Fabric shopping in Japan

I just got back from Japan, where I spent 11 days exploring Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo. It was the best trip I’ve ever taken and I am already planning what I’ll do next time!

Anyone who reads this blog will know about my obsession with Japanese craft, from Nani Iro fabric to Japanese knitting patterns. (You can check out some of my Japan makes using the hashtags japanese fabric or japanese knitting.)

So although I was travelling with three boys I still made time for some crafty shopping!

In Kyoto, I went to Nomura Tailor. This was the best fabric shop of the whole trip, in terms of range and value for money. I got a whole lot of double gauze and Nani Iro (linen!). They also proactively offer tax free shopping, and all the staff wear great home-made blouses in wild prints.

In Kyoto I also visited Sou-Sou, which designs its own textiles as well as producing various things with them. There’s a cluster of their shops, each specialising in different things (eg kids, adult footwear, home/textiles, adult sized garments) just north of Nishiki Market. I didn’t get any fabric but I got some awesome Kyoto-made gifts.

Finally, I checked out Walnut Kyoto (I also went to Walnut Tokyo). This is more of a yarny place, and was lovely – but mostly sold European yarns that I can get easily at home, so I didn’t buy anything.

In Nara there was a lovely shop called Yu Nakagawa which sold handkerchiefs and other products in its custom designed textiles. Again, didn’t get anything but I regret that!

In Tokyo, I had great expectations of Nippori textile district. Maybe I was just exhausted (it was 28°C, super sunny and humid), but I didn’t leave inspired. I went to a few shops, including the gigantic Tomato store, where I combed through all five floors, but left with less than I expected. It was also more expensive than Nomura Tailor for the same stuff (and I know that because I got a further three metres of the same Nani Iro linen here!) and didn’t offer tax-free shopping. I did get some good tools and an excellent book from one of the smaller Tomato shops nearby, as well as some nice double gauze (pictured with some jersey from Okadaya, below).

I really liked Okadaya at Shinjuku although Shinjuku itself was a bit overwhelming (if you go, make sure to spend some time at Shinjuku Gyoen, which was a wonderful oasis in the midst of the chaos). Okadaya has two shops – one labyrinthine shop facing the street selling wigs, cosplay cosmetics and all the habby in the world (plus yarn), the other across an alley, with a fantastic selection of garment and tailoring fabrics. I got some yarn and some thick cotton jersey.

There are a few branches of Check & Stripe in Tokyo. I went to the one near Kichijoji (on my way to the Ghibli Museum!). The staff were lovely and were telling me about a workshop they’re running in London shortly, at the Chelsea Physic Garden. They also helped me pick out a book. In terms of their stock, it was mostly Liberty and plain linen – lovely, but not what I wanted.

I also popped into nearby Avril, but didn’t get anything.

Yuzawaya was also good – I went to the one at Kichijoji very briefly, and had a proper visit to the Ginza shop, just south of Tokyo Station. I read online that they sometimes have special Japan-only Liberty prints, but there were none in evidence when I visited. Sadface. But I did get some delicious triple gauze and the Nani Iro sewing book.

The nearby Muji (so big!) had some great craft books in its extensive book selection. Sewing, mending, embroidery, knitting, basket weaving…

Finally, I popped into Ginza Hands (a branch of the ubiquitous Tokyu Hands) while in Ginza. I spent a long time drooling over random stationery, but there wasn’t much in the way of fabric/yarn.

It was a brilliant trip and I strongly recommend visiting Japan! I really want to go back (or ideally, be reincarnated asap as a Japanese girl). For fabric and yarn people, there are lots of good resources online to help plan where to go. I used these posts from Cashmerette, Tilly and the Buttons, Seamwork, Triple Rin and Bobbin and Baste. A lot of blogs reference the Tokyo Craft Guide, but it no longer appears to exist.



To get me through the summer I’ve had a sort of project plan, or rather two: one for sewing and one for knitting. The sewing plan is so horribly behind schedule that I now need to abandon it, to make way for winter sewing and Christmas production. But even so, I’ve completed a couple of things on it that I’m really proud of and it’s helped to focus my mind and prioritise a bit. 

The knitting plan however, I have completed! Woohoo! On 30 August, one day early, I cast off and blocked my final piece. This was despite a major setback, namely, being distracted by other pretties… 

In Toronto in July I bought some gorgeous Koigu yarn at Ewe Knit with a voucher from my aunt. It was just too tempting to throw myself in, so I threw caution to the wind, sidestepped my carefully planned schedule, and cast on a pair of Thornfield Socks

I was initially worried that the yarn variegation and the cables wouldn’t get on very well, but I think these have turned out beautifully, particularly after blocking (with new sock blockers from the Wool Croft!). 

Probably everyone but me already knew about Rachel Coopey’s incredible sock patterns, but when I discovered her stall at Wonderwool this winter I was smitten. This is the first design of hers I’ve made, and I love them. 

So anyway, back to the project plan. The socks I completed on 30 August were these Arrow Socks by Makiho Negishi. 

I still don’t think my stranded knitting is perfect, and I wish I’d used the yellow as the top colour rather than the white when carrying floats, but all in all I’m pretty pleased with myself! Two Japanese patterns with no English help completed in one summer. Not bad. 

The forest

A few years ago I found out about Toshiyuki Shimada’s book, New Style of Heirloom Knitting

Although written in Japanese and out of print, I became determined to get my paws on a copy, and eventually tracked one down on Ravelry forums in Canada. 

Every single page of this book is brilliant, from the incomprehensible essays accompanied by shots of vintage boots and scenes of Scotland or Norway as seen through Japanese eyes, through to the patterns themselves, and even the technical instructions. 

In particular two patterns stood out to me: Poème (which was the pattern that led me to this book in the first place), and Herbstlied

Last summer the stars aligned in the Liberty sale, when I nabbed a whole  bag of discontinued Rowan yarn in an off-white colour, perfect for my oak forest sweater. 

After consultation with various sources (detailed on my Ravelry project page) plus a head-scratching and cake session with my lovely Japanese-speaking friend Heenali, I was ready to cast on. 

I started knitting in January, starting with a swatch for the central oak leaf design. When that was done to my satisfaction, I started on the actual sweater in February 

I knitted on trains, buses, Tubes, at lunchtime, on weekends, and slowly the sweater started to grow. There was a hiatus in April and May for my MSc exams, but by then front and back were completed. Over the summer the sleeves crept towards completion, and finally, over a few rainy and solitary evenings on an island in Canada, I finished it.

I’m in love with this sweater. OK there are a few errors in the construction, but I don’t care. It fits, it’s gorgeous, it’s the first proper sweater I’ve ever made myself. I’m just really proud of it. 

Wearing it brings me right back to the forest it was finished in, as a bonus it also smells of the lake, in which it was blocked. Forest associations for a forest sweater. 

This sweater has been a masterclass in the value of making what you want, not what’s easy. A lot of brain power went into this sweater, sometimes I had to unpick. I learned a lot. 

What next? Perhaps I have been swatching for Poème on the side throughout…