Bebe Taian: Making Koshi Himo

October 7, 2012

Making Koshi Himo

I spent today making koshi himo for the upcoming A Night in Tokyo event. This might not seem like such a tough activity- after all, they are only narrow tubes of fabric! But really, it's tedious and sometimes difficult. Lacking a good table (leaving me able to only mark and cut about 24" at a time), rotary cutters (meaning using scissors instead), and not having a cutting/binding machine (which would cut the strips AND fold them for sewing for me, no turning required), suddenly making koshi himo means a lot more work than most people think. How do I manage to do this without the sophisticated stuff?

First, it's pre-washing and ironing the cotton fabric. This is done to pre-shrink the fabric. People who straight-sew brand new fabric and THEN wash it tend to have the nasty surprise of the fabric (but not the thread) shrinking, so there are bunches and other problems in the finished product. Always wash your fabrics first! Ironing the fabric after washing makes sure that it's smooth and will cut evenly.

Afterwards, I cleaned up my small table, a rickety craft folding table that I've had for several years. It's fine for shows were the ground outdoors tends to be uneven anyways, but not for regular use indoors. However, I lack a better option right now. I got out my clear plastic quilting blocks to mark out where I needed to cut my fabric. I have a chalk pencil, but it kept breaking! x.x I'd sharpen it, start drawing a line, and *snap*. Sharpen, draw a few inches, *snap*. Arrrrrgh. I ended up finding a thin-line marker to draw out my lines. They usually wash out, and if they don't, the marks will be sewn inside the seams. Then, the strips have to be cut, each one by hand. I save time by keeping the fabric evenly folded in half, so I cut two layers at a time. In the end, this nets me approx. 12 strips.

Found and set up my old sewing machine. It's a plastic Singer quilting machine, probably around 10-11 years old now. It needed to be wiped and cleaned, too, so I spent some time doing that first. It doesn't matter if it's covered in storage- somehow, somewhen, cat fur will get into it and muck up the machinery! It never fails! Cleaning the machine every time I use it is a must.

Then, time for thread selection (I only use Gutermann). I find my colour, wind the bobbin (done mechanically by the sewing machine), and set up to sew! Since the strips are just straight, narrow ribbons to be folded in half and sewn, I don't use pins. I just fold the fabric in half and finger-press as I sew them, leaving the ends open for turning. Since koshi himo have to be very, very durable, I backstitch them at the openings, and also periodically throughout the length of the himo, usually every 12-18" or so. This helps to prevent a himo from completely coming apart if a seam should break. With proper care, it's unlikely that one will, but the precaution is there in case something happens. I usually chain-sew them all so that I don't waste thread in between each himo, and it makes a nice assembly line to work with.

After that comes the really, really un-fun part: turning them. Again, a blanket binding machine would double-fold them for me, so that I could just sew them shut without having to turn them, but I don't have one of those! Instead, I sit there with an aluminium afghan needle and turn the long, narrow strips right-side out until my joints ache. x.x This really becomes painful about three small-size koshi himo (approx. 84" long, finished) in, so I do the turning in waves. This part can take HOURS. One or two at a time, stop, soak my hands in epsom salts, turn one or two, stop again... This time, I was lucky. My husband helped me with half of them. Seven down, five to go! But I'm not done yet.

This himo is 10 years old!
Tonight, I only cut, sewed, and turned the himo. Tomorrow is a new challenge: finishing the last five, then re-ironing all twelve of them and finishing the ends. When the himo get turned, they get wrinkled. Ironing them flat can be a challenge because I want the seams to be even, a difficult thing to do without a mini-iron that most quilters and garment-makers use. Tedious work at best. The very last step is the easiest: turn in the ends so that the raw edges are hidden, then sew them in to finish the himo. I usually double- or triple-stitch the ends so that they don't come undone.

I started making them this way when I got my sewing machine around a decade ago, except back then, I had even less equipment to work with- like the desk! ::laughs:: Even so, the himo I made then are still in frequent use today, and they haven't come apart once yet! I've used them for everything, not just wearing kimono: tying up bundles of blankets when moving, pulling back curtains with a bright splash of colour, even tying into a temporary collar/leash for a cat going to the vet.

I expect himo to be durable, long-lasting, able to be endlessly washed, and to be attractive! And when I make them for others, I want them to be the best himo a person could buy. If you'd like me to make you a pair, I have them for sale on a custom-made basis. Larger-size himo are made wider as well for comfort! Just e-mail me with specifications, and I'll get back to you ASAP.

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