I feel a little pretentious trying to dole out tips for sewing in Japanese when 1. I don't consider myself an expert seamstress and 2. I don't speak or read Japanese. (My worst fear is that someone who speaks Japanese and sews really well will read this and chuckle at all the mistakes I'm making.) I do have some things that seem to work for me though, so I thought I would try to share.
I was pretty overwhelmed when I cracked open my first Japanese pattern book. Nothing is what you're used to - some of the books even go from what I would consider back to front. There's a lot to figure out - as if sewing in your own language isn't hard enough. The best tip I can give is to pick a pattern that you're really motivated to sew. Yes, it's good to start with something simple, but if you don't love it, you might give up more easily and end up neglecting your beautiful Japanese pattern books and using them for nothing more than pretty pictures.
Okay - enough lecture - here are my tips for tracing the pattern pieces.
Tip #1 - Yes, you do have to trace the pattern pieces. Don't even think you're going to cut out the one pattern you want from the paper insert that came with the book and throw away the rest. I'm only saying this because I've done this before. I was very sorry when I did that for the size 3 Oliver & S Jumprope dress and later wanted to make the size 4. Even if you're quite sure you'll never, ever care about that, these pattern inserts are a big spider-webby mess of overlapping pattern pieces that make cutting out even one pattern almost impossible.
Tip #2 - Find some good pattern tracing material. I've tried tissue paper and lightweight interfacing. Both of those just frustrated me. I finally found the solution at one of my local fabric stores, Sew Portland, in this Bosal Create a Pattern. It comes in a 5 yard roll which can cover quite a few patterns. It lays nice and flat and even kind of sticks to your fabric when it comes time to cut. I love the stuff.
Tip #3 - Figure out what size you're going to make. Easy, right? I almost gave up right then and there. I'm used to making a size 4 or 5 for my 4-year-old. What's up with this 110, 120, stuff? Most of the books have a little diagram like this:
in between the photo pages and the how-to-make pages. This one is from one of my Happy Homemade books. Some of the books I've purchased more recently don't have the nice little image of the girl, but this one is especially helpful so you can match the Japanese words to the body parts.
In this case, if my daughter is 120 cm tall with a 62 cm chest and a 53 cm waist and 65 cm hips - or measurements somewhat close to that, I would make the size 120. I haven't played around with mixing sizes, but you could certainly do that the way you would with any other pattern.
To be honest, I haven't really measured since the first pattern I made. Then I had nothing to relate the size to, so I really needed to do this to figure out where to start. If someone could have told me size 100 = size 3, etc., I would have just gone with that. I definitely wouldn't want to be responsible for you making the wrong size, but, so far, in my experience, for my pretty average-sized daughter; 100 = size 3, 110 = size 4, and 120 = size 5/6. I also take into account the photos - just a bit. I've been making the size 120 for everything lately, but one shirt I wanted to make was really baggy in the photos, so I decided to make one size down.
Whew, I guess I could have done a whole post on size alone!
Tip #4 - Relax and Make some Room. Tracing the pattern pieces is probably the most difficult and frustrating part of the whole process. Don't try to do this in the 10 free minutes you have between work and driving one of the kids to soccer practice. Make sure you have plenty of time and do whatever else you need to do to fend off frustration and increase concentration. Grab a glass of wine, kick the kids (and definitely the cat) out of the room - whatever it takes. Also make sure you have plenty of room. You really need to be able to spread out the whole pattern paper. You'll want plenty of light, too.
I'm far from a neat freak, but my sewing desk is usually already pretty free of clutter, so I just put my sewing machine down on the floor, then I have plenty of room for pattern tracing. While I have everything set up, I like to trace 3 or 4 patterns that I know I'm going to make at a time.
Tip #5 - Yes, you have to add seam allowances. I didn't know this at first - or didn't want to know it. The first thing I made just happened to work somehow, but the second thing I made didn't even come close to fitting over my daughter's head. After getting some tips from some readers on how to add seam allowances, I ended up taping two pens together.
Wherever there's a curve, even a slight one, I trace right on my size line with the green pen and the black pen creates the line where I'll eventually cut. Wherever there's a straight line, I just use one of my quilting rulers. I line the 3/8" line up with the line on the pattern then draw a line along the ruler for my cutting line. Your seam allowance can be whatever you want it to be - unless otherwise indicated by the cutting diagram* - as long as you keep it the same throughout. My two pens end up being about 3/8".
Shoot, I'm running out of time. I have a few more tips about pattern tracing I want to share, so check back in tomorrow for those.
*More on this tomorrow.