Pretty, pretty tapes from Japan

You know by now that Japan makes adorable fabrics… but did you know the country also offers most drool-worthy stationary items? Our trusted postman brought me a small box from Japan this morning. And it was not a box of fabrics this time.

Japanese fabric tapes and washi tapes

Well, not exactly.Japanese fabric tapes

Japanese fabric tape rolls

These gorgeous rolls are fabric tapes. Yes, cotton fabric strips with an adhesive backing, so you can stick them onto most everything just like sticky tapes. Washi tapes (paper tapes) – in Japan we call them “masking tapes” – have been all the rage in the West for a while, but I have only recently “discovered” the fabric tapes. And I’m in love. 

Japanese fabric sticker sheet

And you can find fabric stickers in a larger A4 size as well. What fun! You can use them to make your own wall decals, or decorate jars and other household items with it. Unlike washi tapes, these fabric tapes and stickers are not see-through, and more sturdy. They also stick better than paper ones. And they have much more of a presence.

Japanese washi tapes

Of course I had to buy some washi tapes as well. How pretty are these? The variety of designs available is mind boggling, and it was so hard to choose just a few. I wanted to buy everything!

I’ll be using these washi tapes to spruce up my product packaging, which is quite boring right now. Even just a little bit of these tapes stuck on a manila envelope will brighten up the whole thing, or so I’m hoping.

Japanese washi paper stickers

These washi tapes also come in sticker sheets. I love, love, love these. Even though there are only little bits for each design, the variety is great. And they come pre-cut into pretty little shapes like tiny rectangles and circles.

Japanese stickers on jars

I immediately had to play with these new toys. Aren’t these jars pretty? I’ve been wanting to make decorative jars like these ever since I first saw them on home decor blogs. I reuse glass jars all the time, so I can’t wait to stick these pretty tapes onto everything.

 

Birthday tote bag

It’s my mother’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Midori! Here’s a special tote bag I made for her.

black and white tote bag with sheep fabric

Don’t you just love the hint of sheepish playfulness, in the otherwise classic monotone scheme? My mother bought the sheep fabric herself when she was visiting Japan. She actually gave it to me for my birthday – along with stacks of other fabric. But what goes around comes around, and now I’m giving this fabric back to her all dressed up as a bag.

This large tote bag is in the same style as this diaper bag and this shorter variation – all with leather handles and a rectangle bottom. This bag is even more ambitious than the other two because it has not only an exposed zipper pocket…

black sheep tote bag - exposed zipper pocket

but also a recessed zipper top.

black sheep tote bag - recessed zipper top

I’m quite pleased how professional this bag looks! The exposed zipper pocket was much easier the second time. There is another patch pocket on the other side – because when it comes to pockets, the more the merrier.

Here’s what the bottom looks like. I used heavy-duty cotton canvas in grey for the bottom, with lots of interfacing layers glued on for extra stiffness.

black sheep tote bag - bottom view

 

 

My mother is a school teacher, and she lugs around her laptop to school every day. I’ve made her a laptop bag before. But this time, she wanted a bigger bag with a zipper top, so the laptop is hidden from view. This bag is large enough for both a laptop and an A4 folder (plus other personal things).

black sheep tote bag - inside view

I finished this bag just in time to rush to the post office for an Express next-day delivery. Australia Post can be unreliable though, so I’m crossing my fingers it’ll arrive on time!

Hello Kitty madness

I need to admit… since my last post I have officially become obsessed with Liberty Hello Kitty fabrics. I can’t stop thinking about what other little things I can make with those fabrics. Why little things? Well, aside from not needing much fabric, those Liberty fabrics really shine at a small scale, because the prints are so detailed and crisp. Besides, little things are inherently cute, don’t you think, and I have a tendency to be obsessed with tiny creations.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hats

Aren’t these sun hats pretty? Okay, they are not exactly “little” – they are for 3 year olds. But still, hats don’t require too much fabric in the scheme of things. Each hat takes less than 1/4 meter of the main fabric.

Liberty Hello Kitty hats being made

Here’s a shot of the hats before they had linings. The Liberty fabric is very lightweight, so I fused it first with woven interfacing to give it the body a hat needs.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hat with pink stripes

This one has pink and white stripe lining, which is very girly and dreamy.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hat with bright pink lining

This vivid-colored hat has solid hot pink lining. The lining is important because you’ll see it when you wear this hat with its brim rolled up. It’s fun to have a different fabric peeking under the brim. These hats are actually reversible, but seriously, would you ever wear them to hide the gorgeous Kitty print?

And while at it, I couldn’t resist making something else to go with these hats.

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags

Mini handbags! I had so much fun making them. These are just little zippered coin purses basically, but with the little handles, don’t they look like handbags?

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags as a phone case

They may be small, but not completely useless. I could fit an iPhone in it, so a grownup could use it as a phone case. They are lightly padded as well.

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags as a phone caseNow, what else can I make with these fabrics….? To be continued.

Liberty Hello Kitty fabrics… and DIY covered button hair ties

I am not a huge Hello Kitty fan. I mean, I probably was when I was 8 or so, and all the little girls in Japan loved everything with Hello Kitty on it. I know the Cat has since become an international icon of cuteness, but I never quite understood why.

So when I first saw Hello Kitty fabrics from Liberty of London (was it a few years ago?) – I didn’t get it. To me, Liberty of London tana lawn meant top-quality, luxury fabric for grownups. These fabrics are super expensive, and frankly, just too good for children who’d smear spaghetti sauce on them. And Hello Kitty meant… well, “childish trinkets” comes to mind when I think of it. Liberty and Hello Kitty just didn’t seem to mix.

Until I saw this fabric.

Liberty Hello Kitty Art fabric

Wow! So beautiful and cheesy at the same time. The design is so clever in that, while the cats are everywhere, they are well-blended into the overall pattern – you probably wouldn’t even notice the cats when looking from a distance. Instead of being the main thing, Hello Kitty has become dots, flowers, and colors.

When I learned that these fabrics are only available for sale in Japan in limited quantities, I had to order some right away. Never mind the exorbitant price tag.

Hello Kitty Liberty fabrics

And these arrived yesterday. I love, love, love them. The silky quality of Liberty Tana Lawn fabric, combined with the detailed and crisp print, and the silly cuteness of colourful cats everywhere, is a winning combination – even for a grownup I might say.

Hello Kitty Liberty fabrics - selvedge

 

Here’s what the selvedge looks like: Printed in Japan, and for sale only in Japan. It’s not allowed to make products out of this fabric for sale.

Now the dilemma was, on one hand these fabrics were too precious to cut into. On the other hand, I was dying to play with the kitties because they were too darn cute. Hmm… The solution?

Hello Kitty Liberty covered button hair ties

Covered buttons of course! Made into girly hair ties! These were so easy and satisfying to make – and require only a tiny amount of fabric. Would you like to give it a try? Here’s what you need:

Materials needed for covered buttons

You can buy covered button sets from a craft shop, or online. They are pretty cheap in bulk and come in different sizes. Each set has a rounded, outer button and the backside panel. Make sure they come with the mould tool, or buy it separately. I bought mine here.

Step 1: Make a template with clear plastic so you can “fussy cut” the fabric. The button kits I had are about 1 1/8″ in diameter. The template should be a circle with about 2 1/8″ diameter. I marked the center of the template, so it’s easier to place a desired object – say, a Kitty face – right in the middle of the button.

Step 2: Place the template onto the right side of the fabric, and trace around it with a pen.

covered button DIY - cut fabric

Step 3: Cut the fabric.

covered button DIY - cut fabric

Step 4: Sandwich the fabric between the mould and the rounded outer button. Make sure the right side of the fabric is facing the mould side. Press the button into the mould.

covered button DIY - setting the button

 

If you have a clear mould, you can check from the other side if the pattern is placed where you want it. You also have to be a little careful with very lightweight fabric like Liberty tana lawn, because the fabric can get stretched out of shape — and the pretty face of the cat could be distorted. If you are not happy here, you can take the button out the mould and start again, till you get the result you want.

covered button DIY - place fabric on mould

Here the fabric is pushed all the way in.

 

covered button DIY - back of button

Step 5: Press the back of the button into the mould till it clicks in. I just use my fingers here, even though the mould comes with a little tool for pushing the back panel in (it’s the little round blue thing you see in the photo above).

 

Step 6: Pop the button out of the mould, and that’s it!

Step 7: Thread a narrow, commercial hair tie through the loop hole in the back of the button, and you just made the world’s prettiest hair tie for your little girl – or for yourself.

covered button DIY - threading hair elastic

You can also buy covered button kits with a flat back, without the loop hole. You can glue them onto DIY hair slides, or magnets, or little pegs… the possibilities are endless.

More Japanese craft books – handmade wallets

I did not mention in my previous post that, when I bought those Komihinata books, I also bought two other Japanese craft books about small things (or “komono,” as we call them in Japan).  These books are both on handmade wallets. One book is called “Handmade Wallets,” and the other one is called “More! Handmade Wallets” – both published by Vogue Japan. It’s pretty rare that I buy craft books on such specialized items, but I was hoping to learn all the high-level skills associated with wallet making. You can tell I was obsessed with wallets when I was making these mini wallets.

Two Japanese craft books on wallet making
I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of wallets discussed in these two books. There are traditional folded wallets with many compartments, L-shaped ones, clutch purse-like ones, ones with metal frames, and even those tiny “macaron” coin purses that have been wildly popular in Japan for the last few years.

Here are some pages from the books.
A page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsA page from a Japanese craft book on handmade wallets

A page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsA page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsA page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsMacaron coin purses from Handmade Wallets bookBeautiful, aren’t they? In addition to the many designs the books contain, I love that the publishers included several fabric variations for each design. You can see how a wallet would look completely different when the fabric choice is different.

So how many of these have I made so far? None. That’s right, not one. It probably has something to do with my laziness in following other people’s sewing instructions, compounded by the inherent complexity of wallet making. I mean, just look at this page from the “how to make” section.

Instruction page from Handmade Wallets book

Does it make your head spin? It totally spins mine. Look at the sheer number of little fabric pieces to cut…. I did read most of the instructions though. I pored over them at every opportunity over the summer holidays, when I did not do any sewing. I do this a lot with craft books actually – just read the instruction pages like a novel, without making anything.

But these wallets are just too beautiful. So yes, one of these days I will make one. One of these days…

 

 

Backpack envy

My son started attending a Steiner preschool this year. My daughter, who attended that same preschool last year, has moved up to their “Little Kindy” classroom. So to celebrate this milestone of both my kids going to the same “big school,” I promised them each a new backpack.

Until now I had been packing the kids’ school and daycare stuff in large nappy-bag style bags I made. But when my kids see all the other children going to school wearing (mostly bright-colored plastic) backpacks, they naturally wanted backpacks just like them. Yes, peer pressure.

Well, I really dislike the look and feel of plastic backpacks, but I didn’t want my kids to feel left out at school. So I wanted to make nice fabric backpacks that still resemble the shape of plastic ones.  Here’s what I came up with for Mr. A.  He chose this fabric himself.

fabric backpack in black zoo print

The pattern is my own, but let me tell you, there were some struggles along the way. The first version came out terribly (I’m embarrassed to even tell you why), and the second version came out way too big. After going back to the drawing board, the third version was just right. Well, it still looks pretty big on Mr. A., but you know, he’s barely three, and will soon grow into the backpack size – I hope.

My son wearing the new zipper backpack

Here are more photos of the backpack details. It has a flap pocket in the middle, side patch pockets, and little tabs on both sides to make it easier to open and close the zipper. The strap is padded and adjustable.

zipper backpack front detail - pocket

zipper backpack side detail - patch pocketHere’s what the inside looks like.

zip backpack detail - inside view

I used a heavy-duty cotton canvas for the lining, to give the backpack a good structure and shape, like those plastic ones. I bound the raw seams with orange bias binding, just because a bit of color is fun.

A few days later, and after much nagging by Miss M., I finished her new backpack. Of course it’s pink – but I love that my kids chose the matching print. How cute!

zip backpack in pink zoo print

I have to admit this one came out nicer than my son’s. I made small improvements, like using larger tabs on the side, and using sliders for for adjusting the straps (for the black one, I used double D rings, which didn’t work too well).

zip backpack detail - side D ring tab

zip backpack detail - adjustable strapszip backpack detail - inside viewI hope my kids will be happy to wear them to school, and not feel too envious of other plastic backpacks out there….

New Japanese craft books – handmade by Komihinata

I have a very soft spot for Japanese craft books. I learned how to sew by reading those books. But over the years, I have accumulated quite a collection of Japanese craft books (and to tell you the truth, not just Japanese ones), it’s been hard to justify buying any more. I mean, my ever-overflowing craft books and supplies have often caused domestic discord.

But last year around Christmas, when I was in the phase of making little things like wallets and phone cases, I came across these Japanese craft books – and I just had to have them. They are called “Little Handmade Things by Ms. Komihinata,” and “Little Handmade Things by Ms. Komihinata – a Collection of Popular Items.”

Images of two Japanese craft books by Kominitana

Mioko Sugino, the author of these two books, started out by writing a crafting blog called “handmade things by Komihinata” (“Kominihata” is her made-up stage name). She made something new and showed it on her blog every single day for years. Or maybe she missed a day or two, I’m not sure. Her blog became so popular in Japan, she was eventually asked to write these books. Now she is a popular craft instructor, pattern developer, as well as an author. She still updates her blog almost daily – just amazing.

As you can see from the book covers and the titles, the things Ms. Sugino likes to make are small things, like mobile phone cases and little zippered key pouches. I love all the details and embellishments – and the fact that she makes everything look super adorable while mostly using a basic selection of fabrics, like stripes and dots.

pages from a Komihinata book

a page from a Komihinata book - a key pouchOver the years her creations got smaller and smaller, until she was well known for her miniature creations – like miniature tote bags that fit on the palm of your hand. Or miniature furniture made of fabric, fit for a doll’s house. 

a page from a Komihinata book - miniature tote bags

 

In her books, Sugino selects designs that were voted most popular by her blog readers, and explains how to make them. She makes them sound very easy… but if you’ve ever tried making little things, you know how fiddly they can be. Just look at this little case for a lip moisturizer, for example….

a page from a Komihinata book - lip cream case

It has a zipper closure. And a perfect cylinder shape, not to mention the lining. I wouldn’t even attempt to make that one – it’ll only end in tears. Whether one really needs a specialised case to carry her lip moisturiser is totally beside the point – although Ms. Sugino does explain that one of her friends was inseparable from her lip remedies, but kept losing them – so she created the case to hang it from her tote bag handle for easy access. Makes sense now, doesn’t it?

I initially bought these books to learn new techniques.  And I have learned a few tricks by browsing through the instructions. But really… the main thing about owning these Komihinata books is that they make you very happy, just flipping through the pages and admiring Ms. Sugino’s awe-inspiring skills and creativity.

Be sure to check out her blog, and don’t worry that it is in Japanese – I know you’ll love it anyway.   

Fabric gift

It’s been many years since I’ve been to Japan, and right now the only thing I miss about that country, pretty much, is the opportunity for fabric shopping. Well, fabric and the food. Online fabric shops are wonderful, and they supply me with most that I need, but occasionally I wonder what I’m missing by not being there in person.

So every time my mother – who also lives in Australia – visits Japan, I beg her to please go fabric shopping on my behalf. She’s always a little hesitant at first, saying she doesn’t know what I want, but I tell her that it’s okay to choose what she likes. Our tastes are different, but not so different that I wouldn’t like what she chooses. Actually, I love the element of surprise.

And this is the pile of fabrics my mother bought for me in Janurary.

A pile of Japanese fabric

Wow! There is so. much. fabric. Some are canvas and others are more lightweight. I’ve seen some of them on online shops, but most of them are new to me – which just confirms my suspicion that I am missing out by not being in Japan.

These are some of my favorites.

guitar fabric

sewing supply fabricFrench pastry fabric

Black cat fabric

Black cat fabric

cute rabbit fabriclinen dots and floral fabricJust looking through these fabrics is inspiring me to make things. Though they’ll have to be small things, because most of them are one meter or less in quantity. But I love that challenge as well. The only thing is I might not have the courage to cut into some of these fabrics, let alone sell them, knowing there is only so little…..

These fabrics are a gift for my upcoming birthday. Lucky me! Thanks Midori! It’s nice to have such a lovely mother.

Wristlet pouches

I’ve been working on wristlet pouches for a while.  So far I’ve made no less than four different versions.

red and white polka dot wristlet pouch

This was the first one.  I loved its simple construction and cute shape.

But it turned out to be a little too narrow to fit a typical women’s wallet.  I had no idea because my own wallet is very small – it’s great to have a product tester to point these things out for me.

wristlet pouch with red stripy traditional japanese fabric

So this is the wider version I made.  (aside: I used this traditional Japanese fabric, with which I’ve been in love for a while.)  Definitely wide enough for big women’s wallets.  I also started using padding for that cushy feel.  My product tester was happy.

So I made another one using this gorgeous handprinted fabric from Blueberry Ash.

wristlet pouches using handprinted fabric

Very pretty.  At this point I was still attached to the shape of the small pouch, so I made one of each.

 

But deep down I wasn’t happy with the shape of the larger pouch.  It just wasn’t cute enough for me.  So I tried this one, using a recessed zipper pattern, with a fake piping detail.  I used another gorgeous traditional Japanese fabric called “nanairo” (seven colors).

wristlet pouch with recessed zipper

The result? It was a disaster!  It wasn’t anywhere near cute.  It looked boxy and cold like a fridge.

Then I figured out what I didn’t like about it: I didn’t like the bottom of the pouch looking narrower than the top.  I also thought the pouch was out of proportion because it was too short for its width.  So I got off my lazy chair and drafted a nice rounded pouch pattern.  It should be wide enough for a large wallet, but is also slightly taller.  I scrapped the recessed zipper idea, but made the zipper ends a little neater.  Here’s a sample.

wristlet pouch final version with rounded bottoms

Now this one, I am in love.  See how cute it is with the bottom of the bag looking rounded and wider than at the top?  It doesn’t have a gusset, but it is still 3D in shape because of the little darts.  It looks so friendly and inviting, you just want to hold in your hand all the time.

green daisy wristlet pouch

Here’s the same pouch in green.  Which one do you like better – green or red?  Finally, finally the pouches are shop-ready!

Circle skirt

 

 

Miss M and I had a skirt crisis the other day.  She was getting dressed for preschool — she put on a shirt, undies and tights, and then she realized that her favorite blue skirt was not there.  It was not there because it was in the wash.  She was not happy.  I took out all the other skirts so that she could pick one, but she refused.  She had to have that blue skirt, which was her favorite.  She cried.  I realised then that she needed a new favorite skirt in her wardrobe to avert this crisis in the future. 

So in the afternoon after our first zakka sewing class, I made not one but two new skirts for Miss M.  The pattern was a circle skirt from a Japanese craft book called Everyday Girl’s Clothes by Yuki Katakura (まいにち着る女の子の服).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pattern had one seam pocket.  I had never made seam pockets before (or a circle skirt, for that matter), but it seemed simple enough.  I thought Miss M would probably want two pockets, not just one.

First I made a pink skirt, with white polka dots, with green floral fabric as the waist band and the pocket lining.  Very girly! It made me sad how much of the expensive fabric the pattern required, but it’s all right.  It was for my special girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only thing about this skirt I wasn’t sure about was that the fabric was medium-weight cotton linen blend.  It was a little on the heavy side for a circle skirt.

Since I had some time left before the kids returned from daycare, I made another one, this time in a more lightweight cotton linen fabric.  I used black and white check print for both the skirt body and the waist band.  I had doubts as to whether Miss M would wear a  black skirt, so I made the lining of the seam pockets bright pink – not that you can see much of it when wearing it.  It almost looks cuter turned inside out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Miss M’s verdict? She loved the black and white one.  She wore it for the next three days straight – so that was a big success.  The pink one though… she wouldn’t even try it on for a photo shoot… Why, why, why, I have no idea.  This just confirms my past experience that I could never predict know what my four year old would or would not like.  At least I got one out of two right.  Not too bad.