Our Mothers' Patterns
National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre
Burnaby, British Columbia
6 Sewing at home
1Sewing at home
Sewing at home was an essential way for many Japanese Canadian women to provide clothing for themselves and their families, as well as a means to supplement their income. The culture of sewing at home began young, as Emiko Nakamura's stitching book from the 1930s shows, and was an important aspect of family life.
The women made clothing for work, such as the uniforms Rito Otsuji made for her son, clothing for everyday, like the children's clothing resourcefully made by Sayoko Hattori during internment in Lillooet, B.C. in 1943 and the dresses Kimiko Nasu and Motoko Sakamoto designed and sewed in the 1950s, as well as more glamourous gowns for life's special events, like the graduation dress Ayako Kohara made for her daughter Marge and the wedding dress Yoshiko Nakata sewed for her friend Kimiko Nasu.
Equipment for sewing would include the indispensable treadle sewing machine, spools of thread in a rainbow of colours, fabric of course, a bone 'hera' marker, calipers and tapes for measuring, a pair of scissors, leather or metal ring thimbles, pins, and much used wooden rulers and French curves for pattern design.
7Motoko Sakamoto's Singer treadle sewing machine, ca. 1920s. JCNM Collection, gift of Minnie Hattori.
11Bachelor Buttons, ca. 1940s, and pin cushion, ca. 1950s or '60s. Mary Ohara Collection, JCNM.
Grace Eiko Thomson remembers her mother Sawae Nishikihama was always dressmaking when Grace was growing up from the 1940s through the 1960s.
"I remember she would take a roll of brown paper and with a flourish she'd roll it out on the floor, and set to measuring out the pattern with her wooden square. She would make all her patterns from scratch, drawing them full scale on the brown paper."
"For us, her daughters, she made us gowns for the proms we went to. She'd look in Vogue magazine and find what was stylish that would suit us, and she'd say, 'This would look really good on you;' and then she would make it. We'd look glamourous."
From a conversation with Grace Eiko Thomson, 2003.
23Evening gown sketch and pattern taken from Sawae Nishikihama's second pattern book
27Sketch and women's evening dress pattern from Sawae Nishikihama's first pattern book
29Sketch and women's evening gown pattern from Sawae Nishikihama's first pattern book
31Haruko Kobayakawa at her sewing machine, ca. 1950s, (in Toronto ?). Haruko Kobayakawa Fonds, JCNM.
36Clothing sewn at home was often beautifully designed and made, demonstrating a level of skill, finesse and custom fit that was rarely matched when ready-made, off the rack fashions became more prevalent after the Second World War.
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