Bridezilla Odyssey – part 1 – lehenga shop reviews

Getting back to Bridezilla sewing now…

These goodies arrived 2-3 weeks ago and I’ve been frantically planning my outfit and any sewing that needs to be done. First, some reviews of my shopping experience in case anyone else is interested in ordering from these online Indian shops. Some observations that apply to all shops…

These choli blouse + lehenga skirt + dupatta shawl designs frequently come as unstitched blouse fabric + partially stitched skirt (with one seam left to do so that it can be sewn up to your size) + fully stitched shawl. Some shops offer stitching services for the blouse and the skirt. But of course I prefer to do the sewing myself to ensure a good fit & stitching quality that I’d be happy with. Even for those who don’t sew, I’d recommend have them made up locally so the tailor can ensure a better fit. Us sewers know how the same measurements alone don’t guarantee a good fit as the body shape may be different – eg wide all around at the bust or a big bust on a small frame with narrower than expected back! Plus if you’re employing a local tailor you might be able to see example of their work before committing to their service, so you can be more confident the stitch quality is satisfactory.

The other reason to order unstitched version is that the items may arrive faster. If the shop have to stitch them up for you, not only do you have to factor in stitching time, at busy time of the year there may also be a queue. The seller will of course try to keep you sweet pre-sale, but after your order has been placed, you might have to chase them for status updates if your items is in the queue to be made up.

Having said that, not all designs lend themselves to this option. Sometimes the embellishment is very specific to the shape, size & fit of the garment. The pattern pieces need to be determined before the embellishment can be customised to fit. These probably will be the more expensive designs, like a few hundreds pounds to over £1000. All three that I ordered were just over £100 each.

As for fabric quality, it can be hard to be sure you’re getting real natural fiber like silk. Sometimes the shops will label something as “Art”, short for “artificial” or “faux”. But in general there doesn’t seem to be a clear distinction between type of fabric vs type of fibre used in the fabric. This applies not just to online shops. When I checked out a few brick-n-mortars in London, they also didn’t know there are “silk georgette” vs “polyester georgette”. The ones that make a point of sourcing natural fibre will probably shout about it & reflect that in their site menu categories. But in general, I think it’s best to assume man-made fibre. Then you may be pleasantly surprised if it turns out to be natural fibre if that is important to you! I haven’t done burn tests on the one I got. So I’m assuming man-made, especially with all the affordable bling!

Haya Creations
Indian/Asian outfit online shop

www.hayacreations.com

lehenga_nakkashi-haya-1I fell in love with these two Nakkashi designs and found Haya Creations which seems to sell the originals. Some shops show you photos of the original designs, but don’t mention the designers. So there’s no way to tell if they are selling the originals or copies, and more importantly, if copies whether they’ll look anything like the originals. Haya Creations does mention the brand name & the brand style number. Thankfully what I received also has the brand’s packaging.

Ordering process:

  • Haya Creations doesn’t seem to offer stitching service, which of course is fine by me.
  • I choose PayPal as payment option, but it isn’t entirely integrated into the checkout process. I received an email after placing the order with a link to PayPal to complete the payment. So don’t panic if this happen to you. Just wait for the email.
  • I ordered on a Friday (London time) & package was sent the following Tuesday. I would have received the package on the Thursday, but there was miscommunication about the delivery address. Haya called me long-distance (via WhatsAapp) the following Monday & gave me the tracking number & contact number for the courier (UK Mail). The package was delivered the following day. All in all it took just over a week from India to UK.
  • I was also expecting to have to pay import taxes, but I wasn’t charged any for my total purchase of just over £200.

Nakkashi Indian/Asian outfit designer & manufacturer

Now the Nakkashi designs themselves…I originally wanted to buy directly from Nakkashi’s online shop. But their PayPal payment option wasn’t set up properly. So I couldn’t complete the purchase on their eshop.

I think both lehengas may be relatively “mass-produced” rather than made to order or made as an one-off as some Indian/Asian outfits can be. Maybe that’s why both came with all three elements – blouse material, skirt, shawl – stitched / tacked together (see photos below). Perhaps this ensures each package has all the bits that its suppose to have. It is a bit of a hassle though to have to unpick these temporary seams before I can start sewing. I’d much rather the bits come as a loose kit – like bra kits do. But the designs are fabulous. For me to have to source all the bits & do the embellishment myself would be just as much hassle if not more.

In terms of quality, I’m assuming these are man-made fibers. Thankfully most of the fabrics don’t feel very plasticky. And while the skirt & shawl stitchings are not perfect, they don’t affect how the outfits look. So I’d say the marketing photos are fairly accurate. And given the affordable price I think they’re good value for money.

Nakkashi Royal Prestige 5033
unstitched choli blouse + part-stitched lehenga skirt + finished dupatta shawl

The colour for this one turned out darker than in the photos, a brownish flesh tone rather than antique gold. But it’s still nice. The only complaint I have is that the panel skirt doesn’t have an extra lining to protect the sequin stitching, so one might snag on the sequin threads. The skirt has a layer of soft netting on top of the sequined chiffon fabric. So I’m assuming the top is meant to have the same order of layering. The shaped trims for the front & back neckline is basted to the soft netting, and the straight trims for the hems also basted to the edges of the blouse fabric. The marketing photo doesn’t show the back, but the top has a deep U back that’s not too open. So this one should be OK to wear with normal bras. The shawl is shimmery chiffon. The floral trims on the skirt & shawl are velvet with metallic embroidery. The stitching on this one is OK.

Nakkashi Royal Prestige 5036
unstitched choli blouse + part-stitched lehenga skirt + finished dupatta shawl

The colour on this one is spot on. The panel skirt embellishment is on the top layer soft netting. So the threads in the back is protected by the orange lining / underlay. The shawl is chiffon with sewn on sequins. Both again have velvet trims with floral metallic embroidery. The stitching on this one is slightly twisted in places, but isn’t bad enough to show up in photos. So only perfectionist need to have these fixed! The blouse is dupion with sequin & metallic thread embroidery. Again, the marketing photos didn’t show the back. I scratched my head a bit when I first saw the shape of the embroidery, trying to figure out how it’s suppose to look. I think it’s meant to have a triangular cutout with neckline & below bust centre back closure. The cutout looks fairly large. So it’ll be hard to find a bra to wear with this if one needs proper bust support. Even the normal low-back bra extender won’t help as the top is cropped, so the extender looping at waist level will peep out.

Samyakk
Indian/Asian outfit shop

www.samyakk.com

lehenga_gajiwala-samyakk-1

I fell in love with a Gajiwara design and found Samyakk which sells something similar. Again, unlike other shops which show you designer photos then sell you a copy that may or may not look like the original, Samyakk shows you exactly what you’ll be getting. But you do have to look through all the photos on the product detail page, because sometimes the blouse fabric is not the same as the generic one shown on the mannequin. Where it’s different they do include a photo of the actual blouse fabric. But because the image menu only shows 3 thumbnails at a time, you have to use the arrow links to browse through all the product photos.

Ordering process:

  • Samyakk does offer blouse stitching service, but of course I didn’t opt for this, so can’t really comment on how this work or quality of this service.
  • I choose PayPal as payment option & this went through during check-out as expected.
  • I ordered on a Friday (London time) & package arrived the following Tuesday via DHL. All in all it took less than a week from India to UK. If you requested stitching service it’ll take longer. Presumably how long will depend on how busy it gets – there may be a queue in addition to time required for stitching. So plan ahead!
  • I was again expecting to have to pay import taxes, but I wasn’t charged any for my total purchase of just over £100.

Samyakk GC755
unstitched choli blouse + part-stitched lehenga skirt + finished dupatta shawl

This is similar to Gajiwara GS7384 lehenga choli (the first photo above), but with blouse fabric that’s the same as the skirt rather than a different but coordinating design. Also the Samyakk skirt is a panel skirt that’s fitted through the hip, whereas the Gajiwara skirt looks like it may be variations of the circle skirt, or at least panels that flares out higher up. I had wanted to get the Gajiwara version, but I couldn’t find a shop that can confirm they sell the original. And when I asked Gajiwara on Facebook, their response came too late – after I’ve already placed an order with Samyakk. Also they wanted me to call them long-distance & I felt uncomfortable with that, especially since I’m not sure if they would speak fluent English.

So the Samyakk version…This seems to be an one-off design. It’s no longer available on their eshop. The 3 elements are not stitched / tacked to each other. The stitching is better than the Nakkashi ones. But there are still stray threads, which is understandable on these easily snagged embroidered fabrics. Again I’m assuming man-made fibres. The blouse material is just a piece of metallic embroidered net + two-sided metallic fabric + metallic ribbon trim. The shawl is soft net with glued rhinestones with metallic ribbon & leave pattern trims. Now the skirt, this one is more elaborate than the Nakkashi skirts. At the hem it actually has 4 layers – metallic embroidered net + two-sided metallic fabric + stiff netting + lining. The netting is stitched to the lining which also has wide stiff fused interfacing. The whole thing is quite bulky & heavy! No wonder this outfit came in a big box and a clear zipper storage bag. The skirt also has the metallic ribbon & leave pattern trims. The hem on this & the shawl also have mini metallic ball edgings…which I’ve already stepped on & broke a few! I guess they must be gold painted plastic. Oops. The skirt comes with a waist tie in a lovely loosely knitted metallic cord with gold coloured (possibly plastic) latkan tassles.

The verdicts

I love all three garments / fabrics, despite the possibly man-made fibre content & less than perfect stitching. They’re lovely designs. I did try sourcing material from scratch. But it was so much effort, time, cost, & I couldn’t even find anything that looked similar never mind better quality fabric.

None of them when you break them down into their component fabrics & trims are too fancy to repurpose for less-than-special wear. So for a bit over £300, I’ll definitely get more value out of these than from a white poofy number. And they all feel more special than just a “nice dress” for such a special occasion!

In fact, I’m already tempted to buy more… 😈

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Lehenga Choli fantasy sewing

I crumbled. I was all psyched up to sew my own wedding lehenga choli (Indian/Asian skirt + cropped top). I even planned in my head how I was going to sew them up:

  • Micheal-Kors-FW2012-ad-1Half-circle lehenga skirt to preserve as large a piece as possible for future refashioning into a Michael Kor style gold lace skirt. Most lehenga seems to be umbrella/panel/gore skirts, but there were some mention of circle skirt variations as well.
  • Skirt hem border built up from skinner trims to help distribute the inevitable easing required to attach straight trims to curved hem. The home-sewn lehenga YouTube videos I saw seem to just pleat in the ease as they sew. If the trim is wide then the difference between top & bottom circumferences needed would be great & the pleating would be more visible. If the trim is narrower, then the difference between top & bottom would be smaller, so it might even be possible to ease the difference rather than pleat it.
  • Sewn on stones/sequins on dupatta shawl made from red silk geogette from the Stash rather than glued on stones. Again, YouTube videos seem to show a lot of gluing. Don’t know if it’s just the DIY crowd who rely on glue or if RTW also rely on glue, but I’d be worried about stones/sequins falling off.
  • Silk shantung or dupioni for skirt lining & as blouse base fabric.
  • Zardozi and stone/sequin embroidery to mimick the original blouse embellishment.

But fabric & trim sourcing tripped me up…because I was too stuck on that one particular design I showed you in the previous post. I found an online shop (Samyakk) that has a very similar design at a reasonable price. They also showed close-up photos of the fabrics & trims they used. I was in love.

I tried Google image search to help me source similar fabric. Google thought the fabric pictures were of dirt! LOL. Anyway, I couldn’t find anything similar online. I’ve even checked Mood and B&J Fabrics. I also took the pictures with me to various London fabric shop areas – Walthamstow, Goldhawk, Wentworth/Bricklane, Green St, even Southall! No one has anything like it. (OK, I didn’t bother with the Berwick Street fancy fabric shops because I knew their prices would be astronomical.) Funny thing is when I asked shop keepers if they have something similar, several said yes then proceeded to show me something that looked nothing like the photos I showed them. I didn’t know whether to be mad or to laugh! Were they simply trying to shift whatever they had in the shop & lying through their teeth? Or did they have a different pair of cultural glasses on & really thought what they showed me is like what I’m looking for?

In any case I’m amazed at how difficult it was to find such simple looking fabrics & trims. So after checking Samyakk’s reputation (looking for any complaints on reviews.co.uk, sitejabber & compalintsboard) & confirming a few details with the shop, I took the plunge. Fingers crossed it’ll turn out well. I feel a bit more reassured by the fact that despite this being an obvious wannabe, the shop showed their version on the website instead of showing you the original then sending you something different. (I do wonder though perhaps in some culture it is common to treat designs as Look Books & get local tailor/seamstress to knock off a copy – sometimes a very different-looking copy!)

lehenga_gold-red_1-2All is not lost in terms of sewing though. I’ve ordered all of my lehenga with unstitched blouses. So I would still have to sew the blouse at least. And I’m still thinking of copying the original Gajiwala Saree blouse design & saving the Samyakk fabric for a more western casual luxe top (if there’s enough fabric). I still need to figure out the details of how to do these embellishment. While it might only be a top that I have to make now, I may still combine some ready-made trims with manual embroidery to save time & preserve my sanity. There are a few good Indian/Asian trim shops in Southall, Walthamstow, and Green St at reasonable prices £1-£4/m. I will need to do more research on Indian embroidery for the bits where ready-made trim just won’t suffice. Here’s a good intro video to Indian/Asian embroidery made by the V&A. Shame I missed their Indian fabrics exhibit

And while it might be overkill to source a big rectangular embroidery frame like in the above video, if I go break one of the dining chairs (!!!) maybe I can make myself one like this…

Maybe with practice I can become as fast as this artisan! 😀

 

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Wedding Bling Plotting

So MR & I have decided to finally tie the knot. Which means an opportunity to make or buy a preeeetty dress.

Traditional white wedding dresses was ruled out because I really would like something I can wear again. Or at least refashion into something more wearable afterward. And as white isn’t my favourite colour, I don’t think I’ll get much mileage out of a white wedding dress. Instead I have fallen for fancy sarees from the Indian subcontinent. Originally I thought I’d just treat the saree I get as fabric & make a more western dress out of it. But the more bridal wear photos I looked at the more I’m tempted to stick to their original designs.

lehenga_red-gold-1What I didn’t realize was that their bridal wear differs depending on the region, with South India favouring the saree (draped fabric skirt/shawl + top + maybe petticoat), and West & East (North?) favouring a top (choli) + skirt (lehenga) + shawl (dupatta) combo. The latter seems to have the more intricate embroidery, but obviously would be harder to refashion. So I’m a bit torn.

The other problem is you set foot in those shops and your eyes glaze over, overwhelmed by the bling & variety. Where to even begin! I’m tempted to shop online, but am worried because most online shops are based in India, and not of that extraction I’m nervous whether cultural barriers might prevent a smooth online purchase. Things like whether what you see on the website will really be what you get – especially since I’ve been told that many items are hand-embellished, so difficult to reproduce exactly. Or how long it’ll take – is it off the shelf or do someone have to make them to order. (I only have about 3 months to sort out my outfit.) And my preference would of course be to just get the fabric & sew up myself to ensure better fit. But of course some of the nicer embellishment has to follow the pattern shape – eg neckline. So I don’t see how that would be possible if I get only the fabric.

It’s all a bit nerve-wrecking. I just ordered two lehenga cholis by Nakkashi online from Haya Creations.com. We shall see if (a) they arrive at all, (b) arrive in time, (c) the quality is acceptable, (d) if they look anything like the photos. (I would have ordered from Nakkashi’s online shop, except the order form doesn’t seem to work for international customers.)

Both of these – if the fabric quality is good enough – should be easily refashionable into casual luxe. They don’t look too OTT for the minuscule registry wedding ceremony we’re going to have.

I’m still debating on what my Plan B should be. One options is to try to get something from a brick & mortar shop, maybe from one of the shops on Green Street near Upton Park East London (- a must see if you like Indian/Asian Bling – apology to other nationals from the region for lumping you all under the “Indian” label for brevity – being another type of Asian myself I still can’t get use to calling you guys “Asians” because that’s what I’m used to calling Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc.). It’s an intimidating options due to the sheer number of choices & possibly higher prices or possibly less reliable fit.

Another alternative is to pick a similarly simpler design online & try to source the material to make it myself. Judging by the proliferation of the same photos online + complaints against stores, seems like maybe many shop are selling imitations & not the originals anyway. I think this one might be doable if I can source similar fabric & borders.

There were a couple of fabric / trim shops on Green Street carrying bling fabrics /trims presumably for exactly such purpose. Barbara, a London-based sewing friend, also found some in Walthamstow.

And of course any suggestions from you would be most welcome! As would any advice from any (British) “Asian” / Indian subcontinent readers of course! 🙂

Now if I may leave you with a few more eye-candies…

And I’m totally in awe of these tailors & embellishers’ skills…

Amazing! And nerve-wrecking to watch how the embellisher maneuver the cord back & forth under the high-speed couching machine. Hope no fingers were hurt in its making. It’s easy to criticize poor quality end products. But given the work pressure many of these workers are under, I think they’ve done pretty well. Certainly much better than I could have done under the same pressure.

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Fix It June: Sari Top

Or more correctly a “choli“.

So Me-Made-May set me on the path to Fix-It-June.
First to be sorta fixed is this choli top.


The pattern was self-drafted based on an earlier sloper, and didn’t account for breathing ease nor my uneven sloping shoulders. As with most alterations there is a limit to how much improvement that can be made. Here are the before & after mug shots.

Before Mug Shots

After Mug Shots

  • The left back side is now better after a sloping shoulder adjustment.
  • I can now breath after letting out tiny bits on all princess & side seams.

But I can still see fitting problems…The armholes feel a bit tight and there are draglines along the neckline pointing toward the shoulder tips. It’s as if the sleeves are pulling the neckline outward. I wonder if perhaps the lack of sleeve cap ease / shallow cap is the culprit.

sleeve-cap-ease My theory is that there’s not enough room in my sleeve cap to accommodate the roundness of my shoulder joints, so the sleeves want to pull the shoulder tips outward to compensate, and without a smaller neckline to counter-act this tendency the sleeves win, resulting in the neckline being pulled apart / outward. So what this top wanted was more like the left side in the picture below, but what I’m getting is more like the right side. (More on my sleeve block experiment here.)

It’s a shame I experimented first on the nicer of my two choli fabrics and made it in a rush for an occasion. This red one is silk and I think it came with the matching silk sari that I wore in the mug shots above. The other red one is cotton and might also have been bought as a set with the matching sari. I have another green cotton sari, but no matching choli fabric for it.

 Saris: An Illustrated Guide To The Indian Art Of Draping by Chantal Boulanger Ja, I went through a sari-mad phase, but never mastered the art of sari-wearing. I even bought this fascinating book by anthropologist Chantal Boulanger called “Sari: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping“. It documents 100 different ways of sari draping worn by the various castes in different regions of the Indian subcontinent. Absolutely fascinating. And sad that some of these methods may soon be forgotten. Thankfully the book includes instructions & diagrams for these different drapes.

> You can sample few pages from the book here

In London you do see women wearing Saris on the street. And they always look so elegant regardless of their size, shape, or age. Even the impoverished ladies you see in documentaries about rural India look elegant in their sari. All that without complicated fancy sewing. Amazing.

Here are my not so brilliant attempts
at three of the drapes…

 

 

Maybe I should practice wearing saris more often.
It would certainly be a good justification for
my Sari & Not-So-Sari stashes! 😉

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