Fall Back

I would really enjoy the season of fall much better if it wasn’t for Daylight Savings Time.  It has been observed in my country for just over a hundred years by now but I don’t care.  I detest the way just one little tweak to the timing of my day throws everyone in the family off for a while.  What about you?  By the time we are all free from our commitments for the day, we are left in early evening darkness.  So often in years before, we get stuck inside too early going stir crazy so it’s going to be real special here this year with the current limitations.  Time is a precious resource and I hate to waste it, especially not from being needlessly restless.   So – how about joining me in placating the misfortune of the autumn time change with some nice reminiscing to instead fall back in time?  Let’s check out some fall garments I sewed years past to keep me happy, warm, and looking good during such a transitional season. 

Just a forewarning – these are not the most spectacular things to share here on my blog, and being my older projects not up my current par of perfection.  Yet, it’s the basic stuff like this that becomes a tried and true dependable piece which has lasted me so many years.  Honestly, I feel like giving these garments a longevity award and not just a post!  The fact I am still able to wear and enjoy these garments for up to 16 years now has me realize that I am one of a small percentage of folks who could or would even do such a thing, so I hope I don’t seem out of touch here.  Blame it on my willingness to adjust, tailor, mend, and generally take care of these pieces over the years to keep them as something I even want to still enjoy.  This tendency is not a bad habit, though.  Being happy with what you have, being confident enough to be yourself, and being economical to mend and keep up what you already possess before buying new are all great to practice no matter the season or place, no matter your wealth of lack of it.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The plaid skirt is a printed quilter’s cotton, lined in a cling-free poly in a beige color.  The top paired with the skirt is made of a polyester stretch suede, in a deep burgundy-cranberry.  The tweed flared skirt is a lofty, heavyweight acrylic blend, lined in a dark brown cling-free poly. The long half-circle skirt is a polyester micro suede with a ‘burnout’ floral print, lined in a cling-free poly in a tan color.

PATTERNS:  Butterick #3654, year 2002, bias flounce hem skirt, paired with a top using McCall’s #3655, year 2002.   Simplicity 4881, from 2003, a “tulip” hem skirt.  Simplicity #4543, from 2005, for a pull-on half circle skirt with the tummy panel.

NOTIONS:  Pretty simple – thread, a 7 inch zipper, and ½ inch elastic

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Each one of these skirts was a 2 hour project – easy peasy!  The stretch suede top took about 3 hours just because I had problems with the fitting and details, as I remember.  The top and skirt set was sewn circa 2004, while both the tweed skirt and the suede floral circle skirt were made circa 2006.

Where do I start?  I suppose I’ll begin with the full set I made – the suede top and the cotton plaid skirt.  This set is from a time when I survived off of versatile separates.  It was such a challenge to find either a top which fit me yet also matched a skirt I had made, or a skirt which suited my taste yet also looked good with a top or blouse I already had.  Back then I was just starting to branch out into more experimental sewing (such as hats) as well as beginning to try creating garments that needed me to figure out better tailoring and patterning skills (such as dresses and jackets).  The project choice for this outfit was therefore both benign and experimental for me.  The skirt was a safe bet.  I was most comfortable sewing them by then and it was simple enough that I chose to make it again in velvet for a Christmas party (posted here).  Stretch suede is a novel material to pick for a top, and I used a pattern designed for much stretchier knits so I needed courage and forethought.  I was pushing boundaries and figuring things out first hand…and I succeeded.   

I wisely went up a whole size and then some as the suede did not have the stretch rate the pattern recommended.  The slight stretchiness to the suede means I have no closures and this is a pullover top.  Yet, the material was dense enough that I was confused what stitch to use and I chose a stable straight stitch, finishing off the inner raw edges with my mom’s serger (overlocking machine).  The smooth satin underside to the suede is what I feel against my skin on the inside and it is fabulous!

I originally made the sleeves extra-long so I could have room to choose some novelty hemming or whatever interesting detail struck my fancy, as I thought.  Turned out, I shirred up the inner wrist area for a bit of a different look while still keeping the hem up and giving me plenty of extra reach room.  A small strip of hem facing keeps those gathers in place.  The sleeve cap did not stretch into the armscye like a normal knit, yet I did not like the appearance of a gathered sleeve cap.  Thus I made small pleats to take in the excess.  This is not the proper way to do such a fix, but it worked and it nicely squared off the sleeve tops for a defined shoulder line.

I originally cut the neckline really close to the throat at first because – like the sleeves – I wanted to experiment.  Turned out, I created a wide, squared off neckline, and finished it by sewing down and turning inside a strip of tiny bias tape.  It was not your run-of-the-mill tee but still simple enough to pair with many different me-made skirts…in other words, just what I wanted! 

The skirt is basically everything the same as the velvet version I posted here.  It has a pull-on elastic waist for ¾ of the waistband, with the front over the tummy being a smooth panel.  There is full lining which ends just above the hem ruffle.  The skirt was lengthened through the body because I thought the bias ruffle would look weird at any other length other than knee length or ankle length – and ankle length would be more elegant, warmer on my legs, and not so sporty.  This is a comfy but not dumpy skirt that has such a subtle plaid.  The orange and burgundy print reminded me of rows of stitching up close! 

The body of the skirt was cut on the bias for a cross-wise plaid but it also gives a better body complimentary fit.  I have a booty in this!  Also, too, a straight and long skirt like this always made me think that I appeared taller – and this was important to a girl who was always the shortest in her class and too often taken for granted growing up.  Now I have high heels which fill in for those silly feelings, he he. 

Nevertheless, I still appreciate this skirt, although the elastic waist limits how I can wear this according to my preferences of today and what tops I now have that go with it.  This is why I sewed a top for it back then, one that did not need to be tucked in.  The top has such a rich texture and color and it was completely personalized according to my own inventions!  The skirt’s bottom flounce floofs up when I walk in a way that tickles the little girl inside me which still appreciates ruffles and such frills.  Together, these two items are like the best of the colors on trees’ fading leaves in fall. 

Next, I’ll talk about the tweed skirt.  Out of all the things I had made before I started blogging, this particular skirt is by far my favorite item.  It is probably also my most frequently worn self-made skirt, even over my vintage skirts.  It is something that I reach for again and again even today.  The variety of colors in the tweed pair with so much in way of tops, blouses, and suit blazers while the lovely silhouette is the only one of its kind in my wardrobe.  To my knowledge this shape of a skirt is called a “tulip hem” because it looks like an upside down opening flower bud.  It is slimming yet also easy to move in. 

The original way I had this skirt go on was with a simple elastic waist, much like the skirt above.  This tweed is rather heavy weight, especially with almost 3 yards of fabric needed for it, and I remember the elastic waist was always slinking down on me when I would wear it.  Several years ago now, I completely reworked that waist to turn this into a smooth fitting, side zipper closure skirt.  It is much more of a professional skirt his way, and better for tucking tops in, as well as stable on my body.  No more drooping skirt! 

Otherwise, I kept everything the way I had made it originally from before I reworked the waist.  This is fully lined, but even still, tweed ravels like crazy as does poly lining.  Thus, all seams had been cleanly serged (overlocked) and top stitched down.  I kept the pattern’s intended proportions and length of view D, where the flare begins above the knee in the lower part of the upper thigh.  I did not do any adjustments and made an exact copy of the pattern. 

My fabric is heavy so the skirt has a slightly different fall at the panels than what is seen on the model images on the cover (their skirts are a crepe or lightweight silky print).  I personally like the structure of my version to this pattern better.  It reminds me more of a suiting skirt rather than one with a romantic flair.  This is what has lent it to be such a go-to piece.  It is feminine yet serious, fancy yet not pretentious, versatile but not overly simple.  I definitely recommend you to find this pattern and try it for yourself.  Early 2000 era patterns are super cheap right now!

Finally, the last item in this post is another suede creation – a pull-on half circle skirt.  It has a smooth tummy panel which extends down to the hipline, where the circle portion joins in along a straight, un-gathered seam.  I lined the skirt from the hipline seam down, and finished the suede in a skinny 1/8 inch hem.  This was such a tricky, frustrating material to work with!  The weave was so tight, even with a sharp point needle my sewing machine didn’t want to poke stitches through.  The suede stuck to itself at every turn yet was as soft as butter so I couldn’t always be sure I wasn’t sewing over a wrinkle.  Luckily there were very few seams to the design.

This was total whim project from what I vaguely remember.  I saw this fabric in the store, it tickled my fancy and I immediately knew what I wanted to sew with it.  I whipped it together pretty much as soon as it was bought home, even before washing it (I always wash my fabrics before sewing with them).  No matter how much I do like the final skirt that might not have been the best idea.  The suede sticks like Velcro to most any top I wear with it and I made my easy-but-ubiquitous elastic waist – again.  Sigh.  Thus, I feel restricted to only sweater tops or blazers over this skirt.  The basic colors in the skirt lend it to only match with similar browns or ivory tones – not very versatile.  Oh well.  I do love how swishy and romantic it is – so perfect for twirling!  It is a subtle kind of floral, too.  Also, it is in the on-trend copper tone which is one of the “it” colors of this year and midi length dresses and skirts are coming back.  See?  I am now on trend wearing something I made for myself 14 years ago.  Weird, right?!

As much as these items are something I probably would not make today, I can’t help but give my younger self some credit for my sewing choices.  I think the fact I could make items which I can enjoy for such an extended period of my life must have laid the ground work for how and what I sew today.  Granted, these are ‘modern’ pieces from before a time when vintage fashion was something I wanted to be in for more than just for going “in costume” to living history events.  In a time when day-to-day reality feels weird and living in 2020 is like an apocalyptic movie, I find some comfort in connecting with my past by wearing my older creations.  Not forgetting where you came from can help you move ahead in the present, even if the channel for that happens to be through clothing.  Sometimes you have to fall back to move forward.

My tweed skirt matches well with my handmade 80’s Givenchy blazer, sewn two years back now.

No-Sweat Scuba

Modern day fashionable scuba knit has a reputation of having insulating properties which often renders it uncomfortable for any warmer weather.  “Surely this does not have to be the case?” I have always thought.  “There must be a way around designating it for winter or sweating uncomfortably in scuba knit”…this has been knocking around in the backburner of my creative brain.  Anyone who knows me is aware I love a creative challenge, and I enjoy pushing real or assumed boundaries in sewing.  I do find this still new-to-me neoprene fabric a joy to work with (for its extreme ease to sew).  Yet it’s also a pain at the same time because I normally despise polyester.  However the siren’s call of a sewing mystery overcame such objections in my head.  Now, several projects in on experimenting with scuba knit, I think I have finally found a way to be able to appreciate wearing it in any season or weather!

Using a Burda Style pattern for a wrap-on sundress, this scuba creation just floats on my body and minimally hugs my skin for a sweat-free experience, whatever the temperature!  It is a design with simplicity of shape yet small details that are special.  It covers enough skin for my taste but is also daring enough to be a bit of a departure from my regular way of dressing.  The foiled print of the fabric causes this dress to seem so fancy yet overall it is not so much over the top to still be wearable for many occasions.  For a look a bit outside of the box, this sundress actually works pretty well worn as a jumper over a blouse or even a turtleneck for the winter.  It was so remarkably easy to sew, as well, being a one evening project.  In all, I could not be more pleased with this new creation!  Not too often does an elegant dress turn out so versatile.  I do believe I found the best balance yet for creating with scuba knit!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a suede finish polyester scuba knit

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Jersey Wrap Dress” pattern #101 from July 2016

NOTIONS NEEDED:  nothing but thread and two buttons (from on hand)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in 2 hours from start to finish on April 6, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  …left raw as scuba knit does best

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was bought on clearance at JoAnn Fabrics at about $30 for 3 yards.

From the moment I saw this Burda wrap dress pattern, I loved it but for some reason it took me 4 years to finally find the right material to pair with it.  It is always such a relief to find such a successful and satisfying end to an idea so long on the backburner of my creative mind!  I felt that with so much fabric below the waist in the skirt portion, and so little (comparatively) in the bodice, a jersey knit as the pattern recommends would only pull down the bust and straps to the point it might either warp the fabric or mar the look of it hanging on the body (maybe both).  A scuba knit has a good stretch but is also quite stable so it was the perfect unconventional choice.  I also immediately saw that the wide sweeping hem of the dress would be a beast the make a tiny hem upon, so the scuba knit wonderfully simplified this step.  Along this line I also left out any bodice facings or edge finishing.  A raw cut edge is just fine as it is when it comes to a scuba knit – so simple!

Perhaps the most interesting feature to this dress is the dual shoulder straps, cut on (continuous) with the front bodice piece.  I love the way there are pleat-like folds that form in the front by this design feature!  You have to turn each strip in on itself to create two tubes (more or less) connected to the bodice, and then stitch those to the back bodice.  I did not iron them down flat – I liked the puffy way they look and feel on my shoulders.  Just to note, I did not change up the design of the straps at all, I merely did not twist the two straps together as the pattern’s line drawing shows and instructions intended.  To stabilize the straps (they cannot have any stretch but need to support the whole of the dress), I sewed in sheer mesh “stay tape” with the stitching.  

The deep, wide bottom flounce panel to the skirt gives this dress such a fun flair.  It is also the reason this dress needs so very much fabric!  As I did not hem this dress (scuba knit, remember?) but traced out the pattern as if it was going to have one, it ended up a pretty midi length I think is a bit elegant.  This is the same reason the neckline was a bit higher than it was supposed to be…no edge stitching because of no hem facing.  That’s fine for me – I like the slightly better coverage so as not to show cleavage. 

In lieu of long ties to close this wrap dress, I opted for a simple but fancy button closure using the one faux crystal notion leftover from making this cocoon coat (posted here).  Inside the wrap, I used a single unmatched wooden button from on hand.  To make the loops, there is a small remnant of ¼ bias tape sewn down in half lengthwise and stitched to the edge of the waist seam.  The rich-toned, silver accented fabric speaks volumes on its own…long fussy ties would distract from that.  Keeping the dress’s features relatively low-key adds to its versatility, as I said above. 

Yes, I know, I might seem to contradict myself by overdoing the simplicity of the dress by adding a lot in terms of accessories.  I went all out by adding grey stockings, bling (made by me), layers of pearls (vintage from my Grandma), braided up-do (can I brag about my upside down French braid?), and hair flowers (handmade for this dress), but can you blame me?  This was the outfit I had for our quarantined celebration of our wedding anniversary.  As this year’s celebration was at home, I had to go all out with my outfit, right?!

It’s amazing just how much can change a sewing project like the choice of fabric.  In this dress’ case, the scuba knit elevated a simple, casual sundress into something deluxe and helped me find a new way to appreciate such a modern material.  The skirt has more fullness to its silhouette and the entire dress keeps its shape better with the scuba…all just what I was aiming for originally.  What I did not plan for was for me to like this project as much as I do.  I felt rather doubtful and experimental at both the outset and the sewing of the dress.  It’s so nice to have your expectations exceeded by a successful sewing project!  I attribute it to giving scuba knit one more reluctant try because I had a wild sewing idea that gave me renewed energy.  Never be afraid to be creative, inspired, and follow your dreams.

Dyeing and Over-Dyeing…

Sometimes something simple can sound tragic when different words sound the same.  Don’t misread my post’s title.  I have now discovered the joys of colored fabric dye, that’s all.  Now, let me go back to cooking up my next re-coloring job because this is quite a lot of fun to do and very useful!  I am by no means an expert on fabric coloring, I’ll admit, but this is a short recounting of my experiences in dyeing which started with this 2020 pandemic.

Yes, I’ve had a few other posts already for “Alter It August” 2020, but here’s one more squeezed in at the last minute because I need all the excuses I can find to spruce up my wardrobe’s unloved items!  This is almost a dual project post because when talking about my new adventures in color dyeing is summed up in two examples.  I not only fully revamped an old RTW shirtdress of mine but also dyed one of my son’s extra school polo tee.  As he is doing remote learning from home, and he had a plethora of school uniform tops which still fit, we needed his wardrobe acquisitions to be a more fashionable color besides white for them to be useful for the “new normal”.  My shirtdress was something I liked enough in its details, fabric, and general design to keep on hand for the last 12 or so years, yet I never wore it on account of the very blasé color, ill fit, and lack of a little ‘something extra’ to make it special.  After I addressed the sewing part of my dress refashion, I took two completely different approaches to give a new color refresh to each item, and ended up with a shade of green in both cases.

It is important to note how both items became green because dyeing is generally an experiment even if you think you know how things should turn out.  Just because the bottle you’re using says a certain color is inside doesn’t necessarily mean that is what you will end up with.  Every little factor in the dyeing process – from the fiber content, to the way you stir, to the continuous temperature of the water – seems to affect how your item will turn out.  It is fun, but always a happy gamble, I find.  When I am up for a dye job, I have the mindset of being happy with whatever the result is.  That’s when things are pretty desperate for the item to be dyed, and I am fed up past the point of tolerance for the way the original item looks.  It’s a dye job or it’s out the door!  Luckily, these two items for both me and my son were saved and now we can color coordinate our dressing, he he!

THE FACTS: Let’s lay this post out a little differently than the norm on my blog. 

FABRIC – Instead of ‘fabric’ (as this is a refashion project), I started with a store-bought, button-front, RTW “Land’s End” brand dress my mom picked up for me on clearance about 12 or 15 years ago.  It was cute enough, and I was appreciative, but the bland and dirty grey color of the shirtdress really made me feel uncomfortable with myself and down in attitude just to wear it.  I was always at a loss as to how to accessorize it to become cuter and more ‘me’.  It was borderline in the fit, too, as it was a petite sizing.  Thus, the dress has a slightly higher waistline on me which isn’t that obvious because it is very classic and vintage inspired, I think.  The side seams do have these super handy, super generously sized pockets that I love and the way they are hidden in the full skirt is fabulous to me.  This is a pretty dress I can wear to church or wear to play in other words, and versatile outfits are both hard to find and something that I can always use more of.

The fiber content is a soft and slightly stretchy shirting.  It is a blend of 67% cotton, 28% polyester, and 5% elastane.  For some reason it seems to wrinkle up more than is reasonable because “Land’s End” normally makes very well-known iron-free shirts for both men and women.  Even a thorough ironing job doesn’t banish the creasing.  There is a slight rustling sound when I swish in this dress so I guess the fabric – although over halfway cotton – is a poly shirting at heart.  Nevertheless, if there hadn’t been so much cotton in the content, my dyeing attempt on this dress would have been much more difficult and probably less successful.  If you have something that is less than 50% cotton or any other natural fiber (in other words, a mostly man-made material), it will not want to take to recoloring using the regular RIT brand dye.  I would have needed a special synthetic dye, which has a very limited spans of colors to choose from.  I just made the regular dye work with this dress!

My son’s school polo also came from “Land’s End” as well, and was in 100% cotton.  I did not change or refashion it at all, merely changed the color.  As he is growing in height, and seeming not in weight or waist size, his extra short sleeve school shirts that he no longer needs still fit him…for now!

PATTERN and NOTIONS:  For my dress refashion, I used no pattern – made it up as I went – and all I needed in notions was lots of thread and one long 36” coat zipper (which was happily on hand).  I let what I needed to do find better fit for this dress on my current body dictate how the refashion would go.  The dress was a size 2, and in a basic sense it did fit me, but was far too snug for a button-front shirtdress…if you get my unwelcome picture.  So, I cut off the buttons, and stitched up the buttonholes, and sewed a zipper down the front to give me just a few extra inches across the front.  All that I basically needed was some wearing ease in this dress.  As the side seams were serged far too close to the stitching line, my only easy option was transforming this shirtdress into a zip front dress.  Voila!  As easy as it was to find a better fit with this dress, next it was a bit challenging to take it to the level of looking finished and appearing as anything but a refashion.

My son gave the the zipper bracelet I am wearing! It’s so perfect for me!

I did have a giant sash belt that came with the dress, luckily, so I had a little bit of something extra to work without having to cut into the dress itself.  I snipped the sash belt in half, running down the fold and seam line, so that the width was divided in two but the length was kept as it was.  I used 2/3 of the length of the two long pieces to make a little binding to cover up either side of the zipper all the way down the front of the dress.  These self-fabric bindings cleanly covered up the top-stitching to the exposed zipper and also what was left of the buttonholes. The remaining 1/3 to the sash belt was sewn into tubes, turned inside out, and slipped into the binding on either side of the zipper right at the waistline.  This creates a sort of attached waist ties that perk up the dress.  There are thread chain belt casings at the side already, and the waist seemed rather plain without anything extra, so I thought I would use up what little was leftover for the attached tie belt.  This was a zero waste refashion – not a single scrap leftover!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The actual sewing portion to refashioning my dress did not take all that long – only a few hours.  That was finished on August 20, 2020.  However it ended up taking much longer because of all the steps I needed to get my dress in this new color.

TOTAL COST: These would have been free refashions if it hadn’t been for the cost of the dyes, color remover, and setting liquid – in total about $15 for the four bottles of items I needed.

For my dress, before I did any dyeing, I began with yet another experimental job – using RIT brand color removing powder.  I decided to try and do this in my wash machine, and I did not fix the setting correctly so that my dress did not sit in the liquid as long as it should have.  I will chalk it up to a beginner’s mistake.  However, as I did not follow the proper directions, the color remover did not work correctly and it only took out enough color to turn my dress into an ugly yellow.  Weird, right?

My next step was to color my dress.  I originally intended on dyeing my dress a blue so I had a bottle of RIT in blue turquoise.  Yet, as the color remover turned my dress into a yellow, and I was dipping it in a blue, I ended up with a bright sage green.  I know it makes sense under the principles of the color spectrum, but really – who would have guessed?

I was working with a bottle of liquid dye, and this has the best chance of turning out an even color as compared to the powder (mix with water).  Even still, it turned out slightly splotchy in certain places on my dress.  Why?  Any pre-existing stain, or flaw, or mark on the fabric will be amplified when that item is color dyed.  Yeah, not something to be excited over but definitely something to remember for any dye job.

Other than a few little marks that stayed with my dress, the color turned out very even for me.  I dyed my dress in our large stainless steel sink, so there was plenty of room to have enough liquid to completely immerse the dress, as well as do some good stirring to spread the color.  Technically, our sink is not the best place for dyeing.  With the RIT dye, the temperature is supposed to be kept at 140°F or warmer, yet not boiling either, for the whole 30 to 60 minutes it ‘cooks’.  That is why the best place to dye is in a pot on the stove because you can keep an even and constant temperature.  Yet, the bigger the item – like my dress – the more room you will need and so an ‘on the stove’ option was not exactly feasible here.  We made it work alright by starting off with a stronger water-to-dye proportion for quick color retention, and then add a small pot’s worth of extra almost-boiling water along the way to keep a relative constant warmth.

This is the richer color I had before putting my dress in the fixative liquid. Also, you can see what I was covering up by sewing down the binding on either side of the zipper – the marks of the old button closings.

The final step to any dye job that is a cotton, linen, rayon, or a blend of these is to set the color with a liquid fixative.  This is another 30 minutes of the same process as what the dye job was – stirred evenly in a 140 degree bath.  I hate the fact that when I go through the dye fixative step, the color becomes a tad lighter than when my item came out of the dye.  For example, when I first over-dyed these faded, true vintage items from my Grandmother, the colors were rich and just what I wanted…but that was before the setting liquid bath.  Boo.  When dyeing a nylon, silk, or wool, to set the color you merely run the item through your wash machine with an old towel and your regular detergent, and the colors seem to stay brighter.  Oh well, as I said above, any color improvement, even if it is not the most ideal one, is enough to make the item worth keeping if I’m doing this in the first place.

There are different add-ins with each dye job depending on the fiber content of your item.  I added salt and dishwashing liquid to the dye before adding my dress.  However, for some silk I recently re-colored using a bottle of RIT Kelly green dye (for a completely different project coming soon) I added dishwashing liquid and white vinegar.  It was into the dye bath leftover from coloring this silk that I threw in my son’s school polo.  This should have been a no-no because his shirt was cotton – it should be in a dye bath with salt.  However, I was not about to waste a whole bottle’s worth of dye without trying to dip something else.  Thus, the green dye bath only gave my son’s shirt a light minty green color rather than a deep, true, Kelly green.  Also, the water was hovering around 130 degrees by this time (as a second batch).  Even still, I think my son looks good in pastels and he himself is happy with how it turned out – so that is all that matters, right?!  Now we can go be twins in green for the win.

I jokingly have a little play on the fact that I am stirring up a steaming sink or pot full of opaquely colored ‘potion’ when I do my dye jobs.  A little witchy cackle is all that’s needed (and I do believe I am good at that) as well as a recitation of “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” for a proper finish.  Hubby usually just shakes his head with a smile.  Yes, I enjoy how a simple color change – although a bit time consuming – can really perk up an item and is a creative way for anyone to personalize something with no sewing needed.

A few months into my dyeing exploits and I realized many colors became very hard-to-find or almost non-existent altogether, even looking through the internet shops (not counting the price-gouged items).  Apparently, I must not be the only one this year who is finding the fun and usefulness of color dyeing.  Have you done any such thing yourself?  Are you an old pro at it by now?  Do you have any great success stories or maybe sad disaster tales to share?  Maybe you have not yet tried it.  If so, I hope this post was useful.  Thanks for reading!

The Tradition of the Sari

“The sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver.  He dreamt of a woman – the drape of her tumbling hair; the colors of her many moods; the shimmer of her tears; the softness of her touch.  All of these he wove together. He wove for many yards; he could not stop. When he was done, as the folk tale goes, he sat back and smiled…for he had created a sari.” (Legend copied from here.)

Coming off of the annual celebration of the Partition, which gave India and Pakistan national independence on August 15th, I would like to feature the humble, beautiful, sari of India.  Did you know it has a history more than 5,000 years old!  It’s weaving is mentioned in “Rig-Veda”, one of the oldest surviving literature of the world, written circa 3,000 B.C.  The sari, originally intended for both men and women, is therefore probably one of the longest continuously worn clothing in the history of mankind.  A sari (saree in English) is a rectangular piece of cloth usually 5 yards (for everyday use or ones composed of cotton) to 9 yards (for some of the fanciest silk or embroidered ones).  Their approximate width is about 47 inches.  For one continuous piece of cloth, the fabric and design of the sari is well thought out to accommodate the intricate tradition of wrapping for each region’s heritage so that it becomes a pure work of art…the world’s marvel in clothing design.

The main field of the sari is framed on three side by decorative borders.  Two of these borders run longitudinal sides of the sari, while the third comprises the end of the sari, the wide and highly decorative Pallau – the part which hangs free when worn.  It is more than just a source for many yards of pretty fabric, as is often the outlook of American and Western World clothiers and sewists.  There is so much more to a sari than that – it is a shame to not explore that well of information behind the crafting of a sari and appreciate for how it is truly used and regarded.

The sari needs to be deemed as clothing and not just called fabric.  A sari is pretty much the same as a top, or a dress, or pants which are worn America.  It is an article of clothing.  It has existed for so long, there is a history to it as rich as the indigo color I’m wearing.  It should not be merely called fabric – that is a term for talking about the fiber content of a piece of clothing.  Doing such for a sari is dismissive to its cultural usage and history.  For many cultures and faith traditions, what is worn is considered purer, more perfect, or better pleasing to God to wear something unaltered by a needle and thread.  As a people, we would definitely not have a problem with finding sizes to fit our individual body physique with a sari…one length accommodates all!

Every sari has a rich and beautiful story to tell as unique as the wearer.  How it is put on the body, embellished, and colored has long served as a marker of identity in the Indian subcontinent. The hues of a garment denote not just personal sartorial preference but convey all sorts of social data, ranging from the wearer’s age and marital status to his/her community of origin.  Red is as dynamic as fire, and the symbol of joy, yet it is well known often for its use as a bridal color.  The red bordered sari with the indigo field that you see me in is more of a bridal guest or a very special occasion garment as evidenced by the jacquard weave through the blue and also the heavy goldwork along the edge.  Blue is a special color to India, especially in Hinduism – it is the color of the Diety (“Krishna Blue”) and embodies kindness, bravery, and determination.  The golden ivory field of the other sari sets this one as a sort of “everyday finery” sari, as it still has the red borders.  This one is a much lighter weight sari and slightly shorter in length.  It has the Kashmiri paisley and pomegranates along the pallau (very Northern), while the blue and red sari has its decoration imagery coming from “Bandhani” – the unique, subtle lack of dye in very pre-meditated spaces (trademark western Gujarat).

“Bandhani” is Sanskrit for tie-dye (also known as “Lehriya”).  The word refers to both the finished cloth as well as the practice of an ancient technique – tying the cloth off in very small, dotted, patterns before dipping it in a dye bath.  The decoration is so subtle, an untrained eye could completely miss it, thus making it all the more the marvel.  Rajasthan and Gujarat are famous for these brilliant tie dyes.  The more dots and the smaller they are tied, the more skill of the maker and therefore the display of a higher social status of the wearer, or at least the nicer the occasion for which such would be worn.  The multi coloring method involves working in the lightest shade first, after which the fabric is tied and darker colors introduced.  “Bandhani” saris are associated with festivals, seasons, and rituals for which there are particular patterns and colors.  Northern India – particularly Gujarat – has a few traditions of colors that varies from much of the rest of (central and below) India as well as the visually obvious front pallau hang, right shouldered wrapping.  You’ll also find this region’s clothing to be decorated with mirrors and beads or gold work embroidery.

A sari is often a family heirloom, and when one is gifted upon a special occasion that is really special.  The latter was the case with these two saris I am wearing.  It was just over a year ago we went to Memphis to visit our close family friends of Indian heritage.  My husband has known them for many years (longer than I have!). It has not been since my husband and I were married that he has seen those friends’ parents.  They were born in India around the time of its Independence and immigrated to America with their own family several decades ago.  We as a family finally met with them, and it was a wonderful time!  I also asked a lot of questions and they were so kind enough to teach me so much about the culture and ways of dressing for their home-away-from-home in the District of Kutch.  Before I left their house, I was gifted with some beautiful saris to take with me.  Now, I am honored to be able to wear them with their proper provenance for a truly special occasion of joining in to celebrate India’s long-fought, long-sought Independence.

The one piece I was lacking before now to have a complete traditional Indian sari set was an important base layer – the choli blouse.  Yes – this isn’t completely a non-sewing related post!  I did make something to this set!  The sari top and the underskirt (also called petticoat) are the base layers for which the sari is anchored to and wrapped over.  The underskirt is simple in shape but unrestrictive, and often a useful solid color of a fabric that is comfy and breathable.  Here, my base layer is a RTW long bias cut linen skirt.  The choli blouse is a close fitting cropped top that is structured, lined, and has any shaping or support which the wearer prefers built into it.  Think of it like underwear and your blouse top all-in-one, but highly tailored to your body so it stays in place while making you look really good.  A true authentic Indian choli for special occasions is an engineering work of art to examine, which I tried to imitate with my version.  I found mine very comfortable to wear.  I didn’t want to take it off at the end of the day, and could wear this every day for as good as I felt wearing it!

I started by using a vintage crop top pattern reprint as my starting base – Simplicity #8645, a 1955 reprint from 2018, originally Simplicity #1203.  I went for View D.  As I went along, I added sleeves (drafted of my own pattern), a hem panel to add a bit of length (remember, these are not a belly dancer’s top), and altered the neckline to be more open and interesting, taking my inspiration from Gujarat chaniya choli.  My outer fabric is block printed Indian cotton ordered from Mumbai through the Etsy shop “Fibers to Fabric” and my inner lining fabric is local store bought cotton broadcloth in navy.

There are molded foam bra cups sewn into the wrong side of the lining to add in hidden structure to my choli.  I had to take the size in a little extra to get this top to fit closer than the vintage pattern had planned.  Most choli tops are tied, buttoned, or hook-and-eye closing, primarily down the back, but for my ease of dressing and to stabilize to tight fit I chose a small 5 inch metal separating zipper.  The bottom hem band closes with two hook-and-eyes, still, though.  Once this top is on me, it isn’t going anywhere and it forms me into shape…but that doesn’t mean it’s restricting.  I tried it on again and again in between its construction for a little tweak here, an unpicking there to ensure a custom, perfect fit for myself.  The perfect fit ensures the garment will not be restrictive because it should be a ‘copy’ of your body when something like this has practically zero wearing ease.   If this had been made of a fancier material I might have also added light boning, but the wonderful block print disguises the fact this is just cotton, and so a comfortable everyday choli.  It took a while of searching to find a print like this that matched with both of my saris!

Not to be content with just the handmade choli, I also made my own jewelry set to match my indigo and red sari.  Jewelry is important to the Indian culture and an unashamed display of wealth, keeping one’s security right where you (and others) can see it.  Wearing jewelry also symbolizes wealth, power, and status – the heavier the nuances of these jewelries are, the bigger role they play in the legacy of the family. (Read an excellent article on this subject here.)  Gold is the primary medium.

The jewelry set worn with my ivory and red sari is much more subdued, and was made in India and highlighted in this past Indian-inspired outfit of mine.  However, the blue and gold set worn with my fine indigo and red sari is the self-made jewelry I am talking about.  It is not genuine gold, and not the normal expensive jewelry you would see with an outfit like this yet it adds to the individuality of my outfit and has a personal meaning behind it…all factors which are important when choosing Indian accessories.

I love to wear gemstones and enjoy the symbolism and interesting compounds that compose them.  I’ve been attending local Gem and Mineral society shows since I was 10.  Therefore my unjeweled, round bead necklace I strung of Lapis Lazuli, and my carved rosette dangle earrings are Sodalite, both of them semi-precious dark blue rock-forming minerals used as a decorative gems.  My more decorative necklace was something I bought loose, as a bag of broken glass jewelry, and I reassembled the pieces back into how I thought they would look good as a necklace.  There was just enough supplies to squeeze in a matching bracelet as well (a wrist bangle used to signify a married woman).  The hanging jewels look like bees to me, witch is a sort of emblem for my husband’s side of the family that I have taken to.  My father-in-law had been a beekeeper for many years and our last name’s initial is a ‘B’ so the little honey-makers are a family symbol that we enjoy.

There is so much to learn and share about the Indian culture, so I hope this post was not too overwhelming for those of you to whom this subject is completely new!  Thank you for reading my post.  This is a very special subject to me.  These sari outfits are quite different from what I am used to wearing (and posting here), I’ll admit, but understanding them through the proper cultural respect helps me to do more than just put on certain unusual clothes.  I hope it can open your mind and heart by doing so, as it has done for me.  Caring for others by putting yourself in their shoes is an important perspective to remember to take, even if that journey starts through clothing.