The Charming in Chittorgarh Shirt

This shirt and its fit are a direct product of my computer printing this pattern at the wrong scale and me straight up not noticing because I trust machines and how are we in a reality in which it is possible to TRUST machines? The fears we have long dismissed are true! The robots are talking over, and it starts with blowing up the scale of my sewing patterns!

Or maybe not.

But as you know from this post, I really enjoyed the Seamwork patterns Rachel Shirt, although I found it curiously big (WELL NOW I KNOW WHY, you know what, maybe it’s not the robots, maybe I was just being totally out to lunch…) Of course, I cut two things from the pattern without testing the fit so that tells you something about how being in a land of endless fabric has really spoiled me. I stitched this shirt up in a hurry so I could take it with me on a trip to Udaipur, with visiting friends, because I knew that pairing this light pseudo-Japanese fabric (I have no idea if it is from Japan or just copied to give out that vibe, ah, India, you are a delight), with long sleeves, would make it perfect for Rajasthan in the winter, whose days are sunny and bright but quickly turn chilly.

And indeed I did! I was able to complete it on time and bring it with me to Udaipur, where I took it even further out to Chittorgarh, a gorgeous Medieval Indian fort with a mixed (aka grim) history. It’s withstood many a siege, and seen many a suicide, and it was the setting for a recent movie with a lot of controversy around it called Padmaavat, which is based on this epic poem but which some people think is real, which is all part of the whole damn thing. It’s complicated. If you are curious, you can read about the mythical figure of Rani Padmini, and here are some interesting (very feminist) takes on the movie.

At any rate, it’s a gorgeous place, and I hope my shirt did it justice!

It really turned out as more of a tunic, but that’s big in India, so no matter! The construction was simple and the size is meaningless because the scale is so off, but it’s light and comfortable and I’m into it! Sometimes accidents make for good garments.

It has sleeves! See, I proved it.

I just did a pleat in the back instead of the full longer tuck, which frankly, this garment could have used. Ah, well.

It’s very blousy and billowy, but I’m okay with that. It feels a little hip art teacher, which I always enjoy.

Here I am by one of the old fort entrances.

It’s it beautiful? But what was even more amazing was that I saw Tiya Sircar, aka Vicky from The Good Place, and told her how talented she is. So it was a pretty good day, I gotta say.

That’s about it on this shirt! It was easy, useful, and I’m into it. Regardless of the robots.

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The Kill The Tailor Outfit

I recently attended two weddings in a row. Now, contrary to popular belief, not all weddings in India are approached via elephant. This is a sad reality of India, but I have learned to live with it. However, there are many weddings in India, at any given moment, because of course there are many weddings in the world, but now is the high season, and because there are so very many PEOPLE here, the odds that you might have a wedding to attend between the months of October and March are, shall we say, high. And so it came to pass that I had two weddings to attend and nothing to wear to them.

I mean, I had literal clothing, obviously, I don’t walk around naked all day, that would be frowned upon, and in some parts of the world rather chilly. I even had nice clothing, but the dress code to these weddings was Indian wear, and this presents a problem for me. You see, I don’t have a lot of Indian fancy clothing. I don’t have a lot of Indian clothing, period, but this specific region is hard because it is expensive, and rather exclusive to certain events, of which I don’t attend all that many. I have my wedding lengha, which is far too grand for someone else’s wedding, because then I’m like, trying to be the star, and I have two beautiful saris that I don’t know how to pleat, or as they say here, tie, despite the fact that there is almost no tying involved in getting a sari on your body. So short of begging for a neighbor’s help, which I have done, not a great look for me, I wasn’t really sure what to do. I wasn’t all that confident in my abilities to sew something in the fancy Indian space, and buying something of quality is extremely expensive, which just feels like, is this worth it for something I don’t use all that much?

So I decided to have something made, something people do all over the country. It seemed like the perfect solution, ideal, even, and fun! I usually do all the making, but having something made seemed like a fun way to copy something beyond my talents. I met with a tailor in Kolkata, gave him my fabric and my image of a dress to copy which is a flagrant violation of copyright and totally something people do every day, and waiting for my dress.

Except he DIDN’T copy it. He made something else entirely, something bizarre, which was delivered to me a mere 7 days before wedding number 1.

Oh dear.

I was, to put it mildly, displeased. My mother-in-law, who was with me, wisely chose not to translate all of my cursing into Hindi, but did communicate to the tailor that this was not, shall I say, what had been asked for. Apologetic, he assured us that he could fix it in time.

I have yet to receive it.

When people ask me why I make my own clothing, I am going to tell them it is because I don’t trust anyone else in this world. Seriously.

I sprang into action, and dashed (walked at a normal pace) to a fabric shop in Kolkata and threw together an idea. I hauled it all back to Mumbai and sewed like a maniac, grateful my office was closed after the 24th so I could have time to get this done. As my friend sped her way to my apartment, I was handstitching my hem and praying she hit traffic.

She did. It’s Mumbai. Everyone does.

And as she entered my home, I was arranging my dupatta, the sort of scarf you will see in a moment wrapped around my body. I did it, people. I made an Indian wedding outfit. In, like, two days. And that was the last time I went to a tailor, ever.

These photos are MEH but you get the gist.

From wedding number 2!

So what, exactly, did I do? Well, I was like, okay, a lengha is basically a big full skirt with a choli, or blouse, and a dupatta. And a choli is basically a fitted crop top, or a bodice. So, I can make each of those things, right?

Right.

The choli is actually a Colette Patterns Claudia bodice with snaps inserted on the left side, rather than a zipper down the back.

The skirt, I draped. The dupatta? I stitched a border on a piece of net and called it a DAY, people.

BUT IT WORKS! So WHATever, man, I did it.

I was lucky, of course, because really the fabric is aces, and that makes all the difference. The blouse is a cotton-silk blend which makes it super comfortable, and the skirt is a beautifully worked net over that cotton silk over cotton, to give it body and heft.

It’s very subtle with cream, peach, blue and mint. I adore it.

Rubens approved. He fought with the scraps for a bit, and then declared a stalemate to snooze.

So there you have it. Speed sewing, an Indian outfit, and a loathing for the tailor.

Which hopefully didn’t show in my “wedding appropriate” smile.

See? You can hardly see all the rage in there at all! I wore it all out making this outfit.

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The Whale Tale Dress

I write, briefly, in praise of Seamwork. I am sure you know about Seamwork, but just in case you don’t, Seamwork is the digital magazine created by Colette Patterns which releases patterns monthly as part of the magazine. The original idea was that these patterns be ones a sewer could stitch up in less than three hours, although I think that is no longer the case, given the fact that they have released some outerwear and trouser patterns! But I digress. The point is, over the years in which Seamwork has been a thing, they have released scores and scores of patterns, along with fascinating articles and ideas for pattern hacks, for an excruciatingly reasonable price. Sometimes I like the patterns, and sometimes I don’t, but that’s sort of the point, right? Releasing patterns all the time means that people have endless options, and that I can wait for the item that fits my style.

Of course, a psychologist/Don Draper might critisize me for my constant hunger for the new. Seamwork is the Instagram of pattern sources, always offering me something new, eager to present me with options rather than forcing me to evaluate what I already have. But as someone who likes to try new things, but also feels she has to get her money’s worth, I tend to make patterns over and over again, partially because I like them, I’m not insane, but partially because I feel like they need to earn their keep, and that can make my sewing a little, well, boring. New patterns stimulate and challenge me, and I like that I don’t have to feel that I wasted money on something I only made once, or that I have to make something work in multiple iterations if it just doesn’t. Does anyone else out there have this dilemma, that when you spend 20 dollars on a pattern you have to make it over and over again or you will feel guilty? Ah, guilt, my constant companion, welcome home.

And while they might not all be three-hour speed racers, they are all pretty simple, in their way, and yet I do learn from them, which I love. I am constantly impressed by the team at Seamwork for their designs and ideas, and this month was one of those times when I saw the new releases and almost sprained my finger trying to download them as quickly as possible. And then I taped, cut, traced, cut, and went to sewing, throwing everything else to the side, because I was extremely eager to wear Rachel.

The Rachel shirt (and bonus tunic/dress hack), is your straightforward button down, but the thing is, I’ve been looking for one of those! Isn’t it delightful when things come to you right as you decide you need them?

Of course, I have made the Grainline Archer many a time, but while I love it, I don’t know, the fit has never been 100% right. And yet I never tried another button down! I shop around for zucchini, I try three shops for cat food, but I never tried to make a different button down pattern. Maybe I am insane….

So I went ahead and cut two out! Which I maybe shouldn’t have done until I tested the fit but OH well…..A long sleeve shirt version is still on my sewing table, paused because of a weekend in Kolkata from which I have only just returned, ready to complete it, but I knocked out a short-sleeve version of the tunic/dress last week, and harassed What’s-his-face until he took my picture. So here you go, my first iteration of Rachel (can’t quite shake that “make multiple” thing yet) in a fabric I can only describe as magnificent, one in which I am as happy as a clam, as playful as a dolphin, as optimistic as an octopus, because it is covered in whales:

You see, when you wear fabric printed with animals, you can never be truly lonely, because you are never alone!

I adore adore adore this fabric, and I like the way this turned out, eventually, but I gotta say, there were some bumps on the road.

I wanted this to be a dress, rather than a tunic, but I have to say, the (absolutely gorgeous) model they used must have legs for days because I lengthened this a few inches and it was on the way to a maxi, then I cut it back to the original hem length and it’s still at my knees! That’s fine, makes it India appropriate, but jeez, way to make a girl feel short!

 

That’s okay, I can’t stay mad at this dress, look at the whales!

Thinking about my bust measurements alone, I cut a 14,  because I figured the rest would be big but that was fine. But when I tried this on, I was SWIMMING in it. Instead of the slim skirt I admired from the photo, I had a tent. Okay, I thought, this is on me, I wanted a roomy bust and got a roomy everything! But the bust ease was also a lot more than I had planned for, and I ended up taking in the sides over and over again in little degrees, trying to make this less of a tent while maintaining the ability to get into it, because the buttons only go to the waist, so I worried that I would reduce it to the point that I couldn’t, ya know, get into it.

I think I ended up taking out like, 8 inches on each side. Oy. Next time I will just cut a size 10 or 8, and grade out at the bust if I’m nervous. It’s still quite loose fitting, which is of course the design, but while my whales are happy swimming, I don’t want to be!

I kind of like the fact that there is no yoke, although I also love a yoke. Variety, it’s the spice of life!

Of course, I can always belt it, but it’s nice to have it be loose and airy in the Mumbai heat. I love to wear things like this at home when I’m writing, because it is comfortable but I don’t look like I was raised by wolves. That’s the sweet spot, right there.

You can see the waist seam here. The collar is a little smaller than the Archer, which I like. For the sleeves, I used the original sleeve pattern and just shortened it.

I’m so happy with my whales. And my shoes!

Aren’t they cool?

That about wraps up my Rachel. Do you guys like Seamwork? What is your pattern use philosophy?

Oh, and one last thing, if you, like I do, love the ocean, the many animals and plants that live in it, and want to protect, conserve, and help oceans, consider a little year-end donation to Oceana!

 

 

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The Hanoi Blues Dress

Another day, another shirtdress, am I right? But there is something about this form that gets me every time, and that is why I have made so many incarnations of the shirtdress, from vintage to modern, and I think I have finally figured out what exactly that thing is that I love so much.

It’s pretty simple, really. Shirtdresses make me feel put together.

See, the thing about that phrase is, and I really believe that, it is something that women with curly hair rather hear in regards to themselves. Growing up, when talking to or about other women, I heard this phrase for some of them over and over again. My friend Presca, in college, who had and still has great style. My friend Betsy, who I studied abroad with, ditto. My friend Becca, also great style. But I have lots of friends with style! I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything, but, um, my friends are great. And they certainly know how to “put themselves together”. I mean, I hardly ever see one of them losing a tooth or a finger or something, ya know, falling apart at the seams. So what separates “put together” with not put together? I would admit that when I was younger, especially before I started sewing, I didn’t have a defined idea of my style. So I get that, up to a point. But in the years since I’ve been sewing, I have certainly found an aesthetic that I think works for me, and given that I, well, put it all together, it surely has some sense of cohesion, of being “together”, doesn’t it?

And yet, I have never heard that phrase directed at me. And I have to say, I think it’s the hair. I think there is an association with straight hair as smooth, cared for, styled, that there is a thought process behind it and therefore it is put together. It makes women look like they have tried. Well, first of all, women have tried in eight million directions outside of hair, people, so that’s something right there, and why do women have to try, at all, god knows it rarely seems like some men do, and then there are the cultural and racial implications of who has “straight” hair and who doesn’t and what that is supposed to mean about us, containing our curls across cultures. And then of course, there is the act of having curly hair at all, which, I can assure you, also takes maintenance, moisture, and money, so the idea that curls springing from one’s head means someone didn’t put the time in is just…all kinds of idiotic.

But whatever the world thinks about my hair, and, screw everyone who DOES feel some kind of way about my hair, by the way, whoever you are, a shirtdress does make me feel put together, no matter that no one has every told me that my thought process is reflected in their own. The coherency of the design, the crisp collar, the extension of the shirt into a skirt, it all works for me, it makes me feel purposeful, assembled, in line with myself. Which is, I believe, all put together should really mean. Regardless of this straight hair conspiracy.

I like to take my shirtdresses with me on the road, and this one accompanied me to Vietnam where I traveled with my friends Ben, Jill, and Travis, who indulged me in a photo shoot at this Buddhist temple.

The fabric is the star here, because it’s this lovely blue that actually shifts in tone, an ombre, hombre. When I saw it I knew I loved it, and I knew I wanted to make a dress that when from lighter blue around my shoulders to deeper blue around the hem. That meant I had to cut it on the crossgrain, and I’m okay with that.

I used McCalls 7351, once again, as the bodice, and added my usual two waist darts at 1.5 inches each on size 16 to get more waist definition. For the skirt, I simple draped it myself AKA it is just some big box pleats. Everything that can be french seamed is french seamed, and I have made this dress many a time, so to quote Bigmouth, NO NOTES!

I enjoyed this temple. First of all, it was pretty, and a fun place to take photos because it gave my friends places to photo bomb me from:

Where is Jill? It’s so mysterious, I have to look off in the distance.

Second of all, it included helpful advice for how to live your life well now to avoid unpleasant karmic consequences in reincarnation:

The use of the lower back tattoo as “too much cleavage” is magnificent.

Apparently becoming a mental illness means playing in a rock band in a mental institution which actually feels like a great movie idea, but what do I know.

It really was quite pretty, though:

And we found some great spots for me to poise against, which is of course the only reason to see anything, right?

So there you go. Don’t I look put together?

 

Well, frankly, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, right? It matters what I feel.  And in this, or any shirtdress, I feel put together as hell. 

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The State Fair Dress

Did you know that there have been three movies made call State Fair and not one of them has been set in Minneapolis, Minnesota? There is the 1933 version, the 1945 version, and the 1962 version, although that last one is apparently worthless. Obviously the 1945 version is the best, because it is equal parts classic and deeply troubling (for SO many reasons, but like, these pigs communicate with each other and everyone gets drunk and it’s just, it’s a lot), but it has the BEST costumes for it’s female star, Jeanne Crain , which were all designed by Rene Hubert. That said, it’s a bummer because the actress was dubbed in this movie. Sigh. Lame. Didn’t you people see Singing in the Rain? Dubbing is evil!

BUT THE COSTUMES:

This is a fact that will, no doubt, enrage and sadden my new sister-in-law, Becca, when she reads it, because according to her, the Minnesota State Fair is the greatest state fair of all and she is prepared to fight anyone who says otherwise. I gotta say, she’s small, but she’s feisty, and I’d put my money on her to win. Now, I have not been to another state fair that I remember (my mother keeps insisting that I did attend the Pennsylvania State Fair as an infant but honestly, if you don’t remember it, did it really happen?) and I would agree with Becca that the Minnesota State Fair is massive and magnificent, although honestly, if I didn’t agree I would probably keep it to myself because, well, see above.

This is how Becca probably feels about the fact that the 1945 State Fair isn’t set in Minnesota:

Anyway, I recently attended this real state fair, not the fictional one depicted over and over again in these movies (why…was this such a popular genre? In India they have these things called melas which are like fairs but millions of people come and scientists think the 1850’s cholera epidemic that decimated London and lead to my favorite non-fiction book ever , and that’s a theme in movies because people can literally lose their families there, but this is like, a place where people eat cheese curds and look at farm animals, I don’t get it). This event might actually have been the most American thing I have ever done in my life, and I knew I needed to dress the part. And what is more American, more state-fair appropriate, than gingham?

I mean, just look at this. Of the two, count em, TWO pinafores Jeanne Crain wears in State Fair, ONE of them is gingham:

Or maybe it’s just striped squares? CLOSE ENOUGH, people. You know it’s state-fair appropriate. It’s as American as apple pie, or nut roll, which is a thing we had at the fair:

I’m not going to lie to you, attending was an intense life experience. There were so many people that what’s-his-face and I joked that we were back in India, but, ya know, without as many Indians. But, it was also very interesting! We enjoyed seeing more types of rabbits than we knew existed:

and learning about how goats are judged (milk OR meat, but not both!):

and learning the wonder that is the cheese curd!

Everything can be on a stick:

Except for corn, which comes on its own stick:

Many things were cute at the fair, but I would venture to say that my dress was up there among the cutest because HOW CUTE IS THIS DRESS?

The pattern is a vintage one, Simplicity 3044. I can’t even remember where I got it, maybe a pattern box from Ebay from long ago?

I’ve had it for a while, but never tried it out before. I was suspicious of the “slenderette” label, but I simply adjusted the bust to be fuller and the rest was fine. God bless vintage patterns and their comfortable/generous ease! I also made the skirt a little more flared, with the old “eyeball it” method that I am so into that is so unprofessional but totally works so…whatever! It’s a 1960’s pattern, and I couldn’t resist the adorable collar, it’s just the top.

I literally made a version of number 1 down to the fabric and I’m okay with that. I cut that part on the bias, just as the illustration implies, and I love how it turned out.

The construction for this was very simple, frankly. It’s unlined, and the collar is faced, which I normally hate, but it works with this, and I stitched the facing down at the zipper and shoulder seams to avoid the thing I hate about facing, aka the flip out.

The back of the collar is awful adorable, and I’m proud of those points!

Gotta do a second back shot, in honor of that collar. It’s up there with my best collars ever. Is there a hall of fame for that? There should be!

The wind was swishing the skirt around, but I can assure you, the skirt checks match up!

These pigs were not as enthused by my dress as I was.

 

I feel like State Fair is ready for a new update! And may I suggest a change of location? Minnesota, perhaps? It’s a friendly place for a fair!

Look at those open arms from that slightly terrifying beaver sculpture! Doesn’t that inspire song in your heart?

Have you been to a state fair? Or a mela? Or something in between? What would YOU wear?

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The Ladies Who Art Skirt

One of the unexpected side benefits of having friends who are in the arts and have projects out of town means that you get to go visit them in said out-of-town spaces! Of course, now that I live in Mumbai, everything is….out of town. Hell, I’m out of town! But I digress. The point is, my friend Victoria was recently doing a play out of THE town that matters, aka New York, according to New Yorkers, and so I went off to visit her with two other friends so we could support her in her tour of the provinces and make sure her rustication didn’t endure for too long.

Fun fact, when Roman emperors wanted to punish someone without killing them, which is a small group of people, frankly, for whom that applied, they did something called “rusticate” them, that is, the recipient of the punishment would be exiled from Rome. They would get a country estate, and keep their lives, but what was even the point, if you couldn’t be in Rome, ya know what I mean? All those barbarians, my lord, a fate worse than death!

But luckily, Victoria didn’t fall in love with the countryside, nor did she receive some sort of punishment from the mayor of Brooklyn, so she’s back where she belongs, but not before we got to visit her, and, as a side benefit, we also got to visit The Clark, a lovely art museum in Williams, Massachusetts. They had a special exhibit about Women Artists In Paris, which was since closed, but was quite interesting, especially for us, a group of women artists ourselves!

She’s taking some HER time.

It’s hard to make new friends.

Love this. All women should have a copy of this, somewhere.

And so it was good that I wore a new skirt, obviously. Had to look good for all these Parisians and Parisian transplants! And my…actual friends, of course. Them too.

So this is a Deer and Doe Chardon Skirt, which I have made a few times now. It’s easy to put together and always fun to wear.

The fabric is from Cotton and Steel, and I get a ton of compliments on this when I wear it.

I appreciate how the pleats give this fullness at the hem but smoothness at the hips. It’s a nice thing about the design.

Yeah. That’s about all I’ve got to say about this. What can I say, some projects are simpler than others!

 

This is the kind of face you make when your friend takes the pictures and wont stop. I’m literally saying “ANASTASIA” in this photo!

It looks good in the reflection, too!

Just a simple skirt for a lovely day with some lovely ladies, some living, some dead, but all who art.

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The Give Me The Gingham Dress

First of all, I just want to let all of you know that hey, my novel, America for Beginners, is 100% out there in the world! You can buy it in the US! You can buy it in the United Kingdom! You can buy it in India! You can buy it all over the place! Please do! And then tell me what you think!

This dress that I am going to show you actually looks excellent with my novel, which is great because this is what I wore to my book launch party at Powerhouse Arena, which is a wonderful bookstore and a fantastic space, a place that frequently hosts authors in conversation. New York friends or people in the area, check it out!

Now, to the sewing. Those of you who read my blog regularly, aka my mom, will know that I am not a person who wears a ton of green. It’s not that I don’t like green, I do! I really do. I just don’t gravitate towards it the way I do some other colors. But every once in a while, you see something that just breaks you patterns, you know? I bought this fabric in Kolkata, which is great because one of the characters in my novel, Pival, is from Kolkata, so that all worked out rather nicely, didn’t it? I saw it in New Market, a market I never go to, and I wanted it immediately, despite the fact that it’s a color I never wear, yet despite all that, something about this reached out and grabbed me, and I’m thinking, well, I think it might have been the fact that it is gingham. People, I love a gingham. Love it.

Lots of people love it! I mean, Brigette Bardot wore it as her wedding dress!

There is a rumor that this actually created such demand for the fabric that it caused a fabric shortage in France! But that could totally be a myth. Still, it’s pretty fun to think about french girls rioting over gingham.

At any rate, I love a gingham like a french girl in the 1960’s. And so, despite all the things around this fabric, it had to be mine. When it comes down to it, I’m pretty much always going to be like, GIVE ME THE GINGHAM!

And so! Another iteration of McCalls 7351, which I have adjusted with two 1.5 inch bust darts, slimming the waist and giving the bodice a little more shaping. In a large-scale green gingham that I absolutely adore.

In celebration of my super green dress, I made my friend Victoria take these photos in a super green place! So while visiting her up at the Berkshires we snagged this lovely spot in picturesque Stockbridge, and went nuts. I think I blend right in…

It’s a super cute place. This adorable building has become…a Yankee Candle. SIGH.

Still, everything was brilliantly in bloom, which was magnificent!

And I went to a store that had knitted dinners!

Instead of using one of the skirts from the pattern, I wanted to capitalize on the gingham and figured box pleats would do the trick.

I cut the yoke on the bias, which I always love with a checked or plaid print. It’s just fun!

And I suppose that’s about it. I’ve made a lot of shirt dresses at this point and I could make something else, but…I love a shirtdress! So I’m probably going to keep on keeping on in that direction. Although I do want to try some new patterns in the coming months. Ah, conflicting desires!

A little close up of the bodice for you. Why did I use white buttons? Because that is what I had in my stash! Sometimes you just do what you need to do. I don’t think it’s clear in any of the photos, but the sleeve cuffs are also cut on the bias. Just a little detail only I know about, I guess!

I also put in pockets. Obviously. As one does.

Well, there it is. An unusual choice for me, but still, very much on brand. The point is, gingham is great, try colors you don’t usually wear sometimes, and buy America for Beginners!  Then you, too, can match my dress.

 

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