colette parfait dress + a lesson from the beninese tailors

parfait07I’m smiling. Not because I finished making my first dress in Benin. I’m smiling because of all the steps that it took me to get here.

parfait01Printing and cutting and taping the pattern was easy enough.

parfait03Following the cutting layout took no time at all.

parfait02Pinning and cutting out the fabric was also easy.

parfait12Constructing the garment was tricky at times, but doable.

parfait04Then the roadblock came. The invisible zipper. Back in America there are invisible zipper feet to help with this tricky. Here in Benin, no. Yet I had seen Malian and Beninese outfits with invisible zippers. How did they do it?

parfait09Well what better way to find out than to visit a tailor?

parfait10They gave me a great lesson about how to add the zipper with the treadle machine. I tipped them 2000CFA (4.00 USD) since I am in coastal Benin and tips are expected.

parfait11But most importantly, I wasn’t the “rich foreign tourist” when I was there. I was a fellow sewer. The exchange was on technique, fabric, patterns, methods – things I think are rarely discussed outside their immediate circle. And it felt so nice to have something in common with the people, rather than just someone with money.

parfait05They taught me well. I’ll be back soon enough to see what they’re making as well as to show them what I’m making. The curiosity is equal on both sides.

parfait13straps, buttons, hems, gathers, pockets – all these details make the dress finished.

parfait08Because I had mastered the invisible zipper without an invisible zipper foot, I finished my dress. And the photoshoot could begin! I’m actually quite shy with photos of myself. Also I don’t care to have to have a lot of photos of myself. But, for clothing, it really does look better on a person than on a hangar. And since (most) all the clothing I make will be made for my measurements… there can only be one model. And since I don’t have any photographer friends here, there’s also only one photographer. So essentially this blog will not only be about sewing, but also about self-portraits. I don’t really consider any of these photos as “outfit photos.” They are photos of myself before they are photos of clothing.

parfait06A great article by Sara Lando about self portraiture helped me a lot. It doesn’t focus on technical, because that can easily be covered, but more on the inhibitions one feels when making self portraits and how to overcome them.

parfait14However, the dress is a bit too scandalous for me here in Benin. Even though I can get away with it, I prefer to keep my shoulders and knees covered. Its better to err on the side of too conservative, because people do look and do judge you by what you wear.

parfait15Already I am loving the direction that this new journal is taking me. New clothing always feels great, but new clothing sewn by myself is a completely different feeling.

Pattern: Colette Parfait
Fabric: Phoenix Wax 1259206

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