preparing for hoikuen (Japanese day care): sewing project tips

Our little one started going to hoikuen (day care) recently and I’ve been slow about getting all of her prep done. And there can be a lot of prep to do!

I’m sure it’s pretty standard to write names or iron tags into everything, but most of us in Japan also have a list of items to sew. There seems to be a pretty strong sentiment here that handmade items are a labor of love, so people (read: moms) are encouraged to make everything themselves. That said, I’ve seen a lot of shops advertising ready-made or custom school sets and even big companies like Gap sell a range of the typical school bags each spring. The kids I see walking to school in our area carry a mix of homemade and store-bought bags, so maybe the mindset is changing a little?

I’m pretty lucky because the only thing I need to make is a set of covers for the kids’ nap time futons; friends at other schools also have to organize a variety of bags, pouches, and even homemade stuffed animals. Since the futons are a different size from covers sold in the shop, the only options are to hire someone or break out the sewing machine myself.

If this is a decision you’re also facing, here are my tips:

  • Show the spec of whatever you have to prepare to the fabric store staff. They’ll be able to cut exactly what you need and give recommendations (if you want them) about the type of fabric you should use for the task.
  • Unless you want to re-make these items every time their tastes change, try to choose a pattern that will grow with your kids and survive the (many) times they come up with a new favorite color, character, etc.
  • Instead of making straps out of fabric, I find it easiest to buy a couple yards of sturdy cotton twill tape. If your school is ok with snaps and you have one of those squeeze punches, that might be even easier.
  • Even though it takes a little longer, I’d really recommend using French seams. These sheets will come home every week to be laundered and having the edges concealed eliminates fraying. It looks more polished and I’m convinced it holds up better for years of use.
  • If sewing stresses you out, don’t hesitate for a second to have someone else make this stuff! The cost probably isn’t much different and you can use a small business or support another momma for a more personal touch.

So after weeks of procrastination, today I pulled out the machine only to realize the walking foot was broken. Oops. I had to practice a little to figure out the specialized foot I was mis-using, but I was pleased with how the shikibuton (bottom futon) sheets came out and made a little diaper pouch with the leftovers.

We recently learned that our school has decided against using the heavy kakebuton (top futon) this season, so I’ll wait to make that cover another day. Between this little project and the hours I’ve spent ironing name tags, I’m happy to take a little DIY break. Besides, I still have diapers to label and spare clothes to pack.

What are the norms for day care prep in your area? Do you like to tackle this type of project yourself or outsource it to the pros? I’d love to hear about your experiences getting everything organized, especially if you have any tips or tricks to share.

Have a great weekend!
kuri xx


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