Book Review: How to Sew Japanese Sewing Patterns

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As I’ve written before, I love Japanese sewing books! The clothes have a unique, modern bent that’s appealing. They’re usually sewn in linen and other natural fibers and the models are styled with a relaxed, cool vibe. I love going slowly through the books, envying each outfit. (See an earlier post on this subject here.)


The only problem comes with trying to translate the instructions. They’re in Japanese of course, and I can’t even pretend to read a lick of it! Although they have wonderful detailed line drawings of the clothes, there are times when I get stuck on some detail that’s a mystery to me, even though I’ve been sewing my entire life. And for someone learning to sew, they can really leave you baffled. So how to get those lovely clothes out of the pages of the book and on to you?

Thankfully, Rin Gomura-Elkan of  Sew In Love  has the solution! She’s written a wonderful e-book: How to Sew Japanese Sewing Patterns. It’s very helpful in navigating the process of sewing from a Japanese sewing book. The contents include general information about the books, then on to sizing help and conversions, and sewing equipment translations.

The next section helps you through the entire sewing process, from tracing your pattern to marking, cutting, and sewing and finishing. She’s included conversion tables for Japanese sewing terms right in the sections where you need them. Very handy. Rin does a great job of breaking down each step of the process and telling you exactly what to do and advice on what to look out for.

I think one of my favorite things she does in her book is include online resources where you can find books to browse, free Japanese patterns to try, and her own favorite list of Japanese sewing books. The appendix includes more conversion tables for garment types, supplies, fabrics, and even book titles.


But wait, there’s more! You can purchase her e-book alone, or as part of a package which includes the book and two PDF sewing patterns designed by Rin herself. There is a pattern for a high-waisted knee length skirt with bow waist tie, and a summer dress with a pleated neckline. The instructions for these patterns are written in both Japanese and English so you can see how to translate between the languages. A great introduction to sewing with Japanese patterns!

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I think Rin has done a great job in de-mystifying the language barrier between Japanese and English, allowing all of us to enter the fun, crafty world of Japanese sewing. Thanks Rin!

Currently, the book is priced at $15 and the book/pattern package is $25. And as a special present to my readers, Rin is offering a special 10% discount through October 6. Use the promo code PICKINFALL10. Follow this link to learn more and purchase!




Narrow Rolled Hem by Machine

rolled hem

When sewing a top recently, I needed to make a small rolled hem around the edges of the gathered ruffle on the neckline. I have a rolled hem foot on my machine, and I use it sometimes, but this edge was curved, therefore on the bias, and its hard to get an even hem with the foot when you’re dealing with curves and bias. Soooo, time to do it another way. Here’s a quick tutorial on what I did, following a method I learned from Louise Cutting, a great sewing instructor and pattern designer in the industry.

Start by stitching 3/8″ away from the edge.

Fold and press the edge to the wrong side so the stitching just barely rolls to the wrong side.

Make a second row of stitching very close to the fold, about 1/16″, going through both layers of fabric. Here you can see my second row of stitching and I’ve begun to trim away the excess, explained below.

Trim away the excess fabric as close as you can to the stitching line. Go slow so you don’t cut through the good fabric! (excuse the fleck of something in my fingernail, how embarrassing!)

Then roll your fabric again to the wrong side, using the edge you just cut as a fold line. Press and edge stitch down a third time, finishing the rolled hem! Having a total of 6 threads in that seam helps to weigh it down so it drapes well. Above you’ll see I had to go around a sharp corner with my rolled hem, so I first completely finished the hem on one side of the angle, then carefully folded in the corner…

… and continued to finish the hem on the other side.

Once I was finished, I had nice sharp corners!

New Look 6895

New Look 6895

I just got a quick top ready for spring and wanted to let you know about it. New Look 6895 is a great top to sew with the wonderful printed voiles that are showing up on shop shelves. The pattern includes options for sleeveless, short sleeves, or short puffed sleeves, and features gathers at the neckline and an optional ruffle. Bias binding is used to finish the neck edge and the sleeveless armholes.

New Look 6895

I’m glad I tissue fit the pattern, as I was a smaller size than I thought I’d be, but the sewing instructions were clear and it went together quickly. I might try the little puff sleeve version next!









One tip- After sewing the bias edging to the right side of the fabric, bring the edging around to the back side and temporarily secure it with a washable glue stick while you topstitch to finish. It’s quick and holds more smoothly than pins. I use the glue that goes on purple then dries clear so I can see where I’ve been. It easily comes out in the wash and so far, I’ve never had fabric be damaged by it.

Be Your Own Designer – Part 4

Button Down Shirt Rub Off

Today I want to introduce you to a second way to get a rub off of a clothing item already in your closet. This is a paper tracing, and it’s great to use when you’ve got more details to copy, rather than the simple t-shirt we traced last week. Once again you’ll lay your garment on top of paper, but you’ll need a couple more supplies in addition to what you used in the t-shirt tracing method I outlined earlier. On top of a table, you will want to lay down a large piece of cardboard or foamboard (more on this below), as big as the garment you’ll be rubbing off, then lay down a large sheet of paper, then the garment. The basic idea is simple: spread out a section of the garment (front, back, etc.) as smooth and flat as you can, then with straight sewing pins, poke through the edges and seamlines of the garment, through the paper into the cardboard. When you pull the garment away, you can use a pencil or marker to follow the pin dots and outline your pattern piece and any design details included such as pockets, plackets, etc. Simple, yes? But also effective! Just don’t forget to add seam allowances to your dot-to-dot pattern tracings! Read on for the details.


large sheets of paper (see paper post here)
pencils or markers – it helps to have at least 2 colors to distinguish between seam lines and cutting lines
scissors used for cutting paper
large sheet of foam board or corrugated cardboard that straight pins can pass through
rulers, straight and curved, are helpful for truing up lines as you finalize your pattern

Cardboard Ideas

There’s no need to get fancy with this supply. Or expensive. The next time you visit a big box store, ask if they have any big cardboard boxes you can have. Or a sheet of foamboard from the craft store is inexpensive and will last quite a while. I use a piece of an old foam camping pad, like what you’d lay your sleeping bag down on. I’ve heard of some people using a towel or some extra fabric laid down smoothly in place of the cardboard. Look around and use what you have.

The Technique

Instead of me doing the teaching today, I’m going to point you to two excellent YouTube videos created by David Coffin. Mr. Coffin has written two books I highly recommend if you’d like to learn professional techniques for sewing shirts and pants for either men or women. I own both of them. One is Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, and the other is Making Trousers for Men & Women: A Multimedia Sewing Workshop. He also has a DVD demonstrating how to construct a shirt, Shirtmaking Techniques, 2009.

David does a great job showing you the basic process of paper tracing. The first video he is using a classic button down shirt as his example garment, then in the second video he is doing a rub off of a pair of trousers. Watch the shirt video first, then watch the pants video where he goes into more depth solving potential problems you may run into, such as tracing darts, extra wide shapes, etc.  Enjoy!

See? That’s easy, right?

Construction Helps/Links

If you’re using this technique to rub off a shirt, then here’s a couple of suggestions for getting the details right on your pattern, and putting together a guideline on constructing the shirt at the sewing machine.

First, nothing beats a good basic sewing reference book. Try David Coffin’s book, linked above, or a sewing encyclopedia such as Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing (blogged here), or Vogue/Butterick Guide to Sewing Techniques. These are just a few examples of good books- there are lots out there!

One of the trickier parts of a shirt can be sewing the sleeve plackets. Here’s two good online resources for plackets. The first one gives great instructions, including a pattern, for a classic mens style sewn on sleeve placket. You can also use this same technique and pattern to create a button placket down the center front of your shirt (just lengthen the placket down to about the bust line). The second is a more refined placket often used on sheer or lightweight fabrics in women’s blouses.

Threads Magazine Precision Placket

You Tube Continuous Blouse Placket

That’s it for today. Please let me know if you find this blog post helpful and send me links to the creations you design yourself!


Changing Your T-shirt Designs – BYOD Part 3

A good t-shirt pattern will be one of the most versatile patterns in your collection. In the last post of this series, we drafted a very simple t-shirt pattern, using a t-shirt you already owned. Once you’ve sewn a few tops from the pattern and you’re liking the fit, you can start altering some of the design elements, like necklines and sleeves. Here’s a little parade of t-shirts I’ve made recently, using my basic pattern (I didn’t have the time to model them myself, so you get to see them on Stella, my twin):

Here’s the basic pattern, long sleeve and short sleeve.

Try adding tucks. For the blue shirt, I added width to the center front, then stitched pin tucks as far down as the bustline. Plan how many tucks you want and how wide, so you can calculate the amount of extra fabric you’ll add to the center front. On the black shirt, I lowered the center front hemline a bit to compensate for what I’d take up in the horizontal tucks. I think this design idea came from a Vogue pattern I saw in a catalog.

Some more neckline changes. A grey funnel neck is easy- just extend your neck lines, front and back, up to the shape you want. A cowl neck requires making a copy of the pattern front and angling the armholes and shoulder seams away from the center front. Here’s a tutorial from the web on how to shape the pattern and stitch it up.

I lengthened this top into a tunic, split it across the middle and added a scrap of darker knit, and shaped a v-neckline with a collar of sorts. After I had cut the v-neckline and sewed the shoulder seams together, I measured all the way around the neck edge. I used that measurement (plus about an inch) to cut the collar in a long very skinny football shape. It was about 4 1/2″ wide at center. I also cut a width of darker knit about an inch wide for “piping.” It took a bit of trial and error to pin the collar around the neck edge correctly, stretching the collar just a bit as would any knit neck binding.  But once I had my plan, I first sewed the center front of the neck band together, then pinned and stitched the band with the piping sandwiched in between the front and the collar band. The end result makes it look a little trickier than it was, which is a bonus, I think!

Some more pattern slicing and dicing! This time I copied my t-shirt pattern onto muslin (a tunic length), cut it out, removed the seam allowances (so I wouldn’t get confused about where there were seam allowances and where there weren’t). I pinned the muslin to my dressform and drew on it with markers the color blocking pattern I had in mind. Then I cut the muslin apart on the lines and that was my pattern. I just had to remember to add seam allowances on all edges! Once the pattern was laid on the fabric, I used chalk to mark my cutting lines. Because I wear this over a t-shirt, I cut the armholes a little deeper and faced the front bodice. A tutorial showing how to make the scalloped edge trimming is here.

The white t-shirt has a center front inset of a sheer crinkled knit. I treated it as an inverted pleat and stitched the pleat fold lines down so they would stay in place. Knit doesn’t like to hold a crease, you know! That’s why we love it. And the sleeves are the same sheer crinkle knit. I finished the bottom of the sleeves with a band of the body knit to create little puff sleeves. I’m thinking I’ll dye this shirt a fun color, but I have to wait till spring when I can set up my dye baths on the back porch. The plum sweater is a loose knit with a dolman sleeve. I simply laid the front and back t-shirt pattern on the fabric as a guide, then chalked a line an inch of two away from the side seam, for a loose fit, then curved the seam wide under the arm and drew a sleeve shape, ending the sleeve about the same width as the width of my long sleeve pattern (again, I used my basic pattern as a guide). I drew a wide boat neck. This knit it too loose to do a good job of hemming, so the hem, the sleeves and the neck are all finished with bands of varying widths.

And don’t forget you can make cardigans from the pattern too! Trace the basic pattern, deepening the armholes and widening the sleeves a bit. When you trace the front piece, leave paper extending out from the center front, so you can draw in the front shape you want. I like cardigans with sloping front edges and no buttons, but you could easily make a front edge that overlaps for buttons and buttonholes. Depending on what look you want or what your knit will let you do, you can hem the front edges (grey), stitch a band on the raw edges (orange), or cut out a facing and stitch it on. I don’t have a picture of this but if you want a really defined front edge, you can stitch the facing onto the RIGHT side of the cardigan and topstitch it down. It looks great!

Hope my little collection helped to inspire you to stitch up a few shirts! Next post in the Be Your Own Designer series takes you through a rub off method similar to the t-shirt tutorial, but this is a little more detailed and gives you ways to handle more design details. We’ll try it out on a button down shirt so you can adda basic woven shirt to your pattern wardrobe. Start digging through your closet, and find a shirt you like so you’re ready for next time. Can’t wait!

Click here for other posts in the series.

Be Your Own Designer – Part 2

T-Shirt Rub Off

Yay, it’s time to make your first pattern! Here’s a tutorial with steps to do a very simple t-shirt rub off, basically just tracing around a t-shirt you already like and creating a pattern from it. Let’s get started:

Grab a t-shirt. One that fits well, and the more basic the better. I chose one with long sleeves, but a short sleeve one is fine too.

Grab a large sheet of paper, big enough for the whole t-shirt body to lay on. Transparent paper is not necessary. Tape sheets of copy paper together or use a sheet of newspaper if you have nothing else. See my previous post for paper ideas. Lay your t-shirt on top of the paper and smooth out the wrinkles. I like to start by tracing around the entire body of the t-shirt. I don’t like to fold the t-shirt in half first – I think I’ll get a better result this way. Try, as best you can, to get the side seams and shoulder seams to land along the edges. Don’t worry about keeping the sleeves straight. As you can see, mine are bunched up out of the way.

Spread the armholes out and hold in place with weights. Anything heavy will work – soup cans, spare scissors, tools, anything.

Use one hand to steady the fabric against the paper, and trace with the other hand. Try to keep your lines smooth, but don’t fret. You’ll have a chance to finalize the lines later. Trace around the side seams, the bottom hem, and the shoulder seams. Stop and mark when you get to an intersection with the armhole.

When you’re ready to trace the armhole shape, you can stick a straight pin through the armhole seam to the paper below, or…

dig your thumbnail into the seam, hold steady, and …

lift the sleeve out of the way and mark where your pin or nail is. Do this every inch or so along the seam. Use the same method to mark the front and back neck edges as well.

Pull the t-shirt out of the way, and ta-da! It looks like a pattern piece. I use a pencil when I’m working, but I went over my lines with marker so you can see them better.

For the moment, ignore the front neck edge. Connect the dots along the back neck and armholes and true the lines. That means make the curves smooth (you can use a curved ruler if you have one, or just work slowly and do it freehand.) See in the photo where my shoulder seam is kind of droopy and curved? Well, a shoulder seam should be straight, so I made sure my cutting line was straight after I added the seam allowance. Also, the intersections of the shoulder seam to the neck and armhole, as well as the intersection of side seams to the armhole and hem should be right angles. See the photo below where I marked each right angle with a red angle mark on the final pattern. Add 3/8″ seam allowances  to all edges except the hem. Add 3/4″ allowance to the hem. (Of course, if you want to make your pattern longer or shorter than your sample t-shirt, do that first, then add the hem allowance.)

Here, seam allowances are added in red pencil. Cut your pattern out along the outer, cutting line.

Fold the pattern in half along what will be the center front line. Match up the two sides as best you can, but there will probably be small differences in the two halves. This is why I like to trace the entire t-shirt body, so I can compare the halves. See my example above? The two shoulder seams are at different heights. The difference is about 3/8″. Now I can decide which line to accept or what I’ll probably do is draw a new line in between the two lines. Go through your pattern and decide what to do about any differences you see. If it’s a difference in width, I usually go with the wider line. You can always make it small later as you sew it up, but you can’t make it bigger!

Now you can trace your pattern onto a clean sheet of paper and label it T-shirt Back. Also label 3/8″ seam allowances, hem depth, fold line, and neck binding width if appropriate.

Now back to your original pattern piece, where we’ll true up the front neck edge and add seam allowance, so you can use this as your front pattern piece. You will want to compare the tracings of the front neck edge on each side of your fold, so you need to somehow mark one side so you can see it on the other side. Some ideas: after putting scrap paper down on your table to protect it, use a serrated pattern tracing wheel to mark one seam line through the paper to the other side, or…

use straight pins to mark from one side of the paper to the other side.

Now flip to the other side and compare. Again, decide how to handle differences you see between the two sides, draw your final neck curve, making sure where the neck edge meets the fold and where it meets the shoulder are right angles. Yes, I’m reminding you to do that. It’s important, otherwise when you cut and sew the shirt, those intersections will look funny. And not in a good way. Add the seam allowance to the neckline and cut out. Mark all allowances, binding measurements, hem, and label T-shirt Front.

If using neck binding, figure how what size strip you’ll need and mark that on your pattern for future reference.  First decide how wide you want your binding. Double the finished width, then add 3/4″ for seam allowances. That’s the width to cut your strip. Measure your neckline seamline and subtract about 10% of that measurement to give you a binding that will need to be stretched a bit to fit around the neckline. That will help it to lay flat against you. Cut the strip width-wise, so it’s stretchy. Now note all that right on your pattern.

Your two main pattern pieces are done! You’re almost there. Just a sleeve pattern to go and it will go fast, I promise.

Fold a large piece of paper in half and lay the sleeve on the paper, with the top edge of the sleeve (at the shoulder seam) along the fold of the paper. Smooth the sleeve as best you can and try to get the underarm seam to lay along the edge.  Weigh the sleeve down as necessary.

Using the techniques described above, trace around the sleeve and mark the seamline at the top of the sleeve (sleeve head) using a pin or your thumbnail.

Remove the t-shirt and smooth out your seamlines.

Be sure to draw right angles where the seamlines intersect the fold of the paper.

Add 3/8″ seam allowances and 3/4″ hem. Mark seamline widths (so you won’t forget later) and label Sleeve. Unfold the paper so you have a complete sleeve.

You’re done! Really, it won’t take much longer to make your pattern than it took to read this blog post! Now, as with any time you create a new pattern, first try it out on some fabric you won’t cry over if the project doesn’t turn out. I bought some 99¢/yard knit fabric at my store just for trying out new patterns. It’s great because I feel free to experiment without a lot of commitment. A general construction sequence to follow for stitching up a t-shirt, whether using a serger or a stretch/zigzag stitch on a regular sewing machine:

1. Stitch shoulder seams, front to back.

2. Finish the neck with binding. Here’s a tutorial for stitching binding to a neckline.

3. Attach sleeves to t-shirt body. Work with the knits to shape the armhole to the sleeve head, and pin before sewing.

4. Stitch underarm and side seams in one long seam.

5. Hem sleeves and bottom edge. Done!

Now go out there a make a few crazy shirts! Next time I’ll show you a few ideas for changing up your basic t-shirt pattern to bring variety to your wardrobe. Join me then!

Click here for other posts in the series.


Schoolhouse Tunic

Schoolhouse Tunic

Here’s my version of the popular and wonderfully comfortable Schoolhouse Tunic by Sew Liberated. The fabric is a linen-cotton blend.

For my version, I cut off the seam allowances on the center front, the neckline and the sleeve hems. I did the same to the front facings, then basted the facings to the front and covered all the raw edges with bias tape.

I also used a commercial rubber stamp and screen printing ink to decorate the hem.

This is one of my favorite tops!


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