Making a Spectacle : Spectacle dress

Making a spectacle / Musical dress

The dress has been seen on the blog before, but it made it’s public debut not long ago, and that’s enough to get it another mention in my book.

The past few weeks, we’ve been working very hard in the art room (well, a little hard) and even harder chez music, dance, and theater. We were gearing up for our end of the unit spectacle, or show in English. But it sounds better in French.

There was much dancing and music and theater from the students, and greetings of dignitaries, applause and all that good stuff. The founders of the Center were present, as was a delegation of students from Nigeria, as well as local dignitaries and parents of students. I had a front row seat!

The art department had 2 – 3 minutes to make some sort of presentation to show that the students were learning. The first idea that was floated is that we could have a mini class and the students could answer questions: “What shape is this?” “It’s a circle!”

But, given that the audience had just listened to a rock performance, or watched a traditional dance with percussion, my counterpart and I thought that might be kind of a let down.

So we put together a skit with some of the older kids. One kid wants to paint the flag of Benin, which is red, yellow, and green. But, his friends can only find the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue. When they said that they had found blue for the flag, the audience went crazy. “NO! Not Blue!!!! No!” After they calmed down, our “know-it-all” kid was able to explain that you can mix blue and yellow to make green.

We’ve been working on color mixing with the older kids. It was pretty cute.

On to the dress. It’s a Burda pattern from the first Burda magazine I ever bought in Colombia. Unfortunately, the Spanish language Burdas in Colombia don’t have a date on them anywhere, but I’m assuming it’s the issue that came out right before Halloween in 2012. Maybe. Anyways.

I like the dress, it’s pretty cute, and you have to admit the fabric is apropos, but unfortunately, it doesn’t fit with my active lifestyle here. You can’t really ride a motorcycle in it, and definitely can’t ride a bike. So, I’ve folded it up in my closet (box in my room) and will be taking it back to the states.

I also outfitted these silly red shoes I bought at the market with matching bows. At first they had big, garish flowers with shiny buttons, blech. But I made them more suitable.

Turtle Skirt! Art! Ice Cream

IMG_7170Well, I finished another project.

If you will remember, the last time I went to the market, I purchased some material that has adorable little turtles and peppers on it. It also had an entire swath riddled with holes, but one makes do with what one has. (Note for the future: check fabric for holes before buying. Negotiate for a discount)


The last time I was in Cotonou, I attempted to find the bookstore that sells Burdastyle magazines. I was unsuccessful in my quest, BUT the bookstore that I did go to had this little gem. “La coupe simple et rapide 2″ “The Cut: Fast and Simple 2.” I feel like that could probably be the title of a movie.



Anyways, the book gives us instructions of  how we can measure and mark and cut our fabric in order to make simple pieces of clothing. I went for the “Jupe Droit” or straight skirt and drafted up the pattern according to the instructions for my size.

I made sure that one of the pepper bands was on the bottom and off I go!

Then, I drafted a waistband from the other pepper border, and set about calculating my ruffle.

IMG_7127I had seen a woman with a skirt with a lovely asymmetrical ruffle and decided I could probably do that without too much trouble. So, I decided that the long side should be about 30 cm long and the short side should be 10 cm long and the whole thing should be double the length of the hem. So much for math. I calculated and drafted a long sort of triangular rectangle and then realized that that didn’t work at all. Because of circles or something. So I had to redo the ruffle. It should end up sort of a lozenge, big in the middle and small on both sides.

Then the interminable hemming and gathering of the ruffle. Yards upon yards!

But the skirt is done. It’s not exactly something I can ride my bike in, so I can’t wear it everyday. But Friday we made plans to go to the art museum in town, and I was running late so I needed to ride a moto anyways…. so, I debuted the turtle skirt.


By the way, Fondation Zinzou in Ouidah and Cotonou is an excellent little gallery. It’s in a restored 1920s mansion in the middle of town that is just gorgeous and airy and open, unlike my blocky little house with only one set of windows, and some of the spaces have air conditioning!

The exhibits are modern artists, the oldest works were probably from the 1950s, some photographs from Cameroon, and the newest works are contemporary. There are pieces from artist from Benin to Ethiopia to South Africa. It’s very nice.

There’s also a nice little boutique. (Family: I know where your Christmas gifts are coming from)

And a cafe, which we had heard has excellent chocolate cake.

IMG_7177Turns out they have ICE CREAM too! Hooray hooray! I’ve found my ice cream spot in town.

I had: mango, chocolate, and “chap-chap”

Chap-chap, the waiter refused to take a stab at describing the flavor to us, and who can blame him? Flavors are hard to describe, I know. But from the moment I tasted the chap-chap, I knew what it was.

IMG_7175Guanabana! AKA Soursop, AKA corossol

So after we paid, I went up the waiter and asked: “So, this chap-chap, its big and green and has little pointy bits and the inside is white?”

Which he confirmed.

Guanabana, doo doo dadoda!

IMG_7171 IMG_7173










My only sadness with this skirt (besides the fact that I can’t ride my bike in it) is that there is a seam down the center back and the center front.

In my original plan, this was not the case, but after I cut the pieces out, I realized that two of the turtle motifs were directly on my butt cheeks. So, I cut the pieces in half and paired one “front” with one “back” and solved the problem. But it’s not as perfect as it could be.


Road Conditions

Soft, soft sand: Good for skidding out on your bike, if you are into that kind of thing. Probably my least favorite kind but generally identifiable from a short distance.


Gravel / small rocks in dirt: Not too bad for riding, a little bumpy, but doable. Some propensity for hidden larger rocks.

Dirt strewn with large rocks: Dislike. If you don’t watch out and hit the rocks at a good angle, you can get a jolt, or slide and shimmy of the side of a rock. Unpleasant


Paving stones: Generally good, but annoyingly, rhythmically bumpy. Good for a nice, fairly fast ride, with few surprise in the ride, but be prepared to share with cars and motos.


Hard packed dirt: Probably my favorite. Nice, smooth ride, decent speeds, generally less traffic. Some roads have potholes and other maintenance problems, and Small Rocks, Large Rocks, Soft, Soft Sand and Mud can also be present, sometimes unexpectedly.

Paved: Arguably the best surface to ride on, unfortunately there is only one truly paved road in Ouidah and it does NOT go anywhere you want to go. Trust me on that. And there are lots of cars and hardly any shoulder or side streets. Best avoided.



Mud: ever present after the rain, can give a nice hard pack to otherwise soft soils, but can get sticky and boggy and splashy depending on the composition. And it gets all over the floor when you take your bike home.


Market Day!


There is a substantially large market within walking distance from my home. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it’s only held every 5 (or four) days. For instance, if the market falls on a Monday the next one will be Friday.

This is good, because there are many days of the week I can’t go to the market, because I’m working, so the days always being different is a bonus. This is bad because it’s hard to remember when the market actually is.

Now, perhaps you don’t know this, but I am an introvert. There are people that I like, certainly. I just don’t like people… in general. Especially

-strangers touching me

-strangers shouting at me

-strangers shouting “Come here!!”


-strangers shouting at me in languages I don’t understand

-strangers trying to sell me things

-strangers trying to befriend me

-strangers staring at me

-kids jumping in front of my bike and playing chicken, kids trying to poke my bike with sticks, kids grabbing my bike from behind.

All of these (except the last bullet point, that is a completely different rant) can be found in large supply at the market.

But, there are certainly treasures to be had including:

-a large selection of reasonably priced fabrics

-a larger variety of vegetables all in one place than can usually be found


-bits and bobs for around the house

-kittens and puppies

(I did not indulge in the last one)

And so much more! It’s very exciting, once you’ve paced up and down the aisle for at least a half hour screwing your courage to the sticking place. It took quite awhile for me to make my first purchase (mysterious greens and ginger), but once I did, I did alright. Well, I did get stuck in a fabric booth for a fair bit longer than strictly necessary and ended up buying approximately three times as much fabric as I had expected. But there are worse vices.

I hear there’s this thing in the US where people buy things with lots of coupons and post their results on facebook? Consider this an homage.



ecraser stone for grinding stuff (couldn’t find a mortar and pestle)

6 yards of fabric

mysterious greens



Unfortunately for me, one of the fabrics has HOLES in it. Noooo! But I can still make something usable out of it, I’m sure. Next time though, I will inspect the whole fabric and if there are holes I will demand a discount.

New Project

I’m about 97% finished with my current project, which is a dress. This is not the best picture, I know. I’m going to work on having someone take pictures of me in my made-clothes and I’ll post them later when I got them. Apologies!!

IMG_7028Look! It has little treble clefs and piano keys!

Well, actually they aren’t piano keys unless someone has added a B# and a E# (that aren’t enharmonic with C and F, of course).

I rode by this fabric for several days, and obviously couldn’t resist it.

The pattern is a burda style pattern with 1960s influence and interesting seams (not at the sides but slightly forward) although perhaps you can’t see the seams very well what with the fabric.

I’m planning on debuting this dress the next time we have a spectacle at CIAMO. Prepare yourselves.

Dumpling Stories

IMG_7018My mom called last night and told me, among other things, that our foreign exchange student (from Beijing) picked out some baozi, because I would have liked it. AW! I don’t remember expressing my undying love for stuffed buns, but it is the kind of thing that comes up in conversations, I guess. My mom found them “carbohydrate rich.”

Coincidentally, I’ve been making baozi here! On my own, even, and from scratch, not frozen.

Frozen dumplings would require: 1) a freezer on my part and 2) someone interested in selling frozen dumplings.

So we make do. They’re actually not as hard as I was expecting, and definitely easier than that time we made jiaozi….


I actually found the recipe when I was looking for exciting things to do with lentils. I mean, I could make lentil soup, but lentil soup makes me want to put carrots and potatoes and peppers in it. And, yes, I can get them in Ouidah, but the best word I can use to describe the majority of the carrot selection is “limp” and the last time I got a green pepper there was a grub in it. I still ate it, but took the grub out first.

So, I found this recipe for BBQ lentil and sweet potato baozi and realized I already had all the ingredients except the sweet potatoes. Imagine my delight to find that I can buy 10 small sweet potatoes for about 20 cents! Talk about carbohydrate rich!

The first batch was excellent. The recipe makes 12, which is probably meant to be eaten by more than one person, but can be managed to be eaten by one, if you are willing to eat nothing else all day. I was willing.

The second batch was a half batch and included an experimental filling of eggs and greens and onions ( a more traditional filling for the alley baozi stand back in Beijing). Unfortunately the mysterious greens I got at the market this time were REALL Y BITTER. I shan’t be buying that type of green again. And, the dough was REALLY STICKY. Which is frustrating. Remember to add enough flour folks! Especially if you aren’t using measuring cups.

The third batch was shared with a friend and was, again, exquisite.

If you have any ideas for dumpling fillings, feel free to write them in the comments.