Snap up your own kiss lock bag: Put your own stamp on the gamaguchi revival

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Gamaguchi bags with light, fun designs such as polka dots and floral patterns

By Kenji Iwaasa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterBags with clasp frames, called a kiss lock in fashion circles, are taking their next step in style. From colorful polka-dotted bags to chic leather bags for men, there is a plethora of options to choose from, and the kiss lock clasps also snap open easily, making them simple to use. Using your favorite fabrics, you can even create your own bags.

Any clasp that features a frame with two parts sticking up that join when pushed is called a kiss lock. In Japanese, metal kiss lock purses are traditionally called “gamaguchi,” which combines gamagaeru for “toad” and kuchi for “mouth,” since the opened bag resembles the open mouth of a toad. Such bags were believed to have first been imported from Europe in the Meiji era (1868-1912).

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Glasses cases, above, and an inkan stamp case, right

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Items that incorporates a stylish camouflage pattern or leather are great for men.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Shoulder bags with kiss lock frames

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

People therefore usually think of gamaguchi bags as plump, roundish coin purses and mainly used to hold loose change and other small items. However, this is not always the case, said Miwako Hoshino, who runs workshops on making such bags at her home in Chiba Prefecture and other locations.

“Compared to items with regular zippers, [gamaguchi] can be opened with one hand, and the contents inside can be easily taken out,” she said. “Designs are also becoming more stylish today, and many such clasps are being used on bags and pouches.”

According to Hoshino, the basic steps of making gamaguchi bags are as follows (shown in the photos numbered 1 to 5):

1. Prepare the cloth you want to use — the main fabric, the lining of the bag and an interlining material to support the shape. Place the pattern paper that is the right size and shape for the metal kiss lock frame on the main fabric and cut along the lines of the paper. Do the same for the other materials, too. Stitch them together to make a bag, leaving the upper part open.

2. Glue along the inside of the kiss lock frame where it will be attached to the bag.

3. Push the open end of the bag into the metal frame using any type of flathead tool to ensure the fabric is completely pushed into the frame.

4. and 5. Using a tool such as pliers, pinch the metal frame over the fabric to ensure it stays in place.

You can use any type of fabric for your bag, from cotton and linen to canvas, and even leather.

“For beginners, cotton is easier to handle,” Hoshino said. “There are also a lot of colors and patterns to choose from.”

Hoshino advises novice crafters to use thinner material because thick fabric can be difficult to slide into place in the frame. For the lining, fabric with a bold design is recommended so it stands out in contrast to the main fabric when you open the clasp.

When making a small item, a kiss lock frame at least about 10 centimeters wide is recommended; anything smaller than that should be reserved for more experienced craftspeople.

The design of the clasp truly makes the bag. The frames of standard clasps are shaped like an arch or have sharper corners, while others take on distinctive shapes like the letter “M” or “L.” The spheres on each clasp, usually in the middle of the frame, are also made from various materials such as metal, wood and acrylic. All of these can be found at craft stores or online.

Among Hoshino’s creations, those with embroidery or material that comes from overseas look particularly elegant. Handbags that have a flower pattern or pouches that have polka dots will probably be easy to match with outfits that have similar patterns.

Kiss lock bags are usually for women, but men can use them if they have a subdued fabric, color or pattern. Hoshino’s recommendations are black or brown leather that is either plain or has a camouflage pattern. With these materials, you can create bank passbook cases, stationery pouches or inkan stamp cases that have a sense of elegance by being a little different to the usual kind.

“Gamaguchi are commercially available, but for people who are good at handicrafts, I highly recommend they try making one on their own,” Hoshino said. “You can make a bag that’s all your own — limited only by your own ideas.”

French kiss lock

Overseas brands are also jumping on the kiss lock bandwagon. French shoe brand Charles Jourdan, for example, has what is called a candy wallet made of genuine cowhide, with the area for loose change sectioned off with a kiss lock clasp. The candy-like balls on the clasp and the striped interior give the wallet an adorable look.

The wallet comes in pink or bronze and costs ¥15,000, excluding tax. It is available online at Speech

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