DIY drama: Chinese opera coat

Chinese opera coat batik

When I’m in need of everyday-type procrastination, I rummage through The Fabric Stash On The Floor In The Spare Room. But for special occasions, I treat myself to a rummage through The Fabric Stash High On The Shelf In My Wardrobe (this requires getting up onto a chair and moving boxes surrounding the stash box before dropping said stash box onto the tiny amount of vacant space on the floor, hence the “special occasion” status of this activity). Usually during Special Occasion Procrastination I just gaze fondly at all the textiles in my stash (much in the manner of Gollum salivating over his Precious) before returning them to the box for future bouts of timewasting, but last week, I found this wallhanging in there and inspiration struck.

I’m not exactly certain, but I think it depicts characters from a Chinese opera. So the logical thing to do with it was to make an opera coat.

Chinese opera coat batik textilesThere is so much drama in the batik print of the wallhanging that I didn’t want to cut into it or make any darts that would interrupt it. That, plus what if I want to use it as a wallhanging in the future? So I left it as it was and just sewed a length of fabric to each side at the shoulders and side seams, leaving a gap open at the waist on each side so I can pass a belt through, as so…

Hmong batik indigo coat

That fabric was Hmong batik, also from the Special Occasion Procrastination stash. That’s right, I used two pieces of fabric from the Special Occasion Procrastination stash in the one hit. So I will have to refrain from rummage sessions in there for quite some time.
Hmong batik Chinese opera print DIY

It’s perhaps a bit hard to tell, but rather than just sewing the Hmong fabric straight across to attach it to the top of the wallhanging, I draped the wallhanging across my back and brought the edges down over my shoulders, then sewed the Hmong fabric to it underneath. This just gives the shoulders a bit more shape than if I had gone for a typical kimono-style straight seam.
Part of my reason for making the opera coat (apart from procrastination) was so that I can wear batik in winter too, because with a jumper and tights underneath, it can be belted all the way around like a dress. Of course, as soon as I made it, the weather was freakishly warm, and my friends and I were melting as we picnicked in the Carlton Gardens, where I got them to take these photos.

Carlton gardens batik sewing DIY

Where the Hmong batik is from (in this case, Laos) it gets much hotter and stickier, so this material should actually be perfect for summer as well as winter. The batik is all done by hand, freestyle – the artisans use wax to draw these stylised patterns of rice grains, elephant feet, flower seeds and so on from memory*. The fabric is then dyed repeatedly in indigo and the wax rinsed off to leave the white pattern underneath. I’m not sure if it’s the Hmong fabric or the Chinese opera wallhanging, but after making this (and even just after wearing it) my fingernails were quite blue. Definitely a garment to wash separately, by hand. Now there’s something else to do when I need to procrastinate!

*I’ll put some close-up shots of the batik up on my Instagram later this week. Yet more procrastination…