The Dress Like Frida Sewalong Week 1

Printed voile Victoriana ruffled blouse with rick rack, worn with a striped bias cut skirt

My last post got a fantastic response – over 25 comments, and many of you have signed up to the Sewalong. A sewalong, for those who haven’t had a go before, is an opportunity for a group of people to work on a similar project and to share their ideas, learning and results. By working together (virtually) we can help each other and compare notes, and at the end I will bring together photographs of us dressed like Frida!. There will also be an Instagram hashtag #dresslikefridasal. OK!

I have already gathered a few resources for you and I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. This could be quite a big project. So I thought I would outline the “programme”, so you can see when I will deal with each subject. I will post every Tuesday for the next seven to eight weeks.  I know some of you want to make a Huipil right now! I sympathise sister! I have made two already. This is a very exciting project for many of us. My excuse is that I need make a few things in advance so I can offer useful advice and guidance for those who are less confident or experienced. I suggest you just pause for a week and have a think about what you are going to do, and make a little plan.

The programme

Week 1 (17 July): General discussion on Frida Kahlo’s style, influences, and the main wardrobe items. You can start making relevant items,  but having an overall idea of the outfit before you start is a good idea, especially with regards to colour. I suggest you use this week to think about how you would like to look, and to gather suitable materials such as fabric, sentimental items, yarn, braid, and any small items you want to incorporate. For example I have a little cat bell that I have to get in somewhere (Frida had them on her shoes).

Week 2: (24 July) How to make a Huipil – potential patterns, and for those who don’t want patterns, just the measurements, and suggested construction methods

Week 3: (31 July) Embellishment – for your Huipil, skirt or shawl

Week 4: (7 August) The skirt

Week 5: (14 August) The head-dress

Week 6: (21 August) Shawls, jewellery, make up and styling

Week 7: (28 August) Final discussion, learnings and hopefully some photographs. With dogs, monkeys, or even rotund muralists. The choice is yours! There are likely to be a few people who take a little longer – if so I will do a second photography post later in September.

 

Week 1 Frida’s Style

Printed blouse with lace yoke, over a full length black skirt, with short woven apron or over skirt, and cut work shawl

Firstly have a look at images of Frida herself. There are many photographs of her throughout her relatively short life. Her German father was a professional photographer and she was frequently photographed; in love, in bed, in her corsets and naked, and even after death. And in most photographs she is dressed up. She presents herself as an object, in a very particular way, for the viewer to appreciate and enjoy. Despite her poor health, painful conditions and significant disabilities she always dressed artistically and deliberately. She arranged (and, at one point, cut off) her hair; she wore make up, jewellery, fresh flowers, and extraordinary clothes, many purchased especially from the Oaxaca region where indigenous people, many of whom do not speak Spanish, have a wonderful range of folk traditions, including textiles and embroidery. Frida was especially attracted to these fabrics and styles and incorporated them into her everyday wear. Frida’s mother was Mexican and she already adopted many local looks, and made clothes including for the young Frida, using elements from Mexico’s indigenous and traditional styles.

In addition to the marvellous photographs, including for Vogue magazine, there are of course paintings. Frida’s subject was more or less herself, and most of her work is the self-portrait. These are the most telling and intriguing artefacts we have to consider, and these add depth to our understanding of Frida’s dress and appearance.

When you look at these image take in the attractive colour combinations Frida created. Look at the proportions and balance she achieved. The full hair and decorative elements on her head balance out the fullness and length of her outfit. Consider if you want a similar silhouette or if you are going to do something different to ensure the elements of the outfit suit your figure and colouring.

Look at the fabrics you will use for the huipil and the skirt. Are they good together? They may match, or co-ordinate, or may complement each other in an interesting way. If they don’t really “go” is there something you can do with your trimmings or by introducing a new printed element to draw them together?

Finally don’t get completely caught up in the Mexican aesthetic. Frida looked marvellous in jeans and a cardi, with a gingham blouse. And a monkey. We are trying to take something of her spirit and style. We want something we can wear at home, or to go out in, not Fancy Dress (I’m not stopping you if that is what you want to do, by the way – but my main intention is to adopt something of her artistic creativity in dressing for our contemporary lifestyles, rather than just taking her influences and copying them).

Frida in wide legged jeans, gingham blouse with white buttons and a ribbed red cardi

I have put together a Dress like Frida Pinterest page.

Whose culture is it anyway?

Frida wearing traditional brightly coloured embroidered skirt and blouse from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca

Interestingly, but understandably, some of my North American friends are sensitive to any possible accusation of cultural appropriation if they were to dress up in Mexican styles. I don’t think there is the same anxiety in the UK. But in any event most of the elements of Frida’s style can be seen in just about every folk tradition, so you may wish to pick something closer to home.

I have Welsh ancestry, and of course a Welsh surname. Here are some Welsh outfits that share many of the elements we see in Frida’s dress. Long full skirts with aprons or overskirts, lace, locally woven fabrics, short blouses, wrap jacket or shawls, mixed fabrics and patterns, and elaborate head-coverings. (I love the nonchalant knitting too!)

You will find lots of similar ideas across Europe – German, Swiss, Danish, Spanish, Romania, and Russian folkwear all undoubtedly contain a range of very similar elements. Here are some girls from Brittany, in Northern France, wearing versions of their traditional and colourful, regional dress. There are flowers, ribbons, strong colours, hand-made lace, layers, gathered skirts and uniformity of silhouette.

 

Of course there are versions from India and African countries too – here are just a few historic and modern interpretations.

You may notice large, showy jewellery, locally produced fabrics, print and pattern mixes, long oiled hair with centre partings, full skirts, T-shaped tops. Frida was appropriating traditional elements of her own national dress – why not discover what your ancestors wore and see if you might include an element of two in remembrance of them? Helene is going to research French Québécois traditions.

How would you sum up Frida’s wardrobe style? Is there anything particular you like about Frida’s style? What are you planning to make? Are you going to bring in some sentimental or vintage items? Do you have extraordinary elements you are dying to use? Do you have a colour scheme in mind? Have you pulled together your own fabrics and ideas? If so please share below or on Instagram (use our hashtag #dresslikefridasal) or Pinterest. And if you want a free Huipil pattern in the meantime, here is one that the V&A  prepared earlier. I’ll suggest a different approach next week.

 

18 Responses

  1. Sue

    This has been a really helpful post thank you Kate. I had been a bit hung up on trying to make Frida’s unique style fit my own, rather more conservative style, and could not get my head around a full skirt. I’m going to make a huipil from scratch, and another one from a magnificent vintage textile I found among my mother’s bits. I really like the idea of wearing these with wide legged trousers!

    • fabrickated

      Yes. I think the tops allow alot of creativity. I am going with the full, wide, square looking top that is the opposite if what I normally wear. I am always interested in trying different styles that are not the “most” flattering but give me new insights and opportunities. My Mondrian dress is very square too and it does suit me despite my curves, so we shall see.

  2. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    Wonderful! The pinterest page is great, and helps to glean ideas at one sweep of the eyes, love it. I’ll be inspired by colour, flowers, and her hair/headgear. I need some simple blouses/tops, so won’t be making the more outrageous ones, I like the plainer white ones with lace trim. I love the full skirts, and may make one, but have a horror of being caught by gusts of wind…which happened recently, oh dear. Those wide legged trousers may have some go in them. We shall see- I plan to just let it flow.

    • fabrickated

      Yes! Thank you Elaine. Hilarious about the full skirt story – I too have found circle skirts and 1950s skirts a bit unreliable in our English climate. I think with full length they don’t need to be so full, but then with your understanding of historic costume you may be able to do something very creative with the skirt. I was planning something rather simple (elasticated even?). I am planning a few tops that will mainly be worn with jeans actually.

  3. Jennifer Miller

    So tempting; Frida’s style was unique, colorful and inspiring. Love your pinterest page. Oh, and I absolutely love the fourth Welsh woman!

  4. Hélène

    Excellent orientation round-up, very inspiring! New ideas are emerging and I love the creative process behind this sew along. Thank you again Kate! xx

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for participating Helene. I am looking forward to finding out more about your traditions. Certainly France produced some amazing regional styles.

  5. Bunny

    I will participate but in my own way. I think Frida’s style is so unique and artistic but I would like to make something more conservative, frequently wearable, but still expressive of my personal history. I am on to something and fabric is being delivered tomorrow. This is such fun, Kate. I think we will see some amazing interpretations.

    • fabrickated

      I agree Bunny that there will be a huge explosion of creativity. The brief is wide, the inspiration amazing (a great woman artist; the colour palette; the Mexican influence; folkwear; basic and traditional shapes); and the ingenuity and style of the international sewing community is legendary. I am so excited about what you are planning Bunny. By the way I commented on your touching blog about the little dress, but it came out in my husband’s name as I was on his google account.

  6. Vancouver Barbara

    A wonderful post. I will be applauding though not necessarily participating as I am in one place and my archive is in another.

  7. Jo Anderson

    In the grip of an icy winter here in Australia I’m trying to cheer myself up out of the cold with some summery sewing projects. A bit of Frida is just the thing! I’ll look forward to your next Frida installment and think on what to make. How do I join the sewalong please? I’m also intrigued by the very masculine hats on the welsh ladies, I wonder what the inspiration for these are? Great read today, thank you!

    • fabrickated

      Hello Jo – thank you for your nice comment. Anyone can join the sewalong, and you don’t have to do anything specific, but it is great if you introduce yourself here, as you have done. Share your thoughts if you wish and if it works out well a photograph of you dressing like Frida at the end would be great!

      I don’t know much about these hats, but apparently they were the same as hats worn by men at the period. A Welsh website site says that “the tall ‘chimney’ hat did not appear until the late 1840s and seems to be based on an amalgamation of men’s top hats and a form of high hat worn during the 1790-1820 period in country areas”. I hope this is helpful!

  8. Mary

    My goal is to have a wearable outfit that won’t look so different to what I usually wear but will have Frida style elements. The square neckline is new for me but I think it will look good and I will enjoy wearing it. I’m not a full skirt wearer so am thinking of creating a dress or a tunic and wide leg trousers. I’m definitely sticking to my summer color palate! I have yards of handmade lace made by my great grandmother in Sweden so will be putting a bit somewhere but since I am not a lace wearer it will be subtle.I am loving this challenge so thank you for presenting it. Despite being a summer in coloring I am not a person who enjoys heat or sun so summer is a hard season for me. It’s nice to have this project to cheer me through!

    • fabrickated

      I love the idea of including Grandma’s lace, and having a Swedish reference. The Huipil works great as a tunic – like a little simple shift dress. Not sure it needs trousers. I love the summer and having a long stretch of really hot weather in the UK suits me! In fact the Huipil is just great for the season. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with Mary.

  9. Wendy

    What a great post, am too late to join in? This looks like a fantastic challenge that will put me out of my comfort zone and discover something new.

    • fabrickated

      Of course you can join in. That’s the whole idea Wendy. I’ll provide information each week on how to make the main items. It’s a great chance to use some of your precious stash!

  10. ElOmbu

    One thing that I didn’t see mentioned in your post is that she chose these garments because they fit over, and hid, all the hardware she was wearing underneath them! That said, I own a chest-full of huipils I’ve purchased all over Mexico, so won’t be making another one, but I will definitely pull one of them out of the drawer and take it out for a walk…. Or fondle it….

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