A Robe for Layering

I returned to work this week. After months of wearing leggings and drool-covered nursing shirts, it is time to jump back onto video calls and once again cultivate some degree of professional presentation. To help me get in the work mood and to give myself a creative project to sustain an aspect of my pre-mom identity, I sewed something!

Note on garment terminology and cultural appropriation

The pattern featured in this post (Simplicity S8887) is described by the company as a “kimono jacket,” following the fashion trend of the past few years. But these drapey robe-like jackets are nothing like the the traditional Japanese kimono. The use of “kimono” has become shorthand for “loose-fitting, large boxy sleeves, and robe-like” (I’m guilty of using it too), and there are calls to change how we refer to these types of garments. Some of my favorite summaries of this topic are by Emi Ito – she discusses the inaccuracy and ignorance of using “kimono” to describe these flowing robes, and she digs deep into the impacts of cultural appropriation and the system of white supremacy on marginalized groups.

It takes effort to rewire our synapses and start calling these garments something else, but we must try.

The topic of Japanese cultural appropriation feels especially pertinent right now, in light of the rapid increase in anti-Asian harassment and hate crimes. To have elements of a minority group’s culture commodified by others with more privilege, while members of our families and communities are being beaten and killed is a story too often repeated in our world. The culture is trendy, the people are treated as outsiders.

I’ve appreciated the conversations and efforts to change that I’ve seen within the online sewing communities. Papercut Patterns renamed their Japanese city-inspired pattern line. I saw another post (but can’t find it) where a company committed to stop using the phrase “kimono sleeves” and instead refer to them as “dropped shoulder sleeves”. Seamwork also changed a number of pattern names that perpetuated cultural appropriation.

To everyone digging in and having the necessary conversations to make our community more inclusive* and respectful, thank you!


Onto the recap of my sewing project.

My first postpartum sewing project

I made a long list of garments I hoped to sew during my maternity leave. After listening to Essentialism, I reevaluated that list. Why were pants my first project when NO ONE will see them on a video call? Instead, I looked at what I needed above the waist and settled on Simplicity S8887.

I had a few unofficial criteria for this project:

  • Use existing fabric in my stash
  • Use an existing pattern I’ve purchased or downloaded for free
  • Pairs or layers with multiple outfits to maximize use
  • Is comfortable to wear and move in, something that would be forgiving to my changing postpartum body.
  • Is easy to wash and dry

The fabric I selected for this robe is a black (with white dots) crinkle rayon(?) that I’ve had in my stash for a few years. It is thin and relatively thin, but has a weight to it that would give it some structure on top of jersey tees. The black & white patterned fabric goes with almost everything in my capsule – the grays, the greens, the blues, and the mauves.

Assessment of the pattern

This pattern is part of Simplicity’s “pattern hacking” line, capitalizing on a term and process popularized by the online sewing communities. The intent is admirable, provide the sewist with a variety of pattern pieces and suggestions on how to think outside the box to make multiple garments from the same core pieces. However, in my opinion, if the pattern packet includes these instructions…then it is less hacking and more just how the pattern is designed. *shrug*

I made Version 1, which was the version I purchased the pattern for. The hem hits at the upper thigh/hip line and the sleeves extend past the elbows.

You can see from the line drawing that the robe flares out from the bust down to the hem. It is not a rectangular, boxy robe. I was surprised there were so many curves to this pattern. In fact, the curves make this garment drape differently than I would imagine. It flares more than I would like it too, but the flare is subtle given how loose the garment is. And on a video call, who is going to notice?

Sizing

As with many things that are designed to be relaxed or very loose fitting, I am a poor judge of what size I should make. Often I end up wishing I had gone down a size or two from whatever my measurements suggested. Over time I’ve learned to scrutinize the ease and finished garment dimensions more closely and choose pattern sizes based on how much extra fabric I want around my bust or waist. But this time I second guessed myself because I was living in a postpartum body with new measurements and I wasn’t sure how this was going to end up looking.

I sewed a small and because this garment is meant to be loose, it looks fine. But I personally think it is a tad long. I probably just need to accept that I am on the taller limit of petite sizing and adjust patterns to fit those proportions. Perhaps an XS would have solved my length issues, or hemming 1.5″ instead of 5/8″.

Assembly

The garment is super easy to assemble. Only four pieces and about a dozen long, nearly straight stitches. And with how much ease the garment has, I didn’t worry too much about getting the pieces perfectly lined up. I was able to do all of it in between taking care of my baby over the course of a couple weeks. I probably could have finished it in one week, but I wasn’t sure if the baby would keep napping if I was running the sewing machine across the hall. (Turns out, he can, for now.)

I struggled a little was the bias tape-lined neckline and front edge. I always forget whether I should stretch or not stretch the bias tape on curves. The instructions recommended clipping the curved neckline before pressing the taped edge, but I ignored that step after watching a very mesmerizing video on bias tape. If this expert didn’t need to clip their seams, could I skip that step too? So far it seems to have worked out, but time will tell if the neckline holds the intended shape.

Bottom line:

This meets my wardrobe goal: a loose, comfy layer that pairs with multiple shirts and pants for work while allowing for easy movement and baby wrangling. This won’t become a repeat pattern, but it was a really easy pattern to use and it helped me feel like a sewist again.

Finished garment, plus a bonus – my 2020 Ginger Jeans!

*In addition to conversations about cultural appropriation and anti-racism, I am learning a lot from the series of posts by The Sewcialists exploring multiple types of inclusivity and Seamwork’s series on degendering fashion (Part 1 and Part 2)


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