Japanese pattern magazines

I have some Japanese pattern magazines from the sixties that I love to pull out and show visitors -that’s what passes for social conversation around here. These are the funniest things. It’s not so much the styles that are funny although they are about 40 years old, it’s everything about them. Since these pattern magazines are the equivalent of home sewing magazines here, the advertising alone can be quite amusing because these are nothing like US magazines. They advertised everything from beer

to the latest hot new cars

to pancake make-up courtesy of Max Factor.

Okay, I take it back. The styles can be a riot. Just what is this woman wearing on her head?

Perhaps insult to injury -this being a pattern magazine- you can actually make that hat yourself! For those who don’t know, in Japan, you can’t go to the store and buy a pattern. You buy a pattern magazine. Pattern magazines sell you the instructions to draft your own patterns. New styles each month. You’re supposed to draft a basic fitting shell (instructions in each issue, always) and use that to generate the style. Note below that the shape of the basic pattern is superimposed and shaded blue in the sketch.

Below you can see another draft from a different magazine.

This is the method that is used most in the Orient. Often, separate patterns aren’t made. Rather, the block is laid on the fabric and the style is drafted directly on the cloth using chalk. You don’t really need to be able to read the instructions. You just need a block and a metric ruler. All the measurements are reflected in the drafts. This is much simpler than the kinds of pattern books we sell here. If you’re interested in Japanese or Chinese pattern drafting, you can get the basics in English with a book called Patternless Fashions by Diehl Lewis and Mary Loh. There’s another book too but I can’t find my copy to tell you the title.

And speaking of funny and home sewing patterns, Chrystal reminds me to tell you about Threadbared. These ladies have found the envelopes of vintage patterns to be inspirational -at least when it comes to humor. Here’s an entry entitled Apron: Strings Attached.

“See, I made this special hand sewn apron to show my husband how dedicated I am to my homemaking duties and caring for him. When he gets home I’ll say something clever like ‘Look honey, my heart belongs to you.’ ”

“Oh! Good idea. Maybe I’ll say something like ‘Look, Honey! Come here and let me give you some sugar.’ Get it? Sugar? Candy? The Candy Cane? Ha ha ha.”

“And I’ll say ‘Look honey, there’s a big man stuck in my chimney.'”

Get New Posts by Email


  1. battlepanda says:

    And here I was thinking that the Japanese are known for their exquisite sense of style and restraint…

    Seriously though, they do produce crafting books of a very high caliber, though I haven’t seen any fashion sewing magazines…

  2. Gigi says:

    I subscribe to a Japanese pattern magazine called Mrs. Style. It comes out about 4 times per year. Same idea, same wacky advertising (oh, the garish colors!) but the garments are really nice.

  3. J C Sprowls says:

    Was it Dorothy Moore’s Dressmaking and Patterndrafting, maybe?

    I also have 2 volumes of Pattern Drafting by Dressmaking (Kamakura-Shobo Publishing). Vol 1 of Pattern Drafting features several styles of men’s suits and overcoats – I find it invaluable.

  4. sandra says:

    I LOVE these books. I have some from Occupied Japan, which I find historically fascinating because it covers the time they were deliberately westernising. I have some from the 60’s, some from the 80’s and lots from 2000 or so. A lot of the recent ones have designer patterns. A Japanese sewing colleague said they reverse engineer the pattern from the designer’s sample, so it’s the real deal, unlike Vogue Patterns “designer” patterns, which I understand are morphed onto Vogue’s basic block/fitting shell. Now, if only I could find out how to subscribe to my favourite one, So-En, which is younger and edgier than Mrs Style Book.

  5. La BellaDonna says:

    This, apparently, is also the method you use when you’re self-taught and don’t know any better. Most of the patterns I’ve draft for myself were drafted by laying a basic pattern that fit me over a new piece of pattern paper, and drawing in the shapes I wanted. It just seemed easier and more logical than starting from ground zero. I don’t do much drawing straight onto the cloth, though, because I am both chicken and obsessive-compulsive.

  6. Josh says:

    I love the japanese aesthetic! Am I the only one who listens to japanese pop? Puffy Ami Yumi are the best. Has anyone seen the movie “The Pillow Book”? So beautifuly done. A must see.

  7. Lala says:

    Yay for Japanese patterns! I got obsessed with the Elegant Gothic Lolita subculture last year. They have great “mooks” (magazine + book) with pattern sheets. There are about 35 patterns on ONE sheet of paper. They print both sides of the sheet, and each pattern is done in a different color. Here’s a glimpse of it from my camera phone (sorry for the low-res): gosu rori patterns. In the magazine are illustrated instructions, some with step-by-step photos, so you don’t have to read Japanese!

  8. Lori says:

    How did you manage to subscribe to Mrs. Style? I’d love to subscribe but can’t seem to find a website that sells it.

    -Lori in Watertown, MA

  9. Keenpetite says:

    Gigantic yes for japanese patterns, @ my height (or lack of it lol)I believe these patterns would fit better & thus be easier to sew. Somehow I’m intrigued/ fascinated with european/oriental high couture that applie to the most simple garment. How do I subscribe/purchase?
    Most Sincerely,
    Carmen aka kenpetite

  10. Tana says:

    Hi! I’m actually doing some research into Japanese fashion for a school project, and I was wondering if you might be able to give me some more info about the pattern magazine or maybe send me some scans I could use to show during my presentation? All I’ve really managed to find is in regards to CURRENT fashions, so this would really help! My school email is tanaesp@gaggle.net


  11. Tatiana says:

    This pattern magazines can be purchased in Kinokuniya stores (www.kinokuniya.com). I found several titles in Sydney store, and on the shelf they are mixed up with craft mags, so the best way is just to go through them one by one to find what would be of interest.

  12. gunner says:

    so-en used to me a pattern mag, but has morphed into a slightly avant-garde fashion mag. it definitely celebrates young designers, but in the last year, only one issue i have read has had any kind of pattern in it, and that was a knitting one.

    making is a really cool, but not in production sewing pattern mag. you can get them in tokyo’s second hand book district jimbocho, but the prices run high, about twenty dollars per mag.

  13. Vineca Gray says:

    Having lived in Japan back in the 1990s, as an emerging designer teaching English, I thrilled over the many pattern magazines that were for sale over the counter.

    Yes, you had to complete the pattern draft from a series of templates included (Germany had a comparable tradition in sewing journals). I loved the challenge.

    Needless to say, the Japanese fashion sensibility and beautiful selection of textiles in the retail marketplace – well, it was incredible!

  14. Tracy Mitchell-Björkman says:

    As a home sewer I love Mrs. Stylebook! the intructions are so straightforward and you learn how different shapes are constructed from basic shapes or blocks. I particularly like the sleeve cap intructions and collars. I’ve gained quite a bit of knowledge for parts of dresses and tops that I’ve drawn and sewn from Mrs Stylebook. The pictures are extremely effective at conveying what to do — you don’t need to know Japanese although I wish I did becouse every issue seems to have informative tutorials which I can understand to a certain degree but not 100%.

  15. Marie-Christine says:

    Oh, it’s no worse than the totally pornographic advertising in contemporary French magazines, even the staid ones aimed at old ladies who still cross-stitch..
    But I have to say Mrs Stylebook to me is like the best pattern-making education ever. Well, Kathleen might disagree on the results of my efforts :-). But at least they show very clear explanations, and they’re much more contemporary than any book you can buy. And because they start from your own block they fit really well, much better than any other patterns.
    Just a note of caution for large Americans: figure out what proportion you are compared to the medium Japanese size, and increase the ease and most design features proportionally from the numbers provided. Then you won’t look like a huge American squeezed into the clothes of your little sister.

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.