Underneath It All
The days when warriors wore heavy, ornate robes under their armour were all but gone by the latter half of the sixteenth century. To be sure, some still went in for opulence and conspicuous consumption. Those who did were the more powerful daimyō, the wealthier and aristocratic lords, those with names, reputations, and a certain sense of ostentation. The rest had simpler armour clothing, while the lowest ranking samurai just made do wearing their day-to-day clothing under their armour.
I will admit up front that the patterns here are not historically exact. I am not going to provide all the details of how to sew here, either—this is for combat grungies, something to be worn and sweated in. Here are shortcuts suitable for wear in SCA combat. If you want actual patterns for these clothes, look to our articles on Japanese clothing.
Those of considerable rank (generals and so on) wore a yoroi hitatare, which was a type of combination hakama and over-robe, over their kosode, the precursor to the modern kimono. The hitatare itself is the robe, which is remarkably easy to make. These were in use from at least the late 12th centuries into the Edo period, though their popularity fluctuated over time.
Divide your waist measurement by two and take the width of your shoulders (from point to point). Whichever number is larger is the one you will use for the body-width of the hitatare.
Cut your fabric to this width and to a length that will allow the bottom of the body to just cover your buttocks. (Don’t forget to add a hem and seam allowance!) This is the back panel. Technically, the back was made of two panels—a left and right—with a vertical seam up the spine, and the front panels were continuations of the back. This was due to the fact that Japanese looms were about 18" in width. At any rate, divide the width by three, and cut two panels to that width and the back’s length plus 4". Sew the front panels to the back panel (right sides together!) so it forms a sort of sideless tabard with the middle-front section missing.
Put the body on, hold out one arm, and with a measuring tape get the length from your knuckles to the edge of the fabric jutting out over your shoulder. (If you’re of average size, it should be somewhere around 18"-20", give or take).
Cut two sleeves to that length, with a width equal to two-thirds the height of the back panel. While some sleeves were straight (as the photograph above shows), typically the sleeves were tapered to cut down on bulk under the kote. (Of course, extra bulk from fabric translated to extra padding.) Taper the sleeve slightly—something like a ratio of 4:1—so that the wrist is opening is narrower.
Before sewing the sleeves up, pin them to the body at the shoulder and sew them to the body but only for half their length. The bottom of the sleeve hangs free. Hem the rest of the sleeve where it normally would be sewn to the body. In fact, you will now hem the entire body (except for the opening up the middle front. The thing with the hitatare is, it’s totally open at the sides. It’s like a tabard with sleeves.
Now sew the sleeves closed along the bottom only. Turn the last inch at the wrist under and sew up the end-seam, making a tube. You will want a wide hem here, perhaps 1/2", as you will insert a cord through it to tie the sleeve closed.
Turn everything right-side out.
The last step is making the collar, which runs up one side at the front and around the neck and back down. This is easily made from a 6"-wide strip of fabric cut as long as it needs to be (piece strips together if necessary) to cover the distance. Fold and press the strip into fourths to give it body. Pin it in place, sew it down, and remove the pins.
Cut a small hole at the bottom of each wrist hem and sew buttonhole stitch around them. Insert in each a cord long enough to completely encircle the hem and dangle for about 6" on either end. Knot the strings. The proper hitatare had loops of fabric sewn around the sleeve opening (similar to belt loops around the waist of one’s pants) through which the cinch-cord passed, but this is a fighting outfit that you want to get done and get on. Again, a real pattern will soon appear on the garb site.
For the hakama, cut two panels of cloth 46" wide by the distance from your navel to your ankle. (If you want to make a more ostentatious hakama here, feel free to use any width up to 60", but no more than 80"—if you have extra girth, you might want to start with 60" widths and consider going up toward 80".) These will be your legs. These measurements will suffice if your waist is up to 45" or so. If more, you will probably want to make the pattern larger. I am a “deluxe-economy sized” person, and this size actually works for me, but only marginally.
Cut to the pattern provided. Note that the crotch is almost—but not quite—halfway down the hakama. The side slit is on almost the same level. Keep these distances in mind if you alter the proportions of the pattern. Many real hakama for armour wear were made crotchless (or, rather, with overlapping crotch panels) to make them more convenient. Feel free to modify the pattern if you wish.
Fold the outer corners to the inside and sew in place as shown in the pattern. Turn the legs inside out and sew up the outside seam, forming long tubes. Turn up the bottom hem leaving the same allowance you did for the sleeve opening, since you’ll have a cord here, too.
Put the gusset in place and sew, then sew the legs together at the crotch, going over the seam again and again.
Here’s another place where your waist measurements come into play. You want the front width to be able to cover your front. Typical hakama are about 14" wide in front and 12" in back. Mine are 16" and 14". Oh, while you’re at it, cut the top of the front down about 1"—it’s shorter than the back.
The folds you make down the length of the hakama take up the excess to leave you with the measurement you need at the top. The folds should be even, and butt against the center front. Note that medieval hakama cut to this pattern don’t fold like modern martial arts hakama, so expect them to look different. Pin as you fold, and iron the folds down.
Cut several strips of 6"-wide fabric. These will form your ties. You will need two lengths. The front tie is three times your waist, plus about 20". The back tie is equal to your waist measurement plus whatever excess is needed to tie the thing closed with the knot in front. In the same manner as you made the hitatare collar, fold the strips into fourths. Find the center of the ties, pin them centered on their appropriate top panel (front or rear), and sew them all the way along and closed.
The last step is to put the cord through the ankle hem with a hole and button-hole stitch, with the cord emerging inside the ankle. Tie the cord off in a knot.
When you put the garment on, first put on your kosode. Then put on the hitatare. Typically, you would wear an obi, or fabric belt, over that to keep everything closed and hold your sword, etc. This would tie around back, and there are numerous videos out there on how to tie an obi. Look for something more like a kaku obi or similar—you don’t want the large fancy obi used for modern kimono. Next, step into the hakama, and tie the front closed. Ideally the hakama ties will go around fully at least once about the height of the obi, and then around again to tie in back under the knot of the obi. If you aren’t wearing an obi then you’ll want to position the knot in just about the same point. Then you pull up the back, using the obi knot to hold the back up (that is, the rear tie sits above it, which is what provides that small “bumroll” look on hakama). Wrap the waist ties around you and tie a nice knot in front. Again, you can look at numerous videos of how to tie hakama and choose one that works for you and your hakama.
If you included the cords on your hitatare and hakama, pull the cords at your ankles and wrists tight, wrap them around your limbs until only an inch or so remains, and tuck the last bit under the wrapped cord. You can now put on your kyahan or suneate and kote. The kyahan is simply a fabric wrap around the leg. While note required, it can be useful for keeping your hakama clean in muddy weather, and the pattern is basically like the fabric ground for suneate without the tateage and armored components.
The more typical samurai of the 16th century wore instead a form of kimono called a gusoku shita (lit. “under the armour”) or a shitagi (lit. “under [thing to] wear”), which was the only item of Japanese garb to typically have a button. The button is at the collar, to keep it closed.
They also wore hakama, but usually a tighter fitting variety (looking something like modern judo gi pants).
The gusoku shita is worn over your juban, or “underwear kimono.” As such, it doesn’t have to be full length. In fact, it’s not. It only comes down far enough to cover your buttocks and crotch, or perhaps to mid-calf.
Note from the photo that it has its own waist tie, too.
I will not go into how to create a kimono or a gusoku shita, as patterns for these are readily available. The variation between the two garments is readily apparent if one looks closely at the illustration of a gusoku shita, so altering any existing pattern should be easy enough.
If you’ve had experience making kosode or kimono, you should have no trouble making a gusoku shita.