Garment Making/ DIY 101

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Never mind the adventure that I went through, but I spotted this lehenga at Neeru’s and was genuinely overawed because I was shopping super last-minute for an important wedding. The blouse was a fashion disaster but I bought the set anyway because it also came with a gorgeous sleeveless jacket (to be featured later on.) Then I went looking and found this perfectly matching fabric and I was actually proud when the outfit came together. I have also been helping a few friends get their outfits customized by assisting them with design, shopping for fabric accordingly, and working with a tailor. However, design is way more than just buying fabric, using a reference picture and getting it made, but drawing, construction, sewing, and pattern-making are beyond the scope of this blogpost. So use this only as a shortcut or a DIY in a situation where you need to get something specific made.

• WHERE TO BEGIN

The easiest way is to pick two-three pictures clearly referencing what you want. Finalize the sleeve length, neckline, depth of neck (front and back), and length of the top. For a skirt, decide design elements like - if you want a lot of ghera (flare), whether embroidered/ printed or solid fabric, what will the border look like. For trousers, whether they will be straight cut, wide legged, skinny etc. Have at least 2 unique designs in mind so you can decide based on the fabric available.

I don’t recommend prints because matching the print in a certain direction while cutting and sewing the garment actually requires skill. Mismatched stripes/ prints/ lines do not look good!

• CHOOSING FABRIC

There are 200+ types of fabrics available in mainstream dressmaking alone, a subject I’d like to reserve for a later post. To begin with, decide the type of fabric you want, natural or synthetic.

Natural: Cotton, Silk, Denim, Flannel, Hemp, Leather, Linen, Velvet, Wool  

Synthetic: Nylon, Polyester, Acetate, Acrylic, Polar Fleece, Rayon and Spandex

Here are 10 common types of garments and recommendations on what fabric to use based on location, weight of the fabric, look, feel, shrinkage and color.

Skirts: Cotton or Silk Jersey; for Crepe, you can buy Printed Silk and Rayon, Chiffon, Georgette and Charmeuse; for Fine Knits - Rayon, Microfiber, and Silk. Also drapey Rayons, Soft Wool, Lycra blends and Stretch Velvets are all suitable for skirts. For Indian Lehengas, Georgette, Silk (Raw Silk, Banaras Silk and 50 others!), Velvet (non stretch), Brocade, all work well; sheer fabrics as an overlay work well when you layer fabrics for a ruffled lehenga.

Dresses: Raw Silk, Satin, Taffeta, Velvet, Lace, Silk Chiffon, Organza

Shirts/ Blouses: Chiffon, Silky Satin, Cambric, Chintz, Twill, Faille, Seersucker, Poplin, Batiste, Linen,  Eyelet. For Sari/ Lehenga blouses - Silk, Raw Silk, Cotton, Net (with appropriate lining), Georgette, (non stretch) Velvet, Brocade

Pants: Wool or Wool Blends, Linen, Denim; for tailored trousers pick a blend with Rayon. For Indian shararas/ palazzos: Georgette, Brocade

Jackets: Wool or Wool Blend (Tweeds, Silk or Polyester), Linen, Velvet for structured jackets/ blazers. Denim, Leather, Suede, Wool to brace the cold. For embroidered Indian jackets: Silk, Silk Chiffon, Georgette, Muslin, Organza or other sheeer/ Net fabrics. For drapey/ cardigan style jackets: Microfiber, Suede, Silk, or Lightweight Knits.

In Hyderabad, you can find fabrics in numerous stores on Road No. 10 in Banjara Hills (near Cancer Hospital), at Narsingh in Ameerpet, and if you don’t mind a little travel, then Charminar has some stores too. The one I frequent is Ranglal Piramal.

• HOW MUCH TO BUY

Remember to buy lining for sheer/ thin fabrics!

If you get any fabric dyed, it will shrink, so add 0.5-1 meters to account for shrinkage

For a lehenga blouse, around 2 meters will suffice, for a sari blouse, around 1 meter will do. Both require lining.

For a lehenga, it depends entirely on the design (whether it has gathers or kalis - gathers are thin pleats and kalis are like box pleats) and the amount of flare. For a heavy flared lehenga, 6 meters of fabric that has a big panna / width 58”-60” or 8 meters in case of small panna. For medium flare, 4-5 meters will do. Either way, you can reduce the fabric and add can can to your lehenga for the flare effect. The lehenga I’m wearing is a normal ghera with can can, and with kalis not gathers.

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You may refer to this table of fabric needs for other common garments. These are all approximates; embellishments, cuffs, frills, piping, hemlines and other such add-ons will require anywhere between 0.25 and 1 meter in excess.

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COLOR/ DYEING

Make sure you shop in daylight, and check the color outside the store before it is cut. Crush/ crumple a small portion of the fabric and see how the color looks now

When you see the Shade Card, remember that you are seeing it on a specific type of fabric. Not all fabrics will reflect the color the same way; some may be brighter, some may shine more, some may be more saturated (ref: Color Theory) Ask the store if you can check the color once it is dyed and before it is sent for rolling

BORDERS/ TRIMS

You can no border at all, or get a border in: solid fabric (eg: raw silk), embroidered fabric, or a beaded/ metallic (lumpi). I recommend matching the color/ embroidery of the border to your blouse. If your blouse is plain, then consider adding sleeve borders.

HANDOVER TO TAILOR

Tailors can be a little difficult to work with because they deal with a mix of styles and aesthetic, so they may not understand yours right away. Be patient, be nice, and communicate clearly. Tell them why a perfect outfit matters to you. When you hand over the fabric, lining, border and your measurements, make sure you also send your reference photos/ sketches to your tailor (most of them have WhatsApp these days) Discuss what kind of closures (hooks, buttons, button color) you want and make sure there is enough margin for alterations. Schedule a fitting at least 5 days before you need the outfit and make sure you are absolutely satisfied with the fitting.

That’s the gist of it! Feel free to hit me up with specific questions you may have, or even if you just want to bounce off some ideas about designing your own garment. In India, we are fortunate to have access to tailors which is a good thing if you are serious about shopping less, saving fabric/ trims, and fair-paid workers. It is a terrible thing if you are referencing, copying, and selling outfits though.

Finally, onto today’s editorial - it almost felt like I stepped back in time when I entered this rustic space in a basement in Banjara Hills. The Antique Loft has vintage charm and character, owing to the fact that collecting antiques runs in the founder’s family. We were in this vibrant yet cozy atmosphere where each piece of wood and every artifact had a story to tell, thus establishing the ethos of this editorial. The founder, Samar, and his wife (also a curator of the store) were so sincere in their efforts to make this editorial a visual success - they took us to their workshop downstairs where carpenters were refurbishing and giving life to old pieces of wooden planks. This is where we chased little rays of light peeking through windows, and created frames that made it look like a set we made just for this shoot!

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