My parents have done a lot of traveling to Africa over the last few years. The first time they went they brought me back a heap of lovely wax print (also known under the names African wax print, Dutch wax print- a term I avoid, and my preferred name, Ankara) fabrics from Namibia and Malawi. I let them sit for an embarrassingly long time in my stash. Beautiful though they are, I was a little intimidated by the intense colors and large scale prints. Over New Year’s I travelled with my family to South Africa (gorgeous, amazing, breathtaking country and people, I highly recommend a visit!) and added to my stash with several cuts of my own choosing.
First, let me explain why I think Dutch wax print is a problematic term. Essentially, it is a term of colonization, and one that takes credit for a beautiful thing and gives credit for it to the group of white people who enslaved the people who created it. The technique was inspired by Indonesian batik and today most wax print fabric is made on the African continent. With this complicated history and the potential for cultural appropriation I felt intimidated and wanted to proceed with my work in the most respectful manner I could. I spent a lot of time soul searching, doing a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. In the end, I came down to the fact that I had this beautiful fabric and wanted to honor the rich and varied African cultures with my work by making it into beautiful things.
That decision made, a sewalong popped up on instagram at just the right moment. Sew Wax Lyrical is an Ankara sewalong hosted by one of my favorite seamstresses and judged, in part, by another. I started out attempting a peplum blouse (I wanted to honor the style of Ankara fashion without ripping it off outright and peplums are pretty ubiquitous in this fabric, if not so much in my own wardrobe). I wanted to use this amazing Ankara fabric I bought in Cape Town, white with large scale yellow and red horses and the negative space filled in with little navy chicken feet so I knew a muslin was in order. (Am I growing into a real seamstress or what?! A muslin, look at me.) I recently took Fit for Real People from the library so I did some paper pattern fitting and determined that I needed to move some darts. I’d never done that before, but hey, I can try new things. Only problem was that this particular pattern is a vintage style (rerelease?) and has a double dart, both of which were quite low and didn’t point to my bust point. This set off a firestorm of attempted changes and dart rotations. At this point I think I have it right… and then I just lost my focus. I couldn’t decide whether to prewash (instagram sewists say prewash, and that was my instinct too, until the fabric merchant in Cape Town looked at me like I had kicked her dog when I said I was going to. Apparently the strategy there is the cut it as is from the manufacturer and wash as infrequently as possible. Now I’m battling between not prewashing making the fabric easier to work with but it also having the potential to shrink on my during the first wash. Have thoughts? Opinions? I want to hear them in the comments!). I couldn’t decide what fabric to use to muslin. So I did what anyone sensible would do: I left all of my materials on the floor in a heap and made a dress for my daughter instead.
Three full paragraphs and I’m barely at the description of the garment I’m blogging? Well, I did warn you with the title I suppose. Anyhow, I bought Clara from Violette Field Threads when it first came out. It’s been sitting on my computer since then with no love. In the end what I made was really more of a FrankenClara in the end. I used the bodice from Clara, skipped the shoulder ruffles, used the sleeve pieces from the Shwin and Shwin Modern Baby Doll and the biggest rectangle I could squeeze with the remaining fabric for a gathered skirt. In the end I didn’t read the pattern directions right and cut the back on fold by mistake. This added an extra inch in bodice circumference (2x0.5” seam allowance). After debating with Nina about what I should do, we decided to leave it closureless and the extra ease makes it so she can pull it on and off herself. Miraculously, the sleeve pieces from the Modern Baby Doll fit almost perfectly into the size 4 Clara bodice. Happy accidents.
Unfortunately I didn’t really have enough fabric left to really go for the gathered skirt I wanted. This meant that I gathered, pinned, basted, checked, ripped out, repinned, etc. several times until I landed on little/no gathers on the back and most of the ease distributed across the front in a way so that the volume looks balanced and the slightly off center focal print is shifted to the center. When I tried it on her this morning she liked the length, but I thought it was a touch short, plus it hadn’t been hemmed. I had a bit I could get 5” wide and sewed them together, pressed in half, gathered up and then serged onto the hem. Voila, a dress she loved so much she didn’t want to model, just play, and is already planning to wear it to school tomorrow (with leggings and a sweater, it’s not that warm yet).