Zakka Sewing is a new book–it came out last month–that is the first zakka book aimed at English-speaking crafters. As you know, we love our collection of Japanese craft books, and it turns out that they’ve become something of a phenomenon. The co-authors of Zakka Sewing, Therese Laskey and Chika Mori, recognized this trend and have brought anauthentic Japanese craft book experience–the worked with zakka makers in Japan to develop the projects–to the American audience. If you’re interested in Japanese crafting, but are intimidated by, or don’t have access to, the books from Japan, Zakka Sewing is a great introduction. In fact, despite our now-formidable collection of zakka books, we learned a lot about what constitutes zakka, the materials used and the themes that emerge in Japanese crafts.
Chika Mori, one of the co-authors, was kind enough to answer a few questions about their new book, and zakka in general. You can learn more about Chika on her web site, Chikagraphy, and at her zakka blog, Zakka Place, which has loads more information about zakka projects .
- Zakka Sewing Co-Author Chika Mori
Sewer-Sewist: We’d love to know a bit more about you than what the book jacket tells us. We know you’re both creative types, and would love to hear about sewing and crafting in your lives.
Chika Mori: My parents tell me I started drawing when I was 2 or 3 years old. Sewing and crafting came much later, when I was 10. No one taught me how to sew. It came to me rather naturally.
I was brought up in a very creative environment. My great grandmother, my grandmother, and my mom, were always making something, such as purses, bags, and kimonos. Sometimes they re-used old scrap kimono fabrics and made patchwork comforter covers and pillows. Most of the time they created for themselves, but occasionally they gave away their creations as small gifts to close friends. I remember one day when my mother made me a tiny doll with some left over yarn. I loved the doll so much that I showed it to my classmates the next day – and I ended up asking my mom to make at least 30 more dolls for my friends. I wanted to make some too, but I was 6 years old and too clumsy for that.
My love of drawing and my sewing skills started to come together after I became a 4th grader. Drawing some funny-looking characters and making simple dolls or sewing appliqued handkerchiefs became my favorite hobby, and it has since become my profession.
SS: Why Zakka? What drew you to this topic, especially with so many existing books from Japan that are becoming more and more accessible, even in this country?
CM: There is a lot of literature out there, but how much of that is tailored to the non-Japanese audience?
There is a growing appreciation towards zakka so we thought there was an opportunity to create a book that just might hit the spot.
In this modern society, we have access to all kinds of products. It’s easy to to surround yourself with “things”, but do they make us feel good?
I believe more and more people started to look for substance in things. There is more to a product than just its form or function. A product can carry an idea or a meaning or a philosophy. Nowadays people think whether or not the product is made of recycled materials, or if it’s made by hand, or if it matches your lifestyle.
There is a philosophy behind the word “zakka”. We enjoy living our life each and everyday comfortably and happily. Zakka are everyday items that support this way of living. Zakka has magical powers to enrich your daily life – powers that go beyond what can be achieved by form or function. Simple household goods such as placemats and potholders can make you smile if they strike your chord. They give you a good feeling. I believe this is the essence of what is appealing to people.
I have come to a point in life where I appreciate the little things in life that make me happy. Zakka is one of the things I see that has plenty of little happiness that can be identified by many. I wanted to share my feelings with our readers through Zakka Sewing.
- In Japan, zakka makers create cozies for everything; this one is for a digital camera.
Zakka doesn’t have to be handmade. There are plenty of mass produced zakka. However, we are focusing here on the handmade kind. You can be very creative and original with zakka, and I think the fact that you can create your own feel-good item is exciting for people in this country and around the world.
SS: We are big fans of Japanese sewing/craft books and magazines, but always have a hard time putting our thumbs on what exactly it is that is so unique and intriguing about the Japanese style of crafting. What are your thoughts on why Japanese crafts are gaining in popularity with Americans?
CM: The simple and delicate aesthetics of Japanese crafts may be very unique to Americans. Clean lines and simple shapes, interesting mixture of materials, colors and patterns – all of these elements are carefully put together with attention to fine details and yet never overdone. Some Japanese artists incorporate foreign styles/cultures, especially French, to their creation. This blend of styles can also make Japanese zakka more interesting and unexpected.
- The Pear Purse. Fruit is a common zakka motif.
SS: Talk to us about the process of finding and working with the Zakka makers. What was involved in the process of collaborating with them to create projects aimed at a primarily American audience?
CM: In most cases I found the artists through Japanese publications and on the internet. Therese started a private blog for us in preparation for Zakka Sewing and we would post photos of handmade zakka and exchange thoughts.
We wanted to feature a broad range of projects from traditional Japanese feel to modern style, and from simple to complex. It was a challenge as I recall, but this was the key process to make this book appeal to a broader audience and I am very happy with our selections.
Not a single artist spoke or wrote English, so I had to do some heavy translating. It was quite a task to put their methods of creation in writing and then translate. Then I drew all the illustrations (combination of hand drawing and computer coloring). It was an interesting practice though, since it gave me an opportunity to examine the item from a different perspective and that taught me a lot.
Most of the projects in the book are each artists’ standard items. Sometimes Therese and I asked the artists to rearrange their projects for the American audience. An exception to this maybe the Bunko-bon Book Cover, because the book cover is originally designed to fit a standard “bunko-bon (Japanese paperback book)”. As we wanted the project to be original and authentic, we didn’t ask the artist to resize it. However, we did include instructions on adjusting the book cover’s size in case you don’t read bunko-bon, of course.
- Book cover—in Japan most books are the same size. The version in Zakka Sewing is easily adjustable for variations in book sizes.
SS: Aside from working with the Zakka makers in Japan, what other research did you do that made its way into the book? For example, despite having quite a few Japanese sewing and crafts books in our personal library, we hadn’t realized what a prominent role linen plays in Zakka.
CM: As a crafts person myself, I have an extensive zakka library, new and old, plus I check most recent zakka trends via Japanese magazines and on the internet. I also go to hand craft events in Japan such as Design Festa in Tokyo and Tezukuri-ichi (handmade market) in Kyoto. There are also local boutiques that carry many handmade zakka, so I go and check them out as well. My craft friends who live in Japan are also my great resources. It’s really not research. It’s more like an obsession! I’m always looking and it’s what I do as part of my life.
European linen, especially natural French linen has been popular among Japanese crafters for the last several years, for its natural texture, color, and durability.
- Merci Apron. This project involved several popular zakka trends: embroidery, linen and foreign words.
SS: Do you have any tips for Sewer-Sewist readers who check out Zakka Sewing and find themselves wanting to learn more about Zakka and Japanese sewing and crafting?
CM: If you are a beginner sewer and don’t use a sewing machine, Tartlet Pincushion is the project to get you started. It’s a simple project that allows you to be playful and experimental. You can make it your own by using different kinds of fabrics (I suggest thick material) or using decorative beads/buttons, small or large. It will be a wonderful Christmas stocking stuffer if you have friends or family members who love sewing.
- Tartlet Pincushion. A simple project, even if you’ve never sewn before.
In general though, I believe it doesn’t really matter if you are a beginner or advanced.
As the original meaning of zakka implies, your creation can be any simple everyday item. What’s important is that you feel good when you make it and use it (or give it!).
SS: Thank you, Chika!