Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Take That, Jeb Bush!

It's not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month until May, but indulge me here and allow me to get on my soapbox for a spell.

Right before we moved away from TCOCC, I was on a roll with Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges. I was only working part time, I lived near the LA Fabric District and FIDM and its inspirational garments, and I had plenty of creative energy. I was actually in the middle of making my rich lady pirate ensemble (completed the coat, waistcoat, and shirt, still need to make pants and a cravat) when we moved, but then I started working full time again and then we were house-hunting and then I got pregnant and then I had SHB...and now here I am two years later, finally getting back into things. The HSF has turned into the Historical Sew Monthly, which is definitely an easier time frame, and I've been stewing this idea in my mind for almost a year -- plenty of time to do research and more research and then some thinking and wait, better do a little more research just in case!

What made me decide to finally take the plunge and get to sewing? Well, I'd already been thinking about sinking my teeth into a non-knit project, but then Jeb Bush went and lit a fire under my tail with his comments about "anchor babies" and Asian-Americans. While I have been fortunate to grow up in San Francisco and attend public schools with large APA populations (unlike many APAs, I have never had to be "the Asian kid"), I have definitely experienced my share of othering statements like "No, where are you really from?" and "Wow, your English is so good!" I've sat through more stories of that-one-time-I-went-to-an-Asian-country-you-look-Asian-so-you-probably-want-to-hear-about-it than I care to remember, and when it's time to play the what-celebrity-do-you-look-like-most game, most people would probably just default to Lucy Liu because she's the only really well-known Asian-American actress (although there was also Anna May Wong in the 1930s!).

Just yesterday Mr. Cation and I tried to think if there were any Asian-American superheroes (and not just the one-dimensional Asian Sexy Dragon Lady/Ninja/Bruce Lee Type tropes), and all we came up with were B-list heroes like Jubilee, Wind Dragon, and Dana Tan (who is not even a superhero, just a superhero's girlfriend). Granted, we're only semi-into superheroes, but that's still pretty sad. While I love that there are more APAs in diverse fields now (instead of the stereotypical STEM fields, we've got Margaret Cho, Elaine Chao, and Jeremy Lin!), there aren't many APAs who are just cool. Okay, I guess Jeremy Lin is cool if you're a teenage boy, but I mean cool like "full of thrilling heroics," not "I can put a ball through a hoop."


So when I came across the mention of Hazel Ying Lee in this random HuffPo article about famous Chinese-Americans, I was intrigued. An APA aviatrix? Who served as a WASP in WWII?! How have I never heard of her before? Especially when she has the same name as my mom! Okay, that doesn't make us related or anything, but I'm still going to claim her and others who served our country (heeeeey look, this other aviatrix has the same name as my aunt!) as part of my Chinese-American heritage.  All this to say, I made some old-timey aviatrix jodhpurs.

And now, without the belt and boots so that you can see the waist and lacings better. In bare feet, I felt like some kind of weird hobbit-pilot. 
A close-up of the waist. I'm really pleased at how neatly it all came together!

This might be the nicest facing job I've ever done. 

And a look at the lacing on the outseam. 

The inside. I didn't finish my seam allowances, but that was somewhat common at the time so I feel okay about it. 

I looked at many, many extant garments from the 1920s-1940s, and since I've never felt tied to strict historical accuracy, I boiled it all down to just a few must-haves to really get the idea across: military color (either tan, brown, olive, or dark green), side openings with buttons, buttons or laces at the outside of the knee, and that patched-on reinforcement on the inside of the leg. I didn't have a pattern and didn't want to just use this cheater method, so I went uber-historical and drafted my own pattern following these original 1912 instructions, with additional help from this 1908 drafting book for clarification. That's a couple decades earlier than my aimed-for 1930s look, but I was hoping that maybe jodhpurs were one of those garments that hadn't changed too much. Here's what my original draft looked like:

Yes, I do my drafts on the back of wrapping paper.
It's cheap and large, and it's already got those handy 1" grids printed on the back! 

And after multiple fittings and modifications, here's what my final pattern looked like:

Except without the darts. 
A comparison of the original center back seam and my new center back seam. 

I ended up eliminating the darts and taking the difference out at the center front and back seams instead, because the darts just looked poofy and hideous on the stiff twill I used, and many extant garments (including Hazel Ying Lee's) don't feature any darts at all. Even so, the final garment is pretty unflattering to my modern eye. And if you're thinking that the above pictures looked fine, that's because you didn't see the back and side view...

Um. What. Can we say hello, excess fabric?

It's like I've got room below my butt for an extra butt. 

I realize that it's supposed to be baggier and roomier than modern pants, but looking at how some 1940s jodhpurs fit, I'm inclined to think that they did get at least a little sleeker between the two world wars. I desperately want to take out some of the extra fabric at the inseam, but it's faux flat-felled and there's that huge applique over it, so I'm just going to say this is a wearable muslin. Besides, if I keep it this way I can use it as the base for a wartime Lady Edith costume. I did end up purchasing this Folkwear costume pattern, based on a 1920s outfit from the Met, so maybe I'll give the slightly-more-modern jodhpurs a try in the future. Despite the unflattering bagginess, I'm actually pretty pleased with myself for actually making these. My brain definitely got a workout, what with the research and drafting and alterations! And of course, I couldn't resist pulling out my circa 2001 leather jacket for an even sillier non-HA aviatrix look.

Old-timey filter!

Anachronistic jacket and boots ftw! 

The Challenge: Heirlooms and Heritage
Fabric: 2 yards of 54" wide poly-cotton forest green twill, fairly stiff and inclined to resist pressing, inherited from a friend's stash
Pattern: self-drafted, following original 1912 instructions, with modifications
Year: 1912, fudged into 1930s
Notions: Eight black 7/8" plastic buttons, 1" wide black petersham ribbon for the binding, black ribbon for the lacing
How historically accurate is it? I'm going to put it at 60%, since it's a real historical pattern, but from slightly earlier, and not strictly historical materials. I got as close as I could while sticking to stash, as I'm going for the look, since I'm trying not to spend money on this. Real jodhpurs from the 1930s seem to be mostly linen or wool, although there are a couple of cotton ones and this one is even a forest green twill! Four buttons for the waist seems to be standard, as is no yoke + facing + belt loops, but the button facings tend to be invisibly attached. The petersham binding should be replaced with twill tape, and the ribbon with actual lacing cord, per this very helpful examination of an extant pair.
Hours to complete: 12, but that's not including the research.
First worn: Just for pictures, and probably not for a long time, if ever. This was more a brain exercise project than anything, but maybe if they have a history day of sorts at school I could give it an outing? Although I'd have to make an aviator cap to go with it.
Total cost: $4 for the buttons, everything else was free from other people's stashes.
Netflix queue: Suitably enough, I watched Ken Burns' epic documentary The West while sewing this, which I heartily recommend not only for the sheer amount of information, but also because it touched on a little known part of Chinese-American history, the Chinese Exclusion Act. I know it can't compare to the long list of crimes committed against Native Americans, nor is it as awful as being enslaved for hundreds of years, but it's definitely one of those things that doesn't get covered enough in US History.
Final thoughts: While I didn't use any heirlooms, and these jodhpurs are only loosely part of my heritage, I think it's still fitting for this challenge. It inspired me to do a lot of research on a less well-known part of history and gave me a sense of pride in my APA identity. While I don't know that these costume jodhpurs will be passed on as an heirloom, I certainly hope that I can pass on that sense of pride in being Asian-American to SHB. I don't want him to grow up in a world that is suspicious of him because he might be an Other who's somehow "taking advantage" of the birthright citizenship amendment. Okay, I'm done politicizing!

And then I had a patriotism fail: I was trying to do one of those saluting poses like you see in the pin-up girl pictures from WWII, but I couldn't figure out why it looked so wrong. After some Googling, I realized I had actually done a "I'm shading my eyes while looking for someone" pose instead of a salute. *facepalm*


  1. i LOVE this outfit! the pants actually look very chic and slim from the front- and the color is awesome. i wish you would take the excess out the back or stuff a second butt in there ;)

    love the inspiration as well. shout up from fellow asian!

  2. Fascinating project, & these already look great. I love the photo of Hazel Ying Lee, the Jodhpurs in that photo look surprisingly skin tight above the knee.

  3. I really, really enjoyed this post! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  4. This is just amazing! I loved reading the entire process you went through (Netflix included!), and that the challenge prompted you to delve into researching an area you hadn't explored yet. Fascinating!

  5. Picture this: frazzled woman, running screaming down long hallway, headed for door leading to freedom of beach and waves, away from television's "reporting" of politicians' latest inane, stupid, racist, and demeaning discussions of what they think the nation needs... At the cliff above beach stands Ms. Cation in her forest green twill jodhpurs, saluting. Screaming stops. Sanity floods back in. Discussion ensues.... Ahhhh, THANK you, Ms. Cation!

  6. these are awesome... and you are awesome!! i also found out about this musical yesterday: http://allegiancemusical.com i REALLY wish i could go see it!!! so exciting to see more roles/shows for asian americans!

  7. You look so cool, I can hardly contain myself!

  8. Ok, so the side view might need some work, but the pants look great from the front! Also, I'd like to see a hobbit pilot now. Probably flying an Eagle, as one does in Middle Earth. If nothing else, it would make an adorable plushie!

  9. These are awesome aviatrix pants--love! (I also think your blog is amazing, btw.)

    Is Melinda May a superhero? Because she also has very cool pants. And does she get extra superhero points since Ming-Na Wen was also Mulan?

  10. Oh my gosh! This is the coolest sewing blog entry I have read in AGES!!!

  11. Oh my gosh, they're adorable! I love your description of "hobbit-pilot," haha, but they look just perfect when paired with the boots. Thank you for the links as well - I've been thinking of making jodhpurs for daily wear but it seemed like a big job. Now I feel much more confident.

  12. What a great post! You should step on your soapbox more often.

  13. Duuuuude! These are awesome!! Jeb Bush can stick it.

  14. Soooo cool! Beautiful job and you look fabulous in them!

  15. Very impressive! How about making a pattern when you've made the next pair? mlise

  16. Oh, what a great post, a fun project, and some awesome history (crushingly depressing as it can be... ;P)! As for the fit, it looks very period, and I bet they're comfy to sit in as one would be while flying a plane. :) I confess jodhpurs aren't a look I'll ever be wearing for style reasons (I remember my mom wearing them in the 80s and being mystified then ;) ) but as a piece of history they are GREAT!.

    Also, the world definitely needs more Asian female superheroes. I truly hadn't realized the lack was quite as bad as it is until you pointed it out. So when will you be drawing us one? ;)

  17. Your pants are fantastic. I am always impressed by your creativity!

    IMHO, Iris Chang is a real life Chinese American super hero. Her death broke my heart.

  18. What a great post! It really hadn't occurred to me that Asians were so poorly represented, hope that changes. And I think you're cool, so that counts, right? :)

  19. I never comment, much less twice in a row, but the new Hulk is Korean American ( though still a man):

  20. I love reading your sewing blog.

    And the politicians who want to "do away with birthright citizenship" can suck it. Considering they'd likely find a way to make white Europeans exempt from having their citzenship stripped.

    If they get their way, I'd lose mine and my mother would keep hers because she naturalized... when I was 14.

  21. These are so cool, I kindof hope jodhpurs become the next crazy pant trend now!

  22. Love those Jodhpurs--I remember making some 20 years ago--before the internet was readily available. A lot of magnifying glass work. I remember asking my mom about the amount of fabric, and she said I had to remember it was before knit fabric was readily available, and a lot of the information about fitting and alteration was not the same as now..

    Oh--you can get on your soapbox anytime. I had to look the term up the first time I heard AB. Sigh. So much in the world and that is their focus?!

  23. Oh man, these are so cool, and I'm so glad they were a way for you to connect with an awesome Asian-American historical character! I get so sick of the xenophobic, racist crap that politicians spew about so irresponsibly... way to stick it to the Jeb! :D

  24. I have never commented before on a sewing blog, but my husband is Asian American and we are both US historians, and so I am totally on board with this particular rant. It is the perfect combination of several of my worlds - sewing, US women's history and APA identity/history - in one awesome pair of pants. Thank you for giving me a perfect storm of nerd happiness!

  25. This is so awesome! You're very inspiring. I love all the research you put into this and how you showed us some new superheros. I think there are many unsung heros. I'm so glad that for the photos you did find. Thank God someone took photos of them!! Love your jodhpers. Well done.


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