Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the spirit of yukata ("I gotta make a yukata...")

A few months ago, a close friend introduced me to the products of a  lovely business, named Okan Arts, dedicated to artisan quilts and vintage Japanese textiles.  Located in Seattle Washington, and owned by the lovely Patricia Belyea, this shop offers beautiful fabrics designed for specific traditional Japanese casual garments, called "yukata". Both a brick-and-mortar and e-commerce business, the uniqueness and quality of the textiles offered translate well without much explanation.  Why?  The strong, sturdy 100% cotton fabrics are functionally perfect for their category of Okan Arts' recommended uses, whether yukata-making, or quilting.

I held on to my yukata pieces, not knowing what they should become. I had a million ideas in my head, and wanted to somehow respect the intention of the fabric in my use of it.  I consulted my best friend's dad, who spent a good number of years living in Japan, who told me what the characters on one of my yukata pieces meant. (And thank God, really, because I didn't realize that the fabric was one length with a motif upside down on one end, and right side up on the other, so it could traverse the shoulder without needing a seam.)  

Because I like to think about my pieces before creating them, I considered the definitions of two traditional Japanese garments before deciding.

The kimono (着物?, きもの) is a Japanese traditional garment. The word "kimono", which actually means a "thing to wear" (ki "wear" and mono "thing"), has come to denote these full-length robes. The standard plural of the word kimono in English is kimonos, but the unmarked Japanese plural kimonois also sometimes used.

yukata (浴衣?) is a Japanese garment, a casual summer kimono[1] usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined.

I do not know how accurate the explanations are in this video I found while perusing YouTube (the video is under the heading of "Life in Korea", although she does seem to be taking a wider scope view of her Asian experience, which includes yukata. I can certainly say that this level of complication and adornment would never fly in American culture.  But it fascinates me nonetheless...

So what would this mean in my American life?  What information can/should I use?  What should I take away?

I pondered this...

So, I thought, if there were such a thing, what would the American equivalent of yukata be?  Well, we currently embrace athleisure, which adds sport or movement to the idea of casual loungewear, but takes away tradition and beauty (for the most part).  Summer  weather might not be the garment's focus for me, since I spend so much time in climate-controlled environments.  Personally, I would need something that straddles the worlds of hot and cold, so the most versatile garment would be ideal. For my family, trips to take the kids to various activities, or to the supermarket/library/mall equals no audience, and thus, no effort, really.  Truth be told, comfort is key, and beauty is a plus. To create a relatively shapeless, soft, roomy garment that prettily responds to the body, but not necessarily the dress form, became my mission.  What would make this particular garment unique?  The beauty of the yukata fabric.

Planning to ignore much of the essence of the yukata, I did investigate some interesting yukata links (below), which informed my making:

  1. In Japan, students given a special school day to wear yukata.
  2. How to wear a yukata.
  3. How to make a yukata.

In a very happy moment of east meeting west, I looked at one of the great yukata fabrics I have, and was reminded of a favorite cotton from B&J Fabrics here in NYC.  Combined with a powerful green unifying fabric to join pieces, these three fabrics will sing together to become project #2.  Project #2 will embrace a bit more of the yukata idea, especially in the sleeve design.

Yukata fabric (base) looks like matches, right?

Before beginning, there were things I had to/wanted to notice/avoid/embrace: 


A yukata is a great travel garment because it folds neatly into a square, effortlessly.
Body movement is unrestricted, and there is no "fitting" required.


No belts or closures needed.  Any dressing complication would take away the "easy" wear for me.
T-shirt fabric for body, with only a lower border, allows me to cut the yukata piece differently, to allow faces to be upright and comical on the finished piece.


The oversized sleeve trend reminiscent of yukata
Even in Asia, this Denim yukata evokes western culture

Historically, these funny Japanese characters, represent wisdom and foolishness, according to my friend's dad.
Prettier on the body than on the dressform, the epitome of loungewear.
It folds up into a flat rectangle.  Perfect for travel.

So, in a nutshell, the irony/humor of this much thought to sew four rectangles together.  But, I promise you,  these will be some very well-loved rectangles!

You can shop for yukata fabrics on the Okan arts website -!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

McCalls gets it absolutely right! Holiday gift ideas, too!

On location right here in our fair city, the perfect design choices, model, and fabric suggestions - all at once!  You can't beat that!  Seriously. Not at all.

So here's a holiday gift idea for the sewing enthusiast in your life!  How about one (or all!) of these patterns, and a gift certificate and a map of locations for the fabric to sew them up!?

You can buy patterns here.

You can buy fabric (without leaving home) here or here or here or here (among many others).

You can buy a map here.

This is all just too exciting for me...

Sweating the small stuff. My fabricaholic confession...

On a recent trip into the garment district, I stopped into a store I have visited many times before, and at times, have had some mixed feelings about.  True to my "if you don't have something nice to say..." philosophy, I won't make this post about that store, specifically.  It has more to do with just a "Are there any rules in business anymore?" kinda feeling this encounter left me with.

This particular store has a small bin of leather scraps. I was looking through them, just out of curiosity. I found some very pretty matching scraps, which, with some creativity, could have been incorporated into some projects I have in my head. Now, the shape of these scraps did not disguise their journey.  They were clearly just waste from a small factory, but... flip them over, and they were each marked with what were clearly OUTRAGEOUS prices, considering they clearly otherwise should have been trash.

So fine.  Don't buy them, and move on... right? Why am I complaining?

Here's the thing.  The staffer comes over to me, notes my sad adoration, and offers me the stack, at what would have been at least an 80% discount.  Maybe he recognized me from past visits... maybe not.

In any case... WHAT????!!!!

And sadly, it is gonna take everything I've got not to just run there on Thursday and buy those scraps, even if the discount is less steep...

That shows you just how crazy I am... dreaming of trash!

Nevermind.  I'm going back.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Shopping for Leather and Suede in the Garment District

An aisle of skins at Global Leathers on W. 35th Street.

Updated post - originally posted in September of 2011, but the district's offerings have expanded since then!

Updated again (2/27/15) - Here's a link to some great information on leather preparation processes that bring great leather to you...

Updated again (10/17/16) - Some stores have closed, moved, changed their offerings, and new ones have arrived.  You can view the leather map for an updated view of what's available.

Note: Check out a fairly recent post on a new place (NAT leather) to find leather in the garment district.

Come along on "The Hard Stuff" Tour on June 21, 2013 (past) - there will be more tours in the future!  Click the link to see what tours are happening soon!

Good news: Leather and suede skins and trims are still plentiful in the Garment District.
Bad news: They aren't cheap and you need to know what you are doing before you sit down to sew with leather or suede.

To the best of my knowledge, there are three stores in NYC's Garment District that deal primarily in leather and suede skins: Global Leathers; Leather Impact; and Leather, Suede, Skins. A few other stores in the area sell some leather and suede in addition to their regular offerings, such as Mood Fabrics and Botani Trims. Prices for skins appear to be similar among all the stores: approximately $35 to $55 and up per skin, depending on size and type of skin. At any of these stores you will have no problem finding beautiful skins of all types: cattle, pig and hog, deer, sheep and lamb, goat and kid, and exotic and fancy leathers.

The best advice I can give budding leather sewists is to know before you go. Don't expect the leather stores' staff to have the time or inclination to teach you how to sew animal skins or to advise you on which type of skin to use, and none of them sell books or tools for sewing with leather. I read the out-of-print book Sewing with Leather and Suede by Sandy Scrivano (Lark Books, 1998) before I bought my first skin two weeks ago, and found it very helpful. A fellow shopper at one of the stores told me FIT offers classes on leather sewing. If you don't know what type of skin to buy for your project you'll walk into one of these stores and be overwhelmed by all the choices, or you'll buy the wrong type of skin and won't be happy with your garment's outcome. You also buy leather by the whole skin, so I strongly recommend you have your pattern with you so you can determine exactly how many skins you're going to need.

Here are my quick impressions of the three leather and suede stores:

Global Leathers (253 W. 35th St., 9th Fl, 212-244-5190, M-F 9 am - 5pm): The largest of the three stores in terms of retail square footage. Helpful signage identifying the types of skins. I bought a roughly 10-inch square of uber-soft black lambskin for $2 from the scrap bin in the back of the store. Annoyed by two Parsons students who were cutting huge swatches from skins when the staff wasn't looking.

Leather Impact (256 W. 38th St., 212-302-2332, M-F 9 am - 5pm): The best selection of leather and suede trims and bindings. Thought it would be the busiest of the three stores since it's on the street level and can attract walk-by traffic, but it's quieter than the others. With prices at parity with the other leather dealers, this is a good thing if you want fast service.

Leather, Suede, Skins, Inc. 261 W. 35th St., 11th Fl, 212-967-6616, M-F 9 am - 5pm): By far the busiest and liveliest of the three leather stores. Run by a knowledgeable family--mother, father, adult daughter--who are helpful if they think you are serious about buying from them. The mother is not above a little friendly sales pressure, but if you ask she'll also tell you if she thinks you'd look better in the buff leather than you would in the dark tan. No photos allowed.

Other stores that sell a limited selection of leather and suede skins: Botani Trims on W. 36th (they actually just opened a leather department to court the handbag market), Mood Fabrics on W. 37th (decent selection in a small corner on their lower floor), Prime Fabrics on W. 35th (just a handful of real skins but a good selection of fakes too), G&R Fabrics on W. 39th (there's a pile of seconds and damaged skins at reduced prices near the store's front window), and M&J Trims on Sixth Ave. (for leather and suede trims).

Right now (1/30/15) - Metro Textiles, Fabrics & Fabrics, B&J Fabrics, Day to Day (closing soon) and Paron Fabrics have some exciting offerings, too!

Let me know if I'm missing any stores, ok?

I loved the leather trims at Leather Impact. Five dollars a yard per trim seemed to be about the average price.

Another view of Leather Impact

A scrap bin at Global Leathers. Suggestion: Buy some leather or suede scraps and practice sewing on these before you commit to buying an entire skin.

The skins corner at Mood Fabrics.

M & J Trimming Fall Clearance is here! 50% Off Select Styles of Ribbons Trims Buttons and more! Valid 9/2/14-12/21/14. Shop now!