November 01, 2023

Living the life she was "made to"
Cassandra Harada



Cassandra Harada, Harada Wool & Founder of Tokyo Yarn Crawl
Interviewed by Meri Tanaka





We go back a long way with Cassie, almost to the beginning of amirisu. She is a multi-faceted fiber artist and owner of Harada wool, which is now woven into a cormo tweed fabric in the UK. She and her three colleagues recently started a custom clothing project "Made To."
Here is a glimpse of her incredible fiber journey.


amirisu: How long have you been knitting and sewing? How did knitting come into your life?

Cassandra Harada: Strangely enough, crocheting was the first thing that came into my life, as my mother and grandmother both did crochet. When I was about 8 I learned to sew hair accessories and anything else I could make with fabric scraps and a straight line of stitches.  In middle school I took up quilt making and by high school I was making accessories for fancy dresses and weddings..  Knitting didn't enter my life until I was 19.  I was walking through a big box discount store in the States and saw a "learn to knit" kit for exactly $9.99. I bought the kit, and the worst acrylic yarn money could buy and taught myself to knit.  I continued on through university.  Shortly after I began my knitting education I also discovered wool, learned to spin, and have never looked back since then. 


amirisu: How did you end up living in Japan?

Cassandra: I came here for a variety of reasons, but the most important reason for me is that I came here to live.  America isn't exactly a bastion of safety and opportunity these days, especially for people in the arts.  Japan held a lot of hope, and a lot of ways for me to make a living as someone involved in creative pursuits.  I decided that I wanted to make it my forever home after about one year of living here.  I travel now and again but I don't like to leave Tokyo that often.  In my part of town I feel like we all take care of and look after each other.  While I know that isn't the case in every Tokyo neighborhood, I can't imagine living anywhere else. 


amirisu: Would you please tell us about your journey in the knitting industry - your shop and Tokyo Yarn Crawl.

Cassandra: I lived in Tsudanuma when I first moved to Japan and they have quite a large Yuzawaya.  I can remember how excited I felt when I looked at their huge array of Ashford spinning tools and the aisles and aisles of yarn.  I purchased a spinning wheel and started producing a lot of yarn. I spun so much yarn that I really didn't have time to knit any of it, and as my spinning technique improved, I began to sell some of my yarn at a small craft fair.  At about that time hand-dyed wools were really starting to become popular, so I decided to try that too.  In 2011, I opened a yarn shop called "Hitsujidama" and ran that store for about 7 years (online and brick and mortar). I learned a lot while I was doing that business, and I met some really wonderful people.  However, I realized that I do not enjoy the pace of the yarn world.  I was only one person but I had to maintain inventory, do daily financials, come up with new pattern ideas, search for good designers, constantly search for new and more interesting products, and figure out a way to successfully teach classes and keep everyone happy.  It was constant pressure and felt really competitive at times.    

But in the middle of all of that, I remember thinking that I'd really like to have a relationship with more local shops, so I worked with a friend to make the Tokyo Yarn Crawl.  That event has been going for 10 years now and it is a two week tour of Tokyo's yarn scene. We work about 7-8 months a year to make that event happen, and wish more people would come and crawl to make it an even bigger success.    

amirisu: What inspired you to raise sheep and make your own yarn?

Cassandra: When my family visited New Zealand, I tried my hand at shearing sheep.  I was immediately interested in sheep and wool farming.  Later, I spent lots of time with Japanese shepherds, and in American and English spinning mills learning about all of the processes required to make yarn.  I always wanted to have my own label, with wool I could truly believe in, but I didn't think that was possible unless I raised it myself.  In 2014 I read about the Clara Parkes Cormo project and started using Elsa Wool regularly in projects for myself.  I occasionally had some in the store and really just fell in love with the texture, the handle and the character of Cormo.  When my parents decided to buy a farm shortly after that, my stepdad floated the idea of having a small flock.  I immediately insisted we have Cormo. 

There are so many difficulties involved in raising sheep and making yarn.  The first hurdle we had to overcome was simply keeping the sheep alive.  A sheep seems to have one goal in life, and that is to die an untimely death.  In our first year we had some really frustrating moments with parasites, illness and predators.  The next thing we struggled with was the cost of everything involved in sheep rearing.  Vetting sick animals costs hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars.  Hay, feed, straw, shearing and a multitude of other costs were always there to be paid.  Milling the wool is incredibly expensive, and then shipping it all to Japan plus import tax often feels insurmountable.  The finished yarn is always a worry as well, because I never have enough to put out samples or work with designers on a big enough scale to compete with other small yarn companies, or for people to find and know my product.  That all being said, and me being who I am, I can say raising my own yarn and cloth has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.  If I died tomorrow I'd be happy with what I've done, and experienced in my career as a "wool person".  I'm really looking forward to wearing a coat from our sheep soon. 


amirisu: What got you into tailoring? How did you find your master, and how has the learning process been?

Cassandra: In October of 2018 I walked down Savile Row in London.  I was immediately taken in by the window displays, and the general culture of the place.  I had no idea that shops like this still existed, and I immediately wanted to be a part of that world.  I also thought it was a great continuation and evolution for my life as a maker, and suited my needs to stay connected to people but step out of my life in retail.  Most importantly, it kept me close to my value system as good tailors use good wool.

I found my master by wandering around Nippori and begging for help.  Mr. Yasuda of the linen shop gave me a list of names and I immediately set to work calling them all.  When I found Master Hirokawa, he immediately said "just come see me."  I went to his studio on the next day, and despite him thinking I'd only stay for an hour or so,  I just sat down and said...nope.  I'm all yours now, please teach me everythings. 

Everything from thimble usage to needle grip was new to me.  Leaving something on the table while I stitch it was so hard at first.  The learning process has been pretty exhausting but also the most rewarding experience of my life.  I started with my trouser making apprenticeship and am carrying on now with waistcoats, jackets, and overcoats.  When I feel secure in being able to make a coat by myself, I'll start studying cutting a bit more. 

amirisu: You mentioned about your strong desire to create something, and how it relates to your religious upbringing. Would you please explain that again?

Cassandra: As a young person I was raised in the pentecostal faith.  It's a particular movement in Protestant Christianity that is charismatic, and very dramatic.  I shucked off those life rules and regulations as soon as I learned to think freely, and no longer identify with Christianity in general, but I found myself missing parts of it as I get older. It's a little strange to talk about but I can remember the intense energy in the room when we were all singing or praying together during a service.  I cannot describe this accurately, but it is joyful, and feels like everything is exactly as it should be. I noticed about 10 years ago that I feel that same energy when I'm sharing space and working together with other craftspeople. It turns out that the reason for this is that we process these kinds of experiences in the same part of the brain, so a sporting event where we're all rooting for the same team, a church service, or 4 tailors making one jacket all feel like a wonderful religious experience. 

I like being, and working alone for the most part, but I thought maybe a few days a week it might be nice to work together with other people towards a singular goal.  Making, and making together brings meaning to my life, and handmaking has become a kind of religion to me. 

- Among all the different creative methods out there, what is so special about sewing and knitting for you? 

My coming round to textiles happened more specifically when I moved to Tokyo and had to become more compact.  I became intensely utilitarian, and decided if I were going to make things, they should probably be useful.  Sewing and knitting helped me first make and repair my own family's wardrobe, and also make gifts for friends that they could use every day.  It also helps me calm and regulate myself.  Knitting and sewing are rhythmic crafts that are often quite soothing in a way that the other traditional arts are not.

amirisu: Among all the different creative methods out there, what is so special about sewing and knitting for you? 

Cassandra: My coming round to textiles happened more specifically when I moved to Tokyo and had to become more compact.  I became intensely utilitarian, and decided if I were going to make things, they should probably be useful.  Sewing and knitting helped me first make and repair my own family's wardrobe, and also make gifts for friends that they could use every day.  It also helps me calm and regulate myself.  Knitting and sewing are rhythmic crafts that are often quite soothing in a way that the other traditional arts are not.

Made To Project

Cassandra Harada operated a yarn shop and taught knitting in Tokyo for seven years before closing the shop and spending some time away from Japan. When she returned to Tokyo in 2019, she was feeling lost about what to do next. At the time she was designing knitwear and had recently begun pursuing tailoring in addition to practicing her other handcraft skills. She knew she wanted to do something different than before, something that could help proselytize handcrafts on a broader scale.

For some extra practice she began making knitwear and suits for her friend Murray Toews, a technologist and software engineer living in Tokyo and one of the few people near her who seemed to truly appreciate the work that goes into carefully crafted handmade pieces. After she made him a handful of sweaters and suits, Murray suggested creating a business together. They named the project Made To and slowly got to work. Murray helped Cassandra set up in various business skills for the new venture and created the project’s website. Next, two skilled knitters joined the team and Made To became a small company of four people. Cassandra Harada serves as the creative head, Murray Toews oversees technology and operations, and Hisako Tomita and Yukie Sugiura are the company’s dedicated professional knitters. Hisako picked up knitting needles at 65 years old after retirement and quickly fell in love with knitting, while Yukie has been knitting ever since she started making garments and accessories when her son were small. Cassandra also handles customer service, fittings, and knits some items, too. Murray is an engineer, but he has an interest in all manners of hand-crafted work, regardless of the materials used.

Currently Made To is focused on creating knitwear and tailored pieces in their studio. Their customers include fashion conscious men who are looking for something unique, people frustrated with the fit of ready-to-wear garments, and clients looking to remake a special garment into something new.

Order-made garments take a lot of time, so it is important that each customer is someone who can enjoy the fittings and appreciate how a garment goes through multiple updates along the way. Cassandra has noticed that with these patient and curious clients, this experience forges a kind of friendship by the time the piece is complete.

Made To also offers some ready to wear items that are proving popular with customers looking for thoughtful and distinctive gifts for friends and family.

At Made To, the process of making custom knitwear starts with a conversation. When Cassandra receives a request from a new client through the website, she begins with small talk to better understand the customer and their needs. Next, she explains that the product will take quite some time to complete and presents an overview of the process. Once there is agreement on what will be made and a full explanation of the pricing structure, they meet in person for measurements, or the customer sends measurements by email if an in-person meeting isn’t possible. If they have a garment with their preferred fit or ease for the project, she asks for those measurements as well.

Cassandra meets with the client for fittings multiple times during the process if they are located nearby. This is another way she builds the connection, occasionally sharing a coffee and some conversation together as well. Once the item is finally complete, she presents it to the client in a signature wrapping cloth. Next is aftercare, she checks in with them at least twice to confirm their satisfaction and to remind them of the free mending policy for the lifetime of the garment. This is what it means to have a custom piece from Made To.

With the prevalence of factory-produced knitwear, how does a company creating hand-crafted and made-to-order knitwear differentiate their knitwear from others? Cassandra explains that in addition to only using the best yarns, Made To takes special care to select a dense stitch gauge for each project that will provide durability and structure while still maintaining the character of the wool. And to achieve a true bespoke fit, the knitting team does not shy away from re-knitting a piece until the customer is satisfied. It’s no wonder that knitwear created through this process becomes something valuable and deeply personal for each customer.

As for the prêt-à-porter pieces featured on the Made To online store, they strive to ensure that each design is unique to the studio and features yarns of the highest quality, too.

What’s next for Made To? Cassandra says she’s already enjoying being able to do what she had dreamed about: creating handmade pieces for customers who are deeply interested in the process. The team looks forward to welcoming more clients to the Made To studio who can relate to the company’s concept and want to savor the experience of creating handmade pieces together.


Photo 1: Photography by Meri Tanaka Jemison unless otherwise credited. From the left: Hisako Tomita, Yukie Sugiura, Cassandra Harada.

Photo 2 : The Tokyo Yarn Crawl logo hanging on the wall.
Photo 3 : Harada Wool yarn and tweed fabric made from her yarn.

Photos 4 & 5 : Cassandra's desk in her studio.
Photo 6 : The ongoing Made To project. Various swatches and bags. 


Photo 7 & 8 : Cassandra and Murray ; Made To sweaters. Photo courtesy of Cassandra Harada.