This is a post about some of the things that run through my mind while I’m practicing folding an obi for a kimono–specifically, while I’m folding one as fast as I can in preparation for a on-stage kimono dressing competition.

This is what it’s supposed to wind up looking like:

But it starts more like this:

That funny-looking tool called a biyou-sugata is not commonly used in normal kimono dressing. Rather, it is a tool that allows you to fold an obi on the floor in front of you and then mount it on your back, so it is used for teaching purposes or competition purposes. One of the very first steps in folding your obi is to place the biyou-sugata in the appropriate spot on your obi, as all the other folds will be fastened to it.

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself when I finally figured out why I was getting déjà vu, especially since while I’m working in a hurry I’m a little concerned about the fabric wriggling away from me and messing everything up. Not that it has a will of its own, I think I just have lingering frustrations of never even being able to fold origami very well as a kid. Perfectionism has strange ways of messing with your mind.

A bunch of fancy moves and folds and snaps later, it’s ready to mount to myself. By this time, I should be wearing twenty-something pieces of under-layers (not exaggerating!) including a towel to bulk up my waist and achieve a tube-like shape, the kimono itself, and a thick elastic band around my torso on which to mount the biyou-sugata and finished obi shape.

Just the band itself would not be adequate, though–there are two sets of strings to fasten and then hide (the pair on top immediately, and the pair below as a 3rd step), the length of the obi to wrap around the waist entirely, the obi-jime cord that fastens decoratively in the front, and the obi-age sash that is worn along the top of the obi (see photos above). These are fastened in succession, and while it should all look completely in the end, it doesn’t always work as well when I’m practicing in western style clothes (specially without the towel, in which case I can’t even fasten some of the strings in the proper location).

These photos are mostly taken during a practice I had with a friend who will be taken part of the first time, so Kimono-sensei had me briefly demonstrate the fukura-suzume (“stuffed sparrow”) style I did last year. I mostly remembered all the steps, I just didn’t remember to add all of my tools!

Without the proper layers, it won’t even stay up without me holding it! Every piece has a purpose.

You can see more details on the process for folding a fukura-suzume style obi on this entry from last year.

As mentioned before, this is my second time taking part, so I’m trying something new. This year I’m going with a bunko style obi, specially a butterfly-style one. It just so happens the ends of my obi this year had a black butterfly pattern on the back, but showing the reverse side of the obi isn’t really appropriate for festive kimono. If it’s just a little bit, though, that’s a little room for creative leeway. Hence, there’s just a little part of the black reverse side showing on obi. Hopefully it’s just the right amount to say “I did this on purpose because it’s chic” instead of saying “oops”. I once heard that with kimono, someone with a good sense of style will follow all the rules, but then choose one or two little rules to break. With any luck the judges have heard the same thing.

The really hard part with this one–which is cleverly avoided by the fukura-suzume–is that the two sides of the obi that wrap around the waist need to line up evenly, forming a nice diagonal line leading up to the bow they meet. If the length of this part of the obi is too short, it won’t even tuck in correctly, and if its too long (rarely my problem) then the bow will be too narrow. Even worse would be having the piece of the biyou-sugata attached to the end of the obi stick out at the bottom! Eek! In this case, lacking the proper shape-forming lower layers, I wasn’t able to achieve that evenness.

Another bit of déjà vu occurred to me last night as I was trying to hurry up with the process and hold everything in place while I was still actively trying to gather the fabric into the right shapes. Leaning over my piece of art I was trying to salvage and apply force with both hands and wondering how many precious minutes I had already wasted, I thought, ah, now this feels like practicing CPR.

Hopefully I won’t be quite so frantic on stage.