Friday, 29 September 2017

Japanese Floor Cushion - A Sewing Lesson

I just spent almost four weeks in Japan. I really enjoyed the holiday and my, I could show you 800 plus pictures of the marvels I have seen. Don't worry, I will refrain from doing that.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Whilst in Tokyo, I booked a sewing class (obviously =) to make a Japanese style floor cushion. My hostess Akiko picked me up at the train station and went fabric shopping with me. After I had picked the fabric for my cushion cover we went to her apartment for the class. As professional kimono maker Akiko had a lot of knowledge to share. The floor cushion was to be hand sewn using techniques that had been passed on from mother to daughter in her family for several generations.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


We started by folding the fabric once right sides together and measuring the fabric from the fold to create a rectangle of 42 x 44 cm, no overlap. I cut the fabric to size and was then tasked to sew two sides together by hand with a simple running stitch, the third side was the fabric fold. Apart from securing the thread at the start and end there was no stitching back. Once that simple envelope was created Akiko produced what looked like a huge wad of organic cotton. Not the well behaved stuff but the kind that immediately sticks to other fabrics and commences shedding and bearding on contact.


Puppilalla, Japanese Style, silk worm cocoon, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


To prevent that effect, with the view to wash the cushion cover on occasion, the women in Akiko's family have taken to wrapping the cotton into unspun raw silk threads that they gained from unspooling and widening a single silk worm cocoon.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


The wonky netting is placed around the cotton fibres before the the filling is put into the cushion cover. The thus silk netted cotton should now no longer stick to the inside of the cushion cover. Fascinating. I wonder why they did not sew an inlet instead but it forgot to ask at the time. Considering that her family were farmers, they probably had no money to spare for extra fabric that would only be on the inside of the cushion.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Next we layered the cushion cover, still inside out, the cotton wadding and a random sheet of paper onto each other. Akiko picked the lot up, placed her arm on the paper on top of the pile and folded the entire stack in two across her arm, while I was to turn the cushion cover inside out to trap the filling inside. The paper merely, served to prevent the cotton wadding to stick to itself upon momentarily being folded in half. The paper was then removed and the cotton fluffed in shape and into the corners of the cushion.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Then I displayed my cultural ignorance by asking a silly question, namely, whether we would put in a zipper next. Akiko regarded me for a moment and then explained that there were no zippers in Japan until World War II. That makes total sense and therefore putting in zippers could decidedly not have been amoung the sewing techniques handed down in her family. Instead the last two edges were folded inwards and I hand stiched them together with a ladder stitch.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Here I was to use a single thread ragher than the double used earlier, the reason being that double threads are considered uncouth and are never used in finishing garments etc. Akiko explained that she only ever sews with single threads when she constructs her kimonos.

Once I had closed the last seam, Akiko showes me how to make Japanese style tassels at the corners of the cushion. Technically, a floor cushion has a fifth tassel in the middle of the pillow but we decided that the fabric was busy enough and did not need another tassel to overload things.

Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY

And that was that. Three hours well spent. According to Akiko, the pillow, being all cotton and silk, is good to last 50 years. One is supposed to air it regularly in the full blasting sun. The latter goes aginst all fabric (colour) preservation advice I have learnt so far but the reason might be another one. The humidity in this country is very high with Tokyo having only marginally less rainy days than London and putting the cushion in the sun might be a way of drying it out completly.


Puppilalla, Japanese Style Floor Cushion, hand made, pillowcase, japanese craft, DIY


Of course if you wish to wash the cover, you have to open that last seam and peel out the filling that may not ever be washed but only aired. Afterwards, you have to put it back together and sew it shut again. That is a lot of work all things considered. Nowadays, the Japanese do not go to that length. As such cushions are cheap, though filled with polyester insted of organic cotton, they are being thrown out and replaced rather than maintained.

My floor cushion remained in Tokyo and was a Birthday present to my friend's husband who kindly looked after me during my stay. I sure hope he likes it. I chose the fabric because he likes to read Manga and I like pops of colour, so the fabric is to represent both of us. I thoroughly enjoyed that sewing lesson and learned a thing or two.




As for myself, of course I treated myself to a few things from the fabric shop. I am most proud of the Japanese made iron fabric scissors I got for myself. What a treat! And I went for a few choice pieces of fabric.

Puppilalla, Japanese Fabrics, stash building

Considering all the goodies, I could have bought, I think I have excercised a lot of restraint.  =)





4 comments:

  1. What a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  2. From the sounds of it, those hours very definitely well spent. And I am sure your host will appreciate the gift.

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  3. Four weeks in Japan!!! Wow!! What an amazing adventure!! And how cool that you could incorporate fabric and sewing into your trip!

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  4. Sounds like a wonderful experience and history lesson! I have never seen raw silk like that unwound from the cocoon. So interesting! Enjoyed reading all about your sewing adventure.

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Happy to see you here. Thank you for taking the time to engage. =)