Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Kimono sleeves"

Because I thought having a Dr Who scarf would just be the coolest thing, I got into knitting. And, because everyone and their uncle told me "Crocheting is easier" I got into crocheting and found out immediately after learning that there was absolutely nothing I wanted to do with it. So I found a book with a cool pattern. I still like the pattern- what I don't like is that the sleeves are referred to as "kimono sleeves". And, apparently, this isn't an uncommon term.

For anyone who doesn't know, a kimono is a traditional Japanese outfit that was worn by all genders and ages (though not necessarily by all people all the time) and, on women, even indicated marital status. Here are what the sleeves look like: (from wiki)

As you can see (or, if you can't see)- the sleeves work roughly the same way our sleeves do, just with long fabric hanging down from them. Considering how USians eat (that isn't an insult- just noting the differences between table manners, the Japanese tend to bring the bowls to their mouth when eating), you'd think that proper kimono sleeves would be extremely cumbersome. So it's really no surprise that what USians/Westerners call "kimono sleeves" is nothing like what kimono sleeves actually look like.

Now, I can understand saying that these are kimono-inspired sleeves. As Zoe says, the kimono-inspired sleeve "emphasises a continuous line between the neck and arm, subduing rather than highlighting the shoulder"- which kimonos also do.

But, take a look at how kimonos are put together vs how "kimono sleeves" are put together:
image from wiki.

image from Colette Patterns

Kimonos are, essentially, made up of rectangular fabric put together while the "kimono" sleeve is notably not a parallelogram, nor is the vest rectangular. And the way that kimono sleeves, especially modern "kimono" sleeves, hang vs how real kimonos hang are often very different.

Why does this matter? Well, for one thing- because primarily white westerners are using a word that they can't even write (no, really, I want to see how many USians can correctly write "和服" without help. And, yes, stroke order matters) that comes from a part of non-white, in this case Japanese, culture that they probably don't properly understand. What about the people who created the sleeve style? I don't know. But the way its used now? Well, lets just say that it makes me fairly uncomfortable.

I love the style- I really do. I can't wait until I'm done with it to see how it looks*. But I really dislike calling what it has kimono sleeves. Because the sleeves are nothing like what you'd find on a real kimono. And, yes, white people have had a great history of literally destroying cultures, taking what they want and making it their own while destroying the rest. And appropriating traditional styles like this can actually cause problems, even if we don't realize it.

*(I finished the pattern only to realize I SERIOUSLY farked the gauge and it was roughly 5x too big for me- then I tried "felting" it even though it's acrylic and it stretched even more. Anyone who knows jack about yarns- please try not to laugh at me TOO hard. I took it apart and might use it as a throw or decorative tent something. I'll try again later)

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