Hello, readers!

I’m Anna, and I’m writing to you today to tell you about my process of learning how to make an 帯(obi)!

One of the things I love most about learning Japanese is how excited people get to share their own experiences and pieces of the culture with me whenever it comes up. It seems like everyone has been touched by Japanese culture in their own way. An event like this happened to me recently, and in a very special way: a distant aunt of mine heard of my interest in Japan and sent me a yukata that she had commissioned for herself many years ago, but never gotten to wear! It even came in the original paper wrapping!

The gorgeous, deep navy blue patterned with stark white Japanese chrysanthemums – truly, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, there is one big problem: it didn’t come with an obi! For readers that may not know, the obi is the sash that ties the yukata closed, as there are no other fastenings on the garment. “Fear not, I can simply make one!” I thought to myself, as I had a bolt of Japanese textile, also seen above, ready for using.

Without the obi, I wasn’t going to be able to wear my new yukata.

So I started turned to Google.

My initial search of “how to make an obi” brought me to many tutorials, videos, and patterns, but all of them were for an “obi-style” belt that mimics the silhouette an obi gives when worn, but does not tie like one. Some of these were beautiful, as you can see below, but they weren’t going to do for me.

I tried refining my search, using words like “authentic”, “kimono obi”, “yukata obi”, but still no luck aside from costumes and low-quality imitation patterns. I was starting to feel like I was uncovering a secret internet conspiracy when I found a break through: a cosplay forum with some vocabulary I hadn’t seen before. I was reasonably suspicious of the source’s credibility, but the user, Enagracus, claimed to be searching for something as culturally authentic as possible, just like me. Here’s the response they got on the thread:

It depends on the type of obi. A maru obi, for example, is very formal and is usually a single wide piece of patterned fabric folded over an interior piece of stiff canvas and stitched on one side. A fukuro obi has a patterned visible side and a plain lining side, so it’s stitched on both ends.

The usual obi with yukata are heko (a long soft scarf usually tied in a bow), hanhaba (a half-width, usually 6 inch obi), or a type I don’t know the name for, which is all one color and woven instead of sewn. What sort of outfit are you aiming for?

– User Mangochutney, cosplay.com

As I did during my search, let’s take a minute to look a bit closer at the types of obi Mangochutney is talking about here:

Maru Obi (丸帯):

A little more than 2 feet wide, these are made from a thick fabric that is lined with sturdy material to hold shape. They are difficult to put on and are very formal, so they are mainly only worn by brides at weddings. Wikipedia describes them as being “the most formal type of women’s obi, though all but obsolete today”.

Fukuro Obi (袋帯):

These obi put emphasis on the patterned fabric used for them, making them still very ornate and formal, while only being half the width (1 foot) of the maru obi. Mangochutney was right that they can be patterned on the visible side and plain on the other, but they can also be entirely patterned or only have patterned fabric only on the parts that are visible when they are tied, depending on your budget!

Heko Obi (兵児帯):

This obi is usually 8-12 inches wide and made of very thin, loose fabric, unusual to the very stiff structure of other obi. Traditionally, heko was only worn by men, and is considered very casual.

Hanhaba Obi (半幅帯):

This is the type of obi most commonly worn with yukata by women, and is relatively casual. It is 6 inches in width, as mentioned in Mangochutney’s response. It comes in many patterns and colors and can be tied in many creative ways thanks to its smaller width.

Sakiori Obi (裂織帯):

I believe this is the type of obi that Mangochutney couldn’t remember the name of. These are a very fascinating example of the variety in obi making, as they are entirely woven from recycled fabric threads! However, they are very casual, not even meant to be worn in public, and are about the same width as the hanhaba obi, 6 inches.

There are many more versions and subversions of obi, but this was a great list to choose from as a turning point for my searches, as Mangochutney had included a good mix of casual and formal styles with varying materials and complexities! From these descriptions, I guessed that the hanhaba obi was what I was familiar with from my time wearing a yukata before. I continued my searches with this in mind, and finally, I began getting results for traditional obi sellers with much more accurate results. However, there was still not a single sewing tutorial to be found!

At this point, dear reader, I was nearly ready to throw in the towel. It didn’t seem like anyone was willing to let me in on how to make the obi I needed.

But then, something miraculous happened!

I truly don’t know how I found it, but I happened to click on this video shown above of a girl making a yukata from scratch. As luck would have it, included in the video is a brief tutorial of her making an obi! By slowing down the video, I was able to write down her steps and create measurement tweaks to accommodate my limited fabric based on the information from the cosplay forum thread. In summary, this is what I came up with:

  • 12 inches wide (add quarter inch seam allowance)
  • 20 inch  1 length, 2 lengths 50 inch (add quarter inch seam allowance)
  • 6 inch wide 120 inch long fusible, semi-lightweight interfacing 
  1. Sew 1 of the 50 inch pieces to each width end of 20 inch length
  2. Fold to half width (6 inches) 
  3. Iron interfacing on half the width of entire 120” length (wrong side out)
  4. Sew along full length on open side of fold
  5. Sew one width end of tube closed
  6. Turn inside out (so right side faces out)
  7. Fold in raw quarter inch edge of open width and whip stitch closed

I couldn’t believe after all that, it was only 7 fairly simple steps to assemble the obi! But I was relieved to finally know what to do.

As my sewing plan requires seams on the width of the obi, rather than a continuous length of fabric, as my fabric isn’t quite long enough, it unfortunately isn’t perfectly accurate like I hoped. However, I think the end result won’t show these inaccuracies too badly! Furthermore, I think it’s worth mentioning that during my research, I found many independent online ateliers and ready-made suppliers who sold beautiful pieces. Particularly on Etsy, there were a plethora who might have fulfill my obi needs just fine, and saved me a lot of trouble! But, I wanted to take this as an opportunity to learn more, not just about fashion and tailoring, but also Japanese culture.

Because of this, I’ve learned so much about the complex and beautiful variations in traditional Japanese obi, and I can’t wait to show you all my sewing process in my next article!

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