This month’s Q&A is with Ayumi Takahashi, frequent Stitch designer and owner of the blog Pink Penguin. Ayumi combines a zakka-inspired aesthetic with fun, quirky projects that keep us on our toes. From sewing bags to coasters to plastic bag dispensers, we always love to see what she comes up with!
Stefanie: How and when did you learn to sew? Do you do any other textile crafts?
Ayumi: About four years ago, I discovered this amazing blog world among modern seamstresses and was absolutely fascinated by the possibility of creating many sorts of pretty things with our own hands. My hubby, back then my boyfriend, knowing how much I wanted to start sewing, got me a sewing machine for my birthday (lucky me!). Ever since, I am totally addicted to sewing! I basically taught myself sewing with books and online tutorials by trial and (lots of) error. The first thing I made with the sewing machine was a set of very simple coasters, each of which took me well over one hour to make. Considering how long it took, I can’t say those coasters are well made but I treasure them anyway; looking at them reminds me of how hard I worked on making them without much basic knowledge. I haven’t gotten into knitting or weaving yet, but I’ve learned to silkscreen fabrics in the old-fashioned way-so much fun! This has nothing to do with textiles, but what I used to be crazy about before I discovered the joy of sewing was soapmaking. I still use my handmade soap to wash my face.
S: How does sewing fit into your life?
A: Sewing is absolutely necessary in my life now. Sewing something up makes me feel challenged, creative, confident, and appreciative of my own ability to be inspired and to inspire. I don’t get to sew every day, but I think about it on a daily basis. I am constantly on the lookout for something inspirational-fabric, zakka items, art, books, scenery, and work by other crafters. When I have ideas, I can literally sew all day without eating anything at all; I get carried away like crazy. I sew for both fun and work. I sew because it’s fun, and I sell my items and patterns to create just enough income to cover my craft-related expenses. At this moment I am not able to make a living from sewing, partly because I make it a point to have everything I sell be one-of-a-kind. I spend a great deal of time and effort choosing fabrics to create one item, which usually involves patchwork. Inefficient, I know, but it is very important for me to feel like I’m creating every time I make something rather than reproducing.
S: Walk us through the steps when you’re making a sewing project. Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you translate that into a finished piece?
A: My inspiration comes from absolutely everywhere, but mostly from fabrics, especially fabrics with designs are unique and vintage or vintage-inspired. When I find interesting fabrics, I experiment with matching fabrics. When I have my heart set on a certain combination, I start creating a sewing pattern by drawing and taking notes of measurements. I create a prototype and see if I need to make any changes, especially when I am making a sewing tutorial. Once I know exactly what I am making, I get going-no break, no food-and finish up a project, realizing it’s past midnight; that’s my style! Oh, and knowing that I can share my finished pieces in my blog is a huge push for me to finish up projects too!
S: The items you’ve made for Stitch have mainly been fabric home décor projects and accessories. Do you stick to these types of projects?
A: I do tend to stick to zakka-inspired projects, mostly small home décor patterns and accessories. Having a very small crafting space (just a corner of the living room), I tend to go for projects that require little space. I also like to buy fabrics in small increments, usually a fat quarter, which is another reason I enjoy small projects. However, I have designed and made clothing for myself and several shorts for my hubby. I definitely enjoy making clothing as well because the result is amazing-you can wear it! The most daring thing I’ve ever made is probably the squirrel plush that was featured in Stitch Fall 2009. That plush was the first thing I sold in my Etsy shop! I was so happy that I couldn’t help hopping, skipping, and jumping! My favorite changes, but it is always something medium to small that uses lots of different fabrics-patchwork zipper pouches, log cabin pincushions, and plastic bag dispensers are a few examples of things that I’ve made tons of.
S: You were born and raised in Japan, but now live in California. Tell us a little bit about the similarities and differences between crafting in the United States and abroad.
A: I love talking about differences and similarities in crafty trends in Japan and America. One factor is the size of the space allowed for crafting activities. In Japan, an average house or apartment is much smaller than in America. Few crafters in Japan have space large enough for a cutting table or even a sewing table. Cutting is usually done with scissors, rather than a cutting mat and a rotary cutter, and a sewing machine is placed on a dining table when needed. Even storage space is limited, which makes it impractical to create and store several quilts. All this makes sense if we look at Japanese craft magazines that are full of zakka–small to medium items for accessories and home décor, and quilts that are handsewn and are extremely elaborate and detailed. One of the similarities between crafting here and in Japan is that materials from other countries are highly valued. Just as people over here adore fabrics from Japan, many Japanese crafters are into foreign textiles. You’ll see fabrics and feedsacks from the United States and Liberty of London prints from England everywhere in the Japanese market. I guess we can’t help going for things that aren’t easy to obtain.
Keep an eye out for more great projects from Ayumi in future issues of Stitch!