Customizing the Dogi by "The Mirror"
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This column was written by Janet Rosen.
I'm a tinkerer and putterer, so it was only natural that soon after
buying my first aikido dogi I set about discovering how to improve it
for function and fit. If you have ever had similar desires but have
not been sure where or how to start, here are three projects.
(1) For women: Adding "modesty ties" to the gi top requires the
ability to do a basic hand or machine stitch.
(2) For women: Putting in an elastic waist requires the ability to do
a basic machine stitch just to secure the elastic to itself, or access
to a friend with a sewing machine and five minutes to spare.
(3) For anybody with knees: Adding padding to the knees requires
machine sewing skills and the ability to follow pattern
(1) Modifying the top: Modesty ties
This is such an easy thing to do and yields such benefits that I don't
understand why it's not more popular! I don't like a lot of layers of
clothing under my gi top, but I also don't like to be distracted by
thinking about my cleavage. I have experimented with a variety of
closures, including snap tape and velcro, and am happiest with a pair
of white or natural (to match the dogi fabric) sneaker shoelaces. One
lace cut in half will secure the waist, the other cut in half will
secure the lapel. Put on the gi top, over the gi pants and belted as
usual, and use straight pins to locate where you want the ties to
be. For the waist ties, the left side tie will go on the inside of the
top (wrong side) and the right side tie will go on the outside of the
top (right side). For the upper lapel ties, the right side tie again
will go on the outside of the top (right side), but it is easiest to
secure the ties if the left side tie is directly at the edge of the gi
The ties can be sewn in place by hand or by machine. Machine stitching
is recommended, as the hand-sewn ties seem more prone to become
separated from the fabric.
(2) Modifying the pants: elastic waist
I hated the drawstring closure on my pants from day one! They were a
nuisance to align, to keep tied, and they never seemed very
secure. One day in utter disgust I pulled the drawstring out and
replaced it with elastic. From that day on it has been the first
modification I make to every dogi I purchase.
This is not recommended for men or for slim-hipped women. There needs
to be enough of a difference between waist and hip measurement for the
elastic to stretch over the hips and snug in at the waist. Otherwise,
if there is any downward pull (think shikko, suwariwaza, rolling...),
it may prove very embarrassing!
This is the step by step process:
- Remove the drawstring. Measure the height of the casing; on all
the gi pants that I've had regardless of manufacturer, it would hold
3/4" waistband elastic snugly, but best to measure your pants and get
a narrower 1/2" elastic if need be. I like a type of waistband elastic
that is a flat ribbed band, specifically made for waistbands without
any ties attached. It can be bought either by the yard or in a
- Figure out the required length of elastic. My rule of thumb is
that the elastic, unstretched, should be about 80 to 85 % of my waist
measurement. Then add 2" for overlap.
- Attach a large safety pin to one end of the elastic and use it to
insert the elastic through the casing. The pin gives you a nice solid
object to push through the fabric.
- Before you get too far, pin the other end of the elastic to your
gi pants in order to anchor it.
- When the safety pin with the elastic emerges from the waistband,
double check that the elastic has not twisted within the casing. If it
has, work it around to smooth it out.
- Remove all pins. Lap one end of the elastic over the other to
make a continuous circle, with a full one inch overlap from each
side. Pin in place.
- Use a moderately wide, short zigzag stitch to edgestitch a
rectangle along all 4 sides/edges of the overlapped section. With the
same stitch setting, run 1 lines of stitching down the center of the
- Stick the sewn section of the elastic into the waistband casing
and move the elastic about to "even it out" within the waistband.
- Once the elastic is evenly distributed you can either hand sew
the side seam slits of the gi pants together around the elastic, or
pin the sides together at the side seam slits and machine sew a seam
that both closes the slits and anchors the elastic.
(3) Modifying the pants: knee padding
As a newbie, going down into a forward ukemi for ikkyo or similar
balance breaks often entailed smashing the fronts of my knees and
shins onto the mats. Days of painful, splotchy bruises and the unique
aroma of arnica gel followed, during which time doing even a little
bit of shikko was most uncomfortable. Like many people, I was
fascinated by the fact that the manufacturer of my gi had gone to the
trouble of putting an extra layer of fabric to reinforce an area
several inches above my knee. A lot of people wear purchased kneepads,
but they seemed bulky and inconvenient. My solution was to use pellon
fleece (a form of thick, washable interfacing available in fabric
stores) to form a quilted layer in between the front of the pants leg
and a patch of fabric inside the pants leg. Besides providing a
wonderful cushion for hard landings, they make it easy to do graceful
pivots in shikko, and unlike removable kneepads, never shift and have
no behind-the-knee presence. The feeling is akin to turning on a
potholder. This is the step by step process:
- Put on the gi pants and mark the 4 corners where you want the
padding on each pants leg (I use a straight pin into each
corner). Make sure that you knee walk and roll in order to get the
area the right size and position: I ended up with an area about 10"
square that started quite a bit lower than my knee when standing, and
- Purchase the amount of pellon fleece and backing fabric you need
to do two pads (one for each leg). You will be putting the fabric next
to your skin. Very lightweight muslin will not hold up to wear and
washing because the fibers are so far apart in the weaving. It needs
to be densely woven for durability, and fairly smooth for comfort. A
very lightweight canvas, denim or twill would work.
- Preshrink your backing fabric (NOT the pellon fleece) by running
through the laundry at the same settings you normally use to wash and
dry your dogi.
- Place one piece of pellon on the "wrong side" of one piece of the
backing fabric--whichever side you DON'T want against your skin. It
may be easier to handle if you trim the pellon 1/4" smaller than the
patch. Pin in place at the edges and also at a few places in the
middle. Starting at the middle of the top edge, sew one line of
straight stitching down the middle of the piece to the bottom
edge. Sew another line parallel to it a couple of inches to the left
of the first seam. Repeat a couple of inches to the right of the first
seam, and continue to sew parallel seams until you reach the
edges. Then turn the fabric 90 degrees, and starting at the middle of
the top edge, repeat the process.
- Set the patch into the leg, pellon surface against the inside
surface of the gi pants, matching the 4 corners you'd marked with
pins. Make sure the pellon is sandwiched between the gi pants and the
backing fabric. Pin in place and put the pants on to double check
placement; adjust if needed.
- Using a free arm sewing machine, or hand sewing with tight small
stitches, sew around all four edges. Then sew a couple of vertical
lines through all layers.
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