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Wa-Loli Dress Tutorial 
28th-Jan-2006 11:46 am
J.Kier Hardie
I have been threatening/promising to write this for a while, since it gets asked about a lot, and I seem to always be making wa-loli dresses.
They are quite easy, so hopefully these instructions will not be baffling. It might seem a bit long, but I have tried to cover everything.
I have also included some general stuff to do with kimono/obi that I thought was relevent.

This should explain how to make a kimono-style dress as a one-piece style, rather than a separate skirt and top.
However, you could also use it to make just a top on its own.

The dress is fairly simple to make if you can sew a straight line, and since it doesn't have a fastening that makes it even simpler. Finishing the edges is perhaps the trickiest part, but you can always come up with different ways to finish it.

It's helpful if you have some pictures of actual kimono for reference. However, as they are basically made from long straight lengths of fabric, they aren't too hard to picture.

You will need to either buy or draft your own princess-seam dress pattern. That is, a dress pattern where the seams are vertical and go the whole length of the dress, from the shoulder/neck down to the hem. All the shaping is done on these seams, and the skirt is
not separately attached- there is no waist seam.
If all you have is a princess-seam bodice pattern, fret not... you will need to draft a little more, but the skirt isn't at all difficult.

If your pattern has a skirt, skip this part.
To add a skirt:
*Cut out your pattern pieces if you haven't already. You can either attach the skirt pattern or leave it separate, it doesn't really
matter; but having two separate patterns might be more valuable for future use than one covered in old tape.

*Obtain a large piece of paper, one that is as long as you want your skirt to be. You will be drafting the line of the skirt down
from the waist part of your existing pattern, and gradually extending it outwards to get a wide, flared skirt- *but* I suggest
making the skirt no wider than 10"-20" at the hem, depending on length.
As an illustration, I usually have loli dresses about 15"-20" long from the waist, with each panel about 15", and a total hem circumference of 120". If your dress is longer, it can be more; if shorter, less. This is because all the width is being added along the seams, and by the time you get to the hem, if it's too wide, all the extra fabric will just fall in folds at the seams rather than obtaining a nice even flared shape.
Obviously, experimentation is useful, and if you've cut it too wide it can always be taken in.
It will also depend on the size of the person of course. It was suggested elsewhere that the optimum width for gathered skirts is 3
to 4 times your waist measurement; if you stick to a scant 3 times, that should provide enough space without weighing your skirt down.

*If you did want your skirt to have extra floomph whilst still retaining the one-piece shape, you cut cut the back of the dress as a two-piece with a gathered rectangle for the skirt. For instance: the front of the dress is cut all in one piece, but the back is cut as a separate skirt and top, with the skirt gathered at the waist, and then the front and back pieces are sewn together. If you are wearing any kind of obi, it will disguise the seam line. (This is what I am planning to do with an actual kimono I'm altering, as it has a back waist seam. I will be sure to edit this post if it turns into a great disaster.)

*Your bodice pattern will be in 4 pieces: centre back, side back, side front, and centre front. (Or variations thereof- that's only what I
call them.) You will want most of the width in the skirt to be deposited along the side seams- the front and back of the dress will be 'flatter', whereas the sides can flare out more.

* If you come up with a better way of drafting, use it. This is just how I do it. Measure each skirt panel out at the bottom of the paper, so you have 4 widths of (for example) 15". Determine which piece is which, and mark them, or I can guarantee you will be sorry...

*Your centre front piece will have one straight line- the actual centre front- which is not altered. You will need to take a
few inches off the skirt seam of this piece, so it's not too wide. You can distribute these inches elsewhere along the pattern. If you
aren't using a centre back seam, i.e. your centre back is positioned along a fold in the fabric, you will need to repeat this with that piece too. If not, treat it as normal.

* Find the mid-point of each skirt panel. Measure up the paper along this mid-point, and position your bodice pieces somewhere along
that line. It doesn't have to be the mid-point of the bodice pattern, because as mentioned you will have more width on the side
seam. So for your two side pieces, position them in so that the mid-point is closer to the side seam (the one with the armhole on
it) than the inner seam.

* Once this is sorted out, draw a straight line down from each side of the waist, to the edge of each skirt panel piece. You should now
have a set of four pattern pieces with wedge-shaped pieces for your skirt.

And your skirt pattern is done. Hurrah!

Centre front overlap
This is the only pattern alteration you will need to do, and it is easypeasy. Again, this is just my preferred method, and you may find a better one. The basic kimono shape has a symmetrical overlap at the front (which is ALWAYS left over right, unless you are dead), so the left centre front will cover the right centre front, and ensure there is no embarrassing gaping.

*Measure roughly from one nipple to the other, and halve the distance (or, if that is simply too crude, measure the width of your centre front piece at the bustline). This will be the width of your overlap. Add it to the straight edge of the centre front piece; it needs to be added onto the whole length, so that both the top and skirt part are both some inches wider.

*That's all. You can make it a bit wider if you want, but ideally it should come to about where the bustline seam is.

The back neckline should be left more or less alone, providing it's fairly high and close to the neck. The front neckline needs some attention, but it is simple.

*Remember your original centre front edge, the one that corresponds to the centre front of your good self? Measure on that edge, from the bustline up to your preferred neckline- it's useful to make it the absolute lowest you could tolerate. I usually position it about 3" above the bustline. It will be added to, so in the final version will not be scandalously low-cut.

*Find the edge of the front neckline (i.e. where the shoulder seam starts, where the front neckline joins the back). Measure from this point to your newly-discovered neckline point, as determined above. Draw a line between the two, with a ruler. Extend this line out to the actual centre front edge.

*You should now have a neat diagonal line crossing from the neck point to the centre front.

Making up

(Since the sleeves consist of a straight length of fabric, folded over, there's no real need to provide a pattern for it. The sleeve can be as long as you want, it doesn't really affect the rest of the dress.)

*Cut out all the bits, if you haven't already. It is important to pin them carefully, or at the very least ensure that the waistline is marked on each piece and matches up neatly.

*Sew 'em together.

*Kimono have collars. The mention of collars here should not send you into a cold sweat, as they are only collars in the most basic sense.
You will need a strip of fabric about 2-3" wide (depending on personal preference). Determine its length by measuring up your centre front, along the diagonal front neckline, and the back neckline- you will need double that.

*Fold it in half lengthwise and note the middle point. Pin this middle point to the centre back point of the neckline.

*Sew it on. It's easier to get an even line if you sew it from the middle outwards, particularly if you are using a fabric that isn't well-behaved. It needs to cover all the raw edges; when you reach the ends, do not worry about them, as they will be finished as part of the hemline.

*Now fold it over widthwise. You will need to be cunning with pins at this point, or you could make the job a lot easier by using an iron. Basically what you need to do is tuck the raw edge of the collar piece underneath so that it cannot be seen, trap it with pins, and stitch it into submission. Use your preferred method of doing this, if you have one; ideally, stitch from the front so that it has a neat appearance.

*Finish the hemline however you prefer to do so; ruffles, lace, binding, anything.

*Sleeves! Presumably you have your sleeves- unless you want to make them fancy, they're just a tube about the length of your arm, and as wide as you want. It's not advisable to go for floor-length furisode sleeves on your first attempt; sleeves that hang down to about the waistline are more manageable.

*The sleeve is only attached to part of the armhole, and vice versa. This is because the sleeve is not shaped, and is much too wide for the armhole. If you sewed it to the whole area of the armhole seam, it'd be bunched up underneath, so you have to leave a gap. Leave whatever seems reasonable; it should hang nicely down from the arm and shoulder with a straight drape.

*The raw edges of the sleeve and armhole need to be finished, of course. You can do this however you wish, but binding them adds some reinforcement.

Et voila. That's about it for wa-loli dresses.

You can of course call it a kimono dress, yukata dress, anything. There isn't much structural difference between the different types of kimono, they are distingished between by their purpose and superficial features such as sleeve length or fabric (yukata are made of cotton, for instance.)
Most kimono are of a type called 'awase', which are worn for the greater part of the year and therefore have a lining. The unlined types are one-layered 'hitoe' and see-through ones made from ro silk, which are only worn for the hottest part of the year. I'm telling you this so you know that a kimono does not have to have a lining, and consequently neither does your wa-loli dress. Personally, lining and I don't get along (not that I cannot do it, but I don't like the feel of most linings so I prefer not to have them), but if you are making a fancy outfit for a special occasion, a lining would make it feel more special.
In that respect, I think a wa-loli dress should be considered more like a Western dress than a kimono.

If you want to make an authentic-style kimono, it's a bit easier since it has no shaping. They are constructed from lengths of fabric that measure 12" wide and a great deal long; if you are using actual kimono fabric, you won't have a choice about this, but if you're not, and need the kimono to be smaller or larger than this will allow for, you will need to calculate how much fabric is needed based on your measurements.
For reference, I have 17 kimono in my collection and not one of them fit over a UK size 16; that's about a 40" bust, 32" waist.
Essentially there are two strips that hang at the middle from the shoulder; these form the front and back of the kimono. You could of course have a shoulder seam, but it's not necessary as there is no shaping there. Another length does for the sleeves. A half-length is added to the centre front, but it is cut across diagonally to form the front overlap. The remainder makes the collar piece.
The only other thing to bear in mind is that kimono are always longer than you are. They are worn tucked up at the waist, with the excess fabric held in place with ribbons and things; this makes a very neat line when done properly, but can be awkward. However, if you don't want a traditional kimono, you don't have to bother with that.

And, once again- ALWAYS left over right. Only corpses wear it the other way round, and (as I think was discussed here), wearing it that way will not make you look gothic.

Your wa-loli dress can fasten simply with a ribbon; an underbust corset often looks fabulous, and if you can get an authentic obi (kimono sash) and learn to tie it half-decently, that's even better. However, obi are not that good at tying your dress tightly; you need some sturdy underpinnings, strings and ribbons and whatever is lying around, to make sure the whole package stays secure.

Obi can be obtained fairly cheaply (I have 20 or so obi; the cheapest one cost 50 pence. That's about $0.90 I think... it had some very tiny dye ruboffs on it, that can't even be seen when you wear it. And it came with a free fan!) but it might be better to resign yourself to not getting the exact obi you want; i.e. if you are set on getting a black and gold obi with cranes or something, you are almost guaranteed not to be able to find one for your price range.
You also need to have quite a few accoutrements in order to wear it once you've got it. An obi-makura (a little cushion that you tie on) is essential, otherwise your bow will be flat. An obi-age (scarf) is useful, but you can make your own, and the obi-jime (silken cord) will ensure it stays extra-secure. Again, all are obtainable from eBay, but I made my own obi-makura from wadding and cardboard.
If you are seriously into obi, it might be worth getting a how-to kimono book; these are of course in Japanese, but they have step-by-step photographs for some of the fancy knots.

Btw. I get all my kimono/obi/geta/zori/tabi from eBay, where you can routinely find kimono on sale for $10 or so. This is because they're secondhand, and are general-use everyday ones. Still, any kimono is better than none, and even these everyday ones are very decorative.

That is everything I can think of to write... no doubt there will be a more polished version, so any comments are welcome.
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(Deleted comment)
28th-Jan-2006 09:17 pm (UTC)
Thankyou, I'm glad it was of some use.
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28th-Jan-2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
Excellent, thankyou!
28th-Jan-2006 05:27 pm (UTC)
Great job on the tutorial! ^^ I'm actually working on my frist major project (which is a wa-lolita), and this tutorial helped me with about 2-3 parts I was stuck on XD <3 Much love!
28th-Jan-2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
Thankyou, I hoped it would make some sense. Good luck with the project- will you be posting pictures?
28th-Jan-2006 11:16 pm (UTC)
No problem ^^

And hai... If it comes out semi-good and when my new long petticoat arrives <3 ^^
28th-Jan-2006 06:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this! This will be a great help!
28th-Jan-2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
Hope so!
29th-Jan-2006 02:48 am (UTC)
Thanks for the great tutorial!

People wrapping their kimonos the 'corpse way' is just funny~
Thank you also for pointing that out (and emphasizing) that to them!
30th-Jan-2006 12:22 pm (UTC)
I know... I've seen a few people wrapped up the wrong way at cons and such, but I would never have the nerve to tackle them in person.
Tho' it would be entertaining to see someone unwrapped and corrected.
29th-Jan-2006 03:01 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I started making one today for my sister and it's come out so cool so far.
29th-Jan-2006 03:47 am (UTC)
Can you post a photo of a finished dress in this style?
30th-Jan-2006 12:24 pm (UTC)
Yep, here are a couple I have made with this method. Not spiffing photographs, but they should give some idea:

2nd-Feb-2006 12:00 am (UTC)
Oh wow, those look great! Do you mind if I put this onto my website, Poor Dolly? I'll properly credit you, of course.
2nd-Feb-2006 12:06 am (UTC)
I don't mind, you're welcome to use it.
13th-Jul-2010 11:59 am (UTC) - they're great
ei ei ei, nice tutorial there stockingshock! the dresses really look great. wow, i bet those will sell well enough. hmmm.. gonna start doing something for my small business.. might as well use your ideas here about the dress. how much do you normally charge for one dress?
13th-Jul-2010 12:33 pm (UTC) - Re: they're great
Usually about £50, in plain fabric without lace/frills etc. I've not made one for ages though, so that might be a bit off.
13th-Jul-2010 03:15 pm (UTC) - Re: they're great
hmm... well, i guess it kinda differs on the kind of materials used then right? hmm.. now, for labor... how long do you usually take to build one? hihihi bare with me please... kind of looking really for something good to sell in my "business." not yet fully established so still making it official... hopefully sooner... yeay me!
13th-Jul-2010 03:30 pm (UTC) - Re: they're great
Honestly, it's been so long since I've made one that I can't remember... the best way to work it out is to make up a few samples of what you want to sell, time it, multiply by your hourly rate and add materials costs x2. Once you've made the same thing a few times it will probably be quicker, but it's likely you'll also be better at it so it works out fairly.
30th-Jun-2011 02:36 am (UTC)
I love your guide, it's so detailed and helpful.^-^ I just have a question or two. I am new to sewing (I've done a couple of pieces before), but I have never sewn using a pattern. I have plenty of pictures to use as reference, but I don't know how I should begin. Can you suggest where I can get a princess seam dress pattern? I found a couple, but I am not entirely sure on how I can alter to make it wa-loli or if I can use them at all.
1st-Jul-2011 08:12 pm (UTC)
Thankyou! glad it's of some use.
I've always drafted patterns from scratch, so I don't buy them; afraid I don't know which ones to recommend or where you could get them (apart from looking at the selection in a sewing shop, which probably isn't much use). All you really need though is a dress pattern where the seams go all the way down the front, rather than a waist seam/gathering or horizontal darts. If the patterns you have are like that, then they should be fine (doesn't matter if it's got sleeves, the style or anything like that). If the skirt is not very loli, you can just use the bodice and shape the skirt from there.
I think there are some guides around (possibly this comm) for loli-able commercial patterns, but I haven't ever looked at them.

It's possible I can write up a guide to drafting a basic princess-seam pattern, if you can wait a short while?
7th-Jul-2011 12:25 am (UTC)
Thanks, that helps a lot. I was thinking there was a specific type of pattern I had to use. You're really helpful.^-^
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