Hot! The “Gone Tribal” FELA dress | Adey Lim

The Facts 

B5209Fabric: Two different tribal print fabrics 2.5 metres from Spotlight $15 and a fat quarter ikat print fabric $2 for bias tape
Pattern: Butterick 5209 Retro reissue
Year: c. 1947
Notions: invisible zipper
Time to complete:  4 hours
First worn: October 2011
Wear again? Yes:)

Total Cost: ~$17

Having watched Miss Saigon twice, I was contemplating sewing a Vietnamese Ao Dai for this week's challenge. But, after an internet search on broadway musicals, what attracted me was something completely different.


I was instantly attracted by the exotic mix of colors and prints in the tribal dresses from FELA, a musical I have not watched. Based on the musical genius of Nigerian  Fela Anikulapo Kuti, FELA has won three 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Costume Design in a musical. I wanted to experiment with the use of different fabrics for a mix of print and was very curious as to how this would translate from on a 40s vintage sewing pattern.

IMG_3454Butterick  5209 was a pattern I have used before. I sewed the version with sleeves last autumn and have been wanting to try the halter version of the dress. There're advantages in using a pattern for a second time. For the midriff front and skirt front, I cut the pieces on fold instead of two separate pieces so there would not be a centre front seam while taking 3cm off the centre seam allowance.  The version with sleeves fitted all right but I found that the halter version had way too much ease and made major adjustments for the back midriff pieces and halter piece. The dress was not difficult to come together but all these fitting adjustments took up quite a bit of time. 

IMG_3453 Three different fabrics were used in this project. A blue and beige tribal print for the bodice and midriff, a pink and beige ikat print for the bias tape. Using the bias at the collar, sides and back of halter meant I could skip the lining. The third blue, brown and brick colored tribal leaves print was used for the skirt.  It's the first time I've made my own bias tape so I particularly liked the contrast of the ikat print bias with the bodice.

B5209When I first saw the pattern cover, I really wondered if ladies in the 40s wore sandals like those worn by the model in the halter dress.  I simply couldn't imagine sandals with this dress at that time. So, I could only cluckle when I found myself pairing my gladiator sandals with the tribal dress. 


FELA's reviews looked really good! A highly energetic musical is definitely my cup of tea. While I have no idea if I'll get a chance, I certainly hope to one day watch the musical that inspired this dress.  


Adey Sew Convert

A former kids' television channel manager turned stay home mum from Singapore, I hated sewing since I attended my first home economic class at the age of 14. In 2007, something miraculous happened when God blessed me with a second pregnancy. I discovered that I was expecting a baby girl. That changed everything. First I went crazy shopping for handmade clothes for her on etsy. Then I decided I needed to make something for her on my own. I was a month from my due date when I took an intensive 8-hour sewing class. In Dec 2008, I made a dress for my princess before she was born and have not stopped sewing since.


Comments are closed.

  1. This is amazing!! It fits in perfectly with the look of the show. This was one of the musicals I considered for this challenge (it would be my first) but I didn’t think I had fabric that would work. You are making me think twice now! Your pattern mixing is EXCELLENT!

  2. Adey – there were sandals around at that time that looked just like that amazingly enough! I bought a Vogue knitting pattern book from 1947 a while ago and did a double take when I saw the front cover because the model is wearing exactly the shoes shown in this Vogue pattern cover. You can see them in this post.

  3. Oh Adey it’s magical, well done, you look like you just stepped off the stage, the fabric is stunning, you’ve nailed this challenge as always.

  4. Wow this is fantastic, such a great twist on this pattern. It’s so nice to see your original dress and your new dress both are lovely. In particular, your fabric mixing, really joyful! I hope you wear this often it looks ideal for your climate!

  5. Adey..
    You amaze me, at how well you pull off these challenges.Fantastic dress, looks great on you..
    Happy sewing.

  6. While your use of mixed prints is impressive, the dresses Fela’s Queens (as they were called) are wearing are not tribal. I do hope you get the chance to see the musical. It is very educational, informative as well as a lot of fun.

  7. Love your dress and blog!
    Hope you do get to see the musical. Fela & his group are fantastic musicians.
    He married twenty-seven women, many of whom were his dancers, but later kept ONLY 12 simultaneous wives in rotation, according to:

  8. What a fantastic dress! I would never have thought of putting these fabrics together!