The Making of a Boro-inspired Jacket

My boro-inspired top was my first-ever attempt at making a jacket. It was both easier and harder than I expected.

I already wrote about why I wanted to make this jacket, and what it means to me. Many people asked me about the making process, however, so today I want to share the technical details: the steps I followed, the many mistakes I made along the way, and what I learned from them. I hope this post will inspire you to make your own jacket!

The Pattern

I knew I wanted to make a kimono-style jacket, so I started by combing Pinterest for inspiration and patterns.

I quickly realized that classic kimonos are made out of simple rectangles sewn together. Some have narrowing sleeves, and that’s what I decided to go for. For the body, instead of the regular, straight rectangle cut, I chose an A-shaped one (also typical to classic kimonos), hoping it would be slightly less boxy.

The Measurements

For measurements, I took a few of my store-bought jackets out of my closet and measured them with a measuring tape. I was surprised to discover that although they were all the same stated size, their actual measurements varied greatly. Yet, they all fit, somehow. So I settled on a specific width somewhere in the middle (measured from underarm to underarm), and spent some time calculating the rest. My daughter suggested making the sleeves extra long, so they could be folded. I therefore added a few inches to the sleeve length.

The Foundation

I cut and sewed the entire piece out of a pretty flannel-like fabric I had in my stash, to create a foundation layer. That was my canvas.

The Patching

My sewing room wasn’t big enough for this project, and therefore for the next several days I took over our living room floor. I lay the foundation piece down, and started arranging patches over it, much like I did with my artsy pouches. I used mostly pieces from tattered pants belonging to family members, but also added a few vintage Japanese fabrics I bought in Nara, as well as matching bits from my stash. For the back, I chose a central panel I found at FabMo a while back.

When organizing the patches, I tried to balance the colors, tones and patterns as I do with a quilt or bag. Once I was happy with an arrangement, I pinned the pieces down.

I went on doing this for several days, arranging, moving, rearranging. Finally, I finished covering the entire foundation, and was satisfied with how it looked.

I moved the entire mess out from the living room and back into my sewing corner, to my family’s great relief!

The Sewing

The next stage was machine sewing the patches down onto the foundation fabric. That was when I realized my first mistake. I secured most patches on with one or two pins. When I tried to put the large mass of fabric on my sewing table, I had to fold it into a bundle so it would fit. The patches folded and moved, and the pins caught other pieces/layers creating a huge, uncontrollable blob of very heavy fabric…

Untangling the whole thing took quite some time, and was accompanied by words unfit for print…

If I were to ever do this again, I wouldn’t sew a foundation for the entire garment. Rather, I would cut and patch each individual piece separately, before putting them together in the end. Also, I would probably use safety pins, and more than one or two per patch…

I sewed and zigzagged around every single patch, much as I did with the artsy pouches. When all the patches were securely fastened onto the foundation, I embarked on the fun part of the project: hand stitching.

Hand Stitching

I used both pearl cotton thread and embroidery floss, and covered the patches with a web of Sashiko-style stitches. I took my time with this, doing a bit each day. My hands still hurt from stitching through the thick fabrics of my latest art quilt (and from lots of spring pruning), so I didn’t want to over-do it. I stitched for about a week and a half, enjoying the quiet moments, the meditative nature of the slow work…

The hard part was deciding when to stop. Which patches needed more stitching? When is enough enough? Can there be too many stitches?

The Lining

When I started this project, I wasn’t planning to make a lining. I thought that the foundation layer would function as the inside of the garment. That’s why I chose a nice fabric for that. But as I was working, I realized that the inner fabric doesn’t go too well with the outer layer. Also, it didn’t look great with all the stitches visible. So I decided to add a separate lining, and happened to have the perfect fabric for that: a beautiful red cotton with an Indian-like pattern.

Taking a break from stitching, I cut and sewed the lining. I tried it on, and … nearly had a heart attack! When my arms were up, you see, it was absolutely perfect. But when I put my hands down, the sleeves under the armpits scrunched terribly!

I calmed down only after consulting with fellow-sewists in some of my Facebook groups, when I realized that that’s just the way it is with kimonos…

Were I to do this again, I would consider a more fitted, Western-style sleeve, to eliminate some of that bulk. This is less noticeable with thin fabrics such as silk, and more so with thicker fabrics.

Putting It All Together

I could hardly sleep the night before I sewed it together. I was excited and anxious all at once. In the morning, I drank enough coffee to make sure I’m fully awake, then pinned everything together with shaking hands. I didn’t stop to take pictures. Putting the outer layer and lining right sides together, I sewed as if this were a bag. With lots of experience attaching bags to linings, I thought I knew what I was doing… I left a “birthing” space as I would in a bag, and turned the entire thing right side out.

That was when I discovered that jackets can’t be sewn like bags, and that I made a big mess out of it… I almost laughed, it was really quite ridiculous! Except I was too upset and almost cried…

Were I to do this again, I wouldn’t assume a jacket can be sewn like a bag… I would do my homework first, and learn how to attach a lining to a jacket BEFORE actually trying it…

Seam Ripper to the rescue. He was my best buddy that morning. We spent a LONG time together, he and I.

I ended up sewing the sleeve ends together by hand. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it right on the machine, and it was quicker that way. It also felt like I had more control.

Were I to do this again, I would certainly make sure I know how to do this correctly BEFORE I actually start… Spending a little time on research would have saved me the LONG time I spent unpicking…

Still, I finished my new jacket! It feels solid and heavy. The lining feels great on the skin. It’s warm! And it has long sleeves I can fold, to give it the cute look my daughter wanted it to have.

Things I’d Improve

Were I to do it again, I would change the shape of the collar to a straight line or a “v.” The collar as is sits a bit strange. I would also add a pocket or two. I decided against pockets as I was designing it, mostly because I didn’t want to detract from the patches and the Sashiko stitching. However, I regretted that decision the very first time I wore it… Lastly, I would make the jacket a little bit wider (underart to underarm). It fits me perfectly, but is too small for my daughters, who are just slightly bigger than me, eliminating future hand-me-down options…

This jacket took almost two weeks to make, but I really enjoyed the process, not to mention the end result. I hope it inspires you to make one for yourself! If you do, make sure to show me a picture!

 

36 thoughts on “The Making of a Boro-inspired Jacket

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experience. This is an area of sewing that I have only just begun to explore….thru making small pouches, like yours. I must admit, when I looked on your etsy shop at your pouches, I was shocked that you’re charging $42!! I was thinking more like $20. But I live in Baja Mexico and the going rate for handmade art is a bit lower. Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your jacket. I have a pattern for a Hapi Jacket that may work well. Gracias!

    • Glad you enjoyed it!
      Pricing handmade is always tricky, because many of us artists are competing (or rather–can’t really compete) with cheap Chinese and other manufacturing. When you price handmade, you have to take into account the cost of your materials and overhead (things like rent on your workspace, electricity, servicing your mahine and so on), as well as taxes, fees and such. Then you have to account for your experience and time. On Etsy, sellers are also encouraged to offer free shipping, but since shipping isn’t really free (and can be rather expensive), the prices must also include the shipping. Sewing is a time-consuming work, and the most simple of sewing projects takes time (some of my bags take more than ten hours to make, quilts much longer). Many of us, myself included, actually charge less than minimum wage on our time. The costs just add up. You’d be surprised to learn that even with the prices on my items, I am, unfortunately, barely covering expenses, if that. I am not really making a profit.

      • I applaud you for your detailed and restrained response. One of a kind handmade items are priceless and those who try to compare items from mass market sellers to them end up coming off as rude IMO. Your work is inspiring and underpriced.
        Thank you for sharing this process

  2. Oh I agree with all!! I am retired and live on the beach in Baja Mexico, as I said before. However, I value my handmades and price them higher than many of the other “part time” artists here. I am also a weaver, perhaps predominantly a weaver. Those items are higher. As a retired artist, I can “afford” to accept less than if I were a full-time artist, depending on earning a living from my art. I KNOW how difficult that is. When I was living and working in the U.S. I was in sales and Real Estate-related fields. Now, I consider myself to be blessed to have Social Security to count on for food, rent, etc. We artists canNOT undervalue or under-price our creations, eh? Carry on!

    • Weaving is even more time consuming than sewing (significantly so!). I am so glad you’re not undervaluing your work. A lot of people do, and I think the public needs to be educated to tell the difference between handmade art and mass-produced cheap stuff… Enjoy Baja, and stay safe!

  3. Thanks for showing me your process and sharing the changes and pitfalls you experienced. I am busy with other projects but want to create a jacket for myself. I was planning a quilted jacket but I like this one even more.

  4. I love your jacket…pockets are important. You could add one or two to the inside, I usually put them so the bulk is under the bustline. I put them in all my coats to carry my camera..keeps it warm on winter hikes.

  5. I absolutely love this jacket and I will be making myself one. I make a lot of my own clothes and have been a sewer all my life. I am retired now so longer make crafts to sell, but I used to make bags in a similar way and used interfacing as the base fabric to see the patches on to, it makes it lighter if you are using heavier fabrics. The weather today is miserable so I will lose myself in my workroom with my fabric stash and see what I have. Thank you for all the honesty about the downfalls you had while making your jacket, it’s very helpful and I will probably put my pockets in the front seams.

    • Sewing when the weather is bad sounds wonderful! I hope you are enjoying yourself 🙂 Pockets in the front seams is a great idea–I don’t know what i was thinking by not putting some. I’d love to see your jacket once you make it!

  6. I love your jacket. Wonderful work . Just one question before I start on one for myself.
    Did you find that all the boro stitching the patches onto the base fabric drew it in a bit ?
    I don’t know if I should make a size bigger to allow for this. I find it happens sometimes when I hand quilt a quilt
    Thanks for your great tutorial.

    • For me, the stitching didn’t really shrink the fabric, or at least–this wasn’t noticeable at all. I think more shrinking might happen with quilts, possibly because they have batting and thus more volume (as well as thin cotton fabrics that are more susceptible to that). For this jacket, I used pretty stiff, thick fabrics, which are hard to shrink in this way.
      If you plan to have very crowded stitching on your jacket, or if you know you have very tight stitches, then you might want to increase the size a bit. You can also test it first: cut a small piece in a fabric you plan to use and measure it. Then stitch it like you would the rest of the jacket, and when you’re done measure it again. This will give you an idea of whether or not you need to make your pieces bigger.

  7. I just came across your blog and I love it. I am just starting a creative journey and have started my first’ Boro’ inspired project. Your bugs and birds are great. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • I’m so glad you found creativity! You are about to embark on an exciting adventure 🙂 I’m honored you find my work inspiring, and am looking forward to seeing yours in the future.

  8. Inspired!! Thank you for sharing your jacket. I love it and your photos really inspire me to try something similar. AWSOME WORK!! xo Kari

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