I've had my sewing machine out lately -- the newly-painted bedroom, with its new IKEA curtain system, needs curtains -- and today as I was getting dressed I noticed a sewing project hanging in my closet. A much overdue sewing project.
This is an embroidered afghani tunic in a style that was popular back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which is when I bought it. "India imports" of bedspreads, clothing, rugs, incense and jewelry started in those days, popularized by the Beatles' trips to India and the hippie craze for color, pattern, sitar music and enlightenment. I can still remember my first trips to "Utica Leather," which wasn't even in head shop category, but was full of the stuff we all thought was very cool: leather bracelets, handmade sandals, incense cones and burners. I still have a small brass bell on my keyring that came from that shop.
Utica Leather didn't carry much clothing, but there was a small shop called The Angel in Poolville, New York, run by the wife of a Colgate professor that specialized in higher-end imported clothing from India and Asia, and on special occasions my mother and I went there. I had been sewing for years and was already a textile freak at age 15 or 16, and I found combinations of colors, patterns, and details intoxicating. I still do. All through the 70s and into the 80s I collected fabrics and Folkwear patterns, planning elaborate projects -- most of which never got made. (That's the "Afghan Nomad Dress" pattern at left)
I'm not sure if this tunic, made of extremely soft cotton, came from the Angel or from a shop in Ithaca, later on, but I do know I loved it and wore it a great deal, until it became too tight in the armholes and around my ribs -- it's all that singing! But I've been unwilling to part with it, and have been carting it around ever since, waiting for the day when I'd take it apart, knowing there was enough fabric in the long shirttails to add gussets in the underarms and down the sideseams.
Today I opened the carefully sewn French seams and ran my figertips over the silk embroidery, wondering about the Afghani woman who must have sewn this garment all those years ago. What would these years have been like if women had made more of the decisions? Instead, our world really is rent at the seams.