Finally, we get to the sewing part. I used to hate all the prep and just want to get sewing to the point where I would cut out the one or two pieces I needed to start with then sew those then go back to cutting and so on. It wasn't very efficient, obviously. For some reason, I actually don't mind the prep anymore.
Anyway, here's what I know (or at least guess) about sewing from Japanese patterns.
Tip #1 Which piece is which? Since you don't have the benefit of actually being able to read the pattern, it can sometimes be really hard to tell what each piece is for. It's pretty easy to tell which pieces are for the body or the sleeve or the collar, but how do you know which is the back and the front of the sleeve? If you're making a shirt with no buttons or placket, how do you know the front from the back?
Most of the time the patterns have little tick marks with circles on the end that are similar to the little triangles on U.S. patterns (tip #9 here). These are meant to help you line up the sleeve with the body in the right place, but you can often tell the back from the front for both the sleeves and the body by the fact that the backs of both have two tick marks where the fronts have only one.
I have made a few patterns where this was not the case. Here are the assumptions I make:
Sleeves - the curvier part is usually the front. The more gradual "slope" is usually the back.
Body - the wider piece with the more curvy hem is usally the front. The back is usually slightly narrower and often has an almost straight hem.
Tip #2 Pictures, Pictures, Pictures. If you're like me, you don't speak or read Japanese, so the only directions you're going to have are the pictures. Amazingly, you can find out almost everything you need to know just from the pictures. Have you ever put together a piece of furniture from IKEA? Same kind of thing. Every pattern I've seen so far has a picture like this:
You know how almost every pattern you buy, sewing or knitting, recommends that you read through all the instructions before starting? The equivalent for me is to look at the above picture and make sure I understand what it's telling me to do at each step. Don't worry, there are a lot more pictures. This is just kind of an overview. It will probably make the most sense if I translate for you:
1. Sew the shoulder seams.
2. Make and attach the collar.
3. Finish the edges of the collar with some bias tape.
4. Sew the side seams.
5. Hem the bottom.
6. Make the sleeves.
7. Set in the sleeves.
8. Hem the sleeves and put elastic in them.
9. Make the buttonholes and attach the buttons.
You can really figure all that out just by looking at the above photo, but you're probably going to want more details on exactly how they want you to make the collar, for example. The next thing you're going to want to do then, is look at the detailed photos that are labeled with the number "2". (Keep reading, I'll get into that in a minute.)
Tip #3 Watch out for page referrals. So in the tip above, I just told you to look at the details for step 2. In this particular pattern, there are no pictures for step 2. Yikes. What to do? Well, the only time, I look at the actual "word" directions is when this happens.
Sure enough, step 2 is referring me to a different page. See that - "p.53"? In fact a bunch of steps refer me back to that page. Here's what page 53 looks like.
The collar is a different shape than mine and the step numbers are different, but it's enough info for me to get the idea.
Tip #4 Watch out for the little steps inside of steps. It will make more sense if I show you the photo first.
This is from step 11 of the blazer that I made for Addie. It's for the little rectangle of a belt that goes on the back. I chose this one to share because it's pretty straightforward, but you'll see this kind of thing everywhere in the Japanese patterns. See the little numbers - 1 through 5 - with the circles around them? Even though I'm already on step 11, those are the steps I need to do to complete step 11. Like I said, this one is pretty straightforward. Let me "translate":
1. Sew the wrong sides together, leaving a gap at the bottom for turning.
2. Clip the corners.
3. Turn it right side out and whipstitch the gap closed.
4. Top stitch
5. Attach it to the jacket by sewing on the buttons.
Tip #5 Pay attention to the order. It's not necessarily going to be left to right, top to bottom like you're probably used to. Here's a pretty simple example
See how Step 1 has 3 diagrams going from left to right, then the fourth is straight down, then Step 2 starts back on the left of the same "row"? It's really pretty obvious once you know to pay attention to that. And you can see from this example that the arrows guide you in the right direction.
Tip #6 Don't be afraid to look at other patterns. My Oliver & S patterns have especially good step by step instructions - in English. If you're making a shirt with a placket for buttons, for example, and can't quite figure out what the Japanese diagrams are telling you to do, pull out the instructions for your Jumprope dress for some help.
Tip #7 Use what you know! I probably should have put this first and foremost. You probably have already sewn at least a few garments, so you already know what you're doing. I like to stay stitch my curves, trim my interfacing, and finish all my seams. For all I know, the Japanese instructions are telling me to do just that, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't show up in the diagrams (well, the seam finishing usually does). It seems silly, but it actually took me sewing quite a few things before I thought, "duuh, maybe it would be easier to fit that sleeve in if I stay stitched the curve and clipped in a bit".
That's all I have for tips. I wish I could share some tips on getting your kids to actually wear the thing you made or some tips on getting good photographs with them in it, but those are things I struggle with way more than sewing!
Anyway, I hope this was helpful and made sense. I would love to know if it inspired any of you to try out a pattern and would love to see your finished project.