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Frida Kahlo and her skirt

And, we move ahead to the next piece of traditional clothing: The skirt.

Now, we should probably set our parameters right from the start: A ‘skirt’ is any piece of clothing that starts somewhere in the vicinity of the waistline and ends somewhere within reach of the knees and the feet. I realize this is a rather broad region, but if we are going to take in everything from a 1960s mini to today’s maxi, that’s what we’ve got to work with. Also, a ‘skirt’ can take in anything as simple as a sarong/lavalava (that is, a piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and held up either by itself or some sort of tie) all the way through 18th Century ‘structures’ which require wood, wire, padding, hoops, and probably a birdcage, and probably weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 30-50 pounds. “Skirts’ can include every sort of fabric manipulation known — pleating, gathering, ruching, gores, embroidery, slits, you name it. (more…)

Huipil-style, final thoughts

Now, usually, your Aunt Toby is one to say, “In sewing, fit is everything,” but in a case where there is no ‘fit’ per se, fabric is everything. OK, in these two cases, it is not only fabric that determines the look, but also one other thing: One inch. Literally one inch in the width measurement makes a huge difference in the look. I did not think it would make that much of a difference, but it did.

First up – the top above, made of quilting cotton. The fabric was washed before I made it and I followed my formula from the last post – biggest measurement, divided by 2, plus 5″. This is also actually a couple of inches shorter, but no bother. I actually like the look better in this incarnation than in the next one, but I’m good with both, actually. Again, this top and this style top is going to have some action in my wardrobe this summer. Certainly the easiest thing to sew, EVER. No buttons, no zips. Each one of these (minus the time for washing, drying and ironing the fabrics and cutting the contrasting strips out) took a couple of hours and most of that was placing, pinning and sewing on the contrasting strips. Perfect ‘fiddle around in the evening’ project.

Second up. This on literally is one inch bigger on the width measurement and a little longer. It is also made of cotton voile. Boy, what a difference that fabric makes, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it’s literally ‘light as a feather’ and will be great for wearing when it gets hot and sticky later. But I think I will take it in a bit at the sides for a little bit less ‘blousy’ look on me.

A couple of thoughts:
In doing a bit more research on Frida Kahlo and her huipils, I found out that most of the decoration on these is actually very dense embroidery, which means that these were a real ‘economic development’ project for her – she bought the fabrics themselves but paid indigenous artisans to make them for her. These were not items which she just picked up in a shop or off a stall in Mexico City. I’m also fairly sure (though again, I’ve never seen one of these in person and so have not held one in my hands) that these weigh a good bit; all of that dense embroidery would require a fairly solid fabric to support it and between that and the embroidery itself, these were not lightweight tops.

Another thought is this: Am I, by using this concept and basic design, indulging in what is referred to today as, ‘cultural appropriation’? That’s a good question and one I continue to go over in my head as I go through these exercises on traditional clothing. I’m not trying to pass off what I’m doing here as a real huipil from the Tehuana region in Mexico; no one looking at them can be in any doubt of that. I feel also a tremendous amount of respect and honor for the artisans who produced the garments for Frida Kahlo to wear and who continue to produce them today. These garments, from skills and time they take in the weaving, embroidery and sewing, are worth every penny of the hundreds of dollars that are being asked for them (though I sometimes wonder if the artisans themselves are being paid that much for all their time and skill). But, from the viewpoint of ‘if I want to make a garment which is simple and sparing of fabric and resources’ standpoint, I think the huipil is an excellent basic traditional garment to use as a model.

Where huipils meet the muslin

In our last episode, we discussed Frida Kahlo, zero-waste clothing and her wearing of indigenous, traditional clothing, as an introduction to making clothing which is less wasteful of fabric, less wasteful of resources, with the first example being what has almost become (besides Kahlo’s crown of braids with flowers woven in) the icon for Kahlo: the Huipil, her seemingly favorite form of blouse. Even in photographs where she is (gasp) wearing pants, she is still wearing one of these colorful, simple tops. (more…)

Where tradition meets invention meets flowers in your hair

Frida Kahlo Over the past several years, certain people/influencers have been having their ‘fashion moment’. My favorite (because it goes with my topic) is Frida Kahlo. The now very famous Mexican painter (she of the indigenous clothing, crown of braids and exotic flowers in her hair, the socalled ‘unibrow’, and the on-again/off-again stormy relationship with Mexico’s most famous muralist and sculptor, Diego Rivera), Kahlo’s daily ‘costume’ (and I use the term particularly) of mixed prints and Tehuana-based indigenous traditional clothing has captured the imagination of everyone from Neem Kahn to Givenchy to Lacroix to Karl Lagerfeld. Why is not the issue here.

What is the issue here is where Kahlo’s penchant (which really was a urgent suggestion of her lover and then husband Rivera, who was an ardent supporter of the movement to get rid of all Western European and colonial influences in Mexico which became active after the Mexican Revolution early in the 20th Century) for using indigenous clothing as a political statement (and also gaining the benefit of hiding her body cast and braces from a trolly accident). I’m not going to get into my own interpretation of this (after Rivera and Kahlo divorced, she painted a self-portrait where she had cut off all of her hair and was wearing men’s clothing, a visual ‘thumb in the eye’ for Rivera, I suspect), but Kahlo popularized Mexican indigenous clothing literally everywhere she went. She was even photographed for the cover of Vogue magazine, long-skirted, peasant bloused, standing in front of a giant cactus, with a red rebozo proudly raised above her head like a liberation flag. (more…)

Make it work — sewing a car seat ‘poncho’

Nothing makes your dear Aunt Toby feel more old than finding out that the stuff the literally was brand new when she was a new mommy not only has changed completely but comes with a whole different set of directions, concerns and legislation now.

When the Little Siberians were brand new, car seats (and at that time, all that was available and considered necessary were infant level seats – I recall that once a child reached a certain height, we were allowed to use a booster seat and that was it AND infant seats at that time were allowed in the front seat, which is how your Aunty developed this rather annoying habit of throwing out her right arm when she had to brake suddenly) were, for the time, considered pretty safety-conscious affairs: An actual seat with a back, with not only a three-point harness inside the seat, but also a way to clip them into the seat-belt clips. (more…)

Raincoat Again – Building a zip-out lining

There are a couple of issues when you are creating a zip-out lining for a raincoat.
1. How are you going to be using this garment? Going to work? A child’s garment for going to school or play? Casual wear?
2. How much movement is involved? (more…)

Raincoats: facing zipper – Part One

When you are making a zipout lining, the facing with the zipper attachment is where ‘the rubber meets the road’. I’m sure there are other methods of doing this, but this is what works for me. What you will need is what is in the top photo: a finished coat facing (this is a separate back collar facing and front facing, sewn together at the shoulders), a separating zipper as long as you can get it and some wide bias binding. Now, you don’t have to have the zipper or the binding match the facing –you can make the bias binding out anything you’d like – more raincoat fabric, contrasting fabric, the fabric you are using for the raincoat lining itself and so on. Fold the zipper in half and mark both sides of the tape with a pen for your center. Also fold the back neck facing in half and mark that one with a pen for THAT center as well; you’ll want to do this so that you can match up the center points on the zipper and the back neck facing.

Step one: Attach the binding to the outside edge of the facing.
What we are doing is attaching something on the outside edge of the facing (which is where the zip out liner is going to attach), which is studier than the raincoat fabric is by itself, in order for the zipper to remain stable. So, what you do is unfold one side of the tape and do it ‘right side to right side’ on the edge and sew it down. Then fold it over, not quite in half – all you are looking for is to cover the raw edge of the facing. You should end up with something that looks like this.

Step two: Match up the center of the binding with the center of one half of the zipper.
Unzip the zipper and lay the binding on one half of the zipper so that it just covers the teeth on the zipper tape. One of the functions of the bias binding is to do this so that you don’t have the teeth exposed when you are wearing the coat without the zip out liner. It should look something like this.

Step three: pin the zipper tape through the binding.
After all the ‘don’t make any more holes in the raincoat fabric than you absolutely have to, I’m breaking my own rules here. This is inside and so the whole waterproof-ness of the outside is not compromised by this and it helps hold the whole thing together because you are going to sew the zipper tape to the binding by hand. Yes, I know there are folks who hate, hate, hate hand sewing. As I said, I’m sure there are people who do this by machine, but I do not.
The way I do this is that I go back to the center match up and pin there and then work to the left and right pinning until I get to either end. Sounds crazy, I realize, but with something as long as this, I want to make sure I don’t end up with ‘crawling’.

Step four: Baste down this half of the zipper. Again, just as with the pins, I start basting in the center back point and baste one half side down to one end and then go back and baste down the other half side all the way down to the end. This will prevent the zipper ‘crawling’ out of synch. Now that I have this firmly attached to the bias tape at the edge, I will pull out the zipper foot on my machine and sew that half of the zipper down.

In Part Two, I will make the zip-out liner itself and attach the other half of the separating zipper to that and put the facing into the coat.

Raincoat: Pockets

One of the things about making outerwear is having the ability to customize. Want a purple ski jacket? You can do it. Want a jacket with a ‘poachers pocket’ in the back? No problems. Want a jacket with vertical chest pockets with zippers so that you can put a bottle of penicillin and keep it warm if you have to doctor sheep out in the barn in January and it’s 0 degrees F out there? Yep. You can do that too (speaking of which, I used to have a lovely jacket from Woolrich, unfortunately colored pink, which ended up as a barn coat for precisely that reason. Trying to draw liquid antibiotics out of a bottle through a rubber stopper with a syringe when it is under 30 degrees is like trying to suck roast beef through a straw (more…)

Raincoats: Using Seam Sealing Tape

Unlike other sewing posts here on KCE, I’m not doing this coat in chronological order — we’ve all got our ‘big sewist panties’ on and I don’t think we need that. What this series is all about is the very specific items or skills which make working with something like a raincoat or water resistant fabrics different or new. It will all come together at the end, I promise.

There are, as I’ve discussed before, several different ways to seal the seams on raincoats or other outerwear made with waterproof or water resistent fabrics:
Seam sealer which is squeezed out of a tube and painted on the seams with a brush (with which, to be honest, I don’t have any experience);
Seam sealing tapes, which is the point of discussion here. (more…)

Raincoat: Things to remember

When working with ‘outdoor’ fabrics, it’s really useful to remember a couple of things:

Unless you know otherwise, the fibers are man-made and will MELT at temperatures used to iron. Period. (more…)

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