Hot! The Cape Town Switcheroo

The Facts

Fabric: double sided shwe shwe from Fabric City, Cape Town (100% cotton, heavily starched)
Pattern:  Vogue 8238, view D
Notions: Snaps < 25 cents from a neighbour’s estate sale
Year: 1972
Time to complete: ~10 hours, broken down into 30 minute snatches of time over two weeks.
First worn: For photos only, because it’s too nice to wear at home over a 4-day weekend with kids (think finger painting, baking, eating chocolate, cleaning up all the above mentioned stickiness….)
Wear again? Definitely to work this week.  I think this one may get heavy rotation in spring and fall.

Aren't Vogue illustrations from the '70s awesome?!

I get to go to South Africa or Botswana for work every year, but my favourite place by far is Cape Town.  It’s one of those very livable cities with everything you could want:  gorgeous scenery, wild spaces, delicious restos, cool clubs and boutiques, cosmopolitan people from around the world….oh, and as much Pinotage as I can drink.  I bought this fabric in Cape Town over a year ago, and it has sat untouched on my fabric shelf all this time for three reasons:  I can’t get shwe shwe in Canada, I didn’t think I would ever be going back to Cape Town, and I was still a relatively new sewintist, so I was afraid to waste this unique double sided print.  I decided to bite the bullet and cut into it about two weeks ago.

showing front and reverse print

But it’s been a crazy few weeks.  I came back from my last visit to Africa and found that although my parents had been absolute angels to look after my daughter the whole time, they hadn’t managed to do a lick of housework, so my house was a complete disaster area.  Usually some messiness wouldn’t bother me, but then I came down with something that we all thought was malaria and I was bedridden for about 10 days.  Luckily it wasn’t malaria, but it meant I missed a week of work and that the house fell into biohazard territory and that (understandably) took priority.  Seriously, how do the other members who work, have little kids and a house to maintain manage to sew and post every week?  I knew it would be impossible for me, so I never planned to, but I’m curious how other members allocate their sewing time…maybe they have partners who do the majority of the household work!  ;)

Where was I?

Oh yeah, this shwe shwe is printed on both sides, so I wanted to choose a pattern that would play up this feature.  Luckily, this fabric was 60″ wide (unlike most shwe shwe, which is 35″ wide), so I managed to squeeze a full dress out of it.  I pulled a switcheroo and used the reverse of the fabric for the yoke and the patch pocket.

This vintage Vogue pattern went together quite easily, if you can get past the yoke attachment.  I don’t know if it was me or the instructions, but I gathered, eased, pinned, repinned and scratched my head for about an hour.  Then I ignored the instructions and looked more closely at the diagram and realized that the armscye is not round, but squared off at the bottom.  OK, now it made sense, and the rest of the pattern came together easily.  I did have to do my usual alterations:  add 1″ of width to the back, open the front of the armscye by about 2cm and grade up for the hips.  I do it without even thinking now.  I also eliminated the armscye facings in favour of bias tape (seriously, I hate facings like I hate malaria).

It’s been chilly and grey this weekend, so it’s hard to conjure up the illusion of being in my favourite city, Cape Town.

Whoopsie -wind induced wardrobe malfunction.

Is this any better?




Vicki used to sew when she was young and free, but then raising young'uns and bringing home (some of) the bacon took up all her time. Now her closet is full of skinny clothes, maternity clothes and post-partum clothes, none of which fit properly. Maybe that's why she started sewing again in 2010.


Comments are closed.

  1. Hi Vicki, your fabric is so cool, I love the 2 sided designs and it works great on the dress.

    With posting each week I can tell you I try to cut out my projects on Sundays, so I sew during the week (usually Monday & Thursday) but I absolutely watch less TV and I kind of like that.

    • Thanks Krista – shwe shwe is usually printed with a design on one side and a trademark or writing on the other, so this double sided print is unique even in South Africa.

      I usually watch TV on my laptop, and only when I’m multitasking (doing dishes, hand sewing, folding laundry) so I don’t think I could squeeze any more time that way! I think I’ll cut down on vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms. That sounds like a reasonable plan ;)

  2. Wow, Vicki, that fabric is beautiful! The pattern shows it off well too. I don’t know how they do it because I’m childless and now have a housecleaner. So no excuses on my part except laziness!

    • Thanks Alyssa! I remember last year when Adey was doing the challenges I thought, “How does she work, take care of a household and two little kids *and* do this every week?”. Then she talked about how her kids were in preschool and she mentioned that she has household help, so it all made sense. Then I though, “How can I get a piece of THAT action?” ;)

  3. It’s gorgeous!!! That is an incredibly unique pattern! I’ve never seen two sided fabric like that.

    I have four kiddies, but I’m not working at the moment. I wish I could say that school and family stuff keep me from sewing at times, but it’s usually laziness and/or a lack of desire. My absence is rarely because of some other obligation.

    • Every time I wear something made from shwe shwe, I get loads of people stopping me and asking about it. I’m starting to think I should import to North America…..

      (I was on strike for 3 months last fall, but because I had no idea from day to day if I was going back to work, I didn’t start any big projects. Now in retrospect, I wish I had started a winter coat or a fitted jacket!)

  4. What an amazing piece of fabric. Ideal pattern to showcase the fabric. I enjoyed the way it looked wintery against the tree but when you see it up close, there is a real warmth of colour.

    • Believe it or not, I actually boosted the colour of all the photos with PhotoFiltre! That’s how grey and drab the weather was this weekend. I kept hoping for a ray of light to catch some good photos, but eventually we just said “screw it”, and went for the wet n’ windy look.

  5. Good choice of belt. Love the fabric of course. Also find the missing umbrella canopy in the final picture amusing. Thanks for introducing me to this new fabric.

  6. That fabric is amazing! Never heard of it before – love the double sided-ness of it. :-) Brilliant last photo, too.

    • Thanks Kat. This is the only shweshwe I’ve ever seen with two printed sides, so I don’t think it’s authentic DeGama brand, but who cares if you love it, right?

      I’ve written about shwe shwe on my blog a lot, so if you want to know some more, you can look there or watch this short video that Sewing with Nancy did:

  7. Love the way you’ve showcased the double-sided print. Very nice!

    • Thanks Liz – you don’t know how long I’ve wanted (but at the same time not wanted) to use this fabric. I was afraid of making a mistake and wasting it, but once I found out I was going back to Cape Town, I lost that hesitancy and didn’t mind cutting into it.

  8. Rock. Star. Seriously. Love that you used both sides of the fabric and your yoke turned out marvelously! I’m sending warm thoughts your way – it’s been a bit chilly here, too

    • We had a weird week of +25C weather, which I unfortunately missed completely because I was in bed with faux malaria; now we’re back to cold and rainy, but that’s normal for early spring so I can’t complain.

      I love the yoke too, and don’t you love the illustration on the pattern?! I originally bought a khaki / snakeskin print to make this dress, but I’m glad I went with this fabric instead. What would I make with 3m of snakeskin print?……

  9. i love the way the prints work together while still being so different, and as always, i enjoy your unique sense of humor :-)

  10. I liked the “front” of the print better than the “back”, so I used the back sparingly for the yoke and pocket. I thought that it would look too busy for a whole dress. (I actually have no idea which side is the front or back because I can’t remember which way it was rolled on the bolt.)

  11. Great fabric! You did a wonderful job of combining both sides to create a beautiful garment. Kudos to you and yes, check into that import idea you have. That fabric is so unique.

    • Thanks Barbara – I was originally going to use Burda #108 5/2011 (A-Line Dress), but a quick tissue-fit showed I was going to have to do a lot of alteration, therefore a muslin, and I didn’t have enough time. Luckily this worked out even better!

  12. Love this Vicki, totally you!! The fabrics unique, Love it, love the simplicity of the cut on the pattern too. That belt is the business.

    • I’m going to look out for more of this print next time I’m there, and maybe I’ll do a little giveaway on my blog, since everyone has been admiring it so much. Watch this space!
      That belt is actually a cheap vinyl piece from a low-end teen store. I’m going to be sad when she dies an early death.

  13. I’ve only just seen your post and love that fabric, so clever and so many possibilities for it! You’ve done a great thing with it!

  14. This is one of my favorite things I’ve seen all year on Sew Weekly! Just lovely!

  15. Love the fabric and the 70s style you chose to show it off. I only have one child and am not working right now, but I still have to borderline-obsessively plan and organize my projects– and scale down my ambitions– to make the deadlines. Cleaning less is a good plan!

    • Thanks Lee! I don’t think I could do any less cleaning without running the risk of turning my house into an extension of my microbiology lab. (no really, because my daughter is toilet training and you know how that goes…..)

  16. So gorgeous! I’ve been swooning over some African fabric at my local, and really want to make it into a Bombshell dress. But! I swear some of these awesome women exist on way more caffeine than my stomach would ever allow :)