TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Folkwear Patterns: 30 Years of Ethnic Inspiration

I saw my first Folkwear Patterns in an ethnic shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota over twenty years ago. "Wow!", I thought, wishing I could buy what a college pocket could not afford... Since then, I have acquired several of the patterns and actually made a couple of them into garments. I also had the immense pleasure of meeting owner Kate Matthews on a visit to Asheville, North Carolina, several years ago.

Folkwear Patterns are a standard for anyone interested in costume design, world culture or ethnic wear. Like me, you might remember the first time you saw the patterns, or, perhaps this is your first encounter. Sometimes we may think that everyone already knows about an incredible resource such as this one, but there is always a new generation coming up or new interests emerging that call us to bring up the old standards.

Folkwear Patterns take their inspiration from clothing worn throughout various parts of the world as well as historical time periods. Thematic categories divide these into the following: Americas, Asian, Caravan, Children, Frontier, Old Europe, Retro, Romantic, Accessories. The patterns serve theater and performance groups well, but most are also functional for today's eclectic fashion taste. Choice of fabrics can make all the difference in making a piece look dated or contemporary. Let me start with a pattern that I have actually made into something wearable, which also happens to be a big favorite with Folkwear customers:

#107 Afghani Nomad Dress
This comfortable dress is easy to make and wonderful to use up favorite fabric pieces. I made mine out of silk that I had reclaimed from other dresses. Worn out long ago... This is one example of a dress that can look very ethnic or quite contemporary depending on fabric choices and colors. It is also a great piece to incorporate authentic remnants from other cultures, such as the ones I sell in my Etsy store. Here are a couple of examples of the dress:

Another pattern I own, but have not sewn yet, is also a big favorite:
#112 Japanese Field Clothing

I love roomy jackets and loose pants. But, if I remember correctly, one of the reasons why I have never made this pattern is that the version I have is on the small size. I'm a big Viking type and many of the older Folkwear pattern versions were too small for me. They have re-worked many of them to reflect our unfortunate reality of being overweight in America. But, make sure you check the dimensions carefully before you buy a pattern or cut it up. Most are easily enlarged- it just takes some patience.

#114 Chinese Jacket

This Chinese jacket is based on a formal court robe from the Ming Dynasty. Another wonderful example of how contemporary a garment can be with today's fabric selection. Folkwear also sells the closures in their Accessories section. The jacket is a perfect piece for silks or velvets.

Perfomers and theater groups all over the world use Folkwear as a costume resource. Although many of the patterns can be adapted for belly dance costumes, Folkwear offers one that is specifically for them.

#144 Tribal Style Belly Dancer

Here is another opportunity to use embroidery and textile remnants! The pattern includes instructions for the choli, bra, pants, skirt, scarf and belt. All of which could be used with other outfits as well.

Some of the culture specific patterns can challenge the beginner's sewing or embroidery skills. For the experienced, they offer an opportunity to show off needle work. The #125 Huichol Wardrobe collection's simple garments beg to be covered in embroidery. See my Huichol Yarn Paintings: Visions Destroyed by Poison for lots of images of the Huichol in their native dress. They have no fear of covering their canvas with with every color under the sun!

#103 Roumanian Blouse offers a similar opportunity to make the most of your embroidery skills. I think it is so interesting how cultures around the world overlap in so many ways in their dress and other customs, yet translate them into something uniquely theirs! And, in our multi-cultural and always changing environment today, what was hip in the 1970's, back when Folkwear started, has come and gone in the mainstream several times, making these pieces timeless.
Folkwear's historical patterns are lots of fun! The #201 Prairie Dress can be worn with or without an apron. I think I have seen this pattern here in Kentucky where many touristy businesses have their employees dress up in old timey wear.

Of course, the glamorous side of history (or, her story?) cannot be ignored! The #264 Monte Carlo Dress is something I would definitely wear if a moment of glamor popped up around here! I hear it crying for bead work, lots of it! And, don't forget, Halloween is coming up. If you are planning on going to a costume party, let Folkwear help you be the star! So many options to choose from! Dress them up or down, but use them!

My friend, Catherine, from Bazaar Bayar just listed a few collars that are perfect for Folkwear patterns. She does not have a consistent source for them, so once they are snatched up, they will be gone. (Better go get them quickly!)

In celebration of Folkwear's 30th anniversary, they have published a 20 page booklet based on the Bethany Dress which was featured as a fold-out poster in their early years.

#011 Bethany Dress

Folkwear has been around a long time now, quietly providing all of us a wonderful service. Even if you don't buy anything from them right now, why not visit their site and send them some Happy Birthday wishes? Let's hope they will be around for another thirty years!

Note: All of the photos and drawings (except for Catherine's collar) are from Folkwear's website. This post just highlights a few of their patterns. Visit them to see the whole collection.

Related Costume Books Available on Amazon!


1 comment:

  1. Folkwear started me on the road to thinking beyond basic aprons and suits :} I started with thw Tibetan Panel Vest and the Chinese jacket---lovely stuff for piecing and embellishing! Thanks for the reminder!


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