Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Generosity and Gratitude

Warning: the end part of this is a far more personal post than I normally write.

The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is Generosity and Gratitude. The Dreamstress describes this challenge as
“not about a particular item or aesthetic, it’s about celebrating the generosity of spirit and willingness to help others that makes the historical sewing community great, and giving credit and thanks to those who have contributed to our collective knowledge without expecting payment in return.
Make anything that fits the general HSF guidelines, and utilizes research, patterns, and tutorials that have been made available for free, and acknowledge all the sources that have helped you to create your item. This is also an opportunity to credit the more local, personal generosity that is so wonderfully prevalent among sewers: historical and otherwise.”

I used this challenge as an opportunity to finish something which has been in my UFO pile for a long, long time; a djellaba for Mr Tulip. The djellaba is a traditional Moroccan garment; a long, loose-fitting outer robe, reaching almost to the ground and with a large pointed hood. The basic shape has remained unchanged for centuries.

The Moroccan ambassador arrives at Algeciras, January 1906

Moroccan and Jewish musicians

A djellaba consists of central rectangular panels, with shaped panels for the sleeves and the sides. There is a gap in each side seam so that the wearer can reach pockets in the garments underneath. Traditionally djellabas were made from cotton for the summer and wool for the winter.

Front view of a djellaba, minus the hood

In February 1999 Mr Tulip and I went on an escorted tour of Morocco. As well as a British guide, the group had a Moroccan driver, called Abdullah. Abdullah frequently wore a djellaba which his sister had made for him, and Mr Tulip was very taken with it.

Abdullah in his djellaba

The rather taller Mr Tulip wearing the djellaba

I always have a tape measure in my bag (doesn’t everyone?), so one evening I borrowed the djellaba, and took measurements from it. Once we were back in Marrakech we went to the souk, and managed to find a shop selling fabric. In my very rusty French, I explained that I wanted to make a djellaba for my husband. The shop owner didn’t seem in the least surprised by this; presumably it’s what any right-thinking woman in Morocco would want to do. He looked at Mr T, and told me how much fabric I would need. It didn’t seem sufficient to me but sure enough, when we got home and I drafted out the pattern, there was exactly the right amount of fabric.

Apart from the fact that the loosely woven fabric frayed very easily, the actual construction was quite straightforward. What stumped me was the trimming. Abdullah’s djellaba had what looked like cord sewn over each seam, but on closer inspection it turned out to be stitching rather than a separate trim sewn onto the fabric. It might even have been part of the construction itself.

Seam decoration on the centre front

As I couldn’t work it out how this was done, I went over each seam with heavy chain stitch in cream cotton perlĂ©. For the centre front I did three rows of stitching; the side ones in cream, and the centre row alternating eight stitches in cream with eight stitches in light brown.

Right underarm, showing the seams covered with stitching

The centre front decoration

There is no way I could replicate the impressive hand-sewn buttons on the original djellaba, so instead I was going to put on a purchased frog fasten. However all the examples I found online didn’t have a fasten, I decided against it.

Unfortunately I couldn’t persuade Mr Tulip to pose for a photo, so here is the finished djellaba laid out on my living room floor.

If I was starting to make this now, I think I'd do it quite differently; I've learned so much from taking part in some of the challenges, and from reading about the things which others have made and how they made them. The reason why the djellaba ended up in my UFO pile was that the chain stitch decoration was taking me so long to do that I got totally discouraged. Well, my hand-sewing has come on a lot since I made my Peasants and Pioneers bonnet in March, and when I picked this up again, I found it far easier to do.

The small print:
The Challenge: Generosity and Gratitude
Fabric: Striped fabric of unknown composition, from Marrakech souk
Pattern: My own, based on measurements taken from a modern djellaba
Year: Traditional Berber garment
Notions: Anchor number 8 cotton perlé in cream and light brown
How historically accurate is it? Probably not very. The basic shape has remained unchanged for a very long time, but I suspect my decoration is very modern.
Hours to complete: Unknown, spread over 14½ years!
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Unknown

And now, the difficult bit.

When the Generosity and Gratitude challenge came up, it seemed the perfect time to finish the djellaba as a thank you to Mr Tulip for his generosity and support over the years. He has happily travelled all over the country with me when I have wanted to visit certain museums or exhibitions. He has uncomplainingly amused himself while I then go round these museums or exhibitions (he must have toured about a quarter of the Victoria and Albert Museum while I inched my way round Queen Maud: Style and Splendour). He has even gone to my local fabric shop and collected my order of 20 metres of turquoise satin for Tunisian costumes without turning a hair. On top of this he is happy to check that hems are level and back views are problem-free, to offer useful suggestions to problems, and to calm me down in the face of sewing disasters.

And … he won’t be around forever.

Those of you who are kind enough to read this blog regularly may remember that a while ago I posted about altering Mr T’s shirts to fasten with press studs, as he was having trouble with his hands and couldn’t manage buttons easily. On 7 October my world fell apart when we discovered the cause of his problems; motor neurone disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

So, we don't know how long he has to live, but I do know that I want to spend as much of that time as possible with him. From a practical point of view, I now have to do most of the household chores which we used to share, and this will only increase over time. More of my time will also be needed to care for him as he grows weaker. All of this means that much less of my time will be free for sewing, and for blogging about it. Mr T wants me to keep this blog going, so I will try my best to do so, but they will be far shorter pieces, and not necessarily posted every week.


  1. Dear T, I love the djellaba. I am sure Mr T looks cool in it (he looks pretty good even in the short one). Garments like this are lovely to wear and this has love sewn into it.
    I am sorry to hear your news. It is life-blowing in all senses. Someone I knew who had the same diagnosis said the best thing he did was to investigate all the technological aids before he needed them. His journey is over but his blog is still live:
    May the love and support of people around you and your e-friends, help you feel loved and keep you going in the next years.

    1. Dear Lyndle, Thank you so much for your good wishes, and for the link. I have had a look at your friend's blog, and will take time to read it properly over the next few days. We are very much at the beginning of our journey, and something like this from a person who has gone before is really helpful.

  2. From the HSF...I'm sorry to hear of this news. My prayers are with you both.

    1. Thank you Laurie, sorry it's taken me so long to reply.