Friday, 29 May 2015

'She Wears the Pants': Japanese Sewing Book Review

I have been a fab of Japanese sewing books for some years both for inspiration and to make clothing and I follow Japanese Sewing Books blog to catch  the latest releases.  Back in March, I saw that  'She Wears the Pants' by Yuko Takada, (formerly known as 'She Has Mannish Style') was being re-released as an English translation by Tuttle Publishing.  
Tuttle Publishing have a series of Japanese titles translated into English.  I have Basic Black and Stylish Skirts both by Sato Watanabe and they are great value- lots of patterns included often for the price of just one pattern.  When they offered to send me this one to review, I did not hesitate!   The cover picture alone had me hooked (top No. 4) and the Epaulaette top is what I sewed up to give the instructions a thorough review!

But first, back to the book details.  I always want to see as many of the patterns as possible before I buy.  I recommend you look at Japanese Sewing Books blog, and Sew Busy Lizzy's blog post as well as here so that you can see photographs of most of the garment styles.  It is a book of everyday wear, mainly separates, all simple clean cut styles including pull on tops, tailored shirt, lots of jersey clothing, jackets, trousers, culottes, tippets (collars) and even a knitted wrap belt.

The matt paper and the heavily styled photographs with lots of dark fabrics can at times camouflage many of the more subtle details so you do need to study the photographs and the pattern details to see the garments close up.  The double breasted Oval Coat (No.1) looks more like a sleeveless jacket in the photo but in the detailed line drawing- one of my favourite features of Japanese sewing books- you can see it is actually a jacket and the knitted sleeves are part of the garment.  The welt pockets, the modern take on the leg o' mutton sleeve, the rounded collar and the lining- there is such a lot going on with this jacket and I like it all!  Plus the loose shape combined with knit rib sleeves could make this a relatively easy item to fit.  I see a winter project coming on!

I also liked these two styles.  I plan to try the  No.12 Draped Dress as a top in some rayon jersey for a test run and I also have a jersey back/double gauze front idea for that one too.   No.18 The Dotted Blouse is very much in the style of a man's shirt- no darts, just a straight, slim-fit shape with a rounded collar to soften and feminise the style.  Perfect for lawn.   Do note that the sizing is small which is usually the way with Japanese sewing books.  I fit between small and medium, even an L for my waistline.  Height is something to consider too.  The smallest size, XS, is  5' tall/153cm and the largest, L, is 5' 6"/168cm tall and the cut is boyish.  The styles are a mix of loose and close fitting and this influences these sizing I would choose.  For a loose style like the 04 Epaulettes top, I sized down a little to a small.  For the Dotted Blouse, I plan to size up and lengthen the body by 1"/2cm.  I am just under 5'5"/164cm tall.

Japanese sewing books tend to follow a similar layout and this is like others I have used.  There are two double-sided pattern sheets at the back of the book with full size nested patterns to trace off.  Seam allowances aren't included but in the layout diagrams you can see where they need adding and labels are added to indicate larger allowances e.g. for hems.

Each garment's pattern instructions indicates which sheet to look at for the pattern pieces and each sheet has an index of garments and which side of the sheet they are on.  At the edge of the sheets,  you can see the garment names written in a large bold typeface and arrows to the pattern pieces so although the pattern sheets can look a little muddled on first glance, I found it straightforward to follow the arrows and locate the pieces I needed.

I love the epaulette detail, it lifts the top from being a standard t shirt to something a little more purposeful.  I used a viscose jersey from Plush Addict as I wanted something to drape well and have a little swing to it.  My only addition was to add knit stay tape, which is a narrow fusible knit interfacing similar to this one, to the neckline and the back shoulders as well as interfacing the neck facings as described in the pattern.  I use Perfect Fuse sheer fusible interfacing which is brilliant stuff and I use it for woven fabrics too.  I didn't sew a buttonhole on the epaulette; instead I just sewed the button on top as it is a decorative rather than functional addition.

There is a detailed section at the beginning of the book on different sewing techniques including jersey.   I found some of these a little convoluted to read and I couldn't quite work out what was going on.  On the hem and sleeve ends I used a double needle and I wish I hand''t as the fine jersey tunnelled a little- even with pressing.  The book suggests two rows of straight stitch and as the hem and cuffs are loose enough to do that without the stitches breaking, I will do that on the striped version I have planned next.  The instructions for this top were straightforward and the fabric cutting layout and fabric requirement was exactly as stated with very little wastage.

A few things to note:
  •  the garment instructions are not in chronological number order although the photographs are.  They are easy enough to find.
  • Some wording can be a little lost in translation. T-cloth is mentioned and I know Japanese Sewing Books took that to mean t-shirt weight jersey but it is a little unclear as 'knit' is mentioned for other stretch fabric garments like top 04.  I am guessing T-cloth is a type of knit fabric, maybe heavier?
  • Look at the line drawings in addition to the photographs.  You will often see a lot more detail in the drawings.
Garment stats

You can see more real life examples of the items in this book through these links:
Top with Epaulettes No.4  here
Velour blouse No.5 here, here and here
Square top No.6 here
Sarrouel Trousere No.8 here
Square top No.11 here
Tapered Trousers No.13 here
Draped Mini Dress No.12 here and here
Gathered blouse No. 17 here and here

What strikes me with all these makes seeing them worn, they all capture the same essence that is shown in the book and although that sounds obvious, it is not always the case for garments!  I felt the same about my top- it looked like the top in the book albeit with Pineapples.  It is a great book, and it has pushed me into a slightly different clothing style zone- I am even contemplating the culottes!

*This book was sent for free from Tuttle publishing, all opinions are my own*
sib blog


  1. That looks like a great book (although I wish the model would stand up straight in the draped dress photo!) and your pineapple top is fabulous - you look very happy to be wearing it which is always a sign of successful handmade clothing!

  2. Thanks for the thorough review. I do love that stripey top! I've found with my drapier knits that using steam a seam or fabric glue before twin needling helps a lot to prevent that tunnelling, but sometimes those drapey fabrics just don't want to behave!

  3. Hello, interesting review (even though I don't sew clothes!). I like your take on "lost in translation"!
    You may want to take a look at this French blog
    where they sew clothes from Japanese books. The left hand side column has the covers of all the books they refer to and then you can click on the book to see which items from the book were sewn. (Hope this makes sense ...)

  4. I recently sewed up a muslin of the Sarrouel Trousers (No. 8) from this book, which you can check out here:

    It's a funky pattern! I can't decide if I really like them or not, but I made up another pair that I'll blog about soon. I'm looking forward to seeing more of these trousers pop up on the web. :)

    Thanks for this review! I've been enjoying this book so far and would recommend it.


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