April 01, 2020
If you've been around here for a while, you know that I took a trip to Ghana in February 2018. I traveled to Accra and Cape Coast to work with Global Mamas, a non-profit business that works with women in Ghana to create a fair-trade, sustainable clothing and accessories line, based on the locals crafts of batik dying and glass bead making. I volunteered with them to help with product development and education, but also so that I could learn more about production in another country. I learned soooo much (some of which you can read about here and here)!
When in Cape Coast, I stayed with a family and the host mother was a seamstress - quite skilled. We became friends, and while I was out on a walk with her, I saw a man wearing what I she told me was a Ghanaian Smock. It was handsome, somewhat traditional-looking, but also casual. I thought, "here is a folkwear pattern". I learned more about the smock while I was there, and more from research when I came home.
Another inspiration for this pattern was the West African patterns that Folkwear produced in the 1990s - the Yoruba Tunic and Trousers and the West African Tunic and Trousers. These patterns have a very similar construction, with strips and godets, but these older patterns were for formal clothes (like a chief would wear) and were extremely voluminous. I love these garments, but they are not really for "common folk" (and they take a huge amount of fabric to make). And, I've wanted to increase the number of patterns from Africa in the Folkwear collection.
The origination of all of these patterns, including the Ghanaian Smock, is from northern Ghana, Burkina Faso and into northwestern Nigeria. In Ghana, the smock (like our pattern) is for informal occasions and is often called a fugu or batakari. The longer or more full the garment, the more formal it is.
I loved the Ghanaian Smock also because it became a symbol of African liberation after Kwame Nkruma and his colleagues wore them when setting up Ghana's independence in 1957. The popularity of this garment soared and spread around the world.
Though originally was only worn by men, the smock is also worn by women today (usually women's smocks have an elastic band in the waist or can be belted). These smocks looks great with trousers, jeans, over t-shirts, and as a dress on their own (you might want to make ours a little longer).
Our smock is fairly easy to make, easy to size, and fun and comfortable to wear. It is made of strips of cloth which can be cut or torn from regular yardage. Or, you can use aso-oke fabric which comes in strips (usually 4" or 5" to 7" wide). With these strips, you might want to size down (our pattern has strips finished at 4". You can also use your own handwoven fabric! We provide instructions using handwoven for that in the pattern. Often, the strips of fabric are made with lengthwise strips, so the garment has a striped look. Also in the pattern are designs and instructions for embroidery which are iconic of the garment (as well as history of the garment and West African weaving). However, you don't have to embroider - or you can just add you own, very simple, stitching to the neckline or pockets.
Wear to the office or on the weekend - as a tunic or as a dress!
Men's wear - you can see that these have very little embroidery - just some stitching around the neckline made as running stitches.
The Smock can be cut short or made much longer, like these images. Lots of possibility!