Creativity in the Art of Sewing, Crafting and Recycling

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but creativity is what you do with passion!! So I discovered and enjoyed writing this post about the art of sewing and crafting through recycling old dress material. An art that I have enjoyed doing since ever so long ago.

Contemporary Accessory: The Mask: We now live in the unfortunate times of the Covid19 pandemic. A mandatory accessory today is the mask. At one point in the pandemic the only accessory to clothing that was in demand was the mask. So much so that even boutiques like FabIndia started selling masks designed for each dress or outfit. Keeping with the times I decided to try out my creativity in designing and stitching masks. Here I use old dress material to create cotton masks. In one I have used the embroidered sides of the old kurta to create a designer mask! I have also created a lining with other material behind each of the masks for better protection.

Is creativity in your genes? Christian Mihai, who writes on blogging, wrote a post titled ‘Creativity and the Art of Blogging’. I was inspired by the idea of creativity as he defined it: ‘Creativity is not something you are, but rather something you do. Passionately. Consistently. Without regard to failure.’ I have never considered myself creative or talented and always thought that it involved art such as writing poetry, painting, sculpting or writing fiction. But this definition has inspired me to write about my hobby, sewing, and showcase my ‘creativity’ in the art of sewing and actually recycling old dress material into new useable items.

My daughter says ‘Mumma makes Pochas’! (I’m sure that is meant as a joke!) Pocha is cloth that you wipe things with or use for cleaning. Yes, I do a lot of making ‘pocha’ (it reduces waste, heaps of paper towels), and repair work as well (a stitch in time saves nine), with my sewing machine. But I am writing to convince you that I am creative with recycling old dress material and sewing of course!

Sewing is a hobby I cultivated when I was a child, later as an adolescent and continued as an adult till the present! If sewing is being creative and creativity is in the genes, then I am sure it came to me from the maternal side of my family. My grandmother and my mother enjoyed sewing and taught me various tricks of the trade even as a child. Both of them had sewing machines. My grandmothers’ was what one sees in tailor shops in India, set on a table, with a pedal at floor level. The manual sewing machine was operated by running the pedal with the feet. Grandma would encourage me to run it and stitch in straight lines on old cloth even when I was a child. She taught me the etiquette of sewing, even how to hold a needle. You point the needle towards yourself when stitching by hand! She, my mother and the teacher in school taught me various kinds of embroidery stitches. However, my interest was more in sewing with a machine.

My mother had a manual sewing machine run by hand which she converted into a motor run machine. She made all my frocks and skirts and more for my cousins as well. She taught me to cut and sew dresses, how to cut the neck, the sleeves, and how to stitch it. Some of the gems she taught me was how to cut the cloth used to hem or stich the neckline. Strips of cloth are cut diagonally to allow for greater stretch while stitching the neckline. I have had a hand-run sewing machine for ages, with a handle that you spin to run the machine. Never converted it to a motor run one as I use it not-so-frequently given my full time profession as an Economist. My daughter and SIL threaten to buy me one of the new fangled, almost automatic, sewing machine! But I resist. Will consider it when I’m older and my arm begins to ache while running the machine.

Sewing Machine

I discovered in Durban South Africa, that running a sewing machine is a skill! Particularly an industrial sewing machine which is heavy and moves very fast. A group of Economists and development practitioners were involved in an experiment to stay and work with women workers who earn their living in the informal sector. My group went to stay in a black development township near Pinetown, Durban, in the household of Mrs. Petronella Dladla. Mrs. Dladla ran a self-employed sewing enterprise, which was producing uniforms for two schools and a couple of crèches. Our experiment involved working on the activity that our host was involved in. However, we were not allowed to work on the school uniforms since that was skilled work and the workers were not convinced of our skills!

Our facilitator was a fashion designer and she had brought with her paper cuttings to cut and stitch an apron that she had designed herself. Fortunately my cutting and sewing skills were good, a skill acquired from my grandmother and mother. I was able to cut the cloth and sew the apron on the industrial machine. My co-participants literally ran a few miles in the opposite direction when they were asked to handle the machine! I figured out that if Economics did not provide me a livelihood, I could be a self-employed tailor! Fortunately my daughter, who I presented the apron to, has preserved it nicely and here it hangs on her kitchen door! For those interested in the experiment please see here.

Recycling Dupatta, long Indian scarf: In India, we have innumerable styles of traditional wear for women. One of them is the salwar kameez, long loose garments meant for the hot humid weather. This dress normally comes with a matching dupatta. While the salwar kameez wears out over time, the dupatta does not. So one ends up with a collection of dupattas long after the dress is gone. These are colourful and if made of good thick cotton cloth it can be reused. So my creativity in recycling and sewing combined produced this array of useful things! As Winnie the Pooh would say ‘A useful pot to put things in”. Ok not a pot here, but useful anyway!

Lets begin with this Wrap-Around Skirt. This has been made from two red dupattas as the one on the outer side was a little transparent. Modesty is a virtue in India and is reflected in our sense of dress! I used an elastic band at the back of the dress in order to give the dress a comfortable spread in the lower part as well as to allow for a tight fit at the waist. This is a very comfortable wear-at-home dress in the summer.

Similarly, with one blue dupatta I decided to try out a skirt. This is a flared skirt for comfort. I lined the skirt with part of an old cotton saree again as the dupatta was of a light cotton fabric. I used the glass work embroidered lining of an old kaftan to create the upper waist. Cloth from the rest of the old kaftan was used to create the drawstring to hold up the skirt. In both the Wrap-Around and the Skirt see how I have used the borders of the dupatta to create a self design.

Blue Cotton Skirt with lining

One black dupatta was of relatively thick cotton fabric. The idea of creating a kaftan came to my mind. The kaftan is a long loose garment, very comfortable for wearing at home in summer. It can also be used as a dressing gown to get in and out of the bath! This is relatively easy to create as it only requires to stitch the two sides together. The main skill here is in cutting and stitching the neckline. But I found that my mom and grandmother had prepared me well for this. I wanted to gift this to my daughter who is rather tall and the kaftan from the dupatta reached just about below my knee. I stitched on another black dupatta to the end of the kaftan to get it long enough to reach the floor! Remember: Modesty thy name is Jeemol!! I retained the original tassels of the dupatta as part of the design! Here am I holding and modeling the black kaftan.

With another rather pretty patch-work sea-green dupatta I decided to make the covers of bolsters. Bolsters are long cushions that we call गाव-तकिया, ‘Gav Takiya’, or मसनद, ‘Masnad’, in Hindi. This is also relatively simple to make as it mainly involves stitching two sides of the dupatta together. The two ends of the cover can be folded and stitched so that the drawstrings can pass through them. This helps to tie the two ends of the bolster cover. I created two such bolster covers with one dupatta. See how I retained the tassels of the dupatta as part of the design. You can see little Naughty, the Teddy, is enjoying the bolsters!

Recycling Kurta, long Indian dress/tunic: Creating aprons seemed to be my forte. So when I see a nice design on an old kurta I can’t help thinking of creating an apron. So here are two aprons created from recycling old kurtas. I have basically retained a large part of the original design of the kurta for the apron. The original brown kurta had the sides embroidered and had glass pieces embroidered in the main body. I simply retained the design of the kurta and converted it into an apron. The Blue kurta had an elaborate patchwork embroidery in the front of the dress, which I retained for the apron. The design of the neck of the aprons are also that of the original kurtas. You may notice that the sea green apron was originally the kurta that matched with the dupatta that I designed into the bolster covers!

Recycling Sarees: Indian women have a large collection of ordinary and designer sarees. What does one do with the old sarees other than giving them away? I have been converting some old sarees into the covers of रज़ाई, ‘Razai’, meaning a quilt (comforter) used in winter. This helps to keep the quilt clean and hygienic as one can remove and wash it. It is easy to create a cover for the razai as it only involves stitching the two sides in a straight line. The creative skill is in manipulating and cutting the saree and its beautifully embroidered ‘pallu’, long loose end of the saree, into a design for the cover. Here are two razai covers that I created from old sarees. Did you notice Naughty enjoying the softness of the colorful rezai after a much needed bath in the washing machine?!! 🙂

There is no limit to the imagination. As I see an interesting piece of old fabric, ideas appear in my mind. Creativity is just a question of doing something passionately, consistently and without regard to failure! So enjoy the long summer friends creating what you do best!

5 thoughts on “Creativity in the Art of Sewing, Crafting and Recycling

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s