Japanese Forearm Covers

White Linen Tekkou Green Hemp/Linen Tekkou

August 2013

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Japanese men's upper-body clothing, in particular informal clothing like for travelling or working typically does not come down all the way to the wrist. This can leave the forearm exposed and chilly in cold weather, scratched when working, or sunburned when it's sunny. Of course the Japanese have a solution for this, and the solution is forearm covers, which are called tekkou.

The tekkou wrap around the forearm and extend up the back of the hand. In this common design, a loop goes around the middle finger to keep the extension from flapping around. Ties at the wrist and crook of the elbow secure the tekkou to the forearm. Modern tekkou often use velcro at the side edges to keep the tekkou secured around the forearm, and sometimes don't have the extension. The simplest tekkou are just rectangles of cloth wrapped around the forearm and tied with cords. Historically, tekkou can be armored or be worn under the armor as padding.

The first pair of tekkou is made of white linen. The body of each tekkou is actually two layers of the same white linen. This enabled me to finish the curve at the hand end of the tekkou by sewing both layers together and turning the whole thing inside out before attaching the ties. The ties and finger loops are a bit wide on this pair. To make the ties, I started with a strip about 3.75" wide (what I call a quarter-panel width since a full panel is 15" or so wide), folded it in half lengthwise, then tucked the raw edges of the tie into the fold making a strap about 15/16" wide.

The second pair of tekkou were made from a heavy green hemp/linen blend I've been making a bunch of stuff out of lately. I'd already made a pair of kyahan from this material, so a matching pair of tekkou were necessary. I decided the first pair were a mite small, so I enlarged the pattern by a quarter inch all the way around. They're also lined with white linen instead of both layers being heavy. Lastly, I made eighth-panel straps instead of quarter-panel straps (about 7/16" wide). I'm pretty happy with the way those came out, and I think they'll be more comfortable to wear that the first pair.

The Process

First, make a paper pattern. I designed mine in CorelDraw, then printed it onto two pieces of legal-size paper. You can probably draft it by hand on large paper instead. Use heavy paper if you can, for durability.
  • The length of the base of the trapezoid is the circumference of your forearm just at the crook your elbow, plus three inches to create overlap. Make sure to flex your muscles when measuring, to get the maximum necessary length.
  • The height up the base of the trapezoid is the distance from the crook of your elbow to your wrist.
  • The length of the top of the trapezoid is the circumference of your forearm at the wrist, plus three inches to create overlap.
  • The sides of the trapezoid are just connected manually between the ends of the base line and top line. Resist the urge to curve this line.
  • The extension is an ellipse as tall as the distance from your wrist to your middle knuckle on the back of your hand, and a little narrower than that same distance.
  • You can see that I also added some straight lines to join the edges of the ellipse smoothly to the top of the trapezoid.
  • Lastly, I added a quarter-inch buffer all the way around. Originally, this was a seam allowance, but now it's just a little extra cloth to keep them from being too small.
Your mileage may vary on the exact sizes. Make a trial pair from inexpensive fabric first. You might need to add more overlap, or less overlap. You especially will need more overlap if the thickest part of your forearm is not just below the elbow. You might need more buffer, or less buffer. You might need to vary the dimensions of the ellipse if your hands are wider or narrower than mine.

Cut out the paper pattern and try it around your arm to make sure it is roughly OK before you cut any fabric.

Now, trace around your pattern onto the lining fabric (this is where it helps to use white fabric for linings), and pin the lining to the shell fabric. If your fabrics have "right sides", pin them right sides together. You won't need to pin across the bottom, since you won't be sewing there just yet. I consider this the minimum number of pins, but you might want to use more pins if you're worried.

Do not trim the fabric closely at this point. If you are using large pieces of fabric, trim it roughly so it's easier to manipulate, but don't trim anywhere near the lines.

Sew along the traced line up one side, around the top, then down the other side. If you are going to follow all the rest of my instructions, you do not need to sew across the bottom. If you are planning to attach straps differently and want to finish this edge, don't forget to leave a few inches open at least for turning.

After sewing, remove the pins and then trim the seam allowance to about an eighth of an inch. That might seem narrow, but leaving any more fabric than that will make the edges very bulky and stiff. You might also want to clip the curves around the ellipse and trim the corners. Just be careful.

Now turn the body of the tekkou right-side out, making sure to poke the corners and curves out to where they should be. Then, press the edges flat and top stitch them for security. Myself, I top-stitch them very close to the edge, like a sixteenth of an inch away. The stitching might introduce a bit of curviness, press the assembly flat again to finish this step.

Step not shown, make a bunch of ties. You will need about four yards of ties for this method. I started with a strip of fabric about 1.875" wide, folded the strip in half along the long axis, then tucked the raw edges into the fold and ironed it flat. You could use bias tape if you want, flat ribbon, or cord.

Cut a one-yard piece of tie and tuck the ends in. Then, tuck the base of the tekkou body into the fold of the tie in the center of the tie, and sew the whole length of the tie. This is tricky, as you're sewing many layers at once, so use as many pins as necessary. If you're really worried about missing, open the tie up, pin the edge of the tie along the edge of the tekkou body (on top of the tekkou body), then sew along the first crease. Now fold the tie back up and over the edge of the tekkou body and sew the whole length of the tie.

If you're using a flat tape or a cord, finish the bottom edge of the tekkou body, probably by tucking the ends in a little bit and top-stitching. Then, just sew the cord or tape on top of the tekkou.

Cut two one-foot pieces of tie and tuck the ends in. Tuck about an inch of top edge into the fold of each tie and sew the whole length of each tie. If you're not making your own ties, just sew your cord on top.
Now cut a six-inch piece of tie, and sew along the open edge. If you're using cord or tape, obviously you won't have to do that. If you're using anything flat, such as the folded ties, trim the ends at about 15 degrees to make a long trapezoid. Turn the trapezoid to make a teardrop shaped loop and overlap the ends so the form a diamond shape. Sew this on to the lining side of the ellipse, just below the existing stitching, using a diamond-shaped box stitch to secure it. If you're using cord, probably just sew the two ends of the cord down next to each other or something.

You're probably tempted to try to get the length of this loop just right, but I wouldn't bother. Make it a bit too long, I say. You might need to make the loop a little longer if your hands or fingers are thicker than mine. Just don't make it too short. You want to leave a bit of slack or the loop will restrict movement.

Here's a closer look at the loop attachment. The stitched edge of the loop is on the inside, so that the smooth edge is what is rubbing against the webbing between your fingers. The ends of the loop are a little raw, but there's so much sitching there I'm not concerned about it fraying too much.
From the top side of the ellipse, you can see the box stitch. If your loop and shell fabric are different colors (like mine, here) you might want to pay careful attention to your thread colors and maybe even use different colors in the spool and bobbin of your sewing machine, as I did here.
Here's one completed tekkou. Don't forget to make another one. You might be tempted to make a lefty tekkou and a righty tekkou, but I'm not sure it's worth the trouble. I just made mine identical and it works just fine.

I plan to experiment with other ways of attaching the ties, like maybe some arrangement so the ties cinch in place one-handed instead of needing to be tied together. They are a bit of a puzzle to tie on one-handed, but that's why I have teeth, I guess.

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