Drafting Japanese Sewing Patterns
One of my favorite Japanese fabrics is Nani Iro by Naomi Ito. I first discovered it on a trip to Japan last May. Imagine my thrill when I first started working at Purl and discovered that we carried it too! I have been (im)patiently waiting for the past few months for her new line to come out, and I wasn’t disappointed. On top of a beautiful collection of fabrics, Naomi Ito has put out a book, Nani Iro Pattern Book, with patterns using her fabric. Nani Iro is a double faced gauze fabric, which lends itself nicely to loose, flowing pieces versus highly tailored clothing. None of the patterns have zippers, and only a few have button or hook enclosures.
Drafting a pattern from a book in a foreign language can be intimidating! But, don’t worry, Japanese sewing and craft books are very straightforward once you get started. I rarely read the instructions and follow the pictures when sewing.
Almost all of the Japanese sewing books are set up the same way. The beginning features photos of the clothing, followed by written/picture instructions, and end with a full-size pullout pattern page. Although many of the patterns are usually fairly simple, I would recommend these patterns for an advanced beginner or intermediate sewer, as many techniques are not explained. The sizing of the patterns runs small because Japanese women tend to be petite. For the most part, the patterns run from a size 0 up to around a size 6 or 8. Just like any other pattern, I tend to do some resizing of my own to match my own size. Also, Japanese patterns tend to have less shaping than Western patterns. You may want to add darts or waist shaping if you prefer. The measurements in the patterns are all metric. Keep this in mind when you are measuring yourself and the patterns.
I have tried many kinds of techniques for copying patterns, and I have decided that my favorite is using trace paper and pencil. Trace paper is easy to get at any art supply store (I use a 24” roll) and the patterns fold up small for easy storage. However, you can also use pattern paper with a tracing wheel and transfer paper if you would like a more durable pattern.
The pattern page can be overwhelming with its many crisscrossed lines, but it’s a great solution for fitting in so many patterns in one page. First, find the pattern you want to make on the pattern page. Usually each pattern has its own letter. Look around the edges of the pattern page to find the pieces. This is where it gets confusing! There are different kanji characters for front and back, as well in this case, adult and child. These are the kanji you will need to know. I like to think that the kanji for front looks like a house, and the one for adult looks like a person standing. If you look at the top of the the page above, the first pattern piece is for pattern "P" and it's the back piece. The next pattern piece is for the front of "P". The next one after that is the pattern for "E" (adult) and it's the front AND back piece. Figure out which pattern to copy and label your piece.
I'm working on the back piece of pattern "P".
Using a ruler for the straight lines, carefully copy the pattern onto your tracing paper. Sometimes it’s easy to accidentally copy the wrong line, so if your pattern piece doesn’t look right, check to see if you’ve copied correctly. Don’t forget to copy any pattern marks!
Here is the completed traced pattern piece.
One of the most important points of drafting Japanese patterns is to keep in mind that seam allowances are NOT included in the pattern pieces. You will have to add them after you’ve traced the pattern. This is done both for saving space on the pattern page and to keep confusion to a minimum when figuring out which lines to trace.
Here is one of the layouts for a pattern in the book. You can see the seam allowances on the pieces that are on the fabric layout drawing. If there is no number given, the default seam allowance is 1 centimeter, but you can use whatever number you feel comfortable with (1/2 inch, 5/8 inch, etc). When there is a measurement given, use that number. Usually hems and special construction have a larger seam allowance.
Using a ruler and pencil, draw in your seam allowance. I like to measure about every inch or inch and a half and play dot to dot with the lines.
Once you’ve finished drawing in the seam allowances, the pattern is finished! Cut your pattern piece out. When actually making the article of clothing, I can usually figure out everything through the drawings in the instructions. This is where experience helps; if you’ve sewn clothing before, the techniques are very similar.
I hope this tutorial has inspired some of you to start drafting your own patterns! --Mari