Getting started with Japanese sewing patterns

by Stephanie on 29 September 2016

in How to...,Making clothes,Sewing

 Open Japanese pattern book and magazine

There are loads of great Japanese sewing pattern books with amazing designs. Some of them have been translated into English and some are only available in Japanese.

Almost all the books are organised in the same way: pictures of the clothes first, followed by diagrams and instructions for each project and, finally, a full-size pattern pullout at the back of the book. Construction techniques don’t tend to be explained in much detail so it helps if you’ve got a bit of sewing experience or don’t mind experimenting.


Japanese patterns tend to be on the small side – in fit and in height. This is great for short people like me, but you will probably need to lengthen patterns if you are taller. The Japanese patterns I’ve got are all sized for a woman who is 160cm (5′ 4″) tall.

The books often don’t include patterns in larger sizes – check before buying – and if you are curvy, you may need to add extra shaping such as darts. For more information on sizing, see Sew in Love’s guide to converting Japanese clothing sizes to western sizes.

There are size tables in the sewing books or on the pattern printouts. To give you an idea of the typical range of sizes, this is the table from my book everyday tops:

Size Bust Waist Hips Height
7 78cm 59cm 86cm 160cm
9 83cm 64cm 90cm 160cm
11 88cm 69cm 94cm 160cm
13 93cm 74cm 98cm 160cm

Seam allowances

Japanese patterns don’t have seam allowances added to them – you need to draw them on yourself when you trace off the pattern pieces. Look at the layout diagram to work out how much seam allowance to add as it will be labelled there. Purl Soho’s tutorial on drafting Japanese sewing patterns gives a step-by-step guide.

Japanese sewing pattern books in English

Some of the most popular Japanese pattern books have been translated into English. This certainly makes things a whole lot easier. Some favourites:
stylish dress bookstylish dress book smocksbasic blacksimple modern sewingfeminine wardrobesew chic
There are quite a few more on Amazon UK. See also this list of Japanese sewing books in English.

Step-by-step approach for patterns in Japanese

If you don’t speak Japanese (and I don’t) then the books that haven’t been translated from Japanese can look a little daunting. However, because most of the instructions are shown as diagrams you can generally work out what to do without understanding a word. This is the approach I take:

  1. Work out what size to sew
  2. Trace the right pattern pieces from the printed sheet that comes with the book. Transfer any notches and other markings and label all pattern pieces.
  3. Study the layout diagram and work out what seam allowances to add where. Sketch a new layout diagram for your fabric and label seam allowances.
  4. Add seam allowances to pattern pieces and label with values.
  5. Study the diagrams that show you how to construct the garment, and write a set of instructions for putting the pieces together. I just work from the diagrams and the fabric, and don’t bother trying to translate any of the instructions – my method might not be quite what the author had in mind but as long as it works OK, I don’t think it matters too much.

Hand-written instructions in English for a Japanese sewing pattern

Where to buy Japanese sewing books

  • Amazon UK – for the books that have been translated into English
  • Simply Pretty Japanese Beads Books eBay shop – a huge selection of crafts and clothes books with good pictures of the patterns. Prices are in UK pounds. I was impressed with the service when I bought a couple of things a while back.
  • Amazon Japan – not that easy to find your way around as a lot of it is in Japanese, but you can look inside many of the books.

Useful resources

  • Japan Couture Addicts – French group blog showing clothes that people have made from Japanese sewing books. Very comprehensive with lots of pictures from the most popular books. The blog is in French – and while my French isn’t great, it’s a lot better than my Japanese.

Note: I originally published this post back in September 2010 but things have changed a lot since then. I’ve checked and updated the information to include books translated into English, and new resources links and places to buy.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruqayya October 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm


I just wanted to add that another great website for Japanese pattern books, They carry a wide and varied range and the price seems reasonable – Free international shipping and they will even pay any custom and excise fees if items are being shipped to UK and Germany!.

Just look under Japanese, Books, Lifestyle, Home Arts.



Stephanie October 22, 2010 at 11:14 am

Thanks – I’ll take a look!



ed opat April 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm

where can I buy patterns for mens Yukata ( XL) ???? Domo


Stephanie July 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Not sure if you need to buy a pattern – you could look at the free instructions for making a yukata in any size by Amparo Bertram.


Junna-vi November 25, 2012 at 2:42 am

i’ve been eyeing this book/magazine i saw at a bookstore yesterday but it was written in japanese T.T but when i saw your article, then i thought that i’d buy that book then o.O


Jessie March 3, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I’m looking for Lolita patterns in English but am not succeeding…please help :(


Stephanie March 4, 2014 at 10:35 am

Hi Jessie,

Sorry, I didn’t have much success either – most of the patterns seem to be in Japanese. One approach I did see was to take inspiration from the pictures in books like the Gothic Lolita Bible and look for patterns in English that are similar (by Simplicity, New Look etc). See (Apologies if this is your website – just noticed the names are the same!). The Japanese patterns are not that bad to follow (honestly!) as there are loads of pictures – you don’t need to be able to read Japanese.

Good luck!



Carol March 12, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Does anyone know where I can find a size conversion chart for Japanese patterns to US sizing?


Stephanie March 13, 2014 at 9:50 am

Hi Carol

Try this – there’s a chart about halfway down the page showing conversions between women’s clothing sizes – it includes Japan, UK, US and Europe.



Carol March 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm

What sizes do Japanese patterns come in? I am thinking of ordering Adult Couture Dress and Smock Blouse #21. I am afraid it will not be realistic. I am tall and size 14 or L-XL.


Stephanie March 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

You might find that you need to alter the pattern to make it longer. The Japanese patterns I’ve got are all sized for a woman who is 160cm (5′ 4″) tall.


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