Q & A with Zakka Sewing coauthor Chika Mori (also see Q & A with Therese Laskey)

Were you brought up in Japan or the United States?
I was born and raised in Japan. My family can be traced back to the 1200s there! I came to the United States to study art after I graduated from high school.

For those who aren’t yet familiar with zakka, can you tell us a little about the philosophy of this Japanese aesthetic?
Originally, the word “zakka” meant “miscellaneous goods.” Zakka refers to small simple, basic, everyday things things that surround you at home, such as towels, slippers, baskets, brooms, and kitchen tools. During the last 20 years or so the word “zakka” started carrying a connotation of “kawaii,” cute, and that’s the zakka we talk about today. To me, zakka is something that has a function, plus something else. This “something else” is very important. It can be cuteness, uniqueness, or coolness. It doesn’t need to be over-decorated. It can be very simple, but it should have something that gives you a good feeling beyond its function. Zakka can be mass-produced at factories, but the focus of Zakka Sewing is handmade zakka.

How is zakka incorporated into your life and home?
I like things to be simple, so I try to minimize what I have around me. However, in order to keep things from becoming boring and colorless, I look to surround myself with things that give me a good feeling. Zakka tends to fit this description perfectly. For example, I bought a room thermometer/hygrometer in a beautiful natural wooden casing when I went to Tokyo last spring. It’s different from those cold, bland, plain-looking ones — like the one you find at your doctor’s office.

Has zakka always been part of your life?
Yes, of course. I can buy zakka, but making zakka adds even more enjoyment to daily life. One of the oldest handmade zakka items in my home is a beautiful pillow that my great grandma made me from kimono fabric. You can buy pillows at a store but something like this is so special, plus I love the spirit of recycling / reusing. Maybe you can make the Bird Pillow from Zakka Sewing with your favorite old sweaters or jeans that you’ve been hesitant to throw away!

Zakka Sewing includes 25 projects by Japanese zakka designers who live in Japan. How did you find the designers? How did you choose the projects?

I found them through Japanese zakka magazines (yes, there are many zakka-related magazines in Japan!) and on the internet. My coauthor, Terry Laskey, and I chose the projects we thought Americans would find unique but not too exotic.

Do you think Japanese crafters who create zakka approach the process in a different way than American crafters?
The biggest difference might be the Japanese love of small things. They pay lots of attention to the smallest details. When you look at the House Camera Cozy, you’ll see what I mean – it has many fine details. Also their delicate use of materials and subtle colors maybe be unique.

Which projects in Zakka Sewing do you recommend for a beginner?
I recommend the Tartlet Pincushion. It only requires a small piece of fabric and you just sew it by hand. Instead of embroidering, you could sew on some sequins or beads. You can make a whole bunch as gifts.

Why do you think there is increasing interest in zakka in the West?
I think it is part of the broader recognition of Japanese pop culture in the United States. So many “kawaii” Japanese toys, characters, stationery has became available in this country – even Japanese sweets such as Pocky! – and more and more people have become aware of what Japanese culture can offer. The way Japanese crafters approach their art feels very fresh to Americans.

What is your favorite project in Zakka Sewing?
I like the Linen Basket. It can be made in different sizes with a variety of materials for different purposes. Right now I’m thinking of making it three or four times larger to use as a newspaper/magazine basket.

What do you think are some of the most exciting trends in zakka today? How do they show up in Zakka Sewing?
One of the most exciting trends in zakka today is the use of old Japanese craftsmanship with a contemporary twist. A good example is sashiko, which is a traditional form of needlework that was used by farmers and fishermen centuries ago to mend torn or worn clothing. In it a simple running stitch is used to create beautiful, distinctive patterns. There are many traditional sashiko patterns, but you can be creative and give it a modern touch by altering the pattern or using colorful threads or fabrics (traditional sashiko uses white cotton thread on indigo blue cloth). The Sashiko Tea Towel and the Sashiko Pouch are excellent examples.