Monday, November 17, 2014


It's weird, but the only place I really, truly, definitely wanted to visit when we started planning on visiting Japan all those years ago was Hiroshima. It's a city that, as you all know, has the horrible honour of being the the recipient of the world's first atomic bomb. It killed hundreds of thousands of people. But the pervading message from this city is one of peace. Don't let this happen again. Ever. And to a couple of children of the 60s and therefore born-again hippies, we had to see it for ourselves.


The above two photos are of the Atomic Dome - previously known as the Industrial Promotion Hall in 1945 when every single person working inside it was vapourised, and everything except this building and a couple of others were completely flattened. We saw the photos of the totally, absolutely decimated "was this ever a city?" Hiroshima at the Peace Museum (incidentally, this place is horrific and no one likes to see photos of burnt children and scraps of school uniforms that children who eventually died were wearing that day, but oh it's such a necessary place to visit. Even if you're not a born-again hippy. It makes you angry, and feel helpless, and wonder how better we can rage against those agents of war (every government in the entire freaking world, in my opinion).



This is the Atomic Memorial Mound. It contains the ashes of tens of thousands of people who died in that day and in the following days. The thing we couldn't work out was this. Hiroshima has every right to be angry. So angry. And they're not. In fact it is probably the most western, cosmopolitan city we've visited in Japan so far, and everyone is so damned friendly here. All the old people ask where you are from, and their faces light up when you say "Australia". And they say "so far! You come here?" And we just nod and smile because this country is the most beautiful we've ever been to and it's the best holiday we've ever had and we speak a total of 15 words in Japanese so there's really no point saying anything further. Other than "domo arigato gozaimas".
There is no glorification of war here, just a universal pledge of peace.



These are some of the millions of cranes that school children from all over Japan have made in honour of Sadako. I read the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes when I was at school. If you haven't read it, I suggest you go and do it. Now. Yes I'm being bossy.



After the hopelessness of the museum and the Peace Park, we just had to get far away from there. So we caught the nearest streetcar (they have streetcars in Hiroshima, people! Another reason to come here!) and went as far as the line would take us, in this case Hiroshima Port. It was cold.

And there was no fishing. WTF?


It had been recommended to us that we spend a day at the Peace Park, and then the following day at Miyajima Island to get rid of the shitty depressed funk we were in after day 1. So we did. And it was fabulous!


Something on a stick. I believe it was cheesy fish cake. I wasn't a fan.










Because them's a lot to be said for a sacred island that has deer, ropeways, autumn colours, views of everything including the Inland Sea, shrines in the middle of the ocean and fresh cookie bread icecream sandwiches. Funk lifted. Still writing a letter to the federal member of parliament when I get home though.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lost in 翻訳 (Translation)






Still in Japan. Walking a million kilometres a day and seeing the most amazing things. It's been a dream (many dreams!) realised.


Also Nomura Tailor is Just. So. Rad. My quilt-jo doesn't seemed to have returned at all as I haven't purchased a scrap of quilting fabric (except at Yokohama Quilt Week - I purchased a little bit there so all is not lost). Dress fabric though ... ooh boy.




And this is only part of it. Last night I finally made it to the third floor - the Magical Land of Haberdashery and Notions. I need to buy another suitcase. I still have shopping in Tokyo to do next week.

Monday, November 10, 2014


So we are in Japan at the moment.
And it's pretty bloody fabulous.
We went to this little quilt show called "Yokohama Quilt Week" which is pretty funny because it goes for only three days. And it's really not that little. Pretty freaking huge, actually. I'm really glad I went. I've never thought my quilts fitted into any particular style. Are they traditional or modern? Both? Who really gives a shit? I quite possibly don't. But it was so good to see that there are Japanese quilters who think like I do with fabric and colour. Except they probably keep to their 1/4 seams better than I do.
I particularly loved this quilt called "Toy Box" by Yukari Otsuka. I'll post more photos when I get home in a couple of weeks and also share my reactions to the show - I took better photos with my good camera.
So yeah - we've been eating a lot of Japanese food (so much yakitori, not enough ramen in my opinion) and the other night at our ryokan we had a fellow explaining the ins and outs of sake. Was rather brilliant. As a result last night I dulled my foot and back pain with a large Asahi beer and a chaser of hot sake. No pain walking home.

The good news (ha! So much good news! I'm in freaking JAPAN, people!) is I found not one, but two Nomura Tailor shops in Kyoto. I dreamt last night of Nani Iro and I need to find an afternoon to go back and get more. I have declared the summer of 2014/15 the summer of Nani Iro tops and skirts.
I'll be honest - the first couple of days here were full of anxiety. It was a massive drama just getting any airline to fly us to Japan thanks to storms in Sydney - and we made it just fine (albeit on a different airline and different service to what we had paid for), but our luggage didn't for two whole days. But now all four of us - us and our ports - are reunited we are having a fantastic time. Not that running around running around Tokyo for half a day looking for t-shirts that fitted us both wasn't fantastic fun! Impossible, but fantastic!
My husband has been practicing his (terrible) Japanese on the staff at Starbucks. He's pretty cute especially when he gets his hand movements for "two shots of coffee" wrong.

How's the serenity?

More later. We're off to find ourselves a bamboo grove.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Geometry Top

Over the last few years quite a few independent pattern companies have popped up which has been fantastic - but very few of them cater for the curvier sewists amongst us. For so long now I have watched my regular-sized friends make the most amazing clothes that I would love to make myself, but don't possess the grading skills to size the pattern up. Also I'm stubborn - if I've just paid $22 for a pattern that doesn't come in my size, why the heck am I spending hours grading something?

Recently Colette Patterns put out a series of patterns which cater for most sizes. I was so elated that I purchased the Moneta pattern immediately. I still have to make one, but when I return from overseas that is on the list.

And then a couple of weeks ago, Katy and Laney, those very hip and happening young designers from Boston, put out a pattern that was not only gorgeous, but that would fit me! Angels sang! Jesus wept! All hail to the Geometry Top


The moment I saw the pattern had been released, I bought it, printed it out, and had it taped up and cut out by the next evening. I actually finished this top off a week ago, but getting time around this place lately to photograph anything, let alone blog it, has been a tad difficult!

I cut out View B for my first Geometry Top (and I say first, because there will be more. Many, many more).

Geometry Top Technical Drawing
Image totes pilfered from Katy and Laney

I had some gorgeous black, grey and white printed voile in the stash bought at Tessuti Fabrics in Surry Hills a couple of summers ago, and then last Saturday purchased some black voile from Addicted to Fabric here in Canberra to act as the back and sleeve contrast. My only problem with the black fabric was that in the rush to read the pattern and get the fabric cut, I told the cutter the wrong amount, and as a result I was short. So the bias strip for the neck had to be joined (no drama) and the sleeves had to be in the front fabric. Which I actually prefer anyway - it's such a nicer fabric that the plain black voile!


I cut a size 24 based on my bust size (and not my hip size) and thankfully Katy and Laney are not one of the companies that refuse to tell you what the finished sizes are so I totally knew how this top was going to turn out. (Yes, there are some indies who just won't tell you. And I've asked. It's like they're scared you're going to cut out the wrong size, or get confused, or perhaps they think their customers are stupid. Who knows.) But all respect to Katy and Laney, because otherwise I would have cut out a size bigger for my hips, and then my shoulders and boobs would have gone all cray-cray and fallen out of my top. Perhaps.

Geometry top 1

It was really windy when we took these photos, so you can't get to see very well how nicely the top drapes, or how those little slits at the front totally make the front piece look shorter. It's not. Total optical illusion. I was going to make a below-knee black pencil skirt to go with this top so I can wear it to work - that will happen. After I get back. (At the moment, I have next to me a list of what to pack, what to do ... and what to sew in three weeks when I return. Out of control with the listage.)

Geometry top 3

My one problem with the printed voile was that my sewing machine hated it. I changed needles. I changed threads. I changed tension. Nothing worked - everytime I hemmed those sleeves in black thread it puckered up and just looked plain ugly. I managed to hem the the bodice with black thread, and then gave it a really good steam to get the puckers out, but in the end I had to use white thread on the sleeves. They still puckered, but at least with the white thread the puckering isn't as obvious.

Geometry top 4

I had to Photoshop the crap out of this photo, as my camera suddenly decided it couldn't deal with the colour black. Jerk. Anyway, the shirt is actually a lot longer than I normally wear, so it bunches a little over my bum, but I like the length. It will be perfect for summer. But an issue has arisen - what colour bra to wear? The front is very sheer - it is so sheer I was worried people would see my 25 cm-long abdominal scar, but luckily you can't. So I wore a nude coloured bra rather than a black one, but you can see the pale back strap through the black voile. Normally I wouldn't mind about such things, but I might need to see how obvious a black bra is going to be from the front, or else live with the shading on the back. Wearing a cami in summer would be too unreasonable. I doubt anyone at work will be offended, or even notice.

I must admit to a little issue with the neck binding. I followed the (totally fantastic) instructions to a tee, but when sewing down the neck binding it didn't mention clipping notches into the neck curve, which is something I normally do. So I didn't. Even steam ironing it didn't get it to sit flat, but washing it and then ironing it again certainly did. So I probably won't clip the seams next time and take my chances with  a wash and an iron.

As I've already said, this won't be my last Geometry Top. In fact it is already on the "things to sew in three weeks" list. It will have a crazy red and cream striped silk voile, and a brown, white and red printed Japanese fabric than a friend bought me a metre of at Tomato about 8 years ago. It's been sitting in my stash ever since, because a metre of something so lush is kind of useless at my size. Until now.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

On why I sew my own clothes

And it's not just because shit fits better when I sew it myself.


This month I've been reading "Overdressed" by Elizabeth Kline. It's a book about fast fashion - a term I will admit I'd not heard before reading this book - and cheap clothes, quality (or lack thereof) and what the actual costs are - to humanity, the environment and the economy.  Most of the time I'm uttering "uh huh" and "totally agree" and "Amen!". And I haven't even gotten to the chapter on home sewing yet.


I thought I should start examining my own practices when it came to shopping and "fast fashion". In the interests of true disclosure, here is a photo of the shop bought tops in my wardrobe. These are the summer tops - in the hope of summer appearing soon, I've already packed away my winter wardrobe. I have other more casual tops in my dresser - a good mix of home sewn and shop bought. You'll note in the photo above that there are nine t-shirts. Sure they are dressy kind of t-shirts and I actually only wear 5 of them on a regular basis, but they are still t-shirts, and as of this year I can now make my own. Even dressy ones for work. Also four of the shirts are exactly the same. Bloody David Jones was having a sale last summer and I was desperate for something to wear. They were cheap-ish - about $29 each I think which for DJs is totally bargain basement.

Also you'll notice that I have five black tops - I wear a lot of black tops. Two of the tops will have to chucked out soon - they are getting to the point of way too much fading and pilling for me to be happy to wear them to work.

Also only two tops are made from natural fibres - silk and cotton. The rest are made from man-made natural products, such as rayon and viscose, except the black sheer one which is pure polyester.


This is the home sewn top section of my summer wardrobe. All are sleeveless except for one (and that one was made last weekend. I have another made last weekend with sleeves - it's in the wash as I write this). The one on the far left is actually just re-fashioned - so I didn't make it, but spent a couple of hours cutting it up into something I could wear. There are six (count them) Simplicity 2938 Not Sorbetto tops. I really like that pattern. But here's the thing - this is the section of the wardrobe that gets worn more often than my store bought tops. The brown and cream tops get worn each week at work, and the sleeved one is about to go on constant rotation (I need to blog it - it's fantastic!).  Except for the scotty dog top, all are natural fibres (silk, cotton or linen) which is mandatory in my sewing - I don't wear synthetic fibres well, and I prefer the feel of natural fibres. I come from North Queensland - where you'd be called a fool if you wore synthetic fibres on a hot day.

Most of these tops probably cost me more than $29 (the cost of my DJs t-shirts) to make when you factor in the fabric, thread and interfacing -  but they are more stylish, get worn more, and have lasted a heck of a lot longer as well. For instance that grey top next to the yellow one was made almost four years ago. It gets worn constantly, and still isn't showing any wear. I'll have it for another 4 years at least.


I was in Big W the other day buying new knickers (because the ones I bought only a year ago had shredded beyond wearability and I think I was scaring the other ladies in the swimming pool change room) when I came across this stand of "nightwear essentials".

So that $4 you are paying for your PJ bottoms and singlet top - what compromises are being made for that to happen? I can't even buy a metre of knit fabric for $4, let alone the notions that go along with making it into a singlet or pair of shorts. And how much was the poor worker that made it paid? The fabric dyer? The factory owner? The transport worker? What kind of horrendous working conditions must these people be working under to produce a garment which costs only $4? Especially when you consider that standard mark up is wholesale x 2 + 20%.

It blows my mind. I don't know how to fix the world problem of poverty in third world nations that allows them to be paid cents for making a garment is often-dangerous conditions. Then add the issue of textile workers who are getting paid a fair wage being laid off in Australia and the US (where the book is based) and other first world nations, and entire factories closing down because "overseas is cheaper".

So let's get back to that first question I asked on why I sew. I sew because I like knowing that what I am wearing has real quality and will last a long time. I sew because I can select ethically grown and dyed fabric if I choose to. I sew because I can determine that the fabric is natural fibre and isn't going to make me sweat and itch and smell. I sew because I don't like wearing exactly the same $4 shirt as some other schmuck in the lift at work.

I sew because I am better able to stamp my style aesthetic on what I sew, than what I buy.

And yes, I sew because it fits better.

My aim by the end of summer is to have all those fancy work t-shirts replaced by home sewn shirts that I will actually wear.  And maybe the shorts I have in my dresser if I can find a good pattern. I only have one store bought skirt in my wardrobe and no dresses - everything else is home-sewn, so this new challenge should be a doddle. For the tops, that is. (Shorts and trousers kind of don't go with sway backs and wide hips.)

I'll be making myself more aware of the fabric I use and buy - although I think this is generally difficult with fabrics that don't have a printed selvage. But I shall try.

I will shortly be sewing my own knickers if these new ones from Big W don't last (they'd better last - they cost me a bomb).

I know a lot of what I have written here might not make sense or even seem contradictory. It's so hard to think of spurning the clothing industry and potentially putting people already earning little money in third world countries out of a job. But I can help in other ways, and being better informed and raising awareness goes a little way towards that goal.  Go and read "Overdressed". And maybe watch some investigative news shows like this one.

And go and sew some of your own clothes.