Monday, July 11, 2011

An Ode to Japanese Cottons

I've been getting a lot of questions about Japanese cottons in my new online course, since that's one of my top recommended fabrics a sarong-style dress. I've been using them for a few years, and didn't realize that they weren't familiar to everyone. Well, you're in for a treat, fabric hounds. This stuff is gorgeous, easy to sew, and has a lovely drape for garment sewing.

The first type of Japanese fabric I think of is 100% cotton, with a discernible grainline. It's rather similar to vintage barkcloth, which might be why I love it so! See the prominent grain in the lovely ume branch fabric below? (Note: all of the fabrics pictured in this post are from Fabrictales.com, my favorite place to shop for Japanese cottons.)

These fabrics will often be recommended for quilting, but I use them for garments all the time. They don't seem to have the sizing that regular quilting cottons have, and they drape very nicely. Many of the prints have a vintage feel to them and are perfect for sarong-style dresses, kimono-sleeve bodices, and full skirts. Best of all, they're extremely easy to sew. I recommend them to my beginning seamstresses for their first skirt projects.

Other types of Japanese cottons you'll see are linen blends and double gauzes. These are both also nice for garments, with a little less crispness than 100% cottons. Linen blends tend to have a bit more heft and absorbency than pure cottons. Echino and Kokka are two well-known companies who make lots of of linen/cotton prints.

And lastly, double gauze. This stuff is so unusual and lovely! It's two layers of thin, cotton gauze that form a doubleface fabric. They'll often be reversible since they have two layers. They're extremely soft, and make very nice pajamas.

Where to find Japanese cottons? Lots of quilt stores carry them, and I know you can find them at B&J here in New York. For shopping online, my favorite is Fabric Tales; also try Super Buzzy. A search on Etsy will bring up lots of options too.

Are you a fellow Japanese cotton fan?

36 comments:

  1. I've been seeing Japanese cottons in a lot of online shops, but I've never seen any "in person". Now that you've demystified the fabric, I'll definitely be taking a really hard look for some. I love the prints of some quilting cottons, but they are too stiff for clothing. This may be just the thing I'm looking for to increase my skirt wardrobe. And recommend to my blog readers for easy first projects. Thanks again, Gertie!

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  2. While I've never used Japanese cottons, I *do* use quilting cottons for apparel all the time. (Yes, I know... it's a sin) And not all of them have sizing in them. Like with anything, it varies from fabric to fabric. I've used some cottons in quilting that were stiff with sizing and thin and dare I say it? Yucky. But others can be soft with fantastic hand and drape and almost feel like silk. They do require ironing because as 100% cotton, they wrinkle, but there's nothing like cotton for hot Southern summers!

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  3. Fabric Tales are marvellous and one of my all-time favourite online fabric stores. I'm always raving about them to whoever will listen! The fabrics are drool worthy and the quality is amazing. Despite the extra distance, shipping is even cheaper to the UK than it is from the States and twice as fast. It's always such a thrill when a beautiful package turns up three days after ordering!

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  4. So true, I love fabrictales, have already bought tones of fabric there and I think it is well worth it. Excellent quality, beeeeeautiful fabric and ultra fast shipping.

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  5. I love it but don't buy as much as I would like bc it is expensive. I'm still trying to get used to paying for good fabric.

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  6. I hadn't seen Fabric Tales before and I love Japanese fabrics, so thank you!

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  7. I just made a frock out of double gauze and it is wonderful! The two layers are very stable and easy to sew, but the drape is soft, feels wonderful against the skin and is perfect for these hot days. The problem with using quilting cotton for garments, I have found, is not that there is sizing but rather that the weave is too dense. You do not get a good drape and even though it is cotton it does not "breathe".

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  8. The store where I've been attending sewing workshops carries many Japanese cottons, they are indeed wonderful and great for clothing. I also love double gauze but it's kinda hard to get by here; I might be checking that Fabrictales link...

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  9. Thanks so much, Gertie, for educating us on Japanese fabrics. They sound wonderful.

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  10. Thank you Gertie! I think I may use that ume branch fabric for my bombshell dress.

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  11. I love Japanese cotton. I didn't realize they could be used for a dress like this, including full skirts! I have 3 yards of white flowers on a navy background just waiting to be used. Yay!

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  12. Thanks for the link to Fabric Tales! I only knew about Superbuzzy (or various Etsy shops) as sources for Japanese cottons, so I can add this to my online shopping list. ;) Of course, this is making me want to order some right now... haha!

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  13. I so, so did not need to know of a good source for Japanese fabrics! I've seen a few that I loved on at Sew Mama Sew or Fabricworm, and you're inspiring me to take the plunge and try some out! I am a sucker for cotton.

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  14. I love japanese cottons!!!!!! I as well use calico cottons (quilter's cotton) all the time for simple casual dresses and blouses. We live in frugal times and a girls gotta do what she'd got to do to look cute on a budget!

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  15. I love them as well! The colors the Japanese use for their fabrics are really so unique. And the drape is much different that regular quilting cottons as you've stated. Thanks for the new online source too - I usually go to Super Buzzy and had no idea Fabric Tales existed. xoxo, Sunni

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  16. Fabricworm is another on-line fabric store that carries Japanese fabric. I quilt and find the Japanese fabrics well-suited to quilting. I sometimes make clothing for my granddaughter and her dolls--it is wonderful for clothing as well. It has a lovely drape and finish.

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  17. I love Japanese cottons. Although there are couple of places near me that sell, I'm curious to check out Fabrictales!

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  18. I'm a gigantic fan of Japanese cotton and I consider myself lucky since it's so readily available here. It's also the easiest fabric to sew. I have several dresses made from Japanese cotton and i love them. I blogged about two:

    http://lyrakristine.blogspot.com/2011/03/outfit-of-day-red-cross-shirtdress.html

    http://lyrakristine.blogspot.com/2011/04/quick-outift-post.html

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  19. What is the difference between Liberty Cottons and the Japanese cottons? Are they similar? I get sucked into the vortex of all the quilting shops around town because I love their prints. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to tone down the loudness of the prints. I love them but at the same time I like subtle prints i.e. the prints in ModCloth or Anthropologie. Any suggestions? Last question for Gertie or anyone else: Would you underline the Japanese cotton? If so, what fabric would you recommend? Thanks!

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  20. I recently made a circular skirt using Japanese cotton, a linen blend, and it was an utter dream to work with! The extra weight gives it extra swish which is always fun!
    P.S. Gertie I live in London and thought you might want to let your UK readers know that Fancy Moon (http://www.fancymoon.co.uk/) is a British company that stocks Japanese cottons (it's where I get mine!). It just means that UK readers can save on shipping which is always a plus :) Just thought you'd like to know and pass it along!

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  21. I recently discovered how wonderful Japanese cottons are when I ordered a few yards of a gorgeous teal with gold accented flowers from FineFabrics.com for the Sewaholic Lonsdale dress Sew-Along. It feels wonderful, and I can't wait to watch it become the full skirt from the pattern. I'll have to consider a Japanese cotton for the bombshell dress, so I'll check out Fabric Tales tonight.

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  22. So glad to hear that about Japanese cottons. I'm a little leery of using quilting fabric for apparel since it's not always the best quality. And good to read of others' experiences with quilting cottons in the comments as well. Thanks!

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  24. I have no link with this Etsy seller but Miss Matatabi is the best. She has a 100% rating for over 9,000 sales and maintained this while she had a baby. She has over 200 items and her prices remain competitive despite the high Australian dollar.

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  25. What a great post! Just came across your blog and fell in love with it immediately! You have amazing sense of style!!!
    Check out my blog and follow if you like it, I will do the same in return!
    www.fullclosetbutnothingtowear.blogspot.com
    Hope to see you soon!

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  26. I've been sewing with Japanese cottons for a year or so now and adore them. Double gauze is amazing and perfect for Australian summers. For your Aus readers, Tessuti Fabrics have a good selection in their Sydney and Melbourne stores as well as online and Mio and her mother of www.studiomio.com.au imports beautiful stuff and is very happy to help you source something from a picture. When she saw me in at her craft show booth wearing a dress out of one of the "quilting" cottons she had in stock she was surprised and impressed they could be used so well for apparel!

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  27. Wonderful information about Japanese cottons. Love the photos too.

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  28. i am obsessed with nani iro, a line by naomi ito for kokka fabrics. I drool over past lines and now buy stuff for unspecified future use so I don't miss out. Besides purl and superbuzzy I really like miss matatabi on etsy. She is in japan and got the last nani iro batch much earlier than other sellers.

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  29. Thank you so much for your review of these Japanese cottons. I see them alot online and have wondered about them. They are so pretty!!

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  30. The gauze is used for everything in Japan and is sooooo popular in summer, although traditionally they also use it to make masks for when people have colds. Also, there are whole shops that ONLY sell tenugui, which are basically like unedged tea towels and used to wrap around the head, wipe hands, etc etc, but more recently people have been buying them to make kids' clothes. Aaaah Japan... I miss it so much!

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  31. I am at the Fabric Tales site and I can't believe this beautiful cotton! I had no idea. I am exploring all the gorgeous, unusual patterns. I love this stuff. Wish I'd known about it years ago. Better late than never. THANK YOU for this grand tip.
    Oh - I love the charming little explanation showing proof of how their products are not radioactive! I'm putting my first order together now.

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  32. Wow! I knew this material before and worked with them, making it a breeze for me, but did not know its name, thanks.

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  33. I think you've just made some online fabric stores VERY happy Gertie! Thanks for the info.

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  34. Looks like a trip to a few fabric stores is in order. How will my bank balance and store cupboard cope;-)

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  35. Miss Katie - thanks for mentioning Fancy Moon. I live in Berkshire, and was hoping there would be a supplier in the UK!

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  36. That was a very interesting post! I haven't heard of this fabric until you mentioned it in your course. I really like that distinct grain line, and of course the cute prints. Linen blends sound great! And a crisp cotton as well (except for the constant ironing I guess!)

    In Israel you cannot find a *real* variety of fabrics. I believe you would be very sad to see the selection here! Your course and blog have inspired me to start shopping for fabric online - the shipping may be costly but I think it'll be worth it! Either that or a short trip to London/Berlin/Madrid/Paris... :-)

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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