Zakka and Utilitarian Items

I love Zakka!  It is a fashion and design phenomenon that has spread from Japan.  The term “zakka” is a Japanese word that doesn’t seem to have a real definition but rather refers to something.  Wikipedia defines it this way and I think they do a pretty good job of it:

The term refers to everything that improves your home, life, and appearance.  It is often based on household items from the West that are regarded as “kitsch” in their countries of origin, but it can also be Japanese goods, mainly from the 50’s, 60’s, & 70’s.  Zakka can also be contemporary handicraft.

I found it interesting that zakka includes goods from the 50’s, etc. because when I find zakka patterns and project ideas, I am transported back in time to when I was a young girl in the 60’s.  The types of craft and household items in stores like Woolworth’s and Neisner’s are so reminiscent of zakka type articles.

I follow all the zakka blogs I can find and have begun applyng the design concepts back into my sewing projects.  I sense a new inspiration and love of home that I’ve been missing for a while.  I’ve been wishing I had hung onto some of the items from my past that I remember but am so happy that I am starting to see them in stores again.

For instance, in Walmart yesterday, they had a package of dish towels for embroidery that were exactly like what I remembered.  Coarse cotton with utility stripes bordering the sides and room in the middle of the towel for embellishing.  So utilitarian which is my style.  I love pretty things but not if they are only pretty and not useful.  It makes no sense to me to have something just sit and look pretty while it collects dust.

I am also starting to notice that Joanns has an area of their store devoted to “utility” fabrics.  These include pillow ticking, muslin, waffle cloth, and huck toweling to name a few.

Huck toweling is awesome as well as the waffle cloth.  Both are good for towels and both are great for embroidery.  Huck is typically used for a type of weaving called “Swedish or “huck” weaving.  The craft uses a tapestry needle and either embroidery thread or DMC pearl cotton.  The latter is my preference for huck weaving.  I like waffle cloth for softies (stuffed play toys) and potholders.

Both of these fabrics sort of puff up after they are washed making them soft, fluffy, and absorbent; just like a towel is supposed to be.

Another great utility fabric I forgot to mention in the Joanns utility category is “Osnaburg.”  It resembles a coarse linen (though it is 100% cotton) and can be used as such.  I’ve seen it used for curtain/drapes and shower curtains as well as small delicate embroidery.  I also use it for frontiersman shirts for my husbands 18th century re-enacting wardrobe.  I always keep a supply of osnaburg on hand and I am always looking for ways to use it.  Someone told me last year that it can also be used for toweling which I thoroughly agree with.  In the 18th century they probably used linen which would be very expensive for us to use today for toweling.

As the Zakka craze grows, I am hoping my understanding and appreciation of all things utilitarian will grow too.  I want to be able to see beauty in the mundane and get back to the art of “making do.”

Here are a few of my favorite zakka sites:


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