Tyo wants a new housecoat. Her old one, to be fair, no longer reached her knees and was past due to be handed down to Syo. I had her almost convinced that she could take mine and I would make myself one, but I wasn’t really feeling it (I have a vision of a Lady Grey Sweater-made-full-length insane housecoat, which would be awesome but will require like six bajillion metres of fabric.) And then she found Simplicity 7640, the “kimono” pattern in my box of kids patterns.
This particular pattern has been in the “stash” for a long while. Once upon a time, c. 1988, my mother-in-law used it to sew Karate Kid Hallowe’en costumes for my husband.
Of course, I can’t just whip up a costume-grade Simplicity pattern into a housecoat and leave it at that. That would be too easy. Not when I have “Making Kimono and Japanese Clothes” by Jenni Dobson on the shelf.
This is one of a slew of helpful books I acquired back when we lived in a condo with a communal garbage-house. Aside from the big trash bins, people were always leaving stuff for others to take—furniture, curtains and, on one notable occasion, a really good selection of books. I wasn’t sewing much at that point, but how could I leave something like this behind? Aside from lots of information on traditional Japanese cloth, decoration styles, and clothing construction, there’s pattern-drafting instruction for a number of garments including kimono. (Incidentally, while the Simplicity pattern describes the blue and white version as a kimono, I suspect Ms. Dobson would disagree. The short, jacket-like garments in her book, though similarly constructed, have their own names.)
I dutifully pulled it out, ogling the gorgeous designs and weighing how much energy I was willing to put into a housecoat for my eleven-year-old. Sashiko? Not happening. Shibori? Ah, no. Applique? … now that might be about my speed. Depending on the applique. Not terribly traditional applique, either.
Which brings us to another book scored at the same time.
It’s, um, a little dated. But covers a variety of basic applique techniques, even if the projects make me want to scrub my brain. The big one I hadn’t tried yet? Using a fusible web to stabilize and hold the appliques in place until they’re stitched down.
Apparently this is a big deal.
So I swung by Sewing World on my way home one day, and upon asking for fusible web was handed a metre of 18″-wide Steam-a-Seam Lite.
Yes, the same stuff I’ve been using lo these many moons in my knit hems. Apparently it’s the bomb for the applique. Who knew.
Tyo wanted a lotus.
Even better. You can make a lotus out of just a bunch of spindle-shapes, which is a shape that I actually CAN zig-zag around without beating my skull in.
So, in a fit of zeal, I set to work one weekend afternoon.
I have to say, I think the White has already paid for herself in just this one project. Dude. First off, the wide-mouth zig-zag foot is EXACTLY what Ann Boyce (and, no doubt, everyone else who does applique) recommends. Win. And there’s no way my light, plastic Janome could’ve kept up the constant, heavy, top-speed motion of doing that much zig-zagging. She would’ve shimmied across the table and un-threaded her bobbin at least once per leaf.
The White may not straight-stitch well, but she can zigzag like a trooper. The stitches are even and smooth. The bobbin-threading messed up once during the entire marathon applique-session. One other time, the sheer amount of vibration rattled the fly-wheel just loose enough that the stitches started losing power. Other than that—perfect. Smooth, even feed. No complaining about the continual, high pace. The heavy metal machine stays where she’s put, not moving around under her own vibrations.
Just so the Janome’s feelings aren’t too hurt, it was really handy having a spare machine just to wind bobbins. The bobbin-winder system on the White is pretty much the same one as on the Featherweight… i.e. a little primitive. And you go through a lot of bobbins doing applique…
So using a fusible web totally does the trick. Well, at least for these simple shapes. I still have doubts about my ability to make the stitch turn tighter curves, but for this shape it was easy.
The one other bit of technique I learned from Ann Boyce was about making narrow points. When approaching the point, you start cranking down your stitch width gradually (doing this while still guiding the fabric one-handed is a bit of a trick…) to almost nothing right at the tip. Then you pivot the fabric, start again, and gradually bring the stitch-width back up to full (whatever your full width is. I like 3.)
This is not the most super-easy technique. Sometimes I got it, sometimes (maybe more often) I didn’t. But it was worth a try, and when it did work it looks super nice. When it didn’t, I have clumps and loose threads showing at the points.
Still, I’m pretty proud of myself. The print fabric is a Japanese-inspired quilting-cotton that was perfect for the design, plus some black shirting with a textural stripe that looks great in real life but doesn’t show at all in the photos. I wish I’d had enough of the print to bind all the internal seams, but I only did the hems.
I could go on about the instructions, the points of difference (and similarity) between the Simplicity costume pattern and the “traditional” kimono (as described by Ms. Dobson, anyway), and where I screwed up and where I completely abandoned ship. But I think this post is already long and rambling enough, so I’ll end it with a quick sum up:
- Random scrounged books finally come in useful. YAY!
- Good job, White! (Don’t worry, Janome, I still love you too.)
- Applique fusible web for the win!