It’s already day three of the series and we’re really starting to get into the meat of these books. Honestly, when I tried sewing from a Japanese sewing book for the first time, the most intimidating part for me was unfolding the huge pattern sheet and not being able to figure out which pieces I needed for the garment I was trying to sew. And the most time consuming part, by far, is still tracing the pattern and adding seam allowance. But here to offer us some helpful tips is Meg from elsie marley.
I’m assuming that you all know Meg from elsie marley (and if you don’t, you should, like right now) because she is one of those “must follow” bloggers if you’re into sewing children’s clothing at all. Everything that comes out from under her presser foot is pure gold. Seriously original and stylish clothes that are not too flashy, but always cool. And she was one of the bloggers that turned me on to Japanese sewing books in the first place! I think this adorable top must have been one of the things I’d seen on her blog and it had me hooked on both her style and Japanese patterns.
She is probably most well known for being the creator and host of Kids Clothes Week (formerly known as Kid’s Clothes Week Challenge or KCWC for short). Meg came up with an idea to challenge people to devote one hour per day for an entire week to sewing children’s clothes and ended up creating what is one of the most popular, most anticipated, and most fun sewing events out there. For one week, literally hundreds and hundreds of people are sewing together, sharing their creations, being inspired, forming a community, being productive and having so much fun doing it! There is another one coming up soon, so be sure to check out the brand-spanking-new KCW blog for all the details.
Not only is she an awesome seamstress with the power to motivate hundreds to create a sewing army several times a year, but she is also ridiculously funny (her posts always crack me up) and seems so real – no fake shiny veneer on her blog – just real glimpses into her real life. Awesome cook, talented photographer, crochet-er, rockin’ mom (check out this cloud loft bed and her chalk paint!) and all around cool person. Here’s Meg . . .
Hello you & mie readers! I’m so happy to be here discussing one of my favorite topics–Japanese sewing books! I love the modern and simple shapes of the clothes and can’t resist the beautiful books. Each book is like a new puzzle to solve. It is an extra challenge, but a fun one! I promise after this series you will be practically fluent in Japanese sewing books. That said, I neither speak nor read a lick of Japanese. I can look at pictures and follow arrows. And that, my friends, is pretty much all you need.
I’m going to lead you through a few confusing areas in Japanese sewing books:
- how to determine what pattern you need
- how to locate it on the pattern sheet
- how to add seam allowance
Ready? Here goes…
How to Determine What Pattern you Need
After Kristin’s and Sanae’s posts you know that the photos are in the front of the book and the directions in the back. Now you only need to match the pretty picture of what you want to make with the instruction to make it. If you look at the picture there will be, in most books, a letter of the alphabet somewhere on the picture (i.e. A, B, or C, not a Japanese character). Some book will use numbers, but most use letters. The dress above is pattern b. If you look closely you’ll see it also says, “How to Make p. 34.” This is super helpful, but sadly not in every book. If there is no page number on your pattern picture, head to the back to look for your letter (or number). They won’t usually be in alphabetical (or numerical) order. The directions are in whatever order the author thought best, but keep looking, you’ll find it.
How to Locate your Pattern on the Pattern Sheet
Once you find it, you will be ready to start tracing your pattern! Easier said than done, you are thinking. I mean look at that crazy thing up there! Relax your eyeballs and you’ll be fine. All pattern sheets are different, but they do actually want you to find you pattern so there is order in that chaos somewhere. In this book (Happy Homemade Vol.2) there is a key: on one side are patterns a,b,c,d,f,g….and on the other side e,h,i,l,m…
Other pattern books do it differently. On all pattern sheets there are two or three colors. Look for you pattern letter. Is it green? Then your pattern (and all the markings that go with it) will be drawn in green. Is it black? Your pattern will be black. Once you start to decipher the code, the crazy pattern sheet starts coming into focus.
Some pattern pieces will be for two or three different garments. I’m making dress b, can you see the bodice piece I need up there? It is in the upper, middle of the photo, drawn in black. That piece is also used for dress a. See the little line drawn from the letters to the pattern? Those are your arrows and they are very helpful. Follow the arrows, people.
Okay, after you know–sort of–where your pattern pieces are, go back to the direction page and look for the pattern piece layout picture. This little picture is invaluable. It will show you all the pattern pieces you need (and need to find on the pattern sheet). It will also tell you what pattern pieces aren’t on the pattern sheet. Oh that’s right, some are not there, but don’t worry they are usually just long rectangles or something simple. On the pattern for dress b, I need bias tape 2.5 cm wide and 15 or 20 cm long. Or maybe both. Or maybe one 15cm long and two 20cm long. I don’t know, because I can’t read it! This is where you have to look at the rest of the pictures and puzzle it out. Look at pictures and follow arrows. You can do it!
How to Add Seam Allowances
Now you know–pretty much–what pattern pieces you need. Go back to the pattern sheet and locate all of them. To trace (and you have to trace, there is no cutting that pattern sheet up) the patterns I use freezer paper, but use whatever you like. Japanese patterns are a bit odd because they have no seam allowances. Let me say that a little louder, THERE ARE NO SEAM ALLOWANCES IN JAPANESE PATTERNS. I’ve sewn many patterns from these books and I still have to remind myself every time. So how do you add seam allowances?
I like to use a trick my friend, Mary Jo taught me.
- Tape two pencils together.
- Draw a line with both at the same time.
- Measure the distance between them.
It is usually about 1/4 in or 1 cm–the perfect seam allowance. Now you can trace the pattern and draw the seam allowance at the same time. (In the photo above, my pattern shifted a bit, but I was drawing with my left hand and taking a photo at the same time, so cut me some slack).
One more thing about seam allowances and then I’ll be done. Go back to the pattern piece layout picture. It’s invaluable, remember? You can see that the pattern pieces are drawn and then the seam allowances are drawn darker. The default seam allowance is 1 cm, but sometimes they want different seam allowances in different places. In the picture above do you see the 4 with the arrow drawn to the bottom? For dress b the seam allowance on the bottom edge is 4 cm. You can’t use the pencil trick for this, you’ll have to get out your handy ruler. Sometimes there will be edges that require no seam allowance; these will be marked 0. Keep referring back to your pattern piece layout picture and you’ll be good to go.
When in doubt follow arrows and look at more pictures. Good Luck!
She makes it seem so easy, doesn’t she? But Meg is right, you CAN figure it out, you just have to train your eye a bit and know what to look for. Now be sure to head over to elsie marley to see this adorable dress she made for her daughter.
And here’s some more eye candy for you – all to be found on elsie marley. Thanks Meg, for being here and dropping some of your knowledge on us.
Only 2 days left of the series!! We have two more great posts coming up this week AND a giveaway! Anyone interested in winning a Japanese sewing book?! Well, be sure to check in the rest of the week so you don’t miss a thing🙂