Okinawa Rompa

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I usually dress quite conservatively; neutral tones, knee-length dresses, not so many bright colours… but sometimes when you have a loud fabric, you’ve just got to choose a design to match…
A few years ago while taking my sister to Okinawa I picked up some traditional Okinawan Bingata fabric.

Not of course the beautifully hand-dyed traditional cloth – (cos that’s expensive) but some of the mass produced knock-off from a fantastic fabric shop on Kokusai-dori, (the main shopping street) in Naha.
It’s a beautiful design with many colourful traditional symbols – but rather loud. I bought 2.5 meters of both white and sky blue. And they’ve basically just sat in my stash ever since as I just didn’t know what to do with them.

They’re just sooooo Okinawan. It’s like Hawaiian shirt fabric – you can basically only make Hawaiian shirts with it and only wear it on holiday. It’s just not an everyday fabric!


So let’s talk about the fabric.
Or how it’s different from the normal Japanese fabric I tend to sew with.

Okinawa is part of modern Japan, but it wasn’t always. Originally it was the separate Ryukyu Kingdom until 1609. Geographically it’s far closer to Taiwan and China and for most of its history it had quite a different culture and language from Japan. There was far more trade and interaction with Taiwan than main-land Japan, and this is reflected in the art, architecture and iconography.
It’s also a series of tiny subtropical islands – so there’s a huge amount of island culture too, as well as a lack of the more temperate aspects of Japanese mainland culture. So it’s hotter, has jungle like plants and animals, and a load of typhoons!
Unfortunately a lot of the unique aspects of its culture have been lost – (let’s just not talk about World War 2, cos it’s just awful)


Bingata, 紅型 means “red style” and is the most brightly coloured of the traditional Okinawan fabrics. It seems to have developed as a mixing of Chinese and Indian dying styles. It uses stencils, ricegum resist and painting to achieve the designs in a highly labour intensive process which each colour being applied separately and repeatedly for the best results.
The designs include, local flowers, birds, clouds and water waves . Apparently the stencils and designs were closely guarded family secrets with each dyer’s family passing them down through the generations.

Of course there is loads more to learn about this history and culture. I visited the local handicrafts museum in Naha and I would highly recommend it!

My project

So as I said, this fabric has been sitting in my stash for ages. Originally I had the thought to make pajamas out of it to remind me of my trip. But pajama cotton tends to be very soft doesn’t it? And this just isn’t right.
So I was thinking tropical dress… until I saw rompers making a comeback. At first I thought the trend was pretty stupid – I have a long torso so I’ve never enjoyed jumpsuit like fashion – wedgies galore! But that’s the point of sewing isn’t it? Make it to fit you!

This project 102 from burda is the kind of loud ridiculous thing I would never make in a million years. But then this fabric is similarly over the top so I figured crazy squared = awesome!

Burda July 2017
Burda July 2017

And I was right! I can’t wear this without having fun.
This is quite a fabric hungry design, I really needed more fabric than I had, but I was able to make it work by doing the pockets with some left over yellow cotton from another project.
I had to try out some new skills with this construction. Rullo loops for the drawstrings – made half a dozen before I mastered turning them out!
Elastic casing: first time to use elastic like this and unfortunately I did make it rather too tight.
Ruffles. Each leg was supposed to have a small ruffle – I added one before deciding to remove it. The cotton was just too stiff so it stuck out weirdly like mini leg-tutus.
Other than that this was a pretty easy construction.
I think the legs are rather baggy – perhaps on a lighter fabric with more drape this would have looked nice, with this though it’s just a bit much.

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