Welcome Sewing Pattern Review people!

Today, the day before my 45th birthday no less, I’m a featured subscriber on the sewing.patternreview.com website.  How lovely! How unexpected!

In honor of this unanticipated delight, I will talk about my capsule or mini-wardrobe I made to wear on my 3 week trip to India in June 2010. First some pictures:

Arriving at Lucknow Airport

Arriving at Lucknow Airport


Lunch at the Mumbai Baha’i Center


I made 6 tops, 3 bottoms, 1 nightshirt & 1 pair of bloomer underwear for my trip. Many more pictures of the 120+ singers from 25+ countries can be found on Facebook if you look for the Voices of Baha in India – FYI.

I hadn’t done hardly any sewing in years – I had lost interest in many ways since I’ve gotten so large, and told myself I had no time to do it. But when I had decided to go on this singing tour to India, I knew I had to make a wardrobe for my trip. Consulting the trusty Internet, I began to research.

I had several concerns to address:

  • Western women often receive unwanted attention and harassment from men in India because of “immodesty”; native dress gets more respect
  • I hadn’t seen too many pictures of Indian women of my size
  • I would be going just a month after major abdominal surgery, so I wanted everything to be hand washable and I had no idea what kind of laundry service would be available while traveling
  • Our concert dress was going to be ethnic regalia and I immediately thought oh yeah, I’ll do Welsh. More on that below…..
  • Big people wear big clothes.  I didn’t wanna take a lot of clothes & get charged extra, plus I didn’t wanna lug a heavy suitcase all over India.
  • I didn’t have much $ to spend
  • It was gonna be hot, HoT, HOT!

Of course, I wanted everything to go together.  I looked for patterns I could alter; I came up with 2: Simplicity 4249 and a Butterick pattern I think…….     Yes, there is the Folkwear Pattern #135 “Jewels of India but that was gonna take so much alteration, it would be far easier to create my own pattern. I decided on the salwar kameez as my outfit. Salwars are the “pants” and kameez  is the “top” or tunic. I have worn a sari before, but I don’t think it is flattering to me – I look like a very large, fabric swathed potato.  Plus, I knew I would be using a squat toilet at some point and I’ve just not had the practice…….  So I started looking for information online, and so many ladies from India came through!  There are web tutorials & YouTube videos that told me what I needed to know.  Yes, it took a couple of hours of searching, but that was fun for me. I also spent a great deal of time (rather more than necessary to be honest)  looking at salwar kameez offered for sale. I had hoped I could buy one salwar kameez online – it would have to be made to measure because of my size, but I ultimately decided that would not be the right way to go; I’d better rely on my own skills & ingenuity.

First, I went into the stash.  I knew that nearly 10 years before, I had bought (on sale of course) about five or six 5 yd. lengths of cotton gauze from a “collection” in blue, green & teal/turquoise – small checks, large checks and semi-solids. I found them and decided to use these as the pants fabrics as a foundation. Then I went to my local fabric stores: Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hancock Fabrics and Hobby Lobby.  I brought swatches of the fabrics I had with me to ensure matching the colors.  I bought a swirly batik and a “designer quilting print” at Hancock’s, a paisley gauze and another batik quilting fabric in periwinkle at Jo-Ann’s and a gorgeous turquoise quilting cotton with a blue metallic damask overprint at Hobby Lobby – EVERYTHING on sale! I also bought some silk from Dharma Trading online which I dyed at home, which I ultimately didn’t use.  In addition, I had a pair of salwars from Marketplace of India bought several years before that didn’t fit that I hoped to alter to augment things and a wide variety of ribbons : printed, embroidered, shiny, grosgrain in many colors for embellishment – I knew I had enough.

Now it’s been 3 years, so I’m not remembering exactly in what order I did things.  :o)  I think I first started with the Simplicity pattern.  I decided to try to alter the kameez in View C – grading it up to my size and seeing how the style looked on me.

Simplicity 4249 View C

Simplicity 4249 View C

I spent more time on grading & muslining this garment than I spent on making all the rest of the items combined!.  Once I got one done, that was it for this pattern, tho’ I did use the measurement for the long scarf (pallau), and the construction directions for the churidars (close fitting “leggings” shown in above drawing) later. I wasn’t hoping for “flattering” – only hoping for “not hideous”! This was my result (swirly batik):


Not bad; not great.  Plus it has a long back zipper that I need assistance with. If my garment is not authentic, it aims somewhere close to it.

I used another “Big 4” pattern that I cannot seem to find a picture of and I’m too lazy to go digging for it today. It’s simply rectangles for bodice & sleeves and rectangles for the peplum/skirt/lower part all connecting in a sort of empire waist.  Because of size, I had to grade this pattern upwards as well – it was not difficult. I used the large check in cotton gauze from stash – this was my least favorite of all things I made for the trip. Even though I’m very large, making things to flatter or even looks decent requires shaping, not just rectangles. ALWAYS REMEMBER & NEVER FORGET: TENTS are made of RECTANGLES!  I had to mess with it QUITE a bit to get it to the “not hideous” benchmark.  My dearest friend and roommate, Tangela, admired it, so I gave it to her at the end of the tour. She was gonna use it as a swim cover up. And I might make another one for that purpose in the future…. The result:

Arriving at Lucknow Airport

Arriving at Lucknow Airport

I used the results of my research to start making the salwars.  Using online tutorials and my own measurements, I drafted a pattern. I made two pairs before I realized what I had done wrong, because they were short! By like 5 inches!  How could this be? I looked at my tutorials, then I searched for more information.  Eventually I found some pictures showing how to do the measurement for the length – the site wasn’t in English.  I had measured from my waist to my ankle while standing up; I should’ve measured from my waist to ankle over my bum while bent over. Once I fixed that, the last pair was perfect.  Still, I can’t be mad about it; to salvage the two pairs I added a tube cuff to get the length and I made one of the two rather decorative. Of course, those were the ones everyone commented on…..

detail1 detail2

I made these with a traditional drawstring waist; I’m still not sure if an elastic waist would be better.  They both have their pluses and minuses.  I wish I had put at least one pocket in each pair of salwars; I truly did NOT have the time, since I finished all the garments in a massive 22 hour sewing session ( I slept well on the planes though).  But I’m reminded every single time I wear them that I should have some pockets, especially in things I make for me.  I made three pairs one turquoise, 1 blue and one green.

Using my tutorials and measurements, I drew a pattern for a simple kameez.  I lengthened the front by about 2″ because of my large abdomen. First I made the periwinkle quilting cotton batik one:


The neck is a simple boatneck; I added a pink diamond jacquard ribbon at center front.  That still looked too plain, so I added some purplish iridescent narrow ribbon around the pink and voila! All done. This, tied with the nightie, was my favorite of all the things I made for the trip. Here I am wearing it again in Chicago a year later:


I’ve worn it and worn it, to the point that the neck line looked shabby.  I took off the ribbons and redid the neck 3 or 4 months ago, but it’s not quite right….   :::sigh::::

From the same pattern, I made the other kameez: the paisley, the wrap and the cut out.


Lunch at the Mumbai Baha'i Center

Lunch at the Mumbai Baha’i Center


The paisley is the same boatneck with longer sleeves (no embellishment) in paisley cotton gauze. The wrap – I just folded some paper & the pattern until it looked like something, then cut it out & sewed it and added a ribbon as embellishment, using some stash turquoise gauze and the designer quilting cotton. I also added (store bought) piping to the sleeves and front hem. The cut out was only a little more trouble:  I took some more paper and drew another kameez pattern but just the top half of the front.  Then I used a round object (maybe a small saucer? a mayonnaise lid?  I can’t remember) to trace around at center front. Using this half pattern I cut out the front and a simple facing, all out of the turquoise metallic overprint fabric. I added a shiny ribbon at the front hem for embellishment. This looked pretty FANCY!  I was beyond pleased.

As far as ethnic regalia, my background is: Scots, Irish, German, Welsh, French, English and Iroquois. I really wanted to make something German – I have the pattern(s) the fabric, the notions and embellishments, but knew I wasn’t gonna have time to do it right.  I had done lots of research the previous year into traditional German clothing and it’s still a project I want to do, but with all of that – even doing a summery kind of German regalia was gonna be hot to sing in. My mother had told me that she’d found out that part of our family that we thought was English, was actually Welsh. Cool! So I started looking at Welsh regalia.  There were two problems: everything is wool and flannel, and a good part of it is red.  I mean REALLY RED.  I look AWFUL in red. Something like this:

Doll in Welsh regalia

Transporting that hat was gonna be a pain too……

So I decided that I would wear Indian dress; I’m a world citizen, right? The cut out became my concert wear. When we all assembled for the first concert, I got to see how others manifested their ethnic backgrounds which made for fabulous photos!


A lot of the folks from Germany wore German regalia so I was just as glad I hadn’t made myself crazy making a dirndl. Gerhardt wore his lederhosen every concert which was AMAZING to me ‘cos it was SO hot! Jan & Jessie both wore tartan sashes & Jan wore a tam, but they were all cotton!  Why did I not think of that?  10+ years ago, when going on tour with the One Human Family Workshop Choir, I made a kilt for No. 1 Son in cotton – we needed ethnic regalia for that as well, and that’s what he chose.  I swear, it never even occurred to me this time.  Oh well.

The nightie worked out fine; I eventually wore it to rags.  I reviewed the pattern here: Kwik Sew pattern #3647. I should REALLY make a few more. Sorry, no nightie pictures of me.  :o)

I made a stab at bloomer underwear with a simple shorts pattern from the Kwik Sew pattern above, but the first attempt was a “wadder” and I didn’t leave myself enough time to experiment further.  I still want to make some lovely underwear for myself in batiste….. And no bloomer pix EITHER.

Conclusion:  The capsule wardrobe I made for my trip was a smashing success. I got loads of positive reactions from many the people on the tour and from the Indian folks I met. I even got invited to go shopping with “the fashionistas” in Mumbai; they still don’t realize how frumpy I really am.  Everything went well together, I never had to worry about not having the right clothes, I could wash things in the sink and dry them (which wasn’t usually necessary because we did have laundry service in a couple of places), I had no trouble with harrassment – EVERYONE got stared at in this group, men & women – so no troubles there, and everything fit me rather well.  Since not a single piece of this was well-made by my standards (really any standards), there were a couple times I had to stitch up a few holes (usually on a plane or bus) with my handy sewing kit, but that was easy-peasy.  This was also the first time I had drafted patterns for my own self (done it for others) using my own measurements, and it was simply a wonderful experience. This venture has lead me to think that drafting my own patterns is THE way to go for everything I make for me, even if/when I lose weight and can fit in more of the commercial patterns. I even ended up with a few things to wear in rotation my usual wardrobe and for special occasions, which I did not expect at all. All of the planning was worth it, and I would do far better budget wise, looks wise, and every other kinds of wise to apply the same planning to my daily wardrobe. Even though I’m a super plus size,  I deserve having decent clothes to wear on a daily basis.  To that end, I bought myself (a birthday present) a class on Craftsy on their TERRIFIC Cyber Monday sale: Plus Size Pattern Fitting and Design with Barbara Deckert.

~the end~

P.S. The main thing I brought home from India?  5 pieces of gorgeous silk!  I’ve not yet made anything with them, but I take them out every now and then and fondle them, all the while saying, “OOOH!”  and “AAAH!”



  1. Wow. You are even more ingenious and talented than I realized. I am lucky to sew up a tear in my jeans. Anyway, a very happy birthday to you, Miss Helen. I remember when I met you. I think you were a week old. Not being a natural with babies or children, I pretty much left you alone. Hope you have a wonderful day.

  2. I’m inspired by your perseverance. I haven’t created patterns or done much sewing in about a dozen years but I have been known to go on zen-like weekend jags where I became one with the machine. Maybe I’ll have to do that again, especially since I love me some salwar kameezes!

Comments are closed.