable for married women – and this is a women’s kimono, not a men’s. It is from the Meiji Era (~1868 to 1912) in Japan. How do I know this, one might ask? Actually, that’s a really good question. Kimono, unlike Western clothes, don’t change their cut or styling very quickly, so dating them can be quite difficult. Naturally, I do trust the auction house I purchased it from, however, there are a couple of other indicators.

Interior of the kimono.

The red silk lining generally marks it as a pre-war artifact. Additionally, I’ve been able to find some other auctions such as this one that are similar in appearance to mine that are also dated to the Meiji Era. Based on the relatively good condition and some similar kimono, my guess is that mine is likely from somewhere between 1890-1910.

So, what’s wrong with it?

Well, this to start…

True story: I sat down with this not long after I purchased it to pin up all the ripped seams in anticipation of some light mending duties. When I got to one of the sleeves I got very confused – none of the seams matched up! Finally I turned the whole thing inside out, and realized that part of the red silk lining had been cut away from the sleeve at some point during its life. They had left part along the edge, so I’m uncertain why it was done – did they need the fabric for some other reason? Did it get badly damaged somehow? It’s one of the many things I adore about antique clothes – the mystery!

Additionally, there are some small moth holes on the collar, and some frayed areas on the hem.


Tune in next time, when I’ll share my adventures in getting matching silk, and how I’ll be approaching the project!

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Welcome to Mukashi no Sewing

Stay a while, and listen…

Welcome to Mukashi no Sewing! I’m Rae (which you probably already know if I invited you here – but if not, welcome!), and this blog is where I’ll be sharing my adventures in historical sewing, crafting, and restoration.

Mukashi literally means “olden days” or “past/former” in Japanese, but it’s also what storytellers start their fairy tales with – so you might say that this blog is really called “Once Upon a Time Sewing.” There’s a series of Japanese sewing/craft books called 乙女のソーイング – Otome no Sewing, or “Sewing for Maidens,” so perhaps you could also read this as “Sewing for the Olden Days.”

What kind of things might you look forward to? How about cooking a medieval feast, restoring a delicate Meiji-era kimono, and sewing a 50s-inspired sheath dress? I’ll be focusing on sewing and clothing restoration, but I love to cook and bake, so you’ll see those from time to time as well.

I have been interested in historical dress (and to a certain extent, recreation) since I was a teenager, and I’ve begun this blog as a way to keep my family and friends all over the world up to date on the fun things I’m doing. When I’m not sewing or cooking I’m at the dojo, playing video games, or spending time with my husband and two rescue greyhounds. I hope that everyone who joins me here will have fun and learn with me – as I am by no means an expert! Thank you so much for stopping by, and I look forward to creating beautiful things for you to enjoy.

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