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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.


Japan-a-lana said...

Wow! You are learning so much! Look at those darts!

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