Kimonos for Angels

by Rachel Pollock

In my previous post, i wrote about the ombre dye processes for the tunics and loose pants worn by the Angels of the Principalities in our forthcoming repertory of Angels in America: Parts 1 & 2 (the Principalities appear only in Part 2). And, ombre is nice and all, and a lovely effect, but not really anything super challenging when it comes to surface design on fabrics. Executing specific imagery is when things get really interesting, i find.

Now for the really cool part: their kimono over-robes!

If you had a chance to page through Costume Designer Jan Chambers’ photoset for the Angel Robes, you saw a lot of cool influences, but the standout of which was likely the ornate “Symphony of Light” landscape kimonos of textile artist Itchiku Kubota. In our conferences with her, Jan was particularly interested in the idea of the robes of the angels evoking Kubota’s work, but utilizing collaged imagery evocative of each Principality–Oceania, Africanii, Europa, Antarctica, Australia, America, and Asiatica.

Jan collected a folder of landscape images from which to create the artwork for the robes, then worked them into watercolorey collages using image editing software–Photoshop and Illustrator. She then made another set of images to discuss with Director Brendan Fox, to show what the finished kimono would look like: Angel Robe Tests.

But, how to get these images onto the fabric for the robes themselves?

Obviously in an ideal world, as the crafts artisan and dyer, I and a team of talented assistants would hand-paint the robes in the yuzen technique, creating masterful works of art. Of course, that would be extremely time-consuming and difficult; you can read about Kubota’s process here–each kimono took him a year, and he was a master of the art! Obviously we needed another solution to realize Jan’s inspiration, so we turned to the local textile technology and research organization [TC]2 (TC-squared) and their InkDrop printing department.

Technically, this took the project out of my realm entirely and it became a matter of coordination between design, research, development, and management, worked out collaboratively with Jan, Costume Director Judy Adamson, and Adam M. Dill, Judy’s assistant and PRC’s costume shop manager. It’s been an amazing process so far, and fascinating to witness.

InkDrop custom-prints small batches of fabrics with digital image files, much like the services of a company like Spoonflower. Adam explained the project to InkDrop consultant Lujuanna Pagan and hashed out a projected calendar and budget–when the art needed to be finished in order for the silk to be printed and delivered in time for Judy’s team to cut and stitch it together in time to have the garments ready for tech of that scene. Judy worked out the size of the pattern pieces needed for each kimono and gave the dimensions to Jan, who split up her artwork into sections of the proper size.


Judy and Adam and I printed the artwork onto paper at half-scale using PRC’s plotter, in order to lay out a test-version of the kimono before InkDrop printed the fabrics.

In this way, we could double-check that the art would match up across seams.


Lujuanna sent us this test-run of swatches of each of Jan’s digital paintings, so she could approve the colors on the fabric before printing the multiple yards’ worth.
Detail view of Africanii, showing some of the art and the color tests along the edge.

This is the section i used as a match-swatch when ombre-dyeing the accompanying garment blanks.

Two of the kimono lengths laid out on the tables in the costume shop for Jan and Brendon to survey before cutting and stitching commenced…

So, that’s where things stand right now with those pieces. Fascinating! Now Judy and her first hand Claire Fleming will assemble them, and we’ll check them out onstage once we get into tech. I promise to share photos of the finished garments after photo call. For now though, i really want to find a copy of Dale Carolyn Gluckman’s The Kimono as Art, which depicts many of Kubota’s original works in detail.