Take that, Fabindia!

§ July 24th, 2009 § Filed under Sewing § 18 Comments

As my sabbatical draws to a close and I prepare to leave home for the US again, I am reflecting on my year of research – libraries I visited, progress I made on my new project, etc. etc. But whatever archival jackpots I may have hit, whatever dead-ends I may have faced in my research (there have been some of both), the singular achievement of this year has to be, without doubt, my conquest of the basic handloom cotton salwar-kurta.



I still cannot believe I have not tried this before! It is enormously exhilarating, and just as much fun as knitting, but in a very different way. Frogging a seam in sewing is somehow worse than undoing a few knitted rows. In knitting you are prepared for the long haul, especially with shawls and sweaters, but here I was unprepared for the instant gratification of the finished product. I loved the whole drafting process, learning about shaping and the maths involved, the thrill of tracing and cutting the fabric and the actual sewing. I have barely scratched the surface, of course, but given that about 95 per cent of my salwar kurta wardrobe is of this basic pattern, it also seems like dramatic progress.


I still haven’t figured out how to photograph myself in it without feeling odd (sweaters are different, somehow), but on the whole, the salwar kameez fits well. There are a hundred errors, some of which I am still in the process of spotting. But the seams were straighter and the fit a tad nicer in these two shorter kurtis I made after that to wear with pants, with some cloth someone had gifted me a while back. I still have to hand-sew the neck bands in. The dark pink one at the back is a bit too bright even for me, but it was freely available for the experiment and landed on the cutting block.


I think, apart from the basic terror of tearing into the cloth, sewing in the sleeves was the hardest. A lot like setting in sleeves in sweaters, no? My teacher is of the Do-It-Recklessly-Without-Pins school, and wanted me to learn how to manipulate the cloth by hand as I pedaled furiously. I was more conservative, however, and some judicious pinning helped avoid that ungainly inch that often gets left over on one side.


Yesterday I had to stop myself from buying a whole shelf-full of cloth pieces to cut up and sew, because I don’t have a machine back in the Bay Area, and all the airlines have drastically cut down the baggage allowance for international flights. But there are classes that I am eyeing. I also took a short peek at some sewing forums, but hesitated, because it seems like a whole world to take on, complete with product reviews, favorite techniques and patterns and designers, debates over plagiarized patterns suppliers and free patterns and celebrity bloggers, and of course, abbreviations. The sewing equivalents of:
*Knitpicks vs. Elann
*”would you copy?”
*VBD & SSK & p7tog
*”oh, I *hate* acrylic”
*Review threads galore on Malabrigo and on Knitpicks Notions needles
*the Yarn Harlot’s book tours
*yarn pr0n.

Suddenly I have an idea of how new knitters must feel when they encounter Ravelry and other online knitting worlds and the avalanche of information they let loose, and how quickly one has to learn the vocabulary in order to participate in it in order to use these resources meaningfully. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to take that on in the sewing department just yet, but I am certainly itching to sew a million things all at once.

18 Responses to “Take that, Fabindia!”

  • Swapna says:

    Wooo. Hoo.

    Next up: Which sewing machine will you buy?

  • I would recommend Sewing with Nancy.
    (a book and a PBS TV show (of some 10 years running!) or DVD’s of the same show.

    Sewing with Nancy has detailed directions for finishing neck edges (entirely by machine) and other manufacturing details.. (machine vs hand sewn finishing)

    but it also has detail for fine hand finishing–(for special outfits)

    the Second book is Vogue Sewing. It has great tips on fitting.. (if its tight here, and wrinkles like this, the problem is A, but if its tight here (same place) and wrinkles like THAT (a different sort of wrinkle, the problem is B) detail like that really help you under stand ease in woven fabric.. (that is so much less stretchier than a knit fabric!)

    I love sewing –(don’t do much now days, but there were years when i sewed all my cloths–slips to coats, and all the layers in between!)

    keep up the good work!

  • AS says:

    Very nice! And I hope your wrapping up and traveling goes smoothly, as does your reentry into real–or unreal?–life.

  • Mary says:

    Yay!!!! Your long kurta looks so beautiful and your short kurtas are cute as can be. I love the bright pink one! I like the way you have sewn the print pattern on it. Congratulations desiknitter on another set of inspiring FOs.

    Are we crossing in opposing directions? I am packing to leave home in the US to fly to India for research…

  • Mel says:

    Excellent work! I was so disappointed that I could never manage to hit any of the khadi cooperative stores when they were open to load up on fabrics to bring home. I’d love to put together a mix to make a quilt from, especially now that RSI issues have sidelined my knitting for the time being.

  • Mints! says:

    WOOOOWWWW! Looks beautiful!

    I had exactly same feelings when I learned sewing. Even though my mom is extremely good at it I never could go beyond few things I used to sew or still try to.

    I think you will miss the pedaling sewing machine. The one my mom uses is so much heavy and steady. I never get that feeling when I use the automatic sewing machines here.

    one question, wehre did you buy Orissa Cotton material (dark pink and offwhitish)? I have that offwhitish kurta almost same pattern :)

    Travel safely!

  • Grace says:

    The fabrics look divine. Load up on them before you head home. If your luggage is overweight, ship them surface to yourself before your departure.

    When you get home, seek a high quality used machine rather than a cheap new one. Better machines “hold their tension” or produce balanced and reliable stitches without jamming. They will save you money, time and frustration in the end.

    I set in sleeves without pins, using the action of the feed dogs to gather up the bottom layer. With a little bit of practice, it becomes easier than pinning.

  • Grace says:

    Oh, and can you bring home some fabric for me? ;-)

  • Lola LB says:

    You can mail the fabrics back to yourself, can’t you?

    I’d recommend Bernina – very good quality sewing machine. You can start off with one of the Bernette models, which can be had for a reasonable price, especially if these are on sale.

  • Abhaya says:

    Your posts on sewing reminds me of my childhood. My mother stitched all my clothes. She loved frills – spent so many hours getting them right. She wouldnt use pins but use long stitches; if things work out good, otherwise remove the stitches and restitch. Collars, sleeves were the most dangerous zones. As the designer and later model of those frocks, salwars, skirts, tops… i had to stand straight until she figured out how to put things properly. Best part of this journey was- a sari would become a window curtain, then get converted as a lehnga, a shrotened lehnga would become a skirt and the skirt later with addition of a matching plain cloth/printed material would get reinvented as a frock. I cribbed but stood there. Now as i buy things off the shelf for my daughter, dont have the patience to stitch falls on saris, i think repeatedly of those days. My love for colours, fabric began then.
    My sewing skills are limited to repairing. I depend on my story telling skills to bond with my daughter.

  • Safeena says:

    I do not know where you live in the Bay Area, but you should know that in Santa Clara, The Bobbin’s Nest is a knitting store that has a sewing area and very nice machines to rent on site. It’s right near Santa Clara University and the owner is a delight.

  • abena says:

    Yay! How gorgeous!

  • manDuka says:

    Yay!! That looks fabulous. Also, what is wrong with the pink? Even I love it. Looking forward to seeing you in both.

    Btw, you won’t regret buying cloth you like — the stores in Berkeley/SF just don’t compare to the well stocked Indian ones.

  • Curry says:

    Wow – that’s pretty impressive! The class you took, do you recommend it? Where in Pune? I’d love to look into it. Thanks!

  • Preeti says:

    I salute you, this kurta turned out beautiful!

  • Nafisa says:

    Hi! I am from Russia and liked very much that shalwar kameez/ well i can read hindi a bit and understand urdu a bit so it helped me to read your draft. I have a question. i am searching appropriate kameez pattern so that armhole is not too tight and – mostly indian women who have blogs include seam allowance into draft unlike western sewing magazines which i used before-i was confused first and made mistake -does you kameez patter include these allowances or i have to have to add? And also i like how you salwar look- not too wide to wear even here in Russia as i dont want people turn their head at me – found just patiala in net. Off couse here we have no such courses as you attended. Could you give also that salwar pattern? I would be really grateful.

  • Sampada says:


    I own a Indian clothing boutique. I was wondering if you can help me (i.e. my clients) with any alteration needs? Let me know. I am located in Fremont CA. You have my email address. We can talk if need be.


  • Jamila says:

    Finally i quit my day job, now i earn a lot of money online you should try
    too, just search in google – bluehand roulette system

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