Wimples and Zukin by Ki no Kotori (Deodar, Calontir)

I've been working lately on a complete outfit for my SCA Japanese persona.  One of the sticking points I'm having is with my hair, which varies between red and blonde (depending on how I'm coloring it at the moment) and is fashioned in a short modern cut.  Medieval Japanese women tended not to cut their hair, and for the most part wore it uncovered and usually tied in some variation of ponytail straight down their backs.  The complex hairstyles often associated with Japanese women, as worn today by Geisha, were a product of the Edo period, which is past the time periods covered by the SCA.

So what to do?  Some women don't worry about it, and just wear their hair as it.  Personally, I think that ruins the effect of the outfit.  Some wear long black wigs, which is an acceptable enough solution, but alas, my complexion is quite ruddy, and black hair looks terrible on me.  (I tried to dye my hair black once in college.  Ooooh, disaster!)  And wearing a long red or blonde haired wig with Japanese costume would just look like something out of anime.  So what is left?

Well, there were a couple of instances where Japanese women wore hair coverings (besides hats, which were only worn outdoors).  One was while doing manual labor - they would tie a cloth around their head.  Farming women were often shown sporting these head cloths.  I'm not sure what they were called in period, but now the cloths are called tenugui.  They're made of cotton and come in a variety of patterns.  You can see a selection here on this Ebay search.  But my persona is kuge class (noble).  She wouldn't be caught dead with one of those towels on her head.

The other option is to take a tonsure and become a nun.  Long hair was so important to the sense of Japanese female beauty that the only time a woman would cut it is to while taking religious vows or as a dire punishment.  Buddhist nuns shave their heads (as do monks), but there were instances where a woman could cut her hair short in a partial tonsure.  This could be as an act of piety, or because she could not leave her home to go to a convent as yet, or as the first step in becoming a "real" nun. For further discussion of female religious tonsure in Japan, please see “Tonsure Forms for Nuns: Classification of Nuns according to Hairstyle” by Katsuura Noriko in Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan, Barbara Ruch, editor. (Ann Arbor; Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2002) ISBN 1-929280-15-7.

Buddhist nuns, like Catholic nuns, wear head coverings.  In English, we use the term wimple.  In Japanese, they are called zukin.  They somewhat resemble each other, but there are some structural differences.  This site explains medieval Anglo-Norman wimples very well. 

Aswimple This is a picture of me wearing an Anglo-Norman wimple.  It comes in two pieces--a cone-like tube that goes around the head, and then a large, rectangular piece of cloth that in pinned to the tube.  Most of the sources I've seen only portray them as being white or natural-linen colored.

Zukin seem to be shaped slightly differently.  It does not cover so much of the neck - it sags down in folds -  and I've seen pictures of them in other colors besides white.  It could be that the looser fit is due to the warmer climate?

Here are some historical pictures of zukin:

EshinniThis portrait of the nun Eshinni, wife of Shinran (the founder of Shin Buddhism) is the best example I've seen of zukin.  Note how tightly it clings to the top of her head, yet comes down in many folds.

Nuns-lrgThese are 13th century nuns from the Hokkeji convent in Nara.  Note how they seem to be wearing only a veil-like headdress instead of the wimple-shaped one that Eshinni wears.



Nun1And here is another example from the 13th century.  The woman on the right is partially tonsured - notice how much shorter her hair is as compared to the woman on the left.  The woman in the center is wearing the wimple-style zukin.

From the Taima mandara engi scroll (1253-1262), Komyoji, Kamakura.

While historical TV dramas are not good sources for historical research, I do want to include some pictures which more clearly show the distinctive shape of the zukin:

Wt_frkz_w1From Fuurin Kazan.  Note the brocade this woman is wearing.  She still lives at home, but is a widow and has taken religious vows.Wt_frkn_w4

More views from Fuurin Kazan.  Also note that her zukin is blue, not white.


  From Yoshitsune.  This woman is not a widow, but took vows when her husband fell ill.  He also took vows after he recovered.Wt_yo_w2


More from Yoshitsune, showing the same character before and after taking vows.  Note again, she still lives with her family and does not change her robes.  She is therefore only partially tonsured.

I must admit I am not very good at making patterns, so I wasn't quite sure where to start on this venture.  I decided to try to make a pattern off of the cone-shaped base of my Anglo-Norman wimple.  The zukin in the pictures from the Taiga dramas did not look like the women had rectangular pieces of cloth pinned about their heads.  It looked like a cone-shaped piece of cloth that had been pinned in some way to be tight across the forehead.

First zukin prototype:

WimpabovcutFirst, I worked out the pattern.  In this case, I simple measured out 3 inches or so from my existing one as shown below.




Wimpcut2The existing pattern measured 24 inches at the face, 37 inches at the shoulder, and was 24 inches long. The fit was still a bit close around the face, so I widened it a bit, but lost some of the length.

This made the shape a bit more square.  The new measurements were 29 inches at the face, 42 inches at the shoulder and 23 inches long.


HeadbandThen the VITAL STEP: I pinned a 2 inches wide, 27 inches long headband around my head, and then pinned the prototype to the headband, in order to get the "flat against the forehead" shape:




JwimpprtoHere is the result, not sewn yet. On inspection, although more of the neck is shown, the zukin was still too close to the face, and there wasn't enough yardage around the shoulders.  This would evidently require more fabric than I anticipated.Modern_nun

The other option might be to wear something closer to what this modern nun is wearing. It seems to require less fabric and resembles the zukin worn by the Hokkeji nuns.

Zukinpr1When I sewed together prototype #1, this was the result

It looked close but not quite there yet.  The opening was still too near the face and there weren't enough folds.  Still, not bad for a first attempt.

I found that the forehead part stayed flatter (and in place) if the top is folded over in and pinned underneath (also the pins don't show that way.  However, I would need to put some interfacing in the headband to make it a bit more stiff so it'll keep its shape.

Second zukin prototype:

Zukinpr2The next thing I thought I'd try is a rectangle shape, to see if that would give me the folds that I wanted.  I took a piece of scrap cloth 17 inches wide and 28 inches long and pinned the sides together.  Here is the result.

It gets it away from my face, and there are the folds I wanted, but it bunches up and is too narrow.  I really think I'm looking for more of a cone shape.  Not sure if I'll even bother sewing this one up--I can use the material as part of a belt I'm working on.  I have another scrap of the same color that is bigger, so later this week, I'll cut it out in a larger cone shape and see if that works.

I have given some thought to yardage--Japanese looms make cloth about 14 inches wide and they wouldn't have wanted to waste any.  However, until I can figure out the shape, I'm not going to focus on that aspect and just use the remnants of cloth I have on hand.  Also, I need to take into account that I'm a lot bigger than period Japanese women were.  My kosode is wider and uses more cloth, so it stands to reason that the zukin would as well.

Third zukin prototype:
So I've cut and sewn the third zukin prototype.  I think I may have the look I'm going for here.

Zukin3cutFirst, I took a scrap piece of linen 32 inches long and 52 inches wide.  (52 was actually the full width of the cloth).  Then I cut it in a semi-conical shape:

This is half the shape--I placed it on the fold of the cloth.  The face opening was at 17 inches, which is the length from the top of my forehead to the middle of my collarbone.  The rest I curved out until I reached the edge of the cloth.  Then I hand-sewed the curved edge (french seam) and hemmed both the top and the bottom edges.



Zukinpr3     Here is the result.  As before, I'm wearing a headband (27 inches long, 2 inches wide) and the zukin is tucked beneath it at my forehead and pinned underneath.  The folds took a bit of arranging, but stayed in place quite well.






Nuns-lrgThe advantage this style has over the style the Hokkeji nuns were wearing in this picture is that this style (Eshinni-style, I'm calling it, for lack of a proper term, after the portrait of the nun Eshinni) hides the hair better.  I did pin up a square of cloth to hang loose like the Hokkeji nuns, but it didn't stay in place very well and my hair kept peeking out. So, for now anyway, this is the style of zukin that I will be wearing for my SCA persona.


“Tonsure Forms for Nuns: Classification of Nuns according to Hairstyle” by Katsuura Noriko in Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan, Barbara Ruch, editor. (Ann Arbor; Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2002) ISBN 1-929280-15-7.

Image of the Hokkeji nuns appears at http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=33869

Portrait of Eshinni appears at http://www.terakoya.com/hongwanji/rekidai/eshinni.jpg

Image of Japanese nun appears at http://www.photius.com/images/jp02_03e.jpg

Image of the 13th c. nuns depicting one with partial tonsure and one in zukin comefrom 
Ruch, Barbara ed. Engendering Faith: Women and Buddhism in Premodern Japan (Ann Arbor, Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2002) ISBN 1-929280-15-7, p. 120.  Taima mandara engi 1253-1262, Komyoji, Kamakura.

Images from Furin Kazan and Yoshitsune are from: 
"Fuurin Kazan" NHK Taiga Drama Story Magazine (Tokyo, NHK Broadcasting Company, 2007) ISBN 978-4-14-923346-8, pp. 22-23.

"Yoshitsune" NHK Taiga Drama Story Magazine (Tokyo, NHK Broadcasting Company, 2004) ISBN 4-14-923341-1 p.53. and 

"Yoshitsune" NHK Taiga Drama Story Magazine (Tokyo, NHK Broadcasting Company, 2005) ISBN 4-14-923342-X p. 27.

Copyright 2008, Maria Szabo, known as Ki no Kotori in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

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