Category Archives: 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

Inside the world of the Anoki Block Printing Museum

India is a heaven for fabric lovers, not just today, but for the last 500 years. India’s fabric production has always been stellar, and the abundance of materials and labor here have created a long history of spectacular cloth. There have been mentions in sources dating back to the 12th Century discussing printed cloth from India, and textile trade went first east, to Malaysia and China,and then, with the growth of European overseas trade, west, to France, England, Holland and Portugal. The magnificent printing and dyeing techniques, Indian innovations, made the cloth from India endlessly valuable and exploded into the European mentality, exciting tailors and customers alike. Textile trade changed the world, and that’s not an overstatement. Interwoven Globe was a fantastic show at the Met about it two years ago, if anyone got a chance to check it out, and it described these global trade networks and their significant beautifully.

The more time I spend in India, the more amazing fabrics I see and learn about. There are so many varieties, methods of creation, techniques and options that it’s wildly overwhelming sometimes, int he best possible way. But I would say that one fabric which most people think of when they think about Indian fabric is block printed cloth, and with good reason. It’s beautiful, it’s interesting, and it screams “Indian fabric”, especially if they’ve put an elephant on it.

Block printing emerged as a popular method in Northern India, specifically Rajasthan, in Medieval India. Soon Surat in Gujarat became the center of fabric trade in India, with painted and printed fabric prized for its colors and complicated dying techniques.

I recently had an opportunity to visit the Anoki Museum of Hand Printing in Jaipur, and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. I would recommend it for all fabric lovers who visit India. So I’m sharing some of my photos with you to entice you into visiting! It’s really an awesome place in a restored Haveli filled with so much wonderful information and fabric and you can buy locally printed stuff in the shop and the cafe is excellent. Seriously, it’s fantastic! I learned so much about block printing, and I’m so happy to know more about this fascinating process which has so many iterations and significance.

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This is quite a complicated method which is now cheaper imitated, but the real thing was prized by emperors and kings.

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The black on white is a very traditional motif.

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Men in Rajasthan are big on turbans, with different styles for different communities and even for different jobs.

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Textile is so important in this area, and there was a whole codification of fabric, who could wear which cloth, etc. There were fabrics for widows, unmarried women, married women, craftsmen of different kinds, nobility, royalty, etc.

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See? It’s crazy! Beautiful and uncomfortably restrictive. That’s India for you in a nutshell.

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Traditional outfits.

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Not so traditional outfits made by modern designers using block prints.

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There are demonstrations of the craft, which is amazing. Four blocks make up one small design and this man moves SO fast. He asked me if I wanted to try, but I just wanted to watch him work.

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This amazing man is a block maker. Too. Cool.

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Blocks are made from wood and metal

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Here are a few of the MANY tools that go into make a block

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Here are the blocks for the tie-dye method.

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This shows the stages of the dying process. That’s 15 stages for one design!

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Kind of amazing, right, what block printing can do? It’s not just elephants on flowy pants for tourists…

India. It’s a fabric education every day.

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Filed under Fabric, Travel, Uncategorized

The Worth The Wait Dress

This is the first thing I ever made when I came to India, and it is sort of strange and wonderful and awful that I haven’t blogged it before now. But the thing about this dress is, it is probably also my favorite thing that I’ve made here to date, and I’ve worn it so many times and thought about photographing it So. Many. Times. that it in some strange way makes sense that I never took a moment to photograph it before because I was too busy loving it to get a moment to document it. I have seriously worn this dress in all kinds of circumstances, in several Indian cities, all over Mumbai, and now, finally, in Udaipur, the most romantic of Indian cities, which I recently visited (i.e. returned from today) with my friend, Emily. We had a very romantic time in Udaipur, although people did ask me where my husband was, but I mentioned that such a thing would be wasted on him….

Isn’t is amazing how the garments that are most useful to you end up being the very last that you document and share with the world? I have put this dress on so many times and told myself I was going to get photos of it and every time that has been a huge fail. The very evening I finished it I was all set to go out in it, and then our plans got cancelled, we ended up in with wine and netflix, and that was the first time of many that the documentation of this dress was a dream deferred. I wore this to work, to be the hospitality official for a Bollywood celebration event (don’t ask, I can’t even deal with my life here sometimes), out to a birthday party in Kolkata, to my friend’s literary panel in Bangalore, and now, strolling the streets of Udaipur. This dress gets around.

Maxi-dresses were never really my thing, but I have to say, it’s a really useful thing to have here in India. If you are planning a trip to India, let me recommend the maxi-dress. Maxi-dresses are extremely useful here, they keep you cool and comfortable and you still subscribe to Indian modesty standards, limiting and arbitrary as they are. I personally am not a huge fan of the way that some clothing traditions restrict women and not men, especially when they have no cultural or religious injunction and are a modern invention that has had an imagined social history established as part of a national myth, but you should check out my other blog for my more articulate feelings on THAT subject. Nevertheless, I live in India, and however else I feel, I still want to adapt. Maxi-dresses are a helpful way to do that. They work really well in a rickshaw, which is good, because the open-air of the experience along with the bumps in the road make you happy you have covered your lower body and don’t have to think about anything. Except how awesome this looks! Check it out:

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As maxi-dresses go, I happen to think this one is aces. And I finally got a chance to take photos of it, courtesy of Emily! Thanks, Emily! And the setting couldn’t be more perfect. Thanks, Udaipur!

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As I said, this was the first thing I made when I got here. I found the fabric quite near to my apartment between Santacruz West, where we live, and Bandra, a super hip neighborhood. I was going to meet my friend Natasha, hi, Natasha! for lunch, when she texted that she would be late, a common ailment in Mumbai because of the traffic. I took a moment to explore the neighborhood around the place we were to meet, and found Sew In Style, a fabric store along the way.

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I picked up this Ikat fabric, and cut out a maxi dress from it, employing a little strategy mixing directions along with my bodice block for the bodice. I wanted a slightly looser style, so I added a larger seam allowance than usual, and I finished everything with bias tape instead of lining it. Very Mumbai weather friendly…

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I drafted the skirt, whose large box pleats do not seem that evident in these photos, and it’s turned out quite well. The hem is a little narrow for the strenuous activity I have performed in this dress, but what can you do? Sometimes you buy fabric first, realize what you need later, it is what it is. And I sort of like lifting up the skirts of this dress as I climb up large temple stairs and pitch myself over obstacles. I feel downright historical.

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A little back view for you, with the skirt in a very bell-like situation.

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A little close up of the bodice, slightly obstructed by my hair, for which I will blame Udaipur. Udaipur, which is a small city in Rajasthan, is simply gorgeous, and on a small lake.

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Everything in this town is about the lake, the views, the sunset over it, the palace near it, etc. It’s great.

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But the wind is also…a thing .

Also, we realized I had been standing in front of an amazing royal marble bench that whole time and not even used it! A fatal crime, am I right? I had to deal with that.

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My best possible Maharani pose. I think I do the Mewar dynasty fairly proud, don’t I?

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Okay, I couldn’t keep it up for long. But what can I say, I’m just a girl in a maxi-dress, making life work for me as best as possible. I am so glad I finally blogged about this dress, though. Of all the places I wore it, this was the best, view-wise. Well worth the wait, I say. For the first dress I made in my new home, I knew something special was in order. Thanks, Udaipur. You, like this dress, were worth the wait.

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Filed under Sewing, Travel

The Market to Market Dress

I’ve made a lot of things so far here, and then the old problem of documenting them begins again.  But my New Year’s resolution is to post at least once a week, so let’s see if I can keep that, shall we?

I almost named this dress the Mangladas Market dress, but I didn’t, for reasons which will soon become abundantly clear.

Guys, you’ve probably never hear this before but India is an amazing place for fabric. I KNOW. I KNOW. It’s madness. I’m blowing your mind here. The thing is, before I moved here I had a very limited idea of what Indian fabric really looked like. We get a certain idea of a certain kind of fabric in the States, but that’s actually just a small fraction of the options. My Indian fabric education has only just begun.

Before I moved to India, I had a very specific idea of what fabric from India looked like. Once I moved here, I realized that I wasn’t wrong, per se, but I was limited. India is a land of major fabric production, and there is no one way to make fabric here, there are a thousand, and that’s just in one city. From North to South, East to West, the range of how fabric looks is wildly divergent. There are, of course, similarities, the material base is limited, mostly cottons and silks with wools in the far North, but the history of weaving in India dates back thousands of years, older than most other world civilizations. The Indus River Valley excavations show evidence of woven cloth and even some proof there was trade between China, India and the Middle East over 5000 years ago, which is fairly nuts, if you think about the fact that even today, Indian cotton production creates the most sought after products in the world.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a chance to visit the block printing museum in Amber (post to follow) and learned more about the printing techniques of the Northwest, which make up a lot of what I once thought Indian fabric looked like. The prints from Rajasthan come in many colors and shapes, but they are what I once believed the majority of Indian fabrics were, and I still have a huge adoration for them, despite all the others I’ve discovered. Recently, on a trip to Kolkata, I visited Dakshinapan Market, which I would recommend for any visitors to the city. It’s a huge government emporium, which means the prices are subsidized, and you can see goods and fabrics from all over the country. It was in Dakshinapan where I realized what came from where, what fabrics came from which part of the country. Although I gloried over the Bengali muslins, their high (and well deserved) price points made me sorrowfully put them aside in favor of other, cheaper, cloth. And luckily for me, I found some gems.

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I wore this dress for the first time fabric shopping with my friend Natasha (hi, Natasha!) In Mangaldas Market, which is where I would recommend anyone go fabric shopping if the come to Mumbai. Hence the name. From one market to another, the fabric works.

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Mangaldas is a little bonkers, but it’s fun, and filled with magnificent finds and amazing prices.

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My favorite fabric store is Rinkoo Fabrics.

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They are the damn best, with amazing options and tons of cool Japanese prints, which I can’t find otherwise.MTM8

Stores are divided between mens shirtings and suitings and womens stuff, but you can find amazing things at both.

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I felt super cool wearing the fabric from one market at another. I made this out of my bodice block, with a gathered skirt and pockets. I cut the border off the side and added it to the bottom (side note, I do not understand the border printing on a lot of Rajasthani fabrics.)

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A little back view for you.

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I may fall in love with a lot of Indian fabrics. I sort of already have. But I don’t think I will ever stop loving these Rajasthani prints. How could I? How could anyone?

Happy New Year, everyone! All my best for the year ahead!

Thanks for the photos, Natasha!

 

 

 

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The Hemline Adjustment Skirt (and a top, just for fun)

“Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening,” said Coco Chanel.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a slave to fashion, but I would say that my clothing has to be a slave to my life. Long before I started sewing clothing, I was fairly practically minded with my sartorial choices. Shoes had to be walkable. Clothing had to work in various situations. My most pervasive question for any shopping experience was, okay, but where will I wear that? If anything, I have to say, I’m more willing to take a risk now that I’ve started sewing than I before I sewed.

Through sewing I have tried new styles, like my current Indian lifesaver, a style I honestly never though I would be into, the Maxi-dress. I made my first of these two years ago, but it wasn’t until I was planning my move here to Mumbai that I put my maxi creation into high gear, and since I’ve arrived here I’ve already made three, (posts to come, I promise).

Perhaps that’s in some ways counterintuitive, because I work so much harder for each piece of clothing now than I ever did before (although sidenote, trying to find something worth buying from my college Urban Outfitter’s store’s sales section WAS in fact work, don’t get me wrong) but I somehow don’t mind trying new styles and sometimes making things which I know I might never wear again for one event or as a Halloween costume. Maybe it’s because I value  my labor very little, or maybe it’s because the process is enjoyable for me so if the product isn’t re-usable I don’t mind giving it to a thrift store to be a staple in someone else’s life. Generally I try not to do this, because I think it’s wasteful, so I try to find things a home with a friend first, but I figure if someone else can get something out of my clothing, why not.

But beyond those rare exceptions, and experiments which have mixed results, I do find that functionality is my watchword, with life, and with clothing. My shoes are all bought on the basis of walkability, and my clothing is stitched based on how wearable it is, how it will fit into my life and what I need to do day-to-day. This can be, in its way, a little limiting. In the period of my life when I was biking to work I was, consequently, not churning out pencil skirts. Obviously we all sew for the seasons, the climates we live in, the times of year and materials that we crave.

Sometimes sewing this way ends up helping people out. In the dead of winter I often construct beachey wear for my mom to take to Puerto Rico. For a vacation to Morocco my friend Emily needed tunics and pedal pushers, not the normal things she would have usually asked me to make her, and I was able to whip up some options without her filling her wardrobe with store-bought options she would never use again.

And now that I’m here in Mumbai, functionality has taken on a different meaning. Dressing for a different country, especially one that has different standards of modesty and different expectations of women than the country from which I’m coming, is a challenge. I’ve written the first of many exhaustive (I anticipate) perspectives of this over here, so you are welcome to check that out if you chose to do so. Look, I didn’t move to a tiny village somewhere like this lady, I’m in Mumbai, which is, frankly, comparatively a safe and easy city for women in which people dress in all sorts of ways, and while a majority of people I see on the street are dressed in Saris and Salwar Kameez (does anyone know how to make that plural? Asking for a friend), there are a surprising amount of ladies in shorts out there, not to mention skirts, dresses, capris, and everything in between, in Indian and Western styles and fabrics. But I still consider my wardrobe carefully before I leave the house, not just because people around me might be conscious of it, but because I want to be comfortable, but still look like myself. This isn’t a vacation, but it’s not New York, either. I have to find a way to make the look I like work for me.

Hence my hemline adjustments. The Hemline index may not be a viable economic theory, but for me, hemline adjustment is a cultural move anyway, so I don’t mind all that much.

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As I said, the maxi dress and I have a back and forth relationship, we are the Sam and Diane of outfit-person pairings, sometimes wildly in love, sometimes at complete odds. So while I’ve grown more into the look, I still need other things. We are in an open relationship, let’s say. And as a short person, I think for me a kind of modified tea-length, maybe let’s call it iced tea length? doesn’t look too shabby, and it solves a lot of my open rickshaw exposure concerns. HA 2

This skirt is self-drafted with big box pleats to use the most of this fabric, which I found on my second fabric shopping expedition in Mumbai to Mangaldas Market (SO much more on that in its own post) and just adored.

HA 8

AM I RIGHT? You can’t see it but the background has a kind of cool scouring thing going on too, so it’s just idea. Planes plus color all for less than 5 US Dollars a meter? WHICH IS EVEN LONGER THAN A YARD? I want to go to there.

HA 3

See, it’s not quite tea length, but it’s not knee-length either, it’s in a weird in between space, otherwise known as where I like to live. It was a very basic construction, pleat, stitch, add a waistband, zipper, buttonhole, hem. BOOM. Hemline? Adjusted.

HA 4

Oh, I also made the shirt. It’s a Grainline Scout T. I’ve made at least 5 of these. Can’t stop, wont stop. It’s a woven t-shirt. What’s not to love? I made this in a silk twill with a really light weight, it’s just heavenly and breathes beautifully in the sticky Mumbai heat.

HA 9

In this photo I think you can see the weave better. It’s just lovely.

HA 1

And there you have it, one step towards a Mumbai uniform.

What about you? Have you changed how you’ve dressed or, more importantly, what you’ve stitched when you moved somewhere new? Or when you’ve gone somewhere new? How much do you think about the clothing culture you’ve entering when you travel or move? Does it alter across your country or within your state? Inquiring Leahs want to know.

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Filed under Clothing, Grainline Patterns, Self Drafted, Sewing, Travel

The Russian Goodbye Dress

Having just moved, I can assure you, there were many things that were hard about leaving New York. The most important thing about any place is, for me, the people who are in it. I realize of course that this is not a revolutionary statement, but sometimes the hallmark clichés come true, and you can deny it or you can suck it up and deal. Places are their people. They are their spaces and their streets too, of course, their trees and their paths, but they are their people. And the people I have in New York were hard to leave.

For me, New York was a new and sometimes difficult change, leaving my beloved Philadelphia, going to graduate school, altering the landscape of my life to include new things and new balances, new stresses and new needs. Left to my own devices I might be a bit of  hermit, curling up with my cat and my television and a bottle or five of wine, but New York did not permit that from me. Quite simply, there were too many people I love there, too much to do, too many things I had to be a part of, that I was forced by the magnificence of my community there to become a better version of myself. So many of these people helped me celebrate my homemade garments, photographing them, complimenting them, making fun of them when they weren’t quite right, mostly in kind ways, but sometimes the truth hurts. My friends in New York also benefited from my craftiness, they must admit, receiving homemade gifts and sometimes even posing for this blog.

Leaving New York doesn’t mean losing these people. But it does mark a new chapter in my life, just as coming to New York did. In Brooklyn I found new levels of independence in the new ways I understood myself. I became a better writer, through training, through experience and through contact with others. I met new people and deepened my relationships with known entities. I fell in love. I wrote plays, screenplays, television scripts, a novel. I surprised myself, I disappointed myself, I thrilled myself. I had late nights and early mornings, drunken revelries and sober contemplations. I explored neighborhoods alone, sometimes relishing my solitude, sometimes painfully lonely in the midst of crowds and bodies. I learned to love and hate the subway, becoming an expert in stations and exits, across-platform transfers, avenues and winding streets. I crossed bridges over and over again, in and out of different territories.

I stayed close to home, linked by buses and trains and time zones, able to sit in the house my mother designed at the merest suggestion of homesickness. I became bound up in my life, content with the complications, confusions and cat hair that Brooklyn apartments afforded me. I knew what things meant, not just their literal meanings but their significance, what it meant to live in Astoria, in Williamsburg, to work in publishing, to be in finance.

There were also a thousand things I didn’t know, and still don’t. The best bike route to Greenwood Cemetery, or the best restaurants on the Upper West Side, or the vast mysteries of the Bronx. There were so many things I didn’t do, things I wanted and things I resisted, things that a seasoned New Yorker would scoff at and a tourist would mock. I never went to the top of the Empire State Building, in fact, I think I only passed by the building once. I’ve never had a bagel from Zabars, or a knish from Katz’s. I’ve never ridden a subway line from end to end, or been to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.

If I think of the things I did versus the things I missed, the people I spent my time with versus the distance between us now, physically, my life starts to feel both full and empty at the same time, but I can only content myself with the fact that life is long, and being in India doesn’t mean never going back to New York (or more importantly, Philadelphia) again. It’s not an exclusion, it’s just opening up my circle, making my world bigger. I haven’t lost things, I’ve gained them. I hadn’t lost people, we just have to communicate in different ways, spend time together in different senses.  Still. Even if it’s just for a bit, it’s hard to say goodbye.

My love for Brighton Beach is well documented, and so when I was up in New York for a last time in a while, and my friend Becca (hi, Becca!) asked me what I wanted to do, Brighton Beach was on the list. Becca, lifelong New Yorker that she is, had never been. So that was it. We trudged out to the world of Russians and lost ourselves for a few hours. All I could think about was the first time I came to Brooklyn, and how I had forced my friend Emily to come to a play with me all the way in Manhattan Beach, which is even more remote than Brighton. We had walked through the neighborhood together and stopped for pelmeni before the show.

I am a big believe in symmetry. I wore a homemade outfit then, and I wore one this last time too. As Becca, ever obliging, snapped my photos, I realized that the dress I was wearing was born of some of my friends, a handful of the people I love in New York. Becca photographed it, Emily bought me the fabric as a Hanukkah gift, and my friend Victoria’s mother sent the buttons along in a box of sewing supplies the previous winter. I had made each girl a dress when they were the bridesmaids at my recent (second) wedding. It only seemed fair that they, in a way, had made me one, too.

I suppose I should move on from the sentimentality into the stitching. If I talked about all the feelings I had leaving my friends in New York I would be here forever. And this isn’t even touching on all the emotions I felt and feel leaving my family in Philadelphia. But leaving is perhaps the wrong word for what happens when life changes. Here in India a popular world to use for moving is shifting, as in, I shifted to my new apartment, I’ll shift to that chair, can you shift this fellow for me (the last being my brother-in-law’s response to Cadfael’s communal space mentality). So I did not leave, I shifted, just a slight adjustment, relative to the infinity of time and space. After all, leaving feels so very permanent, but shifting? Shifting happens all the time.

 

To the dress:

 

RG 1

 

This little beauty (if I do say so myself) is McCalls 6696, a shirtdress upon which to build a dream. This pattern is all over the internets, and I have made it once before after being wildly inspired by Dolly Clackett and Idle Fancy . This time I wanted to try the slimmer skirted option, both for the sake of variety and because I only had 2 yards of this glorious Liberty Lawn. The 60 inch width meant that I could still get this whole shirt dress out of it, though, such is the wonder of Liberty. Thank you, Emily, a thousand times.

RG 3

I stitched up a size 14 (28 inch waist) with the choose your own cup size in a D. The fit, as previously, was good, and I like the style a lot, although I’m not sure if the pockets are cute or emphasize my not-insubstantial hips.

RG 4I made one alteration to the pattern, which was on the back piece under the yoke. Dissatisfied with the puffy nature of my last attempt, I took 2 inches out of the back in a wedge, and turned the gathers into a pleat. I prefer it, although part of me misses that vintage touch. Oh, well, next time I will see if I can take out a little gathering but still maintain the idea of the gather. Conceptual clothing, people.

RG 2

 

See, with my arms down the pockets lie beautifully flat but when I’m moving or speaking or breathing, they sort of poke out. So I guess I have to…not do any of those things.

I do love these pick-your-cup-size patterns, they just make sense. Women run the gamut of bust sizes, shouldn’t our patterns do so too?

RG 5

My lovely collar got a little wind-swept but I assure you, it came out well. And look at that fabric! And the buttons! And the photographs!

RG 6

Sewing is a solitary habit, just like writing. But I know that wherever I go, or shift, I can look at the things I’ve made and see the people who made them possible, through gifts and photos and just telling me I look nice in them. And that, at least, is something I never have to leave behind. Thank you, to everyone who reads and gives and helps and puts up with my sewing related chatter. I love you all, and I’m taking you with me as I shift around.

So now I’m learning Mumbai, and you can expect Indian hellos to follow this Russian Goodbye. Fewer fur hats, more goats. Both cities have a beach, though, at least there is that…

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The Welcome Spring Outfit

(Please note, because of life events like weddings etc. some of these posts were intended to be up months ago and are only going up now. This is a phenomenon known as the “life gets away from your syndrome” and it is very common with all the people who are me. Sue me. Please don’t. I can’t afford it.)
Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.

-Rainer Maria Rilke
Just what you want in a sewing blog, right? Rilke quotes? I know. You’ve been waiting forever. You’re welcome, Internet. Rilke. He’s back.
It is obviously quite ironic for me to be discussing Spring now that it is now officially and completely summer, but given how mercurial and cool the weather has been in New York I feel I can comfortably get away with this. Of course, these photographs were taken in Portland….but you get the idea. Seriously, I only know it’s summer because the calendar told me so. Although one thing I will say is, the spring flowers were out of control gorgeous in New York this spring. My friend Ben (hi, Ben!) told me that because we had a rough and snowy winter with the ground being frozen for so long we were due for magnificent flowers because the ground got so much water. And as he so often is, Ben was correct! Well done, Ben. But the flowers on the East Coast could not have prepared me for Portland.
Portland is my new favorite place. It reminded me of Philadelphia, one of my other favorite places, and they both have P names so there you go, I have a type. Mid-size cities on the rise, with lots of greenery and excellent food who are paced on the slower side. Why do I live in New York, again? (And by the way I’m MOVING to an even crazier city,, more on that later!) Mr. Struggle and I visited Portland in April (good lord, APRIL, has it been that long? Guys. My life. Work, my novel,  our second wedding,I can’t even.) and we decided this is our new dream city. First of all, the food. We had radishes with smoked butter at Ned Ludd and Dulce de Leche ice cream at Salt and Straw and divine wines (for me) and beers (for Mr. Struggle) all over the place and holy god, it was amazing. Mr. Struggle almost passed out from the intensely good Singaporean style of chicken he had at Nong’s Khao Man Gai that transported him back to Singapore and the many years he spent working hard to decimating its chicken population. Are there things other than food in Portland? Probably. Who knows. Mostly we were just trying to get from food to food, stopping for food in the middle.
And obviously if you are going to indulge in a food tour you need and outfit to match. Something comfortable but still cute, as one must maintain one’s standards of dressing even when visiting the casual wilds of the West Coast. One must keep up appearances, mustn’t one? Here is what I came up with:
WS 1My second attempt at Deer and Doe’s Chardon skirt with the correct pleats this time! Boom. LEARNING things. Like a boss. This is in fact another all Deer and Doe outfit, because the top is my beloved Plantain. I know that everyone’s ideal t-shirt is different, but I must say, this free pattern (!) came as a godsend to me, because this is mine. The only change I ever make, and I have made this thing innumerable times now, is to lengthen it.
WS 3
The fabric for this skirt is really something special. My friend Becca (hi, Becca!), like most of us, has a mother. Her mother, Mary (hi, Mary!) is also wonderful, just like Becca, and she has consistently given me amazing random gifts of fabric. This is a Liberty of London print from I don’t know when, in what feels like a lightweight upolstery fabric. Oh, how I love to dress like a sofa! A sofa with pockets!
WS 4
The shirt is a cotton jersey from Girl Charlee. Basic like a pumpkin spice latte.
WS 5I think it’s a little hard to see the pleats on this print, but in real life they are adorable! You’ll just have to trust me on that.
WS 6The ever popular jump shot! The people of Portland, bless them, didn’t bat an eye.
Oh, man, I have so many more posts to catch up on, including all the things I made for our second wedding (second of three, kill me now) and all the things I’ve been making to try and get rid of my fabric collection! Why would I do that? Am I quitting sewing? OF COURSE NOT. But I am moving! To Mumbai! Which is in India! And bringing fabric to India is like bringing sand to the beach. Don’t worry, I will still be blogging there, hopefully more frequently, as one of the many benefits of moving is committing more time to writing, both my dramatic and prose work, and my blogging. The move happens in September, so stay tuned for an outpouring of sewing for myself and others to diminish my stash in between novel revision, web series continuation, and the rehearsals for my new play, with sewing themes, coming to New York in August! You know. Lazy summer.

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Filed under Clothing, Deer and Doe, Friends, Life, Sewing, Travel

The Ask And Ye Shall Receive Tunic

Okay so remember how I was all like I NEED A NEW TUNIC ASAP? Well. You know. I’ve asked for a lot of things in like. I’ve asked for a production of my plays (more on that later). I’ve asked for more wine when the wine was gone. I’ve asked for one thousand cats but then my cat looked at me with disdain and I took it back immediately. I’ve asked for more books to read and they came. So honestly, many things I’ve asked for have come true, all because I asked for them. And then I asked the universe for a new tunic pattern, something I liked better. And you know what? I found one. UNIVERSE. You’ve done it again!

I had been looking for a pattern for my mother-in-law, actually, which sort of proves that getting married was a clutch move for me as its led to positive things like this new pattern (and, like, a life with someone, whatever to that though). She bought a few shirts here when she was visiting the States from India and asked me to make her a shirt, and I had been trying to find something she might like ever since and stumbled upon this pattern on the magnificent GirlCharlee.com which seemed like one she would like. And then I was like, I ALSO like this, a lot….

And so I bought this pattern, the Everyday Elegance Top from Patterns for Pirates, and made it. And fell madly and deeply in love with it. And took it to Portland, which I also loved. And had Mr. Struggle take photos of me in the Japanese Garden which is part of the Forest Park Conservatory and simply stunning. JUST LIKE MY SHIRT!

ANYSR 1I love it. It’s like a little Soviet worker’s uniform. It’s great.

ANYSR 3Couldn’t you just see me in a Russian Propaganda musical? I could! I would love that! I would be so into that! It is, I know, rather wrinkled in these photos because that’s what the rain and being packed in a suitcase can do to a garment. Sorry, but doesn’t the background make up for it?

ANYSR 2The construction was fairly simple. The fabric is a Robert Kauffman chambray from Fabric.com. I made this with french seams throughout, like you do. I lengthened the sleeves and omitted the button tab in this version but I would like to make about ten more of these with different things going on. And then maybe one for my mother-in-law. I owe her.

AAYSR 5

Yes, yes, wrinkle abound. But it’s cute, right?

AAYSR 6A little side curve with a super off facial expression for you!

ANYSR 4Alright, enough of me, let’s look at the gorgeous garden, shall we?

AAYSR 7Apparently they are the second most accurate Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Because that’s a thing, right?

AAYSR 8AAYSR 9It’s so full of Japanese maples! Such gorgeous leaves.

AAYSR 10Just flipping lovely, right?

AAYSR 11

Seriously. Go to Portland because it’s really nice, and when you do, go to this park. So. So. So nice. And when you do, bring this tunic with you! I did, see how well it worked for me!

I love this pattern. I want to make it forever. THANK YOU, UNIVERSE!

See? Don’t ask, don’t get.

 

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The You Oughta Be Ottoman Shirt

I can’t think of much I hate more than arguing, so it always strikes me as strange that in many places shopping is tantamount to arguing, if you think about it. The culture of bargaining has long been abandoned by many parts of the West, and I can see why, as arguing with someone over the price of things makes me feel like I’m basically telling them their stuff is worth less than they think it is. Which, in a way, I suppose, is the point, that they price it too high and you come in too low and together you presumably reach a reasonable price but I don’t know why I have to be a part of that process, you know? I don’t feel like I’m qualified to be a part of the pricing process, I’m not a pricing professional, you know! There are people out there who say they like bargaining, and I’m sure that is true, but I am not among them.

This is why a family trip to Istanbul a few years ago, while delightful, was also exhausting. The Turks expect you to bargain, they seem to like it, God knows why, and there is this whole ceremony of buying things that confuses all but the most savvy world traveler. That’s another thing, I hate the idea that buying things has to be a whole THING, I want to feel like a ninja, or a tomb raider, I get in there, I get my stuff, I get out. I don’t want to have tea. I don’t want to see ALL of your carpets. I know you have a lot of carpets. Oh, you have another room of carpets back there? That’s fascinating but that’s infinitely more carpets than I want to see because I literally want zero carpets so…nope, yes, looking at the carpets. Sure, more tea, why not.

And then suddenly you’re paying all the Turkish lira in the world for a carpet you don’t want and can’t fit in your suitcase. And you KNOW you didn’t bargain well because they start throwing in free gifts. When they give you gifts, that’s it, you’ve lost, they are literally giving things away because they pity you, they pity how much they are charging you for what you are buying, and their pity translates to small Evil Eye icons and lamps that look like pomegranates (these are both real things we received with goods we were actually buying).

That being said, I never actually felt CHEATED by anyone in Istanbul, which is not the case with an Ebay purchase I bought several years ago which told me I was buying Liberty of London but instead sent me….not that. Only, I honestly wasn’t sure, because I bought it so early in my sewing adventures that I had never actually seen a Liberty of London print, and once I realized my mistake and that creepy jerk of an Ebay salesman had already made off with me money (not THAT much, it was priced at 20 a yard which really should have been an indicator, looking back….) the fabric languished in my stash, as the proof of my folly and terrible buying abilities. The thing is, I like the print, it actually really reminded me of Turkish Iznik tile, which I had adored on that same trip to Istanbul where I realized that bargaining is the worst. I took many photos of this tile, as you can see:

OBO6

OBO1

 

OBO5

 

OBO3

OBO2

Iznik tile and ceramic is very beautiful, at least, to my mind, and it has a long history as an art form and ceramic process. You can read more about that here, and here, if you want to do so.

So as I said, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this fabric for a long time. I liked it, but I also felt that it was evidence of my foolishness, my bad buying skills, and the fact that I had been taken in and sold a fake Liberty print, like a manufactured artifact in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, which I had skillfully avoided buying, only to be cheated now. But eventually I got over that, because you can only hate yourself for a fabric purchase for so long, I mean, how much time is there in a day, really. So finally I decided to embrace my faux-Liberty (which I now would NEVER mistake for a Liberty print) and enjoy my Ottoman Empire inspired cloth. And this is what I made:

OBO4Yay! Another Grainline Archer! I lengthened it a few inches, which no one else seems to have to do, but I feel like it has to be long to compensate for the journey the fabric takes over my chest region, and I like my shirts to hit below my hip if possible.

OBO7I am making a weird face here, like I’m not sure why this Turkish man is trying to get me to buy a carpet so badly, like, do I look like someone who NEEDS a carpet in their lives? I must do.

I also made the pants, which I never blogged, because if I wrote about every pair of Colette Patterns Clover Pants I made this blog would be called The Colette Patterns Clover Pants Blog. And no one would read that except weird internet guys. So there you go.

OBO8For some reason my machine was acting cruel and insane when I made the buttonholes on this, so they are AWFUL, and you can’t see them. I don’t get it, they made the ones for Mr. Struggle’s shirt JUST fine. Sidenote, I do make things for Mr. Struggle but he wont let me photograph him ever so you will never see those, take it up with him if you are mad.

The archer often pulls a little to the left on me, does anyone else have that experience? Nevertheless I adore it, I’ve made several and have no plans to stop, in fact, I recently cut an Archer dress so that’s on the menu coming up. I do want to try Deer and Doe’s new Bruyere shirt, soon, so that might hop the cue too.

This shirt was fine apart from the button-hole debacle, I like the construction a lot and don’t have any trouble with it anymore, honestly, I think it’s well drafted and I love how impressive it feels to make a collared shirt!

OBO11Here is a rather wrinkled shot of the back, but I thought it might make the bright print even clearer for you. Even though this fabric was an imposter, I have to say, I’ve kind of come to love it, having started associating it with Istanbul instead of with my being gullible. After all, even when you get cheated in Turkey, it comes with a little gift and a cup of tea, so really, how bad can it be?

OBO9There you go! Istanbul-inspired in more ways than one. I should go back there, I can blend in with the landscape now…

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