My latest wearable creation is a cross-cultural fusion, representing the global marketplace at its best. I used the pattern for a traditional Tibetan panel coat from Folkwear, with the outside panels from handwoven mud cloth from Mali and commercial black linen fabric, which were then embellished with batik-dyed bone beads from Kenya and cowrie shells. The vest is lined with a cotton print that has a hand-dyed look and cream-colored linen fabric. The facings are in a wine-colored linen fabric. I can see that this is yet another example of my penchant for wearing costumes.
Back of vest, half-beaded.
See the difference the beading made?
Vest front, half-beaded
The beading made a huge difference in this piece. Before the shoulder pieces were beaded, the vest wasn't particularly flattering. The visual weight took the eye downward, toward the wider part of the panels. I tried out a couple of different fabrics for the shoulder pieces, but none of the colors looked right. (I don't have much in the way of earthtones in my fabric stash.) In the end, I went with a heavier-weight black fabric (cotton? silk? I'm not sure). This helped support the shoulder line of the garment, but didn't create much visual contrast with the rest of the vest. Once I sewed the bone beads and cowrie shells on the shoulder pieces, the shoulders gained greater visual weight and looked wider, creating more balance with the width of the bottom of the vest. I also like the way that the batik-dyed bone beads blur the line between the black and white spiral mud cloth piece and the shoulder piece.
Vest back, detail of beading
Vest, front left shoulder, detail of beading
Vest, left side
I knew I wanted to put the spiral bone beads under the arm to connect with the spiral mud cloth fabric of the front panels. I also wanted some more cowrie shells, and I figured putting them underneath the spiral beads would camouflage the slight puckering of the linen fabric underneath the shoulder accent piece. This ended up becoming a line of cowrie shell and spiral bead fringe, which has a lovely movement and sound as the shells bump into each other. As a happy coincidence, this creates a visual line at the waist, which is flattering, particularly in a loosely fitting garment like this. Who knew?
Armhole, beading detail
This vest is a great example of why I have trouble answering the question, "How long did it take you to make that?" First of all, I don't keep track of my hours in any precise way when I am involved in a lengthy project. Second, I tend to work on multiple projects simultaneously, and I may put aside one project for months (or even years) before getting back to it. This tends to happen when I hit a snag in the design or construction process.
Vest front, opened to show lining
I started making this vest a year ago. It took me a day or two to cut out the pattern pieces; this process was complicated by the fact that I was trying to maximize the visual impact of the mud cloth design from three separate pieces of mud cloth. There were a few places where the weave needed to be reinforced, so I backed those sections with a piece of cotton fabric, using fusible web. I also had a hard time finding a lining fabric, as I have little in my fabric collection that fits with the muted earthtones of the mudcloth, so there was some hunting and pondering time in there. I don't remember how long it took me to sew the panels together, but I put in extra time serging the raw edges of the fabric to keep the handwoven fabric from raveling. Unfortunately, just as I was serging the last seam on the lining, I ended up cutting into the fabric. Argh! This kind of snag is what usually makes me put the project aside until I feel ready to deal with it again.
Closeup of patch on lining
What with my work schedule and other projects, I didn't get back to this vest until a month ago. I've been on a mission to finish up my works-in-progress, so I pulled this project out as the next to be completed. I decided to put a patch on the cut section of the lining fabric, so I had to hunt through my stash again to find a complementary fabric. The cotton print with cowrie shells seemed perfect, so I fussy-cut a patch and fused it onto the lining, using a decorative stitch to anchor it. It actually looked neat, kind of like a postage stamp or a designer label. In fact, I liked it so much that I was sorry to see it partly covered by the facing. It's nice when a mistake turns into a design feature.
The next challenge was basting the outer layer and the lining together. The outer layer had stretched quite a bit more than the lining, and I ended up basting, ripping out the basting, and re-basting, which took quite a bit of time as it was all done by hand. Once that was fitted together, it was time to do the facings and the neckband, which I hand-basted, machine stitched, and then hand-tacked to the lining. The facings and neckband alone took several days to complete, largely due to the hand-stitching. It helped that we were snowed in, so I had a week to work on the vest (between bouts of shoveling snow, that is).
Then I auditioned various possible shoulder fabrics in between sewing cowrie shells by hand on the neckband. I finally chose the black fabric and hand-stitched the shoulder pieces in place. It was clear that it needed more beading, so I tried out various bead arrangements (more pondering time here). After deciding on the bead design, it was just hours and hours (and hours!) of hand sewing the beads and then the whole garment was finally complete.
I could, of course, try to estimate all the time involved in the design, construction, and embellishment of the vest. But that isn't even the whole story. Really, this vest began a decade ago, when I first had the idea of making a panel coat from mud cloth, and I began my search for the fabric and beads. I got gorgeous pieces of mud cloth from African import stores in Georgetown and purchased bone beads in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan (neighborhoods in Washington, DC). I searched online for cowrie shells of the right size and color -- I only found the ones I used here quite recently. Or maybe the story really began twenty years ago, when I made a Tibetan panel coat for my sister and dreamed of having one of my own (I probably should have kept that one and given her something she would have liked better -- I doubt she got much use out of it). How do we count the hours of imagination and dreaming and looking for supplies?
This is why I never know how to answer the question, "How long did it take you to make that?" except to say . . . "A long time."