Tag Archives: singapore

Fashion of Port Cities: Textile and Cultural Exchange at the Asian Civilizations Museum

While there are many who fear the other, I choose not to, and I am happy to be celebrating diversity, historic and current. I am of the opinion that cultural exchange leads to innovation and development, and if you feel otherwise, please go away. I am sure that if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you probably knew that about me all ready, but just putting it out there into the universe. If, however, you like me are fascinated with cultural exchange and moments of intersection and the way they give birth to new things, specifically in the textile and clothing space, I think you will enjoy hearing about and seeing some of the objects from a current exhibit on Port Cities at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore!

On my recent trip to Singapore, I had to break my normal Singapore rule. You see, there is nothing really to do in Singapore in my opinion. Now, of course, some people think there is a lot to do in Singapore, so I should really change that statement to there is nothing much for ME to do in Singapore, but semantics. Singapore is great, but I find it rather boring, and What’s-his-face and I realized that we need to ration our Singapore activities, because we visit the country frequently and given that I don’t think there is much to do, if we do it all at once, what will we do NEXT time? If we don’t limit ourselves to one museum a trip, we will be out of museums in no time! But we were with others, and we needed activities, so we had to break our rule and on this trip I saw the botanical gardens, the bird park, the National Museum and the Asian Civilizations Museum. Oy. I’m sorry, future Leah. I screw you a bit.

But at least the Asian Civilizations Museum has temporary exhibits, like this one exploring the many mixed communities of port cities in Southeast Asia. And given that this area is a textile-rich region, you just KNOW that mixture of people created a mixture of clothing styles and fabric options. Now we see people in all forms of dress in cities across the world, but historically ports would have been the only real places where costumes clashed consistently, and that is fascinating, in its fruitful ground for change and influence. Coming across this exhibit was a wonderful surprise because of the amount of textile within it, and I’m excited to share all that with you guys. The descriptions of Singapore itself through history, and cultures that arose in Batavia (now Jakarta, once the capital of the Dutch East Indies), Hong Kong, Malacca, and other ports, in clothing, was fantastic and fascinating. So even though we broke our rule, I gotta say, totally worth it…

So without further ado, to the photos!

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On the left the traditional garments of Peranakans, the mixed community of Chinese-Malay traders and fisherman. In the center, Chinese traditional dress, and on the right, South-Indian lungi.

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A kimono from the Japanese community in Singapore.

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Indian/Malay worker garb on the left, next to European/American female dress in a light gauze for the tropical heat (although God knows those undergarments would cancel THAT out…)

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On the right, Malay/Indonesian/Peranakan female dress with Portuguese lace and Chinese prints/embroidery. On the left, Gujurati cloth for an Indo-western sari.

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European male suit next to a Parsi merchant’s garb.

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Indian sari in the foreground, in the style adopted after the 1890’s with a blouse and petticoat underneath.

I love imagining a city of such vibrant and diverse clothing cultures, and therefore people cultures! I guess on some level Singapore is still like this, like London, New York, and other large and small cities of diverse groups. Spending time in Mumbai, where the clothing culture often feels homogenous in the extreme, I think I appreciate this mix on an even deeper level than I had before.

The exhibit also had some lovely examples of fabrics and their re-use in new clothing shapes. Like Indian chintz, so very popular in European clothing:

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Which then became something like this:

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I totally saw a woman looking at a similar fabric to create a kurta/trouser set in a fabric store in Bandra the other day. True story.

Of course, it wasn’t just Europeans who loved Indian chintz. Check out these Southeast jackets:

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I’m sure people were like, sick kimono, bro. Right? That sounds like a normal 19th century thing to say.

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A mix of Chinese imagery with Indonesian prints for this decorative hanging.

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The many faces of labor and commerce in 19th Century Singapore.

If I think about it, a lot of my own clothing is a mix of Indian fabric with Western shapes, so many in some tiny way I am also a part of a cultural global fabric and costume exchange. Diversity in how people look and how they dress and what they do and act is, to me, the cornerstone of progress and human development. If you never see anyone around you who looks, acts, speaks, eats, or thinks differently than you do, you probably will think that the world is singular. But to my mind it is beautiful in its variety, and I love seeing that in an exhibit like this one. Doesn’t it make you want to go out and pick of a global assortment of fabrics for inspiration and creation? Make a batik ballgown, stitch up some Thai silk cigarette trousers, or try a gingham tunic or a pinstripe kimono! Let’s be a part of a global fashion movement that celebrates diversity as the very fabric of humanity. Onwards, friends! To the sewing machines!

 

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Filed under Clothing, Costume, history, Life

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 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