Atelier nani Iro Meets Indian Woodblock~ A Case Of Sewing Not Writing


I started making my own clothes in my teens: it was the era of Pop Art and Mary Quant shifts. I made a bee-line for cheap remnants of furnishing fabrics with big prints and turned out some surprising garments. Much much later, when were living in Kenya and Zambia, I was inspired by the bright local fabrics and started sewing again. Graham still has some striking longish shorts – an all-over mango tree design – orange print on navy – the lovely glazed cotton bought in Lusaka back in ‘93 and initially used as curtains in our little house on Sable Road.

Back in England again, I did not sew so much, though I remember making a big winter coat which features in one of my earlier blog headers. Thereafter the sewing urge mostly faded away. It was easier to buy stuff.

And then recently I discovered nani IRO. Not only was it love at first sight, but the advent of a whole new sewing adventure: the hitherto unencountered territory of Japanese design. This was the book that started it:



For those like me i.e. not-in-the-know, Nani IRO is the brand name for the fabrics created from designs by Japanese artist Naomi Ito. And Atelier nani IRO is the design studio that produces the sewing patterns. In the past they have catered only for petite Japanese sizes. But this current collection now includes sizes up to UK 14/US 12.

The book is beautiful – every page of it. But being captivated by the images and fabrics is one thing. I soon realised the challenge of using it to make an actual garment was probably bordering on the impossible. The patterns that come with the book comprise two fat folded wads of stiff white paper. They are inscribed with multiple pattern pieces that overlay one another, and at all angles. Furthermore, the instructions are in Japanese, although on the whole the book’s accompanying diagrams are more or less clear to anyone used to tackling European dress patterns.

So: this is what a small part of the pattern sheet looks like. Think exploded Venn diagram meets Heathrow air traffic control flight paths:


Each garment does however have a letter code in English and the sizes are indicated S, ML, L+, 2L. After this, you are pretty much on your own.

Once you know the letter of your chosen project, you must then study the designated layout in the book to fix in visual brain the shapes of all the pattern pieces you’ll need. Then you have to search for those shapes within this bonkers mega-puzzle, and having located them, trace them off to the appropriate size on dressmaking tracing paper.

By this point, on my hands and knees amid clouds of tissue paper strewn across the bedroom floor, I realise I am pursuing, and with dogged intent, an extreme form of writer’s procrastination. I have actually chosen to unravel this devilish design of cross-purposes rather than sort out the pressing narrative plotting problems of the novel.

Found you out! I cry. This is not really about making a big blue frock out of a stash of Indian block print cotton that you just happened to have handy. This is about NOT WRITING.

But  then of course when it comes to prevarication, writers have all the excuses. I tell myself it’s good at my age to go in for new forms of mental and manual exercise, even if the initial processes are killing on the knees. Besides, there is also the great satisfaction of making and completing a project. And while I can see that my new blue Indo-Japanese gown is hardly the sort of thing I can wear at the allotment, it does have potential as a personal seaside ‘changing room’. I can even look fairly gracious when needing to treat with the postman before I’m quite up in the morning.

And then I’m actually rather in love with the thing itself. Scenes from Kurosawa epics (Seven Samurai, Ran, Yohimbo) come flitting through my mind. Perhaps a little of the master’s creative impulses might just rub off on me (though hopefully not adding confusing Japanese influences to a yarn set in the East African bush. Or there again…) So I may just hang the finished work on the wall. Perhaps it will tell me I’ve used up all present excuses to not write. Perhaps it will say: stop play-acting out in the field with the other half and get back to the keyboard!





July Squares #7

48 thoughts on “Atelier nani Iro Meets Indian Woodblock~ A Case Of Sewing Not Writing

  1. I haven’t sewed in years but your choice of fabric is lovely. Long time ago I made most of my clothes and even made jeans for my sons and a suit for my husband, but things changed when patterns got so expensive along with the fabric. Now my machine is a problem …would love a better …new one so I could sew for my grands and maybe teach them to sew.

    1. That would be nice to teach the grand children. I bought my niece a very basic Singer for her 21st birthday some years ago now, and I’m amzed at what she has managed to create with it, including an Edwardian style very intricate winter coat.

  2. Good for you, Tish! I can see why you get sucked in by those attractive options. My mom made a lot of our clothes when we were growing up and I did a little bit of sewing but never got good enough to really enjoy it. I bought patterns and lots of material but never got around to making anything. I suffered from sewing guilt for a long time before finally realizing that I wasn’t overspending on my clothes as I got many of them from the thrift stores or on sale. So I passed on my patterns and my material and jettisoned my sewing guilt. Much happier now and still well-clothed for less. 😉


    1. I can well understand the sewing guilt, but you found an excellent and creative way to resolve it. I’m no great needlewoman. In fact, if I’m honest, I only enjoy sewing as a means to an end, not the actual doing it.

  3. Lovely piece of writing, Tish. Just as lovely to see the finished article.

    Being a lover of textiles also, you might indulge me if I say that great minds think alike or fools seldom differ because Ire-posted a piece on the embellishment technique called ‘phulkari’ this morning.

    A small bit in your possession, Tish, and you could just have pieced it in to your new Indo-Japanese gown. A piece of a standard size and you need not have done anything with it but used it, uncut and draped it across yourself, a piece of furniture or wherever it would gladden your eye.

    So, forgive me for adding the URL here and I hope you enjoy this post as much as I enjoyed yours today! And every day that you post! Sarah

    1. What a lovely gift from you Sarah. How marvellous are the ‘phulkari’ creations! Thank you for the link. And you reminded me too, I do have some very small pieces of antique Indian embroidery – SOMEWHERE. I must seek them out. And thank you for your appreciative comments 🙂

  4. I love the fabric and well done for persevering with your procrastination to find the pattern! The belt really works with the style too. Lovely.

  5. Well done you for persevering with the crazy pattern, Tish! I’m pretty sure I’d have given up, I’m afraid. You’ve done a fantastic job, it looks lovely & cool to wear too. Your ‘not writing’ time was definitely put to good use, gifting yourself with a super garment that will serve you well for a long time to come, I’m sure. 🙂

  6. The fabric is stunning, and you look gorgeous in it. I am in awe of your talents – writing, gardening, sewing, photographing. Clearly procrastination suits you 😀

  7. Oh, I love this! Who cares if you were procrastinating. You were certainly creating – both the garment and the account of making it, with all those amusing descriptions: exploding Venn diagrams meets Heathrow flight paths indeed! The fabric is stunning – as of course are you – and I bow before your persistence.

  8. The fabric is stunning! And I admire your persistence in following the pattern, I had to chuckle at your telling of the story. And I think you look like an early 20th century artist in that first photo. Just missing the easel!

    1. Hello Katherine. Thank you for those kind words. Cutting out can indeed be hazardous. And you need to be on good terms with your sewing machine or else there are all sorts of snarl ups 🙂

      1. In my family I was labelled as a dreamer but now I am very good at fixing things.I doubt if I could make the dress you made.. amazing.:)

      2. If you’re good at fixing things, Katherine, I bet you could sew things. When we lived in Africa I sewed a lot of simple things by hand, which truly went against my grain, since it required more patience and neatness than I could usually muster. But I still have some of those clothes, and they’re still holding together after 20 odd years.

  9. I truly can’t sew and it’s not for want of trying. I’m one of those people who could never make two sleeves inset the same way or have any buttonholes properly line up … or even get the zipper even on both sides. I’m the person about whom others said: “Ah. I see you made that yourself.”

    It was not a compliment. My mother was brilliant. I was not.

    1. I had a terror of a sewing teacher at secondary school. She was an unlikely addition in an otherwise very academic girl’s grammar. All the same, my sewing skills are a bit haphazard, and I truly struggle with myself to be patient and do the necessary tacking and preparation etc – because I finally have learned (after all these years) that in the end it saves hours of tedious unpicking.

      1. Mostly pants (trousers) and shorts that fitted me with big pockets, shirts also with big pockets. mending, etc. 🙂 … just about everything that could be made with fabric and a sewing machine. 🙂

      2. 😀 I would like to find the person/s in history who decided that women’s clothing should be utterly devoid of pockets (and be too tight and too short) and shove them into the biggest pocket I can find, preferably at the bottom of a very big hole! 😀

      3. They are doubtless the same person who ordained kitchen cupboard work tops to be at totally the wrong height for most of the people who mostly use them.

  10. Beautiful fabric. I love the design too. I can definitely understand sewing as procrastination. Better than binge-watching tv though — and less fattening than baking.

      1. 😀 oddly, having bought fabric for more totes, I’m feeling guilty coz I’m procrastinating about making them. Cooking is my displacement activity.

  11. What beautiful fabric and figuring out cutting the pattern was really challenging – not only to the knees! Perhaps if writing can be conceptualised as an irresistible way of postponing even less desirable activities requiring attention, it may become a constructive procrastinator rather than being procrastinated? 🙂

    1. I like your argument, Carol. In fact I like it very much 🙂 🙂 I’ve also just been reading your post on paisley so lots of congruency in our corner of the universe.

      1. I might try out that argument myself 🙂 There is an interesting congruence in the patterns. Unfortunately though, I need to go and complete the less than fascinating task of making cushion covers for dogs’ beds! Perhaps next time I should cover them in paisley 🙂

  12. I love it when procrastination leads to a creative project! I haven’t sewed in years and years. In fact, recently I finally gave away my sewing machine which had been simply gathering dust. It needed to be in the hands of someone who would really appreciate it.

    Good work! Are you now inspired to write again?

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