Monday, August 29, 2011

Wondered what's (home)sewing is like in India? Read this guest post from Lakshmi of Adithi's Amma Sews

Dear readers, I am back from my vacation in beautiful Maine, and am very glad to offer you this guest post from the winner of the Crescent Skirt Giveaway, Lakshmi of Adithi's Amma Sews. Lakshmi, who lives in the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu, shares here her thoughts on traditional Indian garments and home sewing in India,

I thought it was an interesting post as it provides an insight into the world of sewing many of us hardly know anything about. On the one hand, Lakshmi is so privileged to have a hands-on access to oh-so-fabulous traditional Indian sewing and embroidery. On the other hand, she has to deal with challenges of not having access to some basic sewing tools, notions and materials while living next to several significant Indian textile hubs - isn't it ironic?

So, read on, I hope you enjoy it and if you are interested in some of the techniques or traditional garments she mentions, visit her blog for hands-on tutorials. 

Dear Readers of Frabjous Couture, I am Lakshmi, aka Adithi's Amma from Adithi's Amma Sews. I am a stay-at-home mom of a 4.5 yr old little princess, an aspiring freelance fashion designer, and a dream of having my own custom clothing line in near future.

Before moving onto further details, I would first like to thank Marina for having me over here and sharing this post with her readers! When Marina and I discussed the subject of my guest post, she suggested I write about home sewing in India ... and, maybe, give a brief intro on traditional Indian outfits, such as well-known Indian silk sarees, Silk skirt & top known as Pattu Paavdai in South India or Ghaghra in North India. If you want to learn how to make a Saree blouse, Pattu Paavadai  or other traditional Indian outfits like Angarkha ( a wrap once worn by royalty and back in vogue  now!), check out tutorials on my blog! 

Back to home sewing in India. My mother's grandmom used to sew all her children's, as well as grandchildren's, outfits by hand! India has a fascinating history of needle arts, various forms of embroidery have their roots here, or have been adopted and well nurtured here!

This outfit for my darling daughter has detailed Aaari and Zardosi work done on it!
Fabric is silk, of course!
Zari embroidery has its roots here in India and is extensively used even today in most of the traditional garments such as Saree, Silk Kurta, Ghaghra, Lehenga (Skirts) worn on festivals or at weddings. India is a vast country with many different needle art forms spread across the country. 
Frabjous Couture: India has long been known for its gold thread, zari ...Currently, real zari is made from flat silver wire that is electroplated with gold. Zari made from these precious metals is used for ceremonial sarees, richly embroidered apparel, furnishings, etc. Imitation zari, on the other hand, is made from copper wire. A third variety, plastic zari, is made from a chemically-coloured metallic yarn. More than 20 colours of zari are now produced, and there are varieties such as zari on glass, zari on wood etc. Source
I am South Indian and have lived all my life in South India,  and Zari work on local Sarees is really mind boggling - ask anyone who has seen a Silk Saree, they would vouch for it! Kancheevaram (City of 1000 temples, just 47 miles from where I live) is famous for its hand-woven silk sarees! We get many of them in Chennai (the capital of the southern Indian state Tamil Nadu), and the main shopping area is always crowded!

There are more embroidery types in India, such as Zardosi, Chikankari from Lucknow, Phulkari from Punjab, there's also Aari, Patchwork, Kundan - the list is endless.

Sequin and bead embroidery on my RTW Saree! 
Take a look at some of my silk wedding sarees ! Indian weddings mean Rich Traditional Garments!

This is the simplest silk saree I own (imagine!)

 Here is a snapshot of a brocade Saree blouse I made for myself! You can find a detailed Saree Blouse Drafting and Sewing Tutorial on Adithis Amma Sews.

Apart from Sarees, Salwar Kameez, which originated in the Northern India, is now worn throughout the country as it has a traditional yet contemporary look to it and is very comfortable to wear and move around! Salwar refers to the pants and kameez refers to the top

Patiala Salwar and Kurta I made for my sister

Simple Churidhaar (slim pants with gathers at ankle) and Kameez made for self
Anarkali is another style of kameez or top with an empire waist bodice with flared skirt. A tutorial on how to draft one using basic Shift Dress block is available HERE!

Fabrics used for traditional Indian clothing are amazing!

Starting with the Khadhi fabric, which had been made immortal by the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi! 

The term khādī (Devanagari: खादी, Nastaliq: کھادی) or khaddar (Devanagari: खद्दर, Nastaliq: کھدّر) means cotton. khādī is Indian handspun and hand-woven cloth.  It is a versatile fabric, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 
Khadi is not just a cloth, it is a whole movement started by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The Khadi movement aimed at boycotting foreign goods and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India's economy. Mahatma Gandhi began promoting the spinning of khādī for rural self-employment and self-reliance (instead of using cloth manufactured industrially in Britain) in 1920s India thus making khadi an integral part and icon of the Swadeshi movement. The flag of India is only allowed to be made from this material, although in practice many flag manufacturers, especially those outside of India, ignore this rule. (Source: Wikipedia)
Indians used to wear a lot of cotton and cotton blends, because of the climate, of course. In the north, summers are very hot and winters - very cold; and in Chennai, where I live, summer and summery winters is all we get! So, synthetics are a big no-no! However, with air-conditioning everywhere,  more people  buy synthetics, but the love for pure simple cotton is still here! 

Apart from cotton, another fabric that has traditional roots in the country is silk! After all, it is the second largest producer of silk in the world (after China)! For more information on Silks in India Visit http://indiansilk.kar.nic.in/silk.html. 

Silk Garments are worn by young and old in India. My daughter loves her Pattu Paavadais (traditional silk skirt and top), and my MIL loves her silk sarees! Men also wear silk - in the form of Dhotis (traditional garment in South India, which is wrapped around the waist and the legs) and Kurtas.

Even my daughter's Barbie doll has a silk saree-style gown:

Ghaghra Choli and Lehenga Cholis are a skirt and a top worn along with a shawl called 'Dupatta', and are quite popular as wedding outfits, not just for the bride! I made this one for my sister:

and this one for myself:

The Challenges

All this may give you an impression that Indian home sewers are spoiled! But this is not the case.

Knit fabric is the best example. India is one of the major manufacturers and exporters of knit fabrics, it is hard to get them locally, as they are mostly available for wholesale! When I see those awesome printed cotton knits on online fabric stores from the US or Europe, I drool over them and wish I could get them here, from where they may have actually come from! Tirupur, a textile hub and  an important trade center in India, is famous for its knit garment industry, yet there is no option for a retail buyer to purchase knit fabrics produced there, what an irony! In India, as far as I know, we do not have the luxury of buying fabrics online. But we do enjoy going to the market and searching for that specific color, texture, feel of fabric we have in mind! I spend hours shopping for fabric; my stash is always brimming, and storage space is always cramped!

Buying sewing machine and supplies is not that difficult, as we have sewing machine dealers all over the country, but the variety available to home sewers is limited. For example, we do not have access to sergers here in India. I had to buy an industrial 5-thread overlocker because nothing else was available!

Talking of notions, there are numerous craft stores, one for almost every residential area or at least in main market areas. However, they stock mostly used notions, and less specilized notions that an avid sewer can't live without, such as, say, invisible zippers, for example. I have to go to a wholesale market area and beg a wholesaler to sell me 10 to 12 zippers! However, lace and trims are found in plenty, and so are bead-worked accessories! 

As for commercial patterns, I can't find them here in India! I can buy them online, of course, but shipping costs are high! In 50s and 60s, and partly in 70s, there were a lot of craft magazines, mainly about needlework and sewing, which included free patterns. Look at this 1975 magazine I got from my aunt (who taught me sewing!)

Where have they all vanished, i was wondering! Then I realized that even amidst my family and friends from the current generation, there is hardly anyone who sews. Most of them prefer ready-made garments available a plenty in nearby stores, or having their clothes made by a neighborhood tailor! 

Tailors are in great demand in our country, and there is a serious shortage of skilled tailors! Gone are the days when you bought fabrics months before festivals like Deepavali and rushed to give them to your favourtie tailor before his order list gets filled up! I wish they make a come back! One reason is that my body shape does not fit a ready-to-wear average size (i am very petite and slim!), and second reason, which stands good even today, are  that design, color and fabric choices, or their combination, are just not the right kind of mix I am looking for! 

For my darling daughter, it has always been home-sewn wardrobe. The few RTW outfits she owns were all gifts from relatives! Here are couple of garments I have sewn for her:

Dhoti Pant / Cowl Pant - a tutorial on how to sew this can be seen here

Thank you, Marina, for having me here, and to all your readers for having the patience to read through such a long post!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Couture linings and more ...

Couture linings are the subject of my next guest post on Burdastyle; and, while the post provides an overview of common lining choices for couture garments, I did want to add some related thoughts on rayon versus silk lining.


Bemberg Ambiance is the best choice for rayon lining.

It is probably no news to you, but did you know that rayon is processed from cellulose (like wood chips)? This is why rayon breathes. It is also relatively lightweight (close to crepe de chine and lighter charmeuse), soft, drapey, firmly woven, washable, durable and cool to wear. Bemberg Ambiance is the best choice for rayon lining because it is drapier than many other rayons and it is definitely anti-static. It is cheaper than silk at approximately $7 per yard, and is available in plain and twill weave.

What makes rayon, generally, difficult to handle, is that it frays like crazy, it fades and deteriorates if exposed to sun for longer periods, and it shrinks considerably (about 10%).

Caring for rayon poses some challenges as well. Ironing out wrinkles on rayon is really a pain. Some people suggest to tumble-dry low to reduce wrinkles. Also, I have heard sewers complaining about progressive shrinkage after washing their garments several times!

However, many Savile Row tailors line their famous custom suits with Bemberg Ambiance! Men wear their suits frequently and for years, so I believe the main reason for this choice is the durability of rayon. However, I heard that for a little extra they would put a silk lining.

Silk for that extra touch of luxury we all deserve

Silk is available in many different weights. Linings that I listed on Burdastyle include China silk as lightest, followed by silk twill, crepe de chine, charmeuse and the heavy weight crepe back satin. Honestly, I never liked anything more than silk. It drapes, it breathes, it adjusts to body temperature and feels great in any weather! A wide choice of different silks, and the fact that they are easier to sew and care for than synthetics and rayon, makes them my preferred choice of lining.

Where I would consider silk only: For lining light- or blouse-weight fashion fabric. Bemberg Ambiance would be somewhat heavy for those. China Silk or lightweight silk twill would be a better choice.

Where Bemberg Ambiance is an option: With medium weight fabrics, especially, those that are subject to a lot of strain in very fitted garments or pants. However, good quality silk twill is relatively durable as well. Rayon feels cool, which makes it a great choice for summer garments which use a medium-weight fabric.

However, nothing can beat a beautiful coat with a heavy-weight silk crepe back satin lining!

What is your experience with silk or rayon lining, readers? Which one do you prefer?

Monday, August 15, 2011

200 followers giveaway: one of my favourite fitting books

I cannot believe how fast time has passed - another 100 followers and, yay, another Giveaway! Thank you soooo much, readers! I love your comments, suggestions, ideas - you really make my days!

Now, let's have a look at this book:

A compilation of articles from past Threads issues. this great book guides you through padding and covering a dress form, grading a pattern, styling, perfect shoulder shaping and much  more. My favorite is the series on padding a dress form, but other articles are great as well! 

All you need to do to win this book is one of the following
  • to be my follower here, on Twitter or on Facebook 
  • to backlink this giveaway post by clicking on ("Links to this post", and then) "Create a Link" at the end of this post: 

1. (if you are on the home page)

Good luck, everyone!

P.S.: Ooups, of course, I forgot to add that the winner will be selected on August 31, once I am back from holiday :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Couture Classes: Sit & Sew Day 4

The last day was frantic for me: I haven't yet put the jacket together, but at least the collar was padstitched and I tried some seam treatments. Kenneth gave me some instruction how to proceed with the jacket and I got his CD book "The tailored jacket", so I believe I am set. He refitted my pants after another round of alterations, but for now, my suit will have to wait until September since tomorrow I am off for a two-week holiday in Maine.

However, readers, here are a few more highlights from the class.

All-in-one facing demo by Kenneth:

Another don't-ask-me-how technique... It went super fast and there is no way I can figure out how. But at least I remember the fly zipper application :-)

Hats by Hanna

She did some amazing job making these hats - very lovely

Louis Vuitton fabric (below) brought from Paris in one of Susan's class trips to the French capital. It's being made into a coat:

A cute leather pouch: zipper application and all the construction was demoed in the class, flowers were done earlier.

Invisible lace seams demo by Susan: another gem, readers. The jacket Susan is helping with is very sheer, and the seems needed to be treated in a way that made them neat and almost invisible.

I saw these technique on a Valentino blouse. Seams are bound into flesh-colour silk organza and virtually invisible once worn.

Honestly, readers, this was not all, we had more demos, including hand-picked zipper and other and got  several great handouts with couture techniques instructions and a list of resources for all things couture. 

I hope you enjoyed this review as much as I enjoyed the class. As for my jacket and pants I will be blogging on it  once I am back from my holiday end of August.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Couture Classes: Sit & Sew Day 3

Welcome back, readers! So, today, it's all about Day 3, which I spent mostly basting underlining to my jacket...

However, I learnt that while men's jackets are entirely interfaced in front (except, of course, for lighter summer versions), women's jackets are often soft tailored, with interfacing covering only center front and the area above the breast and around shoulder. The back support is similar for both sexes. hmm, I guess you knew it already... 

ok, I also decided to underline the jacket, which is not a common thing I understood. Why? I am terrible with my clothes, I let them hang on a chair, throw them on a bed, or any other surface - this is probably because with children I just take care of anything else after I took care of the kids... So, to cut the long story short, I need clothes that are more resistant to wrinkles and that retain their shape despite this disrespectful treatment. Underlining provides exactly what I need and I chose silk organza, so the jacket remains light and soft. Organza complements tweed very well - I love the feel of the two layers. 

For the interfacing, Kenneth recommended very lightweight Hymo hair canvas, which I bought at Steinlauf and Stoller

Finally, I also got my lining cut, for which I chose a solid silk charmeuse from B&J, the only store that had a matching color.  

Cutting and underlining took me entire day, and new demos by Susan and Kenneth were a welcome interruption to this rather monotonous activity.

Corset Demo by Susan

Unrelated remark: see those grey handle scissors? Those are my paper scissors! Never ever come to Kenneth class without paper scissors - he won't take you seriously! I misplaced mine on Day 4 and ended up listening that silicon in paper dulls the blades. And it's true, readers! By the way, the same applies to synthetic fibers. So, if you have expensive tools and sew frequently, listen to Kenneth!

Back to Susan! She showed us where the boning is usually placed in a strapless dress or corset. You can see that the corset has a waist stay, so Susan explained the use of the waist stay. Waist stays take the weight and strain of a garment from a zipper or shoulders. Use waist stay on a strapless dress and never again will you need to pull it up every time it slides down exposing your breasts. For perfect support, use boning, of course.

A waist stay is made of grosgrain ribbon, which is cut slightly shorter than the garment. While the garment would have some ease, the waist stay should fit snugly.

here you can see how waist stay is attached to the corselet

Fly zipper demo by Kenneth

Kenneth showed us this very fast method of putting together a fly zipper. I diligently took pictures of the process, but was not able to remember the steps. It was not complicated at all, but it will require some effort to remember and write it down...

Oh, right, and Devra's project. She wanted to make a vintage dress and bought this amazing italian shirting fabric and matching lining. I think the choice of fabric could not have been better, or?

That's it for today! Hope you enjoyed the post and please leave your comments and questions about the class!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Couture Classes: Sit & Sew Day 2

Readers, Day 2 was so much better (mostly because I finally slept). I continued creating paper pattern pieces from my muslin and transferring adjustments we made to the paper. It was very interesting to see how adjustments are made following Kenneth's method. And I really have to learn his moulage technique. Some of the participants made their moulage in the class, and I was soooo jealous! Well, to compensate I asked Kenneth to bring his Moulage eBook, so I could try make it at home. I will just need someone to take accurate measurements for me.

Lotus Flower Demo

In the morning, Kenneth showed us how to make a Lotus Silk Flower - he made it out of muslin though :-). I have no idea where I would use the Lotus Flower but we all Ooh-ed and Aah-ed because it did look cute. You can making it too - Kenneth posted a tutorial on Thread's magazine blog couple of years ago.

Cutting Lace

Then we were for a treat from Susan! She showed us how she cuts lace, this lace was for one of the participant's project. With lace you want to match as accurately as possible to achieve the best look! With  many projects flower details are thread-traced around them instead of tracing following straight (or curved) lines on the pattern. Those extended details are then appliqued on the adjacent piece... we should  make a lace garment together.

To be able to position pattern pieces accurately, Susan showed us her trick. After she took the fitted muslin apart, she placed it underneath the lace, which was then pinned to the muslin pieces. Then, the lace is cut and thread-traced, ready to be assembled.

The day passed by very fast, and then, when I was ready to leave, guess who came by to say hello? Gretchen (or Gertie). Ann invited us for a drink in her hotel in the Garment District, and then another one downtown and... I thought it was so nice to meet all these wonderful people - at the beginning I was blogging in a vacuum - I knew nobody and I really wanted to connect to like-minded people and here you go. Gertie's and Ann's blogs were first blogs I was looking forward to read every time I came home after work when I just started. And now I am sitting with them on a rooftop terrace in the Garment District. Love sewing and love the sewing community - we are the nicest, most helpful and peaceful people on earth!

from left to right: Ann of Gorgeous Things and Gorgeous Fabrics, Gretchen of Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing and Devra, our class participant and vintage aficionado! I was trying to convince Devra to start blogging...


Monday, August 8, 2011

Couture Classes: Sit & Sew Day 1

This was another class with Susan Khalje, and with – new for me – Kenneth D. King. I did take online classes with Kenneth and was very impressed how resourceful he is, and how innovative are his techniques (all the relevant links are at the end of this post).

I joined this four-day class, which took place in New York’s garment district studio, hoping to start a tweed suit inspired by Burberry’s suit from his AW 2011 collection. The idea was to have one well-fitted pant muslin, as well as to learn more about custom tailoring techniques for ladies’ jackets.

Guipure skirt

Susan showed us her guipure skirt and explained us some construction techniques.

The skirt that she showed us was surprisingly soft. It was constructed in several layers: guipure lace on top, charmeuse under it to give it a color background and some shine. Charmeuse was underlined with lightweight cotton; the guipure lace was tucked in regular intervals to this underlined charmeuse. Silk lining was the last layer. Despite these four layers, the skirt was surprisingly light and soft.

Those who have Thread Archives DVD can read more about the construction of this skirt “Amazing Lace” by Susan Khalje (Issue #124)


Kenneth showed us a demo for one of his signature embellishments

The projects

For the whole day we were busy fitting and re-fitting muslins for projects we wanted to fit.  The group was great, and the projects were exciting: a lace jacket, moulage, coat, dress, pants, my tailored suit, corset, leather pouch and more.

For the traditional Show & Tell session we brought in projects we accomplished with Susan before: Ann (yes, The Ann from Gorgeous Fabrics) brough her Chanel(-inspired) jacket and her lace corset; I had my Chanel(-inspired) jacket and the LBD from the online class on Pattern Review; and Debra showed us her retro-inspired Pucci coat. We all Ohh-ed and Ahh-ed and got on our work again.

Ann of Gorgeous Fabrics (see link below) showed us her Chanel (-inspired) Jacket

Cloning a garment

In between, Kenneth showed Debra how to clone a blouse, using a piece of silk organza. He offers an online garment cloning course on Pattern Review, so check it out – it’s really good.

I love these courses because it’s so much fun to sew in a group. Both, Kenenth and Susan are so great, helpful, always smiling, always willing to explain…

Kenneth even modeled his jeans for me, here:

… and we had time to stitch and bitch, of course:

The only annoying thing was the space: sewing machines were placed too close to each other and there were only four cutting tables. The space was somewhat cluttered and we could not work beyond the studio opening hours (from 9:30 to 5:30). With lunch breaks and some shopping, that gave us only around 25 hours to sew. This is one of the reason’s why I loved the Baltimore class more! The latter was truly a couture boot camp and I could focus entirely on my project.

My suit

Readers, I spent the whole first day transferring muslin markings to paper. Since tailoring is Kenneth’s specialty and he does it this way, he insisted I do it.  And, even though I complained a lot at the beginning, at the end, it was a good idea, because it was much easier to draft lining and interfacing pieces from paper pattern and also to make alterations by cutting, slashing, pasting etc… However, I haven’t touched my fabric for the whole day, I hope it will be cut by the end of the class.

I was also much slower than usual. The day before, on Wednesday, I went to Alexander McQueen exhibition and the choice was: McQueen or muslin making. I chose McQueen, naturally, an spend whole night before the course making the jacket muslin, and another half a day making a pants muslin… phew

Check out these links:
Susan Khalje website: http://susankhalje.com
Kenneth D. King website http://www.kennethdking.com
Kenneth D. King book: Cool Couture
Pattern Review online classes
Gorgeous Fabrics store website
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