Fabrics for zakka sewing, and where to find them (learn to sew post no. 4)

I am so excited that a few people have read my blog and contacted me to attend my little sewing class.  I never know if anyone is reading my blog (aside from my faithful family and a few friends), so I often feel like I’m just talking to myself.  It is fantastic to hear that I actually have readers out there!   

Well, today I wanted to write about fabric choices for zakka sewing, and a few of my favorite fabric sources in Sydney and online.  First off, the word “zakka” is Japanese for random household items – it just means little things you use around your house, anything from an apron to a shopping bag to a potholder.  The word zakka has spread to the West these days, and there are even English language books on zakka sewing, like this one or this one

So what types of fabrics are suitable for zakka sewing? The short answer is, pretty much any woven fabric (i.e. not knit, jersey, or stretchy fabric).  Natural fabrics like cotton, linen and hemp are best.  Japanese people LOVE linen, particularly natural-colored linen.  So when I think of zakka, I have this mental image of beige linen fabric, combined with colourful but understated prints like Liberty of London tana lawn (wildly popular in Japan) — sometimes embellished with simple hand embroidery or trims like lace and buttons for the handmade look.  

Canvas or home decor fabric is a little on the heavy side, and is ideal for things like bags, aprons, fabric baskets and potholders — things that need a bit of structure.  Cotton or linen blend canvas is also easy to sew.  Lighter fabrics like quilting cotton or Liberty fabrics are useful for softer things, like cushion covers, tissue box covers, and also as a lining for bags, pouches, and fabric baskets.  

So where do you find these fabrics for zakka sewing? Quilting cotton is easy to find anywhere.  Finding good-quality cotton or linen canvas fabric is a little more challenging if you are in Australia.

Below are some of my favorite sources of canvas and home decor fabrics.

Ikea

Ikea sells home decor fabric by the meter. The selection may not be huge, but they have good-quality cotton and linen interior fabric suitable for zakka sewing.  They have a basic selection of solid-color fabrics, as well as a few stripes and prints.  The price is quite reasonable. 

Etsy and eBay

Did you know that Etsy also has a “supply” section, and you can find a wide range of fabrics, including printed canvas, at quite a reasonable price?  

eBay is also a good source of fabric, and you can often find great deals.  The downside is eBay is so huge, you have to know how to look for the fabric you are looking for.  If you are after a particular designer fabric (say, the “Far, Far, Away” ranges of children’s prints by Heather Ross), it is easier to find it.  

Online fabric shops

Many online fabric shops in the US and Australia now carry lovely canvas / home decor prints (most of them are, surprise, imported from Japan).  There are too many shops to choose from, but here are some of my personal favorites.

  • Superbuzzy (US) – This online shop is like a shrine to Japanese fabric goodness.  You can find not only canvas, but also quilting-weight cotton and double gauze in cute Japanese prints.
  • Purl Soho  (US) – Fantastic selection of various Japanese canvas prints.  Pricey, but not as pricey as buying from Australia-based online shops.  Purl also has a great blog, with tons of free tutorials for everything from quilts to lunch bags to table napkins.
  • Fabricworm (US) – Has a good selection of Japanese canvas fabric as well, and they often have a sale going on.
  • Kelani Fabrics (Australia) – I was so excited when I first “discovered” them at an annual quilting show in Sydney several years ago.  They have a ton of cute Japanese prints! They also carry other home decor fabrics, and beautiful hand-printed canvas fabrics by Australian screen printers.  It’s not cheap – as fabrics in general are more expensive in Australia – but the upside is you’ll get fast shipping, and you don’t need much fabric for making small things like potholders.
  • Duckcloths (Australia) – Another beautiful online fabric shop based in Australia.  Carries a wide range of Japanese, home decor and other fabrics suitable for zakka sewing.

Retail quilting and craft shops in Australia

Some quilting shops are now branching out to carry some home decor or canvas fabrics, some imported from Japan.  The range is still pretty small compared to online shops mentioned above, but at least you can touch and feel the fabrics in person if you live nearby.  The trendy quilting shops these days are not your grandmother’s quilt shop! Here are some of my favorites in Sydney. 

  • Calico & Ivy – This stylish craft shop has branches in Perth and Sydney (10 Birchgrove Rode, Balmain). They carry a small but lovely selection of Japanese canvas fabric, as well as a few Japanese craft books.
  • Material Obsession – I am partial to this shop because this is where I first leaned to make quilts years ago. I remember being happily overwhelmed by bolt after bolt of beautiful modern prints they carry.  Definitely not your grandmother’s quilting shop.  Their shop in Drummoyne has mostly quilting fabrics, of course, but I have seen a few cotton-linen and home decor fabrics as well.  Worth checking out if you live nearby.

Well, that’s it for now I think.  I am sure I have missed many other sources of fantastic fabrics, but if you have no idea where to start, the above links will get you started in the right direction.  I’d love to discover new fabrics shops, too, so if you have a favourite shop, please do leave a comment and share! 

One more thing…. I often get asked where I get the Japanese fabrics I use for my online shops.  I get most of my fabrics directly from online shops in Japan (or send my mother to search for fabrics when she visits Japan).  These sites are in Japanese, unfortunately, and are hard to access and navigate if you don’t read Japanese.  Many shops don’t deliver internationally, either.  That is the reason I didn’t mention those shops here.  

Happy fabric shopping!

Zakka sewing for beginners (learn to sew post no. 1)

It’s been nearly 18 months since I started making and selling handmade bags and other children’s accessories, and it’s been a lot of fun.  Along the way I learned so many new things —  not only how to make certain things, but how to source fabrics and how to manage a website.  Also along the way I’ve met a lot of people, fellow stall holders at markets, crafty friends, and of course my wonderful customers.  Most of whom are other moms of little ones.

One thing I often  hear from these moms is, “I wish I knew how to sew….” Every time I hear this I say, “But you can! It’s easy.”  And often I want to add “Why don’t you come over to my place and I’ll show you how to sew.” But I realize that for most mothers, learning a new skill while taking care of babies and toddlers is difficult, to say the least.  I mean, it’s hard enough sometimes to even take a shower undisturbed.  

But I began to think how fun it’ll be for me to teach sewing to complete beginners.  Making things to sell online can be a little anti-social.  Wouldn’t it be fun to get a group of people together at my house, from time to time, chat about how hard it is to be a mother etc., have a nice cup of coffee, and then help them learn to sew at the same time? Absolutely!

So I’m excited to tell you that I’ve set aside some time to do it. I don’t have many “clients” yet, but I believe they will turn up eventually.

If you are in Sydney and and would like to attend, just email me. I’ll also post sewing tips, fabric shopping tips, and more tutorials from time to time.  Stay tuned.

Oh by the way, “zakka” just means various homewares, the sort of things I make for my shop – bags, washers and other accessories.  

 

Grey elephant love

It’s no secret that I love Japanese elephant prints (made by a company called Daiwabo).  They are just adorable in an understated way, and they come in beautiful shades of pink, green and blue.

But of late I’ve been in love with the grey colorway.  Initially I ordered it for a custom-order daycare / nappy bag.  At first I thought it might be too gloomy for children’s accessories, but upon seeing its gorgeous color in person, it immediately become my favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the custom-order daycare / diaper bag.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t it look sophisticated with the light grey lining? I also made a matching set of zippered diaper cases for my custom-order client.

I had enough fabric left over to make my mother a tote bag in the same colorway.  She is a school teacher, and she wanted a bag to take to her school everyday.  I assumed she’d carry A4 folders, notebooks, and maybe her brand-shiny-new Macbook Air (in a matching grey color, too).  She also wanted lots of pockets (she’s a tough customer).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bag is basically in the same style as the daycare / nappy bag, but with a rectangle bottom instead of oval, is taller than is wider, and has two bag handles instead of one shoulder strap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The inside view – it has two large pockets for keys and other little things.  Combined with the two large outside pockets, I hope they satisfy all her pocket needs.

Sourcing the grey elephant fabric is a little bit of a pain…. But I think I’ll have to order some more, so I can make more bags for my shop.

Smock dress

I used to think that it was a sign of maternal love to make clothes for your child.  Like, wrapping your baby with love.

I don’t think that anymore.  For the past year, Miss M has rejected most of my creations because I can never seem to get anything right for her taste.  And the silliest thing about it?  Is that I am still making clothes for her, knowing the chances of rejection are pretty good.  Why?  Why stay up late at night sewing for an ungrateful child?  Don’t I have work to do?  Or at least watch some more Garden Girl episodes for my much-needed relaxation time?

Well, I now have no choice but to admit it — because I like it.  I love sewing little clothes for little people, using pretty fabrics I can never wear myself.  There is so much satisfaction in it that I (well, almost) don’t care that my daughter wears it or not.  It turns out I am just a selfish sewer.

And that is probably why Miss M doesn’t like my creations – because I am too selfish to choose fabrics she would like, as opposed to what I like.  Sigh.  I just can’t bring myself to sew with pink and purple…. Or maybe I’m hoping against hope that one day soon she’ll grow out of her pink phase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So here is my latest selfish creation.  It is not pink or purple, but green, blue and white.  It’s a simple smock-style dress with elastic gathers around the neck and sleeves.  I put a patch pocket with a little green button.  The pattern is from one of my all-time favorite Japanese craft books:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The title translates to something like: Proper Clothes Even for Children.  The author, Yuji Ogata, is a designer at a New York children’s clothing store called Makie.  I just love all his designs because they are clean, simple (though not always easy to make), classic, and beautiful.  This book has patterns for 3- to 8-year olds.  He has another book for babies and younger children, and I’ve made quite a few things from that book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used a double gauze fabric by Heather Ross.  I love how comfortable and breezy the dress is – perfect for hot Australian summer.  I actually had made this dress before using a different Heather Ross fabric (also not pink).  Here’s Miss M wearing that dress a year ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To my surprise and joy, Miss M actually agreed to wear the new dress for the day.  She complained about having only one pocket (I promised to put on another one later), and said it was too long (she is right) but still decided to wear it, putting aside her usual preference for everything pink.

It was a sign of love, I think.  Not a sign of maternal love, but of my daughter’s love for me, or pity at least, for her recognition of my efforts.  Aw… it made my heart melt for a while.  But Miss M being the rebel she is, she made it clear that her love for mommy didn’t extend to letting me follow her around with a camera.  This is the last photo I managed, while she’s saying “I don’t want you taking photos of me!”

Oh well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Fabrics from Japan

My stock of Japanese prints have become pretty low lately, so I ordered and received a whole new batch of Japanese goodness. Hurray! They are all canvas-weight fabrics, most are cotton linen blends (my favourite type of fabric).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberries – Can you see little bees as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage-look cars and trains on natural, linen-coloured background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kittens on pink background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage kids’ items – this one is too cute for words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green-on-natural elephants are back by popular demand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By far the most interesting fabric I found is this one: a panel print of a boy traveling by car and ship. If you cut this panel in half, you’ll see:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This on one side, and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This on the other side. Too cute for words. Beautiful colours, too.

Aside from the elephants print, all the other ones were designed by Mico Ogura. Of all the cute (or “kawaii”) Japanese prints out there, I just love her designs best, and I notice I’m almost exclusively buying her fabrics these days. She also designed the “Paris,” “Animal Friends,” and “Flower Garden” fabrics that I’ve used before, and have been popular in my shop. I adore everything she designs! The only other children’s fabric designer I madly adore is Heather Ross.

Well, even though I am still in the zone for making things from sustainable fabrics – blankets and towels are done; reusable non-grocery shopping bags are next on the list – I will be making more kids’ bags and backpacks using these new fabrics soon. Meanwhile if you see a fabric you like, I can still take custom orders.

 

Double gauze

Today I received another shipment of Japanese goodness:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double gauze! With baby elephants in an assortment of colours. And blue “working cars” print. Just how cute are these fabrics?

Double gauze is my newest object of infatuation. It is the softest, cushiest, most snuggle-able cotton fabric ever. It is also extremely lightweight – it’s like air. If you have never seen one in person, it is like cheese cloth (or muslin in Australia) but with two layers of them fused together to make a more dense, workable fabric.

In Japan, people make children’s clothing (even adults’ clothing) with this material. It is especially perfect for baby clothing and accessories because of its incomparable softness, lightness and absorbency. This type of fabric may not be Japan’s invention, but only in Japan does it come in such wonderful range of children’s prints.

What will I do with these double gauze prints? Why, make accessories for babies of course. I’ve been wanting to make things for babies. But the usual suspect of baby items – you know, bibs and wraps and such – didn’t inspire me creatively because they are so overdone. I mean, go to any retail shop and you’ll find an overflowing amount of pretty baby goods. I thought I had nothing new to offer in this market. But now I do!

Actually I’ve been making washers lately with double gauze and organic cotton jersey or bamboo terry (towel material). These are divine – so soft, absorbent, and just a delight to hold in your hand. Useful, too, for wiping little noses and as a wash cloth in bath. I just listed a few in my shop.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for other baby items using my brand new stash of Japanese double gauze.

A lampshade hat

Every now and then, a friend or family member asks me to make something specific for them, something that is not in my normal line of child-friendly products. I love these challenges because they give me a refreshing change of scenery.

Last week I made a sun hat for a relative in Japan (yes, it is getting towards summer over there). I sent her a few photos from one of my favourite Japanese craft books, called “Stylish Cloche,” by Ohko Ishida. I love this book not only because of the gorgeous hat patterns, but because the photos are styled exquisitely, sometimes featuring an older model, which is unusual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My “client” chose this last hat for me to make. She picked this design because of the large, bucket-shaped brim to avoid evil UV as much as possible. She requested a cotton linen canvas fabric in a beige or off-white polka dot print. She also added: “please make it look good!” I’m sure she didn’t mean to give me any pressure or anything. Lucky for her, I’m the kind of arrogant crafter who thinks she can make anything – especially if there is already a book with a pattern to trace. Easy peasy, I thought.

This is the hat I made:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I call this the lampshade hat, because the moment Mark saw it, he said “lampshade!”

I know, I look cool and breezy in those photos, but in truth, I was sweating as I made the hat over one long afternoon. It wasn’t as easy to make as I thought it would be. I didn’t examine the pattern closely before I offered it up to my relative (further proof of my arrogance) – but it turned out the top of the hat had four tiny darts to give it a rounded shape. Fiddly! I also had trouble getting the right interfacing – I ended up using heavy-duty interfacing for the brim lining (so it won’t cover your eyes blind), while using no interfacing at all for the crown of the hat (so it won’t be too hot to wear in Tokyo’s sweltering summer). With all this cutting and re-cutting, I nearly ran out of my lining fabric, causing me to panic because I could not have sourced more of it easily.

In the end, I’m 95% happy with the result. In fact I love this hat, and I might make one for myself next summer; I’m sure I can sew it more easily the second time around. But the real jury is still out, because I had just shipped the hat off to Japan… I hope she will like it, too!