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Watch your back

Here's a simple way to keep warm this winter - and it's easy to make yourself

chauffe-reinOn Monday I bought myself a 'kidney warmer'. It sounds better in French - a 'chauffe-reins', but all it basically is, is a deep, tightish thermal band that fits around your body from your waist to quite low on your hips. It's proving to be an absolute godsend - like sitting with a heating pad at your back.

Women's fashions are so often cut skimpy - jeans are low on your hips while t-shirts are usually too short to tuck in - and the gap between top and bottom is something I often fill with a long camisole or a body. But in winter, this flesh gap becomes an irritating a cold gap, and the chauffe-reins fills it admirably. 

I should obviously point out that it looks very grannyish - I was put off it for a long time because of its unglamourous connotations. And it also does add a layer to your hips, so you'll need to accept that your beam end is going to look a tad bigger over winter. However, once placed under your clothes, it's quite invisible and does an amazing job of keeping you warm. Let's face it, only you need know it's even there - and you do get a slight corseting effect because of the stretch.

Mine is from Lidl, cost 7 euros, and is made of angora and wool with lycra. But having had a close look at it, it occurred to me that it would be very easy to make one from an old sweater or t-shirt. 

A good sweater isn't something you should waste, and for years I've cut off the sleeves to make arm or ankle-warmers, and used the remaining fabric to make things like pocket linings. But I now realise the body is also useful in its own right. The best candidate is an old sweater in a thin knit such as lambswool or cashmere, which is irretrievably gone under the arms etc, or preferably even a bit felted.

The best place to cut is under the armpits, straight across, which gives you some room to play with, though you will probably end up cutting more from the top edge eventually - the chauffe-reins only needs to be about 8 inches deep, but if you're long-bodied you might prefer 12.

Try the chauffe-reins on. It might need taking in slightly, which you should be able to do down one seam only. Basically, the shape is that of a deep belt that is slightly wider at the bottom than at the top. You want it really quite snug, almost 'too' snug, so that it won't loosen and walk up your body as it warms up.  

You may also need to hem the top edge if it looks like it might unravel. If you make one out of on old t-shirt, this shouldn't be an issue, as the jersey fabric should self-seal. 

I am planning to pension off a few old sweaters in this way this winter, and perhaps run up another one out of polar fleece, which should have all the right elements of stretch and insulation. 



Make it yourself - the djallabah

A djallabah is an Arab garment that is simple to make, even for a beginner

djallabahA djallabah is a traditional Arab garment worn by both men and women, which sometimes has a hood, but in the west is usually worn without. 

One of the most useful garments ever invented for dry, desert climates, it also makes a perfect summer dress for lounging around, beachwear etc. We need not pretend that a djellabah is drop-dead sexy - it isn't - but it is wonderfully cool.

As a dress, you can make it from thin fabric as a pop-over for a bikini, or from a stiffer fabric to keep the sun out. This design is ankle-length, but you can make a shorter version if you like. Within reason, one size fits all - the armholes are loose and the cut allows for a wide range of bust sizes. In wool, it makes a good winter dress and in flannelette it makes a good nightgown.

Although a djallabah is a voluminous garment, this doesn't mean that it's hot - in fact the side panels cause the garment to stand out at the hem, creating a current of air that washes up from your feet and out through the neckline, keeping your whole body cool in a hot summer. 

The instructions that follow are something I found on the internet years ago, and from them I've created several djallabahs over the years, including this blue one, pictured. My favourite, however, was made from an old white sheet.

The only tricky bit is the underarm gusset - this is easiest to sew by hand. You can then oversew by machine if you like, but I find it easier to just backstitch. You should also finish all the edges of the gusset piece before sewing it to the garment, as it's almost impossible to get to them afterwards. In fact, when sewing a djallabah, you might find it easier to finish ALL the edges by hand before assembling. 

If you don't have a machine, you can hand sew this garment together relatively quickly because it is nearly all straight lines, but do use pinking shears to finish the edges. This makes for a very lightweight and flexible garment. If you're going to hand-sew, invest in a beeswax block to rub the thread over - this makes hand-sewing 20 times easier. 

djallabahbodyThese are standard measurements for someone of medium build who is 5'6" in height and any adjustments can be made simply by modifying the front and back piece length and width, since the garment hangs from these. From the measurements given you will be able to develop the side seam pyramid-shaped inserts, gussets and the sleeves.

I myself am only 5"1", so I shortened all measures by about 2".

The side panels are sewn with the vertical edges together. The neck will be a 5 1/2" curve that is 3 1/2" deep in front and 1 1/2" deep in back. In the front there is a 6" vertical slit so you can slip the garment on over your head, and this will be faced with 2" of hemmed fabric all round. The facing is a mirror image of the neck and front slit areas, so there are no pattern pieces for it - just copy the main body pieces.

It is important, once this is seamed on to cut on the wrong side all curves and points nearly up to the stitching. When this is turned around, hand stitch close to the seam fold all round before hemming to the garment on the wrong side. This must be done slowly and carefully as it must be very strong - the garment hangs from the shoulder and neck areas. (In fact, it’s best to edge-stitch it down, and then topstitch it too, if you feel like it - this is often done as a decorative measure, but it structural too.)

djallabahsideUsing newspaper or brown wrapping paper measure out a piece equivalent to the front piece. Do the same for the 4" by 4" gusset, side panels and sleeve. If you are brave and measure carefully you can measure out the garment directly on the fabric.

The measurements are:
Front and Back pieces = 20 1/2" wide & 57" long (Cut one of each)

Sleeves (Cut 2) = Top 22", Wrist end 11", Side 20"

Side Panels (Cut 4) = Top 2 1/2", Bottom 13", Side 46"

Gussets (Cut 2) = 4" x 4".

When the side panels are cut, these will be sewn together to form a narrow pyramid which will be sewn lengthwise to the lower portion of the front and back panels. Leave a 3 1/2" unsewn portion between the sewn-together side panels.

Leave unsewn (at the shoulder end of the sleeve) another 3 1/2" portion. The points of the gusset will be fitted into these openings in the side panels and under the sleeve. The openings will be spread to contain the gussets on either side. You may wish to hand sew the gusset area before doing it up on a machine, if you have one.

djallabahsleeveThe side panelling and the gussets allow for fullness at the chest and movement for a wide variety of arm sizes. The sleeve itself is bugle-shaped, starting full but narrowing down to a narrow wrist opening. This bugle shape allows for changes in size of the wearer over time. The wrist may be reinforced with a band of material sewn onto it, then turned over to form an external facing.

Simple to sew, with all straight seams and no gathering or shaping darts, the djallabah is a great all-purpose robe. Importantly, it moves very well, and if you make it properly, it will give you years of wear.