Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pattern Magic: learning Japanese through sewing

Do you enjoy challenging yourself in sewing projects? 

I've never looked at a pattern and thought 'no way I could make that'. Being willing to give anything a go is the best way to learn to sew. It can also be a good way to give yourself a headache, or to spend years making one dress (I have a couple of those unfinished projects in my sewing box...). It's also the reason I ended up with a ballgown, a party dress with a boned bodice and lots of Hong Kong binding - you are sure to learn heaps if you just jump in and try!

The Pattern Magic books are a favourite of mine. These delightfully quirky sewing projects might seem a wee bit impractical as day wear (at what occasion does one wear a dress with three cubes sewn into the left bust?) but I promise you they are LOADS of fun.

Pattern Magic 1; Bruce in background inspecting the veranda for possums.

For the 2011 Tessuti competition Linen and Lace I had a go at Dress 11 from Pattern Magic 1 (page 29). It's the dress with the cheeky gathered hole at hip level.

The first issue was translating the instructions from Japanese because the English volume had not yet been released - a tough gig when one's proficiency in Japanese extends to counting from one to ten. After spending some time with a Japanese-English dictionary I ended up just using the diagrams, which are fairly self-explanatory.

The second thing you need to have for the Pattern Magic projects is a block - that's the basic bodice pattern customised to fit your measurements. You can find these at the back of each book, or use your own if you've already created one.

The pattern for this dress is created in three stages - first, modifying the basic block to extend the skirt and adding the style lines; second, adding in the slashing lines; and third, spreading the pieces to create the four final pieces of the pattern.

This looks more like something from my high school maths homework than sewing

If you have never slashed and spread a pattern before, don't worry - it's easy and there is less gore involved than sounds! Use a ruler to measure and make a toile first (that's a test run for your garment - make one out of el cheapo material that is a similar structure to the material you want to use for your final garment).

Slashing and spreading - this creates the ease used to gather the hole in the bodice.

The final dress is made with a cream lightweight Zin linen, with a buttered cream Japanese lace overlaid on panel B of the dress (which spreads from under the left arm around the back to the right knee).  All the seams are French seams, because why not? French seams are magnificent.

First step of the French seams completed
Wrong side of dress showing the finished French seams

To finish the edge of the top of the bodice I used a piece of the lace about one inch wide, folded in half, sewed the raw edges and turned right side out.

Detail of lace overlay and lace binding

The straps are made the same way as the bodice edge - tubes of lace.

Lace straps at the back

The dress is quite short on both sides, so if you are thinking of making this one and would prefer to flash less leg, then add on a couple of inches to the side hems and integrate them into the points of the hem at the mid front and back.
Back view of gathering
Back view of lace

The Pattern Magic projects are definitely not in the 'easy sew' category but are really worthwhile if you want to have a go at something a bit different. You will be glad you did!

Front view of gathering. Lovely!

You can see the Tessuti entry here. Thanks to my lovely friends Elise and Andrew for taking the photos :)


  1. This is a beautifully designed dress and it looks great in the linen. It's a shame if these amazing patterns become museum pieces gathering dust in the wardrobe because they aren't practical for everyday wear. I'm wondering how often you wear it, it seems like you could dress it up or down.

  2. Very astute observations Amy...the answer to your last question is not very! That's why I've pledged to make more 'normal' stuff for a while.