Bebe Taian: Re-working Mofuku for Wear

September 29, 2013

Re-working Mofuku for Wear

With Halloween coming, I thought I'd go over a topic I've been working with myself recently. I mentioned before that I bought a mofuku obi for conversion to a chuya (night/day) obi, but I never went into what mofuku was or why to convert it into anything else.

What is mofuku clothing?

Mofuku is a very specific type of kimono not used for anything but a close friend or relative's funeral service. There are many rules regarding how much black one can wear to a funeral, based on how close your relation is to the deceased, and naturally, this class of kimono cannot be worn for any other event. To do so is disrespectful at best. Like in the Victorian era, the amount of black mofuku clothing you wear also indicates your stage of mourning, so to wear a solid black obi with anything can mean you are in the second stage of mourning. For this reason, mofuku clothing is ubiquitous and dirt-cheap from any secondhand retailer. If you want something unique and very inexpensive, and you'd like to start on an epic craft project of your own, consider using mofuku for something!

There are many iromuji black kimono on the market which are not mofuku. Mofuku kimono are strictly all-black kimono with 1, 3, or 5 mon (crests) on the shoulders. Mofuku obi are not the black obi with heavy embroidery or yuzen dyeing intended for formal kimono; mofuku obi are the black-on-black woven obi with no colours of any kind. One black is usually shiny and one matte so that there is distinction in the pattern. Mofuku obiage and obijime are both solid black, although whether or not these are appropriate in other contexts is debatable. The juban and tabi for mofuku are both white, but the shoes are also solid black. For more rules on what is and isn't mofuku, please see this page.

There are many ways to spiritually purify a thing, if that is a concern for the buyer. One of them is to waft the smoke of burning benzoin resin near the garment (but not anywhere close enough to where sparks or stains can occur); another is salting an item by tossing it in a little bag of salt and shaking it off. Either way would work, depending on traditions, but I think the salt version would probably be cleaner and easier, plus it is dry and has no risk of burning a kimono by accident.

Now that we know what mofuku clothing is, we can determine how to alter it for normal wear.

Doing such a thing requires much practice and skill. If you are comfortable with your embroidery, dyeing, and sewing skills, this will not necessarily be difficult so much as it is time-consuming.

For obi, you have many options:

- Cut a Nagoya obi's threads and open it to make a chuya obi by simply sewing a long rectangle of fabric to the other side, backing the black panel. Make sure to tack the obi-shin (the obi stiffener) inside, otherwise it will slide around and twist, much like how elastic twists inside a waistband uncomfortably.
- Embroider around the existing designs with a variety of decorative stitches
- Add lace appliques or trims. or even do small amounts of casual beading. If you choose beading, remember to only bead the part where the obi will wrap around in the front so that the fabric doesn't scratch or snag when tied, and on the otaiko part where it will be seen on back. This is infinitely easier if you convert the obi into a tsuke obi first; basically, two rectangular sections which are tied separately to mimic an otaiko-style knot.

For kimono:

These are difficult. Blacks are incredibly difficult to match, so dyeing one black to 'delete' the mon dyed into them can sometimes not work as intended.

You could attempt to do small shibori-like tie-dyeing everywhere, bleaching out the mon and random circles all over the kimono in effort to hide them, and dyeing the discharged fabric a different colour (if it doesn't bleach out in many different shades, the way a bleached towel sometimes does). You can also LEAVE the mon as they are and embroider or dye an elegant design around the bottom of the hem to make a kurotomesode.

For obiage:

All-black obiage can be considered alright in some parts of Japan so long as they are clearly for a casual outfit, but this is not always acceptable. For that reason, it is very easy to 'fix' an obiage. First, iron it (test a tiny corner first; some synthetics literally melt). Then, consider embroidery or hot-fusing rhinestones to the fabric. Applique of other like fabrics in a pretty design also work wonderfully, especially when it's one bold floral or geometric design which would be seen when wearing, outlined in a shiny metallic or contrasting coloured embroidery thread.

Zori, handbags, and other items:

Think about painting the shoes or bags, gluing broken brooches to plain bags with epoxy (or, if the brooch can simply clip to it, do that), or making new hanao. You can also simply wrap bright narrow ribbons around hanao and tack them in or make one or two very small tacking stitches to keep the ribbons in place. Keep it bright and not-black.

Naturally, if all else fails...

Like any fabric, if a project goes wrong, the fabric can always be salvaged and converted into something else. There is no limit to what you can do with a little skill and a lot of imagination. Many projects like these look very simple and then take hours, even days to complete. Be sure to double-check all measurements before cutting anything, read instructions carefully, and give yourself plenty of time to finish a project. I don't recommend machine-sewing anything unless you know without a doubt that your sewing machine works well with the chosen fabric and you have fresh needles. Hand-stitching takes forever, though, so decide which one is best for you. Draw out any designs ahead of time so that you don't get 'lost' in one half-way through and forget where you were going with it. And if you're really adventurous, post photos of your progress!

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