Doesn’t this look like a simple shirt dress? Why it is, and it isn’t at the same time. It is McCall’s M6279, from surprise surprise, that same care package from Susan and Miss Lulu.
Meet Euphrème. During the school year he is a teacher at a local high school, but on the side he makes batik fabric. Batik is a type of wax resist dyed cloth originally from Indonesia (I think) but thanks to colonization and trade, it’s now fully adopted into West African culture. Bonus points if you spotted a little face in the bottom right corner.
Euphrème has a large collection of stamps to choose form – all carved by himself. He has two kinds, wooden stamps as well as sponge stamps. Wooden stamps must be redipped in wax each time it is used, whereas a sponge stamp can make about 4-5 imprints before needing to be redipped. With the sponge he can work more quickly, however they are less permanent than the wooden stamps.
I just had to choose this stamp – might you recognize it? It’s Ouidah’s most famous tourist attraction – La Porte de Non Retour aka The Door of no Return. It is a monument built in 1992 to mark the spot where captured slaves were shipped off to their new life. This, I decided, was going to be my subtle souvenir fabric, in contrast to the mayors office fabric.
The first step was to pick out some cloth and heat up some wax. Interesting note – the cloth is none other than achouta aka secondhand fabric from… where else, Europe or the USA! So if you visit W. Africa and buy batik fabric… know than more than likely it is made of sheets thrown away from your country. Life is indeed circular, isn’t it? I asked him why he didn’t use local fabric, and his response? “There’s only one place that produces fabric here, but their quality isn’t very good, it is very thin. The imported stuff is much better. Foreign factories have better machinery to make better fabric”
On a side note, here is a peek into the secondhand wholesale clothing shop in Cotonou. There’s a whole row of shops like this, run by Nigerians. These packs of used clothing are pre-divided and sold by the kilo. So if you want to sell jeans, there is a bundle pre-packed of jeans you can purchase. If you want to sell baby clothes, there’s a bundle for that. Etc. That is how they arrive off the ships, so the organizing is not done in country but rather in the country that sent them over. And don’t think you’ll find any gems here. Those are long filtered out and probably in vintage shops or other expensive boutiques in the states/europe. What you find here is old navy, target, etc – used discards from fast fashion chains. It’s not just the USA and Europe though. I see a ton of stuff from Korea as well, especially men’s outdoor hiking vests.
Let’s get back on topic. While the wax is heating up, Euphrème goes to the well to get water. The key to batik is water, he says, and lots of it. His kid is not allowed to help as he is too young and might accidentally fall into the well.
Finished! I asked him to leave a section blank so I could have some solid fabric to use as a contrast. He was confused at first but then I explained that I wanted some solids as a contrast so I’m not overwhelmed by print.
While that heats up he starts work on a second piece. I couldn’t decide which stamp I wanted more… so I decided to get two fabrics made. Besides, I wanted to give him a bit of extra business for allowing me to come over and watch and photograph his process.
By the way, it is 8,000CFA (16USD) for 4 yards of batik fabric. Costs of course can vary by person depending on material used, but he assured me that he only used the high quality stuff. ? Who knows, I’m no expert.
Then he worked on other fabric not for me since he had his studio set up. This is one that has previously been dyed, and now he’s doing the second round of wax to make it multi colored and multi patterned.
Ah, better! I asked for half of it to be solid with a border fish print so I could use it as a contrast. This whole dyeing process has made me realized something. What happens to the used dye? Well he dumps it in a certain area in the field next to his yard… and nothing of course grows there. I only had two fabrics dyed but when I saw him dump out the dyes on the ground I felt a pang of guilt. And I’m sure 100% of all my other fabric or clothing purchases also are created by these dyes in massive factories who knows where… and who knows how they are disposed of? As a consumer in the states, I’m removed from the creation process so I don’t see any of that and can live happily in denial. But here, it’s right in my face, and I can’t say that I didn’t see those toxic chemicals seeping into the ground. Not only did I see it, I’m responsible as well. I’m sorry.
This kid is too cute. He was running up to my butt… making fart noises… and then running away before I could catch him. There are just certain things that all kids do, regardless of cultural differences!
I snack on some corn, since it is corn season and corn is everywhere. But this is no soft sweet corn that your mom makes. It’s the corn that Americans call “inedible” and usually reserved for our animals aka feeder corn. It’s tough and leathery. Here, don’t complain, corn is corn, eat up! Anything is delicious when you’re hungry.
But we make a pit stop at his house to drop something off and… his kids! Don’t know what to do with fabric scraps? Give them to your kids, they make the perfect wigs and provide hours of entertainment!
I didn’t have enough fabric to make view C. in any case. Each time I pin a pattern piece I hang it up to get it out of the way and off of my cutting table. Then when I’m ready to cut I just take a piece 1 by 1 off of the line. A laundry line is super handy for sewing as it’s a great way to temporarily hold/store things.
And it’s done! Also if you squint you can see my bound buttonholes which are basted shut. I just love them, they take the same amount of time as handstitched buttonholes but they look 100x better! Once done I moved on to other projects as I waited to schedule a photo shoot.
Oh I forgot to mention, when I was having the batik cloth made, Euphrème asked me “Do you like t-shirts?” I said yes, of course, who doesn’t? Then he gave me a free batik t-shirt (a dyed secondhand t-shirt, of course). Uhhhh. I like plain t-shirts. I didn’t have the heart to reject his gift. But I do not wear dyed t-shirts. Just no. So I accepted, pretended I loved it, then gave it to Gabriel later. I’m a master at regifting. It’s a kinder fate than wallowing in a dark pile in my closet, don’t you think? At least with Gabriel the shirt has a chance to breathe and see the sun and enjoy life!
Digital zoom… my eyes are shut. I didn’t have a lof of photos taken here, because, well, do you remember poor Gabriel and all those photos he had to make at the mayor’s office? Well these were taken on the same day and I didn’t feel like being cruel and overworking him with camera duty.
Also this isn’t just any monument. It’s a monument that marks the spot where captured slaves were forced onto ships against their will. This is the point where they had one last look at their home, never to see it again. It’s somewhat like a grave – what happened here was awful, and I would feel uncomfortable doing a full blown cathy photo shoot here, as if it would dishonor what happened here. Better to do a few discreet photos and be on my way. Just because it is a tourist trap today doesn’t change its dark history.
Here Gabriel is standing next to a revanent, which represents the spirit of the dead. They face the ocean to welcome back the souls of those who died abroad. So while the body may never come back home, at least the souls can be reunited with their motherland.
I think I am going to add another button on the right (my left) side of this dress because the way the hem “dips out” bothers me quite a bit. It’s all I can look at. You can’t tell, but there’s a lot of hand stitching on the inside for the facing and hems – lately I’ve been putting more TLC into my sewing since if I have to lug back a heavy suitcase of clothing, I want it to be good clothing. No sloppy messes will be allowed to return to Texas! Decision day is coming soon when I’ll have to decide what goes and what gets left behind…
Fabric: Green Batik
Pattern: McCall’s M6279