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  • Writer's pictureTulika Publishers

Guest post by Joeanna Rebello Fernandes: Of Tigers and Tailors

Author Joeanna Rebello Fernandes on her lifelong love for handmade clothes…


Of all the films I watched as a child, the one that stuck out for ingenuity wasn’t E.T. or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it was The Sound of Music. And it was for one scene in particular. Casting around for a way to dress her wards in finer clothes, but without money or material at her disposal, Fräulein Maria’s eyes suddenly fall upon fabric in plain sight — the bedroom curtains!


In a flash of brilliance and resourcefulness, the governess turns damask drapery into dresses (and shorts and pinafores), crafting a full fashion spread from furnishing. But of course, like Foxy Farouqi whose natty catsuit is the handiwork of the bazaar tailor, none of the von Trapp children could have trotted out their new and improved play clothes had Maria not known how to sew in the first place.


Although Maria Rainer imprinted herself deeply on my mind, it was another Maria who ‘sewed’ the seed of my love for handmade clothes — my maternal grandmother, Maria Angelica Gonsalves. Granny loved to dress up, and she furnished her closet with a steady supply of satin and cotton dresses and nightdresses that she sewed herself, each one unique, and the colours selected with precision, using an old emulsion paint shade-card. She started with a hand-crank Singer, the sewing machine initially humming like a music box playing Granny’s favourite tune — until she fitted it with a clanking foot pedal and it played Steampunk.


Although I did inherit a maternal instinct for handmade clothes from my grandmother, and although I do own a century-old Singer, I do not stitch my own clothes. After several disastrous attempts (one armhole an ‘o’, the other an ‘O’), I decided to hand over the job to experts — neighbourhood tailors.



A good tailor is a friend for life, and I’ve made several fast friends in the cities I’ve lived in. One of the first things I do when I move to a new neighbourhood is scout for a tailor. It's the fabric market that follows the tailor, for I now have to nurture our new friendship with fresh orders. Awakened several years ago to India’s fabulous heritage of handcrafted textiles, particularly its ikats and block-prints, I also nose out handloom cooperatives and small retailers. Their naturally-dyed and handspun fabric has raised me several notches in the esteem of my tailors.


At the end of it, having a garment handmade is like watching a spool of thread unreel. It crosses country, passes from tradition to innovation, winds down streets, steps over a tailor’s stoop, in and out of memory, gathering praise, to pass someday into the hands of my children.


And as they wear that piece of clothing, they may fail to read the blockprint, or spot my grandmother in the cut of the sleeve, or decode the tailor’s accidental sew-over, or identify the fruit in the swirl of the dye, or know what a secret pocket contained — but the garment will know the whole story.




THE BLOCKPRINTED TIGER is Joeanna's wacky and fun saga of a runaway tiger's quest for the perfect outfit, with colour-popping pictures by Nina Sabnani and Piyush Verma.


Available here!

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