Saisei: the beauty of vintage kimono, reborn

Saisei means “reborn” in Japanese, and it’s a name which perfectly reflects Wellington maker Hana Yoshida’s work. Hana’s beautiful clothing and accessories were born from her grandmother’s collection of vintage kimono and they continue today with the vintage kimono and fabric she still sources from Japan. Hana says: “When I unpick kimono, I think of somebody in Japan who spent days to hand sew the kimono for her loved ones. I think of someone who wore it with much care and love.”

saisei hana


saisei rings

What do you make?
I upcycle and repurpose vintage Japanese kimono fabrics into modern and stylish clothing and accessories.

How did you get into your craft?
I am originally from Japan. When I went back to Japan last year, my mum mentioned loads of kimono that were left in my grandmother’s wardrobes. They had been there for decades since my grandmother passed away. As a lot of women did in the old days, she used to hand sew kimono for her whole family. She was a very good seamstress, so that often kimono retailers asked her to make kimono for their clients when they received custom made orders. She also taught students how to hand sew kimono at her home. My father still remembers her students coming to their house to learn kimono making. I was blown away by the beauty of the craftsmanship and fabric itself and decided to bring some back to New Zealand.

I have been always into making stuff myself. When I was kid, I used to knit a lot of things and I learnt basic sewing skills at my university. My earliest memory of recycling is making a bag out of my old jeans. So when I got my grandmother’s kimono, I started making some scarves and cushion covers with them. This is how it all started last year. Now I used up all of my grandmother’s silk, so I purchase fabric in Japan and get it shipped to New Zealand.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
No, except for at my university when I learnt basic skills as part of my Education/Teaching course. I’m self taught, so learnt a lot by trial and error! I also take private lessons from professionals.

saisei pattern

saisei textiles

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite material is pre-loved and antique kimono silk. It’s getting rarer because most modern Japanese people have stopped wearing traditional kimono except for special ceremonies or events. So traditional kimono hand-crafting is in decline and there are fewer people who can pass on the techniques of crafting and dyeing kimono to the next generation.

Aizome boro cotton is also special to me. “Boro” means patched. In the old days, when the fabric was damaged, people didn’t throw it away. They patched the damaged area and kept on using it for a long time. So the cotton has a huge amount of character and really interesting textures. Nowadays, these textiles are loved and highly regarded by many all around the world.

My favourite process is creating the right patterns. It takes a long time and uses a lot of paper and sample fabrics. I repeat amending the patterns until I make the right ones. It is a long process, but really satisfying in the end.

Tell us about the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
I purchase vintage kimono fabric from Japan. Some are actual pre-worn kimono and some are vintage kimono silks that are in bolts and never sewn or worn before.

The sewn kimono are unpicked (this can take around four hours) before being hand washed. Then they are dried in the shade and ironed gently. This is done before making anything. To make my capes, I make outer wool fabric and linings separately. The vintage kimono silk is used exclusively to make the linings of the capes. Because of the width of the silk (usually around 36cm), I cut up the silk into 8-9 pieces and sew them together to make one lining. Then darts and a collar are made. Finally I sew the lining, the outer wool and collar together.

saisei cutting

saisei cape

saisei capes

What inspires you?
Tattoo arts, 50s-70s vintage fashion.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I would like more people to enjoy the beauty and craftsmanship of kimono fabric in their daily life.

Tell us about your pets:
We have a cat called Rika. We got her from the Cat’s Protection League as a kitten back in 2002, so she’s an old cat now. We have two little kids so Rika gets less attention than she used to, however when the kids are in bed she likes to sit on my lap and fall asleep.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A flowering branch necklace on Felt from a maker in Nelson. This pendant top was about 6cm and looked just like plum flowers. I liked the oriental feel to it. I wear it on my market days.

What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
There will be more capes and reversible silk cardigans. I would like to add dresses as well, but I will see. Also men’s organic cotton T-shirts with Aizome cotton pockets.


Hana will be holding a stall at Wellington Underground Market on Saturday 1 April, from 10am to 4pm. This is one of only a handful of markets that Hana will do this year, and it’s a good opportunity to see and try on her garments. Hana will also have sample fabrics on the day, so you can choose fabrics for you own special cape or cardigan.

Hana has also very generously offered a prize for one lucky Felt reader of this lovely autumnal scarf. This vibrant silk scarf with an orange leaf pattern, measuring 17cm x 180cm, was made with 100% vintage Japanese kimono silk. The silk was hand woven and hand printed in Kyoto, Japan.


To be in to win this gorgeous handcrafted prize, simply leave a comment telling us what appeals to you about Hana’s story and her reborn creations. The draw will be made on Friday 7 April and is open to New Zealand residents only.


Explore Hana Yoshida’s beautiful work on Felt »


saisei cardigan

16 thoughts on “Saisei: the beauty of vintage kimono, reborn

  1. I love the idea of Boro cotton and love that Hana treats it as a treasure. Also lovely to read of a creator who is self taught. The trial and error, frustrations, and utter conviction of her creativity is refreshing.

  2. She is putting new life into fabric that has been forgotten and put to the side because it isn’t what’s “in” at the moment. The name Saisei ” reborn” speaks for its self. The fabric becomes alive again in Hana’s creations.

  3. Just love the concept of the kimono fabric being “reborn” in another piece; given a new life as a different piece of clothing or accessory. It is as though the fabric collects the story each person that continues to treasure it. The fabric is a keeper of history. Saisei is a beautiful way of passing on tradition to others. Each of Hana’s creations are unique and made to be loved by the wearer.

  4. Absolutely stunning and so refreshing to see old traditions used so respectfully to create new and wonderful styles. Great way to recycle materials. Hana’s passion is inspiring.

  5. I love how she celebrates her culture with her own unique and beautiful creations. I love that respect is paid to the craftspeople who created the beautiful fabrics and kimono before her.

  6. Wow. I have for a long time now, loved Japanese vintage kimono. Hana has breathed new life into these beautiful fabrics, and in doing so honours the women who have gone before her. The cloth should be worn and enjoyed and the world needs more upcycling!
    Excited to see more

  7. I love that she uses these beautiful kimonos and has a great appreciation for the way they are made. The love and passion and detail is inspiring and that these have a new life with a beautiful story and history,thank you for sharing this with us…

  8. I love that Hana is bringing these extraordinary fabrics into the country and doing such wonderful things with them for us all to admire. My favourite things – and people – are those that get better with age; they are worth investing ourselves in. These fabrics and their patina reflect and celebrate precious time’s passage.

  9. I have always loved all things Japanese ever since a school trip to Japan more than 20 years ago. I love how Hana (my namesake!) has repurposed the kimono fabric into something even more beautiful and modern, upholding the inspiration behind Boro cotton where the item of clothing continues to be used for a long time. It is also amazing how she is continuing her grandma’s craft!

  10. Woah, these are stunning!
    I especially love how Hana got started using her grandmother’s kimonos, its just a lovely way to re-purpose clothing of a loved one.

  11. The beautiful fabric gets a new lease of life and so it lives on in a new form, while their maker and history is respected and honoured. With every stitch, Hana, too is part of that story.

  12. This is a celebration of so much that is Japanese, just like the food, gardens, and buildings; life and art combined. The capes are great; fluid, beautiful, and practical, like a funky modern day kimono combo. I like it.

  13. I love how Hana has used the old kimono fabric on the inside of her garments – beautiful linings are so underrated these days! These designs introduce a little bit of the ‘flower and willow world’ of Japan to New Zealand. Timeless elegance.

  14. Love the understated and elegant design elements. The fusion of old and new and the blend of two cultures. The garments seem to be imbued with a intelligence, appreciation of nature and it’s beauty. So gorgeous.

  15. I came from a culture where we work crazy hours to afford newer and bigger modern consumer goods. I was, therefore, very intrigued with the concept of boro which was born of forgotten values of ‘mottainai’ or ‘too good to waste’ . Thank you, Hanna, for inspiring me to incorporate this concept into my patchwork, quilting and beading crafts.

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