Home-made: altering Simplicity Pattern – 8385

This week I pulled out an old fabric I had cooped up in a box – my previous post and the mention of Japan prompted me to rescue this fabric and finally put it to use. Earlier in the year I picked up this vintage Simplicity Pattern at a charity shop in Stockport for £1. Even in its tattered state I was drawn to the unusual, graceful construction and suggested use of colour and patterns. It seemed to be an amalgamation of 1960’s shift-style tunic dresses with a modern variation of the Indian ‘Churidar’ or ‘Salwar Kameez’.

Salwar typical lower garment stitched somewhat like gathered trousers, and worn by women of North India, but with specific styles for both sexes…

Kameeztypical upper garment stitched top of North Indian girls and women. The Kameez, along with salwar, the lower garment, and Dupatta, an unstitched length of sloth that is used to cover the head and the bosom by draping it over the Kameez, is the typical dress of Punjabi women, but has now become a Pan-Indian dress code.

1 (M. Angela Jansen, 2016, p. 93+94)

Throughout history, the Salwar-Kameez was constantly being reinvented; between the 1920’s and 50’s it fluctuated between being above the knee and below the knee: “…[it] rose up to look like an English frock in the 30’s and again descended to the knees by the 50’s”. 2(Sumathi, 2002, p. 140). ‘Elements of Fashion and Apparel Design‘ suggests that throughout the 1900’s European dress influenced Indian fashion very little. In some aspects this is true, perhaps it was Indian fashions which influenced European fashions. Though, notice how the rise and fall of the Kameez hem-line parallels with that of European dress, in addition, during the 1960’s the lower half of the Kameez experimented with a tighter fit around the hips which parallels the construction of the shift dress in the UK. This disputes the idea of European dress having little influence on Indian fashions, but it could also indicate that, like every country, it was influenced by fashion trends which were in fact world-wide.

I find pleasure in researching the history of garments, in my last post I briefly discussed the dissociative nature that the majority of the Western world have with the clothes that they wear and knowing where they have come from – the term ‘Cultural Appropriation’ stems from this ignorance. In this post, I wanted to acknowledge the history of the garment I was making and appreciate the heritage that surround both the construction of the garment and the fabric.

Exploring the Fabric

I bought this beautifully decorated fabric from Tokyo, Japan. As you can see, this fabric is swathed in both natural and mythological motifs; the Japanese have an intuitive appreciation of nature and use it symbolically in many aspects of their lives.


Kikumon- The Imperial Crest of Japan

“The Japanese, like the Chinese, are one of the most flower conscious people of the world” 3(Lehner, 2003, p. 106)

Chrysanthemums were originally imported from China – The first recorded cultivation of Chrysanthemums was: “c. 1600 – 1046 BC in Shang Dynasty China” 4(Way, T. 2020). Botanical motifs such as the Chrysanthemum, are prevalent in Traditional Japanese design, the thesis “Japanese Design Motifs And Their Symbolism As Used On Itajime-Dyed Juban” examines 65 itajime-dyed (Japanese resist dying) garments in order to conclude the most popular botanical motifs on these 65 garments; a small-scale indication of the most popular Japanese motif. The concluding results found 14 instances of the Chrysanthemum being used, which placed it as the second most popular motif, the first being cherry blossoms, of which there were 16. 5(GUNTER, 2003, p. 44)

In “Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees” By Ernst Lehner, and Johanna Lehner, the Chrysanthemum is described as “the flower of September” and represents “Long Life and Happiness” 6(Lehner, 2003, p. 106.) Chrysanthemums are attributed to September because they bloom in Autumn; when the decomposition of summer flowers, plants and tree leaves takes place. This could also suggest why the Chrysanthemum is associated with “Long Life and Happiness”, it flowers during the decomposition of other plant life, its resilience to thrive in an otherwise ‘unfurnished’ season offers optimism. Similarly, in the article “The origins of Japanese national symbols” it states that Japan views this flower as a symbol of “happiness and wisdom”. 7(M. A. Shtan’ko1a, 2016) From this research, we can ascertain that The Chrysanthemum is a positive symbol.


To anyone outside of Japan, this is arguably the more well-known flower. Here it is depicted in gold, which makes it inconspicuous in comparison to the bolder colours of the chrysanthemums pictured above. The beauty of the Cherry blossom and it’s ephemerality is a metaphor for fleeting moments in life, “the essence of a human’s short life well-lived.” 8(McClellan, A. 2005). Again, a flower has been attributed to symbolise human-life, both the Cherry Blossom and the Chrysanthemum celebrate it.

Between March and early May, the Cherry Blossom is usually in full bloom for about one week, the Japanese celebrate this blooming period by hosting flower viewing gatherings, known as ‘Hanami’; many events and festivals are also centred around this.

THE DRAGONRyu or Tatsu

Another aspect of Japanese culture which was influenced by China is the Dragon. In China, the Dragon is a symbol which flourishes in the Arts, throughout history it went under constant cycles of metamorphosis – the earliest Dragons which feature on Shang bronzes have three claws, notice the dragon painted on this cloth also has three claws.

Figure 22. Dragon and Tiger. Pair of six folded screens, ink on paper, 339 x 157.2 cm. Session Shukei, Japanese, 1504-ca1589, Muromachi period. Purchase from the J.H Wade Fund. 59.136-.137. 9

The Dragon in both Chinese, Korean and Japanese culture exists as a guardian figure; in the Asian Zodiac, the Dragon is the only mythological creature. Throughout the Six Dynasties period (265-589) earthenware figurines of all 12 of the zodiac animals were created and buried in tombs as protectors – much like the guardians in Egyptian tombs.

Figure 7. Covered Ever (Guang), Bronze, H. 18.5 cm. China, Shang Dynasty, middle Anyang period, 12th Century BC. Private Collection, New York. Cat. no. 4.

The Japanese Dragon is usually depicted alongside water, clouds or the heavens: “Japanese Dragons share a close connection with water” 11(Bates, R. 2007, p99-100). Therefore, it makes sense that the dragon painted on my fabric seems to emerge from the waves and pass up and over clouds.

In Japanese Folklore, there are several Dragon Kings:

  • Han Ryu – a nine coloured, stripe dragon
  • Sui Ryu, the dragon of Rain
  • Ka Ryu, a flaming dragon
  • Ri Ryu, a dragon which can see more than 100 miles away
  • Fuku Ryu, a dragon bearing good luck
  • Kin Ryu, a golden dragon
  • O Goncho, a white dragon which usually symbolises famine


With this, can I conclude that the dragon featured on my fabric is Kin Ryu?


You may recall one of the most famous Japanese artistic representations of waves being Hokusai’s “Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura)” but waves have always been a principal symbol in Japanese art – some have suggested that this fascination owes itself to the fact Japan is surrounded by a body of water: “The sea has always been a source of life and destruction…” 13(Mira Bartók, C. R. 1992 p11.) it is connected to the cycle of life and therefore divine. This supports another belief that the sea is sacred in Japanese culture because it bears many deities; Ebisu, Watatsumi, Konpira, Benziaten and many sea dragons including, The Dragon King. 14(Rambelli, F. 2018 p18-19).

This fabric has shown to be composed of great natural and mythological motifs, ones that I couldn’t truly appreciate and understand the meaning of until I sought the information out.

The Make Process

With all new make projects that use an existing pattern, I make a toile (prototype) to test the existing pattern. From there I draft a new style by making edits to the toile. With this pattern I wanted to crop the top at the waist and keep the top sleeveless.

Below I have visually documented the process of making this toile, it follows left to right.

The finished product was largely successful, however, I wanted to make slight changes to problem areas such as; the arm holes and side seams. Generally, the toile was not tight-fitting enough, therefore I made the following edits:

  • took in the side seams by 3cm on each side
  • drafted darts in the back, 11cm in from the centre back seam with a 1.5cm width either side. It elevated 20cm up from the hemline
  • took 3cm off both armholes
  • added 1.5cm to the centre back seams for a button stand

From here, I traced the original pattern and made the alterations to the new pattern

Following this, I could start the make of the final garment…

I’m ecstatic with the finished piece and can’t wait to wear it – I will use the new pattern I made to make duplicates of the style but use other fabrics I have in my collection.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post – please comment below with any questions, equally, if you feel I have missed anything from my analysis of the motifs, please let me know!

Works Cited:

  1. M. Angela Jansen, J. C. (2016). Modern Fashion Traditions: Negotiating Tradition and Modernity Through Fashion. (J. C. M. Angela Jansen, Ed.) London: Bloomsbury
  2. Sumathi, G. J. (2002). Elements of Fashion and Apparel Design . New Delhi: New Age
  3. Lehner, E. L. (2003). Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees – The Flower Calender, The Japanese Flower Calender . New York: Tudor Publishing Company .
  4. Way, T. (2020). Chrysanthemum. London: Reakiton Books LTD.
  5. GUNTER, S. E. (2003). Japanese Design Motifs And Their Symbolism As Used On Itajime-Dyed Juban. Athens, Georgia: A.B. The University of Georgia.
  6. Lehner, E. L. (2003). Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees – The Flower Calender, The Japanese Flower Calender . New York: Tudor Publishing Company .
  7. M. A. Shtan’ko1a, V. N. (2016). The origins of Japanese national symbols . Tomsk, Russia : Tomsk state university, Tomsk polytechnic university,.
  8. McClellan, A. (2005). The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration . Boston: Bunker Hill Publishing .
  9. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art Vol. 77, No. 8, Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia (Oct., 1990), p304.
  10. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art Vol. 77, No. 8, Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia (Oct., 1990), p290.
  11. Bates, R. (2007). All About Chinese Dragons. Beijing: China History Press.
  12. ibid
  13. Mira Bartók, C. R. (1992). Ancient Japan . USA: Good Year Books.
  14. Rambelli, F. (2018). The Sea and the Sacred in Japan: Aspects of Maritime Religion . London: Bloomsbury .

Further reading:


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