Make it yourself – the djallabah

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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.


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