"God Is Good" Khanga Dress


Mungu ni mwema kwa watu wake.

For the past several months, I have been praying that God would send African families to our intercultural church.  We have people from all over the world, but we didn't have any families from the continent of Africa. It felt like our church family was missing something.






I miss living in Africa. I miss it every day.  Living in Sudan and my visits to Kenya were some of the best times of my life, and I miss the hospitality and people-centered, relaxed pace.  I miss the joyful dancing and complex clap-rhythms at the churches we attended.  I miss tea time when we just sat, enjoying being with each other without feeling a need to do anything but sip.



My town is about 90-95% white, so when three new families moved to our town from Congo and Kenya and have come to our church in just the past two weeks... I can hardly chalk it up to coincidence.  It has been amazing to hear their stories of trial as refugees fleeing violence in their home countries, yet their faces glow with joy and hope, each one saying over and over, "I don't know how, but God has taken care of our family. He is a good father."

I also prayed, silly as it may sound, for a "real life" sewing friend to talk to. (Hey, God cares.) I don't know anyone else that makes clothing, and it makes for a lot of alone time sewing in my own home.  Lo and behold, when I asked one of the ladies that just moved here from Kenya what she did for work back home, she replied, "I am a designer, and I make clothes."




Um....... YES.  God just made a two-for-one prayer answer right there, and now I have a lovely new friend to talk sewing with!

I wore this dress made of a Tanzanian khanga last night to church, and my new sewing friend and I had a conversation about how to work with the thin, loose-weave khanga fabric and our techniques of lining dresses to make them opaque.  It was a beautiful thing!



A khanga is a traditional East African fabric worn in a wrap skirt style.  This particular khanga is from Tanzania, and I wore it in a traditional style in this previous post.  Khanga skirts are rectangular panels printed with bold designs on cotton fabrics, often featuring a proverb or wise saying at the bottom in Swahili.  I was given two panels of this blue and navy design, and I hadn't cut them apart in hopes that someday I'd make them into a dress inspired by this 1950s khanga dress.  The day has come!

I franken-patterened THREE different sewing patterns together to make this dress.  I used McCall's 5517 for the bodice (a 1960s pattern), Simplicity 3851 for the skirt (1940s), and Sew-Rite 8762 (1940s/50s) for the pocket details.  I've worked with all of these patterns before, so I was able to do a quick muslin of the bodice to turn it into a button-up style with a collar and adjust the shoulders a bit, and I was good to go!



I took a whole evening to very carefully lay out my pattern pieces for the best pattern placement using the angles and not-perfectly-straight printing on the khanga.  This is what it looks like in its original form:



I managed to get the proverbs directly in the center of the skirt and finagle all the other pieces to line up in aesthetically pleasing ways.  I do have a bit of a flower-boob look going on at the bodice... but I think with the print spaced the way it is, it was pretty unavoidable.  I'm just rolling with it.

It all went together fairly easily.  I underlined the shifty, loosely woven khanga in bleached muslin.  I interfaced the collar and sewed its edge to follow the print like on the vintage khanga dress for some added detail.  It all went together relatively easily until I went to attach the bodice to the skirt and add the side zipper...

The side seams didn't line up.

The bodice side seams were about 1" further back than the skirt side seams.  I attempted to switch the back and front skirt pieces, but then the pocket pieces didn't fit on correctly.  Lacking in any extra fabric and getting a bit desperate... I came up with a creative way to make it work.  I cut a slit in the skirt behind its side seam to line up with the bodice side seam.  I attached a placket, sewed the bodice to the skirt, and painstakingly inserted a zipper.  I didn't have enough fabric to perfectly match the placket  pattern to the skirt... but it's still a pretty darn good blend, I think.  It does the job!



Besides that, everything went according to plan.  The bodice was made up and I added clear buttons down the front.  I did a 2" deep, blind hem and carefully matched the pattern at the various seams.  I absolutely love how it's turned out!



Once again, this dress is me-ish.  A Western cut with a bit of East African style!  

Mungu ni mwema kwa watu wake.
God is good to his people.

17 comments

  1. What a beautiful dress, I am in awe of your skills! This post made a bit teary:))

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  2. Really gorgeous job, Em! You sewing people say things like, "It all went together pretty easily..." And I think, "It's MAGIC! Pure magic!" So glad you now have Africans in your church! Yay God!

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    1. Hah, thank you so much Aunt Paula! Magic, haha. 😄

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  3. Beautiful reminder that God cares about our cares! Love the dress and the design!

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  4. Love it! No one is going to notice the piecing by the zipper. Your pattern placement is just perfect! And amen for real life sewing friends. :)

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    1. That is SO good to hear! And coming from a fellow seamstress, too, that makes me feel much better about the zipper. Thanks!

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  5. Oh, this is so pretty! I love the colours in the fabric. God is so good, and I am continually amazed at how He provides for those desires in our heart. (I probably shouldn't be surprised, but somehow I am every time. He is a good Father!)

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    1. I know, right?! He always finds a new and creative way to do it!

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  6. Your attention to detail is impeccable! And I'm so glad you have a real-life sewing friend now, that is lovely :)

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    1. Haha, my attention to detail comes and goes... but it was there on this project! Thank you!

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  7. That's an amazing dress, and an amazing answered prayer!

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  8. It was LOVE at first site with this dress, and now that I know more behind it I love it even more! So glad you got what you prayed for; I hope that continues to happen. I recently spent a week in Canada and now I miss the hospitality and people-centered, relaxed pace. So I can only imagine how much I'd miss it if I had lived there. You're so talented Emileigh and you make me miss my seamstress. I haven't found one since I moved to Chicago. XOXO -Dasha http://windycitywardrobe.com

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    1. Thank you so much, Dasha! That's so crazy; there must be a good seamstress SOMEWHERE in Chicago! I hope you can find one soon!

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  9. Wow, wow, wow. I am always so impressed by your sewing skills- and this dress takes the cake! Fabulous job on the pattern matching, and this dress is a beautiful style.
    Also, that is so wonderful that your prayers have been answered, and you have a new in-real-life seamstress friend. God really does care, and no prayer is ever too small. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, "Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer, is too small to be made into a burden". Really, He does care about the day to day things as well as the big things!
    The Artyologist

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    1. Awww, so true! Thank you very much!

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