Beautiful Kimono: A Study in Color

A note from Kathleen: I've had the privilege of meeting author Vicki Square, and she's as gracious as you would imagine. Although I haven't (yet!) knitted a kimono from one of her books, I certainly plan to do so. What draws me to Vicki's kimono designs is the style they convey, how comfy they look, and the color possibilities. Here's Vicki to tell you a little about kimono history and color.

Kimono was distilled from its Chinese influence to a fully Japanese aesthetic
in the Heian period of history (794-1185). For 300 years spanning the end of the first millennium, nature-inspired color themes were orchestrated as visual art in clothing. Kimono was the canvas on which artists painted—literally or figuratively—their aesthetic visions.

Special occasion color palettes often used maroon (suo) as a major tone.
Arranging shades of one color in order of graduated value was known as nioi, as shown in this sprout green (moegi no nioi) example.
In a spectacularly commanding presentation of royalty, Empress Tashi could choose the forbidden color of deep purple, gradually lightening to a pale purple and finishing with white inner robes.

The layering of colors was practiced to perfection, and what began as color sequences influenced by nature evolved into an elaborate list of colors dictated by tradition. Through this cultural process, distinct parameters were defined by which a person could display a personal sensibility of color nuance.

Color in kimono became known as definitive combinations called irome no kasane. Poetic names were given to color groupings that referred to nature's characteristics. Color names also referred to the affect of one color overlaid on another, called awase-iro—translucent white silk gauze over a dark green produces a frosty green called willow.

From the early to late Heian era, the basic apparel of noble ladies evolved from an opulent twelve to twenty layers of kimono to a more manageable layering of five robes, called itsutsugino. Specific colors were named for each robe, its lining and the unlined chemise or under kosode, and the entire set was then given a specific kasane name. The Senior Grand Empress Tashi of this era referred to a detailed manuscript that documented ensembles of named color sets in appropriate fabrics for each season of the year. This is the equivalent of a fashion consultant artistically coordinating all of your clothing and making a record of all the combinations so that there are no errors in your choices.

Even today, the nature-inspired Heian color sensibility is practiced throughout the world. We choose muted or saturated hues in dark shades for autumn and winter and light and fresh hues for spring and summer. There are no rules for how to use color, but there are exquisite examples of beautiful color arrangements. Creating a personal aesthetic can be as simple as following the lead of Japanese kimono color of as individual as observing nature's guidelines and choosing those colors that satisfy your soul.

The Murasaki Akai kimono by Vicki Square, from Knit Kimono Too

The Murasaki Akai

Purple and red is a royal color combination. For the Murasaki Akai kimono, I used a range of muasaki purples, from usuki (pale violet) to fugi (wisteria) to koki (deep violet). The front and back panels feature garter-stitch short-rows that create triangles and rectangles in a bold graphic. The center back panel is attached to the side back panels as it is knitted. Akai (true red) bobbles are added at the end.

Light cotton unlined kimono are typically worn in the summer months; the matte cotton I used for this design is comfortable for all seasons. Colors for kimono, layering, and surface decoration vary with the season and the month within the season. A traditional school of Japanese etiquette lists lavender and burgundy as the color scheme for September. This kimono not only fits with tradition, it is also contemporary in its presentation and wearability.

—Vicki Square, from Knit Kimono, Too

I hope you'll try the Murasaki Akai, available in Knit Kimono, Too, or one of the other beautiful knitting patterns for women in Vicki's kimono book collection.


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