Learning how to upcycle old Kimono into beautiful accessories in Singapore

Saori Wada, the owner of SEQYA, is a cheerful middle-aged lady who makes you feel instantly welcome the moment you step into her store. SEQYA is a relatively new addition to Concorde Hotel in Somerset, a welcome pop of colour in a largely grey-and-white strata mall. 

A hair and makeup artist by training, Saori worked for big names such as Christian Dior before going independent. After relocating to Singapore, she decided to put her skills to good use by providing kimono rental along with hair and makeup services to both Japanese expats and locals. She hopes to do her bit to spread Japanese culture in sunny Singapore with her colorful kimonos and accessories. 

According to Saori, expatriate Japanese make up 70% of her clientele, while Singaporeans make up the remaining 30%. The latter prefer more traditional patterns, while the former shows a marked preference for nontraditional patterns. Interestingly, local Singaporean clients made up the majority of uchikake (wedding kimono) rentals. 

It is only to be expected that where there are kimono, there are hagire accessories. 

Hagire accessories are an understated part of Japanese culture. While the country is better known for its disposable chopsticks and single-use eye masks, “mottainai” – the Japanese equivalent of “waste not, want not”, is the overlooked national mantra that has kept Japan running for centuries. Hagire accessories embody this spirit to a tee. Hagire refers to scraps of fabric cut from old kimonos, which are then given a new life as adorable accessories. In this way, beloved heirloom kimonos get to live on beyond their natural lifespan and quality fabric is not wasted. 

Despite having seen chirimendama (another kind of Japanese cloth ball that is a popular souvenir for tourists to Kyoto), I had never given much thought to the process of creating these tiny pieces of art. So, after getting dressed in a spiffy yukata, I sat down to listen to Saori’s explanation of how we would go about creating these hagire balls. 

Making hagire balls involves lots of craft glue. First, a thin wire is threaded through each styrofoam ball, which is then coated in an unspecified Goldilocks amount of craft glue – not too little, not too much. Too little would prevent the fabric from adhering properly, while too much would result in the balls becoming way too sticky to handle, as I learned the hard way. 

Next, a small pair of craft scissors are used to snip off bits of fabric that are not directly stuck to the ball, after which the edges are adjusted with a pair of tweezers. Balls are meant to be perfectly spherical, but getting this one right was harder than it seemed. Glue and the lack thereof meant that it took a colossal amount of effort and dexterity to cut, stick and smoothen out the fabric edges such that the lopped-off parts were flat and tidy. 

In the end, it was all worth it. After the glue had dried sufficiently, the hagire balls turned out to be absolutely adorable. Saori let me pick whether I wanted to turn my balls into a pair of earrings or hairpins and I decided on the latter. Despite the many moments of hopelessness I experienced throughout the process of creating these hagire balls, the plump spheres that were the end product made all my pain melt away. 

All in all, this was a fantastic experience. Come prepared to deal with glue, and walk away with a cute set of hagire ball hairpins/earrings to show for your valiant efforts. Then, appreciate your creation and how it is an awesome way to recycle pricey shouken (silk) fabric.

For those who are interested in learning how to upcycle Kimono into accessories, Saori will be holding workshops on 23 – 25 April 2021.

About the author

Translator, writer, and all-around multilingual person.
Always on the lookout for interesting people and projects in Japanese/English/Chinese.