Traditional clothing of the Edo period, (1600-1868), included the kimono and obi as we know them today. The obi did not, however, become a prominent part of a woman's ensemble until the mid Edo period. It was then that designers, weavers and dyers all focused their talent on creating a longer, wider and more elaborate obi. Obi measurement was then standardised to 360cm long by 30cm wide.
Edo fashion was influenced by the design and style that courtesans and entertainers wear. Women of the samurai class continued to wear the simpler kosode kimono, tied together with an obi made of braided cords. Outside the samurai class, women experimented with a more elaborate kimono – the furisode, which is often seen on the Kabuki stage. Characterised by long, flowing sleeves, the furisode kimono was accented by a large, loosely tied obi.
For many years, the obi bow was tied either at the front or on the side. By the mid-Edo period, the obi bow was tied in the back position. It was said that this style started in the mid-1700s when a Kabuki actor, imitating a young girl, came on stage with his obi tied in the back. Another reason that the back position became more acceptable was that the sheer bulk of the wider obi became too cumbersome to be positioned in the front of the kimono.
The Meiji era, (1868-1912) witnessed a revolution in the textile industry with the advent of electric weaving looms and chemical dying techniques from the West. During this time, a woman’s kimono ceased to be worn in the free-flowing style of the earlier days. The new fashion was to tuck the kimono at the waist to adjust the length of the kimono to the woman’s height. These tucks and folds were visible and became part of the art of tying the obi.
The vast majority of obi produced in Japan today comes from a district in Kyoto known as Nishijin. Nishijin has been the centre of the Japanese textile industry since the 15th century. Nishijin is renowned for it…

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