Monday Outfit: Roots – An Origami-Inspired Dress

Elegance & Elephants

Good morning! Apparently all of Seattle was caught up in football fever yesterday, but I managed to spend the entire day blissfully unaware of this fact (I actually asked someone late in the day, “Is it the Superbowl?” and he looked at me like I was insane. Not a sports fan, I’m afraid…). Instead, I was working on creating this here post, having a grand old time.

Let’s talk about the Monday outfit, shall we? Heidi of Elegance and Elephants contacted me a few weeks ago and oh-so-generously extended an invitation to include me in her roundup of talented ladies for her new series “Roots“. In her words, “The Roots Sewing Series is all about celebrating worldwide heritage through sewing for children.” I was in as soon as she told me about it, of course.


The expected thing would have been to sew a kimono, I imagine. So I decided to buck that expectation and make an origami-inspired, modern dress though there is a slight nod to the kimono with that cross-over bodice. Ever so briefly, I toyed with the idea of stitching up a Harajuku girl outfit, but came to my senses and realized I didn’t want my daughter to be baring all that skin. That’s not the heritage I want to embrace, though I think it’s cool and quirky.


It’s a simple dress, but I really took my time with it. And because of that, everything went without a hitch. It’s been a long time since I’ve had hitch-less sewing…I used a pattern from this book as a base, but totally changed the bodice by adding diagonal pleats that mimic origami folds. Using Swedish tracing paper, I created pleats first, and then traced the original bodice shape and voila, a pleated bodice pattern piece. That part was surprisingly easy.


The star of the dress is the pocket. At first I wanted to make an origami heart, but that required too many folds and the fabric got bulky. I improvised and came up with a semi-heart, which I adore and it actually looks better in my opinion. Again, this took much less time than I expected to create. This deep pink cotton was easy to work with and resulted in perfectly crisp folds.


K loves loves loves this dress. “It’s perfect for Valentine’s Day!” she exclaimed, and look! I added a lace zip in the back. Let me write that again: lace zip. I now want to add lace zips to everything (in fact, I have one in black). Okay, there might be a touch of doily kitch going on here, but I think it adds just the right amount of sweetness and surprise to this rather minimal design.


The neck bias binding is sewn by hand, and again I took my time, and it looks fantastic. I’m learning from my previous mistakes, and stuck with the 120cm size and added an extra three inches to the hem — though it’s still a little loose, it’s not terribly so, and the looseness may have been because of my bodice modifications.


I feel as though I ought to expand on the whole heritage theme, but I am always going on and on about all the Japanese influences in my sewing so I fear I may start to sound redundant. I sew using Japanese pattern books, in simple, natural fabrics characteristic of the culture and I’m partial to minimalist designs. And for me, it’s less about the elaborateness of kimonos but more about streamlined, clean aesthetics when I think “Japanese”. Last year, I went to see a Japanese fashion retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum. I loved it. The fashions featured were innovative, architectural and oftentimes weird and avant garde looks (a dress that looked like a fish! insanely puffy, quilted outfits! planes and folds that defied gravitiy!). And yes, there were minimalist, monochromatic designs as well and they all represented Japan and my roots brilliantly. I realize I didn’t achieve innovative, weird or avant garde with my dress, but it’s an homage to the Japanese spirit of simplicity and the tradition of origami.


Oh, I shouldn’t forget: the braces! Can you tell that she has pink and red rubber bands that match her dress rather nicely? As expected, she’s become the cool kid on the block — according to reliable sources, every recess she’s surrounded by peers younger and older, asking her all about her new teeth bling.


Thanks for letting me participate in the fun sewing series, Heidi! Don’t forget to check out the other wonderful creations and what’s even more fun is that you can sewalong and there are prizes — not to be missed!





67 thoughts on “Monday Outfit: Roots – An Origami-Inspired Dress

  1. This is beautiful, Sanae. Love everything about it: the colour, the crossover front, the lace zipper, and of course, the pocket! Thank you so much for participating!

    1. Ah, a tutorial…I had every intention of including one and then…well, I won’t bore you with excuses and will work on one! Thanks, Courtney!

    1. Thank you, Marelet! Love it when my creations are called classy! It’s not a word that gets used a lot in my daily, decidedly unclassy life 🙂

    1. Full disclosure: I had much grander plans with an elaborate sleeve detail and an apron-like, folding skirt. Then I shook my head and went with simplicity. Thanks, Mayda!

    1. Ooh, that would look cool, grown-up size! Thank you for all your lovely comments, Emily! Looks like you’re wading through my never-ending archives, and I so appreciate all your feedback!

  2. Well, a pink valentine´s day dress might be something to consider! It is very beautiful, Sanae. The simple lines let the details shine! K looks so grown up in it! (Must be the braces!) And I would also love a tutorial for that amazing pocket!

    1. She does look older, doesn’t she? Her face is slimming down and combined with the braces, I barely recognize her these days! A tutorial is coming soon!

  3. Beautiful in every way! I love how you used the lace zip- I have some lace zips waiting for a perfect sewing project to use them on!

  4. This color is so gorgeous! Just the perfect spot of color I needed to brighten this grey midwest day. Love, love the origami pocket, and agree wholeheartedly that it is am improvement upon the originally planned heart. K’s first photo was reminiscent of a Tea Collection dress, which is not surprising considering the company bases their collections on their visits to different cultures. You have captured the essence of Japanese design so beautifully! And love that pic with K’s little braces peeking out! So glad it’s been a positive experience thus far:)

    1. Funny you should mention the Tea Collection, Lucinda! The whole Roots series made me think of that clothing line — I love their designs and before I started sewing for K, I used to buy a lot of stuff from that line. Thank you for the sweet comment!

  5. Sanae, what a triumph! This dress is so beautiful. And I think that it’s great that you kept the color scheme simple so that the sewing itself could really shine. I find too that if I put too many patterns and colors into my kids’ clothes, they never get worn. Too much to match and monkey with.

    This post is way inspiring. It was cool to hear how you interpret Japanese fashion.

    1. Thanks, Brienne! I love a solid colored garment with subtle details! I also love patterns, but I’ve learned to stick with mix’n’match-able clothes. Less drama in the mornings that way 🙂

  6. Sanae, just lovely. Simple and complex all at once, just like origami! 🙂 And please tell your daughter that I completely love her braces! 🙂


    1. The love of her braces is unanimous! K wears them proudly 🙂 I’m so pleased that my origami interpretation came through — thanks Natalie!

    1. Thank you, Em! My Japanese sewing book addiction is pretty out of control, and I’m always happy to have company in this venture 🙂

  7. So we shouldn’t be expecting a custom-made 12th man outfit for K anytime soon, huh? 🙂 I was driving to a knitting get-together yesterday evening during the last part of the Seahawks game and the roads were eerily quiet around Seattle. But more to the point- what a lovely dress and representation of your roots! Do you recall the fabric? I like the look of it.

    1. Oh Elizabeth, I don’t even know what your first sentence means – that’s how bad my Seahawks knowledge is! And yes! It was SO quiet – we went out to dinner while the game was finishing up and we were literally the only ones in the restaurant! But I digress. The fabric is 100% cotton as far as I can remember and I’m pretty sure I got it from Nancy’s. It might be Robert Kaufman…

  8. This dress is gorgeous!! Love all the details, the color, the lace zip. And I’m kinda jealous of K’s braces….I never got to have the colored bands ha!

    1. I guess those colored bands are the big thing these days. K’s already planning her colors for St. Patrick’s Day, her birthday (silver and gold)…you can get them in pretty much any color!

    1. I’ve seen these zips at various fabric stores and love them. They’re not exactly cheap though and mine are separating which cost about $10 per.

  9. What a gorgeous dress Sanae! I love every single detail!
    And, what a coincidence, I bought the exact same lace zipper (in fuccia) to make dresses for my daughters.
    Is yours from Coats?

  10. How absolutely lovely! I love the pleats on the bodice and that colour and lace zip are a perfect match for each other. K looks so sweet!

    1. K really loves this dress, which makes this Mama extra happy. Of course, after she pranced around in the dress, she demanded that I make her more underwear because those, she is over the moon about. 🙂

  11. Yes – origami and dresses! I was at the Antwerp Fashion Museum this weekend and there was this most amazing dress that was all folded and I thought ‘origami on a dress, now that’s a great idea!’ I might email you the photo…beautifully done! x

  12. Wow. I love your vision for this dress. It has so many beautiful details that make it seem almost vintage, while going one step further with modern whimsy. I appreciate what you mentioned about taking your time with this one and that the results paid off for taking such care. I’m definitely an impatient seamstress but I sense that I have something valuable and beautiful to learn by stretching out of my comfort zone and taking on a project that requires my attention and dedication to learning something new. Next task for me: zippers! (I know, I’m a newbie at sewing- I’m sure zippers must really be as easy as machine made button holes, but I’m phobic about them! Silly me 🙂

    1. Zippers seem really intimidating (and I’ve definitely had my share of problems with them), but they’re actually pretty straightforward when installed without distractions. Gita 🙂 I hand-basted this zipper down, and it ended up coming out near-perfect!

  13. Oh, that’s a fun and beautiful one! Love the origami pockets and the pleats. And this dress is just so … you! I love that the simplicity reflects japenese fashion and that you stayed true to yourself and your style!

  14. What a lovely dress! The perfect amount of sweetness and ingenuity! I’m kind of loving these lace zippers…your’s is the 5th I’ve seen around blog land the last couple of days. I’m going to have to find them.

    1. Wow, I didn’t know there was a lace zipper trend going on (obviously I’m a little behind on my blog reading). They’re very sweet, and definitely amps up the outfit!

    1. Aw, thanks Trine – says the woman who is so hip and awesome I cower in your shadows 🙂 LOVE the Stylo magazine contribution by the way. GORGEOUS!!!!

  15. So beautiful Sanae! You are like the guru of simple beauty. I always enjoy looking at your creations and reading your writings. Thanks so much for sharing!

  16. Ha, I know what you mean re: football! I was the old sourpuss on Sunday evening asking the folks in Starbucks to turn the volume of the game on the radio down. But I had a midnight writing deadline and the library was closed! Ah well.

    I love the way the dress turned out, I agree the semi-heart is even better than a heart-heart would be. I was going to ask for a link to a tutorial for the zipper but now I see it’s an actual product you can buy ready made. Too cool, I had no idea they existed!

    1. Haha! I’m a complete sports dunce (which is ironic since I used to edit sports photos as part of a big project). Midnight writing deadline, yikes. Hope you made it!

      I know you’re local Sarah, so check out Stitches, Nancy’s or Pacific Fabrics for the lace zippers. 🙂

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