myBearpaw Blog by Jo Avery

Turning Japanese…

 … oh yes I’m turning Japanese, I really think so!

Those of you of a certain age may remember this song by the Vapors. And it comes into my head as I consider my growing obsession with all things Japanese. Well as long as it’s sewing related that is!

It started about 5 years ago when my husband bought me a book called Kokoro No Te ‘handmade treasures from the heart’. I made a few items from it including this ‘Tomato Cache’ which I just dug out of a drawer for this post (seems a shame to stick it back in the drawer, maybe I should give it away to someone, or maybe to you lot?!!).

I went on to give a ‘Fabric Origami’ class at the first Stitch Gathering which included lots of embellishment techniques I’d learnt from the book.

And then there’s the Sashiko. I bought my first Sashiko panel 2 or 3 years ago. Here is the latest one.

I love taking these panels on journeys as they are so portable and quick to do. I finished this on my recent trip to teach at Simply Solids in Huddersfield.

I now have 4 finished panels, and still the vague woolly idea that these will one day be turned into a quilt for my youngest son.

Meanwhile I now have a real life Japanese friend, Hikaru who has been helping me teach Sashiko at the studio. Hikaru has made this class extra fascinating by telling us all about the origins of Sashiko, the meanings of the patterns and showing her vast array of Sashiko samples.

And at this year’s Stitch Gathering Hikaru will be teaching some workshops alongside me. Our 4 afternoon sessions have a combined Japanese theme so I think we will keep our classes close together.

I will be teaching Sashiko and also Origami Bags. I started making these earlier this year after my EMQG friend Tatyana showed our whole guild how to make the drawstring version above. I’ve just finished this one made out of lovely Dashwood fabric line ‘Fly Away‘.This is my fifth bag – they are such a fab easy gift!

But of course Hikaru knows lots of different ways to make Origami Bag and showed me how to make this ‘water lily’ version (I just gave it that name BTW, it probably has a different Japanese name).

Hikaru made the top one for a sample, then she made me the one on the left (with the beautiful hand stitching) as a birthday present, and I just made the last one to finally try it out for myself (seeing as I will be teaching it!) and as a birthday present for my son’s girlfriend. We will be teaching both versions in the SG class.

Hiakru will also be teaching Clamshell Purses and Macaroon Pouches, both are proving very popular classes!

I first met Hikaru when she came to our shop a few years ago to buy fabric. She bought a lot of fabric and was very excited to have found us! Later she brought in some of these clamshell pouches to show us what she had used the fabric for. She had made over 70 of these for wedding favours! All hand stitched!

I tried one of these out a few days ago. I have finally caught up with all my magazine commission work (for now!) so I am relaxing with some ‘frippery’ crafting for the next few days!

I am thrilled with how this turned out (though I must admit that Hikaru prepared a little kit for me and basted the shapes – sshhhh!), and how well does it match my nail polish?!

And how totally adorable are these Clamshell Pouches? No wonder everyone wants to do this class at the Stitch Gathering!  Hikaru made both of these, I have yet to give this one a try.

Apart from being an exceptionally talented sewer/crocheter/knitter Hikaru is also a lovely kind pal who also made me this beautiful Sashiko pincushion for my birthday last month.

Did you know this shape is called a Biscornu? I have been calling is a doughnut but it actually has a proper name (though a very odd one!).

The other thing that Hikaru likes to make for everyone are these Japanese Thimbles. They should sit between the 2 joints on your finger. I had a very swollen finger earlier this year when Hikaru first made me the bottom one. Now my finger is much better so she gave me a new one (though it was hot when I took this photo so my fingers were a bit more swollen than usual – it should sit a bit lower down!).

I am hoping to learn to make my own Japanese Thimbles soon too, they are so pretty and delicate, which just about sums up everything I like about Japanese sewing.

I decided to add these little felt and bead ‘cherries’ to the ribbon end. These are something I learnt from the Kokoro No Te book, I used to make loads of them and add them as embellishments to the ‘leaf needlecases’ I used to make and sell in our old shop. I saw that Hikaru had made little fabric cherries for the ribbon ends on the bag she made me and (constantly inspired by her) I thought I would add some here too, they make a lovely finishing touch.

This photo was taken in our (almost finished) Japanese Zen Garden that my husband has been working on for the last year! Photo of the whole garden to follow soon.

See I told you I was turning Japanese! And it’s catching!


  1. Wowser…great stuff! Sure wish I could be there for the classes! I am very interested in those thimbles too. Right now I use a leather one with a small metal disc in the middle. That one is just beautifull!!:)

    Can't wait to see photos of the Zen Garden….is it near the house?

  2. Beautiful! I'm as obsessed as you. Luckily I'm going to Tokyo next week to visit my children so hoping to fill my suitcase with fabric, thread etc. All I need is a crafty Japanese friend in London

  3. What a super post, not surprised you are turning Japanese. I did a mini workshop a couple of years ago making the Biscornu pinnie but thought it was French, maybe a bit of fusion!

  4. What a super post, not surprised you are turning Japanese. I did a mini workshop a couple of years ago making the Biscornu pinnie but thought it was French, maybe a bit of fusion!

  5. What a super post, not surprised you are turning Japanese. I did a mini workshop a couple of years ago making the Biscornu pinnie but thought it was French, maybe a bit of fusion!

  6. Oh, I love Japanese needlework of all kinds. It's so neat and small and sweet. I have had that book for quite a few years (along with another called Omiyage) but I've only made one project from it. I've also got a bag-making book in Japanese. Your post has made me eager to dig them all out for a lovely browse. The clam shells are my favourite here, if I lived nearer to you I'd definitely be on that course.
    Teresa x

  7. I love everything here!! Especially the clamshells and thimbles – so lovely!!

    P.S. You know that Vapors song is rude, yeah? *g* It's one of my favourites but the "turning Japanese" is a reference to something…

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