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:
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:
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:
- Work out what size to sew
- 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.
- 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.
- Add seam allowances to pattern pieces and label with values.
- 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.
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.
- Japan Lovely Crafts on Etsy – good selection of sewing pattern books, well presented and easy to browse.
- 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.
- 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.
- Japanese Sewing Books – lots of useful book reviews and information such as how to understand a typical Japanese sewing pattern and Japanese sewing terms translated into English
- How to sew Japanese sewing patterns – eBook by Rin Gomura-Elkan
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.