Category Archives: Travel

The Annual Elephant Dress Round Three!

Here we go, my annual elephant dress in its third incarnation! Those who have missed the first two rounds of this tradition can check out year one here, and year two here. And if you are wondering why I like elephants then I would kindly request that you stop reading this blog because you are obviously a heartless monster.

LOOK AT THEM:

I am this baby elephant at all times.

I really am making this thing a tradition, guys. Which makes sense, because there is nothing that is easier to get in India than fabric with elephants printed on it. I mean, it’s a CENTRAL theme, in a big way. Elephants walk across fabric the way they walk across the subcontinent itself, and as a result, I can be a little picky about my elephant fabrics. After all, I don’t want just ANY elephants, and I don’t want to look like my whole body is a white tourist in Thailand.

UGH. THE HUMANITY.

Fun fact, on a recent trip to Sri Lanka, my friend Ben and I decided to count elephant pants, because we are united in many things, not the least of which is our loathing for these pants, and we counted like 10 pairs in one day at one tourist site before I gave up because as some point you are just setting yourself up for failure. Good GOD, just buy a pair of loose-fitting pants in a linen or cotton in your own country BEFORE YOUR TRIP! Note to tourists of South and Southeast Asia, THESE ARE NOT REQUIRED. They WILL let you in the country without them. Alternatives to these monstrosities include ANYTHING ELSE. These will not actually help you on your trip, they will fall apart as soon as you get home, and while you are traveling they are like putting a “please overcharge me for everything” sign on your head. Get a pair of loose-fitting, lightweight and dark pants, and you are DONE. End this madness! It starts with you!

So, I didn’t want THAT. I wanted something more subtle, more interesting, more me, less backpacking-through-Cambodia.(I tugged a WHEELIE bag through Cambodia, thank you VERY much.) So I waited, and watched, keeping an eye out for the right fabric, knowing it would come to me in time, with patience. Much like the elephants themselves, wise great creatures that they are, I picked my moment. And when I found this subtle green fabric with origami elephants on them at my newly beloved Thakur Fabrics, despite the fact that the color might not be exactly my perfect shade of green, I went for it. Because sometimes, you just gotta go with a color you know isn’t in your seasonal palette because dammit, the elephants! And then, once the fabric was secured, which pattern? Well that part was easier, because right now all I want to do is make Kalle dresses. Actually, that’s another thing that I’m on the fence about in terms of it being flattering, but honestly, they are such perfect dresses for hot humid weather which is basically most of my life right now that again, I’m letting that go. I’m letting so much go, and embracing elephants. What a life.

So here we are! My second Kalle, by third Elephant dress, shot in the blinding sun of San Juan, Puerto Rico. This face really reflects the ambiguity I feel about this color coupled with a lack of caring. This shot is the most reflective of the dress’ coloring, fyi.

Once again I lengthened this dress (seriously it’s so short, does any one else feel that way? I am a short person!) by five inches, and this time I put in the band collar which, if I’m honest, I probably wont be doing again soon, not my style, but I like to mix it up!

See, the elephants are very small and subtle here, basically they opposite of the way they are in…life. Elephants, great and small, are all amazing.

I don’t really have much to say about this dress, honestly. It came together fast, it’s comfortable as hell, and I am going down a size to the 12 for my next version (already cut!). That’s…about it.

I mean it’s basically a well-shaped sack pretending not to be. I love it.

The sun was extremely bright, and my grimace game strong, but here you go, me, a street in San Juan, elephants. What else is there to say?

If you too love elephants and want to contribute to their safety and survival, there are many places you can donate, and may I suggest this one for today?

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Filed under Closet Case Patterns, Clothing, Sewing, Travel

The Blending In Dress

The thing about moving to a new country is that you end up picking up on clothing trends, either because you choose to participate in them, or because you actively don’t. As I’ve mentioned before, in my initial “set in India” post, I’ve made some hemline adjustments, and I’ve said things in passing in other posts about clothing being “India friendly” or not “India friendly”, but generally I think I’m on the actively not participating side of the scale. After all, I haven’t adopted Indian forms of dress, nor do I follow the general “jeans and top” trend on display here among India’s elite. Instead, I tend to stick by my whole dress-and-skirt thing. Side note, try as I might, I genuinely do not understand something about the way people dress in India, specifically people who complain about the heat. Now, if you are comfortable in full-length pants and a long sleeve shirt in this climate, magnificent, no judgment here, you do you. If you wear a kurta and salwar trousers daily, I get that, it’s lightweight and really easy to wear, and I see how even if more of your body is covered, you actually stay really cool and comfortable. No idea what I’m talking about? It looks like this:

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And if you swear by the sari? No comments here, I get it, sari for life. But what I DON’T understand is people who wear long sleeve shirts and pants, and then complain to me about the weather. Why are you wearing a long sleeve shirt? Why? These people are never people without clothing options. They are sitting in a sweater or blazer and trousers and complaining about the heat and it’s like, come on, now, this one is on you. Look at your life, look at your choices. I am one of those people who really prefers not to complain about the weather, mostly because there is nothing I can do about the weather, except try to dress appropriately within it. That, I feel, is on me. People here are constantly asked me, don’t I think it’s awfully hot? And yes, Mumbai is hot and humid, but I can mitigate this with my clothing choices! This is not a high-alert modesty city, so you have clothing options wherever you go, and besides, it’s never the people who walk around on the street who complain about this stuff with me, its people who go from car to cafe to car again. If you are hot, invest in a pair of capris! Wear a short-sleeved shirt! It’s not rocket science, people! COME on! No matter how nice that leather jacket is, you don’t live in a place where that is practical, so save it for your North-bound vacation, or IF you are going to wear it in a city whose normal temperatures are in the 80’s, please don’t complain. Look at your life, look at your choices. You’ve made this bed, friend. Lie in it’s wool-lined sheets and sweat away.

Anyway, rant over. Probably never going to really understand it, sigh.

But clothing cultures do affect me, maybe because sewing has made me creepy and observant and likely to drool over details in other people’s outfits to the point that I’m sure a lot of people think I’m sexually interested in them because of how closely I’m looking. Oh, well, whatcha gonna do. So I did notice that when I visited Singapore for the first time that the clothing culture there is wildly different from India, not just because of Indian ethnic dress, of course, but because it’s a super business-casual kind of town. In my woven cotton dresses and skirts I felt oddly underdressed, and I realized that georgette crepe, pencil skirts and synthetic fabric dresses suitable for a business meeting are more the done thing there, especially walking around during the day. Of course, that makes sense, everyone works in Singapore, it’s business IS business, and it’s highly influenced by Chinese and Western fashions. But the homogeneity of it, or the way it looked homogeneous to me, really amazed me at the time and I wandered around feeling like a shlub both trips times I visited. So by the third time I was set to visit, I decided enough was enough. I was going to make something in that tropical-climate appropriate but slightly more formal but not that formal sweetspot. We have to invent more names these clothing categories…

So without further ado, my dress I constructed to, like a spy or an anthropologist, blend in in Singapore. Not that anyone actually CARES about me blending in there, it’s so not that kind of place. But still, a girl’s gotta keep herself occupied, packing for trip wise.

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Singapore right now is rather rainy, but still humid and hot. But this dress, made of a synthetic double-knit with a nice slightly crinkled texture I got from Fabric.com when I was in the US a few months ago, survived the rain we got caught in this day well. My hair? Not so much…

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Oy. Well, again, WHATCHA GONNA DO.

I drafted the pattern for this, based on my bodice block for a woven, which I converted into a princess-seam bodice and removed the seam allowance because of the knit-factor. I thought I would have to add a zipper because it was a double knit but this thing is stretchy as hell and so comfortable I can’t get over it.

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The skirt is a half-circle and I pleated the sleeve-heads. But really, the fabric is the star here, anti-synthetic bias aside, it’s just great. I love the print and the recovery is stellar. Damn you, synthetic knits!

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A little side view for you. You really can’t see any details of the stitching, ah well, sorry guys. The wind up on the roof of the National Museum of Singapore was a bit fierce, so the skirt looks a little hi-low in this photo, but it’s not, I promise. Boy, this dress post is all about trust, isn’t it?

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I seamed the back which looks okay, not great. If I was doing this again, I would omit the back-seams and just keep the princess seams on the front, which I like, shape-wise.

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So there we go! I probably should have taken some crowd shots so you could see how well I blended in in Singapore. But again, trust me, I’m really basically a native because of this outfit, I promise…

 

 

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Filed under Clothing, knit, Travel, Uncategorized

The Fox Among the Pigeons Skirt

Happy New Year! I celebrated in Singapore hanging out in an apartment, toasting my family and friends with prosecco, and thinking how lucky I am to be able to travel this much and see amazing places with the people I love. Some compensation for living far from most of the people I know, I suppose! I’ll take it. Happy 2017 everyone! Let’s make it a good one by investing in our planet, and each other, in celebrating differences, in focusing on the good and fighting the bad like hell, and in loving this speech. I love this community, and I’m lucky to have it, so thank you for sticking with me and here’s to the new year!

As someone who has been traveling a lot, a lot a lot, and probably will only do it more in 2017, I realized packing for my recent trip to Singapore and Sri Lanka (guys, Sri Lanka is amazing, seriously, my five days there with my friend Ben, hey Ben!, barely scratched the surface of this gorgeous country, I can’t wait to go back….), I was making sure to bring a bunch of things I hadn’t had a chance to photograph in an effort to force my travel companions (of which there were many, my wonderful parents who we dragged from Delhi to Mumbai to Singapore and who took it all with grace and brought us cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy in London because they are the best, my brother and his girlfriend who joined us from Thailand and brought me two pieces of astounding silk, more on that in a sewing planning post later, my friend Ben, my friend Michael, and of course, what’s-his-face, we rolled DEEP this trip!) to take my picture in one garment or the other. Is this sort of like a sewing blog sneak attack? Yes, yes it is. I make no apologies. Gotta get this stuff photographed, people, by hook or by crook!

In traveling with my parents, I decided that in order to end the trip on a high note, it would be best to go from the least developed to the most developed place, so we saw Delhi, where I was literally attacked by a cow who tried to gore my stomach with her (luckily) developing and small horns outside a national monument, and then Mumbai, where my parents learned of the suffocating traffic and tropical humidity that owns our lives here, and then finally we were off to Singapore, more developed than most of the West, for real for real, a bit sterile, to be sure, but clean, well-organized, and with the kind of food you dream your life away and want to make a Faustian bargain just so you get to eat it one more time. Sigh. But we aren’t going to talk about that right now, we are going to talk about the fact that there is nothing really much to DO in Singapore, and yet we did find things, although I kind of worry that now I’ve literally done all the things and what am I going to do NEXT time I go? Ah, well, one sacrifices for family I suppose.

If you are considering a trip in Asia involving Singapore, and you are coming from the West, I would recommend you go to Singapore last, because I don’t know that you really appreciate it all that much until you see other Asian cities and countries. Singapore is all about comparative adjectives, so you need to give yourself something to compare it to. And if you are comparing it to India, well, it does very well in that exchange….

So this time in our efforts to find activities, we visited the Jurong Bird Park, which, like everything else in Singapore, is beautifully planned, well maintained, and a lovely place to spend some time if you have the money. And so I wore my new skirt there, hoping to throw a fox among all the many birds we found there, including, but not limited to, the Victoria Pigeon. Now, this is no ordinary flying rat, no metropolitan scourge of humanity. This pigeon is, forgive me, FLY.

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Look at that bird. That’s a pigeon who know’s what’s up.

To the garment! Of course the real phrase is “cat among the pigeons”, not fox, but what can I do, I think a fox would be as upsetting to pigeons as a cat, although these guys didn’t seem that bothered, so what do I know?

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So here I am, in my fox-printed pencil skirt (I think I need to take the waist in, although I love home comfortable this is, but the slight stretch across the fabric makes it bag quickly), and a never-blogged plantain because who has that kind of time?

This skirt comes from my block, and while I usually do the bodice block, I’ve been experimenting with the bottom lately!

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Whaaaa? Yes, I have! This is the second time I’ve done this, although I made a super serviceable army green pencil skirt which is a total workhorse and I’ve yet to photograph. I didn’t bring that to Singapore because this one is clearly more fun…

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A little side view for you. It’s a little big, yes, probably again because of the stretch element. But I like it, I’m literally wearing it as I type this, so…

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You can just see the zipper, ah well, its bright pink, which is fun, and then the waistband fastens with two skirt hooks. I machine stitched the hem because sometimes you just can’t, and it has a vent in the back, although I don’t know if you can see it here. I cut this skirt a little long, which made me feel a little dowdy in Singapore, but I think the print saves it from full on matron territory. Right? Let’s hope so….

The shirt fabric is from Girl Charlee, smuggled into India last spring, and the skirt fabric is from my new BFF fabric store, Thakur, in Bandra.

Sidenote, have you guys seen the Poirot “A Cat Among the Pigeons“? Classic.

I don’t know if my skirt had quite the influence on these birds the print implies it might…

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Ah well, I suppose it’s better not to freak out the birds. They can kick you out of Singapore for that…

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Bye bye, birdies! Odds are I will see you again sooner or later, after all, there isn’t much to do in Singapore, except eat your chicken and duck compatriots, that is. Delicious delicious compatriots.

Thanks for the photos, Michael! Thanks for coming to Singapore to be my photographer! That’s why you came, right?

 

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Filed under Clothing, Deer and Doe, Sewing, Travel

The Twice In A Year Shirt

The title of this post is less reflective of the item I sewed than it is of the place where I had the photos taken. Because when you get a chance to see one of the seven new wonders of the world TWICE in a year, you….well, you sort of just do it because even though Agra is a total bitch of a sad one horse, one million cow town, and you really don’t need to fight through a thousand beggars, children trying to send you pens decorated with mirrors, and literal goats twice in your lifetime, when your mom wants to see the Taj, dammit, you lady-up and SEE THE TAJ. Twice. In one year. Ooo-pah!

Having guests in India is wonderful, especially when it’s my parents, but it’s also stressful, because you want to give people the best possible experience but there is a lot out of your control, and everyone’s tolerance for and understanding of the developing world is different. I’ve had guests eager to engage with India, and guests uncomfortable with the realities of India, and honestly, most of the time those are the EXACT SAME GUESTS, just in different moments in time. India is not for the faint of heart, and while I’m happy living in Mumbai, I’m not really the Indian tourism board over here, and I don’t feel any kind of need to convince others to like the country. Even the most luxorious trip to the sub-continent exposes travelers to the realities of the polarization of wealth, the divisions in culture, class and way of life, and the fact that day to day existence can be a real struggle, no matter how much money you can throw at the problem. Navigating India can be exhausting, hilarious, magnificent and strange, so when I have people come, I want to bear the brunt of that for them, with some (a ton of) help from what’s-his-face, but that sometimes means running a long monologue that goes like “okaywe’regoingtogodownthisstreetintothiscabdon’tfeedthatmonkeyIdon’tknowwhythatthingislikethathereissomebottledwateryesthat’sacownothat’sabuffaloyesthat’ssadokaylet’sgetoutofthecaryesit’scooltakeaphotookaylet’sgobackintothecar”. And so on.

Having been to the Taj Mahal twice now, traveling two separate ways at different price points, I can say with some confidence that getting to Agra is arduous, but possible, and however you do it, you are going to end the day sweaty, dusty, annoyed and exhultant, because not only did you see something awesome, YOU MADE IT BACK. Don’t discount either as victories. This time we took a car, true luxury indeed, and stuffed like sardines being jolted over every speedbump and pothole on the road, being driven by a man who knows that road like the back of his hand and deserves a medal for the kind of patience he displays driving in India, I guess 35 years working for the Delhi Board of Tourism will do that for you, we, like the Mughals who came before us, stared in wonder at the marble tomb of Shah Jahan’s favorite wife. We had to compete with thousands to do so, of course, but still. Worth it.

And while my parents marveled at the inlay and the carvings and the sheer gorgeousness of it all, I got what’s-his-face to snap some photos. What? You’re mad I didn’t fight through to see the actual tomb part once again? I’ve BEEN before, jeez….

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I know, I know, how are you supposed to care about the shirt with that background? My top, an Itch To Stitch Mila shirt, didn’t take nearly as long to make, I’ll be honest. But it was also a labor of love, does that count?

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Well I say labor, but it’s pretty easy. The placket instructions are excellent, and this is the second time I’ve made it, but never blogged the first. I lengthened it, and would even do a little more next time, frankly.

I got the fabric at my new favorite fabric place in Mumbai, Thakur Fabrics on Hill road for any locals. This shirt is dusty and wrinkled from the day exploring Fatephur Sikri (Akbar’s capital, built and then abandoned) and Agra, but you get the idea. The strain at the buttons is I think a by-product of the long day, because it fits quite well. I think I stitched up a 14 with the D Cup size, which is super comfortable, and I’m happy this shirt had cup sizes, I rarely see that in independent patterns! Well done, Itch To Stitch! It’s seriously a lovely pattern company, and I’m excited to explore other designs.

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I omitted the collar this time, but did one for my first version, and found it to be well drafted, etc. I guess I don’t have much to say about this shirt, the tricky thing is the placket at the front but it’s worth it, and this one is well designed and explained, so it’s easy to do well. I like the popover look! It’s cute, and while I thought it would make my already large chest look insane, it DOESN’T. So there you go, me and Shah Jahan, getting stuff DONE.

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I made the long sleeved version, although I had the sleeves rolled up for most of the day because although it’s chilly in the evenings in Delhi during the winter, climbing around monuments is hot during the day! I did some stripe playing, as you can see, with the cuffs and the placket.

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Little side view for you. It’s a very dramatic curve at the side seam, which is also why I would lengthen this even more next time. I think I did two inches this time, but I wouldn’t mind a little more, really…

Otherwise, love this shirt! Love this fabric, love this pattern, love all around!

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Obviously you needed a little Taj selfie. I mean, come on, if you don’t take a selfie at the Taj did you even really GO? Not according to the internet! I tried to get my parents on board but that means explaining what a selfie even IS and that’s just, that’s the kind of labor that would go into making a second Taj. Who’s got that kind of time?

 

So there you go! One last post for 2016. I hope you all have had a magnificent year, as painful as some parts of it have been, and for the love of god, let’s hope 2017 is better. Maybe I’ll go to the Taj like five more times. That’ll help, right?

 

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Filed under Itch To Stitch, Travel

The Think Zebras Dress

There is a saying, when you hear hoofbeats think horses not zebras. It’s a saying I’ve heard a few times on medical dramas, so I have to assume it’s a doctor thing. I’ve always heard it in the context of looking at symptoms of a disease and thinking of the common options, not immediately jumping to flesh-eating bacteria (although….OH MY GOD THERE ARE FLESH EATING BACTERIA OUT THERE , makes me almost glad what’s-his-face and I never had a honeymoon despite being married literally millions (three) times, because if that’s what happens when you have a honeymoon, I’m out).   Essentially it’s a restatement of Occam’s razor , that the simplest answer is often the correct one.I’m sure that works well for doctors, although it never seemed to be the case on House, but for those of us in more creative less human-mortality based fields, I don’t know if it’s as useful. I mean, why not think zebras? Sure, you might be signing yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment, especially if you live in a horse-rich region, but hey, isn’t the possibility of zebras an exciting one? Surely we all deserve to live in hope, the most dangerous of all human emotions.  Sure, most of the world is horses, unless you life in a zebra-rich region, but maybe it could be zebras, every once in a while. Or giraffes! You never know.

For example, I now live in a city where I frequently see wild green parakeets (thanks, Ronnie, who corrected me when I thought they were parrots) chattering  on telephone wires, and massive brown and gold kites hunt for food and rest on palm trees. God help me if Cadfael gets a look at the kites, he’s dumb enough to think he can take them, the coward. I think this is an amazing, while What’s-his-face just rolls his eyes when I point out monkeys in the trees and kingfishers perching on government buildings. Certainly it’s a high-energy life, noticing everything all the time, refusing to let things be familiar. But I would rather be excited about hoofbeats, and hope for zebras. Maybe someday, that’s what it will be!

And while I’m waiting, I can at least prepare sartorially. On  my fabric-buying trip with Liz this past May, we paid a visit to the Rangotri fabric printing studio in Jaipur, which was magnificent and extremely informative. Moreover, I got a chance to pick up some lengths of fabric from their small but wonderful “overstock” or factory discard section. I scored this piece that I loved, in the continuing white-and-blue theme that is owning my life right now. I used part of it to make our living room curtains, but I had a nice amount left, and much like Maria Von Trapp, I’m cool with wearing curtains. So…

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Although she never WEARS the curtains, come to think of it….

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But I did! Actually, the original fabric had the stripes above the zebras, but I wanted the zebras on the bust, so I cut the fabric along the zebra line, and stitched it back on, before cutting out this lengthened Grainline Archer shirt-dress. I’m thinking more and more about trying the Alder out, especially after seeing this adorable one by Dixie DIY. Thoughts?

But for now, I have this. This is, by the way, also in my current attempts to sew outside my comfort zone, like my recent crop-top situation. I don’t usually go for something so shapeless, something without a waist. I’m not going to lie, I have worn this dress like ten times now and some part of me still winces when I see myself in the mirror, at least a little bit. HOWEVER. I also have worn this dress like TEN TIMES which should tell you something about how comfortable this dress is and how much the loose shape and airy fabric really feel great in the tropics. I wear a self-made slip (an altered grainline tiny pocket tank, alas, discontinued)  under it, because it is indeed quite lightweight, but even with that (the slip is cotton) I feel fabulously cool on steamy days.

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For example, these photos were taken in Singapore, which is humid and sticky year-round, and I was more than comfortable, I was blissful. Of course, the iced coffee also helps.

Here is the thing about Singapore that through What’s-his-face and his friends I have truly come to appreciate. The food. Well, also, frankly, living in India, Singapore is a wonderful place to visit because it is clean and well-organized and more Western than the West, easy to navigate, safe, I don’t see people urinating in corners at every turn…the list goes on. Obviously these are most of the things you just….kind of expect in life, but I live in India now, and boy have my expectations changed. So while I did not appreciate Singapore fully before I had lived in Mumbai, assuming it would be boring (well, fair, it is) with little to recommend it culturally (also true), I did not realize how strongly it holds up in COMPARISON to India. I never thought I would say this, but I love Singapore. It’s awesome.

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Really, it is.

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Both because it is just too Western for words but with some Eastern accents, and because the food is amazing. It’s quite an expensive place, to be sure, but the food hawker stands have all been moved into complexes and they are cheap, readily available, and consistently some of the best meals I’ve had.

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When I first went to Singapore this past January I bought iced coffee in coffee shops for scandalous prices, but then we realized we could also buy that in hawker markets for two Singapore dollars, and once we figured out how to ask for regular milk and not condensed (because then it’s just coffee flavored candy) we were golden.

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So here I am in one of our favorite hawker centers, Tiong Bahru, posing with my iced coffee in my shirt dress after a hearty meal of roasted duck over noodles. I think you can see the seam well in this shot.

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If you aren’t a coffee person, may I recommend a fresh lime juice when strolling Singapore? Super refreshing, despite looking a little toxic…

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What else can one ask for in life? I’ve taken a detail shot of my curtains so  you can see the zebras and the stripes a little bit more clearly, albeit in their original position:

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To alter the pattern, I simply lengthened the hem of the non-peplum back variation, and eliminated the curve in the hem. I made a sleeveless version, altering the back yoke as suggested by Jen on her blog for this variation. It makes a tiny subtle difference to me, but it’s nice. I widened the hem slightly to make the dress as loose and tent-like as the amount of fabric I had would allow. That’s about it, variation-wise. I’ve made this pattern so many times, I swear, but hey, if it ain’t broke…

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I used the striped part of the fabric for the yoke, as a contrast, and used the zebras for the collar. There is a little bit of lower-back pooling, because I didn’t do any kind of swayback adjustment, ah well. I can live with that.

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Don’t you love that Peacock mural photobombing my photos? That mural is like, elephants, zebras, where is the peacock love, lady? All in good time, friend. The animal fabrics, despite what’s-his-face’s judgment, aren’t going away anytime soon! Bahahahahah!

It’s strangely scary sometimes to try a new shape, especially when you have a set idea of what makes you look good, but I’m happy I’m trying some new things this year. The benefits of this looseness in this climate cannot be overstated, and I tend to get compliments on this dress whenever I wear it, regardless of my own self-judgments.

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. So hey, I’m happy to think zebras. Why not, right?

 

 

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Filed under Grainline Patterns, Sewing, Travel

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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Filed under Butterick Patterns, Dye, Grainline Patterns, Life, Sewing, Travel

The Somewhere Columbus is Happy and Doesn’t Know Why Dress

I am sure you, like most people who went to kindergarten, know, that the whole Indians-Native Americans thing exists and is such a damn mess because of Spanish explorers like Christopher Columbus and Portuguese explorers whose names no one remembers after that 11th grade final history exam. Geographically challenged explorers trying to get their hands on some pepper just assumed that the people they met in the New World must be Indians, despite the fact that I’m sure those guys tried to explain that these were NOT THE SAME PEPPERS, IDIOTS. Ugh. Translation issues, am I right? Tower of Babel indeed.

Peter Bruegel the Elder's Tower of Babel. Where all the trouble began....

Peter Bruegel the Elder’s Tower of Babel. Where all the trouble began….

Sidenote, how boring must food have been before the spice trade kicked in? My friend Ben and I (hi, Ben!) were wandering the Brooklyn Museum the other day in the Egyptian wing (I recently visited the States, more on that in a moment, GOD I’ve missed museums, like, really good museums, come on, Indian museums, step it up!)  and we were talking about pre-sugar societies. I think I could do a pre-sugar society, but pre-salt, no way to the Jose. What is life without salt? I’ve read the Grimm tale but it turns out it’s a universal one, check out this Punjabi story on the same theme.  But pre-spice society also sounds fairly lame. No wonder hundreds of Portuguese guys killed themselves trying to navigate the Cape of Good Hope trying to get to that Indian pepper, that ginger, the cardamom, those cloves. In medieval Europe spice stores were locked up and specially opened for feasts. Princesses came to their new households with dowry boxes full of spices as well as gold and silks. Spices changed the world, and if you don’t believe me, you can read about it in this, one of my favorite books on the subject.

So it’s not so surprising that the early Europeans who came to a place like Puerto Rico would have wanted it to be India, because, duh, spices, but it is sort of surprising that when they discovered it WASN’T India they didn’t, I don’t know, find another name for the natives. Oh, well, I guess they didn’t care because they were too depressed about the lack of pepper or too amazed by the taste of peppers. One of those two. So the word in Spanish, indio, still means native person, for no reason anyone can tell, and the West Indies are still a thing, despite the fact that literally the entire New World could be characterized as West of India.

So, end of the day, the Spanish didn’t get to bring any Indian stuff back from Puerto Rico. But I did get to BRING some Indian stuff to Puerto Rico this past March, when I got a chance to stop by San Juan during my trip back to the United States. So, there you go. It’s the circle of life. I really should have gotten some peppercorns to sprinkle around, like you do with malt liquor when a fellow gang-member dies. Instead, I just brought a pretty (if I do say so myself) block printed dress. Ah, well. Close enough, right? If those guys couldn’t figure out that Latin America isn’t India, they probably would buy that this dress was an exotic kind of pepper…

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So, I used my handy bodice block for this one, and I have to say, I think the darts actually did something really cool with these lines of darts on this fabric, I love it! Totally unintentional, but I’m going to pretend it was my idea all along. Natch.

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See? It warps the lines of printing around my (not unsubstantial) bosom, giving it a cool look. I tried to do a split neck thing here but it instead keeps flapping open, grrrrrr. The lining I used, which the smiling men at the fabric stall not too far from my apartment in Mumbai ASSURED me was 100% cotton and is probably like, 10% cotton 80% polyester 10 % LIES, is really light and drapy, so I probably should have interfaced around that slit. Oh WELL. I can live with it. Sigh.

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I drafted the skirt, in that I cut large rectangles and pleated them in large box pleats. Does that count as drafting? I’m going to say no, it’s too fancy a word for what is essentially some fabric folding.

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Yeah, I put in pockets. #Stayingonbrand.

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A little back view for you.

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The fabric is a block print from Rajasthan which I bought in Kolkata. That might sound confusing to you, but go with it. India has large government emporiums where they sell goods from each state at prices subsidized by the government so they are cheap and amazing, and a lot of those goods are, shall we say, of the textile variety? So this fabric came from one of those markets in Kolkata, but it is a Rajasthani bock print, nonetheless. It’s fairly different from the more traditional prints, which is what attracted me to it. That and the color. I should just live my life in this color, I’m telling you.

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Ug, that neck split. WHATEVER. I’m moving on with my life! I’m not going to dwell like the Spanish Empire did! If there is one thing I promised my self I wouldn’t do with my life, it was become like the Spanish Empire.

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A little hand stitching on the hem. I also hand-picked the zipper. I’m back to doing that. After a brief foray with the machine stitching, I’ve returned to my one true love, the hand stitched zipper.

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Neck split aside, I love this dress. It’s colorful, cheerful, and it mentions India without screaming it out. Much as the Spanish probably did when they saw Puerto Rico. Idiotas!

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Here’s to you, Cristobal. Sorry about the pepper. Enjoy the peppers. I will be enjoying this:

 

 

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Filed under Sewing, Travel