A different view into a space apart from our own is essential to human existence. We crave, we need an alternate vision, whether that view is into another living space or outside of our own quarters. Windows keep us attuned to nature, in touch with society, and help us realize a bigger picture. At certain times of our lives, we need to take advantage of a window in time to the schedule of our life and grab an escape, which is deeper and more lasting than a mere distraction. “A distraction is momentary – an escape helps you heal.” (Quote from “We Look to You” in the Broadway musical “The Prom”.) That process of reaching out – even if it’s as short as pausing to soak in a lovely picture, or as long listening to an orchestral piece, or as animated as a phone call with a friend – can be an opportunity to learn, grow, love, and find refreshment. Such a train of thought is important in our world today, when the living quarters and life possibilities for many of us have become more limited. Yet, it is also an important reflection for “Multicultural May”. Take a trip with me then, into the wonderful world of India.
The Indian culture has as many grand architectural entrances as it does interesting open-back sari blouses for the ladies. The bare-backed bodice of my tunic is my interpretation of the “chaniya choli” traditionally worn by Kutch women, a style which became prevalent throughout India beginning in the late 1940s. My loose hipped, tapered leg trousers are in reminiscent of the kind of bottoms, called churidar pants, worn underneath an Indian tunic, the western words for what’s called a kurti. Together, I have merged a casual, all-occasion style (the kurti and churidar) with a features of a garment for fancy, special occasions (choli, aka sari blouse) into one creation of individual interpretation.
My main accessories are fair-trade, handmade Indian imported goods bought from a local market. My bracelet matches in the way it is a small window of itself. I was so excited to find it! It is a raw hammered brass wrist cuff. My necklace is a combo of aqua grass beads and more brass with the excess of chain. Finally because one’s treasured, best gold pieces are an important contribution to any Indian outfit, my hoop earrings had been a sweet Christmas gift from my husband and had to be included here!
FABRIC: I used 2 yards of a printed 100% rayon challis direct from India for the tunic, and fully lined it in a buff finish polyester lining. The pants are a Telio Ponte de Roma knit in a 65% Rayon, 30% Nylon, 5% Spandex medium to heavy weight opaque material in a spruce green color.
PATTERNS: Burda Style “Cut Out Back Dress” pattern #124 from June 2015 for the tunic, and a true vintage McCall’s #5263, year 1959, from my pattern stash
NOTIONS: I just needed thread, two zippers, and a small bit of interfacing for both projects.
TIME TO COMPLETE: The tunic was finished in late last year (2019) in about 15 hours, and the pants were made this May of 2020 after only 8 hours.
THE INSIDES: The tunic, as I said, is fully lined, and the pants inner edges are left raw because they don’t unravel
TOTAL COST: The Ponte knit (from “Sew Stylish Fabrics” on Etsy) was about $25 for the one yard I needed, and the material for the tunic was about $15 (the rayon was on sale at “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining was a discounted remnant at JoAnn). My total is $40.
Kutch district is in the Gujarat state is the culture of India that I am most familiar with through some close family friends who are like family to us. So it’s no wonder that I chose it as my influence once again (see this post for reference)! I will be exploring more regions of India in my future ethnic-influenced self-made fashion…I did already touch on the central region with my “homage to the Rani” vintage dress…and Gujarat is west. Goodness, I acknowledge there is such a richness of traditions, artisan crafts, environment, history, and special people everywhere you look, but especially India has such fabulous fashion to boot! I greatly respect how every detail to traditional Indian clothing has a reason, symbolism, and meaning. Yet, I also love how the India of today is not afraid to merge modern renditions of clothing with a homage to their traditional past. Personally I like to take a 20th century vintage twist on India’s fashion, on top of all that! That’s a lot to take in, right?! So you see there are many ways to interpret Indian clothing with proper provenance.
This set is half vintage really. As “The Facts” show, I used a true vintage pattern and a modern Burda Style pattern together. Modern or not though, the tunic is strikingly similar to vintage – especially 1930s – styles. In the depression era, many styles of fashion for women – mainly evening wear – were all about making a grand parting by sporting a “party from behind”. I am all for that trend! I have a whole Pinterest page here full of eye candy for the open-back trend. It is a common feature to women’s Indian cholis (see this post or this post for some modern examples)! Luckily, Burda keeps offering designs every so often with such a feature, too. Now, I have sewn many open-back garments before (look under my “Modern” and my “Burda Style” pages to see them) but this one was by far the trickiest to find the right fit. This is the main reason why I chose a 50’s pattern for the pants, because let’s face it…I find the fit of vintage patterns to generally be spot on for me, especially when it comes to pants. Something guaranteed to be an instant success was welcome after the many issues I had with this Burda Style tunic.
I had to resize both projects due to them being in petite sizing. Firstly, I’ll address the wonderful pants! The “multi-sized” pattern were supposed to have three different proportions, but the ‘regular’ was missing from the envelope, the ‘tall’ was uncut, and the ‘petite’ was cut down to shorts length… ugh. I had to retrace the pattern onto sheer medical paper and add some width for the smaller size to be my measurements, and then I was good to go. No other adjustments were necessary and so I doubt a new pattern could offer better than this – it’s just what I had in mind! Too bad they are mostly covered up by the rest of my outfit but no worries! As basic as they are, I will certainly be wearing a lot of these pants with plenty of other tops, though.
Secondly, the tunic was the first time I had worked with a Burda petite pattern and I wasn’t quite sure how much to add horizontally to bring it up to regular proportions. As I was sewing it up, I regretted adding in any extra allotment because this pattern seems to run long in the torso (very weird for a petite sizing). I did do a tissue fit beforehand, but paper cannot quite account for the give of the bias grain, and there is a lot of that in the design of this tunic, especially when it is cut of something as slinky as rayon challis. Thus, I had to take the garment in along the ‘kimono’ style (non-set-in, cut on sleeve) shoulder seam, which threw off the neckline, which messed with the proper bias. Now do you see why this was a problem project?
I do like how changing the neckline forced me to be creative and add details to the tunic that I like better than the original design. There was a lot of extra room in the chest because of the fit adjustments I made everywhere else. I needed to bring that extra fabric in to fit by using a means that looked intentional, and not just what it was – an adjustment on the fly. The best I could come up with was to make a soft, slightly angled pleat on each side of the neckline to shape the bust from across the upper chest. It reminds me of a frame for the face and my necklace, as well as adding symbolical angles to the “window” theme of my outfit. It’s so funny how a “mistake” taken with the right outlook can add so much good to the originality of what you create.
There were quite a few small tweaks I did to both pieces, as well as lessons learned. I did not really need the zipper up the back of the back waist to the tunic – mine fit loose enough that I only wasted my time on a perfect invisible closure. I did get rid of the back neckline button to less complicate things, then sewed down a hanging decorative tassel instead (sari top/choli reference). How this pattern works as a dress I don’t know because the bottom hem was so confining and tight, besides being so short (I lengthened it by several inches for my version)! I did plan on opening up the one seamline to be a thigh slit anyway so the snug hem width didn’t really matter too much anyway other than figuring out the pattern’s original design fit. The pants originally called for a sewn-on set waistband, but I found them sitting high enough at my waist as it was. I used the interfaced waistband piece to instead make a facing to turn inside so as to have a smooth edge for a very simple, streamlined style.
In case you noticed, I have been calling my upper garment a tunic in this post, as I feel it is a modern hybrid of a traditional cultural garment. Kurti are usually a bit shorter in length than this (hip length like a blouse) while Kurta are longer in length than this (at least to the knees or down to the ankles, in my understanding). I was short on fabric to make it any longer in length and I didn’t like the look of this design being any shorter than how I have it already, so my garment is in between. The tunic I made still makes the ethnic reference I intended and has the general properties of a kurti the way I am wearing it. A good churidar pant has its stretch coming from being cut on the bias grain, but modern Western-influenced young people often wear leggings or skinny pants as a substitute and so my bottoms are along that vein. I do like the subtle reference to the May of 1960 split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north by using a vintage pattern from ‘59. I absolutely love the high waist, comfy fit, cozy body-hugging Ponte knit properties, and the slightly tapered but still full enough to be easy-to-move-in legs.
This outfit is very fun as well as quite different and very freeing. I enjoy wearing it! It is a unique garment combination for me to sew, too. As out of the ordinary this set is for me to make and wear, it is a more ‘common’ Indian ethnic outfit for my wardrobe (versus dressy dresses and my fancy Sherwani coat). I do love variety in my wardrobe, but variety is more important to help us to being open and understanding of other people and cultures. Understanding India can be both challenging and intimidating because of its richness of history and traditions, so please never resort to easy-to-find stereotypes as a source for information. I hope my little posts can shed some extra light on India that you never saw before. However, don’t just stop at the month of May to focus on growing a multicultural understanding! It should be a year ‘round effort, especially when there are so many beautiful clothes to see and appreciate! What is your favorite “window” to a world outside of your own?