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Thread: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

  1. #1

    Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Hi Y'all,

    I am not feeling so well but I want to get this done so here goes. Please note as I am a very simple-minded person, these are very simple-minded tips. I have hesitated to post this, being afraid that my pompous nature will show, but some of it might be useful for someone so here goes.....

    For those scared that their rakusu will not look neat, hand sewing is very easy (one little stitch after another) and 99% of how something looks is in the ironing....really....I am not kidding. Also, making even fairly straight seams, but if you draw (with your ruler) seam lines, you just follow the lines. It WILL however probably be very slow, a nice meditative, mindful process rather like kinhin but with more concentration. But like kinhin it is important to just concentrate on the stitch you are doing at that moment. I think that if you can approach it at the speed and attitude of kinhin, making the rakusu can be a very wonderful experience.

    But to start with supplies:
    - scissors - you may find that your scissors don't cut fabric, this is because, for some arcane reason I don't know, scissors that have been used to cut paper often have a very difficult time cutting fabric. So try out your scissors now on something so you are prepared if you need a new pair. I have found that any cheap new pair of scissors works well on fabric (over the long run of lots of sewing projects, one wants a "good pair" that will last longer, but hey, you are just doing one little project).

    - ruler - rakusus in my experience, are all about a lot of rectangles so a 12-inch ruler is great, a 36 inch yardstick is also handy for the longest lines. The flexible cloth measuring tapes you get in fabric stores are not so good because you want a crisp and very straight edge. Also, I think something to make a 90 degree corner (I have a nice little plastic drafting triangle but I am thinking I bet a CD case would do?)

    - Pencil - I did some testing of various pencils. First, a note - I would not use the marking pens you get at fabric stores because the line is, IMHO, too thick. However, if they have those they will probably have fabric marking pencils which sharpen to a nice point and are usually "water-soluable". I will discuss this later. So I tested the fabric pencils, regular #2 graphite pencil, Verithin, Prismacolor and Othello (these are art pencils). The Othello is a chalk/pastel pencil and while it brushed off well, I worry that it would brush off while one is handling the fabric while sewing. All the pencils made a nice crisp line. When I used a damp wash cloth/face flannel to remove the marks, they all came out.

    - iron - IMHO, you need access to a steam iron. And ironing is something that is done before sewing, during sewing and after sewing (I will explain later).

    - fabric - I recommend 100% cotton shirt-weight, plain-weave - as it is possible to slightly melt a cotton/poly blend when ironing (unless you are good and make sure it is always on the "permanent press" setting) maybe i am just prejudiced in favor of all organic. In most rakusu's I have seen , the back panel is in white fabric and ofter has kanji and the person's dharma name and jukai date. I don't know if Jundo will be doing this.

    - straight pins - any standard straight pins from a fabric or drug store/chemist.

    - thread - "all purpose" thread is fine for this light -weight project. it should match the fabric. One spool will be plenty

    - needles - there are all kinds with funny names like "sharps" or "darners". Just get the ones with the longish eye-holes, but the ones with the round holes are not bad, just maybe a little harder to thread, which will be the biggest challenge. There are needle-threaders which are little metal things with a fine wire loop, you put the thread through the loop and push the loop through the eye of the needle. I am sorry I can't recommend a size for the needle, but any selection available at a drugstore/chemist will have a good selection and at a fabric store, tell them you are doing a little hand sewing on shirt cotton and they can advise you.

    On to Techniques-

    Ironing - ironing matters because it is what makes the piece look flat and smooth and finished. Commercially made garments look so good not because the seams are straight but because they are pressed within an inch of, etc. I have made MANY wavy seams that looked great after ironing. If you, like most people, are not on very intimate terms with an iron, I wish to suggest a little exercise. Take an all-cotton shirt, wash it, hang it up to dry. When it is dry it will have many nice wrinkles and be a bit stiff. Then steam iron that sucker, slowly and carefully, getting every little bit flat including the pesky little bits under and around the buttons. One note, sometimes I have seen people do this odd wiggly-fish manuover with an iron and generally iron too fast. I think this comes from the movies or something. Ironing is done slowly and carefully, looking to see how it is doing as you go (it really does require more attention than one thinks it should, but who knows?) A very rare phenomena but worth mentioning. I have encountered fabrics that change color when ironed, they get darker, but when the fabric cools down it goes back to it's original color. The one problem that is a bit serious is if your iron sticks while you are ironing, this usually means that you are melting the polyester content in the fabric. This is why I recommend cotton. It is good to try out ironing on a little extra piece of your rakusu fabric just to make sure your iron temp is ok, but they all have marks to tell you how hot to do. Make sure the steam is happening by ironing on just the ironing board. If you don't have an ironing board, I have draped a towel over a board or junk table (do NOT do this on a good table, you will warp the finish).

    To prepare your fabric - wash it on hot and tumble dry or hang dry. If you don't have a washing machine, you can hand wash it. This removes the "sizing" that is in most fabrics (sizing is a light starch-like finish that keeps the fabric looking good on the bolt in the store). Then to iron it very flat and you are ready to draw out your pattern on the fabric (all the little and big rectangles that make a rakusu). Please note - usually one cuts out two layers of fabric at a time, but because the pieces are so small and so need to be exact, I think it is better to draw out every piece separately. When you have figured out what is being sewn to what, you can draw a seam line, as needed, so you can make nice straight seams. If you wish, you can, instead of drawing a solid line for your sewing line, make a line of dots every 1/8 inch or 3/16 so that it is easier to make even stitches. Then you pin the pieces you are sewing together (I like to pin every 1 inch with the pins at a right angle from the seam line.

    Threading the needle - cut thread at an angle (this makes a tiny point that is easier to get through the eye of the needle), then it is traditional to slightly lick the thread to keep the the point of the thread from fraying when you thread it. This may actually be the most difficult part.

    - Making a knot - you will be sewing with a "double" thread (that is - one long piece goes through the needle and you knot the ends together). I like a nice long thread, about 30 inches. The traditional sewing technique for making a knot is to wrap the ends of the thread around your forefinger, one time around, then use your thumb to roll the thread loop off your finger, then pull the loop down into a knot. If this seems ridiculously complex, just tie a knot a few times.

    - Sewing - for those nervous about sewing, I would suggest getting some extra fabric. cut out two strips three inches by 20 inches or so, draw sewing line 1/2 inch from the edge, pin pieces together, and start stitching, this will hopefully give you a chance to get comfortable with sewing without the worry of it being the actual rakusu.

    - Ironing - again. After you sew two pieces together you will probably be then ironing the seam flat. Usually seams are ironed "open" (that is, with the rough edges separated) but in rakusus, I think the seams are ironed with the seam allowances going the same way (Definition - "seam allowance" is the thin area/strip of fabric between the seam and the cut edge of the fabric). Usually you iron ever time you finish a seam.

    -Knot at the end of a seam - make a tiny stitch in place, bring your needle through the loop of the thread, pull tight. Repeat and cut off leaving 1/2 inch of thread sticking out of the fabric.

    My brain hurts ("it must come out") - all for now, I will make more notes as I think of things or after I see the pattern.

    yours in service,
    rowan

  2. #2

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by ros

    In most rakusu's I have seen , the back panel is in white fabric and ofter has kanji and the person's dharma name and jukai date. I don't know if Jundo will be doing this.
    Hi Rowan,

    Wonderful posting. I am forwarding it to Rev. Taigu for his input, as I want to make sure we are all "on the same page" or ... "same Rakusu"

    In fact, I am going to see if I can get him to sign onto the Forum directly, so I do not need to forward messages back and forth.

    As to your comment above ...

    This is one of the logistical questions we face due to the limits of time and space. Two ways I can think to do this:

    First, have everyone mail me their Rakusu in Japan, either before or after the ceremony, let me write on then then mail them back. That seems both convoluted, extra expensive and a bit risky (given the international mails).

    Second, I write just the back panels here by themselves, then mail them to the various participants to sew in. That seems the best way to me, but I have heard from some Rakusu sewers that it might be tricky to sew it in after the writing is on it (not sure why). What do you think, Row?

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    If anyone does not know what we are talking about, it is the white panel on the back of the Rakusu that requires some calligraphy by me ...



    For example ...


  4. #4

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Hi Jundo!

    - It would be very simple to sew on your back panel, if people just completed the rakusu, back panel and all, and then just sewed the special Jundo back panel over their blank back panel (so that the original back panel became a sort of "interlining" which is a very common occurrence in fabric construction). One would just fold under and iron the edges of the "Jundo" panel so it is the right size to fit on the back panel of the rakusu, pin it in many places (not just the edges) to make sure it is flat and do either a "hem stitch" or small running stitch to attach. I think the "difficulty" might be if they were trying to make the added back panel be the only back panel. But adding one later "on top" is a piece of mochi

    One thing to test when you are doing the rakusus backs, make sure the writing won't run at all when steam ironed? even better if you can run it through a wash to see if it will run. Better yet, I will see if I can get some "permanent" art ink and see how "permanent" it is. Would you be doing it using brushwork? I know Sharpie brand permanent markers are VERY permanent and will not wash out or run (in my experience) but I am not sure if you can get bottle ink that is really permanent (if you want to do brushwork). But of course, you are in Japan so if there is anything, it should be available there (oh dear, I might have to shop for art supplies, please no, anything but that. this is way more suffering than you r ice cream cone!)

    gassho,
    rowan

    "Second, I write just the back panels here by themselves, then mail them to the various participants to sew in. That seems the best way to me, but I have heard from some Rakusu sewers that it might be tricky to sew it in after the writing is on it (not sure why). What do you think, Row?"

    Gassho, Jundo[/quote]

  5. #5

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Hi again (yeas it is me again),

    I wanted to note that these are just general hand sewing notes, there may be special stitches or ways of putting things together (and especially about ironing during the sewing process) that are particular to sewing the rakusu.

    I neglected to mention "top-stitching" which is where, after you have done a seam, ironed it flat, you then stitch on "top" (actually through all layers) so that this line of stitching shows on the outside. This is done as a decorative effect and to really hold the piecing and seam allowances in place. the Kwan Um "small kesa" has a lot of this but I can't remember if a Japanese style rakusu has it. I guess we will wall find out together then the pattern in available. If one is doing top-stitching, this is where one might want to put little dots in a line to act as a guide to making uniform stitches. Also, when top stitching, you will probably need to (this is stupid to explain) make a stitch down into the fabric, pull it through to the underside, then "blindly" make a stitch up from the underside to the top (with a few trials to get the needle to come up in the right place). Please test to make sure that your dots will wipe off with a damp washcloth after your have finished top-stitching (you need to rub a bit). Or you could just eyeball it.

    All this you, you, you....my preachy impulses have had far too much work-out.

    anyway, I hope this is useful to someone

    yours in service,
    rowan

  6. #6

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Regarding scissors--I was planning to use the rotary cutter (like a pizza cutter) and acrylic rulers that I use for quilting. Aside from the caution inherent in using a very sharp blade, the rotary cutter may be easier for beginners? It just slides up against a thick plastic ruler (ruler held down by other hand) and guarantees a smooth straight edge. Just a thought--please veto if not a good idea here. Ann

  7. #7

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Hi,

    Here is the latest message from Rev. Taigu, who's job is to keep our Rakusu properly Kosher! Sometimes, it will be a question of "tradition" vs. "most efficient method" vs. finding some acceptable "middle way" between the two. I had sent him Rowan's detailed post, above.

    I have the feeling that we will not use the idea of putting "dots" to keep the stitches uniform: It is not a matter of beauty, but more the mindful process of sewing. So, some practical shortcuts and aids are not a help in that regard. Also, a particular pattern of stitching must be used I think. Taigu will fill us in on that, I am sure.

    Dear Jundo

    This post is great, very precious to everybody indeed. Just one point of disagreement though: we don t use a double thread to sew!
    The thread should be close to the colour of the fabric but it can also be white. The main point is to bear in mind that the stitches are not a decoration. As far as the stitching method is concerned I have to show it, but yes, a bit of practice beforehand is useful in order to get the rhythm and kind of idea of how it goes.

    [JUNDO]

    Broken colour: no light primary colour is allowed. It has to have a kind of muddy aspect to it, darkish. Strictly speaking, [if we were following the custom of monks in a monastery] light colours are for teachers only. The kesa of a beginner [unsui, priest trainee] is black.But we follow Nyoho e tradition, so the following are possible: dark grey, brown, green, blue, purple and black [all darkish]. No red, no yellow please.

    Hemp, linen, silk are very beautiful but very tricky to sew. People should listen to the great tips of Rowan.

    [JUNDO]


    The back of the rakusu is a big issue...I still kind of think that the rakusu should be handled by the teacher and waved in incense smoke [JUNDO]. But you may choose to buy an artificial silk like fabric which has a great thing about it: you may do it separately ... ( it is tricky to sew it after if it is silk because of its very flexible nature, you get the calligraphy distorted)...By the way, do you want to write in kanji or just in good old English?

    Jundo: I do a mixture of Kanji and English. I am planning to use a traditional brush and Sumi ink, but I will look into modern alternatives.


    Gassho, Jundo

  8. #8

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by chessie
    Regarding scissors--I was planning to use the rotary cutter (like a pizza cutter) and acrylic rulers that I use for quilting. Aside from the caution inherent in using a very sharp blade, the rotary cutter may be easier for beginners? It just slides up against a thick plastic ruler (ruler held down by other hand) and guarantees a smooth straight edge. Just a thought--please veto if not a good idea here. Ann
    I haven't enjoyed using one, but maybe other people would like it? maybe I should give it another try sometime (but I have my nice Mundial shears and little Wasa embroidery scissors....)

    with palms together,
    rowan

  9. #9

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Greetings Rev Taigu via Jundo!

    Is is true that most "artificial silk" is woven to resemble silk charmeuse which is a nice slinky weave. Um, Jundo, is there some reason you want a silk or fake silk instead of cotton? just curious.......

    rowan

    And

    [JUNDO][/i]

    The back of the rakusu is a big issue...I still kind of think that the rakusu should be handled by the teacher and waved in incense smoke [JUNDO]. But you may choose to buy an artificial silk like fabric which has a great thing about it: you may do it separately ... ( it is tricky to sew it after if it is silk because of its very flexible nature, you get the calligraphy distorted)...By the way, do you want to write in kanji or just in good old English?[/quote]

  10. #10

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Wow, this is all totally fascinating. I'm sure it will all make more sense to me when I actually get my hands on the practice, but the picture Jundo posted of one from Joan Halifax is gorgeous.

  11. #11

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Great post, Rowan! I'd like to add something about scissors- If you do not wish to purchase scissors, you can take a dulled paper cutting pair and slice through a 1/2" chunk of folded aluminum foil several times. I wouldn't try this with expensive scissors so you don't ruin them, but it usually makes the blades sharp again.

    Gassho,
    Jen

  12. #12

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Wow! This is so cool to know!!!!!!!!!!!

    rowan
    who is doing a happy dance and will try it out tonight!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jen
    Great post, Rowan! I'd like to add something about scissors- If you do not wish to purchase scissors, you can take a dulled paper cutting pair and slice through a 1/2" chunk of folded aluminum foil several times. I wouldn't try this with expensive scissors so you don't ruin them, but it usually makes the blades sharp again.

    Gassho,
    Jen

  13. #13

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by ros
    Greetings Rev Taigu via Jundo!

    Is is true that most "artificial silk" is woven to resemble silk charmeuse which is a nice slinky weave. Um, Jundo, is there some reason you want a silk or fake silk instead of cotton? just curious.......

    rowan
    Hi,

    Jundo to Rowan via Jundo:

    I think the reason is TRADITION!!! About 2000 years of TRADITION!!!

    During the years 200 - 589 C.E., Buddhism began to penetrate Chinese society. Buddhist teachings were gaining popularly throughout the empire, but Taoism still held strong and continued to flourish. Buddhism spread rapidly due to the "Silk Road," where traders from areas of India, Rome and the Mediterranean exchanged goods. This period also witnessed the flourishing of Chinese painting. Chinese painting was usually done on silk or paper, and was executed with a round tapered brush [in Japanese] and mineral based ink [called Sumi] ...

    ... The materials in some sense dictate the style. The ink, the rice paper, and silk are all pretty unforgiving. The ink is permanent and cannot be lifted off the paper [or silk] or moved around.
    The whole art form is instantaneous, in the moment, immediate. If you would like to see a very cool film of my teacher, Nishijima Roshi, doing a bit of calligraphy, have a peak here (It appears that he is writing a Lineage Chart for someone's Jukai ... I hope the folks at Treeleaf will not expect anything half as nice from Jundo) ...

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=n ... lligraphy#

    Taigu to Rowan via Jundo



    White silk is generally used on the back of rakusu. The reason I suggested artificial silk is to facilitate the process of doing calligraphy on silk alone and then sewing it to the back of the rakusu, which is a process I did follow when I gave Jukai years ago.
    If you use true silk, the rectangular piece you try to sew is moving in every single direction and it distorts the kanji and the seals. If you choose to have the rakusu mailed to you and feel comfotable to write directly on the back of them, then using plain white silk is better.
    One more word about white silk, some silks are processed so one cannot write on them...So when you buy it, you have to check it...This is another reason why I would go for the first option, that is to say buy your silk and do it before sewing it on the back of the rakusu. You don't want to get a rakusu with the wrong sort of silk on the back and have to undo it and replace the material...

  14. #14

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    JUNDO'S NOTE TO EVERYONE WHO CANNOT MAKE HEAD OR TAIL OF ALL THIS SEWING TALK GOING BACK AND FORTH ...

    ... FEAR NOT!

    WE WILL GET ALL THIS SORTED OUT, AND OUR MATERIALS AND INSTRUCTIONS TOO, BY THE TIME ANYONE NEEDS TO SET TO WORK!


    GASSHO, JUNDO

  15. #15
    Treeleaf Unsui Shohei's Avatar
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    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    Wow! this is very interesting - i have learned where i went wrong with my past project!! Many thanks for all the tips and suggestions

    Gassho
    Dirk

  16. #16

    Re: Rowan's Hand-Sewing Tips

    I'm more than happy to mail my rakusu to you in Japan and pay for registered mail there & back again, although I don't think Japan or Canada Post have much problem with things being lost or stolen.

    Skye

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