What She Left Behind

She came, expected.

Even before she made landfall, we knew her by name. She is Yolanda, forecasted to be the strongest cyclone to hit the country this year. Days before she arrived, we braced ourselves for impact – nine areas in the Visayas were immediately placed under signal no. 4, classes were suspended, forced evacuations enforced . Three C130s, 32 airplanes and helicopters from the Air Force and 20 Philippine Navy vessels were on stand by. Philippine Red Cross was on high alert and has started packing relief goods for 15,000 families expected to be affected by the typhoon. Rescue equipment, rubber boats, generator sets, fuel, and vehicles were at the ready for possible operation or deployment. On November 7, President Aquino issued a statement aired on national television, emphasizing the seriousness of Yolanda and urging the people not to take chances. He asked for cooperation from everyone and called on that age-old Filipino tradition of ‘bayanihan’ saying: “Alam nating walang bagyong maaaring magpaluhod sa Pilipino kung tayo’y magbabayanihan,” (No storm can bring the Filipino to his knees as long as we help each other.)

Had those words been uttered by another leader in another country, they would have sounded more ominous and would have carried more weight. But this is the Philippines, where we eat typhoons for breakfast and drink floodwater for tea. Each year, we are host to an average of nine tropical storms on land, with ten more entering our waters. In 1993 alone, a record of 19 cyclones battered our coastlines. We have survived Ruping (1990), Uring (1991), Frank (2008), Ondoy (2009), Juan (2010), Sendong (2011), and Pablo (2012). And through it all, we manage to smile. We wave at the cameras from the top of our roofs while the rest of our house is submerged in water. We flash the ‘OK’ sign even as we are waist-deep in flood. We have, dare I say, acquired an almost charming cockiness towards typhoons. Signal no. 4, you say, Yolanda? Bring it on!

Yolanda made initial landfall on Eastern Samar on November 8, 2013 at 4:40am and did she bring it on. Sustained winds of 315 kph (195 mph) and gusts as strong as 380 kph (235 mph) made it the strongest recorded cyclone in the history of the world. The aftermath was heartbreaking: thousands, nay, ten thousands feared dead or missing, millions displaced, millions more left without a means of livelihood. Children snatched from their parents’ arms, coastal towns erased from the face of the earth, cities trampled to pieces like blocks of Lego. A government crippled, a people in despair. By the time Yolanda finished with us, we were on our knees, weeping.

In the face of such calamity, we expressed grief in different ways. Some organised relief operations in silence, others harnessed – perhaps a little too enthusiastically – the power of social media to spur people to action. Some donated under the cloak of anonymity, others announced every donation and solicitation for the world to hear. Some raised funds, others volunteered precious time and effort. And then, there are those who ranted.

They ranted when Korina Sanchez dared to contradict CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s reportage on the apparent lack of government presence in Tacloban five days after Yolanda hit (a statement he later denied making). They criticised the government’s perceived unpreparedness for the typhoon and complained about its slow response to the crisis. They ranted some more about Korina Sanchez’ Rated K slippers, Jejomar Binay’s marked relief goods bags, politicians advancing their own political agendas in the guise of helping others. They ranted against news of imported relief goods allegedly being switched to local ones before distribution to the needy. But most of all, they ranted about President Aquino, his perceived ineptness, insensitivity, and weakness. Oh, how they ranted and complained and criticised. How they raged.

In different circumstances, I would have raged with the best of them. Some of these, after all, are important issues that have plagued our country for so long. But in the aftermath of Yolanda, in the midst of such horrific destruction, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t muster an ounce of anger towards these self-serving politicians, our corruption-ridden government, our perceived incompetent President. I couldn’t even care less about Korina’s slippers or Jejomar Binay’s conspicuous relief goods bags. To me, it seemed inconsiderate- selfish, even- to indulge one’s ire when so many lives have been lost, when so many are suffering, when the whole world is mourning.

And so, I decided to seek out the positive and uplifting- quite unusual for a realist like me. I watched as the the world opened its arms and cradled our ravaged country in its embrace. I listened to stories of hope from my friends who had the privilege of physically helping our kasimanwas in the battered towns of Batad, Balasan, Ajuy, Estancia, and Capiz. I laughed at anecdotes that exemplify our resilience and humor, such as the lady who coyly asks a volunteer:’Ma’am kon pwede tani, tama na nga sardinas? Luncheon meat naman…’ (‘Ma’am, can we have a break from sardines? Maybe luncheon meat next time?). I chuckled when I saw plackards with the words “We need house and lot and car and swimming pool” replace those with the more desperate “We need food and water”. I knew then that somehow, in some way, we will rise above this tragedy. Somehow, the Filipino people will come through. And for the first time, I feel a patriotic tingle course down my spine- quite unusual for an avowed expatriot like me.

And this, I believe, is what Typhoon Yolanda really left behind, more than the destruction and grief, the suffering and mourning. She left a nation in tatters and its people in despair. But she also left them stronger, more resilient, with a clearer awareness of who they are as a nation. I fervently hope that such new-found knowledge and strength would one day push them to reach for something they so deserve – a transparent government that exists for all and not just the chosen few.

Handmade and Fabulous: The Basic Maxi Dress

I recently acquired a stash of jersey knit fabrics from Taytay, Rizal. Taytay is the fabric capital of Manila where bodegas (warehouses) that hold hundreds, nay, thousands of fabrics crowd each other out, where fabrics are sold by the kilo and not by yardage. Truly a seamstress’ version of heaven!

My loot included this really soft jersey in royal blue. As soon as I touched it, I knew I wanted to make something flowy and easy out of it, something I can whip out in a couple of hours. So here is a basic version of one of my favourite clothing items, the maxi dress.

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Front
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and Back

Tutorial follows soon so stay tuned!

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No-Sew Project: Recycled Wedges

We all have one: a pair of shoes so comfortable and versatile we wear it with anything and everything. Mine was a very simple pair of dark brown leather wedges with beige raffia-covered heels. They fit my rather curvy feet perfectly and although it is sling-back, I never felt like I had to walk a certain way to keep them on (yeah, you know what I mean). I wore them with everything: short dresses, long dresses, short shorts, longish shorts, wide-legged trousers, skinny jeans. I wore them when it’s sunny, I wore them in the rain. I got a good few months out of them before I noticed the raffia heels looking a little worse for wear. I’m actually being kind. Here’s one of them.

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They looked really tatty and I know I can’t wear them again without looking unkempt, but the thought of binning them filled me with a certain sadness. And so I put them away for a while, hoping they’d grow new heels in the closet.  Well, today, I finally took them out of hiding and did what I should have done months ago: rip the offending raffia off the wedge heels.

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I panicked a bit when I saw the naked wedge- I didn’t realise how ugly they are underneath that dirty raffia covering. I just wanted to cover them up as quickly as possible. Two options: braided leather or jute cords. Braided leather would have added a luxe feel to the shoes but would have entailed too much work. And truth be told, I wasn’t up to doing too much work these past few weeks. So jute cords it is.

Armed with the mother of super glue and a roll of jute cords, I set out to breathe new life into these rather sad-looking pair of wedges.

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A couple of hours and two glue-hardened thumbs later,

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I think the pair is good for another 6 months. I must remember to skip puddles.

Till next time!

Handmade and Fabulous: The Belted Shorts

Swelteringly hot days followed by nights so humid the condominium sometimes feels like one giant sauna. Summer has definitely arrived  in my tropical paradise.

By the middle of May the lure of  powdery, white sand and turquoise waters proved too strong to resist. When some visiting friends from Germany casually mentioned Boracay, my husband and I volunteered ourselves as their tour guides.  Buzzing with excitement, I booked our flights, excused our son from school, and started an inventory of my clothes. As I stood there confronted by a wardrobe full of clothes, I realised I have nothing to bring to the beach! Sounds all too familiar, I know.

My old, unenlightened (in the art of sewing) self would have marched straight to her favourite high street shops for a dose of retail therapy; these days, one would likely find me holed up in the workroom. A week before our flight, I gravitated towards the cabinet that holds my fabric stash and started pulling out yards of chiffons and cottons and linens and polyesters, all crying out to be made into something. Who am I to resist? And so I embarked on a sewing frenzy which saw me churn out five outfits in five days. That’s a lot, even for me.  My husband said I was crazy- I always pull this stunt at the eleventh hour, sewing until the last minute. He’s right. But I thought spending a fortune on clothes that I can make for a fraction of the price, with his credit card, is even crazier. I told him as much; he left me alone.

Belt it Out

The first thing that came out of that crazy sew-fest is this belted pair of shorts from the left-overs of my shirtdress.

The belted shorts in khaki Irish linen
The clean, plain back shows off a smaller bum

I have made a few pairs of shorts before but this is the first time I attempted a ‘pork-chop’ pocket, so-called for its deep U-shape that hangs inside the shorts, from the hip to the side seam. It was fun making it and I liked how ‘professional’ my pockets looked.

The ‘pork chop’ pocket – don’t ask me why

This is also the first time I dabbled in waist/hip bands, belt loops and all. And to top all that, I made a belt in matching fabric. I think the belt tied everything together, literally.

And here I am taking my newest pair of shorts for a stroll. It was only after that I realised I made them a teeny weeny on the short side. To avoid looking like a wanna-be Daisy Duke, I always wear it with a looser top- preferably a cotton shirt like this one.

Fancy making one for yourself? I have put together a short tutorial on how to make your very own belted shorts. Do drop by in a few days!

Keep on sewin’

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Handmade and Fabulous: The Shirtdress

Have you seen ‘Midnight in Paris?‘ If you have, then you will understand my recent fascination with the Shirtdress. The movie is Woody Allen’s nth film, set in modern Paris where couple Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are on vacation with her rich family. Minutes into the movie, it is evident that the relationship between the couple is beset with problems – Gil, a frustrated writer and Inez, a spoiled little rich girl can’t seem to be in the same room for five minutes without the latter biting the former’s well-mopped writer’s head off. Add to that is Gil’s propensity to travel back in time – specifically to the 1920s- when midnight strikes and falling in love with a 1920s flapper named Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and you have a story so charmingly complicated you’d wonder how it all would end. But while the plot kept me glued to my seat, it was the clothes that kept my eyes glued to the screen. In particular, Rachel McAdams’ laid-back glam wardrobe and the endless parade of -yes, you guessed it- shirtdresses. Pictures are worth thousands of words they say so I’ll let these stills from the movie, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics and IMDB, speak for themselves:

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One look and I was in love…with the shirtdress
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Shirtdress cinched at the waist, dressed up with wedges. Perfect daytime chic.
Rachel MacAdams and Owen Wilson Film For New Woody Allen Film
A silky version worn with low-slung belt for laid-back night-time glamour.

The moment I laid eyes on that baby blue shirtdress, I shifted into I-gotta-have-me-one-of-those mode. So out came the pattern paper, the scissors, the measuring tape, the chalk,  the fabric, and of course, my trusty sewing machine. It took me two days to finish it, but only because I realized I was out of buttons! Then I remembered my husband’s well-worn dress shirts in a plastic bag somewhere waiting for their trip to the recycling drum. The next owner won’t be happy to find he is missing eight buttons 😦

So here is my finished shirtdress, in khaki Irish Linen, bought a couple of years ago from a street market in Brighton, UK for 2.50GBP/meter at 60 width.

The finished shirtdress in khaki Irish Linen with pocket details and slightly oversized collar
The finished shirtdress in khaki Irish Linen with pocket details and slightly oversized collar
Up close
Up close
Those buttons turned out all right!
Those buttons turned out all right!
A close-up of the slightly oversized collar
A close-up of the slightly oversized collar

Overall, I was happy with how it turned out. But on my next shirtdress (I am now in what I call my I-gotta-have-myself-another-one-of-those mode), I will skip the interfacing on the collar as my fabric choice was stiff enough without it. I’ll explain how I made my version on a tutorial that’s coming soon.

Happy stitching!

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Handmade and Fabulous: The White Linen Shorts and Trousers

Summer has come early – where I am, at least. Last Sunday, temperatures soared to 34 degrees Celsius and I was literally melting into a puddle as I played mahjong with my cousins. Visions of powdery white sand, crystal blue waters, and clear skies filled my mind as I weeded out useless tiles from my pile. It made me long for Boracay, flowy dresses, and white linen.

Boracay on my mind…

Yes, white linen. For me, nothing quite captures the essence of summer as perfectly as white linen, whether it is a dress, a tunic, a pair of trousers, or the ubiquitous pair of shorts. And so one afternoon, I decided to put the remaining fabric from my simple tunic project to good use. To my delight, there was enough yardage to make a pair of wide legged trousers AND shorts.  Without further ado, I started cutting and sewing, using my existing trousers sloper,  drafted with the help of Dennic Chunman Lo’s Pattern Making. Here are my finished pairs of whities.

White Linen Shorts
The White Stuff: Summer ready linen shorts in pristine white. Suede carry-all in Tan by Blithe Sanchez
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The White Stuff: Summer Perfect wide-legged linen trousers in pristine white. Suede carry-all in Tan by Blithe Sanchez

Fancy making yourself one (or a few?). Do come back in a few days for the tutorial.

See you back,

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