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Feb 14, 2014

Japanese Pattern Books -- YEA or NAY?



Do you ever wish you lived inside a Japanese pattern book? 

The settings are austere and zen-like.  The rooms are flooded with natural light.  The expressionless models are the embodiment of simple chic.  Despite the absence of anything remotely suggestive of sex, I find it very seductive.











Nearly all the clothes have a home-crafted look to them (bordering on Mennonite).  If you're a fan of smocks, A-line housecoats, baby doll dresses -- and the layering of same -- you'll find a lot to love in these books.  If you're built like a boy and project a gamine quality, you're in luck.  If you're more Marilyn Monroe or Oprah, move on.  This is a world of unadulterated twee.













As I mentioned earlier in the week, my friend Johanna lent me seven Japanese pattern books she owns.


 
I was interested in making either unisex wrap pants or some sort of work apron for my February Mood project, and there are some strong possibilities in these books, like the project below.





This pattern reminds me of these Yohji Yamamoto men's pants shown for Spring/Summer 2014.



Looking through the actual diagrams in these books, there's a lot of repetition of silhouettes, but you could say the same about Big Four patterns (and many of the independents as well).  What I find most attractive about these books is the presentation and the fabric choices: primarily delicate cotton prints (of the Liberty of London sort) and linen.







The shapes are simple.  The sizing is small.  There's no room for broad hips or a bounteous bosom.  But for those who fit the patterns, there's a lot to love.  Or is there?

Readers, what's your take on Japanese pattern books of this type?   Do you admire the art direction but not fit the target audience?  Do you like the styles and want to wear them, or are they just too twee for most Western women?

Japanese pattern books -- Yea or Nay?

78 comments:

  1. I'm a huge fan of the "twee"/ZooeyD style, but I am most definitely not their target demographic. In the words of Grace at A Confederacy of Spinsters, "In my mind, I may be Betty, but anyone with eyes can tell I’m a Joan."

    But they'll still suck me in with those beautiful photos, and I'll just hope to someday have the job of dressing a gamine up like a My Size Barbie.

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    1. I just clicked through to comment -- and to say the exact same thing! -- when I read yours. I've never knowingly been quoted before and it made me grin from ear-to-ear. Thank you for that!

      In other news: also too curvy to be twee, but I will still keep buying these dang books.

      -Mary/Grace

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    2. Haha! You said it perfectly, so all I had to do was copy-paste! <3

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  2. YAY for them, in moderation. I have 3 japanese books myself, and once spent hours in a japanese bookshop flipping through pattern book after pattern book... but it really was all the same stuff over and over again so I left empty handed. Though, there was a really beautiful corset one that I passed on only because I don't wear corsets or have any interest making them. I like a few of them for my bookshelf, but would never collect a lot of them. I have to admit that my makes from them have been super comfortable and I really enjoy the illustrations for the line drawing/instructions.

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  3. being a little fatty, Japanese styling is not for me, but i do love the simplicity and if the shapes work for your body shape they are priceless.

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  4. I'm 1m60, so those pattern are perfect for me. Only do not forget to put bust dart a little lower (Japanese bust shape is different from European). I also own Pattern Magic books, and they are very interesting. My favorite sewing books in fact!

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  5. I own quite a few of these, but so far have not sewn from them. I like the clean designs but some patterns are a bit too twee for me to wear. Love Love Love the styling and fabric choices! Too bad the sizing being so small, but I guess the clothes are quite roomy.

    Also own the men's shirt one you are using at the moment - how are you finding it? My husband is a small man and the sizing is perfect for him!

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  6. I don't know, most of them look like maternity dresses to me. And I'm sorry, but the Yamamoto outfit looks like it was pulled out of the dumpster and I could swear it smells like urine, all the way across the Atlantic. OK, the photos are . . . sort of haunting. . . and I'm sure the fabrics and construction techniques are very interesting. . . but mostly they leave me with the impression of something my mother would have worn around the house when she was dusting. And I want so say (to the women in the photos), "oh for gods sakes, cheer up, it will all be over eventually, so you might as well try to smile a little along the way."

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    1. "...pulled out the dumpster" -- you say that like it's a bad thing! ;)

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    2. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! OH my, I needed a nice laugh today!

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  7. My sister lived in Japan for 7 years and had so many problems with the clothes. She's tall (5'8") and while she is skinny for an American (and flat too) she was an extra large in Japan and still couldn't get a good fit. She also had to plan two hours for a haircut as she is also a natural blonde with waves. (yes, I did hate her growing up)

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    1. I am a little taller than your sister and also skinny. I don't think this pillow case look flatters my body type at all- it makes me look like a giraffe walked through camp and got caught in one of the tents.

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    2. Hahahahahahahahahahahhahah. Oh, gawd, the giraffe/tent visual . . . hahahahahahah. Now I have to go wee!!!!

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  8. I own one, Simple Modern Sewing by To Seikatsu Sha, which I bought because it has some great skirt patterns which I have yet to try. (I was a little dismayed to find I am a size "large" in these patterns.) The dresses and pants are definitely not something I would wear.

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    1. I've got simple modern sewing as well. A hurrah for middle aged women as models and excellent styling. I'm a novice sewer in my 50s short but curvy which means I need to be careful with the pattern I choose, otherwise I end up looking like a pregnant emu (as my mother used to say). Personally I think they tend to run a bit on the large size. I've made the a-line shift a couple of times and have learnt from my mistakes. Make your adjustments (like lower bust and sway back) but keep them light and don't try and "fit" in the same way that you'd fit a commercial pattern otherwise you spoil the line. I don't add the seam allowance when I'm cutting.
      I've found the patterns and instructions very easy to follow.

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  9. I don't own any Japanese pattern books but I'm a great admirer of their style - simple but always elegant - even though the models remind me of haunted grown-up toddlers who wouldn't look out of place in a chic version of The Grudge.

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  10. I'm a nay on these patterns/books. I get that the photography is lovely, but everything about the garments and models screams "little girl" at me. I want to shake them and yell back, "Be a woman!" I'm actually a bit boy-shaped myself, but I do my best to appear otherwise (thank science for push-up bras and the knowledge of how to create curves through style lines). I really only appreciate the unisex look when it has an edgy vibe.

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  11. Fun to look through, but, really, take away the art direction as you put it, and you have a lot of simple smocks and a-lines. I made a few of those styles in the late '60s, early '70s for sleepwear and beachwear.

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  12. I have always loved the styling in these books, although the similarity between all the patterns does make it difficult to choose which book to buy first!

    They do have a strange, childlike quality, but I think a lot of that has to do with the awkward lengths and poses in the styling.

    To me, these patterns are just like any other pattern collection - they might look twee now, but with some alterations they could become far more than that. And there's no denying how comfortable they all look.

    Speaking of comfortable, I totally recommend those fisherman pants. If your fabric is completely free of shrinkage, they'll be the most comfortable pants you'll ever wear!

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  13. I LOVE Japanese pattern books and own several of them. However, while like you, I find the styling very seductive, the adult clothes just don't do it for me....despite owning adult pattern books, having been lured by their simplicity into thinking I would actually wear those clothes (but in reality I won't). The kids books are an entirely different matter. I love simple, loose fitting kids clothes and they are adaptable and cute for everyday wear. I've made, and will continue to do so, lots of little girl outfits from these books.

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    1. I agree with you. The kids books are just amazing, I only make my kids clothes out this books. You can change the pattern or combine them and play around with style. Just amazing!!! Adults, well it's different and yes not everybody fits in this patterns but still can make some adjustments nothing complicated. I own...a lot of this books and use them for inspiration but what works for me is that I try a pattern on a muslin and make changes from there. I admire Japanese culture and fashion too.

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  14. So far, I'm not in love with these styles, but I'm open to looking through more patterns to see if any can convince me to change my mind. I did try to make a sort of wrap pant once...you might want to see how it turned out (or didn't): http://patternandbranch.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/craft-fail-one-size-fits-all-pants/

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    1. OMG, that sheet you used is the same one I used last summer to make a suit!

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  15. Hate the baby look. Hated it when Geoffrey Beene did it too. ThoughI do have some of the Pattern Magic books for the sheer inventiveness of some of the designs, I'm not sure I'd make anything. The thinking behind the designs intrigues me. I do really like the fishermen's pants for summer made from light gauzy fabric. Wonderful. Couldn't find the link above.
    Barbara

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  16. On my body they are a no. I would just look like a huge bag of fabric. I have a few kids ones and like them for my daughter though not as much as she is getting older. Funny thing though in one of my kids ones the directions are all done like comic strips.

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  17. I think they are beautiful, but I would look horrible in most of the outfits! You said it when you described who would look best in them. I have one, that I was going to use for my 20 something daughter, and never made anything with it. There is a new book that helps with deconstructing these books for English speakers. I do love the children's Japanese books though and might make some of those for grandchildren sometime.

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  18. Man, that's a lot of fabric. I think if you are petite enough to pull off this look, you are going to be considerably weighed down by wearing 6 yards of fabric. And that is going to add to the cost as well.

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  19. Yea. I mostly love the styling and suggested fabrics, but if you look past these to the line drawings many of the styles are quite suitable for casual wear, evening and sleepwear depending on the fabric you choose. Of course you have to like/suit the simple, loose, comfy shapes (which I do). That said, I'd never layer pieces as in the books, preferring a loose top with fitted pants or vice versa.

    The ones I have are in English with patterns resized for Westerners (i.e. larger sizes included).

    Spud.

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  20. Love. I became a fan of Japanese pattern books in the late 60's. Yes, I know they are samey, but they all promise possibilities and dreams. I never made anything from my 60s books, but I did change sleeves and collars on my Big Four patterns after drooling over the Japanese magazines.

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  21. I don't think they are "twee." There is a certain young aesthetic in Japan that, perhaps, does not translate well. I think most of these pattern books are aimed at women in their 20s/30s. Most Japanese women are quite petite, and these type of styles can be really nice. Unfortunately, they don't usually work for me, but the details and styling can be adapted. I have used some to make accessories, and even though my Japanese reading ability is very, very limited, the instructions are great & have a lot of visuals.
    ~Jen

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  22. I like the Shape Shape and Drape Drape ones, they are more interesting and creative. I've made a few things from Shape Shape I and Simple Modern Sewing; I am really pleased with them.

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  23. I probably am a nay, more for the Mennonite aspect you mentioned. I do have 3 Japanese purse/bag books. I have used them just a bit and like the styles.

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  24. I don't like their sewing style books, for me the lack of shaping makes me feel like an elephant. I prefer to have a fitted look which I find hides the fluff without making me look like I'm trying to hide anything. I do however love their knitting books; unfortunately I have yet to see any of them over here in NZ

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  25. There is a lot more small people in Japan (I am a M in the books, but a 00P in some American stores). Actually a lot of younger people dress like that. Big oversized clothes have been the trend for a while now. Personally, they tend to be more over-sized than I like my "oversized" clothes, but I have made tons of things from the Drape Drape series. The only problem I had with it was that it was made for girls 5'2". So if you're taller than that AND it was already a mini AND the pattern is hard to modify due to the draping, it's sometimes a problem.

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  26. I'm very attracted to the pared down aesthetic, but the winsome waif look just doesn't suit my body type, age, lifestyle or personality. I've made the odd style though, but have been a bit meh with the results.

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  27. I'm a bit weirded out as to why these women are hiding their bodies and, "little girling" themselves down. Is it somehow connected to Japanese men being attracted to the school girl image?

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  28. Nay for me. The photography is beautiful, but most of the clothes just look like sacks. I'm sure there's a body type out there that they look good on, but it's certainly not mine

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  29. Those trousers are traditional Thai "fishermen's" pants. They are very popular here (Thailand) for both fashion pants for women and round the house pants for men. You don't often see men wear them outside the house except traditional dress for celebrations or young men at the beach.

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  30. The thai fishermen's pants are GREAT! I love mine in the summer. At home, in the back yard. They are appallingly unattractive on me, but are fabulously comfortable. Google "thai fishermen pants" and you should get a couple of free patterns.

    As for the pattern books, I want to like them as they are about sewing, so I should, right? But alas, I greatly dislike the styling and the garments. And the concept of grown women dressing like little children. The whole thing is just...nay.

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  31. I love to look at the books, but they are a bit like those furniture catalogues where they have 2 chairs and a table in the space of my combined living/dining/kitchen/home office space. It's very pretty and I always fall in love, but really it's just not practical for my life or figure in the case of the Japanese patterns. Having said that the blogs of Handmade by Carolyn and Yoshimi the flying squirrel can be very inspiring for this sort of things.

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  32. Definitely YAY! I love the loose dresses look as it really works with the humid weather where I live. And I can eat a lot in them, hoho. That said I pay v little attention to western fashion and look at a lot of japanese fashion, so these look not at all out of the ordinary to me.

    Sadly I am sometimes too big for Japanese patterns and am consistently too small for Western patterns. At least I can use them for inspiration.

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  33. I am seriously ambivalent. Being Scandinavian I have a recognition and appreciation of the simplicity and lightness in the styling (the similarities are pretty striking). On the other hand, I also belong to the slightly weirded out fraction - some of these women look like catatonic children; not a style statement I can get behind (even if this style was flattering on me, which it emphatically is not).

    This is something I find worrying the more I think about it. Why is it a good thing for grown women to look like little girls? I can´t see a similar tendency for grown men to look like little boys.

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  34. The books display some fine English wallpapers.

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  35. I love the simple shapes but being plus-size would look like I am wearng a tent. I think the wallpaper is a William Morris design. They have great taste :)

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  36. I have found it's rather difficult to go to the loo when wearing thai fisherman pants. I made a few pairs once, but the whole getting undressed every time I need to wee was tiresome, maybe it's different for a man? Or maybe I was missing a trick?
    I have two Japanese sewing books, but neither are the typical little girl type. I do love those to look at, but I'm curvy, I'd look ridiculous in them.

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  37. I'm definitely not the target shape but I love the format and wish more people would release patterns this way. A book that contained patterns for a certain kind of figure and style that mean if you like one you'll probably like them all and a very thought out aesthetic. Maybe one day we'll see more varied incarnations?

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  38. I'll skip the pants since I lived through that similar loo trend with jumpsuits and overall bubbles when young. I do like a couple of the dresses. I made a menonite type cotton dress for our hot summers a couple of years ago to wear at home with a colorful pair of birkenstock sandals and it was so comfortable for lounging I plan to make another out of nicer fabric this summer. Not dress up wear but surprisingly something very wearable with its total lack of fit anywhere. I guess I am the odd one out here as I like some of these japanese patterns well except for the pants. I think they could be cute on the right person out of the right fabric but not going down that wadder road at my age and shape.

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  39. I just made my son a pair of fisherman type pants, and I (think) I solved the potty problem with a D-ring belt you can just loosen enough and not release all the folding.

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  40. Nay for me too. Although I love the Pattern Magic books and those wrap pants are making me re-think the slinky pj's project I just bought some charmeuse for. For the most part, those clothes are bags and they don't look like I could get very good cleavage in them.

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  41. 1st went to Japan in 1965 defined my graphic style. Simplicity and blissful silence amongst millions of people. Japanese clothing design and textiles relaxed stylish and comfortable. Now I visit my Japanese publisher and printer every year. Clothed in Issey.........

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  42. And yes the japanese are small so you add a foot in measurement to the pattern, I'm 6 ft 3 and it workers for me. Shogun perfection.

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  43. Being Japanese, I should like them.... but they are nothing but shapeless sack! People in Tokyo used to be so stylish, all dressed up for nothing. But for the past few years, they are all like grown up kindergartner, wearing layers and layers of shapeless sacks with ankle high socks with lace trimming and flats.

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  44. Not for me - All wrong for my figure and I just don't like little girl looks for grown women, at least on me. I do like the pants you are considering. But I would wear something like that as a beach cover-up.

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  45. I have a Pattern Magic book, which has some very interesting ideas, and would get more of those. But most of the other books I've seen are not for me. I do like the styling of the photos and that you can actually SEE the garment, unlike so many pattern books and ads for RTW.

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  46. I love these books for both myself and my children. The size range works for me, and I find the photography as seductive as you do.

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  47. I love Japanese pattern books for menswear and I love their patterns for separates (jackets and trousers) for women. I pick up "Female" magazine from Kinokuniya and usually want to make every pattern in it that isn't a dress. I don't care for the shapeless dresses. I know many people think they're good for "gamine" shapes, but I don't think they're flattering at all on me- I feel like my slight curves are completely obscured by all the fabric! Ick!

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  48. If you go on Ebay you can see the more mainstream books like "Mrs Stylebook" (horrible name but better patterns) that are professional and less "twee". There are good bag pattern books and cute kids clothes as well. Then there are the really crazy Cosplay mags like "Gothic Lolita" and even books about making things out of felt cat hair!

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  49. Japanese pattern books are huge in the French blog community, but what a yawn.
    It's true that the pictures are nice and have quite an appealing quality, I almost bought one someday, lured by the aesthetics, but then I looked at the patterns!
    In my opinion they are really not flattering, usually boxy and you are right Peter, they remind me of patterns for children.
    In conclusion: yes, but no!

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  50. I like them, they are lovely to look at, and the whole liberty/william morris thing is greta, but ive only used the patterns as a basis, after all cut down and belted adds shape. Im only 5ft tall id look like a child! Also id never wear them with knee high socks :-).

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  51. I LOVE the simplicity and minimalism. The clothes? Not so much. They just look so bad on anyone with any curves such as myself.

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  52. I buy at least 2 craft/pattern book when I travel to Japan. While I may not make something out of the book, I like flipping through to remind myself that simple basics can be just as beautiful. The pattern do fare on the smaller side but easily adjustable when the patterns are kept simple.

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  53. Maybe color ideas but the dresses kind of look like house coats or dresses that my family would wear around the house back in the 60's. Kids in the 1930's wore dresses gathered with volume and short. Taking a second look, the fashions kind of look like the ones from a 70's Simplicity book I have. The photographs really don't do anything for me either, but they are gorgeous.

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  54. I'm Chinese and used to like these types of clothes - very "mori girl" which are quite popular in China. But later I found out I looked so pregnant in them because I'm usually a L-XL to Chinese sizes and I'm a bit curvy. Japanese styles in the pattern books are more for skinny girls to play cute, look "kawaii"... Although the pattern magic series are very good Japanese pattern books, as Cécile above mentioned.

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  55. The wrap pants actually reminds me of this pair of vintage pants: https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/158462980/vintage-paisley-psychedelic-1960s-stuart?ref=shop_home_active_6&ga_search_query=pants
    Although they are wrapped backwards. Look interesting to me, but not so practical.

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  56. No to this style -and it doesn't even make me wish I was waif-like myself.

    Yes to japanese sewing magazines ... if they're Gothic Lolita. Used patterns from a couple of issues and decided that I can read sewing even if I don't speak the language it's in.

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  57. In theory, Yes. In practice, well... I like how comfy and Mori they are, but on someone with my body, nooooo. This stuff would look fantastic and adorable on children. Maybe yes to the pants as loungers.

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    1. Thank you for introducing me to the term "Mori" -- fascinating.

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  58. I have all the Drape Drape books and have made some of the clothes. Like folding origami which I also like. Love the clothes in neutral colours cuz the designs are so bold. My favorite sewing projects!

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  59. I love Japanese pattern books, although I haven't sewn from any yet. I love the aesthetic, which is the simple enjoyment of line and pattern. I reject the idea that clothing that leaves something to the imagination and suggests girlishness as opposed to overt sexuality is the same thing as dressing like a little girl.

    These clothes wouldn't work on every body, but if you picked the right color palette and print and accessorized with "harder" clothing like tights, a jacket, and shoes, a lot of women could look good in those clothes.

    It's similar to Laura Ashley: there were the women who wore Laura Ashley style from bow at the top of the head to mary janes on the feet. That was ridiculous. That was "twee." Then there were the women who made Laura Ashley their own. It takes taste and judgment.

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  60. This isn't how I picture Japanese fashion. What does this represent?

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    1. I believe a lot of this comes from a Japanese fashion trend called "Mori girl" or "forest girl."

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  61. Peter, this has been the most fascinating post! I have never heard about mori girl style before. Really good to know.

    Thanks!

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  62. What is the book that has the pants pattern?

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    1. It's this one:

      http://www.amazon.com/Japanese-craft-book-pattern-clothes/dp/B004XY6256/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393028645&sr=8-1&keywords=nooy+pattern+book

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  63. Japanese Pattern Books: a big YAY. I have I AM CUTE DRESSES, and although I have not made one from it yet I love looking at them. I like anything and everything that is different and not samey. I would like to buy more of them, but it's either a sewing book, sewing pattern, or fabric, and fabric usually wins with patterns coming second. Books are purchased on any left over funds from fabric and patterns.

    From
    Cee Jay/Leigh on Sea, Essex, England, Britian

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  64. I have sewn tons of the patterns, and I am a slightly curvy,relatively tall Scandinavian build. I think that the clothes look nice, and my office mates and my husband seem to agree. DH does, however, love Japanese and Scandinavian design in general, so there is that...
    He bought me my first book as a present with my first sewing machine. I own all three Stylish Dress Books, Sew Chic, Simply Sewn, Simple Modern Sewing, Drape Drape 1+2, Shape Shape 1+2, and Easy Sewing for Men. My husband loves the shirts and shorts that I've made for him from "his book." I think that you have to be fairly trim and enjoy a spare, modern style to wear the clothing. I also sew Merchant and Mills and Burda Patterns for reference. If you are thinking about it - go for it! I find the Stylish Dress Books or Simple Modern Sewing to be the best in terms of directions and variety.

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