Learn to Sew

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I spent about two years learning to sew. It was a slow process because I only worked on it once a week, and that wasn't completely regular. In total I spent 72 hours and 1 minute sewing a ritual garment known as a rakusu, which is worn by Zen monks and priests. This doubled as part of my work toward Receiving Jukai.

This was all hand sewn, so I didn't learn anything about using a sewing machine. Theoretically I know something about sewing machines from taking Home Economics in middle school, but I wouldn't put too much stock in that. And I can't say I'm really a master sewer (I had to double check that last word after typing it there for the first time). I know a few basic stitches: a back stitch, a running stitch, and a basting stitch. I do feel comfortable enough with a needle and thread now that I think I could pick up other stitches as I went along, though. To be fair, my teacher was more interested in teaching me to sew a rakusu than teaching me general sewing knowledge.

Here are the front and back of the rakusu that I sewed:

The front of my rakusu.
The back of my rakusu.

The center of the front is ten panels that are sewn together. These are supposed to represent rice paddies. In the story my teacher gives, Ananda and Buddha came up with the idea for the rakusu while they were near some rice farmers. Around the ten panels is a single piece of fabric making a frame, with four small squares at the corners as further decoration/attachment.

The frame wraps around to the back, where there is a silk panel that your teacher writes your dharma name on (these pictures were taken before the ceremony where I got my dharma name). In between the silk panel and the ten panels in the front is another panel of scrim. Some of the stitching you can see goes through all five or more pieces of cloth, other ones go only part way through.

The two straps that hold the rakusu around your neck are also single pieces of cloth that are around and attached to interior pieces of scrim. The flap in the middle of the straps (which ends up on below the back of your neck), is another piece of cloth wrapped around and attached to a piece of scrim. The large stitch on the back of that flap is called the "pine needle stitch," although I've always thought it looked more like a turtle.