Back in July 2017 before I gave in to the middle age slump…
With so many beautiful choli blouse fabric in the Stash I really need to get some pattern block for choli blouse sorted. And I have in fact been working on it for ages. So much so that I now have way too many pattern pieces, muslins (wearable & not), & mug shots to confuse me never mind you…argh! Long story short, no cigar yet. But I have a hypothesis with 2 more pattern drafting approaches to test. On to the nitty gritty…
My 3 requirements for Choli Block:
Bust support lift & shaping: Depending on the back neckline design, I may not be able to wear a regular bra with my choli. So built-in bust shaping / support would be nice. But it needs to work for woven fabric & not constrict breathing.
Stay-put neckline: Allow low / open front & back neckline without the top falling off the shoulders
Fitted sleeve mobility: Allow arms up & forward without excessive sleeve width & winged effect on short sleeves
Since I already had a top block that seems to fit alright I thought I’d get better results using that as the basis for my draft rather than follow the relatively less personalised authentic Indian instructions. (Typical Westerner!)
I tried to raise my ageing bustline unsuccessfully. It was only like 1/2″ higher on my pattern. But I think my custom embroidery shrunk the pieces despite being stretch taut on a frame frame. And because I was worried about metallic embroidery thread being scratchy I didn’t extend the embroidery far enough into the seam allowance to allow me to let out at the shoulder seams. I ended up with some draglines in the upper bust area for my big day. (Did let out what I could afterwards. But there wasn’t much seam allowance to fix it entirely.)
Lowered neckline (aka unintentional off-the-shoulder look) wasn’t an issue in this version as I used the cross-back ties that one finds in many authentic Indian choli.
But limited sleeve mobility was an issue despite a moderately shallow cap. The bit that feels most restrictive was mid arm joint height, as if the cap area wasn’t wide enough.
I had to tweak my personalised pattern to fit the ready-made embroidery, which is presumably shaped to work with standard Indian pattern-drafting. Eg the allowance for back waist dart is smaller than my back waist dart, so some of mine had to be pivoted to the back cut-out area. In other areas I had to twist the fabric slightly to fit my pattern, or even patch a bald area with embroidered scraps.
Bust & neckline not an issue here as I didn’t attempt to lift the bust & this design has a back cut-out rather than lowered neckline.
Sleeve mobility wasn’t too bad, but comfort was my main issue here. I made the cap even more shallow & wider to increase mobility & tapered the sleeve width more sharply to minimise the winged look. The result was the heavily embroidered underarm areas getting too close for comfort. I felt like I was holding something with my armpits! Again had to suffer through it for a friend’s wedding, but redid the sleeve increasing the cap height (by shortening the sleeve seam length) & removed as much embroidery from the area as I could. Wearable. But now the sleeve’s more restrictive. So I wouldn’t reach for it naturally.
After armscye alteration…
After – can’t raise arms as much
More muslins & research…
Stay-put lowered neckline:
Tried the instruction for lowered F&B neckline from K King’s Moulage book. It was a method devised by his Indian teacher. Didn’t work for me. Actually made the shoulders slip off even more easily. Maybe I didn’t follow the instruction correctly?
My patterns had the back neckline at shoulder blade width, but the muslin necklines all spread out more widely. Perhaps it was too much to ask the neckline to stay put at the shoulder blade peaks?
Tried cutting sleeve on the bias. Sleeve looked marginally less wrinkly, but made no noticeable difference to mobility nor decrease the winged look.
Tried on a me-made choli based on older bodice block for comparison & was surprised to find that it actually had better sleeve mobility without excess sleeve width & winged effect. I had thought the shoulder slope & sleeve cap fit was off on that version, causing excess fabric folds pointing to armpits & draglines from centres of neckline as if the sleeves were pulling the neckline outward. Comparing the latest sleeve draft to that choli (don’t have the pattern anymore) that earlier sleeve shape was actually closer to my immobile fitted sleeve – cap taller & narrower than my latest drafts…WTF!?!?!
For most of these I think I will make the Indian blouse as intended, but adapt the skirt & shawl to more wearable western style garments. It seems such a shame not to make them up as designed, but ultimately Function trumps Form for me.
And to store my ever expanding Asian lovelies I ended up making a dozen storage bags. I was going to buy readymade saree/lehenga storage bags. But most are made with clear plastic, and various online articles advise storing these away from light. So I pressed some unloved non-woven interfacing & horticultural fleece from the Stash into service.
These “Half & Half Sarees” are skirt & shawl fabrics joined together to create a 2-colour saree. They’re worn like sarees & are different from “Half Sarees” which seems like another name for lehenga outfit with separate skirt & shawl.
I’m thinkning of keeping this one as designed. The presumably polyester chiffon skirt-shawl without stiff interfacing makes it more casual & wearable.
First of 3 lehenga skirt outfits, these will be harder to adapt as the skirts are panelled & partly sewn. The skirt hems all have stiff interfacing making them impractical for normal wear. But at least the fabrics are neutral enough to work in western style garments.
Like the pink one above I chose this one because the fabrics are neutral enough to work in western style & the combination of fabric & trims work well together (rather than look randomly thrown together like in some other designs).
I better stop buying more of these fancy Indian outfits until I figure out what to do with these…AND sew some up! DH is threatening to get me on one of those Hoarder TV programmes!
Oops, I’ve done it again. I was doing so well resisting mindless feeding of the Stash. But since discovering pretty & partly sewn Indian outfits during my wedding dress research, I’ve succumbed to their siren calls.
This time I tried the Salwar Kameez suits. These came as partly stitched tunic + fabric for trousers + RTW shawl. I’m still a bit confused about the names for the different types of suits, so pardon me if I called them by the wrong names. I think the ones I bought are called Anarkali Suits which have tunics that are fitted in the bodice & sleeves, & flared in the skirt. The trousers to go with these tunics seem to be the slimmer type called Churidar. I bought 3 brand name suits from Haya Creations in India. It’s the same place where I bought the two back-up lehenga choli outfits for my wedding which are still waiting to be sewn. Mea culpa.
One thing I noticed is that the part-stitched tunics for all three are HUGE. Like the lehenga choli outfits, you’re suppose to have your tailor alter the part-stitched item to fit & make up the unstitched item for you. Some shops offer this tailoring service. Haya Creations doesn’t. That suits me fine as I want to do the sewing. But it is a bit of a pain though to have to unpick stitching in the part-stitched items to alter them.
Unlike other tunics I’ve seen, this one is all sewn up except the sleeve seams. It’s obviously too big on me. Thankfully the bodice of the tunic is panelled. So I think all I have to do is to remove one panel per quadrant at the side seams. The sleeves are kimono shaped – ie no sleeve cap, so can be easily shortened at the armscyes. The bodice length is more troublesome. As the neckline is embellished & all finished, I guess I’ll have to do it at the hem. That means removing the borders, shortening the bodice, then reattaching the borders. While the fit at the moment is no where like on the model, I do kind of like the loose robe-like silhouette. I might keep that instead of making it more fitted like on the model.
The dupatta shawl is lovely, but the embellishment is a bit scratchy. So I might have to find a matching chiffon to line it.
The Jacquard trousers fabric is a bit stiff & would probably look best in a more fitted styles. But to be honest, I’m not sure if I will obey the original design & make this into a trousers. There’s 2-2/3 yds of the 45″ wide fabric, certainly enough for a dress or even a jacket. We shall see. I rather like the golden wrong side of the fabric. But unfortunately the floating threads would snag too easily. So the black right side it is then. Even then I might have to line this to prevent snagging.
The tunic for this is less constructed than what I’ve seen in the shops. Originally I thought only the side & sleeve seams are left unstitched. But actually the bodice is just rectangular pieces of fabric, with button loops basted to the front & loose buttons in a plastic bag. No neckline, no bodice shaping, etc. The skirt panels are sewn except for the side seams. I will have to dissect these into component parts & make up the bodice & sleeves with my Blocks. The skirt I guess I’ll have to shorten from the waist. Haven’t decided yet whether to keep this as a dress or to make this into separates. What would you do?
This one is slightly more made up than the Jinaam one above, only because the front bodice embellishment requires bust shaping to be pre-determined. Otherwise it’s like the other Jinaam suit – pieces of fabric with no back shaping, no neckline cut out, side & sleeve seams unstitched. Shame I didn’t notice in the photo that the back is less embellished than the front. This looks a bit weird in real life, thought the modelled photos looked OK. Again I’m tempted to separate this into a top + skirt to keep it more wearable.
The dupatta shawls for both Jinaam suits are quite similar & plain, with mostly a border to bling it up. I’m tempted to turn one into a kaftan. I mean, how many shawls would I actually wear?
The trousers fabrics for both suits are drapy rayon the weight of lining. This might be my chance to experiment with baggier trousers. Maybe not MC Hammer baggy. Maybe at most this baggy…
inspiration for pants
Hopefully these type of trousers won’t require accurate pattern-making, because Trousers Blocks are sorely missing from my collection. I may just have to rope MR into wrapping me some legs soon!
Now on to the me-made bit in the outfit – the Choli Blouse… This is actually quite a simple top. Many choli blouses are. The most labour-intensive bit is in the embellishment. So after finishing the custom embroidery, I kind of lost interest, which made the simple blouse construction excruciatingly slow.
To recap, the outfit I bought was a copy. So while the blouse fabrics & trim supplied do match the skirt, they don’t look like the original design I wanted. I decided to make a blouse from scratch so I can incorporate as much of the original embellishment design as possible.
Original Gajiwala 7384 design
What I bought – details
I kept the front pretty simple & scale back the amount of embroidery because I wasn’t sure I can manage even just the hem & neckline borders.
There wasn’t any photo of the back, so I took inspiration from other designs I liked & went for a basic U-neck that’s as open & deep as the bra I was going to wear would allow, with tasselled cord ties at upper back.
I debated whether to keep the sleeves see-through like in the original design or use the same opaque fabric as the bodice. I went with opaque because I thought I might want to wear the top as a vest over something like La Chemise, in keeping with the cooler London climate. It sort of half worked: On the plus side, it hid the messy underbelly of my embroidery. On the down side, my top turned out a bit on the tight side, so I’m not sure how practical – or visually pleasing – it would be to wear this as a vest over something else.
Pivoted front darts to create Front Armhole Princess Seams. (I really should sort out my Princess Seam Blocks.)
Picked a fight with gravity by moving the Bust Points up a bit & closer together for a fuller look.
Pivoted back darts to create smaller Back Waist Darts that won’t disrupt the embroidery design much.
Shortened bodice & sleeves for a cropped top with short sleeve.
Lowered neckline per design & pivoted out about 3/16″ per side (3/4″ total) from the neckline to pre-empt any gaps opening up on drastic lowering of the neckline.
Made the sleeve cap more shallow & wider at the top for better arm movement.
Added 3-sets of bra strap/band retainers – at the shoulder, further down the back straps, & near the CB opening.
Added placket beneath the butted CB opening which fasten with bra hooks & eyes.
Added detachable underarm sweat guard to help prevent sweat stains on the diva silk fashion fabric.
Well, it wasn’t a great success, despite a fitting muslin being made for a change.
The raised bust line didn’t fit very well. Gravity won this round. My bra was no match for it. It also didn’t help that I had to wash the fabric after I finished the embroidery (I had some hay fever sneezing fits while doing the embroidery). The washing or the pressing afterwards shrunk the embroidered neckline, which then pull the whole top up a bit further. Slight draglines above the bust was the result. Thankfully the blingy necklaces & shawl hid these draglines on The Day!
The whole thing is a bit tighter than planned. I always forget the extra ease needed to accommodate the innards – eg lining, interfacing, bumpy underbelly of couched embroidery. A fitting muslin is no help in this case – unless you include the extra layers in your muslin as well. The shrunken embroidery mentioned above no doubt made it worse. So I’m glad I didn’t aim for Bridezilla Second Skin Look in the first place!
And finally & most importantly, my draft failed the only test that matters when it comes to a Choli Blouse: I can’t bust out any ‘Screw In The Lightbulb’ Bollywood dance moves in this! The sleeves are still veering towards restrictive tailored fit. Me bad for not checking this in the fitting muslin – I only checked for standing still fit & lounging around comfort. Good thing no dance off was planned for the post-ceremony luncheon!
So the hunt for a TNT Choli Blouse pattern continues.
Fabric & Notions Used
There were a lot more bought than used. It was impossible to find supplies that come close to the inspiration photo & match the skirt. I never knew there were so many different shades of gold & types of metallic threads! So the Stash got a feast in the process…
And here’s the list of what I ended up using…
Fabric: 2-tone shot silk dupion from A-Z Fabrics (Goldhawk Rd, West London)
Stabilise the neckline & hemline edges with fusible interfacing. This also supports the embroidery & minimise puckering.
Traced the embroidery design from the Skirt scrap. As the material couldn’t be the same as the coordinating Skirt, I tried to at least match the embroidery design as much as possible.
Worked out the embroidery design on a copy of the Blouse pattern, tracing from the Skirt embroidery design wherever possible. Because my left & right sides are not symmetrical, the differences are worked into the spacing between the flowers and vines to keep the design itself more symmetrical.
The embroidery design is traced onto the right sides of the fabric with a pen & a white waxy dressmaking carbon paper. Using a different colour pen allowed me to easily see which bit of the design has already been traced. The pen is easier to control & the ball-point tip produced clear fine lines without shredding the pattern paper. My waxy carbon paper lines don’t wash out, but I think it’s acceptable as they will mostly be hidden by the embroidery. Plus the sheen of the Silk Dupion masks the white line in certain light. In fact it can be damn hard to see the design when I needed to! I had to experiment with the positioning of the lighting a fair bit.
I chose the mix-n-match Siesta No-Sew Embroidery Roller Frames because of its flexibility & availability of sizes large enough to accommodate my sewing pattern pieces (they’re available in 6″-30″ widths & 7″-15″ lengths). Most frames are designed for dainty picture embroidery, so it can be hard to find ones big enough to keep the whole embroidery area flat. I didn’t want the embroidered areas to be crushed by the frame (as would happen with a hoop frame). Even rolling them up didn’t appeal. So I went for 30” roller bars (width) & 15” side bars (length) – just about large enough to keep the embroidery areas flat. I did still have to split the pattern pieces into 3 groups to make this work.
The other reason for choosing this frame was the Siesta No-Sew Table/Lap Stand Legs add-on that turn the frame into a table top / lap frame. This makes it possible to work comfortably at the table or on the sofa with the embroidery frame at the right height & with easy access to the front & back of the fabric. I did buy the optional cross-support bar, but ended up not using it.
Although the frame is designed to be “no-sew” – ie you can tape or staple your fabric to the soft wood roller bars – I prefer the sturdier looking sew-on method of traditional roller frames. So I stapled & taped strips of sturdy cotton ticking to the roller bars. (Twill tapes would have been the traditional choice, but I didn’t have any in the Stash.)
When it came to mounting the fabric onto the frame, I checked out this great YouTube tutorial…
…then did my variation of course! 🙂
Reinforced the fabric on the sides with ticking strips.
Baste the top & bottom to the roller bar ticking strips & rolled outward to keep the fabric taut lengthwise.
To keep the fabric taut crosswise, sew the buttonhole twist threads through the reinforced sides & looped around the side bars. Keep top end of the thread in place by looping it around the top end of the side bar & sandwich between the bar & the wing nut. Pull the thread tighter around the side bar, working the slack loop by loop towards the bottom end of the side bar. Tighten the thread through multiple passes & alternate between the right & left side bars to keep the fabric centred. Once the loops are tight, keep the bottom end of the thread in place by looping around the bottom end of the side bar & sandwich between the side bar & the wing nut.
The Embroidery Sweat Shop
Embroidery that may have shrunken the patterns
Flower centres & leaves at the neckline are satin stitches done in two passes: First with Krenik #8 Braid in 5005 Gold Coin, then with Krenik Blending Filament in 202HL Aztec Gold for extra sparkle. The Blending Filament worked better when wetted & used in single strand. The white strengthening filaments did still fray a bit. When this happens I just remove them before using the Blending Filament.
As the Braids are not cheap, I tried to keep it continuous to minimize amount wasted by knotting the ends. I pulled the Braid to the right side at the end point, then back to the wrong side at the starting point & knot this starting end. This way I can pull just the amount of Braid I need to the right side, & at the end any extra can be pulled back to the wrong side, knotted & cut with very little waste.
The two Back pieces were done while I was away visiting relatives. So I stitched the Metallic Mesh Ribbon border by machine first. The fabric & the frame were transported disassembled & the framing up done on location.
The Back Darts end in the neckline design area. To avoid bulk in the dart allowance, I stitched the dart points first before framing up. It does make the fabric less tautly stretched, but it’s not too bad as I only stitch as much of the dart points as needed for the flowers that span across them.
I reckon the embroidery stitching process took me about 18 long days. I was at best managing 12 flowers a day & there were 111 of those, plus vines & leaves! I barely made it what with all the travelling. And it can be rather back-braking. I had to take regular breaks. So hats off to all the Embroidery Masters all over the world!
I didn’t do much research on how Choli Blouse are typically constructed beforehand. But I did notice a few blouses were sewn with wide side seams that are sewn last so that they can easily be let out when the Middle Age Spread hits! In other words, armscye seams & hems are done before the side seams, and if there’s any lining, they seem to be treated more like underlining – ie sewn as one with the fabric pieces.
Of course I went ahead & did this my bog standard Western way. For one thing, practical as they may be I still feel funny about those wide side seam allowance possibly peeking out at the hems.
Back darts, front princess seams, shoulder seams, armscye seams, side seams. Repeat with lining.
Join fabric & lining at neckline – sandwiching the back neck tasselled cords between the layers, understitch, then join fabric & lining at CB opening.
Hem fabric & lining. I did a jacket-style jump hem in case the two fabric shrink at different rate when cleaned. (I had a previous silk choli blouse develop an unsightly pull at the hem because the cotton lining shrank more. Not keen to repeat the mistake!)
Make the placket (fabric & lining), bra bits retainers (lining), sweat guards (lining) – all sewn right sides together with a gap for turning right side out.
Sew hooks to CB opening, then placket. Sew bra bits retainers to lining. Sew snaps to these retainers, sweat guards, & corresponding lining areas. Tack fabric & lining at shoulder-armscye points & underarm to help keep lining from peeking out.
I’m still feeling exhausted from my stint in the embroidery sweat shop. But I’m proud that I managed it. I don’t think I would have had the patience if it were for home decor projects like cushions or wall decorations. But once in a blue moon for a garment I can just about manage. There’s certainly a lot of leftover supplies for many more. And I’m impressed by how the simple embroidery design elements like these straight borders & nothing-special flowers can add up to something that looks fancier.
It’s a shame that the fit was off. Got to respect the Bod innit! And must, MUST remember to add extra allowance for each layer of innards added. I hope I’ll get a few more wear out of this top before I get too plump or it gets shrunken in the wash!
BTW all that effort with the bra bits retainers was a bit wasted. On the day I was too hot & flustered to do up all three sets, especially as the neckline was too snug to get one’s hand in. I only managed the bra band retainers near the CB. I ruled out attaching the bra first before putting the whole thing on because the too snug neckline wouldn’t have allowed me to cajole the girls into position. I kind of wished I had gone traditional bridal dress shopping so I can study how bridal wear designers manage to make so many women look so fabulous on their big day.
A couple of things for sure, I’m definitely up for making more of these embellished choli blouses, and the search for TNT choli blouse pattern continues. Now I just need some proper Summer days in London to make these worthwhile making!
Moving swiftly along to the outfit itself…This spans the full spectrum from purely RTW (shawl) to partly pre-stitched (skirt) to purely me-made (top).
What I bought
The skirt completion / alteration turned out to be more involved than I anticipated… Partly because I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to customise & do some unnecessarily tidying of the invisible innards!
Lehenga skirts seem to be mostly panel / umbrella skirts. So originally I thought I just need to remove panels to reduce the circumference & shorten the length to fit, then sew up that last side seam & I’ll be done.
Well it turned out the top lace layer of this skirt is made from 34 panels which are each quite narrow from the top to the thigh, then spread out below that. Even if I remove some panels to fit my hip, this would still leave the top too wide for my waist (actually high hip, since many are worn lower down than the natural waist). Many lehenga designs simply use the tasselled cord to tighten the waistband to fit. But I didn’t like this haphazardly pleated waistline look, especially as the waistband can be quite stiff & bulky.
Cord gathered waist
vs Pleated fitted waist
I ended up removing one panel, then pleated the extra width into 4 pleats at the front & back princess lines. This is then sewn to the smooth & more fitted waistband. The weight of the skirt actually pulls the pleats apart & along with the textured embroidery you can hardly see the pleating in the end. But I got the more fitted waistband I wanted. Well, almost.
The weight of the skirt still pulled the waistline down too much. To keep the skirt from sweeping the floor I had to tie the waist cord tighter, which brought back the dreaded bulky pleated waistband look. I tried to fix this by adding waistband elastic, which kind of spoils the neat waistline finish I took ages to make. Boo.
The inner layers were simpler to alter width-wise, though again I ended up doing this differently than planned. Because the hems of the inner layer weren’t as wide as my free spirit would like, I decided not remove any panel. Instead I resew each panel side seams & tapered more at the waist. Thankfully there are only 6 panels for each inner layer.
Length alteration was done at the top for a more A-line / circle skirt result. Considering that I basically resewn the hem border, I could have shortened from the hem. But I wanted more swish, so it made sense to cut off the more fitted length at the top rather than the flared length at the bottom.
Mug Shots vs Original Design vs Pre-altered Skirt
Altered Samyakk skirt – Front
Altered Samyakk skirt – Side with tassle
Altered Samyakk skirt – Side
Altered Samyakk skirt – Back
Gajiwala Saree GS7384
Out of the box the skirt weighs a ton & could stand on its own! In addition to the lace, the shiny underlay, and the lining, there was stiff netting attached to the hem of the lining. The lining itself also has wide hem that’s stiffened with the sort of heavy fusible interfacing that you might find in men’s formal shirt collars. It felt formal, ceremonial, claustrophobic, which I suppose is what a wedding ceremony calls for. Most of the other bridal lehenga outfit I saw also look really formal & restrictive.
But it wasn’t what I attracted me to this outfit. The original design photos look bohemian. The model looked like she’s free to dance & twirl. I wanted a bit more of that romance. So off came the netting (fed to the Stash for some future petticoat of course!). The stiff lining hem interfacing had to go as well. The skirt still weighs just a touch under a ton, but at least I can twirl a bit better.
The more streamlined waistband, princess line pleats, & A-line silhouette I already mentioned above.
The only other change I made was to replace the tasselled waist cord so that I can have a matching one for the Choli Blouse. I did like the original cord & tassels design, so tried to look for similar material. But it’s amazingly difficult to find the exact same type of material. Part of the problem is not knowing what the bits are called – eg the type of cord that was used. I did eventually find the same type of cord at jewellerymaker.com which they called “zari ropes”. No luck with the beads, so I ended up getting my beads from firemountaingems.com & also had to get some Montana Gold spray paint in Gold Chrome colour to ‘correct’ the brassy colours of the filigree beads. I followed the threading pattern of the original tassels, but replace some beads with red acrylic ones to tie in the red from the shawl. And paranoid about washability, I made the tassels detachable – hooked on to the cord with carabiner catches.
What can I say, I have sewing OCD }:-)
Border innard tidied up
Gapnosis plackets added
Plastic beads crushed
All 33 panel seams on the lace top layer had the seam allowances re-overlocked to an even & narrower width so that the shiny underlay show through more.
All 8+ yds of the hem border interfacing were replaced & tidied up (with Pro-Sheer Elegance Light Fusible Interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply that I had in the Stash), and the border facing darted uniformly to match the 33 panel side seams. Before this fix there were some excess folds in the interfacing & the facing dart shaping were done more haphazardly. Although neither problem really affected the look, I. Just. Could. Not. Help. It!
Added plackets to the waist opening / waistband with hook & bar closures for extra security against gapnosis.
But there one thing that I didn’t bother to fix which perhaps I should have, and that is to replace the plastic bead trim at the hem with metallic beads. It’s all too easy to crush these beads when you’re a klutz like me. My sewing room / photo studio is now strewn with bead carcasses. I predict by the end of the wedding day I’ll have 5 beads left. So why didn’t my OCD extend to this fix? Because the skirt already weigh too much. And there’s 8+ yds of zig-zag beads. And they would all have to be replaced one by one as there is of course no ready-made trim that fits the bill. I think I’ve done my time with the blouse embroidery.