The Curious History of “Tribal” Prints

There’s an interesting article my friend Liz sent my from Slate.com on Dutch Wax Prints. When I was in Ghana several years ago, it was clear that ‘Dutch’ wax was considered the best in ‘tribal’ prints. The article goes on to say that the prints we readily associated with West Africa are really more Indonesian than anything. Here’s the article if you’re interested.

Athropologie has used them to cover ottomans and to upholster chairs. Woolrich Woolen Mills turned them into short-sleeve button-ups, and Agnes B. used them to make a summer suit. Burberry Prorsum tailored them into prim dresses and separates, while over at L.A.M.B., Gwen Stefani has used them to make some of the smallest minis known to man. Even the new Marni collection for H&M is studded with them.* 

Here’s a link to the fabric I bought in Ghana and projects made by my sewing friends with it.

And the only one left in my closet is this Tracy Reese Vogue pattern. I have just one more cut left and it’s become ‘too nice to use’. I suspect I won’t even touch it until this dress falls apart.

I grew out of my original favorite… it now resides with my mom. I like to tell myself it was always too small in the bust… If I could get my hands on this material or a similar border print, I would sew it up again in a heartbeat.

Sewing From My Stash

I’ve had extra time on my hands the last few weeks due to my frequent male companion’s six and now seven-day work week (project roll out). While I am sorry for him, I’m pretty happy with all the extra evenings I’ve been gifted. One of the projects I’ve tackled with this windfall of free time is cleaning up my basement / sewing area. Twenty minutes a night for a week seriously cleared out 50 percent of the clutter. I went through bins of fabric. Not organizing really, but taking a cue from Trena and making a concerted effort to sew from my stash.

I’m not even talking random projects to use up my stash. But projects that I actually already want to make.  In truth, I was shocked to see that I had at least 30 projects when I compiled my list. Thirty projects with pattern and fabric matched! I could sew at least two garments a month and still not be done in a year. And, I’ll be honest. There are still about 100 cuts of fabric outside of those 30 projects. My slide show is below (RSS Readers, please click through). Some of the items I’ve made before, but want to re-make. Some are so that when a wedding comes around I’m not scrambling for an outfit to wear (I have at least one, possibly three this summer in addition to two black-tie events).

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My goals are simple.

  1. Not sew maniacally for events because I don’t have anything in my closet
  2. Sew the projects that I’ve wanted to work on
  3. Not be distracted by new projects or fabric. It just takes time away from things I want to make.

By focusing on these projects that I want to make, I want to avoid the sewing slump of not knowing what I want to make. By sewing things I’m passionate about, I can make room for new things and fresh ideas. I’ve made two fabric purchases this year.

There is material in my stash I ADORE. But, I don’t know what to do with them. If i focus on what I do have ideas for, that will allow me to think about those other projects. So, there you have it. Sewing projects for likely the next two years. Crazy, right?

I’m working on uploading my spreadsheet to Google docs so it’s all on public display :)

Hey Girl. Remember Me?

Yes…. this. This jacket is cursed. It is the Christine of jackets. I started this tuxedo jacket in Feburary 2011. Things were going swimmingly until I put the pockets in the wrong place. Then, I didn’t have any lining and had to wait until a run to the store. Once I got the lining that would help the jacket match the tuxedo pants I’d already completed, I was over it.

Ten months later I picked the jacket back up only to realize one of the sleeves was missing.

This jacket just does not want to get sewn. But, that’s not enough for me to call it cursed. Stick with me here.
So, in the last week I’ve cut and sewn the lining. And, I cut and sewed a new sleeve. Well, cut a new sleeve after I spent over an hour looking for the hopsack material to cut the sleeve. Except, once sewn, I realized I’d put the sleeves in backward (wrong arm holes). Cursed.

I may possibly be over the jacket again ‘cuz the tuxedo trend definitely seems to be leaving town!

Oh. And remember how I sharpeid the grey cloth buttons I had because the shipping on black tuxedo buttons cost more than the buttons? Yeah. Couldn’t find the originals. I suspect they jumped ship with the original sleeve.

And this is how it looks tonight. One sleeve in. The other on the cutting table. I’ve done enough battle with this jacket for a few days. I don’t even know why I was so anxious to try and finish! Yes. Time for another break from the tuxedo I’d say.

Meet My Tailor

I really should wear more suits to the office. Not every day. But, at least a few times a week when I have meetings with outside people or am with my boss. My female boss wears a suit every day. Her female boss wears a suit ever day. I don’t.  I look nice. I look creative and I look fun. 

A few months ago I was at a meeting at the Pentagon. I was the youngest person in the room by 20 years. Not only was I one of a few women in a room of 50 people, I was the only woman of color. And, I was the only person not in a suit or uniform. I felt incredibly conspicuous.

I realized I was just not going to sew the suits I had in my mind. On my way home from that meeting, I stopped at the outlets and stocked up on about six suits for under $100 each. They all needed altering. I’m not a standard bust, I have muscular legs and a massive swayback. My purchased suits needed fitting.

I thought I would do it myself. But, last week I realized it wasn’t going to happen and took them to my tailor, Liliya. She’s a former neighbor who started an alteration and custom clothing business. Liliya is originally from Odessa, Ukraine. She told me she was so surprised to come to the US and see that women didn’t fix their own clothes and that a living could be made making alterations.

Now to be fair, she gets annoyed with me because she thinks she’s taking me for a ride. But, the truth is, I don’t have the time or desire to do alterations. As we’ve discussed, it’s a different skill set. I’m way more in to the creation of a garment. Not the fixing of it. And, my time is worth paying for.

And so now I can be far more relaxed in my sewing! Everytime I sewed something not work appropriate I would be a little mad at myself. But, now I’m free to sew what I want! I don’t have to stress every morning about what I’m going to wear. It reminds me of when I had a part time job at Lord and Taylor *just* to buy suits. I was a speechwriter in the Governor’s Office and everyone wore suits. Even the support staff.  That was well over 10 years ago and I’ve grown out of every single one of those suits. But back then, I sewed much more for fun rather than function.


Liliya takes my pants and blazers in at the waist and hems my skirts and trousers. These pants took in nicely. There are a few that now dip at CB, but they fit!


I’ve also invested in disposable dress shields. Sexy, right? I do plan on making some fabric / cotton ones in the near future.

But, I will need a lot more shells and blouses.  This sequin tank is from J.Crew on clearance. At the end of the day, I also feel much more put together at work. When I wore this suit, I had four different people tell me how nice I looked and my boss specifically said, ‘professional’.

Last night I was asked if I consider suits to be more professional than dresses. No, I don’t. Especially woven dresses. But, I think other people do. This person noted the Hillary Clinton pantsuit as his example of it being more professional.  What do you guys think? Are dresses as professional as suits?