Project journal. Adventures in machine-sewing
..and making traditional Japanese kimono for my dolls.
My first sewing journal was about my first steps in making BJD clothes, and ended just before I moved to sewing machine. Oh boy, machine-sewing takes away all the tedium and slowness of hand-sewing! I went all-out -- so much that I spent all of February and into March making doll clothes, and never got around to practising a faceup to meet my monthly goal.
RL has also been quite busy as of late. On the days when I didn't have time or energy after work to do photoshoots, it was relaxing to come home and spend the evening sitting on the floor or at worktable cutting fabrics, machining stitches, and following sewing instructions. I'm getting a hang of the entire sewing process from start to finish, and it's become a surprisingly enjoyable BJD-adjacent hobby.
Project 1. Cushions for the doll bench, upgraded
Last time I used a sewing machine was more than half my lifetime ago, so I started learning it by making new cushions for the doll bench, to replace the hand-sewn ones. The speed of machining means I'm less tempted to be sloppy or cut corners to speed up the process, which happened a lot while hand-sewing. I also took this chance to make cushions with a gusset (the bench seats).
Made in late January. Halcyon and Justinian approve of their upgraded seating, and so do I. One day I'll repurpose the floral cushions into throws.
Project 2. Haori
Now that I was familiar with machining, time to start making the things I really wanted to make: traditional Japanese clothing. Everyone in the crew has to have their own kimono! I've decided to buy BJD kimono exclusively from Volks, but as much as I love their kimono sets, I also want to have specific colour combinations for each doll. Making them myself is the best way. Kimono is also made primarily from rectangles, so for novice me it'd be relatively easy to measure and cut the fabric, and re-scale measurements.
For culturally faithful sewing, I followed this YouTube video by Wakamono Kimono Lab. I initially wanted to draft and measure the haori pattern myself, but decided in the end to buy the pattern from the website. That was the right decision for my experience level: it was so much easier to have a base pattern on hand that I could then adjust to my dolls' measurements. Plus, Shimizu san is very friendly. His YouTube tutorials are clear, straightforward, and oriented towards novices. It has tutorials for all the pieces I want to make, and resizing them for dolls is going to be a good learning experience for me.
I didn't sew in muslin first, but went straight to fabric -- not the best idea, because I had to adjust measurements on the fly and figure out how to do the sewing at the same time, but without much leisure to make mistakes. Next time: sew with muslin first, so I can make all the mistakes and figure out all the measurements and not worry that I'm wasting better fabrics.
I made three haori in the first half of February.
First piece in blue cotton (top) - the first-pass garment where I was sorting out proportions on the fly. Not quite correct yet.
Second piece in dark blue-black (bottom right) - proportions are better here, but I think I made the shoulders and sleeves just a bit too short. The fabric was a bit satin-y and sheer, and somewhat trickier to sew. These two pieces were sewn for my existing crew, so I could check the garment sizings on them as I went.
The third piece in red cotton (bottom left) was made for a doll not yet home - DV Achelous. I resized the pattern to measurements given by Dream Valley, and just went ahead and sewed it. It is also a female-cut haori, with different connections (ie. furi and miyatsu-guchi) between the sleeve and the haori body, vs. the other two haori which have a male cut. This is the only piece of clothing I'm making for Achelous ahead of time; when I receive the doll, I'll find out if my estimating and measuring was accurate.
I'm now satisfied enough with my output that these are the first pieces of clothing that I'm happy to keep in my dolls' wardrobes. Justinian wore the blue-black haori in this photoshoot.
Project 3. Hakama
Out of the different pieces of Japanese clothing I was most interested in sewing a hakama. This also looked like the most tricky piece to do. Since I was feeling good about sewing haori, I decided to tackle hakama next.
I started off sewing andon hakama (skirt version) using this tutorial from W.Kimono Lab. I didn't buy a pattern, instead estimated proportions from the video to make an initial draft pattern. I sewed the first draft in muslin, so I could cut down the garment if I needed to adjust measurements -- and I had to, because it was too wide at first and I needed to experiment with how to fold the pleats. Better too big than too small!
W.Kimono Lab did not have a tutorial for umanori hakama (pants version), so I was on my own for this. This stumped me for a while. I checked out a few resources—
- This written tutorial. Might be historically accurate but seemed rather complicated, plus the instructions made my eyes glaze over.
- Billy Matsunaga's YouTube tutorial for women's andon hakama. Very useful and clear, but she hasn't made a tutorial for umanori hakama yet.
—which were informative, but left me no closer to my goal. In the end, I cobbled together a pattern based on my first attempt to sew pants, and the fabric dimensions I already got from andon hakama, then used W.Kimono Lab's method to sew it, with some modifications to make the pant legs. I wasn't expecting my hack to work on the first go -- but it did! I was quite astounded. (I am very thankful that I jumped into the deep end and made pants for my second ever sewing project. That garment wasn't great, but the experience in pattern creation and sizing paid off massively here.)
Left to right: Hakama from a Volks fullset (which was a very handy reference); umanori hakama; andon hakama - both sewn by me in muslin.
I was confident enough of both patterns now to do it in the final fabrics.
Made in late February - early March. Blue andon hakama for Syr; I might keep that blue haori in her wardrobe, or I might make her a new one‡. Brown umanori hakama for Vallant, but since he's body-less it's being modelled by Justinian. And no, I haven't knotted the himo (ties) properly - I will sit down and learn it soon.
‡Just like that: I don't like these clothes, so I'll make new ones. Boy, does it feel liberating and satisfying to be able say that about BJD clothes. I'm no longer restricted to what's commercially available.
I'm well on the way to making full outfit sets of traditional Japanese clothing. I've only been sewing for 3-ish months, and didn't expect to have the skills to make fullsets so soon. This is exciting!
I've already made a haori to go with Vallant's hakama. Next up will be to sew the kimono/juban top to finish off the sets for Syr and Vallant - a good milestone to hit. Then sew one or two full kimono with obi for Halcyon. I'm not too pleased with the hand-sewn kimono I'd made for her, so I want to make some nicer ones‡ and maybe redo that kimono on the machine.
And after I'm done with traditional Japanese clothing? Casual modern clothing. I want to make shirts, pants and dresses, and thereby take the first steps towards my other sewing endgame: BJD cosplay.
I also want to refine some sewing skills. Recalculating patterns is still a mystery to me: right now I'm half doing it by trial and error. I'd like to eventually develop equations/math to calculate fabric sizes from any body measurement. I still get confused by sewing instructions and sometimes have no idea what I'm doing... but I'm learning to trust the process and just go for it!