You know I love clothing. I love embellishment. I love handmade things of all sorts.
I love history. I love things from all over the world, and I wear clothing from many corners in my every day life.
I spent 38 days in eastern Africa four years ago. My friend Altu, who was raised in Ethiopia, took me home.
We spent over 3 weeks in Ethiopia, and one week each in Kenya and Egypt. It changed my life, and we have been even closer friends since that trip.
The last two days I was in Ethiopia, I determined to buy as much handmade work as possible with the Ethiopian funds I had left in my wallet. Africa needed my money more than I did, and the lovely things I could get with it were amazing in value at the time (prices for this sort of thing have more than tripled in 4 years, even with only a 10% loss in exchange rate).
The final stop we made in Ethiopia for shopping, was a small, jam-packed shop full of handmade textile items. (See photo with kids, to see the front of the shop with purple awning.)
Ethiopia is justifiably proud of their cotton fabrics, and I bought as many as I could. They have dense, fluffy blankets made with four layers of handspun, handwoven cotton, and I bought a few of those.
I also got clothing, a few shirts with hand embroidery as decoration and a dress for me which was hand woven and hand embroidered. Lovely pieces. I have worn them here since I returned.
But there were a handful of dresses hanging from the ceiling, which were the most amazing quality — I knew I could not afford them. The outer fabric was hand-spun, hand-woven soft cotton gauze, so thin that the dress needed to be lined for modesty. The bottom hems were woven with synthetic colored bands, which weighted and decorated the skirt (they use synthetic so that the dyes will not run in the wash).
And then, there was embroidery all the way up the front of the dress, from hem to neckline, in the colors of the woven hem band. I was sure these dresses would cost the equivalent of many weeks’ wages. I did not even ask about them when I was buying things.
At the end of our transaction, they put my purchases in two large grocery-bag sized bags for me, and they brought us tea. This is not uncommon, we were brought tea in a shop in Egypt as well, after a large purchase was finalized. Loved it. But clearly the tea signaled the end of the transaction.
And then I had the guts to ask how much the dresses cost. And they were so affordable, it was insulting to the handworkers who made them.
I could have planned ahead and purchased a couple of them. But by the time I knew that, I had spent every last paper bill I had exchanged. I could not buy anything more.
For four years I pined over “the dress that got away.” And then a few weeks ago, when Altu returned from Ethiopia, she brought me this one.
Handspun cotton. Hand woven. Bottom hem is a deep woven colored band. there is a similar band on the wrap (called a netele). The front and cuffs are 100% hand-embroidered. The turquoise threads are metallic, the others are shiny but not glittery.
Altu knew this was the dress for me. She checked out several dresses to make sure the length was right. Her mother liked a different one. She knows that I am just plain a sucker for anything turquoise.
This one, for the record, is nicer than the ones I remember seeing four years ago. This dress is just plain amazing. It makes me want to embroider again.
Yes, I gave Altu some money (in case she could find one for me) when she left. I would have loved anything handmade. But a shiny turquoise embroidered dress? Oh, my! This is a dream come true.
I will be wearing this dress to sing for Valentine’s Day at Altu’s restaurant, tomorrow night. I will feel like the most beautiful woman in Lansing.
Some dreams come true.