Tsukihana, Custom Geisha Monster High Doll

Hello everyone! I’d like you all to meet Tsukihana! Back at the beginning of the year I got a bee in my bonnet and decided I wanted to customise a doll. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve likely seen sneak peeks and progress shots, but she’s finally complete and I’m so excited to share her.

She started life as a Draculaura doll I bought on the cheap off eBay. I chose Draculaura because I liked the shape of her face, and her skin colour was close enough to a normal human skin tone that it wouldn’t be too difficult to tone down the few visible bits. I also wanted a doll with primarily black hair, but that ended up not mattering in the end.

I started out with her face. I stripped down the original paint, toned down the back of her head and neck with soft pastels, and used white chalk paint as oshiroi. The face details were a combination of pastels, watercolour pencils, and acrylic paint. The Draculaura doll’s face sculpt reminded me very much of a now-retired geiko named Mamehana, so I referenced the following photos of her quite heavily while painting. (1, 2, 3).

My next step was to change the colour of her hands from pink to a more natural tone. Somehow during this process, I lost her hands. I looked for them for literally months, but they’re just… gone. In the end I gave up and bought a replacement set on eBay. I toned them with brown and yellow chalk pastels that helped neutralise the bright pink tone.

When it came to repainting the face and body, I found Dollightful  and Poppen Atelier, two very helpful YouTube channels with lots of information on customising Monster High and similar dolls. Initially, I’d planned to style her original hair using these traditional katsura styling videos but in the end her hair proved too stubborn and poofy, and it looked pretty awful no matter what I did, so I chopped it all off and sculpted a hairstyle out of clay. It’s primarily based on the tsubushi shimada, but I had to take a few creative liberties. Her kanzashi are beads and charms I had lying around.

The outfit was a co-production. Makiko of JaponSakura (who also made this beautiful Pullip kimono) was kind enough to custom-make me a plain black hikizuri-style kimono and coordinating obi using the fabric I selected, since it reminded me of the moon. Once I received it, I painted the plum and bamboo design around the hem and the custom crests myself, I thought since it was such a small scale, using regular acrylic would be fine, but if I were to do another custom like this I’d definitely invest in fabric paints instead. The crests might seem a bit proportionally large by modern standards, but any smaller and they would have just looked like blobs. Her momi (the red fabric wrap geisha wear beneath the obi), juban sleeves, and underskirt are just scraps of red fabric I hand-sewed and tacked into place. The zori are a pair of MH shoes I repainted and modified slightly – they originally looked like this. I removed some of the strap bulk and painted some white to make it disappear a little. I did debate reforming her feet so they would be flat, but I was hesitant to experiment that much and risk ruining the doll. Makiko also included tabi with the kimono but they made her feet too bulky to fit in the shoes, so in the end I just sanded some detail off her toes and painted her legs with the same chalk paint I used on her face.

Her shamisen was improvised, made from foam board, stir sticks, and gorgeous washi tape from The Rare Orchid. I got a bunch of beautiful paper and tape from them, a full review is coming!

This beautiful lady has been a labour of love. For my first custom doll, I think she turned out spectacularly. I don’t think I’ll be doing this on a regular basis, as she was a significant investment in time, workmanship, and materials, but I might make her a friend or apprentice maiko in the future. I’m also seriously considering turning a Skelita Calaveras into a very stylised Jigoku Dayu but that will definitely be a much longer and more detailed project if it ever comes to pass.

DIY Tabletop Shoji Screen

When I said I was inspired by the ikebana displays at the Botanical Gardens this weekend, I bet you didn’t think this was what I meant! But I was so charmed by the smaller-proportioned tabletop shoji screen  used as a backdrop for one of the arrangements, I knew I wanted one as soon as possible. I browsed around and found one online but the cost + shipping came 0ut to $60 US, which was more than I was looking to spend. So I hit up the local Michael’s craft store yesterday and bought a couple of supplies, and with two short afternoons of work out on the back deck enjoying the lovely weather, I’ve got something that I’m really quite proud of. It’s incredibly light and easy to store. It is a bit fragile, but since it won’t be bearing any weight or staying on display for extended periods of time that’s fine with me.

If you’d like to make one of your own, just read on! I will give the exact measurements for this one, which comes out to three feet wide and two feet tall, but you can absolutely scale up or down for your needs. You can also dress it up with fancier paper and different stain or paint on the wood if you want to. I plan to use this as a neutral backdrop for ikebana and product reviews, amongst other things, so I went with plain white and a fairly mid-range cherry stain.
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Quick & Easy Obijime Tassel Storage Solution

Finding a practical storage solution for obijime is one of the great conundrums of kimono collecting. They get tangled, the tassels get ratty and frayed, and most of the storage options I’ve come across involve wrapping the tassels in paper which gets tedious and wasteful if you use them frequently and have to redo the wrappings every time.

I wanted to find a quicker and more practical way to store them that would also be affordable and easily accessible. After a couple of experiments, I think I’ve found the perfect solution and wanted to share it with you all – bubble tea straws! You can also find them listed as milkshake or smoothie straws, you just want to make sure they’re a wider width than typical drink straws. They’re available on Amazon as well as at nearly any grocery store, they’re very inexpensive, and they’re much more durable than paper.

To begin with, I steamed. combed, and trimmed the tassels on my obijime. For a really great and thorough tutorial on cleaning, steaming, and maintaining obijime tassels, please check out Naomi’s “Project Obijime” blog post. It’s really thorough and clear, and a great place to start.

After all your tassels are tidied up, what you need to do is cut a piece of the straw slightly longer than your tassel and then slit it up one side. Insert the body of the obijime in through the slit and then slide it down to protect the tassel. Then just store however works for you – mine are simply folded in half and then in half again and put into divided boxes by formality and shape. The great thing about using straws like this instead of paper or something else is that you can pull it off and slide it back on as many times as you’d like! No need to take the time to re-wrap them, and no waste.

The only time this feels like a less-than-perfect solution is with very wide and flat obijime, which are more common in vintage collections. Just be careful to make sure that you’ve pulled the straw down completely onto the tassel so it’s not causing the obijime itself to curl because they will stay that way and need steaming again to flatten out.

I hope you found this helpful! It’s such a simple little thing, but personally I think it makes a huge difference when it comes to storage and tidiness!

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Origami Ikebana

Sometimes, when you combine two very traditional Japanese art forms, you get something delightfully modern and original – like origami ikebana!

A friend of mine just bought a new condo and is having a get-together this weekend. I wanted to bring her a little something but plants or real flowers were out of the question due to a very clever and curious kitty friend. I tried to think of something I could make that would be bright and cheerful and pet-friendly and it struck me that I could make paper flowers and do a traditional arrangement with them! I made three salmon lilies, two purple flowers that don’t really look like anything specific, and lots of foliage. The centres of the purple flowers are rolled and curled yellow paper, and the lilies have floral wire and pearls. The stems are just floral wire and floral tape. The thin wire gives the lilies some movement, but they can be manipulated into place if necessary. I admit, I did use some glue to attach flowers and foliage to the stems, but most of this arrangement is held together with nothing more than sharp folds and hope!

I’m really happy with it overall. I just hope my friend likes it!

Subtly Spooky

Happy Halloween, everyone! I had tons of fun last year doing a month’s worth of various Halloween coordinations but this month was too busy to devote myself to anything like that. I knew I had to do something though, and that’s where this suitably subtly spooky outfit came from!

The starting point was unsurprisingly the obi. Obi with seasonal, spooky, or gothic motifs tend to be quite popular, and as such, also quite expensive. This one cost me nearly nothing, since it’s the reverse side of an obi I already owned! I found this gorgeous iridescent gemstone skull sticker at a craft store. It’s actually a Martha Stewart brand product, of all things. Once I had the skull, I knew I wanted to decorate an obi with it but I was worried it would be too plain, but then I found a spool of adhesive ribbons and trims and I was all set.

I knew I wanted a fairly plain kimono so that the focus would be on the bling-tastic obi. I waffled over a few choices, debated buying something, and then I remembered I had this little beauty, a gift from the same dear friend who sent me the vintage kakeshita a while back. This piece is quite old, and quite fragile. The silk itself is very clearly sun-damaged, faded in spots, and has several tears and frays where the seams are coming apart. It’s also one of those odd hybrid kimono that we hardly ever see anymore. From a distance, it is (or was, before the fading) a solid uniform purple shade with a single crest, which would place is straight in iromuji territory. But up close, it’s shot through with gold stripes, which is not something you’d generally see in a modern iromuji. Whatever you want to call it, I’m so glad I finally found a way to use it!

The finishing touch for this outfit is a brooch I made a while back with supplies from the very same craft store. It wasn’t made with kimono or any particular event in mind, I was just feeling creative. But it works so well with this outfit, you’d think I’d done it on purpose! I tied everything together with black, red, and dark raspberry pink accessories and came up with what I think is a very spooky but also very wearable coordination!

Are you dressing in kimono this halloween? If so, please share photos!