Victorian Era Undergarments: The Chemise Sewing (Stage 1)

Project 7, part 3 – Linen Closet (Part 1, part 2 here)

My Featherweight got a tune-up recently and she’s flying now! ❤

Welcome back to the Victorian Era Undergarments project! It may have been…six months since the last installment of this project? 😬 Yikes! My push to get back to this was twofold. The first is all of you! The most-liked type of post on my poll was historical reproductions (followed closely by restorations, remakes, and spotlights) – so thank you so much to everyone who responded! ❤ The second push is that I acquired The Victorian Dressmaker vol. 2 and I’m really enthused to sew a dress out of it! Which means finishing up my undergarments so I can get on to the meat and potatoes! 😀

This week I was pretty busy prepping for my Iaido rank test (I passed, thanks to all the help I received from Sensei and my senpai!), so I didn’t have time to do much more than get the chemise in motion. I have a “current projects” shelf in my sewing room and it took me a hot minute to unearth it from under various fabrics and trims!

Don’t judge me haha! Space is limited, so I work with what I’ve got! 😀

Once I did, though I was ready to get to work. The first step was sewing the side seams, and I decided to use French seams because linen – particularly loose-woven linen like what I’m using – is quite prone to fraying. Enclosing the seams would ensure that an undergarment like this that requires a good deal of frequent washing would stay intact over the long haul. Flat felling was more common in the period, but French seams were seen in undergarments, and are actually less annoying to me than flat felling. Plus, I’m not as big a fan of the second seam line on the finished side of the garment!

This is currently a Parker chemise.

I did try the chemise on with just pins holding in the side seams before I sewed it, and it’s a little hard to envision how it’s going to look finished, honestly. As best as I can tell, the armscyes are the correct size for me, but the neckline looks awfully low. This latter point can be fixed in post with lace or ruffles, if need be, or just left alone as no one will be seeing this undergarment once I’m dressed! The width from the bust downward also seems loose, but from looking at extant garments this is more than likely correct. I’m just more used to modern foundation garments like slips that are meant to be quite form-fitting. Basically, I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to fit other than conjecture and comparison with extant images (many of which are drawn rather than photographed, and thus may bear little relation to reality), so as long as it isn’t too small for me I’m just going to go with it and see how it turns out. At a later date, I could always return to this and make a new one, armed with additional knowledge about how it works under future garments I’ve sewn/worn!

Detail from Bath of the Nymphs by Francesco Hayez, 1831.

As I was sewing, I actually started wondering about the fabric itself – I know linen is period-accurate, but I wasn’t particularly clear on the details! It turns out that “[t]he world’s oldest woven garment is made of linen. The Tarkhan Dress a long-sleeved shift with a pale grey stripe was unearthed from an Egyptian tomb in 1913 and has been radiocarbon-dated at over 5,000 years old.” (Source.) Linen’s history stretches back at least 36,000 years, however, based on archaeological fragments! Flax, the plant that is the source for linen, is part of a family of plants that produce bast fibers (in Japan, another one – hemp/asa – was utilized rather than flax), but it is quite labor-intensive to process and a mechanized flax spinning machine wasn’t invented until 1810.

I’m not a huge fan of the Industrial Revolution in general, but I do appreciate machine-woven textiles.

Linen has higher conductivity than cotton (which is why it feels cool to the touch) but less elasticity (which is why it wrinkles so much). It also gets stronger when wet rather than weaker, making it ideal for things like sails/rope, and also undergarments that might be subjected to sweat! By the mid-Victorian era due to the decreased price and increased availability of cotton, linen was no longer used as often for outer garments, but continued to be preferred for undergarments. It was also loved for things such as tablecloths, napkins, towels, and other things that are still referred to as “linens” today! And, increasingly, the finer linens (particularly Irish linen) became a luxury textile rather than a homespun one.

Maybe one day I’ll spin and weave my own fabric, but I’ll need a LOT more free time lol.

I’m not quite sure that my chemise is up to the standards of a “luxury garment,” but as it comes together I’m hopeful that it will at least be utilitarian! 🙂 So join me in the next installment of this project here on Mukashi no Sewing where I will be finishing up the chemise and maybe even getting started on the drawers! ❤

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Reminder: 昔のSewing Poll and Hiatus!

My choices for at-home practice are the backyard on dry days, or a strip of hardwood floor in our den on wet ones! 😀

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Just a reminder that I’m in final prep mode for my rank test on Saturday, and that the blog will return to full project posts on Tuesday, April 12.

If you haven’t yet, please do take a moment to respond to my blog poll! I’m very grateful for the answers I’ve gotten already, and I look forward to working on more projects that interest you all! ❤

Thank you so much again for your voting and comments – and also for your patience while I polish my skills in preparation to test at the upcoming Iaido seminar! I look forward to hearing from all of you, and to seeing you back soon here at Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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昔のSewing Poll (and brief hiatus!)

I can’t wait to get out in nature again more this spring/summer!

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! I’m preparing for another rank test in Iaido in less than two weeks, so I will have to take a brief hiatus from working on projects in order to focus all my energy on my practice. I’ll return to full project posts on Tuesday, April 12 – although there will be a short “Hi, I’m still alive!” post up on the 5th as well! ❤

In the interim, I would love it if you would be so kind as to respond to my poll below and let me know what kind of content you enjoy here, and would like to see more of! You may select more than one answer, and if there’s something you would like me to do here that isn’t mentioned please leave a comment below so I can hear about it. I would also love to hear from you in the comments about what time periods interest you – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a series of medieval European-themed projects, which is a bit out of my 1800s wheelhouse, but is a time and place I’ve got a lot of interest in!

Thank you so much again for your voting and comments – and also for your patience while I polish my skills in preparation to test at the upcoming Iaido seminar! I look forward to hearing from all of you, and to seeing you back soon here at Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Quilted Lining (Stage 2)

Project 9, part 8 – Keeping Warm (Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7 here)

It’s so…something! 😂

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! I’ve managed to make some more progress on the lining of the coat…although let me tell you I am not getting this finished before spring. Mostly because it’s the 22nd of March as I’m posting this, and thus spring is already here! (Unless you’re one of my charming and delightful Southern Hemisphere readers, in which case…my plan is still to have this finished before spring!) I don’t plan on showing every inch of progress of this stage as it’s quite slow going, and much of it will look the same to you (and to me, if I’m honest).

Pictured: much the same, for hours on end.

I’ve cut the huge section of quilted cotton for the upper torso portion of the jacket, and it’s definitely “rustic,” shall we say. Maybe “wonky,” if you’re not feeling quite as generous. 😀 If this were going to be the final layer, I most certainly would have used paper patterning to get precision cuts. But it’s not – I’ll be adding the decorative silk lining on top of it when I’m done – and the time spent on this is already boggling my mind (and hurting my hands). So I rough-cut sections of quilted cotton, and if there are some additional strips here and there it doesn’t matter as it will all be covered up anyway!

Wherever I can, I’m securing the quilted cotton to itself rather than the jacket. Fewer stitches in the antique fabric means fewer points of failure from a textile perspective, for one. For another, it’s a huge pain in the butt to do as I have to be very careful to not let the stitches show through to the other side, which takes even more time than just the baseline hand-sewing. Whew!

Billy Matsunaga is just delightful. I could listen to her all day!

While I was generally researching this jacket, I ended up down a rabbit hole of Japanese cold-weather clothing – as is pretty normal for me, haha! Billy’s video is really worth a watch if you have the time, but if you don’t, I’ll summarize – Japanese houses get super chilly in the winter because they’re (generally – with the exception of Hokkaido) built for Japanese summers. If you haven’t been to Japan in the summer…oof. It’s sticky. Very hot, very humid – you will want as much airflow as possible! So in the winter rather than turning up the heat, it’s preferred to layer up.

Today’s idea of warmth and early America’s version are two very different interpretations. Today’s room temperatures in winter usually range between 68 and 76 degrees. …On 21 December 1797, John Innes Clark of Providence, Rhode Island, described this first month of winter as follows: “This month has been more pleasant. It is however, exceeding cold, the thermometer in our dining room with a good fire being about 48 degrees.”

From the Winter 2015 issue of The Friends of Carlyle House Newsletter

The above quote relates to the US, not Japan, but brings up another important point – homes in the Edo period were not only not built for winter, they were not particularly insulated at all. All over the world, people in previous centuries tended to heat just one room at a time rather than the entire house. In Japan that often meant a charcoal brazier – either open, or under a blanket-draped table called a kotatsu – that kept the important room tolerable. Women tended to wear multiple kimono as well as scarves around their heads, although working women might also wear momohiki (股引き) which are close-fitting hose or trousers, just like the men did.

Look, she’s got a lot of really useful information! 🙂

Everyday clothes that could simply be layered up or down were more common amongst the working class than jackets, as far as I can tell, but they definitely existed. However, the silk collar, the detailed toggles, and the general level of workmanship does help confirm the idea my jacket was likely owned by someone of at least some station in life. Even if that station was a low-ranked samurai attendant, they still most likely didn’t labor in the fields for a living, and they had enough money for a stylish jacket to keep them warm!

Front (??) view. It’s inside out, so is it still the front? Inner front? Anyway…

With the addition of both the quilted cotton layer and the final silk layer, my jacket will definitely be increasing in warmth from its original form! I’m currently attaching this upper piece as you can see, and then I’ll do the other sleeve, and then finally the lower torso and lapel areas. Then I can add the silk layer, and then finally add the facing fabric and finish things up! Still a ways away, but I hope you continue to enjoy the process with me, and I look forward to seeing you back here next week on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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Obi Makeover, the Sequel: The Finish and Reveal

Project 11, part 2 – Loyal Cerberus Watches You Sew (Part 1 here)

Look, I have a tripod, ok? But sometimes it’s just easier to shoot in the mirror. 😀

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! This week I finished my obi, and let me just spoil the ending for you: I LOVE IT. It’s stiff yet flexible, it makes it incredibly easy to put on my sword, it holds everything in place without shifting around the way my old cotton one did…in short, it’s fantastic.

Pictured: fantastic.

The topstitching really did take a long time. I’m currently chatting with one of my senpai about time-sharing a heavy duty machine because I think others of our dojo would love to have one of these and my Featherweight really shouldn’t be put under this type of strain again. Tsumugi silk is thicc. 😀

Sorry focus hit really weird here, but at least you can see how it’s meant to tie!

I finished the topstitching and wore it to the dojo, but discovered that the bottom edge was fraying after just the first wear. I had hoped that the topstitching would prevent that, but, alas! It did not. The original had folded the bottom in, but I’d wanted to avoid that in order to make the obi flatter and more flexible. This meant my only option was to whipstitch the entire length of the silk…about 5′. Ack! Luckily my husband has been playing the awesome game Hades and I could just chill on the couch for a few hours watching him run around in Tartarus while I painstakingly secured the fibers at the obi’s bottom edge.

Basically, at the bottom there where the sword is emerging, it was fraying like crazy. Not a good look – definitely not the polished style I’m going for!

Nonetheless, the work was finally done, and I’m so very happy with it! I was initially pretty vexed by the difference in tone between the obi and my sageo (the cord securing my sword to my hakama) – the obi is a deep scarlet and the sageo is more of a bright vermillion. Reds are SUPER hard for me to color balance when I’m editing photos, so it doesn’t look too bad in the image, but trust me that the sageo is quite a bit more orange in real life. So I did end up purchasing this one:

Image from – I’m so excited for it!

In the short term, the vermillion actually works better than I expected, with the brighter color in front and the deeper color peeking out from the sides of my hakama. I’m not going to stress about replacing it until after my test in April, since doing so means removing the stitching on my old one, then attaching and re-sewing the new one. I still have to hem my “dress” hakama before the seminar so I have to be realistic about my available time! Also, learning the way a new sageo behaves right before a test might be a little troublesome.

Sorry for the quality; I ended up taking this photo on my phone, and it’s an older model. So enjoy the nice old-timey effect! 😀

And here it is, in all its glory! Short-term, this obi was a lot of work, but considering it should last me years it definitely was a worthwhile investment of my time! It’s a sweet connection to the lineage of my dojo, as well – although I was never able to meet the woman who sewed the original, it makes me feel like I’ve received her knowledge and instruction nonetheless. Also considering how expensive shipping is from Japan right now, being able to sew my own accessories is really helpful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my latest obi makeover project, and I look forward to seeing you next week back here on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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Happy 1-Year Anniversary, 昔のSewing!

What’s a blogiversary without the goofiest picture I could find?! ❤

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Friends, I can hardly believe it, but this week is the 1-year anniversary of this blog. I am so delighted that I’ve been able to keep creating and sharing for a whole year, and I wanted to take a moment to thank YOU for reading for a whole year! Your comments and support have really helped me feel connected to a community of people who love history, sewing, and crafts as much as I do. ❤

I thought it would be fun to take a look at everything I’ve accomplished this year on the blog!

I still have trouble with my collars haha, but I’ve improved my ohashori since this time! 😀

My very first project was restoring this Meiji-era kimono, and I’m SO glad it catapulted me into sharing my adventures here. I really love this kimono and being able to wear it (even though it’s much too short for me, haha!) is a real honor. Also looking at this photo, I had completely forgotten I own that green obijime (the cord around the obi), and now I want to do a pink and green outfit for spring with another kimono I have! Maybe you’ll get a bonus photoshoot later… 🙂

I may have added another sword to the collection…but there’s still room on the cloth! 😉

My second completed project was making this dropcloth for my iaido weapons out of a repurposed obi, and I still use it every single week! (Three times a week, actually.) I get constant compliments on it at the dojo, so this was definitely a good choice! 😀

My little dude just loves the backyard when it’s sunny! ❤

The third project here was restoring my Victorian era nightgown, and this project gave me so much confidence in my restoration abilities. It’s one thing to do some light mending, and another to actually clean away decades (or a century+) of dirt and stains. I would like to wear this again for another photoshoot this year; I have some ideas percolating! 🙂

That orchid in the background is blooming again, btw. Also my sweet mother-in-law and husband may have gifted me two more!

The fourth completed project on Mukashi no Sewing was the Hawaiian print Mary Quant minidress, and this was definitely my most ambitious sewing project of the year. I sewed a whole dress, you guys! I can hardly believe it! I’m really looking forward to this spring and summer, and getting to wear it more.

I may or may not have bought two matching headbows for this dress as well. Look, this print is hella cute!

Project five was restoring my Milky-chan the Fawn JSK! I had so much fun with this, and it made me a lot less nervous about buying other lolita dresses with minor “damage”/missing pieces. In fact, I may or may not have another similar project on deck for this year…

I just feel like I’m in a boudoir from the 1800s every time I look at this! ❤

Mukashi no Sewing’s sixth project was short in terms of posts, but took an awfully long time to complete! I searched for months to find a perfume bottle to fill the empty spot in my Victorian perfume case, and I was so relieved to finally find this silver-capped beauty!

I really need to wear these hakama more! I bought a pair in grey too, and Alice Auaa is coming out with a skirt-type version that’s very tempting…

My seventh project completed over the year was sewing the steampunk utility belt! Technically this is “Project 8,” but the Victorian Undergarments project (which is numerically number seven) is still in progress. (Let’s all cheer for me to finish it this year!) I loved this fun accessory project, and I would love to sew more accessories for myself. My closets can only hold so many clothes… 😀

I still sometimes can’t believe I really restored this parasol!

My eighth and final project completed over this last year was restoring my Victorian parasol! One of the most difficult projects I completed – I’m still over the moon with my work on it, and I really feel like if I can do this I can do anything. (Technically this was “Project 10,” but again, the Edo coat restoration is still in progress and messing up the numbers. 😀 )

Food is love!

I even hosted my very first guest project here on the blog, my aunt Susie’s komebukuro sewing project! I hope to feature more guest projects here in the coming year – it was so much fun to collaborate in this way. ❤

Sometimes I hold things like this manual and just marvel that it survived at all, and it’s only eighty years old! Will anyone want my toaster manual in eighty years?

I also shared nine spotlights of various antiques in my collection, and did absolute tons of research on them which was really just as fun as any sewing. These were:

There’s a long road ahead…

So what’s to come in the next year? Hopefully, a lot of fun! I’ve got the Victorian Undergarments and Edo Coat Restoration projects to finish, as well as my shorter second obi makeover. The holdup on the first two projects has honestly been a severe dearth of creative energy. Both of them require a lot of fiddly problem-solving and decisions about fit and finish, and my batteries on that front are low. I find repetitive work like the stitching needed on my obi to be restorative, oddly enough, and that soothing project is definitely getting me back into the swing of things so I hope to have the other projects rumbling along soon!

I have some more spotlights, of course, and some really interesting restoration projects including another parasol, and even a mirror from the Edo period! 😉 I’ve been wanting to do a cooking project here for ages as well and recently purchased a vintage piece of bakeware that will enable just that. And as I alluded to, I’ve purchased two more lolita dresses that require light restoration work, but in a fabric I’ve never played with before: velvet. Eek!! So thank you again from the bottom of my heart for joining me this year, and I hope to see you back every Tuesday in the coming year here at Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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Obi Makeover, the Sequel: The Beginning and Sewing

Project 11, part 1 – I Heard You Like Obi

Women’s obi for kimono are SO LONG. I wear them semi-frequently, and I still forget every time how long they are.

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Nearly a year ago, I used a secondhand obi to create a dropcloth for my weapons for iaido, and I’m still using it regularly! This week I started a little project with a different secondhand obi to make…another obi. 😅

Ok, ok, hear me out though. 😀 Rank testing is coming around again for iaido for me, which is always a good time to spruce up my wardrobe. In iaido, we wear obi (which really means something like sash, although it’s often translated as “belt”) to both hold up our hakama and secure our sword. In my dojo, at the lower ranks everyone wears a basic black belt (usually cotton or poly – mine happens to be cotton), but at a certain point approval is granted to wear a colored obi. Iaido isn’t like karate – our ranks don’t correspond to specific belt colors – so this is one of the few ways in which one can customize the uniform.

This is one of Sensei’s obi that he lent me for this project.

I’m delighted to say I’ve reached that point! However, nothing I found online suited me – my accent color is scarlet, and it’s a bit difficult to find. Sensei then suggested that since I have the skill to do so, perhaps I might duplicate one of his (also handmade) obi!

Reverse side – you can see that it’s silk folded over cotton, then topstitched into submission!

Well, that’s a challenge I’ll never turn down! My first job was taking exacting measurements of every aspect of the obi. That’s a job I’m always here for. Fiddly detail work with calipers and a seam gauge? Let’s go! 🙂 Then I had to figure out what fabric to get. The ties at the end are cotton; they’re a tighter weave than I had laying around, but I went ahead and used the quilting cotton I had because it would absolutely do the trick.

It did take me two tries because for some reason on the first go-around, I made them 1/2″ too wide. SO annoying haha!

The center portion of Sensei’s obi is silk, and as soon as I held it I was positive it was tsumugi – and almost certainly made from a kimono obi originally. It may have been cut down from a women’s Nagoya obi (as I ended up doing), or repurposed from a men’s kaku obi. Tsumugi silk is made from broken or misshapen cocoons, and together with its tight weave it makes a very durable fabric. For iaido, we need the obi to be durable as the saya – the scabbard – moves around quite a bit and would easily shred a softer fabric.

Even though I had a lot of fabric, I’m always a little anxious cutting into silk, so I measured and marked very carefully first!

I went to Shinei, my favorite secondhand kimono goods store online, and found myself a deep scarlet tsumugi silk Nagoya obi for about $4. When it arrived I was delighted to discover I’d chosen correctly – it has the perfect weight and drape for this project. Also the color is superb. My photography isn’t perfect here (having trouble with my lighting and camera settings again, sorry), but I hope you can see how rich the color is!

I will never stop telling you how much I love Wonder Clips. They’re just the best for projects like this!

Once the silk was cut, all I had to do was clip it to the cotton ties, and then begin endlessly topstitching. Sensei’s belt has 25 rows of topstitching, end-to-end, spaced approximately 1/8″ apart. It serves several purposes, the most important of which is to keep the two layers of fabric from shifting in any way. It also further stiffens the belt and gives it enough structure and heft to hold everything in place. I so wish I could speak to the late seamstress who made the originals – I would dearly love to ask her some more question about the construction, but at the very least I hope I have done her proud with my duplicate!

The seams extend past the silk into the cotton to hold everything in place. It’s more visible on mine since I went with black cotton ties rather than red!

The topstitching took FOREVER. My valiant Featherweight is not built for this kind of work, and I could only do two lines in a row before needing to give its motor time to cool off. I’ve been looking into heavy-duty machines though, so…stay tuned! 😉 Eventually, though, I managed to finish – mine has 24 rows of stitching, as my obi is just slightly narrower.

Turning an obi into an obi has been just the sort of relaxing project I needed this week – my creative juices have been a little low, and being able to just do endless lines of stitching was deeply soothing. So join me again next week when I finish up my belt and show it off here on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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昔のSewing Still on Partial Hiatus (but here’s a mini-project I finished!)

It gets picturesque around here when it snows. I could look at our backyard for hours!

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Work, Finn having to go back to the vet (nothing serious, but he does have to wear a bootie for a couple of weeks so he can’t lick his foot while it heals), and a general deep exhaustion prevented me from doing serious sewing this week, I’m afraid. But I did get to an alteration project that’s been in the pile for some time, so I thought I’d share it! (Sorry that the camera work isn’t as detailed as usual; I took all these with my phone.)

The “before”

I bought a black sleeveless wool tunic dress from my favorite Japanese atelier Alice Auaa last year on their end of season sale, knowing ahead of time that the bust was about 8cm/3.14″ too small for me. I reached out to their support staff ahead of time asking if altering it to that extent would damage the look of the dress (or be straight up impossible), and they replied that it was totally doable. (I’m really grateful that they have staff who speak excellent English because for things like this I want to be quite sure about what I’m asking, and I wouldn’t want to confuse the issue by possibly saying something confusing or vague in Japanese!) The dress arrived in due course, and life happened, so I haven’t had the chance to alter it until I sat down yesterday evening for a hot minute.

I hate to close up such nice buttonholes!

I started by sewing shut two buttonholes on the inner placket because I needed to move the buttons to precisely their locations.

And here they are!

As you can see, it wasn’t a long move, but I needed that exact amount of distance to fit this properly! Getting the last button into place took a little more math since there wasn’t a buttonhole there to crib off of. 😀 Luckily it didn’t take too long, but then when I tried it on, I realized that the second decorative row of buttons was also shifted over 8cm, so now the dress looked really weird! After consideration, I reluctantly concluded that removing that row made the most sense. I love the military-inspired styling of the two rows, but there was no quick way to preserve it and I was definitely going for “I need to be able to wear this instead of it sitting in my to-do pile for another three months.” I did add a snap at the top to change the way the collar laid as well, but that was pretty easy!

Here she is! Wearable at last!

Things I will still do when I have the time: steam the front to relax the fibers of the wool where the buttons are removed to smooth the fabric back down, add a couple of stitches to the interior plackets to secure them now they they don’t have buttons, and move two more interior buttons to a new location. But none of those things affect the baseline wearability, so now I have a super cute dress to wear with the new grey blouse that’s in the mail from Alice Auaa right now! 😀

I hope you enjoyed getting to see my little mini-project, and I very much hope to be back in action again next week here on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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昔のSewing Returns Next Week!

Our local flock of hummingbirds is really good at sharing nectar! We’ve seen up to 7 hummingbirds on a single feeder when it’s really cold. ❤

Hi friends! I haven’t just been birdwatching, I promise! 😀 This last week I was very busy supporting family through some medical things that came up, and I’ve barely touched a needle – let alone gotten any real progress done on my various projects. Everyone’s doing fine though, thank goodness, so I should be able to sit back down at my machine this week. I look forward to seeing you here next week for more history, sewing, and crafts! ❤

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Spotlight: Showa Era Sewing Book

Spotlight 9: 1928 Japanese Sewing Manual/Textbook

In case you can’t read it – or don’t want to look up the pre-war kanji, the title is: メートルと鯨尺対照: 裁縫手芸教授書全

Welcome to Mukashi no Sewing’s ninth spotlight! Today I’m excited to share with you a super cool Showa era sewing manual that I picked up for less than $15 on Yahoo Japan Auctions. The Showa era in Japan was quite long – it ran from 1926-1989 – and as this book is from 1928 it’s really closer to the preceding Taisho era in that it still utilizes pre-war kanji and technologies compared to the latter half of the Showa era from the post-war/Occupation.

Title page! Translation below!

The title of my book is メートルと鯨尺対照: 裁縫手芸教授書全 (Meter to Kujirajaku Taisho: Saihou Shugei Kyoujusho Zen). Roughly translated, it means “Complete Sewing & Handicrafts Textbook with both Meter and Shaku Measurements.” Prior to 1924, the standard measurement was a shaku, which could vary in length depending on what was being measured. The kujirajaku – literally “whale shaku” – was the standard for the clothing industry, and was approximately .378 meters or 14.9 inches. In 1924 Japan introduced the metric system, but shaku remained in use officially until 1966 (and they’re still used in kimono bolts and sword blades). As my book was published only four years after the introduction of the metric system, it makes a lot of sense that it would feature both methodologies!

Patterns for hakama!

On the title page, the red text to the left of the title indicates that this textbook is certified by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, and the sentence on the far left explains that this is an edition meant for possession by the Tokyo Sewing Study Group. The co-authors of the book are listed on the far right. Ichihashi Namiko Sensei is the primary author, and she was a lecturer/instructor for a high-level Tokyo ladies’ school, as well as a member of the Ministry of Education committee responsible for proctoring licensing examinations to secondary teachers. Akashi Chiuko Sensei is the secondary author, and she was previously a teacher at a high-level women’s adult education school.

Embroidering different designs.
Tying decorative knots.

When I bid on this book I actually thought it was only sewing techniques – I picked it up because I would really like to sew a kimono at some point – but when I got it I was excited to realize that the title is accurate and it also contains many additional handicrafts patterns! I don’t particularly need another clutch purse…but being able to see the sorts of things women might actually have been carrying and using during this period is SUPER interesting!

Ok but this is actually really cute you guys. So maybe I do need one… 😀

My book predates the Bunka Fashion College publications by about six years, as their textbooks weren’t released until 1934, but their trade school opened in 1923 and may well have been where one (or both) of the authors of my book taught at one point. It was an accredited dressmaking school for women (men didn’t start attending until 1957!), and its aim was to help support the growing popularity of Western-style clothing by teaching women how to sew not just for themselves, but also as part of the rapidly-expanding clothing industry. This change of women entering the workforce in larger numbers had begun in the Taisho era, and the moga, or modern gals, who followed Westernized fashion and lifestyle trends were thoroughly mainstream in the early Showa period.

The six-volume set of Bunka Yosai Koza (“Bunka Dressmaking Course”) was completed in 1935.

Likely the women who used my textbook would have had a sewing machine. Sewing machines came to Japan by the mid-1880s, and women who expected to be sewing professionally would almost certainly have been trained in their use even if they didn’t have one at home.

Ladies Sewing  (Kijo saihō no zu), Adachi Ginkō 安達吟光 (Japanese, active 1874–97), Triptych of woodblock prints; ink and color on paper, Japan
Ladies sewing, September 3, 1887. Photo credit the Met.
Photo Credit – Zentner Collection.

Beyond accessories, Japanese-style clothing, and Western-style clothing for adults, there is also a whole section on children’s clothing in my book that’s extremely adorable:

Look at these cute little apron dresses!
How good little girls and boys in early Showa Japan were dressed.

Something a keen-eyed reader may notice is the tiny characters next to many of the larger characters within the text. These are called furigana and their purpose is to tell you how to read the kanji, or Chinese characters, that you may not know. I can’t say whether or not the ladies of the time appreciated this, but I am incredibly grateful as the age of this text means there are many kanji that are no longer in standard usage, and I can definitely use the assist! 😀

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about Showa era fashion history, and taking a peek at this fascinating textbook! I definitely plan to sew a few things from this once I’m able to spend some time translating it (it’s slow going for your girl, haha!), but in the interim I have plenty of other fun projects in the works, and I look forward to seeing you back here next week on Mukashi no Sewing! ❤

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