Home > Japanique Boutique > Artisan Profiles > Heather Nelson

Meet Heather Nelson - Samurai Seamstress




Tell us about yourself, your business…

This hobby has been a fun creative outlet for me and I love being able to share with people a little bit of Japanese culture and introduce them to Japanese textiles.

How would you describe your art/craft?
I take Japanese obis and kimonos and repurpose them into bags, purses, zipper pouches, pillows, Christmas stockings, etc.

What kinds of items do you sell? What is the price range? I sell a variety of items--handbags, purses, crossbody bags, zipper pouches, tote bags, pillow covers, and Christmas stockings. Items range from $15-$100.

How long have you been doing this? I have always liked to sew, but didn't start sewing with Japanese textiles until about 4 years ago. My husband is in the Navy and we were stationed in Yokosuka, Japan and I had a Japanese obi that I had turned into a tote bag for a friend who was moving and several other friends saw it and loved it and they wanted one also. So I started out making tote bags out of Japanese obis and then I made a couple of Christmas stockings out of Japanese obis and people on the base loved them. I ended up selling hundreds of Obi Christmas stockings to other service members. It was a unique way to combine an American holiday tradition with Japanese culture and for them to remember their time stationed in Japan.

Have you travelled to Japan? We were stationed in Yokosuka, Japan and lived there for 5 years and were lucky enough to travel all around Japan. Japan is one of the most amazing places I have lived and I just love everything about it. We actually were stationed there 2 different times and the last time we were stationed there, a friend of mine introduced me to Japan's shrine sales. A shrine sale is basically an antique sale and usually held on the grounds of a Japanese shrine or temple. I would try to go to one every month and that's where I could find all of my kimonos and obis. I would have so much fun digging through piles of Japanese obis and kimonos to find a variety of different obis and kimonos that I would use for my bags and Christmas stockings.

What is your favorite thing about working with kimono fabric? One of my favorite things about working with kimono fabric and Japanese obis is the variety. You rarely see the same pattern or colors--they all seem to be different, which is amazing to me. I also just love taking such an important symbol of Japanese culture and turning it into something that people can use or display.

What is the most challenging thing about working with kimono fabric? I think the most challenging thing about working with kimono fabric is that you are limited in your fabric width. Kimono fabric is only usually about 14-17" wide, so it can be a challenge to make items that stay within that width.

Here are more of Heather's creations...