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Scraps, waste, and old kimono

Emilia Bergoglio

Hey there!

The problem of waste has been in the center of my mind since I started sewing. How could I create beautiful garments and at the same time generate so many offcuts, often of unusable dimensions?

The war on scraps is real. Pillow stuffing anyone?

The war on scraps is real. Pillow stuffing anyone?

Despite having started to sew my clothes to be more mindful and sustainable in my fashion choices, I quickly understood that sewing is not the most environmentally friendly practice. Blame it on my love for style lines (or the fact that style lines are the only visual interest for someone that only wears black), but the beginning of my sewing journey was far from sustainable, Yes, I only used natural material and scrap-bin finds, only occasionally buying actual yardage, but my output was what I would now call bordering obsession. Certain items I made thinking they were cute turned out to be not flattering or just not working from my lifestyle. I experimented with shapes, techniques, textures, fabrics. In hindsight, this was a very good experience, since I learned a lot both technically and when it comes to my personal style. On the other hand, the waste I generate was taking away all the joy from sewing.

I tried many supposedly scrap-busting techniques (shoutout to Shauni and her #sewingleftovers), but many, MANY beeswax cloths, tea towels, coasters, and Ida Clutches later I was still not satisfied.

I came to the conclusion that waste had to be tackled at the design stage, and not downstream by the consumer/sewist. By this I mean at the pattern drafting level. This concept is also very much present in the environmentally-conscious community: take recycling, for example. It is now very clear to many activists that corporations should address the problem of waste, instead of leaving the burden of recycling to the end consumer (not that separating your trash is a burden, but you get the point). Big companies have a history of making consumers feel bad about their choices, telling us all the things we should do to reduce our carbon footprint. By all means, those actions are also important, but a carbon tax would do more.


At the same time, over the years I have accumulated several kimono, often too small, just because seeing them in the recycling shop made me very sad. Indeed, I was feeling もったいない (mottainai), a Japanese word that conveys the sadness generated by the sight of waste.

Now, my fascination with wafuku (Japanese clothing) is kind of complex. Of course, I appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship which goes into making them, the different fabrics used (every tiny region has its own…imagine my joy every time I travel), the patterns, and especially the history behind it. I wear kimono regularly, to functions of my temple, to the theatre, or to exhibitions. All my items are second hand and I cherish them dearly, as they are full with history and stories.

Teaching myself to wear kimono correctly, I learned how to sew one as well (somehow knowing the construction makes the folding process much easier…?). I very soon discovered, to my great astonishment/admiration, that the kimono is the original zero-waste pattern, since it is made by cutting an entire bolt of fabric in differently shaped rectangles, and then assembling it. It is also intrinsically “slow fashion”, since often kimono are passed down the generations, and even cut up to make children’s kimono or other garments as well as small novelty items.

At the same time, I discovered several zero waste patter makers, such as Milan AV-JC and Elbe Textile, for whom I pattern tested the new Maynard dress (more about this in a separate blog post). Suddenly, I realized I was not alone in my quest to reduce the waste at the design stage! I do recommend checking Milan AV-JC’s blog, as she explains how zero-waste design takes place in a very straightforward and easy manner.

The positively futuristic Maynard dress by Elbe Textiles is a completely zero waste design…and I made it out of old sheets!

The positively futuristic Maynard dress by Elbe Textiles is a completely zero waste design…and I made it out of old sheets!

Now comes my “Aha!” moment: combining kimono upcycling AND zero waste all in one! As I mentioned, refashioning old Japanese clothing is not exactly a brand new idea, but where I differ is in the fact that I want to use ALL of the kimono: all the pieces, all the lining, without cutting the different panels that make the kimono, simply taking them apart and reassembling them into modern silhouettes.

This mission is very close to my heart for several reasons. It pains me to see all these beautiful kimono ready to become church stuffings, and I avoid every the tiniest scrap from becoming said stuffing. In addition, I think kimono (and Japanese textiles in general) are such beautiful works of art that people worldwide should be able to appreciate it and wear them. By remaking one kimono into a western-style item, the history behind it is preserved and transmitted in a form which is accessible to a wide range of people.


If you would like to browse the even expanding collection of “kimono remake” items, go to the Wafuku section of this website. If you have questions or specific requests do not hesitate to connect with me in the comments or to email me.

Thank you for reading.

Emilia xxx

Tokyo Fabric Shopping Guide - Part II

Emilia Bergoglio

After the success of Part I, I decided to make Part II also about Nippori. Here I will introduce a few more stores, mostly for the sake of completeness, and also will include my favorite leather shops.


This smallish second floor store stocked all you need for your leather working practice, from tools to glue to of course leather. Considering hoe small it is, the selection is very good, and you may easily find half an hide here. Bonus points if you speak Japanese: the owner and his wife know a lot about this craft and can easily help you if you have trouble choosing.


Another leather store with a great selection of colors, cuts, and animals. This is one of the few stores open on Sunday too.

NO. 41-44 NAGATO

Nagato is, together with Tomato, the most famous store in Nippori. Personally I am not a huge fan, especially of no. 41, the main shop. I find it disorganized and it is hard to find natural fibers only (of course they do carry them, but I somehow never find what I am looking for...ever). The knit shop (no. 42) carries a lot of funny prints, and I found it useful when I was looking for swimsuit fabric. However, no. 43, the wool shop, is quite nice, and often has a scrap bin with a lot of nice wool suitings. Compared to Elegance, I think the quality is a bit lower, tho this store is open on Sunday too.

This concludes Part II of the Tokyo Fabric Shopping guide! Let me know in the comments if there is something in particular you would like me to cover, or if it would be useful if I wrote a small glossary of sewing terms in Japanese.

E xxx

Tokyo Fabric Shopping Guide - Part I

Emilia Bergoglio

Hello there!

After living in Tokyo for the last 4 years or so, and dissatisfied with currently available guides, I decided to create a new, hopefully comprehensive guide to Fabric Shopping in Tokyo.

Tokyo, the Eastern Capital, is one of the biggest cities in the world. Vibrant, orderly, and densely populated, it has everything known to men and more. Of course, fabric shopping options ar endless (tho I never seem to find Rayon poplin!).

I plan to divide the guide into several section, the first about the famed Fabric Town in Nippori, in the Arakawa ward of Tokyo.

Nippori Sen-I-Gai (日暮里繊維街)

Nippori is a quiet neighborhood not so far from Ueno park. It is on the Yamanote Line, among others, and it is easy to reach. Once at the station, take the South exit and follow the directions for Fabric Town. If you intend to drive, please beware that parking on the street is not permitted in Japan. You will have to resort to one of the paying parking lots around town.

Once you are there, I suggest you take a map (most shops offer them for free). In case you could not find one, you can also print the pictures below.

As you can see, there are MANY shops. Here I will recommend sone of my favorite stores, but if you feel like visiting others, by all means do! The bigger and more famous stores, such as Tomato, may have English speaking staff, whereas the smaller once do not, but do not let this limit you: courtesy and signs will help you in this adventure.
Most shops in Nippori are open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm., and are closed during national holidays.

No. 7: MOMO

This one-room store is a little gem! MOMO sells both domestic and imported premium fabrics, from beautiful linen to lust-worthy cashmere. Mostly, they sell dressmaking fabrics, suitable for everything to underwear to a coat, but occasionally they may carry upholstery fabric. I do recommend checking the scrap bin (both outside the store and inside, in various nooks and corners), as they often offer cuts of 2 or more meters of their gorgeous fabrics. There seems to be no particular order of display, but since the shop is tiny browsing is not an issue.

Closed on Sundays and Holidays
☎ 03-3891-3346
FAX 03-3891-3346

no.9, 19, 22, 39: PAKIRA and ELEGANCE

These stores are part of the same group of shops carrying high quality fabrics. No. 9, Pakira (パキラ) is famous for the selection of Liberty prints (indeed an amazing selection, given that the store is 20 sqm or less). No. 22 sells mostly Liberty prints in knit form, and no. 19 general knits (anything from merino knits to ponte to poly, both solids and prints). This is my go-to shop for basic knits. Of course, you could always find cheaper prices at Tomato Main Store (no. 61), but I find the average quality to be higher here.

Elegance, at no. 39, features mostly imported fabrics for dressmaking, typically for gowns, but also suits and shirts. I love their scrap bins (actually scrap racks more than bins), since they tend to sell good yardage with a significant discount. If gorgeous shirtings or Italian suitings are what you are after, look no further than Elegance. You can find a nice selection of those in the first floor, whereas suitings of various kinds are sold on the second floor


☎ 03-3891-8990
FAX 03-3891-9617


This unassuming store, on 2 levels, is my go-to for interfacings and lining, especially cupro. As a person who mostly uses sew-in, woven interfacing, I can find all kinds, weight, and colors in this shop. Beware that if you buy lining and interfacing from the bold (instead of the pre-cut bundles) the minimum purchase is 3 meters. Yoto Shoten is also one of the very few stores open on Sunday.

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00~18:30 
      Sunday 11:00~17:00
      Holidays 10:00~17:00
☎ 03-3891-4486

The usual mess outside Yoto Shoten

The usual mess outside Yoto Shoten

No. 30 L-musée

If you are on the market for unique vintage buttons, this is the shop for you. Everything is very well organized in this tiny store, with the buttons orderly arranged in jars marking the price, size, provenance and material. The store also sells buckles, braids, and pre-made bias tape in interesting prints. Part of the same group is another store in Nippori, called Maru, which sells beads.


Closed on Sundays and holidays

☎ 03-5858-6722

The cute store front of L-Musée, including several bargain bins.

The cute store front of L-Musée, including several bargain bins.

No. 31, 58-61 TOMATO

I have a love.hate relationship with Tomato. I do like the Select house (no. 31), wth its calm atmosphere and selected fabrics, both imported and domestic. I also like the cheap prices of the main store (61). What I do not like is the perennial chaos which reigns there. Tomato is very famous, so everybody goes there. I must say the selection of silks is not bad at all, provided that you manage to get there! In addition, I am often frustrated with the shopkeepers, since most of them do not sew and can never answer my questions. I do recommend checking it out mostly for the massive selection of Japanese prints and Japan-only fabrics. One big advantage is the in all their multiple stores the fabrics are organized by kind (for example, all the knits, regardless of fiber, are on the same floor, so are all the silks, and all the wool). Do not be afraid by the first floor of the main store: once you move up the chaos will subdue and you will actually be able to touch the fabrics.


Open Mon-Sat 10:00~18:00 
☎ 03-6806-6225


This shop is specialized in linen and cotton. You will mostly find locally produced solids here, as well as the occasional stripe. I like this store a lot, especially for domestically produced linen, so much so that it is my go-to store for quality solids. In particular, they have linen in every weight and apparently every color. Prices are higher than at Tomato and the selection smaller, but it is generally very quiet and the owners are lovely, so I chat with them every time I drop by.


Closed on Mondays, Sunday, and Holidays
☎ 03-3803-1656
FAX 03-3803-1656


The description of this store is “tasteful fabrics”, though the definition of tasteful seems to be very subjective. This store is very small and packed full of fabrics. In particular, I recommend this store for shirting fabrics, especially if Made in Italy is what you are after. Recently I have been able to spot several bolts of raw selvedge denim.

Closed on Sundays and holidays

☎ 03-3807-3196


This concludes the first installment of the Tokyo Fabric shopping guide. I do have more recommendations in Nippori, then I will move to different neighborhoods.

Hope you enjoyed it! Have fun.

E xxx