N is for Ningyo

Ningyo (also ningyou), 人形, dolls

I had to feature this obi today, didn’t I? I love it so much! I wanted to pair it with a kimono that didn’t compete with it but also didn’t get lost in the background, and I think this was the perfect choice.

The red of the obi is repeated in the gorgeous red of the poppies on the kimono, and while it might not be super obvious, a lot of the colours in the doll herself are echoed in other parts of the outfit. The olive accent shows up in the haneri, the obiage, and the hem of the kimono. The lilac of the obijime isn’t an exact match for the grey background of the kimono but I feel like the soft, desaturated colours complement each other very well.

Items used in this coordination

D is for Daruma

Daruma, 達磨, lucky doll representing Bodhidharma

Daruma are those rounded, roly-poly little dolls (usually red, but other colours exist) with a grumpy-looking face. Often one or both eyes are left blank. They’re said to represent the bearded face of Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. Nowadays, they’re used to set goals and encourage perseverance. When you set a goal, you paint in the right eye in. When you accomplish the goal, you fill in the left. At the end of the year it’s common to return the daruma to the temple where it was purchased, for it to be thanked and set ablaze. You would then buy a new one to set a new goal for the upcoming year.

As I mentioned, the traditional colour for daruma is red, but it’s becoming more common to see a whole host of colours used to represent different goals. There are varying opinions as to which colour represents what, but some of the most common meanings are as follows:

Red – Luck & fortune
White – Marriage & harmony
Gold or yellow – Finance
Green – Health
Blue – Success
Pink – Love

If you’d like to make your own daruma, keep reading! However, this one is not made of fragile papier maché and should absolutely not be burnt!

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Say Hello to Akane!

Everyone, please say hello to Akane!

I found this little lady on a shelf at my favourite vintage shop. She’s not particularly old; she’s made of a sort of soft vinyl instead of ceramic and gofun, and seems relatively mass-produced. Nonetheless I was utterly charmed by her and knew I had to bring her home. I was drawn immediately by her bright red kimono, which inspired me to name her Akane (茜), which means deep red and is a traditional girls’ name.

Unfortunately that kimono was pretty much all she had! There was a piece of cardboard wrapped in pink satin tied around her waist like a sort of obi, and a scraggly little piece of twine in her hair, but she had no real accessories or anything, so I decided to make her some custom pieces as well as give her a bit of a glow-up. I did take photos of the whole process, but since it was done more to relax and unwind I took the photos on my phone, wherever I happened to be working so I apologise for the quality and messy background of some of these.

Her face shape is adorable, but it felt very flat due to a lack of shading. She did have some pink blush on her cheeks but aside from that, she honestly looked like a cute potato. She also had lower eyelashes but no upper ones, and nearly invisible eyebrows. Using a combination of actual cosmetics and chalk pastels I gave her some shadows and contouring, deepened the flush on her cheeks, and gave her eyelashes and more defined eyebrows. It’s a subtle change, but she’s gone from a potato to a peach. You can also see the false eri I sewed for her to give the impression of a proper under-layer.

Next up was fixing her hair. Her bangs were quite uneven, but much worse was her hair in the back. I’m not sure if someone tried to trim her hair at some point or if she was made this way, but her hair was very lopsided in the back! I straightened it out and snipped away any broken or kinked hairs I could find. Then I tucked these cute little plum blossoms Kansai_gal sent me. They’re actually from packaging or something but I like that I’ve given them a second life. Since her head is vinyl I was able to just push a straight pin through them and they’re very solidly anchored in there.

With the cosmetic aspects taken care of, I got to work giving her a proper obi. I used some scrap kimono fabric and sewed a cute little tsuke-obi, and used some of the same textured white fabric from the eri to make an obiage. The whole thing attaches with a magnet and then a length of gold cord works as an obijime. Her socks are a bit of a cheat – they’re simply two fingers off a pair of white cotton polishing gloves! They fit her more perfectly than anything I could have sewn.

I’ve never named a doll I’ve fixed up before, but none of them have captivated me nearly as much as this little girl has. All the others reside in a display cabinet but she lives on my bedside table. Maybe I should sew a little zabuton for her to sit on. XD

Never too old to play with dolls

Now we come to the last of my ridiculously indulgent birthday coordinations using items from last month’s kimono bazaar. I fell in love with this obi the moment I laid eyes on it – the dolls are just too cute for words.

The colours in it paired up perfectly with the colours in this vintage-feeling komon Naomi gave me several years back. I also happened to have a haneri and obiage that were a spot-on match for the olive green tones in the kimono. I was a little stumped when it came to the obijime until I remembered I have this one that is an exact match for the navy background and pink momiji leaves in the kimono. I couldn’t be happier by how well every item in this coordination calls back to at least one other item.

Quick note – I am in the process of changing how images are stored. I used to upload them all to my flickr account and then create linked galleries, but they are now confining free accounts and it’s a system I’ve always found a little inefficient anyway. I used to get traffic from there but I don’t any longer, so I’m going through the arduous task of downloading all my content, hosting it locally, and editing every single entry that contains images from flickr. If you’re browsing and see things broken or missing, please be patient! Thanks for understanding!

Items used in this coordination

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.