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Eat, Drink & Be Merry

Open Source Fashion

Written on November 13, 2007 3:12 PM

“That is stunning,” exclaimed Kimberly, as we were browsing Indian inspired clothing in the downtown New York store Dosa. Kimberly is one of those women who can pull together an outfit that is part thrift shop, part Comme des Garcons, in a brilliant, playful, Annie Hall sort of way. (I aspire to look half as good as she does; yet my Gap basics and Salvation Army cast-offs end up looking more mismatched that magnificent.) The outfit we were particularly taken by was a caftan shirt and drawstring pant, only instead of the obvious sheer, pastel colors with beading you’d expect, they were created with clashing modern floral prints––country-western goes sixties meets Far East. It was that brilliant.

“You can totally make this,” whispered Kimberly, who has never operated a sewing machine. “Easy for you to say,” I replied. I have never attempted anything so complex as these clothes, with darting and straight lines, and gasp, a pattern. I prefer jumping on the sewing machine with some fabric and having a go, to varying degrees of success. But with my family’s financial forecast looking dismal, handmade boutique chic—to the tune of several hundred dollars––will always elude me, unless I start sewing, and sewing well.

Thankfully, there are now resources for the novice sewer with grand ambitions like myself. Indie-inspired clothing labels like the New York based Built By Wendi, are beginning to offer patterns along with their collections. At builtbywendy.com you can shop her collections or buy the pattern. In addition, the brand’s owner, Wendy Mullin wrote a sewing book, called Sew U, with cute illustrations and straightforward instructions for super-hip clothes, including Jeans.

While checking out craft sites one night, looking for patterns that might help me make the caftan outfit, I stumbled upon across a truly cool craft phenomenon––Open Source Sewing, which is a fancy way of saying sewing patterns that are (mostly) free to download on the Internet in PDF form, as well as free of copyright infringements, so that you can swap them across a new community of DIY sewers. Open Source Sewing sites like Burdastyle.com are places where people like me-and those who can actually sew well—can get together, share ideas and offer help to other burgeoning designers of their own looks.

As of yet, I have not found the pattern for the pants and caftan top of my dreams, but I did find a modernist country fabric right down the street at a sweet, if pricey, fabric shop called Purl. In the meantime, I used my old-school make it up as you go sewing technique to make small eye pillows for the children in my son’s pre-k yoga class. They finished product was far from perfect, the seams were all over the place and the fabric bunched a bit. The kids however, didn’t even notice, and their teacher said they had the best Shava-asana ever with their lavender scented flax seeds encased in soft orange crazily-sewed eye pillows.

Cross-posted at http://mealbymeal.blogspot.com/

Jean Railla is the original founder of getcrafty.com and the author of the domestic manifesto Get Crafty (Broadway Books). Please come visit me over at my ode to food, drink, crafts and family--Meal by Meal. I update it almost daily.