Japanese confusion

I'd said in my last post that I'd share some more information about the lovely book that the pattern for my jacket came from. It's the Couture Dress and Smock Book that I purchased from M is for Make... I'd bought it on the basis of the pattern for this lovely jacket (below) being included (see here for my version), but hadn't been overly enamoured with the other patterns that I'd seen from it as they all looked a little floaty.

However, when it arrived I felt completely delighted by it...the non-floaty numbers just hadn't appeared in the photos I'd seen from the book, but they were definitely in there.

I love the somewhat kooky styling in this book. One girl holds a white jug aloft...

While another proffers an apple:

The dress above I'd love to make for a wedding or special occasion.

There were some incredibly helfpul sheets of A4, listing translations for some of the more common Japanese sewing terms that 'M is for Make...' put in with the book...and for some reason I became slightly obsessed by these sheets. Do you remember the scene in the book of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,where the boy walks into a field and has to count all the fence posts he can see before he can do anything (I think it was fence posts...or was it cows? Whatever, it was something that there were a lot of)? Well, that was slightly like me with the pattern sheet (I am not normally prone to such fixations, so can only assume that some code-cracking was just the fun that I needed that evening). I found that I lost nearly five hours translating symbols...for no other reason than I found it completely fascinating. Up until now, just recognising the Japanese for 'back' and 'front' has sufficed, but suddenly being able to translate all the other words felt imperative. I can now recognise terms such as 'on the fold' and 'rightside', 'inside', 'lining', 'width' and even 'fusible interfacing'...and I have also printed off even more translations that I found on the internet to add to my dictionary. The best resource has to be Label-Free though - amazing!

Knowing that this jacket was the first thing that I wanted to make from the book, I set about attempting to do an in depth translation...it took some time, and was not altogether enlightening.

A great many things were labelled, but there were some symbols that I couldn't translate and I became a little fixated with trying to work out what they might be. Eventually, I texted my dear friend, Joanne, with a sewing SOS and a photo of some of the characters that were driving me to distraction. Joanne spent four years learning Japanese 'just for fun' (proving perhaps that there is something addictive about the translating of the symbols) and so I knew that she would be just the right person to help. But the reply that came back was curious.

Two of the characters in conjunction with one another suggest that it's a foundation or pedestal skirt, Florence...are you sure that you're looking at a pattern for a jacket?

I blithely decided that this must be referring to the bit of the jacket that flares out beneath the yoke, but did wonder how one jacket could have so many pieces to it...half an hour later I turned the page and realised that this book doesn't follow the same format of one-pattern-per-page-spread that my other Japanese books have followed...it seemed that the pattern pieces for the dress on the next page had been put next to the jacket pieces (The format always goes: illustration, instructions, pattern pieces....never pattern pieces first! This should be against the law! See the picture below where the two right hand boxes are for the dress on the following page).

Happily this means that I have something akin to two birds in the hand and only one left in the bush, as the dress pattern has now been fully translated for if and when I want to use it and seems so much more comprehensible for no longer masquerading as a jacket.

I have decided not to translate the Japanese any longer. Firstly, because I think that it may lead to certain madness and secondly because I think that what I've always loved about Japanese patterns is that they're very visual - I've always found that looking at the pieces and working out how they fit together has felt easier than following a conventional pattern. After my initial spell of pointlessly tying myself up in knots over the sewing terms, the actual jacket was incredibly simple to make and came together easily (this isn't to say that you should ignore the translation sheet - it's incredibly useful...but it probably doesn't require to be learnt off-by-heart, and poured over as though one is about to sit an exam on sewing technicalities in Japanese).

So I shall leave you with two interesting links, relating to the two lovelies that feature in my Japanese conundrum.

Firstly, Joanne has started a second non-sewing-related blog called Practice Writing to get her back into the habit of daily writing, because as well as studying Japanese, she also did a creative writing degree...and got a First. Anyway, her writing is good. I could think up lots of adjectives to apply to this, but actually, as I over-adjective every sentence then I'm hoping that my minimalism will convey just how very good I think it is. I don't really do verbal or written minimalism, but sometimes I think it's most effective. My husband once sent a CD of his music to an American DJ with the words 'This is good' on the accompanying note...four weeks later he was being flown over to Seattle, being interviewed and performing a live set on the radio and playing a gig with Kristin Hersh later that evening...I stayed at home in England with a toddler and a small baby and couldn't believe quite how far those three words had got him as I sat listening to the show streaming over the Internet...four weeks later he was being flown to LA...then on to Nashville...and then, thankfully, back home again where I told him, with lots of adjectives, how pleased I was to have him here). Anyway, back to Joanne. Four posts in and already it's one of my new favourite blogs...she serves up bite-sized literary feasts that slot into my day perfectly. Occasionally it's nice to read something unrelated to sewing on the internet...but I never know where to look for that thing. Now I've found it. And it's refreshing. You might like it too. This is my favourite post so far.

Secondly, Kate, provider of fascinating lists and proprietor of 'M is for Make...' sent out her newsletter as I was writing this blog post (and, being easily distracted, I read it) and is celebrating her shop's first birthday with a sew-along and gift vouchers as the pot of gold at the end of it. You can find the details for it here

Florence x

(That meant Happy Wednesday...I think!)


  1. Trying to translate patterns can be addictive - I have some french and german knitting patterns, which have translations, but I always get bogged down in the originals. Think I would have learnt by now, wouldn't you!

  2. Apologies to French and German readers, my shift key failed to capitalise..

  3. So many pretty patterns! Artistic photography. I thought "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" was a pretty neat book...so funny that you think you're that obsessed with translating Japanese into English!!! My girls take karate and have learned how to count to 10 in Japanese, and other words, like side kick. I would love to learn more...

  4. It sounds amazing to me that you've figured out so many things on your own. Japanese is my native language but Japanese sewing terms gets a little confusing to me so I often have to look up what those words mean, haha. Let me know if I could be any of your help ;)

  5. It is totally addictive translating them isn't it? What is even more fun; after you have traced off your pattern pieces, writing the Japanese symbol and your translation next to it.

    Glad you are enjoying your book and look forward to your entry in the sew along!


  6. Hello
    I have this book with the cute jacket. I've actually made it twice (once with long sleeves and several alterations)
    Here are the links.

    I've never tried to translate japonese patterns. Just go with it and pretend you know what you are doing! These patterns are rarely fully lined and are therefore quite simple.


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Florence x