Sewing: haori

I made three haori over the last couple of days. These are waist-length to thigh-length Japanese shirts or tops with a closure on the right-hand side. You can see the fabric that I chose for the Haori in the photograph here, and you can also see what a Haori looks like. It’s a rather nice garment, if a bit too boxy for some people — but part of what makes it so simple is that plain boxiness. This is a garment that has looked good on people, in one form or another, and in one cloth-type or another, for a thousand years. There’s something telling about that kind of design choice, too — it’s not wasteful of fabric, it’s structured to be modifiable and repairable, and it works nicely as part of an overall layered appearance. All in all, a truly beautiful and practical garment.

They’re all really nice. A couple of things became clear as I worked through this pattern for the tenth and eleventh and twelfth time — there’s a bit of really elegant design built into the structure of the neck and as it joins the lower hem. This is the same bit of tailoring, it turns out, that I needed on the placket of a prototype shirt I made, later in the day. A solution found by tailors in Japan fifteen hundred years ago, also happens to be the solution that European tailors stumbled upon nearly as long ago — and each solution is based on a more basic technique for hiding seams inside a garment or a bag, rather than leaving the seam on the outside of the sewn object.

And that’s the thing I’m discovering about sewing: each thing I make builds on earlier skills, and informs later ones. Every skill-set is like this, of course. The beginner doesn’t know what they don’t know. The lesser intermediate student knows a few patterns and has a few processes, and a few procedures, more. The more skilled student has a handful of processes and wanders farther from the standard patterns. The master has quite a lot of processes, and invents patterns as they go.

Which was today’s insight: a placket or a neck band can be folded inside out, sewn across an end, and made to lie flat on the seam it will follow. Suddenly my neck bands in the haori are lying better — and the pattern of this shirt I prototyped, suddenly makes sense, and I was able to produce one in record time. The parts are already cut for the second prototype — there’s still an issue or two I’m trying to work out — but I’m really happy with this shirt design (and the white shirt [prototype] looks really good with a haori over it!).

So there’s this moment coming, which I’ve not been able to see yet, when I’m going to be able to go to a relatively normal event, in relatively normal space with non-magical, wearing an outfit that I made from beginning to end, without feeling like a slob or a weirdo. Well. People may think that I’m a weirdo anyway — but that won’t change the fact that I’ll be dressed ‘normally’, in ‘normal looking clothes’ instead of costume pieces, that are the result of my own labors. And people will want to buy into that, I suspect.

That day is coming, and it just got a whole lot closer.

The other thing, is that increasingly I find that I have this weird sensation, looking at how other people are dressed. A piece of clothing is a garment, or clothes, or a costume — to other people. But to me, increasingly, a garment is the current stage of a flow-model or a process. It doesn’t much matter what someone is wearing, it’s just one stage in the life of the fabric. I or another tailor or seamstress helped that fabric get to where it is now… but it doesn’t have to stay in that form, and it could be something else. That’s exciting to me.

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