Friday, 1 April 2011

An outrageously pretty Japanese blouse

Japanese pattern book

I've been having adventures with a Japanese pattern book this week.  I bought this book last year from Tikki in Kew.  I have no idea what the title is, because I can't read Japanese, but the subtitle is "Homesewn summer wear for girls 120 to 150cm tall".  I hope the title is something snappier.

The patterns inside are what counts, however.  I truly love every single one of them.  Something that I particularly like is that there are patterns for dresses, trousers, skirts, shorts, tops, shirts and camisoles - truly something for every possible occasion or mood.  O agrees because when I asked her to mark which ones she'd like me to make for her, she put a post it note on every single page.

I started with this sweet blouse, which also has a dress version.

Japanese pattern book

Raglan blouse and dress illustrations

I decided to start with this blouse, because I think the dress version, made with the capped sleeves of the blouse, would make a wonderful school summer dress this year.  I've made the blouse first as a practice run for the dress.

This is the first time I've ever made anything from a Japanese pattern book before, but I wasn't too intimidated because there is a wealth of information on the internet about how to do this.  The tutorial I mainly used was this one from The Purl Bee, but I also found the recent series by Kate, at M is for Make, really helpful.

I spent roughly three times as long drafting the pattern as I did sewing. 

Deciphering a Japanese sewing pattern

I don't understand Japanese

The patterns do, inevitably, take a long time to get right.  You need to trace them, add seam allowances, adjust them as necessary (for example there are in fact no pattern pieces for the top in this book, just pieces for the dress, with recommended adjustments for the top), and then label them.  But I went slowly and none of the process went wrong - I think I may even have learnt the Japanese symbol for sleeve! 

Japanese patterns - like Ottobre ones - work in cm, rather than inches, which is an absolute delight after years of sewing American patterns in inches, which I just find so counter-intuitive.

The blouse was incredibly quick to cut out and sew - barely two hours from start to finish.  The top has no facings which makes life much simpler and quicker (and yet, still looks neat and finished inside as every single seam is overlocked).  There were also very few pattern pieces to work with.  Just two sleeves, two front pieces, one back piece and some bias tape.  Really very simple indeed - even with absolutely no knowledge of Japanese whatsoever.  I just followed the illustrations, which are very clearly drawn, and I had no moments of puzzlement or swearing when I sewed something in back to front or upside down (which happens to me surprisingly often when I am dressmaking - much as I love it).

And the finished article?  Well, I just love it.  I find it outrageously girly, pretty and summery, all at once.  I know it will get worn and worn, and I'll end up making a whole pile of them.

Japanese raglan blouse

Raglan sleeve detail

Blouse tie detail

When O tried it on, I found I'd made the elastic on the cuffs too tight, so I re-threaded it to make it a little looser.  There may have been instructions somewhere that told me what length to cut the elastic, but if there were I didn't understand them, so I had to guess.  I also guessed how much to gether the neckline by, as there were no notches to line up.  But both the sleeves and the neckline turned out beautifully so I can't have gone too far wrong.

Japanese blouse for Livvy

O loves it too, and said she'd probably wear it all year round, with a long sleeved t-shirt underneath in winter.  Clever girl - that would look great as well, of course.

The fabric I used is a Cath Kidston haberdashery fabric which I know from experience is very stiff until it has been washed a few times.  This blouse would look more floaty in a voile, or lawn or soft linen.  I think one in a plain buff-coloured linen with a bright flash of bias tape around the neck would look wonderful, but I can see that the jazzy Cath Kidston fabrics are more to an 8 year-old's taste.

If you, like me, have been dithering about whether to take the plunge and have a go at making something from Japanese pattern, then I would absolutely urge you to give it a go.  If you've even made one or two items of clothing from a regular pattern you will be fine.  I found I rather enjoyed figuring out what to do - it was just tricky enough to keep me interested, but I promise you, there was absolutely no swearing whatsoever!

Japanese raglan blouse


  1. astonishing! gorgeous and amazing. and I also can't believe it's mild enough for modelling that clothing Outside. it is blowing a gale here.....

  2. Wow, that blouse came out super cute!! And I l-o-v-e that Cath Kidston print... What a perfect choice!

  3. Oh the blouse looks gorgeous--as does the model! I'd love to have one in my size. But I'd definitely need you sitting by my side for assistance...!

    K x

  4. I struggle with reading a pattern in plain english, but you are a genius! it's so pretty, and I love the fabric. Love the idea of a school frock with the same pattern too.x

  5. That looks lovely! I have a nine year old and a seven year old who would also mark every page. Sadly, my sewing skills wouldn't be up to the job.


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