Karaginu Mo

Formal Court Costume of Medieval Japan

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The poet Ko Ogimi from the Satake version of Sanjuroku Kasen Emaki, (Picture Scroll of 36 Poetic Immortals), 13th century.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Man, ImageCraft.

This ensemble took the journeyman prize for documentation in the historical masquerade at Costume Con 26, April 27, 2008. Click HERE to read the documentation submitted for judging.
Go here to read my account of Costume Con and the Historical Masquerade.

When you have two personae, it's interesting to observe how others react to them. After a minor incident in which Jehanne de Wodeford apparently was completely invisible, I decided that Saionji was going to go to Twelfth Night (2007) and stop traffic. 

I already had some of the components of a court outfit, albeit an extremely informal one. 

The following is excerpted from posts on the Tousando board chronicling the project:

10/30/06: "It's official, Saionji's going to Twelfth Night Coronation to stop traffic.
It's time to do a proper kasane with more layers. There are three late winter combinations that won't clash with my uwagi.
Hana yamabuki?
Ura yamabuki?
Yamabuki no nioi?

If time and budget permit once I've dealt with those, karaginu mo could happen..... What thinkest thou of this for a karaginu (probably overlaid with stenciled roundels in gold)?

10/30/06 post by Noriko:
*looks at the dragonfly fabric* droooooooool..... I don't think you should overlay it with rondels, it looks just fine the way it is. I'd also go with Yama no nioi- you could get bored sewing the same thing over and over again so at least you can vary the color. Also, what color is your uchigi? And if you need help with mo construction, drop me a line, since I made one (using non-period materials but...)
Anyway, I want to see pics when you're done.

10/30/06: I'm thinking yamabuki no nioi as well. For the layers that are the same color, I'm going to use the same dye bath and vary the saturation so that there's a lighter to darker gradation from inner to outer layers. The uwagi is kuchiba (sort of a dark gold) with white lining, so it'll be the darkest part of the color gradation. Assuming I get the dye proportions I want right.
The dragonflies are at www.thaisilks.com


11/2/06: For the mo. (Originally from fabrics-store.com, no longer available.)

Not quite the same as the patterned silk used here, but not a bad compromise either. (Archived link.)

11/3/06: And so it begins:

The silk and dyes for the itsutsuginu arrived last night.
The jacquard* for the mo has been ordered. 
(The brocade for the karaginu will get ordered after my next pay check.) 

A trusted friend has been sworn to secrecy and has agreed to act as my dresser at Twelfth Night. (This one was a no-brainer as we're sharing a hotel room and she has experience as a stage dresser for a Balinese dance company.)

*One of the things I like about http://www.fabrics-store.com is that they list the weight per yard in ounces on their items. Their 3.5 oz linen is fairly light and fine, for example. At 6.2 oz/yard, I think this will work well. 

11/7/06: Update: the white cotton jacquard arrived last night. I do not think weight will be a problem at all. This stuff would work for upholstery.

11/12/06: Am I out of my freakin' mind?

One 13 yard bolt of habotai is enough to get two full unlined ginu out of, because I just cut 'em out.

I should be able to get another three sets of sleeves, okumi and collars out of the second. I have an idea for sandwiching them between the top and bottom layer that I hope will still allow the collars to overlap correctly.

And I just realized my dye pot vanished during the move, so I need to hit the hardware store. I am NOT doing this in the washer as I want to play with saturation levels in the same pot. (Not to mention the number of quarters I would have to amass....) Clothespins. I need clothespins to help me keep my layer components sorted by dye lot. Oh, and a big bottle of white vinegar for the dye mordant.

On the other hand, if I pull this off, it's gonna be SO pretty.

Tea break is over, back to work.....

(Dimensions for ginu can be found here.)

11/16/06: From the diary of Murasaki Shikibu, a description of formal outfits worn on the fifth day following the birth of an Imperial prince:

"When they had finished serving, the women went to sit down by the blinds. Everything was sparkling in the light of the flares but, even so, some women stood out: Lady Oshikibu wore a beautiful train [mo] and jacket [karaginu], both embroidered with the Komatsubara scene at Mount Oshio. She is the wife of the Governor of Michinokuni and His Excellency's envoy, you know. Lady Tayu had left her jacket as it was, but her train had a striking wave pattern printed on it in silver, not overly conspicuous but most pleasing to the eye. Ben no Naishi had a train printed with an unusual design, a crane standing in a silver seascape; as a symbol of longevity it was a perfect complement to the pine branches on the embroidery. Lady Shosho's train was decorated with silver foil that was not quite up to the same standard as the others, and it became the subject of some adverse comment." (The Diary of Lady Murasaki, translated by Richard Bowring, New York, Penguin 1996, p. 17-18.)

I like silver....................

11/18/06: From Liza Dalby's Kimono: Fashioning Culture:

"Arranging hues of gradated intensity of a single color was known by the term nioi, a visual concept later applied to an olfactory one - the word nioi now means fragrance. The gradual intensifying or fading of a color is metaphorically akin to the nose's experience of an odor." (p. 240)

"Because most colors were made by repeated dippings in a dye, the nioi aesthetic could be created systematically by regulating the number of dye baths for each robe of a combination." (p. 245)

"Shades of golden yellow (yamabuki no nioi)

All five robes are in shades of golden yellow. The deepest shade goes on top. They become successively paler and the last robe is pure yellow. The chemise [hitoe] is blue-green."

"Here is another case in which the natural object (the kerria rose), the color name, and the layered combination all of the same name, yamabuki, blend together. The classic Genji yamabuki combination was old leaf tan (kuchiba) over pure yellow (ki)." (p. 252)

Dalby, Liza. Kimono: Fashioning Culture (Seattle, University of Washington Press) 2001. ISBN 0-295-98155-5

There, the water should be hot enough to add dye to by now. ;)

EDIT, 2:30 PM, PDT: Stovetop dyeing is hot work. Batch 1 and 2 are done, batch three is still on the stove. I'm using Jacquard Acid dyes in "Yellow Sun" and "Gold Ocher". Batch 1 was pure Yellow Sun . Batch 2 is Yellow Sun with a shot of Gold Ocher. Batch 3 is a shot of Yellow Sun and more Gold Ocher, all in the same dye water. After Batch 3 is done soaking, I'm going to have to add more water, re-heat, and continue mixing dye by eye for the last two layers. After all the golds are done, I am going to over dye my screaming acid green hitoe with "Teal" which should darken it down sufficiently.

Note - cotton muslin will take the same dye, but not as dark as the silk does, so it has to sit longer to get the same saturation.

EDIT 5:00 PM. Roughly 35 yards of wet fabric currently is festooning the shower stall on hangers by batch. Batch 4 and 5 look an awful lot alike, but I want to see how they dry. If necessary, I've got some dye left and can give 5 another dunk. The hitoe looks great, a nice medium green with a cool bluish tinge to it.

Back to work!

Then the sewing will begin.

12/2/06: The bad news: when I went to Thai Silks' retail store in Los Altos this morning, they were out of the green dragonflies. The good news: THIS was on sale at 50% off - and I should be able to over dye it with green acid dye for the karaginu. (Originally from Thai Silks, no longer available.)

12/2/06 post by Solveig: Good luck with your graduated shades. Apparently there was a sense of brightness or shining achieved by this effect. Regardless, in contemplating your posting, I ran across the following web page which may be useful for people trying to find color combinations. I do not know whether there is an English language version or not.  http://hpcgi1.nifty.com/shiun-sai/kasane/kasane.cgi

If your browser does not automatically recognize the encoding (mine didn't) set it to Japanese (EUC).

12/2/06: Oh pooh! The Japanese characters are coming through just fine on Firefox, but Google Translate can't seem to digest it.....

(Interestingly, my yellows came out of the dye bath looking different - then dried so close that it's really hard to see a difference. Some of them will get a second, perhaps even a third dose of dye.)

Oh, hey looky what I just found! http://www011.upp.so-net.ne.jp/yuusoku/institute/genji/kasane/kasane.html
Keep clicking on the links at the bottom, it takes you through the stages of getting dressed. Note to self - save some strips of muslin for koshi-himo.....


12/16 - 12/17/06: In case anyone has been wondering the situation is this.


1. Slit front half of body and sew false center back seam up back. (Five)

2. Sew linings to sleeves (Ten)

3. Sew linings to okumi (overlap panels). (Eight of ten.)

4. Attach okumi (Eight of ten.)

5. Hem body (5)

Today I've started:

6. Attach eri (collars). (Five)

To do:

7: Attach sleeves to body (Five)

If I can get that much done before next weekend, I can think about assembling karaginu and mo in time for Twelfth Night. The karaginu should be pretty quick, assembly wise, but the mo is going to be a pain in the backside - nine seams 74" long and that doesn't include "wings," ties, and so forth - and THEN it has to be painted.

Yes, I'm working by hand. I must be out of my mind. ::)

EDIT: Three eri attached as of 8:30 PM PST tonight. Realized after initial post that I'd miscounted (comes of having pieces sorted in piles by color....) and have to finish okumi on two layers. :-/ 

However, I should be able to get that done and the other two eri tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm starting to feel it in my right hand so I'm knocking off for the evening.

EDIT: Sunday 12/17 4:00PM, okumi and eri attached to #4. Okumi for #5 are partially sewn together as of this break. Break's over, back on my head. 

Sunday 8:00PM, okumi are on #5 and it has been hemmed. Need a bite to eat, then I will at least start attaching the last eri..... 

9:15PM - one side of eri is attached. My hands are reminding me of my age so that's enough for today. I'll finish it tomorrow evening after work and start attaching sleeves..... 

12/22/06: Let it mo, let it mo, let it mo.

At least that was what I was hoping until I finished converting centimeters to inches. If each trapezoidal panel is 9" wide at the widest point and there are ten of them, three yards of 60" wide fabric is not enough. Not being built like a Japanese, I do not dare skimp on the fullness needed. 

Anyway, I ordered more of the white jacquard this afternoon. In the meantime, I can still start assembly on the sections cut out so far and mull over stencil designs.

12/23/06: Half a mo!

Well more like 6/10 of one. Had to stand at the top of the landing to take the picture which should give you an idea just how big this thing is going to be once the other four panels are added.

The kariginu is mostly cut out at this point. Since it's one of those godawful rayon brocades that likes to fray AND since it's off a 30" wide bolt, I plan on using false seams wherever I can manage them. It goes in the dye pot tomorrow with some "Emerald" Jacquard Acid Dye. 


12/24/06: Karaginu fabric just came out of the dye and is drip drying in the bathroom. As far as I can tell while everything's still wet, the silk/rayon took the dye beautifully. The piece for the collar was done in a weaker dye bath than the rest, so it's a subtly lighter green - that is, of course, pending what they look like dry.

Note to users of Jacquard Acid Dye - I'm experiencing sporadic staining of my fingers through the cheap hardware store disposable gloves. Not a lot and not bad, but if anyone is trying to protect a manicure and doesn't one one greenish fingernail, either use heavier gloves or double layers. 

2:45 PM, wave design has been transferred to a stencil and cut out. 

(Could it be? Might I actually have this done and ready to wear by Twelfth Night?) 

12/26/06: The karaginu is finished.

The good news: The dye took evenly and it's a gorgeous true emerald green - I'm happy enough with it, I don't think I'm going to embellish it with paint. After a great deal of fiddling with pins and basting threads, I got the V collar nailed.  Yes, the karaginu has a V shaped collar in the rear - you can sort of see it here.

The bad news: my calculations on the measurements were off. It's too short. It comes down to my natural waistline in the front, it should ideally be thigh length. As it was I've used nearly all the fabric I had, so I can't even piece anything else in at this point. Ah, well, I guess I will have to affect poses with my hands in front of me so my sleeves hide it a bit. 


12/28/06: Thank goodness - I just checked Fabrics-store.com's website and they shipped my mo fabric today. I will have to get as much of the painting and hemming done on the sections I have assembled so far this weekend and work on the rest of it once it arrives.

On the other hand, this also means I can think about having a hiogi (fan) to go with this ensemble. I started building one awhile back, had problems with drilling the slats, tossed the pieces in a bag in frustration and haven't touched it in months. However, I think it's salvageable and I can make it work..... 

12/29/06 7:44 PM PST: Woohooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!! The rest of the fabric for my mo arrived today and is in the dryer as I write this. 

12/30/06 8:00 PM PST: Cutting, sewing and finishing edges took longer than I anticipated today - then there was that unscheduled trip to the store for 100 watt light bulbs in the middle of things. However, the skirt portion of the mo is finished and ready for painting, which I will do tomorrow. Once the paint is dry, I can think about pleating all that acreage into the himo. 

Good photos on getting dressed. Click on the thumbnails for a larger view: http://katu427.sakura.ne.jp/juunihitoe/junihitoe/junihitoe-index.htm 

12/31/06 post by Nagamochi: Thanks, Aneue-hime, for the pics on getting dressed. Though looking through them raised a couple points, and settled one, that have me a bit baffled. 

Firstly, one of the pics, a side view of the whole outfit, does show a few stray warp threads sticking up on the mo, thus indicating raw edges displayed outward, which still smacks me as wrong. To go through that much effort of compiling a voluminous outfit, and then skimp effort on a final detail seems half-hearted, but that could very well just be me. 

Next, I noticed in this kasane, and the one in an earlier post here, that the eri on the karaginu is a different color. Is this a Heian affectation, or a warped modern alteration? I could swear all the examples I've seen don't do so. 

Thirdly, in a similar vein, I noticed a backboard (koshi-ita?) on the mo. Again, Heian or modern style? 

I don't mean to steal your thunder, but inquiring minds want to know. :) 

EDIT: On further inspection, the backboard issue could just be excess fabric blousing over the himo on the mo. Then again, I'm a bit too tired right now to properly inspect such things. 

12/31/06 post by Madyaas: What looks like stray threads looks much too large to be stray warp threads. My guess is those may be the ends of her hair ribbons, since they seem to have tied the hair in several places. 

12/31/06: I can't tell for certain, however, if you remember from a previous post, Effing-sensei said he'd seen one up close and those seam threads were unfinished. The cut for each panel is a sort of trapezoid with two right angles on one side, so that means the other side is cut slightly on the bias and yes, Virginia, you do get a few loose threads from that sort of cut. BTW. the seams alternate face-up and face-down. You can sort of see it in the photo of the lady in the white karaginu posted earlier in this thread. 

Those raw edges bug me too, enough that I have finished the seams that are raw and facing up so I don't have to pick threads out of my paint this morning. I'm going to leave the face-down ones raw and see how they hold up at Twelfth Night. (I also made sure that what few selvaged edges I had to play with went on the face-down side.)

I'm not sure about the collar. I've seen them in colors keyed to the main jacket, but of more subtly contrasting fabric, like this one. 

It's not a exactly a koshi-ita. For one thing, it's nowhere near as stiff. My notes indicate it's basically just a tube that covers the waistband/ornamental streamers and may or may not have some ornamental stitching on it. You can see it here. In this example, the pink brocade are the ties:

*How do I know all this? A little bird let me borrow his copy of Jidai Isho no Nuikata and get some measurements and such. I get my tires and Christmas bills paid off, I really need to get a copy of my own. 


12/31/06: For the record, trying to stencil over a seam SUCKS!

(And does it get any more anachronistic than this - stenciling a mo to the Boston Camerata's A Renaissance Christmas?) 

On the other hand, inspired by the description of Lady Tayu's mo in the excerpt from Murasaki's diary posted earlier, I have a lovely, subtle double row of waves along the hem and a full moon, slightly off center above. I want to see how the silver Lumiere dries..... 

......Like this:

It's so big I can't get the whole thing in frame. 100" wide at the bottom hem. Once I've finished assembly, it's getting pressed with spray starch and accordion folded.....

12/31/06: Hiogi

54 slats of 1/32" thick basswood cut into 14 1/2" x 1/2" strips. As mentioned previously, a lot of the cutting was already done awhile back and the project shelved.

Believe it or not, you CAN get a sturdy sewing needle through 1/32" basswood, which is how I laced them together. The bottom pivot is a bit wambly. I think I'm going to thread a pin through it as well and glue off the ends. [I ended up not doing this - I couldn't seem to get it to work.]

After all the slats were drilled and laced into a block, I trimmed the top and bottom with a craft saw and sanded the edges.

The light is starting to go as the sun sets*, so I'm going to put a dot of glue on the thread at each slat to prevent them from slipping further than they should when the fan is opened. (*I prefer mucking with paint using natural light....)

Here's an example of a hiogi from period, click on the photo for additional views (and yes, that IS glitter- metal foil glitter was used to decorate fans in period).

(And no, I do not take commissions - you want one, you cut 50+ strips of basswood by hand with an X-acto knife yourself.)


1/1/07: Hmmmmmmmmm, now what to paint on the reverse once this dries.....

(The back never got finished, I ran out of time.) 


1/2/07: It's a mo. It's pleated, it has a waistband, it's done. I wonder how many barbarian feet are going to try to clothesline me with it Saturday.....

1/4/07: The entire ensemble, carefully folded, takes up 3/4 of my biggest suitcase. The other 1/4 contains toiletries (including my Japanese make-up), pajamas, underwear, jeans and a sweater. 

NOW I have to see if I can carefully pry apart the hiogi slats that I inadvertently painted together so it can be folded.....

1/7/06: Honey, does this mo make my ass look fat?

Duration of makeup application: 20 - 30 minutes? I'm getting better at getting the tooth black on in one shot without making a mess. [Left: Five hours in, my makeup was mostly holding up.]  

Duration of getting dressed: More than half an hour, but not sure how much more as we didn't actually time it. Thanks to Urtatim for struggling with getting me arranged despite the fact that I am significantly taller than she and that we had to work with big hotel furniture in our way.


Number of things wrong with it:
1. Karaginu is too short, as mentioned earlier in this thread. We anchored it to the uwagi in front with a couple of safety pins just to make sure I wouldn't have to play with it all day. Not a period solution, but it worked reasonably well.
2. Could not get things to lay quite right no matter how we tried. I may need to hang all the layers on a bamboo pole and check measurements to make sure I can get the sleeves to nest a little prettier the next time. (The green hitoe sleeves in particular want to slide out the front like a well mayoed piece of lettuce skating out of an overstuffed sandwich.)
3. Sensei, the fan is still wrong. The hiogi is crap. I never got the back painted. It has holes in the tops of the slats that are the remnants of some drilling mistakes. The pivot joint is a bit wambly. On the other hand, it behaved like a fan and all the mistakes I made on it will allow me to make a nicer one.


Number of things right with it:
1. Ooooh, the colors! That karaginu may be too short but that green just glows.
2. You can't tell that three of the inner itsutsuginu bodies are unlined or made of cotton. I used silk on all collars, sleeves and okumi (i.e., where they would be visible) to reduce cost, weight, etc.
Total layers from skin out: Nine, not counting bottoms (nagabakama, mo). [Left: Viscountess Hana curiously counts sleeves.]
3. The mo is as perfect as I could make it. It got a lot of oohs and ahs from people. However, the Modesto Doubletree should halve my bill for cleaning their floors.....


Total yardage: +/-70 (includes sleeve and okumi linings on itsutsuginu).

Total weight: about 30 pounds. (I kept getting asked this. Finally one day I loaded all of it into a laundry basket and used my bathroom scale to find out.)

Total times stepped on: A lot. Lost a mo streamer on my way into the elevator when some namban put his foot down on it. He was suitably mortified/apologetic. Fortunately I was (a) on my way upstairs to take it off and (b) had anticipated the possibility of this happening and had tacked them to the himo in such a way that if they were going to rip, thread would break instead of fabric tearing.


Top speed in nagabakama: Not sure, but I discovered I could move surprisingly fast to dodge feet, elevator doors and so forth. Witnesses described it as cute. And Japanese. ::)

Negotiating obstacles: Going down stairs is manageable. Going upstairs involves walking on every single frickin' hem you are wearing. Once back up from the arts rooms on the lower level, I vowed not to go back down.
[Above: If I stay in this corner, maybe nobody will step on me.]

I noticed my body temperature rocketing upward as the layers went on and was a bit worried about this until we exited our room and went downstairs to the convention center. It was cooler - marble floor in the lobby, concrete in the meeting rooms, more open space. I figure I was down on the event floor in full kit for about six hours.


I lunched in my room, figuring I could eat without grossing anyone out and then retouch my makeup. Hardboiled eggs, apple sliced into small pieces and water were a good choice - my tooth black didn't come off in the food and did not require redoing.

Going to the bathroom in karaginu mo: The crotch of my nagabakama are slit. I approached the commode from the front and straddled it - and my subconscious said, "No way." Nothing. I couldn't. I didn't. 

About 5:30 PM during Coronation Court, I had hit the wall. I was hot. I was tired. I had been on my feet (and for all intents and purposes barefoot) all day, I was dying to scratch my nose and my eyes were starting to burn from perspiration I had not been able to blot without mussing makeup. I went up to my room, stripped, used the toilet, washed off my make-up, brushed my teeth, put on modern clothes, went outside, did a lap around the block in the cool air, picked up a sub from Quizno's, took it back to my room and ate it with my feet propped up, soaked my feet in cold water in the tub for ten minutes, then reapplied make-up and tooth black and donned tabi, nagabakama with hems gartered above the knee (from the inside), kosode and hitoe (these namban are so ignorant they wouldn't know how scandalous it was). I consider oshiroi and ohaguro as effective as a mask for the Duchesses' Ball, although performing Western dance in wafuku felt distinctly odd. Sir Brand asked me to dance with him and had no clue who I was. (He knows Jehanne though.....) 

Thanks to the members of the Tousando board for their comments and encouragement throughout the project, particularly Joshua Logan (Ii Saburou Katsumori) for letting me have a look at his copy of Jidai Ishô no Nuikata. Special thanks go out to Urtatim bint 'abd al-Karim al-hakam al-Fassi for helping me dress on the day of reckoning. 

2019. Yeah, about that green silk fabric. That's a pattern called sayagata, which appears in early east Indian architecture and finds its way to Japan via the importation of fashionable Chinese textiles bearing the pattern.

Sayagata incorporates a symbol that has been around for thousands of years. Known in Japan as the manji, it is associated with Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, and connotes well-being, good health and good luck. If you pull up Google Maps of any Japanese town, the manji is used as a map icon to denote the location of Buddhist temples.

To be perfectly honest, when I bought that fabric so many years ago, I just thought it would work for this project. If you're not looking terribly closely, you don't realize that those are even there. I certainly didn't at the time. Now, I can't not see them. 

I can't wear something with swastikas on it. I can't use this as a teaching opportunity at SCA events where real Nazis are trying to twist medieval history and heritage to their own ends, when real white supremacists are committing acts of terror on our streets, in our schools and neighborhoods simply because they can. I can't, as the daughter of a German Jew whose parents were smart enough to emigrate before it was too late.
In Japan, it's just a manji, though the upcoming Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics have sparked debate about whether the manji will offend visitors from outside the country.

In the America I live in, it's not - and the projects I used that fabric for no longer leave the house.

Thank yous also go to to Kevin Roche and Andy Trembley for insisting I attend CostumeCon 26 when we first met in the fall of 2007. At CostumeCon, thanks to Maral Agnerian for collar wrangling, Den Mother #5 and the Green Room crew for the Historical Masquerade, Cynthia Barnes for hem wrangling, whoever that was in the audience screaming on the audio track of the DVD as I exited the stage, and to Richard Man for his mad photographic and lighting skills.

Twelfth Night Photos courtesy of Vivien Lee, Laura Rayl and Ariane Helou. 

Costume Con 26 photos courtesy of Richard Man, ImageCraft Photo Studio.


Dalby, Liza Crihfield. Kimono: Fashioning Culture. (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 2001) .

Kawamura, Machiko and Kurihara, Hiro. Jidai Ishô no Nuikata (Tokyo Genryu-sha Joint Stock Company, 1984). 

Shikibu, Murasaki (Richard Bowring translator). The Diary of Lady Murasaki (New York, Penguin 1996).

Dyes, paints and fabrics:

The silk rayon used for the karaginu and silk diamond jacquard used for the uwagi came from Thai Silks of Los Altos, California. 

Cotton jacquard for the mo was purchased from Fabrics-store.com, Hollywood, California. 

Silk habotai, dyes and fabric paints came from Dharma Trading, San Rafael California. 

Copyright 2007, 2019 Lisa A. Joseph

No HOBBY LOBBY products were used in these projects.