i am mandarin empire

tmandarin16I am Mandarin Empire. Well, not me, but the dress is. The dress is titled I am Mandarin Empire. Now how did it get a name like that?

tmandarin01See, there’s this thing called amazon… it sells books… and as long as I have an internet connection regardless of where I am in the world, not much stops me from clicking on that “purchase” button. Which is what happened with two Japanese sewing books (translated into English of course). For right now we’ll just focus on one of them, I Am Cute Dresses by Sato Watanabe.

[Some history: This past summer when I was in France (specifically Quimper, Bonjour Melanie!) Tu me manques.) I was very tempted to buy several Japanese sewing books  in French. However in the end I knew I would be frustrated if I tried to learn to sew in French so I saved the purchase of sewing books for America where I could learn to sew in English. So when I saw that English translations of these books existed, I had to have them.]

tmandarin02When I first received the book, I was a bit annoyed. My patterns! They’ve forgotten to include my patterns!  But as I flipped through it and thoroughly read more reviews on Amazon (can you tell I impulse buy…) I realized that this was a patternless book. The book instead uses simple geometric shapes that are very easy to draw out directly on the fabric.  If you can draw squares, rectangles, and triangles, you can use this book. Which in the end was perfect for me as large paper, tracing paper, and tracing wheels aren’t easy to find in Benin (Though I’ll admit I’ve managed to get my hands on some). This is also good because it breaks me out of my dependency on patterns. I think geometric shapes must be the basics of garment construction, and if I can make stuff from scratch (guided from the book) who knows what I’ll be capable of making later on!

tmandarin03I decided to pick a dress that would work will with contrast fabrics. In Benin it is pattern overload, solids don’t really exist – most women are decked out in patterns from head to toe. I don’t like the idea of wearing stuff I don’t genuinely like just because it fits in with the culture. Instead I prefer to find a balance between what I like in America and what I like in Benin and go from there. It would be a lie, I think, to wear something here that I would never wear in America.

tmandarin04So here it is! I added an elastic waistband because the “boxy” look isn’t very flattering on me.

tmandarin06The photoshoot location this time is Fort Francais.

tmandarin05There happens to be an art exhibition going on at the same time.

tmandarin07Hmm, what to do this for this photoshoot? Be a model example and throw trash in the trash can? Twirl with the exhibition banners?

tmandarin08Or… hop on a bench.

tmandarin09What is surprising about this garden area is that often it is locked and closed, and when it is open, people don’t really use it. I would’ve thought that people would love to sit here and chat… but no. They prefer the side of the road. Perhaps its easier to run into potential customers that way. Perhaps it’s a remnant of French colonialism and the Beninese don’t need a park or garden to get in touch with nature as greenery  is still omnipresent everywhere. Perhaps they get shooed away if they try to loiter here. I haven’t figured it out yet. It does make a great photoshoot location for me.

tmandarin10Step up!

tmandarin11Oooo. Then the next idea hits me. One, two, three…


tmandarin13Again. one, two, three…tmandarin14jump!

tmandarin15What goes up must come down. Landing is just as fun as taking off I think.

tmandarin17Can’t forget to talk about the most important details for this dress: the collar. That is how it gets name, a mandarin collar. I had never done one before. The book calls for leather cord but I just made my own from the fabric.

tmandarin18I don’t know if mine is correctly done, but I love it as I can untie it and retie it and it changes the dress completely. The dress is not the same when the collar is fully open, halfway closed, and fully closed. Fun!

Pattern: I Am Mandarin Empire from I Am Cute Dresses by Sato Watanabe
Fabric: Visage Wax, Navy pant fabric (?)
Photographs: John Mark F

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