Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Afghani Nomad Dress - Folkwear Pattern #107

I bought this Folkwear pattern way back when I was in high school - back when they only cost $4.95. I finally got around to making the dress when I was in grad school studying the History of Science at Notre Dame in South Bend Indiana. I had just taught myself to knit and had started working at Bead and Button for my sister and was getting all crafty. I bought the fabric at the local JoAnn's with my coupons (poor grad student, remember). The nicest piece of fabric, a yard of gold silk, I saved for the bodice. I was just getting into beading and had recently subscribed to Bead & Button magazine, so when it came time to decorate the bodice I went with beads and shisha mirrors.

I remembered shisha mirrors from my childhood in Pakistan. I was actually planning on doing the shisha embroidery myself, but then I saw iron-on shishas at JoAnn's. I bought several and took them home. I really didn't have a design in mind when I started. I just laid the pattern piece on my ironing board and started playing with the iron-ons until I had something that I liked. Once the iron-on shishas were in place I started laying in a little structure for the beading with some chain stitch embroidery.

I started with the back and began drawing some lines. For some reason I decided on an 8-pointed star motif. I used embroidery to outline the points and extended the lines with both the embroidery and later with the beads. I also filled in the stars themselves with beads. When it came to doing the actual bead embroidery I turned to my first bead book "Those Bad, Bad Beads" by Virginia Blakelock (my sister and co-owner of Beadcats). Being something of a perfectionist I went for backstitching rather than sewing down a strand of beads. A lot slower, yes, but much sturdier. Look again at the back of the bodice. It is heavily beaded. It took me a long time, 200-300 hours. But it was winter break, and I was snowed in. I beaded every day, all day, for a month. I watched the entire Babylon 5 series (again), plus all the movies.

Having spent a lot of time beading straight lines on the back, I wanted a change when I got to the front and wound up just doing free hand spirals, with a few straight lines off the circular and diamond shisha. It was a lot of fun. I also did some bugle bead chevrons around the shisha on the shoulders to sort of make it look like epaulets. The finishing touch on the front was the fringe. I laid down a foundation row of triangle beads with their holes vertical and then started hanging fringe from them, ending each strand of fringe with a twisted bugle. Because beads are not always uniform I did the length of the fringe by eye rather than by counting beads.

I wear the dress at Bead & Button every year. The first year I wore it my sister called me Booth Candy. One year an Afghani came by the booth and complimented me on my work. The Japanese who visit our booth every year now also seem to like it.

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