Shinkansen Felt Ornaments

One of the craft shops in my neighborhood is owned by a very old couple. They don’t always hear the bell ring when you enter the store so I often have to loiter, waiting for someone to emerge from the back room so I can make my purchase. The top shelf is covered by dust, but I pretend not to notice.

One of the perks of a shop like this is that their stock is old, and sometimes you come across an item that has been sold out elsewhere since 1987.

Shinkansen felt mascot

This Shinkansen (known as the “bullet train” in the US) felt mascot kit isn’t that old, but in this dusty shop is the only time I have seen it for sale anywhere. I thought they would make ideal Christmas tree ornaments, so over the holidays I dug out the kit.

Shinkansen felt ornaments

The kit includes die cut felt pieces (very cool), beads for wheels, embroidery floss and stuffing. The directions are easy since this kit is meant for children to complete in about a day.

kit contents

kit instructions


My favorite parts are the wheels. It took me a little time to figure out that the small felt pieces are actually glued on rather than stitched. Once I had that down, these were really fun to assemble. Sometimes you just need a little something easy to do while drinking all that eggnog at Christmas.

speedy little trains

For those of you who love speedy bullet trains as much as I do, Sanrio has a cute website full of free printables. Enjoy!

Weaving // slide, clack, smack, switch

I love the idea of taking a pile of miscellaneous threads and turning them into something useful, like a piece of fabric. Consumers in the craft industry, like in most industries, can be a bit removed from the manufacturing process. Fabric and yarn stores are full of materials, and sometimes it is easy to forget how they got there.

For me, creating something from bits of nothing is a really satisfying experience. Sometimes it’s a pie, sometimes a table mat. My love of handmade can probably be traced to one or all of the following:

  • I grew up making things with my DIY-style parents and my thrifty grandmother, a woman with a sense of save! save! save! and a collection of every size and color of milk/egg/meat carton you can imagine.
  • A culture being overrun with cheap, wasteful, and uninspiring commercial goods — not just in Japan or the US, but the global commercial marketplace in general.
  • My growing Etsy community, where I’ve met artists and craftsmen who value and support handmade objects of all kinds. We’re internet friends, real-life friends, and all-around craft addicts.
  • The Walking Dead has resumed on AMC and inspired me to plot my post-apocalyptic lifestyle and skill set.

My friend invited me to try saori weaving and I gladly accepted. I wanted to learn to create a textile rather than simply embellish it. Unfortunately, I still have little grasp of how that actually happens because I didn’t understand most of the Japanese spoken to me. I could probably search the internet to find a clear explanation, but it’s more fun to bring you along on my craft adventure as I experienced it — as a mute copycat. Living abroad has taught me the fine skill of mimic.

When we arrived at Jota‘s satellite location in Ikeubukuro the looms were already prepped. I was instructed to pick a few colors from the yarn bin, and the shopkeeper showed me how to wind the yarn from a big bobbin to a little one.

She gave me a basic demonstration on how to work the loom. Slide, clack, smack, switch. I repeated that over and over while trying to keep the seemingly thousands of threads in front of me from tangling. A note of warning, if you’re a tall foreign girl in Asia, don’t wear heels to weaving class, because your knees will knock against the loom and you’ll feel like a giant in a little loom land. Slide, clack, smack, switch, knock. Ouch. Curse under my breath. The instructor claimed she couldn’t speak English, but I recognized the matronly looks of disapproval.

I got a few pointers here and there — literally, the instructor pointed and either smiled or shook her head — but for the most part I was left to my own devices.

Here is my takeaway:

Any questions? Good! Me too!

It turns out saori weaving really embraces the imperfect: don’t think about it too much, see what evolves. I love this approach to creating. Saori also emphasizes recycling old materials, reusing bits of yarn or threads from other projects. Both of these ideas are rather unique in Japan, a place where efficiency and perfection are often valued in a process.

Thanks to everyone for the kind words about my messy little table mats! I left the class thinking it was a one-and-done experience, but after learning more about saori and your heaps of encouragement, I might be convinced to give it another shot. Next time I’ll leave my high heels at home.

If you’re in Tokyo and interested in trying saori weaving, you can visit Jota in either Kichijoji or the Seibu department store in Ikebukuro (7th floor). Contact them in advance to schedule use of the loom or to inquire about a one-day course.

LOVE Handmade Market, this weekend in Tokyo!

Join Saké Puppets and other Etsy artists this weekend as we gather to share and showcase our craft. I’ll be there to talk about sashiko, and will be selling kits and some handmade gifts. I’d love to see you there!

January 20, 2012

Reception Party, 7pm-9pm

January 21-22, 2012

Free to attend! Open 11am-5pm

* * *

Come and enjoy a showcase of lovingly handcrafted items created by local Etsy sellers and their friends! Make some crafts with the Etsy community, find gifts for your valentine (or for yourself!) and talk with the artists about their inspirations and techniques. It’s a weekend to celebrate our LOVE for all things handmade!


あたたかな “LOVE handmade” の週末をご一緒しましょう!


Gallery 7  東京都中央区八重洲2-11-7 一新ビル7階

Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Yaesu 2-11-7 Ishin Building 7F

Google map:

Christmas Crafts

Did you think I’d let a holiday go by without any crafts?  I think not!

A few years ago I started Homemade Christmas, an ambitious plan to sew or bake or stitch some element of all the gifts for my family for the holidays.  I always meant to start in September, but never got going until after Thanksgiving and then without fail would spend Christmas Eve in my room with a headlamp and an embroidery hoop.  Spoiler alert — I didn’t make any gifts for Christmas this year.  I’m a little disappointed in myself, actually.  I’ve been busy making things for other people, and with an early December deadline for shipping to the States, I didn’t have my 2 am Christmas Eve sewing miracle to count on.  Sorry, family.  This year you’re getting random Japanese curiosities instead.

But the crafter in me just couldn’t let the holiday pass without a little sparkle-adorned felt for the occasion.

Take note, Santa.  And what is that adorable Christmas village, you ask?  Even Tokyo looks quaint in wooden miniatures.

The Lego angel is on my desk all year long and I think finally feels at home with some Christmas company.  I’m sort of loving his Godzilla-esque presence over those buses.

I didn’t stop at stockings.  Maybe I’m crazy, but I somehow feel it’s not Christmas unless I’ve made something for someone, so I whipped up a few ornaments to give as gifts.

A few of them even got star tree-toppers.  I’m in love with these 5-hole buttons.

I think the ornaments look rather cute on my tree branch.  No $500 Oregon pine for me. (Seriously.  That is no exaggeration.)  The beauty of a corner nook in a small apartment — I really only need 1/4 of a tree.

Today is the Emperor’s birthday, a national holiday in Japan and the beginning of our long weekend of leisure.  I’m looking forward to all the fried chicken and eggnog in my future.  What is everyone else cooking?

Merry Christmas!