"The seamstresses, my mum, the invisible heroine"
The art of making your own Desi clothes is a skilful practice which is unfortunately overlooked and undermined despite the extensive labour required.
Being able to design and create your own clothes is a fantastic skill which can help you earn money if you decide to turn it into a business.
Traditionally, sewing clothes was associated with women. However, there are many men tailors who are also in the business.
Clothes are an investment and being able to sew your own Desi clothes is extremely beneficial.
We explore the art of making your own Desi clothes from styles, materials to sewing machines.
History of Desi Clothes Making
The history of sewing originated in the Middle East around 4000 BC and was primarily done by hand for thousands of years. Sewing machines were invented in the 19th century.
Sewing, mending and stitching clothes was practised by women while men went out to work. Clothes were viewed as an expensive investment and it was important to extend the longevity of clothing items.
For example, if clothes are torn or worn they would be resembled into new items of clothing or used for quilts and so on.
Traditionally, many Desi women financially supported their families via sewing clothes for members of the community who paid for their services.
Previously, Dr Aminul Hoque exclusively spoke to DESIblitz about featuring in BBC Four’s A Very British History (2020).
He revealed a heartfelt story from his childhood about the tremendous dedication of his mother working as a seamstress. He said:
“There is one hidden story. The seamstresses, my mum, the invisible heroine who because our fathers work in restaurants and factories and how we were essentially poor, I just remember there were many nights where I woke up looking for my mum.
“I would come out to see my mum in the living room on the sewing machine at 2am in the morning.
“The shadow of my mum working and the noise of the machine in our home.”
DESIblitz also exclusively spoke to Mrs Ahmed, who used to sew clothes for a living. She explained:
“When I first came to this country (UK) in the 1990s I spoke very little English and there was not much to do for South Asian women.
“Then in my local community, I learnt that there were sewing classes available for women to take part and learn.
“I decided to join despite never having touched a sewing machine before. What started as a finding a hobby turned into my very own small business.
“I began sewing salwar kameez for many women in my community and earned money for my efforts.
“Over the years, prices have significantly increased for simple salwar kameez and it costs ever more for fusion outfits.”
Styles of Clothes
From salwar kameez, anarkalis to lehengas and many more there are various styles to choose from and create.
Each style of clothes requires a different method to achieve the end result.
There are numerous styles of salwar kameez to sew. For example, the kameez can vary in length from short to long as well as the sleeve length.
In the same way, there are many styles of a salwar like baggy trousers, slim-fit salwar, cropped trousers and more.
A short kameez looks great paired with a baggy salwar. Alternatively, a long kameez looks stunning teamed with slim-fit trousers.
To enhance the beauty of your salwar kameez add embroidery and embellishment on the neckline, pearls along the hem and on the trousers.
The dupatta is probably one of the easiest yet trickiest element of the ensemble. This is because you must ensure it is symmetrical.
Furthermore, you can challenge your skills by sewing anarkalis. These can be styled with a large split down the middle or down the side, with pleats, a shorter hem at the front and longer at the back and more.
If you like to experiment with your ensembles then a great way to do this would be to design fusion outfits – East meets West.
Why not stitch a long duster jacket which you can team with a pair of jeans?
There is a limitless option of styles of clothes to choose from. Ignite your creative spark and design Desi outfits to spruce up your wardrobe.
Types of Fabrics & Materials
One of the best things about creating your own Desi clothes is seeing your vision come to life.
Depending on the type of outfit you wish to create will determine the material and fabrics you decide to use.
Despite wearing clothes every day, the chances are that we are unfamiliar with the materials and fabrics used.
Undoubtedly, clothes should be considered an investment. This means they require care while creating your own Desi clothes.
There are different kinds of materials and fabrics to consider:
- Cotton: everyday salwar kameez can be made from cotton. It can easily blend with other materials. It is important to note before sewing wash the material beforehand as it can shrink.
- Linen: a natural fabric made from flax. The lightweight texture is perfect for salwar kameez for the summertime.
- Silk: made from natural fibre, this fabric feels luxurious and exquisite. It is great for dresses, sarees, lehengas or long flowy jackets.
- Georgette: can be woven from silk or faux georgette is created with nylon and polyester. The crepe-like texture is light and flowy.
- Chiffon: made from silk, cotton, polyester, nylon or rayon the material includes a faint shimmer and weave. This would be great material for formal wear like sarees or anarkalis.
- Velvet: luxurious fabric which looks as good as it feels and is extremely versatile. Can be used for blouses, salwar kameez, anarkalis and more.
These gorgeous materials and fabrics can be used to create beautiful Desi outfits that will leave you feeling confident and stunning.
One of the most important and indispensable elements required when making your own Desi clothes is a sewing machine.
There is an extensive range of sewing machines which are available. These include industrial, domestic, electronic, button holler sewing machines and many more.
Different sewing machines have various intended purposes. Previously, many South Asian households had a ‘Brother’ sewing machine which was an industrial sewing machine.
Women would usually sew clothes, quilts, covers and other items using this heavy-duty machine.
As time has progressed and sewing machines have decreased in size, a domestic sewing machine is most suited to creating your own Desi clothes.
This is because they are compact, do not consume a lot of space as they can be stored away and can handle a variety of materials.
These sewing machines can handle numerous functions which help the process of creating Desi clothes easier. This includes:
- Pattern selector dial: select basic running stitch to complex and intricate computerised stitches
- Presser foot: holds the material/fabric in place.
- Needle: forms the stitch in the material/fabric.
- Needle clamp screw: holds the needle in place.
- Needle plate: located below the needle and presser foot to help move the material/fabric forward.
- Stitch width dial: controls the zigzag stitch.
- Stitch length dial: controls the length of the stitch.
- Reverse stitch lever: the machine will sew in reverse when the lever is pushed down.
- Power switch
- Spool pin: holds the spool of thread in place.
- Feed dog: pushes the material/fabric forward.
- Bobbin binder spindle: bobbin placed here during winding.
- Bobbin winder stopper: stops the bobbin winding once it has reached its optimum capacity.
- Bobbin cover: protects the bobbin.
- Handwheel: used to raise or lower the needle.
- Thread tension dial: controls the top thread’s tension.
- Thread take-up lever: top thread passes through here.
If you have not already tried dabbling in the art of making your own Desi clothes it is time you get started.