books · fiction · inspiration · navel-gazing · review · YA fiction

Sewing and Manga

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Paradise Kiss Vol. 1 by Ai Yazawa

Can you remember the first thing that made you think: ‘I could sew myself clothes!’?

I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks. I often talk about the first thing as being a friend’s declaration that she was making herself a dress to wear to my brother’s wedding, but thinking back, that actually wasn’t the very first thing.

In fact, MANGA introduced the idea of sewing to me.

As a proud, card-carrying geek/nerd/whatever (insert your preferred term here), I’ve been watching anime and reading manga pretty much all my life in one form or another, and I went through a period of buying an awful lot of manga when I was living in Paris in 2004/5. It was much more readily available in France than the UK at that point, and it made for a relatively easy way of improving my knowledge of written French.

When I got back to the UK, I really missed my manga fix, and started buying a few volumes from Amazon. One of the first volumes I bought was ‘Paradise Kiss Vol. 1’ by Ai Yazawa. I was initially drawn to it because the main character (nicknamed ‘Caroline’) is a girl at a prestigious high school in Tokyo who is desperately trying to get into a good university, but her grades are slipping (what can I say? It resonated with how I felt about my French studies at the time!)

[<aside>I still have a very vivid memory of cracking open the first volume. I’d just arrived home from my summer job (as the hospital secretary at a local private hospital – the uniform was a virulent blue with what looked like orange and yellow confetti all over it, and super frumpy – UGH) and found that a parcel had arrived from Amazon. I remember that in an attempt to savour the anticipation (really, I ought to do that sort of thing more often!) I’d not allowed myself to open it straight away, but instead nipped off to get Subway for dinner (hey, we’ve all done it!) Finally, I got back with my dinner (complete with oatmeal and raisin cookie – they’re the best!) sprawled out on my bed, and THEN I allowed myself to open my package and have a look at my manga and anime spoils.</aside>]

Paradise Kiss was the first volume from the package that I opened. I started reading it and was pretty much sucked in straight away. In particular there’s a point after Caroline meets the four members of ‘Paradise Kiss’, where she learns that they made the clothes she has just put on and have set up their own clothing line:

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Caroline and I were similarly blown away by the idea that someone could make clothes, never mind an entire clothing line. Before this point, the idea of sewing and creating clothes never really occurred to me. Which is odd, since one of my aunts is a talented seamstress, but really, it was just never on my radar. Plus, I’d seen her at work in front of her machines, and thought it was an alchemical mix of technology and magic! Paradise Kiss definitely made it seem that way as well. In fact, the very first page of that first volume really summed up my thoughts on the whole idea:

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What I wouldn’t give for a sewing studio like this!

This, to me, was like magic. I was instantly hooked! I loved how Caroline learns a little bit about their work, and as she does, she learns about not conforming to what is expected of her, to think carefully about what kind of future she wants for herself and make this a priority.

Unsurprisingly, I finished the first volume in one sitting and immediately ordered the rest from Amazon. (It’s a relatively short series, only 5 volumes.) I genuinely loved this series, not just because of the sewing (although some of their creations are amazing) but because of how you get to see Caroline realise that there’s so much more to life than she previously thought, and the challenges that crop up as she tries to forge a new path for herself. Also, the artwork is sooooo beautiful.

I was really sad when I finished the series, and subsequently thrilled when the anime came out soon after (it is super colourful, the one thing that the manga is obviously lacking). Sewing had become this really amazing art form in my opinion – clearly this was something Japanese art school honours students did before they went on to become famous fashion designers. So, a couple of years later, when my friend mentioned that she was making the dress she would be wearing to my brother’s wedding, I was flabbergasted! I asked her about it, and discovered that really, all you needed was a sewing machine, some fabric and a pattern.

I mulled it over for a while, then googled sewing, found Burdastyle, started reading verypurpleperson.com and got sucked into the rabbit hole. A month later (September 2008) I asked for a sewing machine as an early Christmas present from my parents (so that I could make bags for people’s presents that year – I was super skint at the time) and the rest is history.

I’ve read a lot of manga since, and Paradise Kiss remains one of my favourite series. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a bit crappy about a wadder, or when I lose my sewing mojo for a while, or just when the spare room is a total mess, I pick a volume down from the bookcase, and remind myself that at one time, sewing was an unattainable form of magic – magic that I’ve subsequently learned about. That always makes me smile.

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What about you guys? What was the first thing that made you think about sewing for yourself?

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