One of the highlights of 2022 for me was having my town’s Art Museum hosting the acclaimed exhibition Global Threads: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz, which is produced and circulated by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I considered visiting Canada just for this exhibit when it opened in Ontario in September of 2020…unbelievably, however, it subsequently came to me! We attended all the presentations, curator talks, and related events, as well as even joining our Art Museum as a member just to have unlimited free access to the Chintz exhibit. Nevertheless, it had a shortened opening time, and is now closed for visiting by the time I am getting around to posting about the exhibit – sorry! As I have said before, I am still catching up on so many things from last year! Nevertheless, as a replacement, I highly recommend purchasing the ROM’s exhibit book as well as following my posts about the outfits I made for the event’s occasions! I say “outfits” in plural because I sewed something related and appropriate for our exhibit visits not just for me (to be shared in a follow up post) but for my man!
A rich red is for auspicious and joyful festivities, so I thought the opening day for the Chintz exhibit was celebratory enough to merit hubby wearing the vibrant color. Often, gold (in the form of embroidery or jewelry) is paired with the color red, but that is when the fabric worn is silk, such as for weddings and festivities. Since this is an everyday cotton blend fabric, the beige and tan tones stamped into the blank spaces left from the resist mordant calms the red down and keeps this shirt more casual. I realized that the exhibit featured chintz prints and my hubby’s shirt fabric vaguely fit into the exhibit’s definition of chintz, but that is a blurry, controversial topic. The exhibit presented the distinction between the two (at the manufacturing level) as being that chintz has its prints individually hand drawn with a kalam bamboo pen, not just primarily stamped or resist dyed as is done to a block print. However, many chintz prints utilize blocks or resist mordant to supplement (in some degree) the kalamkari handiwork. Both prints often use the same dyes, oxides, or inks. Thus, I figure my husband is dressed in a fabric that is a simpler “close relative” of the chintz we saw in the exhibit!
There are more differences between chintz and block prints yet to be mentioned, but I will not dive into the weeds here. I just want to focus on how we were trying to honor India’s fiber arts heritage along with the exhibit by having this shirt for the occasion. Most importantly, my hubby really seems to like his first taste of just how wonderfully soft and uniquely stylish an Indian block printed cotton can be to wear. I hope you look into the beauty behind the history of Chintz and consider finding an Indian cotton print to work with for your own projects – whether they are for others or not. You will not be disappointed!
FABRIC: a soft cotton and flax blend Indian block print for the main shirt body with a solid red cotton broadcloth as the inner shoulder lining as well as the under collar contrast
PATTERN: ”1950’s Men’s Sport Shirt with Front Detailing” vintage pattern reprint (listing here) from the “Vintage Sewing Pattern Company” on Etsy.
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread, interfacing, and two natural coconut buttons
TIME TO COMPLETE: The pattern itself took several hours to assemble, trace and resize down, but the actual sewing was a total of 12 hours and finished in September 2022
THE INSIDES: I tightly zig-zag stitched over all the raw edges to imitate serging (overlocking)
TOTAL COST: The fabric was an end-of-the-bolt remnant on sale at $15 for 1 3/8 yards, and everything else cost pittance as it was all leftovers from other projects, already on hand.
The overall fit of this design is relaxed, boxy, and meant to be a closure-free pop-over-the-head shirt. However, pullover or not, it is classic for menswear of the 1950’s decade with its dropped shoulder line, obnoxiously wide collar, and generous sizing. The interesting chest paneling that incorporates working pockets carries the heart of the design. It was so fun to sew, see how it turned out, and subsequently have my husband enjoy it. I love a good design anyway, but especially one that leaves open the perfect opportunity for having fun with a directional fabric print as this one does.
I contacted the seller that reprinted the pattern to hopefully find out more information so I could more precisely date this design. They kindly let me know it originally came from Woman’s Own, a British lifestyle magazine first published in 1932 and continuing to this day (albeit with more celebrity gossip and no patterns). A man’s shirt pattern coming from a line so specific in name to women is rather humorous in its irony. Nevertheless, by knowing the pattern number and then finding a few other Woman’s Own patterns which were dated with a nearby number, I was able to place my hubby’s shirt between 1958 and 1960. It wasn’t until after circa 1963 that menswear styles started slimming down with smaller collars. Menswear changes very slowly and clues to dating vintage styles for guys lies in the subtle details.
This post’s project pattern reminds me of a previous 1950s pullover shirt that I made for my husband (posted here), which was also in an Indian cotton. However, this design has the decorative panel coming across the chest and a full convertible collar. The instructions were clear and well laid out, being a newly digitized reprint, while the pieces matched up perfectly. The design is so economical, too – the numerous pieces make it fit on a smaller cut than it would otherwise. If you didn’t notice my point in the “The Facts” above, I did make this out of just over a yard…but then again I am a pro at eking out efficient pattern layouts! My biggest challenge was restricting my layout availability for the pattern pieces by having the stripes change direction from vertical through the body to horizontal across the upper panels.
Dramatic work was needed on the pattern at the paper stage before any cutting. I did a pattern fitting on him because a pullover shirt in a woven (with no stretch) needs to be a tricky balance of a loose fit that does not drown the wearer. It needed to be sized down to a whole size smaller than what the pattern’s size chart showed that my husband needed. Evenly, in small, spread-out increments, I pinched out about 4 ½ inches across the width of the chest (which was tricky to do with the geometric paneling), with 2 of those inches solely out of the collar. This was supposed to get the shirt down to a 38” chest, 14” collar according to the pattern’s size chart, yet the finished garment fits like a 40” chest, 15” collar. I also found that the pattern had the chest panel running too low. Looking at the pattern, the pocketed chest panel needs to run across from arm to arm. If I hadn’t folded up the pattern piece by a couple of inches, the chest panel seam would have dropped below his arms to run across his upper torso. I was looking out for him ahead of time, though, and eventually nailed down the fit, but as long as my man likes what I made for him, that is all that matters.
It was crazy how I needed to cobble together the one piece that didn’t fit in the pattern piece layout – the shoulder panel. Being one of the smaller pieces, the shoulder panel was sacrificed to be assembled from the leftover cuttings since I wanted the stripes to run horizontally. I somehow organized 7 individual scrap pieces in a way that remotely matched enough to make the seams indistinguishable (see picture above at far left). I ironed the entire panel so all the pieced seams would lay flat (see middle picture above). Nevertheless, it is the interior lining panel, being cut – as it should – in one solid piece, which helps support that section and keep it in the correct shape (see far right picture above). I love lining the shoulder panel of shirts – it creates such a clean interior and gives a professional finish in one easy step! Plus, lining panels are a perfect way to use smaller scraps of fabric, especially when it adds a fun little contrast of color.
The coconut buttons on this shirt are a special touch that makes me smile. Natural wood buttons are frequently used in India’s fashions, but nevertheless I wanted to keep everything about this shirt as natural as possible. No polyester is to be found here except for a small amount blended in the thread! Coconut buttons, however, seem to absorb water easily and so cannot take a soaking at all. I might want to just do a quick hand wash to clean it. If coconut buttons get too wet, in my experience, they separate or just plain start to fall apart! These have some sort of glazing on the front so maybe they will be sturdy for a while…we will see. For now, they tame down the rich red tone and are the perfect mix of being a ‘nicer-than-normal’ shirt button but subtle enough to not be too noticeable. After all, pockets always seem more fun than they already are when there is a neat button to close them!
I know I have made plenty of Indian inspired garments for myself, so I hope you enjoyed this different approach to sewing something using that county’s great fabric offerings. Even though this shirt is not glaringly different, I suppose it’s still quite a unique thing to make for my man – definitely something one would not find anywhere else! Yet, that is one of the main reasons for home sewing, right? To fuel that creative drive for fulfilling a personal vision as well as to have unique well-fitted garments for me and others to wear are some of the things I enjoy about sewing…how about you? Let’s all be happy he accommodated me enough to model his shirt and work through his unwillingness to be on the other side of the camera!