Post 3176: Making a samue set

I’m off to meditation retreat in nine days, which was a bit unexpected. I waitlisted for this retreat back in July, but didn’t think a spot would open up since I need a single room and there aren’t that many available at this particular Zen retreat. Turns out, one opened up a few days ago and I’ve been asked to be the attendant (jisha) to one of the teachers.

For a long time now I’ve wanted to make a samue set for retreats. I have some other retreat-specific clothes that I’ve made, but I’ve never tried to make any of the more traditional wear.

The samue set is traditional Japanese clothing, originally worn as work clothes by Zen monks, but now in wide circulation as casual, or at-home wear. In the North American Zen meditation circles, lay practitioners wear samue as a more formal kind of meditation clothing than street wear. The outfit is very basic (as you can see – loose jacket and pants) – but quite expensive to buy a good quality version of in Canada and the US. They seem to run about $200 online.

As with all my clothing, I prefer to make my own anyways – so that’s what I am in the process of right now. I don’t have a traditional samue pattern (I couldn’t get a PDF pattern of one and anything else would take too long to receive in the mail) – so instead I am using the Assembly Line Wrap Jacket Pattern and the Sew House Seven Free Range Slacks Pattern. I have now made muslins (practice garments) of both pieces.

The image at the head of this blog post is the Wrap Jacket muslin. Though I rarely make a muslin from start to finish, I did in this case because I wanted to make sure I had a good fit and that I understood all the instructions. Turns out, this is an excellent pattern, and besides a few tiny missteps, it went together flawlessly. The three alterations I will be making on the final garment are to shorten the arms by two inches, increase the length of the inside strap to fit my bust better, and to change the closure so it ties on the “correct” side (to the wearer’s right).

Similarly, the Free Range Slacks pattern is fantastic and easy to follow, with all finishing steps included. Before cutting out the pattern, I made the initial adjustments I always make to trouser patterns: crotch rise and below-the-knee length. Turns out that even with these adjustments, the muslin version of these pants (made in a washed linen) are a bit baggy. Totally wearable and I’m happy with them, but I probably could have started with a smaller size. Instead I made some specific alterations and am mid-way through my second muslin pair (in a crinkle linen this time).

After I finish this second pair of practice pants – I will be ready to cut into the beautiful black Japanese twill fabric that I purchased from Blackbird Fabric. I was hoping to use stash fabric for this project but I just didn’t have enough for a full set, and so I splurged and spent $92 on 5 metres of textile. It arrived in the post last night, and all washed up, it is stunning – soft to the hand and eye, yet mid-weight and not at all flimsy.

The good thing about making meditation wear is that outside of retreats, it doesn’t really get worn, so a set of well-made temple garments can last a lifetime. Getting the fit and form right allows me to make an additional set should I want some lighter weight, or even make garments for other Zen friends.

Now, fingers crossed I get it sewn in time for the upcoming retreat!

One Comment on “Post 3176: Making a samue set

  1. I attended my first zen retreat with meditative archery. I was inspired to sew a dedicated clothing piece for meditation and chose this pattern after finding your blog. I live in Germany, but grew up „ across the water“ from you in Port Angeles Washington. I am a professional viola player, a sewing enthusiast and have tried weaving as well. I am a newcomer to Buddhism and Zazen. Thanks for your inspiration and best wishes for 2023.

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