Folkwear Afghan Nomad Dress

This dress needed to be sewn. I don’t know why. I have so much plenty of other fabric calling my name. I have a giant list of sewing projects that range from very necessary (it would be really nice to have more than 2 long sleeve shirts now that cold weather is here) to completely impractical (though I actually take offense at myself for saying this because I do wear every weird thing I sew so therefore it’s not really impractical is it? I digress). This was not on my list. Until I woke up one morning and needed to make it. I don’t actually know why but it had to happen. So this dress is what I sewed over the last couple of weeks.

The pattern is Afghani Nomad Dress (now called Afghan Nomad Dress to be in keeping with modern terminology) from Folkwear patterns and oddly enough I’ve found two copies of it at my island thrift store (on two separate occasions, though my island is full of old hippies so maybe it’s not super surprising). I used the copy from 1976 (the other is from 1982). Though the covers are slightly different they seem identical inside. I haven’t sewn a Folkwear pattern before (though I have been familiar with them for many years). I didn’t use patterns back in my theatrical costuming days and don’t really sew historical dress or costumes for myself these days, though I do really appreciate the history of Folkwear and their recognition of the importance of preserving and promoting historical and traditional garments from around the world.

The pattern has very detailed information about appropriate embellishments including detailed embroidery patterns and instructions. I totally geek out on reading this sort of information! I opted not to embroider anything myself though I did embellish the dress with a couple of laces which makes it appear quite 70’s (which I’m totally okay with) instead of ethnic (though there was definitely a major influence of ethnic fashions on hippie clothing in the late 60’s and early 70’s which I found quite inspirational when I saw the Summer of Love Exhibit at the De Young Museum this summer)

I used an admittedly odd assortment of fabrics to make the dress. They all came from my stash and I made a jolly good mess pulling all sorts of options onto the floor and pairing them in different combinations to come up with this selection.

  • I decided to build the selection around the striped bodice fabric as I had just enough of it in my scrap bin (the rest went to pillows for our den) and it’s a treasured fabric that I bought in Thailand. I was told it was locally dyed and woven cotton when I bought it but getting it close to the iron quickly taught me there’s a hefty polyester content so who knows how much of the claims are true. Regardless, it is special to me.
  • There’s quite a lot of fabric in the skirt and I wanted a fall dress so I needed something midweight. I didn’t have enough of a single fabric so instead opted to use two different greens (one a recent vintage purchase from the thrift store and one a gift from a friend cleaning out her stash). Funny how a slight color mismatch looks off but if you put enough different mismatches together they work…
  • The upper sleeve is a polyester that I bought in Vietnam, intending it to line a coat. I had really hoped to fit several floral prints together as that’s my jam right now (and it would be culturally accurate for the dress) but this was the only one I had stashed that was the right palette.
  • The middle sleeve was cut out of a vintage skirt. My cousin sent me a stack of clothes that an ex-boyfriend’s mother (if I remember the story correctly) had given her in high school with the thought she could use them when she someday needed a professional wardrobe. After many years of being stored in the garage, my cousin decided that they would never be her style so she sent them to me to see if I wanted them. They weren’t really my style either, but they became good fabric!
  • The bottom of the sleeve is the same fabric as the front skirt panel to which I added a couple of different trims – a silk velvet ribbon and some metallic lace that I also added to the neckline
  • Finally, the waistband and (bodice lining) are the very last bits of a fabric that I bought (or my mom bought, we were just arguing debating which) in Canada when I was in high school. Most of the fabric went to be a Ceylon dress and most of the scraps lined a Betty Bowler bag.

This dress was very slow for me to sew not because of the pattern but because I made a lot of design decisions as I went which involved a lot of staring and basting and ripping and resewing. I ended up underlining the sleeves with a lightweight poly-cotton (a gif from a different friend de-stashing) so they had the right weight, though I sewed them once without the underlining first. My construction order was a bit jumbled as well as I felt like I needed certain parts in place before I could decide on others. Does anyone else sew this way? (I think this is often my approach to projects. When I wrote academic papers I would write a paragraph here and a paragraph there and jump all over and then just keep going back and refining it all bit by bit until it magically came together in the end though the process was incoherent to anyone but me.)

I put a very deep hem in the skirt to give a bit of structure to the bottom of the skirt since there’s so much volume. Three widths of fabric are gathered into the waistband (and this is the westernized version! The accurate version uses more than four widths of fabric).

These sleeve are definitely Say Something sleeves which I usually find to be frustrating to wear as I catch them on things or drag them in messes or what have you. But the cropped length on these makes them not impractical.

There are no fastenings for the dress. Instead a slit is left in the back neck. This makes it juuust big enough that I can pull it on and off (would not be possible if I was any bustier). I hate anything too close and tight to my neck (turtlenecks have always been my nemesis, though I love wearing scarfs, maybe because I can take them off at will and you’re not supposed to just take off your shirt if you start to feel claustrophobic) so I increased the size of the neck opening by 1/2″ all around. It still reads as quite fitted but has no risk of causing a panic attack. The waist tie is pretty much just decorative not functional.

Oh yeah, the final touch that took me the most time? The dress really needed some continuity from top to bottom so I sewed lace to the hem and echoed the neckline. I did use my machine for the hem but in order to get it to play nicely around such a strong curve I sewed it to the neck by hand with three rows of stitches – top edge, middle, and bottom edge. It made it possible to ease the curve quite delicately and I think it’s the perfect touch, if I do say so myself, but it sure took a long time!

Comments 15

  1. I have been waiting for this one and I love it! Though my love for 70s style and traditional ethnic costume does run pretty deep, must be an old hippie in the making. I think you have the height to pull this off and your workmanship is lovely. Have you worn it much?

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  2. So Beautiful! The fabric combo is artistic and you look great in the dress. I’m a big fan of Folkwear, I have most of their patterns and this inspires me to take them out and sew something – (next up, Kinsale Cloak for a cosplay fan.)

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  3. Wow, what a fantastic combination of fabrics and such a good way to dive into your stash. The pattern looks so interesting with all the information on the embroidery – I must check out Folkwear patterns.

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  4. Beautiful dress, Erin! Nice work, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the pattern and the creative aspect of this dress. Love this pattern!

  5. The making of this dress exemplifies ‘slow fashion’ and I love it – I’ve been thinking lately about taking more time in the creation of my garments…doing more embellishment and thinking more ahead of time about colour-blocking, maybe even a little quilting (but your dress LOOKS as if it’s been quilted somewhere on it!) I love your final creation – the blend of fabrics is simply perfection.

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      Thanks so much! Yes, it was definitely a slow process. I’ve found that since having a baby (now toddler) I have so much less time to sew but, oddly enough, I put more time into each garment. I think it’s because my time is so precious that I need the garment to be as perfect as possible because I can’t just whip out something similar to replace it.

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