Mappamodello Arab-Islamic Work Dress

Arab-islamic work dress front

One of my Christmas presents was an unusual sewing pattern ‘book’ called Mappamodello. It contains patterns for very geometric styles developed by the designer Nanni Strada in the 70s. The dress above is her ‘Arab-Islamic Work Dress’. It’s the only one I’ve made up so far but I suspect there will be more in the future.

I’ve described the object as a book but once you unpack it what you actually have is two very large pieces of paper. One is the (huge) pattern sheet, and the other includes brief notes on the history of each of the styles and some photographs and technical drawings of the designs. The only thing resembling sewing instructions provided is the key on the pattern sheet. The pattern for the dress I’ve made up didn’t entirely match the photographs and diagrams, but I found the process of reconciling the differences enjoyable. Having said that I made a fairly major mistake with this one which I would have avoided if there had been a photograph or a diagram of the back view as well as the front. More on that in a moment.

The designs are all one size and entirely flat in the sense that there are no seams or darts. They work by wrapping around the body and fastening with ties. The size is adjusted by fastening the ties more or less tightly. Most of the styles are very fabric-efficient and they almost all include pockets. You can see some of the fitting ties on the Arab-Islamic work dress in the back view below. If you’re familiar with the Walkaway dress it’s a similar ‘apron’ style. I was a bit cynical about the ‘one size fits all’ claim and added a few inches of length to the pattern for insurance. It probably wasn’t needed but does give a nice deep hem.

This particular style is supposed to be wearable in two different ways, but this relies on making the back neckline identical to the front neckline so you can turn the dress around 90 degrees and stick your arms though the neckline slits, tying the top neckline slit ties over your shoulders. The original ‘sleeves’ undo at the underarm, and those pieces then wrap over your chest and back, and presumably tie at your sides. As you can see I didn’t make a slit on the back of the dress so I haven’t got anywhere to put one of my arms through when I turn the dress around. I don’t think I’ve lost too much as wearing it that way doesn’t look very comfortable in the model photo.

Arab-islamic work dress back

I think the style I have made up is one of the earliest in the series. There are several very similar dresses in the book and it’s interesting to compare the later ones with the earlier. The shape of the neckline and sleeves evolves, the ability to wear the dress in two ways is dropped, the pockets become more complicated, and some purely decorative features creep in. I suspect the later versions make slightly more practical garments! Mine shouldn’t be worn without leggings and a t-shirt underneath because of all the gaps.

The book doesn’t go into any detail about fabric choice. For one or two of the designs it mentions ‘glazed cotton’ or ‘lacquered cotton’ which sounds to me like crisp fabrics. Accordingly I made my dress up in a polycotton poplin on the grounds that it’s got a crisp hand and is cheap enough for an experiment, but I think something with a bit more drape would actually have been better. By the way you need wide fabric for this style – 150cm/60″ – which limits the choices. I couldn’t find wide poplin from any of my usual sources and ended up getting it from eBay. The dress is mostly one huge pattern piece nearly the whole width of the fabric and well over two metres long. It makes efficient use of fabric. I only had small scraps left over.

Arab-Islamic National Dress front

So does this pass the wearability test? I’m not sure. These photos were taken on a bitterly cold and windy day so you are not seeing the dress or me at their best. It does feel a bit like wearing an academic gown only not as warm. Despite the book’s claim that the styles work for all seasons I think this one is only for spring and early summer days.

This all sounds rather negative but I really enjoyed the process of working out how to make the dress up. I’d like to give some of the more sophisticated versions a try, using better fabric. I think there’s a great dress in here somewhere.

Arab-Islamic National Dress front

And in other news, I am in the current issue of Vogue Patterns magazine! Very flattered: thanks Vogue!

New old patterns

I’ve still not done any sewing. But I have acquired some new patterns, despite already having about four projects lined up. It seems I can’t resist 1970s Simplicity patterns. It’s something about the envelope art.

First up is a maxi dress. I never used to like these, but since I made one last year I am in love with them. I think the reason I never used to like them is that I am pretty tall, so hems on RTW maxis would hit me well above the ankle. If I make my own they can be as long as I like, although I found out the hard way that floor-sweeping hems are not the best thing for going up and down stairs in!

I really like the big collar option on this one, and unlike my first one it’s not backless so I could wear it for work. I’m not sure what colours to make it in though. The white collar on the envelope looks good, but I wonder if it would work if I made the whole dress, including the collar, in a bright solid.

The next one also has a contrast collar. I bought this for the dress rather than the tunic and trousers. I’m not keen on the print on the envelope picture but I know there’s a really great dress hiding in there somewhere. Again I am not sure about what colours to use. Both this one and the one above are from ZipZapKap.

Finally, I found this jumpsuit pattern that I’ve wanted for a while, and in my size too! I might also make the dress, although I have to say I don’t go a bundle on the poncho (although yes, I am the same woman who made the space curtains top). I’m seeing this one in bright orange rather than the coral shade on the envelope.

This pattern was from LovelyLove Patterns.

So many patterns, so little time!

Space clothes or curtains?

I’ve been making a top inspired by this outfit from Blake’s 7. For those who weren’t brought up in Britain in the late 70s/early 80s, this was a TV science fiction series known for its dark themes, strong characters, and spectacularly silly costumes. This is one of the more wearable ones. The character is Jenna, who was the spaceship pilot from the good guys in the first two seasons.

(Picture from Lisa’s Frame Capture Library).

And here’s my version.

The pattern is the top from Vogue 1195.

The fabric is a black and white chiffon bought on Goldhawk Road in London. The fibre content is a mystery. There is no point pressing it, as no amount of heat and pressure will put a crease into it. On the upside, it doesn’t melt even with the iron at its maximum temperature. It frays quite badly and it’s a challenge to get iron-on interfacing to stick to it. I had to press it for twice the time the instructions said. Is there such a thing as Teflon fabric?

I replaced the fabric belt with a loop of wide elastic with its ends stitched together permanently. The belt runs inside the top at the back which makes the back hang completely loose, unlike the original.

The top has a bound neckline and bound buttonholes for the belt to run through. I used Vilene bias tape on the neckline and stabilised the binding strips for both the neck and buttonholes with lightweight knit interfacing; the fabric was far too slippery on its own. This was my first attempt at bound buttonholes and they weren’t as complicated as I’d been led to believe. Not that mine are perfect, but for a first try I’m very pleased with the results.

This isn’t the easiest thing in the world to wear. It needs high, chunky heels and leggings (or possibly very skinny jeans) otherwise it looks like a tent. Even with the heels it looks a bit like I woke up and decided to put on a pair of curtains rather than clothes. Still if I am ever called upon to fly a stolen spaceship I have the right outfit now.

Waiting for the right fabric

Funny how things work out with patterns. I bought Vogue 1195 a while ago in a fit of misguided enthusiasm. It’s a pattern for a very simple dress and a big flappy top; I bought it in order to make the top even though it’s really not my style. I never found suitable fabric for it, and then other patterns came along and it slipped off the must-sew list.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am mildly obsessed with the 70s/80s BBC TV series Blake’s 7. Recently I realised that one of the more wearable costumes from season two was vaguely similar to Vogue 1195. Here are a couple of shots from

So I started half heartedly looking for black and white prints but didn’t find anything, and forgot about it again. And then on my last trip to London, I found some black and white chiffon in a lovely space-age print that I inexplicably seem to have not uploaded a picture of. Edited to add: here it is! This shot is taken from a distance; I’d guess the short side is about a metre.

I think it’s inspired by the work of Eduardo Paolozzi – a sort of mix of organic and machine-like shapes.

So clearly the right fabric will come along if you just wait long enough.

Pictures of the finished top at the weekend, I hope! I have to get my high-heeled boots fixed first for the full late 1970s lady space pilot look.

Clown or chic? Burda March 2011

I love BurdaStyle magazine but I confess I was a little disappointed by the March 2011 issue. It’s the wedding special so I can’t say I was really surprised – I’ve been married for nearly twelve years, so I’m not likely to want to to make a wedding dress any time soon. You can see the the styles here on the French Burda site, although that URL doesn’t look stable to me so who knows how long it will last. The rest of the issue was OK but nothing leapt out at me as a must-sew.

However my eye kept being drawn to model 106, which is one of the wedding dresses. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. Sleeveless, floor length, and, well, egg-shaped. Here’s the line art.

Common sense says that this dress is likely to make me look (at best) heavily pregnant. I can’t quite translate the French captions on the website but I’m pretty sure it says something about requiring a slim figure (‘une silhouette mince’) to wear it, which I fear might be fashion editor code for ‘only size zero need apply’. The English-language magazine, incidentally, simply says ‘you will look charming in this dress’. A case of the French editors being more realistic than the Brits?

Anyway I can’t help wanting to give this one a go, in a really loud print. Although as it requires three and a half metres of fabric it’s also going to have to be a really cheap print. Not like these John Kaldor ones, beautiful though they are.

So am I insane or could this work? I shall certainly be looking out for cheap prints in the next few months.

Impractical shoes

6199642Remember the not entirely successful 1970s jumpsuit project? Elizabeth and Inkstain gave me some great advice about how to fix the problems, and here is the new improved version.

I’ve taken in the side seams a lot between the waist and knee, and also shaved a bit off the inside leg above the knee. I also took the centre front seam in a bit below the zip.

I found a pair of chunky platform sandals lurking at the bottom of the wardrobe. It’s amazing what a difference the right shoes make with this garment. I tried it with wedges and they looked very strange. This very square heel seems to be just right. And the extra four inches of height probably doesn’t hurt either.


Thanks, everyone!

How fab is this?

Just a very quick post today as I’m writing this on a borrowed computer. I recently bought this amazing 70s pattern on impulse from ZipZapKap.

The more I look at this the more I want to make it, insane though it is. I think I’d stick with the colour scheme on the envelope but go for a chunkier zipper. I will spare you the other two views on the envelope. One of them has it made up in a large-scale orange floral which is a little too seventies even for me, and the other’s bright yellow.

I just wonder what type of fabric to make it out of. The envelope suggests a bewildering range of possibilities. As well as the things you’d expect like doubleknit, various other knits, and crepe, it suggests novelty pique (sounds scary), denim, and hopsacking. I thought hopsacking was something you made, well, sacks out of. Other slightly less unusual suggestions are wool flannel and linen.

My first thought is a very stable doubleknit but I’m worried it will grow. Still, as I have about four projects lined up that I already have fabric for there’s plenty of time to search for the perfect fabric for this one. Plus a big can of hairspray and some platform boots.