Our Mothers’ Patterns

Sewing and dressmaking in the Japanese Canadian community is a legacy of pride, skill and accomplishment passed on from thousands of women who mastered this vital art to practice their craft in British Columbia and across Canada from the early part of the twentieth century to the present.

The inspiration for this exhibit came from a collection of dresses donated to the Nikkei National Museum by Mary Ohara, typical of those worn in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Sewing then was not only necessary for women of all ages to provide custom-made inexpensive clothing for themselves and their families, but was also a primary source of income for many Japanese Canadians excluded from mainstream businesses or professional occupations. These women established their own shops or made clothing for clients from their homes after attending dressmaking academies.

During the internment years, the women in almost every camp organized hugely popular classes. For Canadians like Mary Ohara who went to Japan in 1946, dressmaking Canadian-style was one familiar means of showing how closely they continued to identify with customs from their homeland. For others who migrated east of the Rockies, dressmaking abilities allowed them to re-establish themselves. For both, dressmaking was the way to making a livelihood in a new place.

Visit the exhibition online at: The Virtual Museum of Canada