Oops, that was a long time without posting! I've been quite busy lately, although part of it was for fun (a weekend of rock climbing in the Ardennes!). Even too busy for sewing... After finishing that 1943 dress, I didn't do anything related to my personal sewing until today!
Anyway, I did have a chance to watch this week's episode of the Great British Sewing Bee. Are you watching that too? If you are but running a bit behind, don't worry, there are no real spoilers in this post. And I am just in time to write about it, one day before the new episode...
This week was international week. A new topic for this show and it turned out to be an interesting one (they are expanding their horizons anyway, last week was lingerie week, another first). It also made me think of things I have seen in museums and on real people, things I have researched and some fabric in my stash.
The pattern challenge was to make a Chinese style top, referred to in the program as a "qipao". I don't think that is correct, as far as I know the term qipao always refers to a dress (a dress which is also known as "cheongsam" or, according to Wikipedia, in English as "Mandarin gown". I thought the English name was "Shanghai dress").
The last time I was at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, I also had a good look at all the textiles in displays about the history, culture and art of different countries. In the section about China, they also showed the development of the qipao from a long, loose dress to the body hugging garment we know today.
I only took pictures of two of the dresses. This one is from the early 20th century and shows an in-between shape. Although this qipao will fit closely over the wearer's body and legs, it still has kimono sleeves which mean a looser fit at the upper body.
This one is a modern creation by a female Chinese designer (I didn't write down the name...). I think it is quite clever and interesting. A theory about the development of the qipao suggests that it was a hybrid of western and traditional Chinese women's dresses and yet, here in Europe, it is now seen as a quintessentially Chinese garment. This dress seems to play with those ideas: The shape references both the qipao, the little black dress and even a ladies' suit. The material is black lace (a western material) over off-white silk but the the designs incorporated in the lace are those of traditional Chinese brocades (especially that dragon on the chest).
I've never tried making a qipao myself. I think they are beautiful but it is always tricky to make and wear a garment which is associated with another place and not make it look costume-y. The combination of that side zipper and the diagonal, curved overlap looked complicated though!
And then there was the made-to-measure challenge: West African inspired dresses made from African wax print fabric!
Now, that is a material I have worked with. Most recently in last year's 1966 dress. I can actually buy some fabric like this at my local market and I'm always intrigued by the sheer variety of the the designs. Way back in 2009 (pre-blog but on Burdastyle) I bought a piece of this material in a design I liked.
I made this skirt from it. As lovely as this fabric may be, it is not something a pale Dutch girl like me can wear all-over (I thought some of the models on the Bee had the same problem). I did wonder a little bit about me wearing this West African style material but when my neighbour, who comes from that part of the world, complimented me on it, that settled the matter for me.
The design on my fabric is large and random. Those big diagonal lines go across the entire width of the fabric and lengthwise, the repeat takes more than a meter. Whenever I sew (and I still have more of it because you buy this stuff in set amounts, of 4 meters if I remember correctly) with this, I think about which part of the design to use where, not about pattern matching.
I would still like to find another wax print in more muted colours so I could make a dress (but there's not much chance of that. Printers making this stuff know their target market and customers look great in bright colours). And this episode of the GBSB made me think of making a very different kind of skirt from the fabric I have. Something with a lot of fit-and-flare.
Oh, by the way, who else thought it was probably a good thing they didn't do this particular challenge last year? Chinello would have crushed this one!
And I really liked the background story of the fabric. I would have sworn I had written a blog post about that as well a couple of years ago but I can't find it. It was pretty much the same story though: How this style of fabric developed in response to early global trade. The only thing they didn't tell on tv was that there is still one Dutch company printing this fabric for the West African market: Vlisco. I wondered if the fashion clips they showed of ladies wearing these prints came from Vlisco. The aesthetic looked very similar to their advertising.
I liked the dresses the contestants made although I thought compared to the real thing they actually seemed a bit eh... tame. I was puzzled about the focus on peplums. To my knowledge, peplums are just one option in West African dresses. Just very fitted is also an option. And so are very full skirts. And the basic every-day look is a loose dress (like the ones you could see in the bit about the African saleswomen).
Oh, and that criticism Patrick had on the ruffle, about how it created to much bulk on the tummy? I'm no expert but I think he is showing his roots there. Isn't one of the beauties of West African fashion its ability to celebrate the female form in all shapes and sizes? That pre-occupation with flat tummies doesn't seem to fit in with that.
Tomorrow's episode will be all about the 1960's. The preview showed the kind of vintage sewing machines I have worked on in M's studio and some rather extreme fabrics. I'm looking forward to it!