Pona Jacket Pattern Review & How I Stitched Sashiko On Every Inch Of It
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
This project was a major undertaking. I really did embroider every inch of my Pona Jacket, and the sashiko took over a hundred hours to complete. I just finished this a couple hours ago and you can't imagine how relieved I am now that it's done. I had to get this jacket birthed, and I'm so happy the extended labor is over. Actually, I am euphoric and basking in the warm glow of that dopamine/oxytocin rush.
There was quite a bit of excitement starting out on this make because the Pona would be the first-ever jacket that I was going to sew. I thought that this jacket designed by Helen's Closet would be the perfect starting point for jacket-making, and when it was offered as one of the patterns for October's Sew My Style 2020, I jumped in to take part. Basically, it's a sewing contest where you post your make of one of the 2 patterns of the month on the last day of that month. The winner is randomly picked from all the posts made on Instagram or Facebook. So technically the chances of winning are up to the lottery gods, but it didn't stop my overachiever instincts to work at full intensity. Well, winning wasn't so important to me even though I coveted that Sewn Magazine subscription prize. What really mattered is that I wanted to push myself creatively.
Making my first jacket is admittedly a challenge, but Helen's Closet made it so breezy I was almost disappointed that the jacket came together so effortlessly. I left the sewing of the jacket at the end after all the sashiko was stitched on it. After endless hours of intense sashiko, I was weary and worried that there would be more complicated jacket-sewing ahead of me. The sewing of the outer jacket seemed straight-forward enough when I read through the instructions, but I was stressing out that I had to construct a lining (yikes!) to protect all the stitches. Thankfully, Helen released a lining hack on her blog just mere days before I needed it, so it saved me time trying to figure it out myself. In short, this pattern is a godsend! And so is the lining hack. I pieced the outer jacket together in less than 2 hours - all without a hitch due to superb instructions and great design. Installing the lining required about 3 hours, including the drafting and the lining pieces.
Not only did I learn how to make a jacket, I also learned how to fully line it. That's a double win for me. There were all these new skills that I learned from the hack, e.g. attaching self fabric to the lining at the sleeves, bagging the lining, and creating hem pleats for the lining. I am eternally grateful to Helen for that. I felt she was holding my hand while I had to navigate through unknown territory. So the Pona Jacket (and the lining hack) is definitely the perfect pattern for a beginner sewer wanting to attempt sewing up a jacket. Some of the design elements make it a smooth-sailing sew. First, there are no closures, and second, the sleeves are sewn in flat. Best of all, it is a handsome jacket with its boxy shape and large flowing lapels.
Sizes for the jacket come in 0-30. I sewed up a size 4 based on my high bust measurements and made zero modifications. I made the shorter version, View B because there is less area to cover up with sashiko. However, I foresee the creation of a longer version in my near future, perhaps in a wool plaid, sans sashiko.
The fabric I chose for my first Pona was a Lady McElroy textured linen gifted to me by Minerva in exchange for a blog post. I also decided on a dark red thread as a contrast to the unbleached fabric. The embroidery thread that I use is VOG cotton thread and the number of the colour is 368. The linen fabric from Minerva is easy to love because it exudes a down-to-earth charm; it is honest and humble. It has that rustic look that feels like it was handwoven. It is sturdy and strong but also has a smooth hand and good drape. It's one of those linens that can be worn in the colder months, but can also keep you cool in the warmer months - a great fabric to transition through the seasons. It feels reliable and hardy, giving ample protection. It is beautiful in its unbleached nakedness.
It is also the perfect fabric to sashiko or embroider on. It is smooth when the needle pierces it and provides little resistance so that multiple running stitches can be loaded onto the needle at a go. Yet it is robust enough to be the net to hold numerous stitches. It's opacity meant that the stitches in the back will not be seen. The original idea was to embroider the portions of the jacket that had a facing, or a fabric backing so that the stitching can be protected. So in the beginning, I decided to sashiko only the collar, the lapel and the pockets. Then I thought I would stitch up the whole back as well and line only the back bodice. Well that was the plan before the stitches went in. And as I was drawing in the grid, this plan was thrown to the wind.
I started drawing in the 1/4 inch grid, trying to plan each and every stitch, and at some point I made the decision to stitch up the whole damn jacket instead of just certain sections, and to give up planning. What if I give up control and just go with my gut? Will I be able to allow the stitches themselves to reveal their path to me? Each stitch will guide me with what and where the next stitch will be. Can I really sit through stitching up a whole jacket? Those thoughts started to get me excited and terrified at the same time. And I jumped into action before I had any other thoughts to convince me otherwise. The creative challenge here would be to build on the design as I go along. The plan was not to plan. There were only 3 rules that I set for myself:
1) Cover every inch of the garment with stitches
2) All stitches should come from the Hitomezashi sashiko patterns
3) Stay flexible and free
Sashiko stitching patterns are divided into 2 broad categories - Moyozashi and Hitomezashi. Moyozashi stitching has pattern lines that cross, but the stitches do not meet nor do they cross. There is always a gap between the running stitches. In the picture below, you can see an example of Moyozashi stitching on my Pietra Pants by Closet Core Patterns. You can read more about the details here. The Ashton Top (also by Helen's Closet) that I am wearing in the pictures is also another example of Moyozashi stitching which you can read more about here.
On the contrary, Hitomezashi stitching is worked on a grid of straight lines, where stitches meet or cross to make up intricate designs. Most Hitomezashi patterns are made with a combination of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. Up until now, I've been doing mainly Moyozashi stitching, and decided to explore an array of Hitomezashi stitch patterns for my Pona Jacket. I relied mainly on The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook by Susan Briscoe for its library of stitches for inspiration and instruction on how to execute stitches that appealed to me.
My absolute favourite of the stitches is Kawari Kikkozashi or tortoiseshell stitch variation, which I used on the front facings, the back and sleeves. Here's a video showing how the thread looping is done between alternating rows of running stitches:
I don't know if you can see it from the pictures, but the stitches catch the light in such a way that it looks like there's an iridescence or sheen just radiating a millimetre off the surface of the fabric. I quite like that unplanned, unanticipated and unintentional effect. And I like how it contrasts with the unbleached linen and glams it up. It's an added bonus to reward not only the intensive labour that I did on the jacket, but my no-plan plan. Most of the not-knowing-where-the-next-stitch-will-take-me plan was immensely enjoyable, even thrilling but there were some stressful moments when I thought this method of working will prevent me from making the Sew My Style 2020 deadline.
Those fears were uncalled for. As I got better at releasing control, it got easier. I left the sashiko on the back bodice for last, mainly because I didn't know how I would cover up the largest area of empty space with stitches. It was freaking me out. By the time I started on it, I was running low on time and energy from all that continuous stitching. It felt especially daunting to be pressured to finish it within 2 days. Surprisingly, it went quicker than expected, and I attribute the ease to the no-plan method. I was able to lose myself in the whole process of designing the placement of the different patterns as I went along, without any preconceived notion of what it should be. I was allowing the stitches to dictate to me where they want to go, and that allowed for an uninterrupted flow of work. It was a nice change to relinquish my need for control and just go with the flow. Here's the victorious moment when I put in the last stitch:
There were other stitch patterns that I used. For example, on the front of the jacket, the dominant stitch is Kagome or woven bamboo stitch:
Work on this jacket started on Oct 15, and it got done on Oct 30. But it took less than 15 days to complete because in between I took 3 days to work on my Cheongsam-Kalle, and another day working on a shibori project. So I estimate that it was about 10 days of full-on sashiko, and a day to sew up the jacket. The whole time while working on it, I was worried that all that effort would result in something underwhelming. The fear was: maximum effort; minimum results. Now that it's done, I'm glad I went with my instincts and did it anyway. I think it's quite mesmerising to look at. The different stitches and patterns draw the eyes in. Or maybe I'm just biased since this is one of my babies.
This all-over stitching is not unusual in traditional sashiko garments in Japan. This was done to increase the thermal qualities of the fabric, and to strengthen it. It was a mending technique to preserve the garment. It was also a creative outlet for people to personalise their garments; a craft for their hands to quiet their minds, and elevate their lives with beauty. I am glad I invested time and energy into making this. In a way, it forced me to sit and look clearly at some fears that I have about my creative work. There are these thoughts of not being good enough, of not being worthy of a creative life. And they really are just thoughts. In the midst of the work it sometimes seemed like it can't be done, that I've set myself an impossible goal. But every stitch made chipped away a little bit more of the doubts and fears. Stitch by stitch, this simple but radical act fortified me. The mending technique strengthened the garment and strengthened my spirit as well. This Pona Jacket will always be a reminder to me not to allow my head to get in the way of my hands and heart. It will be well-loved and well-worn.