Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Annual Elephants Dress

I’m a big fan of traditions, as long as they are positive. For example, an institutional tradition of not hiring women? Not a fan. A Russian tradition of long and elaborate toasts? Love it! And so on. I especially like forging traditions, with friends, with family, with myself. As long as traditions can be fluid, as long as they can be explained, they work for me. If you can elucidate the tradition, it becomes exclusive, rather than inclusive, it doesn’t bring people in, it shuts people out.

The most infuriating thing about India (among the thousand and one infuriating things about India) is the way people are comfortable explaining their behavior with the phrase “this is what we have always done”. The positive of this is of course a link with history, that is, “people have been doing this for hundreds of years, isn’t that great?”. The negative is when it comes as a way to block innovation, or when you are trying to understand what’s going on and you are met with a firm “just because”. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”. Tradition can represent stagnation, inertia, a dogmatic mentality that values sameness over new evolving needs. But it can also be a sign of valuing what has come before, appreciating that while many things change, what we hold dear doesn’t always have to. Traditions are ours to make, and maintain,

All this is to say, I made another dress with elephants on it, and I think this is now my newest best tradition. As you may or may not recall, I made a dress with elephants on it two years ago (and if you want to see a bunch of adorable elephant videos I advise you click that link and see them on my post). One of the BEST things about India is the elephants. Gentler than their African cousins (who are also amazing), the Indian elephant is less aggressive in its adulthood, which means that elephants are used in farming and as transportation. This is not always great, in fact, it’s rarely great at all, despite being a centuries old Indian tradition (there it is again). But there are places that pack elephants are rescued, taken care of and loved, and there are many places where elephants roam wild, following the paths bisecting the subcontinent that their mothers and mother’s mother’s forged before them (elephants themselves enjoy traditions, hence the saying “elephants never forget”). They color the national imagination of India making their way into images from every age and kingdom. In Rajasthan they adorn every palace, in Maharashtra you seem them in the ancient Buddhist site Elephanta (it’s right there in the name!), along with the tiger they sit proudly rupee notes, so you can have elephants with you everywhere you go.

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They even make elephants out of women here! It’s an amazing place.

We got to visit Elephantastic in December, a place where you can hang out with rescue elephants and be really happy. My family collectively kvelled and what’s-his-face did not understand why we were so happy. I’m telling you, elephants are wasted on this country. People here are too used to them. It’s like, huh, right, an elephant, just like always. When do traditions just become commonplace things? How do you get to see this all the time and not be in a constant state of joy?

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We even got to paint the elephants with non-toxic safe-for-elephants paint. My brother did this one. Miniature Matisse, am I right? What’s-his-face just played with his phone.

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I know, right? WHAAAAAT? How you gonna play on your phone when there are elephants around!

I love elephants. There are many foundations where you can contribute to their preservation and care and I would if I were you (and do, because I am me.) So I think my new yearly elephant dress tradition is going to be a positive tradition for me. And I’m not doing it because this is what I’ve always done, despite being in India, a place where that is a thing. I’m doing it because why not?

and I didn't want to invite the comparison.

Well. I guess that could be a reason….

Well, never mind. To the dress!

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This was my first iteration of McCall’s 7351, the one I made pretty much straight from the packet (and realized I needed to take in the waist for future makes, hence the belt). Or at least, the bodice is unaltered. The skirt is just a pleated skirt all the way around, making it fuller than the original pattern version(s).

I have actually already blogged version number 2, so I’m all out-of-order with this thing.

There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that the dress with elephants on it that I made in the US two years ago looks so Indian, but the fabric was sourced in Philadelphia, and this dress, whose fabric I bought here in Mumbai, looks so…not.

The fabric reminds me of this J Crew fabric I saw years ago in a pair of shorts:

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And yet I bought it at Mangaldas Market, a supremely Indian place. Whatcha gonna do?

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Here I am with my own little elephant-like creature. People here cannot get over how large Cadfael is. I really hope he doesn’t feel they are body shaming him. It’s really hard being a cat-parent these days…

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Come to think of it, that belt might actually BE from J Crew….wow. The details of the dress might be a little obscured by elephants but…who cares. Elephants.

I did cut the front placket thing against the grain to give it a little variety, as you can see, elephants are climbing up and down my body even as they walk side to side. The buttons are a white shell button I bought here, and that’s it for notions, I think. I used white thread for contrast and machine stitched the hem because sometimes that’s how life works.

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A little side view. The pockets are invisible between being in-seam and being all elephant inundated so that’s fun. This pocket is, I will say, much better than the pockets of my trusty McCalls 6696, and by better I mean deeper and more smartphone friendly. So yeah. Better. I would very much do a full bicep adjustment next time (thanks, lovely people who responded to my last post on this pattern!) so the sleeves fit a little better, but otherwise I think it’s a nice fit.

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A little back view for you. That sure…looks like my back. You can’t really see the little pleat at the back but it’s there, I tell you!

I had put waist darts in my second version, which I like, but the loose comfort of this one is nice, and as you can see, I can always belt it!

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I love my elephants. I would wear them forever. And now I can! Not just every summer! Yes, this seems like the start of a beautiful tradition.

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Annual Elephants for all!

 

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Filed under Clothing, McCalls Patterns, Uncategorized

The Trying It Out Outfit

The internet is a strange and scary place sometimes, with its anonimity serving as a kind of cloak for bad behavior, for hatred to pour out unchecked, for bigotry and disgust to make its way out there, and for humanity to be ignored in the face of that all-powerful deity, The Opinion. The fact that it’s easy, it’s impersonal, you don’t have to see the target of said Opinion makes it easy for people to forget that their words, sprayed out into the digital universe, have a real-life effect. And opinions become insults so quickly, because you can’t see someone’s face, you can’t try to meet them halfway, you can’t really interact with them as a human, so “I think you are wrong because…” quickly quickly becomes “You are a fat stupid loser….” or much worse. We all know this, and I’m sure we also all know the way women specifically are targeted, insulted, demeaned sexually and physically and trolled, for want of a better word. I think it’s a shame that trolls get such a bad rap but that’s what they get, hiding under bridges and stealing goats, I suppose. The Guardian evaluates it’s comments before posting them, and honestly, reading this article, it’s not hard to see why. Leslie Jones recently quit Twitter because of the massive outpouring of hate following the release of the new Ghostbusters film, although thank the powers that be she did return to help us all appreciate the Olympics.

Sometimes I think about the internet, this amazing tool we all have at our disposal, and I shake my head. Maybe we don’t deserve this kind of communication, this instant feedback loop, if we are just going to use it to be awful. Of course, who am I to say what we do or don’t deserve, but when I contemplate the swirling mass of humanity or glance at a YouTube comments section or read articles like this, I feel, on the fluttering edges of my otherwise upbeat nature, a rare shadow of despair.

That being said, I can also say that sewing, making things, writing, as also uncovered what for me personally is the best part of the internet, the community that can be formed around mutual passion, respect and interest, that can create educational loops of information, that can answer questions, that can make us feel close to and aware of people and events and things so far away from us. We can learn about people in need, people in conflict, people like us, people not like us at all. It can expand us and remind us of our humanity. I don’t know that I need to go on. You know how the internet works, after all. You’re reading a blog.

I find this comfort in small ways, with the writing I put out there and the responses I get back. In the way I learn about people’s relationships to their bodies, to their sense of self, to the empowerment within learning something and enjoying it, connecting to it, connecting to others through it. Clothing, fashion, fabric, the politics behind these, the way they impact gender, identity, economics, labor, the way the knowledge of these things has changed my own sense of my body, the world, and what I make, I appreciate it. In a recent instagram conversation, because we live in a world where such things can exist, I talked with a fellow blogger about how I would try things through sewing that I would never ever buy, never even consider buying. Sewing is a space of experimentation, as evidenced by my growing love of maxi-length, my recent attempts at a romper (more on that in another post), my unblogged search for the perfect pair of loose-fitting cotton pants (I believe the pants I’m about to show you are as close as I’ve currently gotten) my explorations of tighter shapes, looser shapes, new shapes. Sewing feels like a space where I can try things out, where I want to try new things and the labor involved makes it worth it, even if I don’t end up loving the result. I like the process.

If nothing else, sewing is teaching me that, the value of the process. And that’s a hard thing to communicate digitally, in our content and product driven age. But I’m hoping you, who read this, get it.

So, without further pontificating, I give you my latest outfit, an attempt to try some new things, in shapes I find woefully unflattering, but with a comfort that I cannot help but adore:

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I feel like I look like a genie who doesn’t try very hard. NO MATTER!

So yes, a lot of things being tried out over here, hence the name of the post. Number one, is, of course, the elephant in the room, other than Cadfael, who is my very own baby elephant:

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But other than him, we know what I’m talking about, right?

The crop top. CROP. TOP. What is this, Saved by the Bell?

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Sidenote, 90’s fashion is so in here in India, to a troubling trouble extent. At dinner the other day I counted 4 chokers. Sigh.

BUT. regardless of my feelings that I might be just simply having a Bayside High moment, I decided, after length and extensive conversations with my friend Liz, who is ALL about the loose-fitting woven crop top with a high-waisted bottom, to try it out. I had a little bit of fabric from our fabric trip that I had split with Liz. She got most of it, and I took a meter, thinking I could just get a top out of it, and get I did! Of the crop variety!

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The fabric is super cool, with multiple colors woven together to make a not-quite-pattern weave. Lightweight and airy, I decided I could alter my ever-faithful Grainline Scout Tee to make a crop top by shortening it and extending it to a tent shape. I made the sleeves a little tent-like too, so the whole thing has a kind of cow-bell shape.

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So on the body it sort of has a very subtle hi-low thing. The hem is a little wrinkled in this photo, so it’s making a weird shape. The fabric is a little crisp, but as it wears and is washed it will soften, I know from experience with Indian hand-looms that this is the case.

You can just see a sliver of skin there, right? Well, I’m not usually a big fan of that sort of thing, but I think exposure to Indian fashion, which is fairly crop-top focused, maybe because a crop top is a hop skip and a jump away from the traditional choli blouse?

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Whatever it is, I thought I would try it out. The verdict? Honestly, I’m just not sure. Every time I wear it, I feel sort of silly and self-conscious, but thus far I’ve yet to get any judgmental looks or been stopped on the street and yelled at for how bad I look. I think it would potentially be cute with a pencil skirt, or high-waisted shorts, anything, really, that sits at the waist. Thoughts?

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Now, to the pants! Wrinkles abound.

This is, believe it or not, a much altered Simplicity 1887, the third I’ve made but the first that is blog-worthy. Oh, this pattern, what wasted dreams have lived and died on its behalf! I loved the idea of a half-elastic waist, of the pleats, of a loose pant, of pockets. But the reality of that half-elastic waistband was just not working, neither in construction or in appearance. Then, revelation! What if I just made it a regular pair of pants with a zipper? On the side? Of course, I had to take it in a bit at the waist, but that’s okay, a dart here, a trim here, and boom! In earlier incarnations I cut out a 16, but I found it a little snug in the posterior, which looked cute, but wasn’t in accordance with my vision, so I added about two and a half inches in the hips, because I really wanted a baggy loose comfortable pant here. Attractiveness be damned!

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The fabric is a cotton I got at my new favorite Mumbai fabric destination, Thakur, which is quite close to where I live. This is…dangerous.

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Ah, the slight pouf of the pleats. Speaking of feeling good about myself…it’s a real uphill battle sometimes, I tell you. But you know, I like these pants, I do. I have made and will make more flattering garments, but I am willing myself to like this style, to try something new.

I don’t know if more crop tops are in my future, but they might be. Let’s see if this one grows on me. I do like it, I do, but new things take time to adjust to and enjoy. Nevertheless, making one, putting it out there, trying it out, that gives me joy.

Now, troll away, internet. I will be focusing on the good. And also, this, which has made everything a thousand times better. Read it. Right now. A stranger on the internet told you to.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Grainline Patterns, Life, Sewing, Simplicity Patterns

The Summer of the Shirtdress Dress

My name is Leah, and I believe I might be a shirtdress addict.

I know. I know. This is really difficult to admit, and I really appreciate your support and your encouragement at this time.

Of course, knowing the sewing community as I do, I know you are more likely to praise this addiction than try and help me heal it. And that’s okay, because frankly, I don’t want a shirtdress-centric rehab with shift dresses appreciation courses, anti-button conversations and healing collar deprivation based work outs. As addictions go, while this one might take up more room than my serious coffee problem, I think all things considered it’s pretty manageable.

Now, you probably having picked up on this addition because I only have three shirt dresses featured on this blog.But in the past month I have made THREE count em THREE additional shirt dresses, and in a recent trip to Kolkata I picked up a stunning khadi fabric to make another one, so I’m sort of on a roll here with this. The dress I’m featuring today is actually my second version of McCalls 7351, although by no means my last, and I’ve got a full shirted version which was make #1, and a modified Grainline Archer which I’ve lengthened into a dress, all of which I still need to photograph and post about. But instead I…just keep making shirt-dresses.

I don’t know what it is about them that makes them so addictive. It can’t be the construction, which is frankly a little onerous, with the collar and collar stand and all the many button holes and buttons. It can’t be the scant yardage, because these things can be fabric monsters, especially if you make the full-skirted variety. So it’s gotta be the look, because a shirtdress is dope. It just is. They look clean and pulled together but also fun and summery and classic, probably because they ARE classic, they evolved as a wartime staple, a woman’s riff on utility dresses during the Depression and the Second World War, and then they were elevated by Dior’s new look to the cinched waist full-skirted notched collar beauties of the 1950’s. Now you see them in all versions, slim fit, shift style, maxi, it’s an epidemic. Sooner or later a film called “Shirtdress Madness”  will no doubt be releasing to scare the youth of America into walking the straight and narrow line of a pair of jeans, but for me? I’ll stay an addict, at least this summer. I’ll tell YOU when I’ve had enough…

My friend Liz, who accompanied me on our fabric tour of the North, and I don’t always have the same taste in fabric. But standing in a Rajasthani state emporium in Delhi, we had that rare moment of simultaneous want for a pretty block printed cotton. This could have ended our friendship right there, but luckily there was enough that we could both score two and a half meters. Crisis AVERTED. And we both ended up making shirtdresses, which, just goes to show we are friends for a reason. Of course, Liz’s is much cooler than mine, but still, I will make do. So without further explanation, the evidence of my continued shirtdress problem:

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Okay! So this is the slimer-skirted version of this pattern, although I would love love love to try the circle skirt (maybe it’s a half or a 3/4, not sure) option from the pattern, I have yet to have quite enough fabric to do so.

I do like this skirt option, which I lengthened a little because that’s always a little better for India, I feel. But I have to say, I think the pockets make the hips look bulky and weird. Thoughts?

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I’m wearing a self-drafted slip under this because the fabric is a little translucent, by the by. See, you can see the pockets sort of popping at the hips. Hmmm.

I tried something different with the sleeves which didn’t really work, honestly. I wanted a visible cuff, but the sleeves, despite an attempted alteration, are still too tight. I blame kickboxing which while getting me in great shape has sort of bulked up my arms. Any thoughts on how to make these sleeves bigger?

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The hem is still curved, which I like, although it probably looks better at the original hem length. Ah, well. Still a nice detail.

I cut a straight size 16 with a cup size D, but I found in my last round that the pattern was a bit large in the waist. So for this version I took about 4 inches out of the waist in front darts, and I’m pretty happy with that. Otherwise I think the fit works, except, as mentioned, the arms.

 

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See, you can see some pulling across the upper back which all roots to the tightness of the sleeves, I believe.

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Still, sleeve woes aside, its super cute, which is, of course, why the shirtdress is so addictive. They just look good. They look pulled together, something I never ever feel, and they scream “daytime elegance”, which I love.

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I think you can see the print a little bit better in this photo. It’s a blue on white, and it’s awfully lovely, I must say. You should see Liz’s version, it’s tops!

The big difference between this one and the ever popular M6696 is the waistband, the shirt options (which, real talk, you could self draft) and the fit of the back. But I’m glad I have both now in my collection! I scored this on a pattern sale and what’s-his-face brought it back from the US after his last visit. I think my next pattern int his addiction might be a vintage style. Let’s see how it goes. I’m not getting off this train any time soon. And frankly, I say SUMMER of the shirtdress but it’s basically summer all the time here, so….

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What are you addicted to, clothing/sewing-wise? Do you see your construction as destructive or productive?

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Filed under McCalls Patterns, Sewing