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Apr 172015

Hi kids!  Today I have a Deer and Doe Belladone to show you, plus I have some thoughts on purchasing Vlisco fabric, which is what this dress is made of.

First, the dress.  This is the Deer and Doe Belladone, which I’ve made twice before.  You are seeing it photographed in my grandma’s backyard on one of the many days when it was too cold to visit the beach while we were in Florida.  But I’m next to a palm tree, so it’s better scenery than is usually offered on this blog!Vlisco-Deer-and-Doe-Belladone-back
Also good scenery:  a puppy!  He’s not really a puppy, but I’ve taken to calling all dogs puppies.  That’s Bentley, my grandma’s dog.  He’s is actually not at all a spring chicken; he’s advanced in years for a miniature Doberman Pinscher, and as a result he has diabetes and poor vision.  Which is very sad, but also adorable when he tries to jump up on the couch to sit on your lap and has the grace of a baby giraffe trying to find its legs.  Re: the dress, there’s a little wrinkling on the back that I’ll try to take care of in future versions, though I’m not sure I’ll use the cutout back again.  It’s a bit too distinctive for me to want to have five of them.  I’ve decided I’m okay with a closet full of Archers and McCall’s 6696s, but I draw the line at cutout backed Belladones!


My lovely photographer, my mother, decided to get artistic, which made me laugh.  But I do like how this photo turned out!


As we were taking this picture, Bentley decided to photobomb me while taking care of his business.  I 1. find this hilarious, and 2. like the way the wind is blowing my skirt, so the photo gets posted.


Another through-the-palm-tree shot with bonus puppy.  You can see here that I scooped out the neckline a bit.  That Belladone neckline is really high!Vlisco-Deer-and-Doe-Belladone-detail-waistband

Here you can see my waistband seam matching, which is excellent except for the fact that the side on the right is a little bit shorter than the side on the left.  Boo, but I was very pleased with my invisible zip seam matching.  I didn’t attempt any pattern matching because I just barely had enough fabric to eke out this dress, plus I can’t even discern a repeat in this pattern.  The fabric, as I mentioned above, is Vlisco.  This one is their voile, which seems exactly like their Wax, Java, and Super-wax (I’m pretty sure I have them all in my collection) to me, so I’m not sure what the difference is supposed to be.  This one did seem more shiny when it arrived, but they all look and feel like quilting cotton once they’ve been washed.Vlisco-Deer-and-Doe-Belladone-detail-pink-serging

I used pink thread for my serging!Vlisco-Deer-and-Doe-Belladone-detail-binding

And pink bias tape!Vlisco-Deer-and-Doe-Belladone-detail-pocketAnd pink pocket lining!  I actually didn’t intend to use pink pocket lining, but I had to cut my pocket linings on a single layer because I was squeezing this out of 2 yards, and I accidentally cut them both on the same side.  I always do this when I’m cutting on a single layer!  Ugh.  But I like my pink lining, so it’s all good.

So what am I talking about when I mention liking problematic things?  Well, for background, you can read this: How to Like Problematic Things*.  After buying my Vlisco fabric, I realized I didn’t really know anything about it.  People call it African wax, but in what precise way is it African if it’s made in Holland?  So not at all like the good consumer I would like to be, I looked up information about this stuff after purchasing it.  I found a couple sites explaining the history of the type of prints Vlisco sells: What is Ankara? and The Origin of Ankara.  I learned that these types of prints are the result of the Dutch appropriating Batik fabric-making techniques from Indonesia in order to sell fabric in Indonesia for cheaper than local producers could.  Hmm, I don’t like that.  Colonizing, mass manufacturing a good made by the people you colonized, then selling it back to them for profit?  Not cool, Dutch (but then we all knew the Dutch were no paragons of virtue when it came to colonization, right?).  The fabric ended up not being very popular in Indonesia (good for the Indonesians!), but was popular among people in West Africa.  Which is why we call these prints African wax prints or Ankara today; they’re just most closely associated with West Africa because that’s where the most people wear them.  So the fabric seemed kind of problematic to me because of its history, but I also found this article: The History of Dutch Wax Prints. That author raises concerns about the way these fabrics dominate the textile market in West Africa such that people don’t buy as many locally-produced fabrics because they’re not considered high fashion the way something like Vlisco is.  This, to me, seems to be the more pressing concern.

Finally, I also have some concerns about the appropriative aspect of wearing fabrics associated with cultures that are not my own.  I’m still working through those concerns.  When I went to India years and years ago, I wore saris and salwar kameezes, but I would never do that today.  But would I wear something I sewed out of a sari?  I’m not sure how I feel about that yet.  I’m certainly trying to avoid being appropriative, but intentions don’t really matter in this debate.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, and those are the reasons why I feel some unease about Vlisco.  I’ve already bought another piece after my first order, so it’s not like I’m boycotting the stuff.  I have no willpower in the face of a gorgeous print, and I’m not always the noble consumer I would hope to be.  But I do think it’s worth recognizing the problematic aspects of the things we like.


*That article is talking about liking problematic texts, which is different than liking problematic products.  If I buy Scott Pilgrim comics, which is the example from the article, I’m giving money to an individual who has some problematic views.  If I buy fabrics, I’m supporting an industry.  My “support” is not likely to make or break either the individual or the company, but I like to be intentional about what I give money to.  This is less an issue of boycotting for a particular effect and more an issue of avoiding cognitive dissonance.

  11 Responses to “Vlisco Deer and Doe Belladone and Meditations on Liking Problematic Things”

  1. Great post Gina! I want to be a photographer. We needed more shots. I like the way the dress looks in the side shot when Bentley was tinkling. I love the pink lining in the pockets of the dress! The close up details of the dress are amazing.

  2. I just found your blog and am really enjoying it. May I ask why you wouldn’t wear a sari/shalwar kameez now? I’m originally from Afghanistan and like seeing non-Afghans in Afghan clothes. I understand the fine line between enjoying and respecting other’s cultural traditions and appropriation.

    • I’m so glad to have you here, and I love your name! I suppose I don’t have a great answer to your question, but I have some nebulous thoughts. The first thing is that I think no matter how pure my intentions may be, I can’t communicate them to everyone who might see me wearing a sari, and that can have two negative consequences. The first is that it could cause someone who is uncomfortable with white people wearing saris to feel distress, and the second is that it could cause other white people to begin wearing saris with less than pure intentions. I would never want to do either of those things, even unintentionally or without being aware of it. So I suppose I’m erring on the side of caution. I also feel like I could never quite be sure of my intentions as a person from a culture that’s been so guilty of appropriation so many times. I have a sense that appropriation happens when someone who isn’t familiar with a culture adopts certain aspects of it. I think that at the time that I was in India, I was certainly not familiar enough with South Asian cultures to justify my dress. I didn’t know anything about India until I went there! I’ve studied South Asia more formally since then and am working on a dissertation chapter about a South Asian novel, but I don’t know that I feel any of that “qualifies” me as being familiar enough to wear those items. If I was closely linked to a community of people from South Asia in a personal way and it was the norm/acceptable in that group for white women to wear a sari or salwar kameez, I suppose that might make me feel okay about it. Since I’m not, though, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it today. I feel like that was just a big jumble of thoughts, but those are some of the things that would stop me from wearing a sari if I returned to India today (which I would love to do soon!). I make no promises about buying sari fabric, though, and turning it into a dress! My thoughts on that are complicated as well, but as I said before, I have no willpower in the face of a gorgeous fabric, and I really love sari fabrics.

      • That’s really interesting! I too love saris and turned one into a shower curtain. I feel a bit guilty about thaT. Afghans don’t wear saris in our culture though some do just bc it’s pretty. We do wear shalwar kameezes though. Coming from the other side, I don’t mind at all if anyone wears Afghan clothes. I want more people to wear our stuff and hopefully strengthen the economy that way. I would be frustrated if I found out that Afghan clothes were made somewhere other than Afghanistan though. I appreciate you thinking so deeply about it. I am babbling now but I’ll think about this some more.

        • I totally agree that if a person wants to wear things like shalwar kameezes, they shouldn’t buy them from producers who aren’t a part of the culture where they’re worn. That’s the biggest issue I see with the Vlisco. I think I often end up going in circles with all my deep thinking, which is why I end up writing long-winded and inconclusive blog posts, haha!

  3. I have this issue with waxprints too. I LOVE them, they are just so beautiful, but there is so much tied up in them. Although, lbr, there is a lot tied up in other fabrics too, where they come from and their manufacturing processes. It’s just a lot more obvious to the casual observer in the wax prints.

    I lived a while in China and have some chinese-style tops that I wore in public there all the time. I still wear one of the jackets as a lounge jacket around the house but would not ever wear it out. It means a different thing here. I think I would feel the same about saris, although I’m not sure. I feel like wearing a sari in India, wearing one in a western country, and wearing an item sewn from a sari in either place, are three (or maybe four) separate things.

    I’ve had some people of African descent now living here in Australia, as well as an African American woman, tell me they would have no problem with me wearing wax prints. I still feel a bit weird about it, though. I suppose, since it IS so colonial in nature, it’s possibly less fraught than wearing something sewn from a sari, which seems like a real obvious metaphor for taking substance from an existing culture and forcing it into our own (see the popularity of dresses from saris in the Regency era). But then that’s what we do every day with cottons and other fabrics from around the world. I don’t know where the cotton for the last dress I sewed came from, or who grew it, but I can bet you for sure it wasn’t someone on a middle class income in Millwauke, or wherever.

    TL;DR, I dunno. This stuff is hard. Thinking about it is important, though.

    • And I just realised I’m wearing a Pashmina scarf. Which of course I am because I wear one almost every day. This one has traditional paisley on it and some of them have more modern designs but… that’s a fraught item, too, I think. I bought my first one direct from the weaver in YunNan, but this last one I just bought at a market, for a price that leads me to believe that the weaver didn’t get paid so great for it – well, the factory worker who ran the machine that wove it, anyhow. But then I sure can’t afford to pay a proper price for one!

    • Hi Kate, glad to have you here! I totally agree that the problems with Vlisco are just the problems I know about in my fabric stash. Goodness only knows what horrible things are linked to the current or former production of all the other fabrics I own. This is one of the reasons why I try not to get too self-righteous about my sewing as compared to RTW. It’s impossible to know the provenance of the fabrics I buy, and I’m certain there are terrible things hidden in the production of some of them.

      I also agree that it’s a different thing to wear a sari in America than it is to wear a sari in India. I’m ashamed to say that when I returned from India, I did wear a sari once in the US. I wore it to speak to a children’s group about Indian culture. Today, if I were faced with such a request, I would insist that the organizers find a person who is actually from India to explain Indian culture! Looking back, I’m not happy that I contributed to the notion that a white person is the best expert on someone else’s culture. I’ve learned a lot since those days, but I’m still learning, which is why I agree that it’s so important to think about these.

  4. Ok, now I feel like a stalker but I thought of you and this post. My brother and I went to a cafe that was decorated with photographs of pretty white girls doing yoga in random (side of a cliff, middle of the city, etc). It was odd but the absolute funniest thing we saw was a girl doing an extreme yoga pose in the middle of a busy Indian street. The expressions on the faces of the Indians are hilarious!!!

    • Haha, you’re not a stalker at all, and that is a hilarious story! I wish I could see the photo. I’ve read some articles about problematic ways that white women are taking over yoga, but to stop traffic to do yoga in the middle of a street in India is a new low, I think!

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