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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Giving Old Kimonos a New Look

[From December Issue 2010]

Kimono Panel Artist
Crystal MOREY

Originally from Dallas, Texas, USA, Crystal MOREY, who has been living in Tokyo for the past 13 years, only began creating her kimono-art in 2001. 

“I feel that kimonos should be displayed, so I started piecing them into panels,” she says. “In Japan, kimonos are no longer worn very often, and the more beautiful silks are only brought out on special occasions – the rest of the time they just sit in closets,” laments this part-time artist and full-time owner/operator of a small Japanese publishing company focusing on Japanese-inspired tattoo art and design books.

Morey collected kimono and wanted to display them so that others could appreciate the skill and craftsmanship involved in their design. “I wanted to find a way to bring them into the public eye, without sacrificing the enormous wall space that hanging an entire kimono requires,” she explains.

For her panels she uses more than just kimonos. In fact, Morey regularly scours Tokyo’s vintage clothing stores, while also making special trips to Kyoto, in search of silk, wool, rayon, antique furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping cloth used to transport clothes, gifts, or other goods) and tenugui (a thin Japanese hand towel made of cotton). She says that the process, while seemingly simple, does take some practice, skill, and a good eye.

“The most difficult task is piecing the fabric together – the colors must compliment one another and so must the patterns. Cheaper materials stretch and their colors become compromised. Embroidered materials look amazing but are really difficult to work with because they mess up my straight lines. Slippery silk can also be a nightmare! Each piece is really like a huge puzzle, but once solved, the construction part is easy,” she confides.

Depending on the labor and materials involved each art-panel takes roughly two weeks to complete, and retails for between 10,000 yen and 50,000 yen. Commissioned pieces, her favorite projects, cost more because of the specificity of the request. But these days, she is so busy that there is a six month waiting list for her work.

So how do traditional Japanese people feel about her kimono panels? “I honestly wasn’t sure how they would respond. Kimonos are an art form in and of themselves and I wasn’t sure if they would appreciate me cutting them up! But I showed my work at Design Festa in 2008, and their uniqueness was well received. I got loads of positive feedback,” she beams, adding that at that time a gallery in Chiba bought one for display, while a Kyoto-based interior design company contacted her about selling them as well. Now, Morey holds exhibitions in and around Tokyo, across Japan, and as far away as Australia, the USA and Europe.

Crystal MOREY
Photos: Seishiro Jay TOMIOKA

Text: Stephen LEBOVITS


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