The Filipinos have a word for its massive overseas population: Balikbayan. Indeed, it's a country whose biggest export is its labor and for decades, Filipinos have been seeking opportunities abroad. Ever travel internationally and wonder where all those people are going with their boxes? I'd bet it's Filipinos carrying balikbayan boxes home to their relatives, who often find it impossible to make that trip in reverse, even though the history of the Philippines is so distinctly tied to the United States.
I am a half-breed, a hapa, a Fil-Am, have you. The word may not apply to me, but to me it signifies a homecoming. I was raised largely by my Filipino family, who taught me strength. My grandmother was a dressmaker in the old country, and my grandfather—11 years her senior—first courted her by asking her to repair his GI uniforms. (Even though I assume the military has a service for that!) For it was the only way: She was suspicious of an "old man" and his intentions, but he'd been merely one of the millions of poor Filipinos who had whittled away his youth in Hawaii's sugar cane plantations and had found a bit of status after the Pearl Harbor bombing, having been recruited into the military. Staying in the military was the best a man with a fourth grade education could do to support a family post-war.
I like to think I got a lot of my Make Do and Mend leanings from them. They were never wasteful and still overly generous. My grandfather maintained a garden and we had nearly all our meals at home. My grandmother sewed every curtain and pillowcase and house duster on her treadle.
When they were in good health, they frequently returned to the Philippines. My cousin bought me this bit of fabric when she went back a few years ago. I made my first return two years ago. Me, a backpack and thousands of islands. It's beautiful country. According to surveys, it's the poorest, happiest country on earth.
As my sewing teacher said, a piece of fabric is full of possibilities until you cut into it. For years I used it as a makeshift tablecloth, perhaps once or twice as the wrap it was made for. At first I thought I'd make a bow dress like this one from verypurpleperson like this; an Indonesia native, she inspires me with her use of batiks. Then I thought I'd use the Colette Crepe, to take advantage of the print with a large, full skirt. But I finally decided on the new Lisette Passport dress, Simplicity 2209: The fitted bodice and slightly full skirt seemed a flattering cut for my rectangular frame.
Can I tell you what a joy this was to sew? First of all, all the pieces fit together, unlike my UP dress. This was so, so easy, so rewarding. Even though I lean toward very staid non-printed neutrals, and this dress if far from perfect, I have a feeling I'll wear this a lot in the warm months. It'll definitely look better when I've got a bit of a tan :)
Armed with Fit for Real People, I took my first real whack at tissue fitting a pattern and actually made a muslin of the bodice just to be safe. Short-waist adjustment? Check. Small bust adjustment? Check. Swayback adjustment? Check. Nipping in the neckline to make sure the front and back neckline lay flat? Check. I shortened the skirt by an inch and I even attempted my first (nearly) invisible zipper sans special foot.
There's still a wee bit of pooling in the back for swayback, but I'm utterly pleased the result. It really gives me the confidence to sew more dresses. I'd highly recommend this pattern.
And this weekend, we went to IKEA and bough me this little desk for the corner of my dining room. Hooray, everything's organized! I even have enough space to type my blog posts. :) Before, everything was spread on the floor or in various drawers. It was sort of a nightmare.
I remember standing in front of a mirror in an old apartment in a New England farmhouse attic on my undergraduate graduation day. I had hair to my hips and a cheap Charlotte Russe dress on and I said to myself, "So this is me at 22."
I am 31 today. This is my birthday dress, my homecoming dress, my Balikbayan dress. I'll bring it with me when I return to Hawaii next week, and I'll think of my family every time I wear it, regardless of where in the world I am.
Wishing you a beautiful Spring day, wherever you are. And lots of homecomings. x
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