Tag Archives: Japanese sewing

Gather, pleat, smock, and sew

I've been spending many happy hours engrossed in sewing lately.

I didn't grow up sewing and I don't know where the love of sewing comes from, or the determination to master it even though I am such a novice. 


I know that I had one moment of sheer bliss while I watched a thin, perfectly cut bias strip I'd made from the fabric for this dress smoothly gliding under the sewing machine needle. Perhaps the addiction is fed from the lovely feeling of hearing my girl gasp, "Oh! Mama!" as I unveil a new dress made just for her, or watching my little boy silently, immediately change into the shorts I've made him while he ever so politely ignores the scratchy, unfinished seams, just because he is so happy I made him something. Maybe it's this combination of love, embodied in handwork, and the tactile pleasure of working with fabric, colors, texture. Whatever – I know I just feel very happy and satisfied when I can sew and knit and ever so cranky and irritable when I can't get enough handwork in.


Anyway, from poring over Japanese craft books and discovering some amazing online resources I've learned four basic techniques which I think are really important if you want to create your own designs. Just as with cooking, I love basic formulas because I love the way they become a springboard for so much else and give you flexibility. There are now so many dresses and clothes and projects swimming around in my head that I've started a project journal to at least help me gather my thoughts together.


These four techniques are gathering (to make billowy skirts and ruffles), which I learned last summer here,


pleating, which I learned by reading this fabulous tutorial


smocking, or shirring (there are many tutorials on the web but the one that made it clearest for me was this one), and oh wow I just saw she has a post about hand-sewn smocking, too! 


and making my own bias tape, which is a basic requisite for just about every Japanese pattern I've seen. And sometimes, a combination of techniques, like gathering and then encasing in a strip of bias tape to make a sweet pocket, just like this:


It's been a bit obsessive; I'm making several projects a day, including for myself (bias cut skirts) and shorts for the boys, too. The kids fend for themselves, dinner gets burned or is late, laundry piles up and up and up, when I'm in this kind of mode. But it's kind of like a fever and I know I just have to let it work its way out of my system!

Have you taught yourself a hobby or technique? What did you find most helpful? Classes, books, or online tutorials?