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,