Many Kittle thoughts

I am known in the sewing universe for being able to whip up a dress quickly. This is not a Trumpian exaggeration but most of my dresses have been whipped up in less than 30 minutes. A few of them have taken a couple of hours to make and some have been made in 15-20 minutes. I tend to cut into fabric without a pattern and just make the thing work.

This kittle is a very different sort of a project. I have made two muslins so far. I have drafted and re-drafted the pattern. I keep thinking about issues of fit, how men's bodies are built and how a kittle is actually used and worn. One complication for me is that this is a garment for a man. this is not my usual wheelhouse. the other issue is that the recipient is a man who cares about is particular about fit. A kittle is by it's nature big and floppy. 

The paradox of creating a well fitting  kittle  ( loose but not) was making me crazy. I had tried a close fitting draft of the kittle and knew it was entirely wrong. A high close fitting armscye ( arm hole- for people who don't sew) was clearly completely wrong. A kittle is an overcoat, a shirt like garment that fits over the clothing needs to be loose fitting, but my client adores good tailoring.


The problem was making me anxious. I finally realized that my daughter has a friend who could help me. Ben is a graduate of FIT in menswear.  He is also observant and knows his way around a kittle. He is observant but open enough to talk to someone (a woman) who is making an art-piece kittle.

My daughter met Ben during her stint working for a custom tailor. In the way that there is really only two degrees of separation between Jews, Ben's mother is a dear friend of my college buddy Helene. When Helene was visiting us a few months back she mentioned over dinner that the son of a friend was studying tailoring at FIT. I immediately asked, "Is his name Ben?". Of course it was Ben. 

Ben was kind enough to be willing to talk me through my kittle issues last night. He thought that my idea of creating a fitted yoke and having deep pleats on the back of the kittle was a good one. He gave me some useful tips about how to create the illusion of height in a man who does not have that much height.

Ben approved of my fabric choices. We talked about the horrors of a skimpily made shirt. We were both revolted by bad cotton poly shirting with the dreaded bluish tinge to the white. We talked about kittle as a garment worn by the dead. He made some elegant suggestions that were beyond my tailoring skills.

By the end of our conversation, I was much calmer. I dreamed about the kittle all night and then today with Ben's wise words in my head I cut out most of the kittle out of the beautiful Italian shirting I had purchased for the project. I felt the glow of Ben's approval for the figured white cotton as i cut into it.

Ben is the same age as my kids. Ben has become my teacher.

Clearly this kittle and all of it's moving parts have been in my head for a while.  When I first came up with the design for the kittle I spoke to my client about wanting masses of stacked Hebrew text decorating the kittle.

I had a visceral sense of how the masses of text was a deeply Jewish thing. I couldn't exactly pinpoint why, but I just knew. One of the Jewish genealogy sites I am a member of mentioned  Carved Memories, a book of photographs of Jewish tombstones from the Ukraine.

I immediately bought the book. My grandfather was born in the Ukraine. my father in-law's parents came from there as well.  As I flipped through the pages I realized that these tombstones used text in the very same way that I was hoping to on the kittle.


This weekend I will start applying some of the ribbons of text to the kittle. The sleeves the yoke and the collar still need to be cut out and constructed. 

Some elements of this project have made my head hurt. Ultimately though I have loved how it has used so many different parts of my brain, and has involved so many different kinds of problem solving. I am grateful to Ben for talking me off the ledge about drafting the kittle.

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