Thursday, February 05, 2015

A Theory or Philosophy of Sewing--by Kyi May Kaung

A Theory or Philosophy of Sewing--recycling and up-cycling clothes (longyis or sarongs into tops/jackets).

How is this possible?

Because the basic design of a longyi or lungi has not changed in about 100-150 years.

It is basically 1 7/8 or 1 3/4 or 2 yards of cloth, sewn now in a tube, but in Upper Burma in my great grandmother's day (so sad, I don't know who they were, nor their names) it was a lined piece of cloth with a white train, about 3/4 yard? and an open (slit) wrap.

I expect it was pinned together with safety pins, or princesses were sewn in.

The safety pins would have been imported, and Burma still does not make safety pins as far as I know.  When I taught at IER, we had rusty pins to pin our papers together.  You could almost get tetanus from the pins.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is if we had not grown bigger or fatter with better food and nutrition and emigration, and if WWII had not seen my maternal grandmother's 100s of longyis looted (I now only have 2 that used to belong to her)

I might have about 500 longyis now.

I don't know how many I had in Burma--never counted--but maybe about one hundred?

In USA I have been recycling them in batches of 2-20 for about 4-5 times now.

The first patch jacket I made was from tops!  that were too small for me.

The first patch dress I made was of 4 woven acheik patterns, turned 8 ways--I made this after my friend Elizabeth Elegbede (still using her Nigerian ex husband's surname, told me to "use the pieces that can't stand much stress on the sleeves" so I did this.  I was inspired by a dress she had, probably from Bangkok.)

Here is the process--

1.  When the fabric/old longyis get to you, sort them out--

--some have frayed and need to be discarded
--some are very low quality and not "Burmese cloth"--neither are they good quality imported fabrics from old days.
--some are stained
--some are not worth saving

recyle these into household linen but not table linen except maybe tablecloths and aprons.

I have made men's longyis into napkins and pillow cases.

--Process or logic of sorting is different from sorting clothes (mostly business suits) bought in USA.  I will give pointers on that later.

--Divide old longyis into two batches--

1.  collectibles that are worth remaking in a different form.
2.  Those that are 2nd grade or 3rd grade.

See which ones can still work as at home yay lair longyis--"after the bath"--I need a lot of at home washable wear as I work at home and spend more time at home.

Last year I even had to buy new longyi cloth from a quilting outlet.  I only like printed cotton.

--Silks--laces--recycle into scarves or accent jackets or accents for jackets or tops.


hand woven--tops

prints and plain--make/use for patches, edgings, interfacings, bindings.

for Chinese frog buttons.

--Sort everything by color and color fastness--CUT all the longyis open and save the seams as string for art projects or to use in the garden.

put color fast ones in washing machine and wash if possible, up to 2 times on warm cycle.

Non-color fast ones & doubtful ones--proceed with caution.

Soak a day or 2, 2-3 times in fresh water, until all the dye comes out more or less clear.

Then dry and iron and you can proceed.

Sort, once again, which fabric you will use with which.

As I like pinks, reds, purples, browns and black, I have no great problem with this--

see how much of each fabric design you have--

then decide what you will make,

cut and sew--

items I have made include

summer shifts
shifts to wear in very hot weather when working in house or coming out of swimming pool, as a cover up.

Tops that go over my head.

Warm weather vests for about 75 F.




Long opera coats

Medium length vest/coats



I used to have to travel a lot and make presentations on Burma--then I would wear my ethnic/unique clothes.

I never make skirts and pants as not worth my time and effort and I only buy off the shelf on sale from good stores.

--so--1.  Sort.
2. get it clean
get the stink out
3. re-cycle and up-cycle to fit new you and new life.

Never unpick an old seam--not worth it, just cut it out, or incorporate into the new design.

Clothes are to cover our nakedness, keep us warm or cool, as the case may be, make us feel confident and warm, and use our memories and past positively.

Copyright KMKaung

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