Sunday, 13 July 2014

Under $10

The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is very straightforward; make something for under $10. You can see the other entries for this challenge here. Straightforward challenge, yes. Simple to achieve, no. The pound is currently quite strong against the dollar, so this gives me just £5.80 to play with. (To put this into context for non-UK readers, The Times newspaper currently costs £1.20 on a weekday, and £1.50 on Saturdays.)

Fortunately, on my recent trip to Manchester I bought some fabric at £1 per metre. This is to make a new costume for a medieval fair I’m attending with Ya Raqs, and as it’s now only a couple of weeks away, it’s time to get sewing.

I’m going to make an Ottoman costume, and for this challenge I decided to make the trousers. Easy. Everyone knows that that Turkish trousers are huge, full, pouffy things, right? Like this.

Ghawazee dancers, David Roberts, 1842

Or this.

Dancing girl, Cairo, 1860-1890

Erm, wrong. Every source I consulted in my research stated that this was wrong, sometimes quite firmly. It turns out that looking as though you have a small zeppelin attached to each leg is a late 17th century costume development. Earlier trousers were tight-fitting around the ankle. To make my trousers I used this pattern (scroll down to Salwar and click on the link).

At this point I hadn’t decided exactly what period I was planning to work to, but the accompanying notes state that for 14th century pants the full width of the fabric (115cm / 45") should be used, but for the 15th and 16th centuries the width should be approximately 150% of your thigh measurement. This tipped me towards the latter.

The pants are also incredibly long; the measurement used is waist to floor, but taken while bending forward to touch your toes. Presumably if you are going to be sitting on floor cushions a lot, the extra ease makes a lot of sense!

So, I cut out the two rectangles of fabric, and folded them in half. This was where I began to get worried. I very rarely wear trousers except for going walking, and have never made a pair, but my first thought was that this seemed like quite a lot of fabric. So, I fetched a pair of trousers for comparison.

Hmm, these are going to be big

The next stage is to cut off a triangle of fabric to shape the leg, and then turn this triangle over and attach it to the leg as a gusset.

Leg and gusset pieces - it's not looking any better

My totally non-period-appropriate fabric is loosely woven and frays a lot, so I used equally non-period-appropriate machine-sewn French seams for the construction. Having attached the gusset pieces, the leg seam is sewn, and then the two legs sewn together.

A completed leg - still no better

The legs have a narrow hem, and are folded over at the top to make a waistband casing. I sewed both of these by hand, and can confirm that it is a very long casing indeed.

The completed trousers go right round me. With an overlap. Nice.

So here we have the finished article. And what an article it is.


Over the years I’ve got used to most of my dance costumes being, ahem, less than flattering. It’s an occupational hazard of performing traditional, folkloric, Middle Eastern dance as opposed to modern cabaret-style belly dance. After all, it is the dance of a culture where modesty in dress is important. Even the Ouled Naïl who were, by any standards, pretty risqué, dressed in a way which was not at all revealing.

Ouled Naïl woman by Rudolf Lehnert, 1904, from Wikimedia Commons

These pants however are a whole new level of unflattering.

Nope, they're no better from the front

Gathered up they look slightly better

I’ve cropped the photos so that you can’t see the expression on my face. It is less than ecstatic. Now I understand why so many layers are worn over the top of the trousers; it’s to hide the awful evidence!

The small print:
The Challenge: under $10
Fabric: Man made, possibly viscose
Pattern: Rashid's Persian Salwar pattern
Year: 15th to 16th century
Notions: thread
How historically accurate is it? The pattern is accurate, fabric and construction method are not remotely so. 30%?
Hours to complete: About 6
First worn: Just now, to take photographs
Total cost: Thread from stash, fabric £3. (Just as well really. If they had cost any more, I would have considered myself robbed!)

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