Sewing along with Elegance & Elephants' Roots series. If you're ready for a loooooong post, here's my contribution:
When I lived in South Africa I would occasionally go to fancy events where people would arrive dressed in stunningly beautiful heritage outfits. There were glamorous dresses in colourful African fabrics, glittering salwar kameez and saris... and then there was me, all dressed up in... a dress. A boring old dress. And once again I'd find myself wishing that I had my own national costume to wear, the way I would if I were Spanish, Mexican or Scottish. Sadly, there is no Jewish traditional dress, nor is there an Australian one (unless it's thongs and a singlet, or one of those hats with corks bobbing off its brim to keep the flies away).
But as a first-generation Australian, my roots are, in any case, elsewhere. My ancestors came from many different countries, moving around Europe and Eastern Europe negotiating antisemitism, shifting borders and changing opportunities. My mother was born in Germany, my father in South Africa. They passed on to me a sense of rootlessness, a complete indifference to Australian Rules football and a tragic absence of traditional dress. SO unfair.
My itinerant ancestry aside, South Africa, my father's homeland, is a place I feel strongly connected to - so much so that I spent seven years living there in my twenties. And while I will probably never wear one of those super-glamorous African outfits, I have a long relationship with shweshwe, the indigo fabric that was brought to South Africa by missionaries in the 1800s and is now part of traditional culture and ceremonies there. Traditional shweshwe dresses are typically made with a combination of a few different patterned fabrics and are quite ornate, with lots of details such as decorative yokes, embellished pockets, ric-rac and sometimes even embroidery.
|Image source: http://www.mdantsaneway.com|
It's surprisingly hard to find images of traditional shweshwe dresses, but if you're interested, the blog She Wears Shwe Shwe is a great resource. And a history of the fabric can be found here.
The shweshwe can also be bought in printed skirt panels, and many dresses incorporate these. Indigo is the traditional colour but it has for many years been available in brown and red as well, and can now be found in purple, orange, pink and green for less traditional uses.
As children, my sister and I wore home-made skirts made from this pretty patterned cotton fabric, which my mother bought when visiting Cape Town. And now I have my own small, precious collection, brought over in bits and pieces by my dad, who has really stepped out of his comfort zone by doing my fabric shopping for me. My favourite brand is the iconic Three Cats, once produced in England but now made in South Africa.
|Me aged about 6 wearing a Three Cats skirt.|
I adore the Three Cats logo printed on the reverse of the shweshwe and the smell of the starch used to stiffen the fabric - this was once done to protect it from insects on the long journey by ship from England to South Africa, but is now done purely for the sake of tradition. The fabric is stiff when you buy it, but gets softer and softer with washing.
For the back closure I used an invisible zip (not sure what the Japanese language instructions were indicating, but I've become used to inserting this kind of zip now). The little belt around the waist is held in place by three thread chain loops and I used this great tutorial from Oliver + S to make them. I was surprised how easy it was!
Inside the bodice a Three Cats logo is hiding...
And my little African-European-Jewish-Anglo-Australian daughter loves it.