Pattern Review: Vogue 1086, Tracy Reese Dress in Ghanaian Wax Print

I have to make a disclaimer here and say that I sew very infrequently from the Big 4 Patterns. I’m so used to the skeletal directions provided by Burda that I find myself almost confused when sewing from Big 4 patterns. So many words! So many markings on the pattern!

I pretty much buy every Tracy Reese pattern from Vogue that comes out. I love that she’s a young African American designer and I think if I want to keep seeing more from her, than I need to financially support her too. Luckily, her designs are worth every penny.

I decided to make a dress for my East Coast to Far East capsule because I have four days of business meetings and two banquets in Xiamen. Plus, I have a nice dinner planned for Saturday night in Shanghai.  A dress is perfect for these situations. There was some talk of business attire. I snorted. I *refuse* to take a business suit with me.

Alterations: I just raised the neckline up by 1.5 to 2 inches. I didn’t do a swayback and I didn’t make a FBA. I do find the top very roomy (I made a size 14) but suspect that’s partly the look of the dress. If I had thought about it, I would have piped the waistband as it gets a bit lost on this dress with my fabric.

For interfacing, I used a woven from Sew Exciting. It adds a wonderful crispness to the wax print. I used straight of grain interfacing on the neckline of the dress to stabilise it.

I planned to line the entire dress, but couldn’t figure out how to do the bodice. Well, I could figure it out, but I didn’t have time so just the skirt was done. I thought for like three seconds about trying to match up my print to cut out. But, I didn’t bother. It’s not a huge scale and I made sure to avoid having big flowers on my bust apex.

As I was sewing this dress, I was a little worried that it would be too ethnic looking. Not that it’s bad. But, I wanted the fabric to stand on its on and not look like I was misappropriating a traditional cultural print. The busy print of the fabric makes the details of dress hard to see. But, there is some lovely gathering in the shoulders and waist.

The fabric was purchased three years ago when I went to Ghana. I bought an OBSCENE amount of material. I salivated at the beautiful colors and tradition. I definitely purchased far more than I should have in retrospect. I have one last piece left and am still waiting for the perfect project.

So, in my last post I said I should rent a Kindle. Well, I went to the bookstore to get a guide book for Shanghai and made a TOTAL impulse purchase and bought the Nook. I loves it. I’m still taking my netbook with a few movies loaded. Thanks for the tips regarding iTunes. It sounds like the rented movies should work since I don’t have to login to the internet to watch them on my netbook.

And, now that I have a remote control for my camera, I take an OBSCENE amount of photos. And, you can think I’m vain, but I’m going to post them because I LOVE THIS DRESS. I feel fun and cute and skinny.

This is my Trena picture. Because I’m wearing my lime glasses, LOL. Totally retro, right?

Another Ghana Print in the Mix

Well, I spoke too soon. Last summer when the PR Mods came to Baltimore for a visit, I gifted another piece of Ghana print to Pyrose. I wasn’t sure what to do with it and she had admired my maxi dress. Well, she really made it in to something and posted it yesterday!

Trying not to be mad I gave it away because I think she really used an amazing pattern. Of course, it’s a Burda :)

Speaking of Ghana

President Obama is on the African continent (have you ever tried to list all the African countries you can? I torture my interns every year and make them try. For the record, I can only do around 20 out of near 60 myself). I thought it might be fun to recount the fabric I got in Ghana two years ago and what has happened to it. I bought about six pieces. Which, in retrospect, is more fabric than I’ll ever buy on a trip again. But, I couldn’t contain myself :)

Here’s a slideshow of some of the garments I saw on the Ghanaian women.

I made this dress for a fashion show that the model ended up buying, BWOF 8-2002-11

First, I made this maxi dress

Then this green dress

I gifted one piece to Trena

And a second piece to Christina (photo courtesy of

The rest, remain in the stash

While in Ghana I also made my own wax print

I got my hair braided there, but this is sadly the only photo I have :( But, was so excited to find those earrings after two years missing.

And, my favorite photo from the trip

The sewing room. Nothing has been done. Nothing. But, I’m definitely not painting the knotty pine

As for the ‘dating life’ question. Thank you for the feedback on both sides.  I have new great responses and recognize why I get asked. Obviously not all people mind it nor think it’s rude. Which I’ll remember the next time I’m asked.  *I* don’t like being asked because if there isn’t anything going on, it’s generally not a topic I want to touch. And, I’m such a blabbermouth, that if something is going on, I’m like the town crier.

Best Laid Plans

The only sewing I got done today was on my Butterick 4919 UFO. It’s probably the last warm week of the year and I thought I should finish it up before moving on to my fall clothes. It just needed to be hemmed for the last month and I didn’t feel like it until this morning. Full review here.

I did wear the dress to work today. I had an event that ran two hours vs. the 30 mins I thought it would be. Then I picked up a friend and did a little shopping. And now I’ve got to clean up a little before going out to dinner. Pooh.

Also, I promised months ago to show you the outfit I had made for my mom in Ghana.

That is neither me or my mom modeling. It’s a friend of mine who borrowed it for an African benefit dinner. I did choose the fabric, but the design is all the seamstresses.

Kente Weaving

So, the one thing I did not buy in Ghana was Kente cloth. I really really wanted to, but it turns out I don’t actually like it. This fairly expensive cloth has been worn by kings in Africa for centuries. I thought I couldn’t leave without some, but I did.

While I personally didn’t care for it, I was amazed by the process in making it. I was also amazed that I really only saw men weaving or sewing it. It’s made on a huge loom using both hands and feet to weave the fabric.

Each strip is about six inches wide, and the patterns are at angles only, no curved shapes.

Strips can then be sewn together, creating great big pieces of kente.

Another interesting thing I learned is that men need 12 yards of fabric to make these outfits and women just six. Hence, why fabric is sold in 12 and six yard bundles. But there is no such thing as feminine fabric. So men and women buy and wear the same prints.

I was told that they were part of the Ghanaian Royal Family. I have his name written down somewhere….

Serious jet-lag. It’s 2:00 a.m. and I’m wide awake. That’s going to suck come lunch time.

What I Got

** Edited to add more fabrics I found while unpacking. Yes, that’s right. I bought so many I lost track. Is that wrong?

I see the first as a long maxi dress, the second a wrap dress and the third was originally for Nicegirl. But, now I’m not sure if it’s for her. I’ll let her tell me I guess.

This was a gift from our fixer Aisha. After hearing my exclamations over every print I saw in town she brought this. She had some in her stash and thought I might like it. I’m thinking brown silk for underlining and an off the shoulder bodice in gold or brown with this as the skirt. Not that I have a need for a dress like that.


What I got out of Africa was a big lesson in not eating off the street. But, I was so hungry on Saturday that I ate fried plantain chips off the street. For the love of all that is holy. My stomach is still not right. Oy.

But, for fabric, here’s what I got….

There are two pieces missing. They are already made into outfits for me and my mom which I will show you over the weekend.

And now, I am off to bed. This time it was 24 hours of travel with stops in Nigeria and Frankfurt on a plane with the AC set to ‘meatlocker’. I’m also ashamed to admit that the first two things I ate in the US was McDonalds and pizza. If I never see rice and chicken again…

Back to work in the morning!

There is a baptist church everywhere

Church Ladies

On Sunday I attended a Presbyterian church service in Tema, Ghana. I figured it would be fairly staid and dull. Then, the church choir, resplendent in long choir robes with kente woven in, began dancing down the aisle. My co-worker turns to me and says “There is a Baptist church everywhere.” And she was right. I felt like I was on the set of Sister Act.

Earlier in the week, I went to a choral performance of Negro spirituals in a slave castle in Cape Coast by Morgan State University Choir. Listening to ‘Wade in the Water’ and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” standing on the spot that thousands of slaves were crowded and shipped to England, the West Indies and America gave me chills and gave these songs a clarity I hadn’t seen before. By the time the performance concluded I had tears running down my face. I won’t get in to politics, race, colonialism and slavery here. But, I want to tell you that going to Africa changed my life. I see, feel, taste and explore things in a whole new light.

I guess I just want to say that I’m a changed woman.

Bless dis ‘ead

Updated with photos

‘Lawd, faddah in ‘eaven. Bless dis ‘ead and satisfy dis ‘ead wit good looks and blesssing. In the name of Jesus Christ, the name of the faddah, de son and de ‘oly ghost I prayed, amen.’

Tomorrow is my last day in Ghana and I have many stories to tell, though I may not get to all of them here. But, I do want to tell you what happened today.

I was determined to get my hair braided while in Ghana. Especially after a young woman told me about a man named Clement who would do it for 21 cidis. The braids I want easily cost $150 at home. I was totally up for it.

At 11 this morning he came to my hotel and told me that I needed to give him cab fare. Ummm, ok. I go upstairs and pay his three cidi cab. He’s gone for 30 mins. In the hotel lobby, a native Ghanaian now in the US (maybe Ann’s neighbor!) tells me, “There is no such thing as ‘time’” here and that Clement will return.

Clement comes back and I ask him where is the hair for the extensions and he tells me he needs to buy it and he doesn’t have the money. I get a sinking feeling. Fine, I give him 10 more cidis. After all this goes on, the front desk woman tells me that the work should only cost seven cidis plus hair. Not the 21 he told me by phone. He comes back after an hour. I tell him I am only paying 20 cidis including cab and hair for my friend and I to be braided. He says o.k.

Clement begins the braiding session asking for hairspray. That’s what I thought he said with his French Nigerian tinged English. Instead he layed hands on me and gave the prayer above. Oh. pray. Not spray. My bad.

Then, for two hours he braids faster than I know to be humanly possible. He also says prayers outload in French, Ebo and his broken English. I learn that the woman who gave me his number is his sister and of, uh, somewhat ill repute. He gives me the five finger blessing when he’s done, “Acachowwah” in the Ebo language.

Six hours later when he has completed both my friend and myself, I pay him 25 cidis. In a country where the average salary is two cidi a day, it’s a lot of money. He should only get 14. That and he told me it would take just two hours for both of us yet it takes triple that (sinceh he ducked out for lunch and dinner). He asks me for another five cidis. My friend suffered from Western guilt and gave it to him. He then proceeded to again lay hands on us before asking for our leftover lunch and shampoo.

His prayer must have worked because my hair is lovely.

I fly home tomorrow! And let me tell you, the three days spent in the Ghana interior make me appreciate toilet paper, hot water and mosquito netting more than I thought possible.

Batiking I will go

You cannot be a black woman in West Africa and not feel that God created you to work with fabric. I’m not even joking when I say that. Everywhere you go women are working with thier hands to create fabric or clothing. For crying out loud, I saw not one but two different women carrying Singer hand crank machines on their head!

Last Tuesday I made batik fabric with two other women from my group. I really had to talk them in to it. Honestly, I think they went because our hotel was so miserable and there was nothing else to do. Plus, after a day of visiting slave castles and attending meetings on the African slave trade, anything would cheer us up.

We arrived by the ocean to Eli and Emma’s. They told us to pick out two patterns. There were hundreds to chose from. Each pattern was cut into a block of foam.

We took each block and dipped it in to the hot wax boiling over the clay pot fire. From there, we stamped our fabric. As soon as the foam hit the fabric, I could feel my companions mood change. They started smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves. I practcally did a dance just from being in the room.

After stamping the fabric we dipped it in dye and worked it with our hands.
The women were outside mixing the dye colors in old relaxer jars.

Then, the fabric sits in the sun so the colors can develop.

Once that is done, you put the fabric in boiling hot water to remove the wax, then cold water to set the dye.

I chose to use a Ghanian symbol for “Accept God” that and some butterflies in my normal Andes mint color combo of green and brown. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this yet. I’m so pleased with how it came out and loved every moment of making it.

It’s a sickness really

Well. Ahem. I, uh, went fabric shopping today. I am happy to report that negotiating is a way of life here. So, that means you can score fabric at some pretty good prices. It’s similar to shopping at the Arab markets in Israel. The first fabric I fell for was 120,000 cidis. I sucked my teeth and attempted to walk away. He implored me to stay. The dance was on. By the end, I got my six yard purchase for 11 cidis, about $11 USD.

Fabric is sold in six yard bolts, 36 – 45 inches wide. The fabrics I looked at were a little over $2 a yard. I’m having one shirtdress made here (I forgot to ask the seamstress for pockets) and a two piece outfit for my mom. They’ll have it ready for a fitting on Saturday and all done by Monday. I was tempted to get more made because of the cost, but my joy is sewing.

As I told my fellow travelers, fabric lasts forever. While they bought jewelry that may be lost and objects for thier home they will later question, I will always have my fabric. I can’t wait to get home and show what I got! I think all told, about 48 yards. Hmmm. That sounds like a lot when said out loud.

Well, I’m just trying to do my part to support the economy of my ancestors. Yep. That’s it. No self gain here whatsover.

I also received money from dear old dad today. Even at 31 years old, I still need my folks to help me out.

To bed! Tomorrow we leave for Cape Coast. I’ll be be back in Accra by the weekend and hope to update you then.