The Creative Corner · Vintage Sewing

A Twenties Kimono Robe

A sketch of a 1920s woman admiring her reflection in a hand mirror. She wears a long patterned kimono robe. A large mirror is placed on the wall behind her, along with a table and a bonsai tree in a bowl.
Make this Twenties robe without a pattern.

This week I finally finished a long-awaited project. For many years I wanted a Twenties kimono robe for summer wear. It’s called a kimono robe because it uses kimono sleeves, which means the sleeves are cut as part of the garment’s front and back. This robe is in no way an actual Japanese kimono. It is a Twenties kimono robe creation through and through.

As I paged through a 1924 magazine the other day, I saw an article I’d seen many times before. Every time, I admit, I longed to make one of these for myself. The article itself said “The instructions require no pattern, and the time for making is of no consequence, two hours proving ample.”

“The instructions require no pattern, and the time for making is of no consequence, two hours proving ample.”

Inspiration, 1924

Whether you call it a negligee, a peignoir, a kimono, or a robe, this creation ended up quite satisfactory. It definitely took more than two hours to put together, so set aside at least four hours if you want to wear it tonight. 

One of the nicest additions to this simple piece of clothing is the deep tuck that goes over the shoulders and down to the hip in back. It helps to shape the negligee a bit. Darts over the front hips help with that as well. 

This is how the finished Twenties kimono robe looks in my size.

Completed robe in a light, gauzy fabric.

What you will need

To make your own, you will need:

  • Two lengths of 45″ or 60″ fabric. A length here equals the distance from the base of your neck to your ankles or the base of your neck to the floor. Three yards total should be about right.
  • 4-5 yards of 1 – 1.5 inch satin ribbon for belt tie
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine or needle
  • Scissors
  • Pencil or chalk to mark your fabric (without a pattern, you need a way to mark cutting lines)
  • Ruler/ dressmaking ruler/ tape measure and straight edge — something to measure with. I use my trusty Picken Square for pattern drafting. (Link goes to Lacis, who reproduced the Picken Square in the late 1990s and still has some.) Anything that will help you draw straight lines will work.

If you wear a size small, medium, or large, 45 inch fabric should work fine. If you wear an XL, XXL or larger size, you will probably need 60-inch fabric. Basically, whatever your hip measure is (36”, 56”, etc.), that measure needs to be about 4-7 inches less than the width of your fabric in order to get a nice loose fitting robe. So if your hip measures 36 inches, 45 – 36 = 9 inches. 45 inches is plenty in width. If your hip measures 56 inches, 60 – 56 = 4. That will work too.

Fabric type: You want a cotton or rayon or polyester that drapes nicely. Too stiff and it won’t hang like a kimono. Prewash your fabric to see how it will actually hang. I made mine from 60-inch wide mystery fabric. When I began I thought it was a cotton, but by the time the project was complete I am pretty sure it is a polyester. And I love it. It’s loose, comfortable, and was completely made from my stash. 

Creating your kimono

Even though this robe uses no pattern, that doesn’t mean it uses no measurements. You will mark your lines right onto the fabric with your pencil or chalk (dressmaker’s chalk works great) and then cut along those lines. 

First, fold your material lengthwise so you have the long selvedges together. It should be half the width of your fabric and the full three yards long.

Then fold that piece in half crosswise so that all the selvedges are together and it is half the length it was. Your fabric should now measure 1.5 yards in length on the table, and half the fabric width. It should look like this:

This is how your fabric looks folded on the table.

Place the fabric on the table with the long folds away from you, the selvedges closest to you, and the crosswise fold to your left. Now you are ready to measure and cut.

(If your fabric is slippery, pin the layers together here and there so that the fabric doesn’t move while you cut it.)

Ready to cut

Refer to the illustration above as you make the marks and cuts on your own fabric. The layout illustration shows all the letters for marking placement.

First read through all the instructions so you know what you are about to do, and then take it one step at a time.

  • Slash the upper one of the two lengthwise folds from a to b for the full length front opening.
  • Measure and cut down the crosswise fold at the left 2.5 inches from b to c.
  • From your own shoulder, measure down the front to the low waist you want to emphasize. Starting at b, measure that same distance to the right along the fold, and mark d.
  • Cut a straight line diagonally from d to c, cutting only the top two layers of fabric that were slashed down the fold. Leave the bottom fold as it is.
  • After you remove the triangles cut from the top two layers of fabric, then cut a curve in the lower two layers from c to b. This forms the back neckline.

This competes the front/back centers of your robe.

Cutting the shoulders and sleeves

Now we move around to the left of the diagram, and down the side closest to you to finish the cutting instructions.

  • To shape the shoulder, measure 3.5 inches from e at the fold and place a mark for f. Draw a straight line from f to c.
  • Cut through all four layers of fabric from f to c to form the shoulder.
  • To the right of f, measure 10 inches and place mark g. Note: This is the sleeve width. If your upper arms measure more than 16 inches in diameter, this will not fit. To determine my sleeve width, I took a measuring tape and looped it very loosely around my arm how I wanted the sleeve to hang. If I made a loop of 24 inches around my arm, then I measured down half that, or 12 inches, instead of 10.
  • Once you determine where to place g, measure up 4.5 inches or more and place h. This is the length of your sleeve. If you are slender compared to your fabric width, you can make this measurement larger. Make sure you have enough fabric left after you cut away the sleeves that the robe body measures 1.5 to 2 times your hip measure.
  • Measure up from the corner i the same length from g to h, so 4.5 inches or more, and place j. Draw a straight line from j to h.
  • Cutting through all four layers, start at j and cut toward h. When you reach 3 inches from h, begin to curve and cut to g.

Congratulations! You just drafted and cut out a pattern of your own making. If this is the first time you’ve done anything like this, you deserve a hearty Well Done. This is how patterns are drafted. If you can do this, you can learn to draft your own patterns from your measurements.

Putting it all together

Don’t throw away any of the fabric you cut away. You’ll use most of it, if not all of it, later.

Here’s how to assemble the robe:

  1. Join the shoulders with a 1/2 inch seam.
  2. Make a 1 inch dart over each hip on the front layers only. This is an optional step; it makes the robe just a little more full in the front if you do. 
  3. Take three of the four pieces that you cut from under the arms and join them to form a long strip. You may need all four of them if you increased the depth of the sleeve at all.
  4. Use a 1/4 inch seam to join them together. You will use the entire 4.5 inch width of the fabric to create the wide band that edges the front of the robe. Trim as little of the curved portion from the strips as you can; you will need all the fabric. 
  5. To attach the binding, lay it on the front of the robe, right sides of the fabric together and long edges even. Using a 1/4 inch seam, sew up the front, around the neckline, and back down the other side of the front.
  6. Press the seam, and turn under 1/4 inch on the long free edge of the band and press it as well. 
  7. Fold the band to the inside of the robe so that the turned edge just covers the stitching.
  8. Sew in place by hand, or sew with a machine stitch close to the folded edge. 

Take a designer shoulder tuck

About halfway between your neck and shoulder, like at k, fold a tuck one inch deep, letting it extend to the bust line in front and to the low waistline point in back.

Cut your length of satin ribbon in half, and slip one end of each ribbon into the tuck on the back, near the low waist point.

Then stitch the tuck down along the outside folded edge, from the front bust point to the back hip/low waist point. Catch the end of the ribbon in the stitching to hold it in place like the top illustration. Make sure to finish off the threads securely so the belt doesn’t pull out.

The last thing to do is turn up an even hem all the way around, wherever you want it. Turn 1/4 inch down on the top of the hem and sew it into place. Then slip into your new negligee and admire your afternoon’s work. 

If you want inspiration on building the rest of a Twenties wardrobe, check out the post I wrote on Creating a 1920s Capsule Wardrobe.