A place for sewing, writing, yoga, photography, and living abroad.


Sorbetto Top

I made a shirt!! It's pretty awesome.

It's based off of this pattern from Colette Patterns: 

I actually finished it over a month ago, but waited for a sunny day/my camera to be back from the shop to take pictures. (Camera is still not fixed, btw! Grrr, impotent Japanese sales clerks.)

This was my first time working from a pattern, and it was one of those download-and-print-at-home ones. You have to tape them together one A4 piece of paper at a time, and they are made to test your geometry skills because they never, ever line up correctly.

Speaking of geometry, I also DRAFTED THESE ADORBZ PUFF SLEEVES!!!! I used this tutorial and imbibed a lot of red wine during the process I will hereafter refer to as "math".

But way before all that "math" ever started, this is what I had.

At this point in the evening (the mullet hair point), I had already taken the shirt in the following amounts:
  • Under the arm: 0.5cm (front) and 1.5 cm (back)
  • Bust: 2 cm
  • Waist: 3.25cm
  • Belly-button area: 3cm
And I had added a total of 8 cm to the length. The photo on the left shows this disaster while sparing you my mullet hair.  There was a bunchy area in the small of the back, and the back neckline gaped. It was then that I learned what "swayback" was. (Thank you sewing, for teaching me abnormalities about my body that I didn't even know I had!) . This pattern was meant to be loose-fitting and for a straight (paper bag) fit. (That's why it was in the "beginner" section, I guess!)

The right picture is me trying to pin the back of the shirt while I'm wearing it. It wasn't pretty

So, I
  • took another 3 cm off the back of the waist (tapering to 1 cm at armhole)
  • moved the shoulder seam forward 2cm (front) 0.5cm (back)
  • and made a lovely (kindof awkward) horizontal dart in the back.

The sleeves' diameters were 22 cm after I added ruffles, and they fit perfectly. I used my machine's #11 stitch, possibly called "triple stitch blind" for the seams, but they're already fraying, so that was a bad choice. Too bad my manual is in Japanese!

I love this shirt so much, I made a skirt to go with it. (Because it matches nothing I own.) We'll save that excitement for another post! (Spoiler: there are ZIPPERS!)

Neither me nor my messy balcony had seen direct sunlight in a while. Mmmmmmm, Spring.

Sewing Translations and Japanese Fabric

Mind = blown.

Why has it taken me this much time and this many fabric-store panic attacks to do this simple google search? I am obviously not the first person in the world to need English translations of Japanese fabric names and sewing terms! Here are my finds from this evening. (Please excuse the heavy sewing jargon in this post-- I swear I only learned what most of these words mean, even in English, about 5 minutes ago...)

接着芯 : interfacing

ゴムテープ : elastic

ボタン : button

木綿 : cotton

麻 : linen

内: inner, inside

外: outer, outside

Elastic is pronounced "gomu-tape," in a lovely mangled form of Japanese-English... gomu meaning rubber or "gum" like consistency. Erasers are called "keishi-gomu." Condoms, while never mentioned in polite conversation, are sometimes called "gomu," or "rubbers" among friends.

I literally bought iron-on interfacing, thinking it was a lightweight lining fabric, until I got home and noticed the little glue nodules on the wrong side.
Can you see the glue? Source here.

My late-night internet search did not, however, answer all of my fabric questions.

エイティスクエア -- this doesn't make any sense. Eighties care? Eighties core? Eighty square? It's a 100% cotton fabric, with a moderately soft "hand" and slight stretch. I really liked this fabric, and it's only somewhat extortionate at 819 yen/meter, so I'm considering making a dress out of it... unless it's actually quilting cloth or something.

スペックワッシヤー  -- um... specuwashya? this one looks like linen. I'm wondering if the "shya" isn't a perversion of "challis" (pronounced shall-ee), a lightweight wool similar to crepe. I thought it looked like linen, but what do I know.

80綿ローン -- this one says "80 cotton lawn," which kinda makes sense, except for the 80 part.

ネオクリーズ -- had a wrinkly, rough hand, but not slinky and crepe-like.

... and this was just one aisle at the fabric store! Some things may always be a mystery. I'll post pictures next time if they'll let me whip out my camera in the fabric store. (Is that bad form? I dunno...)

Wax On, Wax Off

I'm am essentially the Karate Kid of hobbyist sewing.

I've been attending a Monday morning class near my house in Morioka. It's from 10-12, and only 1000 yen each session. It's more of a sewing circle, since we bring our own projects and the mistress of the house helps as needed. (Actually, she does half of the work for us, including drafting patterns. The lady is a machine!)

This is my teacher/tutor/constant reminder that I am not that good at Japanese, Mrs. Otsuka.

She runs a tailor shop near Aiina, about 10 minute's walk from my house. Her father was a tailor before her, and her son studies plant biology (?) at a Tokyo university. She keeps all her tools VERY sharp, and likes to have conversations about me like I'm not in the room.

We have a hilarious time. Today, she brought an electronic dictionary to class and left it sitting on the table while she mimed "lining," "fitted bodice," and "abacus" for two solid hours. She only reached for the dictionary when she wanted to say something about crocodiles. I really like her.

Here are some techniques I've learned from Mrs. Otsuka:
  • chalk outlining patterns - it's all in the wrist
  • tailor's tacks - baste stitches run between two pieces of fabric that are then cut, leaving little bits of thread to mark your pattern lines. I assume it's used for thick fabrics that wouldn't take the rolly-chalk thing well. Or for accuracy. I don't know; I don't speak Japanese.
  • Fitting - lots of sewing blogs bible-thump the zealous making of a "muslin," or practice garment made from cheap fabric, for every dress or top. That's just horse manure. Just the thought of wasting time and money on "disposable" fabric makes me angry, let alone the fact that no fabric is that cheap in Japan. Mrs. Otsuka cut right into my irreplacable 2 meters of Thai batik fabric without even a paper fitting. She's somehow designed the dress so that it folds in on itself (tucks?) in certain parts, allowing for taking it in our out later. I have no idea how she did it, and have resigned myself to basking in the glory of her wisdom for now.
  • Unpicking seams - I did this a lot on the kimono I'm turning into a skirt. She uses"stiletto" for hand-stitched seams, and a razor blade for machine-stitched ones.

  • Darts
  • Thimbles (though I still don't have my own)
  • Patterns tips - cut out notches for darts so you can chalk over it later. She uses the rolly tool on carbon paper only after chalking the first layer. (Why? I dunno.)
So I'm really lucky to have such a cool lady to show me the ropes, but I have one very Mr. Miyagi-ish problem. Often, I'll arrive at my lady's shop at 10, she'll sit me down with a long row of stitches to unpick, or chalk lines to baste, and then she bustles off to measure, chalk, cut, and sew a seemingly much more important part of the project. I've gotten very good at basting and unpicking, but that's not where the action is! I'm pretty sure she's conjuring magic or something awesome over there.

Also, she suffers from modest-old-Japanese-lady syndrome, and makes all of my skirts hit far too low below the knee. We had a broken conversation about what was "classy" the first time, and after that I just nodded and smiled. Can't win them all, I guess.

project 15: the pants that never end

Oh my gaaaawd, guys. I just spent the last week making a piece of clothing that I have MADE TWICE before. Wtf.

What happened was: jersey.
The material is some kind of knit jersey (yellow rose print) and it was only a 1.5 meter cut in the bargain bin at Mabuchi. (1000 yen is a bargain??? Only in Japan.) I was in the market for some new pjs after an audible rip in my beloved blue stripey ones.

I lucked out in that the 1.5 meters meant the width, not the selvage length (which was only 1 meter), so the grain (read: stretchy) part would go across the right (read: booty) part of the pajamas.

In an act of sewing karma, the blue stripeys were sacrificed to annoint the new pajamas.
pajama sacrifice

So, these started out as normal. I pinned down a pre-existing garment as a pattern, drew freehand with a very unprofessional inkpen, and cut out the fabric. But then, I had a realization.

This shit's stretchy.

I was plagued with doubts. How is it going to feed through my machine? Do I need a special needle? What stitch do I use? Do I have to pull on it? (Note: DON'T PULL ON IT!)

After hours of googling, note-taking, and drinking, I came to a few conclusions.
  1. You DO need a special needle. A ball-point pushes between fibers rather than piercing them. (Says this lady.)
  2. OMG, do they really come in different sizes? Damn.
  3. You can leave your ends un-hemmed. They'll just roll up! (Says this lady.)
  4. You can use a double-needle for topstitching. (Would have come in very handy if I had read this one first. By this lady, whom I adore.)
  5. Everything will go wrong.
  6. Keep red wine away from your fabric. The carpet had it coming.

These graphs are worth copying and pasting, though I think I'll just throw a dart at them to decide which needle to use in the future. They're kinda cryptic.

EXPLANATION here, if you dare...

And so, it was determined that the needle I'd been using all along was a general-purpose 90/14 (lucky!) and I switched to one that looked a bit rounder. (Ha!) I found out that my sewing machine had a setting which could work as a poor-girl's overlock (Thanks, Gertie).

Then came lots of sewing. While drinking. And looking at this good old tutorial, which I used on the boyfriend pants. (Key point: pants should have more fabric in the back than the front, and a slightly longer crotch seam. "Easy" patterns that say you can use one-sized cut for all 4 pieces are crap. Crap, I tell you!)

And then, in the morning, I did MORE sewing! And when I got home from work, I did MORE sewing. Then, I finished the last seam (love that setting number 11!) and tried on my slinky, stretchy, soft and comfy masterpiece... just to find that they were about 3 inches too short.

Now, if there's one thing a tall girl hates, it's short pants. I loathe them. Long legs deserve full coverage and warm ankles, it's like the American Dream.

So I devised myself a plan (that should be the envy of most any man) and created my own false hem. (Or maybe you'd call it a cuff?)

In a nutshell, I rolled a piece of 28x15cm fabric, cut on the grain, into a loop, sewed it shut, folded the hems, and folded it in half. (After two more days and a disastrous first cuff, which literally resulted in crying, I made sure to fold one side longer than the other--the longer side goes under your pantleg, so you're sure to catch it with the needle. Same logic as the bias tape we saw last week!)

This is the result!!


And super completely uneven. Also, all my tugging at the stretchy fabric made this fun UFO effect at the ankles. They kindof hover in the air and float around me when I walk. Fun!

But, by god, they are LONG ENOUGH!

As a final touch, I bought 1 meter of yellow ribbon for the drawstring. (To be threaded through the buttonholes in the waistband.) As if fate were laughing at me, it turns out that 1 meter is not enough to go around my waist and then make a bow. Typical.

I'm so glad it's over!!

project 14 - Best Friend Pants

So, we're gonna take a wild turn into non-chronological territory!! Hold on to your seats!

Today was my friend's birthday. My friend loves trains. She really, really loves trains. Especially this train.

Photo by http://www.jamaipanese.com
It's the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train that connects Tokyo to the northernmost tip Aomori (Tohoku represent!) all the way down to Kyushu. It's sexy, fast, and occasionally they cover it with Pokemon. My friend will travel no other way.

Turn down your volume...

Japan also loves the Shinkansen. My local shop carries not one, but four cartoon shinkansen-print cotton fabrics. So I made them into pants!

The fabric, while adorable, isn't really suited for comfy pjs. I've seen loads of little boys walking around festivals in Shink gimbei (kid's kimonos), so I assume that's the main purpose. Because it's not stretchy, I made sure to go with the grain when cutting my pieces. (I could have cut on the bias, but I didn't have enough fabric.) I used two meters, which was just barely enough to cover my short friend's pj size.

I also made a pocket!! I couldn't settle for just any pocket, either, it had to be a five-sided bias taped pocket. Don't ask me why. I had to use three different tutorials just to wrap my mind around bias taping corners. (And three of them are obtuse!! As in, not acute. The slower, more challenged math student might spend the better part of an hour confusing the two and looking up the wrong tutorials. Just a warning.) I even made a test-pocket, which kindof looks like Idaho. (Idaho and test pocket not pictured.)

Procedure Highlights:
  • Ruining the surprise by asking friend to lend me her pajama pants to use as a pattern. There was literally no other way I could get them from her. She's half my size, and borrowing them for any other purpose just seemed too unbelievable. Lack of surprise compensated for by awesomeness.
  • A serious lesson in drape. Not only is this fabric not stretchy, but it also just doesn't "lay" right. Not scientific, very subtle. Will make online fabric shopping difficult.
  • BIAS TAPE!! I bought some navy bias tape from the store, I didn't make it. It's also rough and I would have gone with something silkier upon retrospection. But damn, is that stuff handy. I used it for the drawstring, for the Idaho practice pocket AND the real pocket, and I have enough leftover to tease cats with now. Except I hate cats.
  • And that's it! I already made the Boyfriend PJ Pants (coming soon to a blog near you), with THIS TUTORIAL, so there were few surprises here.
  1. Elastic waistband, puckery-stitched instead of making a casing;
  2. crotch angles and sizes from a pre-existing garment;
  3. triple-stitching inside seams with my favorite machine setting. The usual!
  4. I had to make the leg hems very, very small since I didn't have much seam allowance to spare.
Next time maybe I'll try to pattern completely from measurements and not from pre-existing pants. Because I love pain.
Fabric: 2 meters cotton

Thrift-Store Kimonos

This weekend was a big event in the world of used kimono shoppers. Fuji Bank, some kind of welfare fund, had a huge thrift sale on the seventh floor of Kawatoku, Morioka's high-end department store. They sold everything from used pots and pans, dishes, clothes, and books, but the real treasures were in the section labeled "きもの”...

This one is going to be bags!

I'm thinking a strapless summer dress.

<< This is actually an obi, or thick kimono wraparound belt. It's got huge tears and rub-marks from years of wear, but just look at that Audrey Hepburn embossed print! Handbag fo'sho'.

Work blouse! It's super soft... mmm....

dress dress dress

High-waisted skirt, via Ginger from Colette

This is already a kimono over-blouse, so maybe I could just take it in for a tunic thing...

And the best part... each of these were only 100 yen. That's about $1.00! Yesss.

***After I posted this, I found this sweet girl's blog post about taking apart a beautiful kimono. Mine have all been worn in and stained, but the sentiment rings true: http://truestitches.blogspot.com/2010/05/how-can-kimono-break-ones-heart.html

*** And this one about making a dress from a kimono.

project 4 - pj shorts

These pajama shorts mark a pivotal turning point in my sewing career--namely, the crotch.

I impulsively bought this Little Red Riding Hood fabric because of a disturbingly Freudian connection I have with the character. I bought only 1/2 meter of fabric because it was expensive, and I was dying to make something I could wear. So, these shorts were concieved.

I was terrified of the crotch seam. Lost sleep thinking of how, exactly, it worked. "So there are four pieces..." I would think to myself. "And they connect at... wait... you turn it inside-out..."

I was afraid to ruin my darling pair of shorts with a too-tight fit, since the cotton fabric wasn't stretchy at all. I also thought, naively, that I didn't need an elastic waistband since I wanted to make a drawstring (a before-I-knew-what-bias-tape-was drawstring, mind you). That was dumb, since my pattern was a pair of pjs that did have an elastic waistband. The result is a baggy, bunchy, balla pair of shorts that a gangster would be proud of, if they weren't pink and covered with Little Red.

I really hate dark photos, don't you??

Procedure Highlights:
  • Using a pre-existing garment as a pattern. (Pin garment in sections along original seams, as flat as possible. Draw outline, including seam allowance, then un-pin, turn garment, and re-pin.) This method is good for simple designs, but not suitable for darts, tucks, etc, because you can't tell how much material you would need from just looking at the pre-made item.
  • I used this tutorial, which is for children's shorts, which may have had something to do with the general fit failure.
  • Curved seams.
  • Learned a lesson about serging. (That is, I should have. The crotch ripped within the first few weeks.)

I really want to emphasize that these shorts are laughably large. Since they don't have any elastic, they fold out all the way--I made the mistake of leaving them out while I was hosting some friends, and everyone demanded to know where I was hiding the circus-show fat lady.

Fabric: 1/2 meter 100% cotton print @ 1600 yen/meter