Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Edwardian Prison Guard Dress

Sometimes you love something no one else seems to love. I’m sure you’ve had this experience, right? You go to a museum (if you don’t go to museums, imagine you are someone who goes to museums. Also, if you don’t go to museums, out of curiosity, why do you read this blog? I’m one Rembrandt reference away from being a full on Rijksmuseum fan-girl page. Anyway, thanks for reading, hope you aren’t super bored every time I go Van Gogh over here). So, you go to a museum, and you see a painting. Maybe it’s a Vermeer. Maybe it’s a Velasquez. Maybe it’s a Renoir because you hate yourself. I don’t know! But you stand in front of a painting and you feel some way about it. Maybe you love it, because it’s Velasquez, and it’s amazing, and it dazzles your soul, and you read this book a lot as a kid and seeing this painting is a dream come true. I’m obviously talking about this one:

las-meninasAnyway, this painting, it works for you. You love it. And then your friend comes up because they are bored and you’re taking too long and it’s Madrid and they want to party, and they are like, huh, lame painting man. Now, you could slaughter this friend, obviously, and that would probably be legal because, COME ON, seriously? But you are a kind and gracious person and you don’t, you simply accept that people are into different things. You love this, and your lame friend who you need to friend break up with is more into this nonsense:

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I’m not the only person who feels this way about Renoir, by the way, and if you want to meet more like-minded freedom fighters, you can find out about them here. Anyway, in the end, you like what you like, which is the point here, and sometimes after you’ve spent hours explaining why Las Meninas is amazing or why Renoir isn’t, you still wont have changed your friend’s mind, because there is something at the center of interest or attraction that is undefinable, untranslatable, personal.

So that’s probably why when I went fabric shopping with my friend Liz in Delhi we looked at the same fabric and I thought, I want to go to there, and she thought, mattress ticking.

Khadi is one of my favorite Indian fabrics. In its essence, its a rough woven cotton cloth, but Gandhi’s embracing of the cloth as a symbol of Indian self-rule and self sustainability as part of the Independence movement glorified the humble cotton and brought it into the national arena as a symbol of patriotism. Now khadi is all over India, and the lightweight loose weave is a godsend on hot days, of which India has many. The thing I love about it is the way the texture of the cloth is varied and interesting, so that as you sew with it its variety and many inconsistencies or flaws reveal themselves to you. It’s a rather stiff cloth, but it softens with wear, and it’s often woven in threads of two colors, giving the cloth a “change in the light” quality. I bet some language, Japanese maybe, has a word for that. While khadi might not be the best known fabric abroad, as it’s a personal favorite I wanted Liz to check it out when she was here, and we both went home to Mumbai with more than one piece. Now, Liz might have thought I picked up something more appropriate for a mattress than a dress, but I know regardless she will support my sewing choice, as she’s cool that way. That being said, while I love love love the result, I have to say, it might have gone right past mattress and into Edwardian Prison guard territory…

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Ah, well, you know how it is, some days you start out making a charming shirt dress and end up in incarcerated in 1910.e5d26f882abea11a6789a472abc3de36

Maybe I’m not even a guard. Maybe I’m an inmate….

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I guess a show about this wouldn’t be Orange is the New Black so much as it would be something like Tetanus is the New Scurvy.

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See the resemblance? Ah, well. It shows I’m tough, with a degree from the school of hard knocks. I bet that’s going to earn me a lot of street cred here in Mumbai. Or cause colonial flashbacks….

ED 3WHATEVER. I love my dress! Mattress, guard, inmate, see, it’s versatile! This is a version of McCalls M6696, which I have made several times before, here and here and one unblogged version. I love this pattern, but I’ve always had a little bit of chest gape between the buttons which I’ve fixed with safety pins. This time, I just cut the bodice with about 2.5 extra inches of ease, which fixed the issue and gave the bodice a looser fit, which is just fine with me, in Mumbai’s pre-monsoon heat (during which these photos were taken, now the monsoon has come in earnest and as I type this sheets of water pour down) I wanted everything looser and baggier and just not touching my body as much as possible.

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I made this version sleeveless, and I opted to drape my own skirt, aka throw some pleats in that fabric and call it a day. Otherwise I didn’t make any changes other than loosening up the bodice for gaping purposes. I played around with directions of the stripes a little on the waistband and then on the yoke:

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Oh, and I changed the gather to a pleat and took a little bit, maybe 1.5 inches, out of the back in a slight wedge shape to account for the change. That way I get that blousey 1940’s feeling without feeling like I could fit my cat in my back bodice. Side note, I had been walking around for all of ten minutes when we took these photos and you can ALREADY see perspiration on my back. THAT IS WHAT IT IS LIKE HERE ALL THE TIME.

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I finished the armholes with bias tape, as one does. I also french seamed it throughout whenever there was a seam that needed such a thing.

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I’ve taken to hemming things a few inches below the knee, which might not be the most flattering length for me ever, but it is pretty useful in Mumbai and India in general. It’s funny, for a Saturday night at a bar or restaurant I will see, and wear, things much shorter than this, but during the day walking around seeing someone in a dress or skirt is rare in and of itself, and when in doubt, tea-length does work well even if it shortens me. Sigh. Like I need something to shorten me….

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A little close up so you can see the cool wooden buttons, purchased at my local market here in Santacruz (our neighborhood), and the fabric. Ha, one of the buttons is slipping out, I just realized that! Oy. I always like the way darts look in stripes, is that weird?

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So there you go. Maybe it’s a little Edwardian Prison, guard or inmate, but I’ll take it. Besides, most people wont get the reference here, anyway, so I think I’m pretty safe. Although, a lot of people DO like Downton Abbey here, so….well, let’s hope they think guard and not inmate!

Coming soon, dressing for the monsoon! I…don’t know how to do it…

 

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Filed under McCalls Patterns, Sewing

The Sleeping In The Tropics Pajamas

In a recent skype conversation my friend Victoria as me if there was a time she could visit India when it WOULDN’T be extremely hot.

Weeeeeeeelllllllllllllllll………..

Look, not all of India is hot, honestly. It’s a huge country, they got all types of weather here. You can hike the Himalayan foothills in multiple states, you can go from forest to desert to jungle, you have options, really. In the North, you can even experience winter, magic thing that it is. Kolkata will get slightly chilly to my senses, although its native denizens walk around in sweaters and coats like it’s Moscow, and I have heard that other regions experience the ups and downs of weather that I was so used to (and loved) in the States.

But here in Mumbai, it’s always fairly hot. It’s the tropics, you see, and there is no getting around that. Some days are hotter than others,we had a brief “winter” like period in which I actually wore pants voluntarily and Mr. Struggle pulled out a flannel shirt claiming to be “chilled” because he is a delicate Indian flower, but generally it’s pretty much hot, hotter, hottest around here. October is notoriously sweltering, in the post-monsoon haze, and now, pre-monsoon or just on the very verge of it, Mumbai is a venerable hot-air balloon of humidity. Apart from messing with my skin (is that a thing, does anyone know?) and frizzing my hair (I haven’t worn it down for any signficant period of time other than sleeping for weeks) it’s made walking around an amazing experience in which I go from normal to sweating buckets within minutes. And the worst part is, people around me DON’T SEEM TO SWEAT.

I walk to the train station about two days a week on average for the voice over work I’m doing for a television show which is being dubbed from Croatian to English. It’s….amazing, it’s this soap opera from Croatia and it’s a constant source of wonder and hilarity for me. So far, plot points have included Somalian pirates, an escaped abused Yemeni bride, desert island desertion, heroin, unplanned pregnancy, a gypsy who sees the future, a coma, a beauty pageant, and so much more in between. And I’m not even halfway through dubbing it! I voice multiple characters, and sometimes I have long conversations in the show between me and me and it’s crazy. ANYway, more on that in other posts, but the point is, it’s a fifteen minute walk from our apartment to the Santacruz West Railway Station and in that brief window I become so coated with sweat that my clothing turns new darker colors from my exertions. Then I go to the studio, which is air-conditioned, freeze for a few hours, the color of my shirt returns to normal, and then I head out to repeat the whole process all over again. Upside? My wardrobe appears far bigger than it is! Downside? So. Sweaty. All. The. Time.

I know there are people out there who don’t sweat. Good for them, I say! But I sure do, and my life in Mumbai so far has been perpetually shiny with it. Now, at least in Mumbai you can pretty much wear whatever you want, unlike other Indian cities where you might want to be more covered up because the culture is a staring oriented one (see this post I did on India’s capital for reference), although of course even here it sort of depends where you live and where your day takes you, geographically. But given that I work from home, and my home is on the edge of Bandra, arguably one of the more liberal centers of this mammoth city, I am usually as comfortable as humanly possible. Even though, however, can wilt in the face of the heavy pre-monsoon humidity that makes the city feel like a greenhouse for tropical plants. Well, to be fair, it rather IS, isn’t it? Certainly the plants here love it….

But transplants like me, we need to figure out ways to cope, especially when it comes  to sleepwear. There is nothing quite so horrible as waking up because you are physically too hot and sweaty to keep sleeping. Luckily, the lightweight cottons also produced here are pretty good with that sort of thing, and I’ve made a few Carolyn pajamas which, after fiddling with the fit a bit, have kept me fairly cool, but this time I wanted something even breezier, even more open, even BETTER. Luckily, I had just the idea, and the fabric to make it happen:

 

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Oh yes, the hair, she is up. Get used to that in photos for the next few posts! My mother has commented she doesn’t know why I don’t just cut it all off. Deborah is, as always, correct, but I’m keeping it for now, so enjoy this series of posts whose subtitle shall be, “updos have I known”.

So! This is a modified Tiny Pocket Tank which I adapted using this stellar tutorial (I have actually done this sort of thing before, way back over a year ago for a sojourn to Austin. That pajama now lives in San Juan, its natural habitat). I did my usual size in this pattern, 14, to accommodate the full bust I possess. I suppose I could grade down for the waist and hips, but, like, how much do I care how form-fitting this billowing tank is? Besides, honestly, with the aforementioned heat I’ve been in a trend of making stuff that stands as far away from my body as possible, moderating my Tiny Pocket Tank and Scout Tee patterns to make them tents, trapezes, circles, whatever, something that stays away from my skin.

I usually lengthen this top, but for the pajama version I just kept the length as is, which makes it a cute swingy little top.

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Full disclosure: I pinned the back in place for the purposes of this photo shoot. #tricksofthetrade

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The shorts are the Purl Bee City Gym Shorts, a free pattern (free pattern!) which are perfect for pajama shorts. These shorts are fairly easy to construct, it’s just the miles of bias tape you need to finish all the visible exterior seams that can be…daunting. But, hey, its super cute, so we do it anyway…I’ve made these shorts a few times, and I have found that they are cut a little slim, presumably to be more flattering, but I like them loose and baggy, especially for sleep. I don’t really get this idea of slim fitting pajamas…..I’m really okay not looking my most fashionable self as I sleep.

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Although I do think these are pretty cute!

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The construction was fairly simple. The interiors of both pieces include french seams throughout, and the neck and armholes are finished with the same bias tape that you can see on the shorts. Easy peasy. I sat down with this after finishing THREE shirts for Mr. Struggle (because I am the best. wife. ever.) yesterday afternoon, and wore it to bed last night.

The fabric comes from Mangaldas Market, my favorite Mumbai fabric destination. I love this fabric, I actually made a dress out of it, which I need to photograph and post, and then was in the market again and saw more of the fabric and I bought it all right there because how often does that even happen? Once before for me. That’s it! Isn’t it great? I still have some left! What to do, what to do…

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Modeling “sleepy” poses or prepping for a jump shot?

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You know me well if you guessed jump shot.

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Sharing a moment with Cadfael. Man, if I think it’s hot, can you imagine how HE feels? We will wait for the rains together, and now I have a decent pajama to mark the tropical occasion.

Come on, monsoons, get a move on!

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Filed under Clothing, Grainline Patterns, Purl Soho, Sewing

In Search of Fabric or Forest for Trees

Oh my goodness, this past month was a total whirlwind, and my backlog of projects to photograph is bigger and better than ever before, just take my word on that. Travel from city to city and hosting friends in Mumbai was layered with furious working and sewing sessions, none of which has been conducive to blogging, but it has been a blast, I must say.

Projects I’ve completed include, but are not limited to, two pairs of Carolyn Pajamas from Closet Case Files, a bunch of Burda Style Jakob shirts for Mr. Struggle, curtains for our apartment, a bajillion Scout and Tiny Pocket tees, a Mission Maxi Dress, by Christina Hayes, a self-drafted box pleated maxi skirt, two more sleeveless Archer shirts, a Seamwork Adeline dress, at least three plantain tops, a McCalls M6696 shirt dress that I finished last night, oh god, the list goes on and on….

How do you guys do it? How do you get good consistent photos of your projects? This is something that has plagued me since I started blogging, how to get photos, how to make time for that, how to even like the way I LOOK in pictures, how to not feel embarrassed to ask other people. I left my tripod at home in the States, and I will say having one did make it a little easier to get photos of myself, but it’s always been an issue for me, getting photos of my projects. I love my friends, but I don’t always love their photos, and I get uncomfortable trying to get them to do what I want them to and usually give up halfway through and say, it’s fine, it’s fine, and never use the photos because they aren’t what I want. I think the trick is to take a million photos, because then about five of them work, but no matter how many times I assure people “just keep taking photos” or “tell me if I look weird” it is rare that either of those things actually happens. But given the kind of backlog I have, I think I need to find some kind of better solution here, because I have so much unblogged…I have the sewing part down, I like the writing part too, but the photography part, that’s the issue.

At any rate, here is a quick outfit and a lot of photos from my travels to the north. India is a great place for fabric, as you may know, but what you might not know, what I didn’t really know, was the amount of types of fabric that are produced all over the country, and the fact that every region has their specialities, their methods, their materials, their weaving and dying techniques. The floaty fine muslins that inspired such fervor in Regency England come from Bengal, things like this:

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The thick brocade silk weaves of Benares, now Varanasi, are duplicated all over the world, and they look like this:

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Chintz from the Coromandel Coast inflamed the European imagination, and we can see the influence of these patterns and dye techniques even today:

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But for many, when they think of Indian fabric, the first thing that pops into their head is hand block printed styles from the great state of Rajasthan, or Land of Kings. A central fabric producing hub since pre-Mughalite India, it wars with nearby Gujarat, the embroidery center and longstanding fabric powerhouse, for dominance of Northern styles, and it’s the place I wanted to take my friend Liz, (hi, Liz!) who was visiting me in India. A magnificent pattern maker and stitcher, although she loathes both (why oh why does the universe give such gifts to those who spur them?) Liz is a costume historian and she works at FIT. Despite her disinterest in sewing she does actually sew, and makes awesome beautifully constructed things I would kill to create, and she was excited to do some textile-based tourism in India. We toured the Anokhi Block Printing Museum (which I had detailed in this post), and even got to visit the amazing Rangotri Fabric Printing Workshop (a must for any Jaipur visitors interested in this form). We also did some damage at Delhi’s government emporiums, which are a fabric education in and of themselves, showing visitors the variety and magnificent quality of Indian textiles.

Check out our bounty:

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Block pints and ikats!

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Khadi forever. There is so much beauty in this simple cloth, I can’t get over it!

 

 

I know, I know, it’s excessive, but to be fair, half of this stuff is Liz’s….

Now, to show you the guts of the Rangotri Fabric Printing Workshop!

Headed by Vikram Joshi, who worked for Anokhi for a long time before heading out on his own, this company is amazing and does gorgeous work. Using traditional techniques and modern aesthetics, Joshi often enlarges a simple shape or design until it becomes something else entirely as a block, or uses older designs with different colors and combinations, to create something that is at once traditional and new. He does custom printing work as well for people, carving blocks and printing designs that look so unlike what you think of as wood block printing, it’s remarkable. With a workshop that includes all levels of production, from block carving to clothing stitching all in one place, the quality control and design is all supervised by Joshi, who was kind enough to give us a tour and set me loose in his overstock room, where I picked up more than one amazing piece of fabric….

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The floral on the left and the zebras and the blue bird are all from Rangotri.

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Cadfael modeling his personal favorite. Some of this has already been turned into a living room curtain but the rest is going to be an outfit so I can match my curtains a la Maria Von Trapp!

He also collects wooden blocks, and has an insane collection of textiles and pieces in his own personal little museum. I hope someday he makes a larger museum, because I would so be there….

Check it out!

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A block printer carving out a simple design or horizontal lines.

A block printer carving out a simple design or horizontal lines.

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A block and the dye.

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The block printing wardrobe. Watching these amazing printers quickly and perfectly place the blocks and print the fabric is insane, both hypnotic and awe-inspiring.

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A little close up for you. Most prints require a minimum of four blocks. Every time you see a color, that’s a block to distribute that color.

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Prepping a piece for printing.

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Once it’s printed, it’s hung, then later washed and dried.

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The “true” final color of the print above.

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Amazing that this is a block print, right? It looks painted, but it’s all coming from a carved piece of wood. Also, you can see what happens to the color after it’s processed, washed and hung. The colors on the bottom are the “true” final colors.

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This guy soaks and beats the cloth. Clearly he doesn’t need a gym membership. I can’t believe no pop-gym has adopted this as a work-out method yet….

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Quality control! Having the whole process in one place means immediate communication about the quality of the objects.

Rangotri produces a lot of home-goods fabrics, in fact, that’s most of what they do, which is sad, because I would buy ALL the fabric from them if it was commercially available. As it is, you have to go there and hope they left you pick up a piece or two. Still, it’s totally worth it!

And now, just because I have to get through this one way or another, a little outfit post for you:

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It’s a Scout Tee from Grainline Studios in a fabric I picked up in Kolkata and a pair of Butterick 5898 Patterns by Gertie pants in a stretchy crappy fabric I grabbed at Mumbai’s Mangaldas Market, which were great for Delhi in summer (it’s already summer here), because it helps to be more covered up in Delhi, a city where men actively stare at you wherever you go, although it’s so painful to be so in the scorching unforgiving sauna that is Delhi. Capris and loose-fitting tops like this help. They don’t ENTIRELY make it great, but they help!

 

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Oh! I also did Me Made May, of course, through my Instagram  but honestly, at this point in my life, I wear me-made every day, so I sort of have a me-made LIFE, really. I always enjoy seeing other people’s stuff, though!

Okay, I’m off to put my life back together post-travel, and try to figure out a way to photograph my excruciating backlog, sigh. Seriously, advice is welcome! Happy June, everyone. What are you sewing this summer?

 

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