Art Gallery – Fuji Musume Doll (and repairs)

You may have seen the little souvenir doll I fixed up recently, and maybe even the ceramic hakata-style dancer I refinished, but this pretty Fuji Musume has been waiting for her moment in the spotlight since February of 2016! She had a very brief cameo on my Instagram account but has been in hiding ever since, unless you’ve been in my bedroom.

I found her in an antique shop near my house before I found the other two dolls. The owner tried to tell me she was in “perfect condition”, but once I took her out and had a good look at her I could see that absolutely was not the case. The delicate painting on her face was faded and chipped, her wisteria branch was sun-damaged and brittle, the structure under her hair was almost bleached, and there was a not insignificant crack in the bisque on the back of her neck. I managed to talk him down to a more than reasonable price for her and her glass case. I knew I wanted to restore her beauty, but I had no idea where to start, aside from the obvious things like getting her a new wisteria branch. While that was in the works, I focused on the other dolls and the things I learnt doing those two helped prepare me for more on her.

Jess from Tiaras ‘n Teakettles came to the rescue for the wisteria! I sent her photos and measurements of the original branch and she crafted this beautiful tsumami branch by hand. It’s got a lovely weight to it, the dangles flow gracefully, and it fits perfectly between her hands. I didn’t even have to glue it, it balances so well.

Once that was sorted I knew it was time to tackle the more serious issues. Her lips were lacquered in an almost glassy red that had cracked and split and faded over time. I ended up having to use Tamiya paint thinner to strip the original off properly, and then used watercolours to repaint her lips and add a tiny hint of red to her eyes. I feel like it helps breathe new life into her facial features.

Next up was the most challenging bit; repairing the cracked bisque on the back of her neck. Thankfully it was just a surface defect, not a structural one, and with the way she stands in her display case it’s virtually unnoticeable, but I knew it was there and I wanted to fix it. I tried a few different things before stumbling upon crafting chalk paint. It’s easy to find in any large craft store such as Michaels. I bought a bottle of white and mixed in the tiniest amounts of peach and brown to make it warmer and less stark. I worked in incredibly thin coats, brushing it over the crack and wiping away the excess each time, essentially filling the crack in with the chalk paint and blending the edges out with a wet brush. If you’re right next to her or looking through a camera lens you can see it faintly, but it’s nearly gone.

Finally I used a black marker to fill in the bald spots on the sides of her hairstyle, repositioned her obiage and gave her a new obijime. I felt that the original one she came with was too big in scale and to starkly white, but I found this thinner gold cord that works perfectly.

I am so glad I waited to work on her, because I know I’ve done the best job possible instead of eagerly rushing through things as I am sometimes wont to do. I love her to bits, and she occupies place of pride on a table next to my sofa now.

Also, you may be thinking to yourself “Isn’t this primarily a kimono blog? Why aren’t you posting any actual kimono lately?” and I would like to address that briefly. I’ve been feeling under the weather, and combined with the heat and humidity this summer, I have no energy to even wrestle with the mannequin. However, I do have a big project in the works, and hopefully it will make up for the sparsity and somewhat disjointed nature of the posts lately! I just need the weather to calm down a little, and the last of the pieces I’ve ordered to arrive in the mail.

Lush Peony Ikebana

It’s been incredibly hot and muggy and rainy out here lately. While it’s not particularly fun for me it’s been fantastic for the garden! I managed to catch this vivid pink peony at the ideal time; it’s blousy and open without a hint of decay on it yet. I knew I wanted to balance it out with some foliage, and decided to keep it all to things I could get from the garden. The hosta leaves provide a sense of grounding, and the little white flowers feel sweet and fresh. I will be honest, I don’t know what they are. The vessel is one I found at a thrift shop a few weeks back, and felt cool and refreshing, perfect for a heady, humid arrangement.

Ichiroya Vendor Spotlight

Welcome to a new feature here on Kimono Tsuki! While I have shared shopping tips and tricks before, I often receive questions asking if a particular vendor online is a reliable source and I thought it would be beneficial to shine a spotlight on some of the excellent vendors and dealers out there.

For the first installment of this feature, who better to feature than Ichiroya. Run by a lovely couple named Ichiro and Yuka Wada, Ichiroya has been bringing vintage kimono to the public since 2001. They were one of the first stores to make purchasing kimono simple for people outside of Japan. Their team has grown slightly over the years, but they remain a small, friendly, and very knowledgeable company. Their selection is updated almost every day and they stock everything from Taisho-era vintage formal pieces to modern and inexpensive yukata.

The site is quite well laid-out and easy to navigate, especially if you’re used to large Japanese shopping portals like  Rakuten, which can get a little overwhelming. There’s a huge variety in stock, from vintage to modern and from inexpensive yukata to major investment pieces. A little something for everyone, from the beginner to the seasoned collector! The listings are always incredibly detailed, with a full list of flaws, age spots, etc. A few times I’ve purchased things and been unable to find the “flaws” that were pointed out on the listings. It just goes to show you how thorough they are.

One of the ways Ichiroya stands out is the customer service. Everyone who works there is not only incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, but they’re also very kind. If you’re a beginner, or looking for a gift and don’t know where to start, they will gladly communicate with you before you make a purchase. They include lovely little gifts with every purchase. Usually something small like a fabric sample or a little postcard, but it’s a lovely gesture. They’ve also taken the time to answer questions I’ve had about kimono I didn’t even buy there! Now that’s amazing customer service.

Ichiroya also has an offshot project, Kimonotte Factory, where they can make kimono with modern size, comfort, and convenience using custom-printed fabric with vintage designs. This is especially awesome for folks who love the bold look of Taisho Roman or early Showa fashions but need a bigger size, or are worried about ruining delicate vintage fabrics. There are a few pieces I would absolutely love to have here (this lavender rose komon and this beautiful floral obi come to mind), but they are not in my budget for the time being. One day, though!

Mugi, the owners’ daughter, also runs a lovely Tumblr account called Mugi’s Kimono World where she shares lots of fun and funky coordinated outfits, so if you’re looking for inspiration after having made a purchase, do check that out too!

Quality and Selection

Ichiroya has an enormous selection of products, and add more nearly every single day. The site is also very well organised, which makes it easy to find what you want. Or you can browse and end up falling in love with something unexpected. The quality of the pieces varies, as to be expected with vintage items, but they’re always incredibly up-front about the condition of each item.

5 Stars

Ease of Use

The site navigation is very straightforward, and adding items to your cart is as easy as a couple of clicks. However, the ordering process has a step you might not be used to if you’ve only shopped online in North America, or only with large retailers. After you’ve placed and submitted your order, you have to wait until they get back to you with the invoice, at which point you can pay easily with PayPal or a credit card.

4 Stars

Customer Service

I cannot say enough good things about the customer service at Ichiroya. As I mentioned above, all the employees are incredibly helpful and friendly, always willing to go the extra mile to help out a potential customer. They are just genuinely lovely people.

5 Stars

Prices

This is a tough thing to quantify, as there are currently items under $10 and items over $1000 listed. When it comes to kimono, there are so many things to factor in when it comes to price. Age, rarity, condition, etc. Since most of these items are one-of-a-kind, it’s not easy to comparison-shop. However, their prices are more than competitive when all of these things are factored into account. Whatever your budget is, you’re certain to find something you’ll love.

4.5 Stars

Shipping

They offer multiple shipping options, depending on your budget and timeframe. When ordering from Japan, EMS tends to be the most reliable option, but it’s also the most expensive. SAL is cheaper, but slower and uninsured. Whatever rate you choose, though, they are always quick about getting the order out, it’s always carefully packed, and there is always a lovely little extra in the package.

5 Stars

All in all, whether you’re looking to add to an existing collection or just dipping your toes in, I cannot recommend Ichiroya highly enough!

Tiny Doll, Tiny Makeover

Hello! Just a quick post today. A few weeks ago, I found this charming little doll at one of the thrift stores near me. I posted a photo of her (along with the rest of my haul) on my Instagram but now that she’s had a bit of a face-lift I felt like she needed her own post.

She’s nothing fancy – maybe 4″ tall and made primarily of plastic. I assume she was a cheap souvenir or something. But I was really charmed by her, and wanted to give her a new lease of life. I was inspired by my friend Naomi, who has been rescuing dolls from thrift stores for ages now, and my friend Vi who runs The Heirloom Smith, a small custom design and restoration business.

The biggest and most obvious problem was her head; her hair was a wreck and there was a flat circle of paper glued to the crown of her head, where a hat had likely fallen off. Thankfully, she had two other hats – one in each hand! I carefully pried the hats off and put them aside, and moistened her hair so I could brush it and try to tame it down somewhat. I then soaked her hands carefully in warm water to dissolve the leftover glue and paper. However, without her hats her pose definitely looked a bit funny, and the fact that her hands, feet, and face were made of cheap yellowed plastic was very apparent. I re-posed her slightly (thankfully, her body is a wire frame so she’s relatively flexible), covered over her yellowed bits with white chalk paint, gave her a cute little umbrella to dance with, and glued one of the salvaged hats onto her head. The last step was to give her slightly more subdued facial features with watercolours over the newly-painted surface of her face. She looks very at home in the cabinet with the ceramic doll I repainted a while back. I’m so happy Ito have given both these girls a new home. Their big sister is also in the works, I hope to be posting about her sometime soon.

I didn’t take too many photos during the process, and the ones I did take were done at my desk with my phone so they’re not fantastic, but it’s still nice to see how she progressed to the final result up at the top of the page.

Kimono Tsuki is now on Patreon!

I have caved in and set up an account on Patreon, where you can pledge anywhere from $1 to $20 a month to help support this blog financially. Kimono collecting can be quite an expensive hobby, and once you factor in the cost of reference texts and web hosting, things can add up quickly. Due to my health problems I can only work part-time, and while I’m lucky enough to not have to worry about things like food or rent, it’s reaching a point where I’m not above opening up requests for help.

I will never put advertising in the blog, nor will I ever make content exclusive to people who support me financially. There will just be small incentives, like little digital images and early access to some contents. There’s also still always the option of making a one-time donation via PayPal or purchasing an item off one of my wishlists. If you’re ever looking for a way to help out but don’t want to commit to a regular patronage, please check out the Contribute & Support page.

Thanks for reading, and this is the only time I will plead publicly like this!