Designing Dresses in India: Part 5

Before leaving India I had prepared my ideas and designs. This preparation involved lots of research (looking at fashion magazines and catalogs), some brainstorming and finally taking pencil to paper as I sketched out my designs. I always do a rough sketch first, then a final sketch that shows every stitch, gather and detail. And sometimes my choice of fabric changes my design.

Fair trade and hand block printed cotton fabric.

The first day that I was in Bhopal, the workshop began by showing me all the fabrics that were available, the different stiches they use for embroidery and the different items they have made. I then showed them my designs and I began to explain in detail how to make the first dress. I had to give them all the measurements (bust, waist, hips, length, etc.) and for each size (S, M, L, XL). As I talked away, the manager’s niece, Sanga, translated to the tailor. I only hoped she was translating correctly!

Designing fair trade dresses.

I was in Bhopal for a week and I slept upstairs above the workshop. Every day, I was busy checking the work of my designs. Each dress that was made had to be tried on by me at least twice and then the tailor made the necessary adjustments. Normally, when making dresses the tailor has a dress-form, but this tailor did not, so I was the model for the size small. Once the prototype for the size small was perfected, I than gave the measurements for each additional size. This process was very time consuming as I had to inspect everything before making the duplicates.

Creating dresses in India was a challenging learning experience, mainly because of the language barriers and the cultural differences in garment making. The tailor knew how to make an Indian dress, but a western dress with its intricate details, took a lot of explaining and translating from Hindi to English. Also, the frequent power outages that happen in India, especially during monsoon season, really slowed down the work process. The fun part was picking the fabric from stacks of colorful hand blocked fabrics. It may seem easy to have a few dresses made in India, but in order to get the right design and size, it takes time, careful management and an experienced eye in both dress construction and design.

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