Recycling and Upcycling silk kimono

Recycling and Upcycling silk kimono

A few blogs ago Welshfelters posted about upcycling/recycling a chinese lantern. That got me thinking about the project I’ve been plonking away on for ages now – recycling silk. I really love silk in almost all its forms, not too crazy about silk noil, but everything else is just lovely, the texture, the colours, the gloss, the sound. I have ASMR, so even thinking about silk gives me a case of the shivers.

When one of our guild members was down sizing and offered some used kimono for sale at an excellent price, I was first in line and happily took home a box of bright red, blue, brown, and orange silky bits. The construction of these kimono was amazing, all hand sewn, all exquisitely designed and all in deplorable condition. The fabric has deteriorated along the fold lines and has some tears, so re-purposing is one of the best options for most of the fabric. Hand washing and disassembly followed, along with a bit of ironing, just to make life a little easier when cutting time came.

A few years ago another friend had gifted me fabric cutters; Bliss and Frazer. They are both vintage models and well loved. When they first came into my care, I really had no immediate purpose for them but knew that ‘someday’ they would be put to good use. Along with recycling fabric, good tools also need to be kept in useful condition, so they went for a spa treatment to a talented gentleman who fixed a damaged bearing, sharpened the blades, retooled the wheel plate and generally got them both up and running optimally.

Silk is brutal on fabric cutters.

The wheel is starting to show signs of wear after cutting silk

The blade is showing signs of becoming dull, so I will probably switch to a rotary blade and ruler, which seems to work just fine. The rotary cutter has the added benefit of replacement blades that can be recycled and replaced as needed. I’ll save the fabric cutters for wool and cotton. Using the ruler and rotary cutter to cut width doesn’t yield consistent results, or as consistent as the fabric cutter, but with silk I don’t think that’s a significant issue. There are a couple of ways I can make the strips of cut silk into a single piece of ‘yarn’.

I can spin it together and then hold it together a little more with a ply of silk thrums thread.

I can do a splice and spin it as a single which allows for the little tails to become a design element in the yarn.

This is the tails and tops method of joining

or I can just weave it in as a rag technique and alternate with the silk thrums. In the end, I’m going to call it art yarn and who will challenge the inconsistency of the yarn!

All fabric that is used in our daily lives will wear out, but when it comes to a fiber that is so costly to make, so valuable and lovely I want to put the extra effort into keeping it out of the rag bag for as long as possible. Most, if not all fabrics can be given a second life before they can be purposed as rags. The ingenuity of our predecessors was impressive and there is no reason not to emulate them. Sheets, curtains, judo gis, towels, suits can all be remade into carpets, place-mats, cushion covers, dish rags, clothing material, blankets, quilts, scarves, the list goes on a long as your imagination permits. And yes rags, that’s a valid repurpose.

My plan for these red and orange silk kimonos and the red silk thrums is to weave material for a medium weight jacket for the winter. Something very simple in design, similar to a kimono but without any fitting or lining. My cousin in Japan is hunting an obi or two for me to use as trim. Hopefully this will be functional and attractive once I can solve the problem of the silk bleeding like crazy. But that is a challenge for another day.

Silk thrums easily dye wool and are difficult to control. Silk kimono also run their colour.


Not all the kimono could be cut, at least not by me.  This is going to be a project for another day.


15 thoughts on “Recycling and Upcycling silk kimono

    1. Silk is really misleading, so smooth, soft, and well silky, but it was used for parachutes once upon a time, so it’s extremely durable and surprisingly warm. The convenience of synthetic fibers is starting to fade when compared to organics. I like all organic fibers, they all have something really amazing to offer.

  1. It’s great you’re putting such a lot of care and attention into giving new life to old but valuable fabric. I hope you’ll show us the jacket you’re working towards once it’s made – I’m really curious to see how it turns out.

    1. Thank you Lindsay, I hope I don’t run out of steam or interest, it does happen. I do think the simple jacket will work best since I’m not a good seamstress and it will show the best of the hand woven fabric.

    1. I’ll do my best to stay on track with this and keep everyone posted, there is still a long way to go with this, but it’s a fun project and I’m enjoying it.

  2. I love recycling, especially things that can definitely be repurposed and be given a new life.
    Having once dulled a rotary cutter with wool, I had no idea silk also had that power.

    I’m hoping you’ll use the rest of the kimono in a sewing project, that bit you showed in the photo is gorgeous!

    1. I offered it to a friend, she’s a really innovative stitcher, so waiting on hearing from her. I hope she can come up with an idea or two. If she isn’t interested, I may just keep it as a hanging.

  3. I am looking forward to seeing what you do. the guild library has some good books on sewing with handwoven fabric, simple to complicated. You could make a very nice spinning wheel cover with the other part of the kimono.

    1. Never thought of using the remnants for a wheel cover. It would be stunning, great idea Ann, thank you.

  4. What an interesting post! I am glad that you are finding uses for the old kimonos and I agree that it is impossible to cut some of them up. Ann’s idea of a wheel cover would be very interesting. Please do show us progress on your jacket, I would love to see the progression of the project.

    1. I’ll keep you posted and hope to the heavens I don’t lose interest on this. It really is an interesting project, fingers crossed that I don’t get overly flighty.

  5. Fascinating post. I am intrigued by your cutter – I have obviously lived a very sheltered life as I have not seen one like it before. A few years ago I bought a rotary blade sharpener – Truecut from an American company – The Grace Company. I found it works a treat and really extends the life of the blades.

    I love what you have done with the kimono and am excited to see your progress. Piece in your final photo should be framed 🙂

    1. I’m going to look into a rotary blade sharpener, I’m such a cheap skate that even using replacement blade bothers me. My husband was a graphics designer and he would sharpen his X-acto blades, so it’s a thing with the family. I agree with you that the last panel image is too beautiful to cut. I like the idea of framing it.

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