Turban Chic

Why we did this

ELSA: Carol Potoff was the turban queen. She had collected wonderful fabrics all her life, and so when she got cancer, she had a stash from which to choose those pieces that she thought wd make good turbans. And she always picked the right stuff. And she had an incredible knack for twisting the fabric and wrapping it around her head or the heads of her friends. In the portrait of all of us who made the film, NoHairDay, Carol made all the turbans and wrapped me, Deborah, and Terry Rockefeler. Carol died before she had a chance to write me directions on how she made her turbans. I nagged her a couple of times, not realizing how shitty she was feeling, and then I let it go. But in a draft of NoHairDay, I titled a section, "Carol Potoff's Directions for Making a Turban" even though the section was about how Carol felt about losing her hair. I figured, literary liscense.

To my surprise, the how-to-make-a turban section got a lot of visitors and I got a lot of email from women asking me, what's up? Where are the turban directions? I wd answer each email w/ my rap that Carol had died and I had given up on the turbans. A wonderful woman, Joyce Wagenius, gently told me not to give in or give up. I shld do the turban chapter on my own. Joyce had cancer and was driving three hours each way w/ her daughter to get her treatments. In Montana or Minnesota or somewhere I imagined as bleak w/ straight highways. She set me to thinking. So this chapter is for her too.

My friend Patty Curran has a kind of rare genius that she says comes from her mother. She can paint. She can sew. She can see how things will look good together. The things can be furniture or clothes or tiles. She can make murals. In her house she has Joseph Cornell arrangements w/o ever studying Joseph Cornell. She makes my husband's ties and my dresses. She looked at the turban patterns I had bought on Ebay and sd, I can do better w/o a pattern. While Patty and I were in the talking stage, and wondering where we wd find a woman w/ cancer who wd be game to learn how to put on turbans, I ran into Nancy Forbes, tending a garden in my neighborhood. Alas, Nancy had breast cancer. And Kyle Nicholls was a friend from ArsDigita days who has become my new webmaster and compatriot in things cyber.

PATTY: I wanted to do the turban project to let women w/ no hair (due to chemotherapy) and women who just want to look great or just keep warm make turbans for themselves the way they want the turbans to look, with their own fabrics, and at a price they can afford.

I want women to see that it is no big mystery, no big expense, and no great technical or acrobatic feat to create georgeous and imaginative headwear. You don't need a sewing machine either. You cd just cut out the cloth and tuck in the edges when you wrap the turban. Especially if you use pinking shears.

I wanted to do this most of all because of Elsa's extraordinary sense of giving and fun. I hope it is fun for all who click on. Giving is fun and nurturing self esteem and self determination and beauty is big fun.

NANCY: One Sunday morning this past July, I was working at a garden around the corner from Elsa's house when I spotted her coming down the streeet. I had just received an invitation to the publication party for "No Hair Day" so when she approached, I doffed my baseball cap and said: "If you're planning a sequel to No Hair Day, can I be in it?". We hadn't seen each other for several months so she didn't know that I had had breast cancer and had recently finished chemotherapy. She was stunned and told me how sorry she was. Then she looked at me thoughtfully for a few moments and said, "this is great!". Now THAT was a reaction I hadn't heard. She told me about the turban project and her search for everything from a pattern to a post-chemo model. I wanted to help her and Patty with this project first of all because Elsa's enthusiasm is impossible to resist and let's face it, how many offers does a 55-year bald woman get to be a model?

I am happy I can do something to help other cancer patients -- even in this small way. I read somewhere that during cancer theatment what men fear most is losing control of their lives, but what women fear most is losing their hair! For most women, looking good helps us feel good, and this is even more true for a cancer patient, who is dealing with so many unwlecome physical changes as a result of surgery and treatment. When Elsa and I stepped out to the street after the photo session, I felt chic and almost glamorous in Patty's turban. I couldn't even remember the last time I had felt I looked even presentable. I hope lots of women will have fun wearing the turbans and experimenting with different ways of wrapping them. And look great and feel great too.

KYLE: At the beginning of November I got an email from Elsa asking if I had the time and desire to do some work on her web-site! There was no way I could have said no to Elsa or to this project. Working with Elsa is akin to going to a really good movie, or reading an amazing book, or eating a box of chocolate!!! The learning and exposure to new things never stops when Elsa is around. And her devotion to the No Hair Day project has been truly awesome. I'm honored to be part of a project that might make someone smile, or even feel glamorous and chic! Enjoy all!

First Lesson: Choosing Cloth


We went to SewLow in East Cambridge, MA. It is a great great old fashioned place that the owner Chuck has managed to keep going by being adaptive to people's preferences. Suzanne has worked there for years. Patty decided to go w/ medium weight crisp cotton because it will have enuf body to hold itself together when it is wrapped. We bought two African prints in medium cotton. We are making a long turban and a square turban. Patty's style is to cut ALL the needed cloth for BOTH turbans first. She says if you cut and sew one turban and then cut and sew the second turban, you are quote all tediumed out and are likely to make more mistakes!!!!! And she is an expert.

Back at Patty's house,she shows the difference how thin cloth like silk may be slippery, but cd be lined w/ a more gripping cloth like chiffon. Velvet can be lined w/ chiffon to add grip and decrease bulk. Cotton velveteen grips very well.



Cloth that has an obvious inside and outside like some prints and velvets may need doublesided construction so that the inside doesn't show when wrapped. Or the inside cd be MORE FASHIONABLE. Some loose weave cottons and seersuckers have a natural stretch and gripability. Fleece like the red material in this picture needs no hemming or lining.


These are drawings that show how to manage the cloth needed to make the long wrap. Use 1 = yards of 36 to 52" cloth to make a single thickness wrap w/ a center seam (picture 1A) or use 2 > yards to make a double-sided wrap or a single-sided wrap w/ no seam. See picture 2A. These are very generous lengths. You may want to shorten the wrap, particularly if the cloth is bulky. If yr an experienced sewer, you will be able to tell if you want more or less of the material. For people like Elsa, Patty suggests cutting the material first and then if it is obviously too much material, just lop some off. And suggests Patty, make a purse or a tie out of the scraps.


The square wrap is used as a triangle and you can make it as a triangle. Use 1 1/4 yards for a single ply square or a double ply triangle. Use 2 = yards for a double ply square. When buying cloth, it is sometimes not cut straight. No surprise. Buy 1 1/4 yards for a 36" square to insure that you'll have enuf cloth.


Here is Patty on her hands and knees measuring the width of the double sided long wrap.


Here is Patty measuring the length of the double sided long wrap.


Here's Patty cutting cross-wise at the measurement. Note Patty's great kitchen floor!!


Here's Patty cutting the double sided material lengthwise.


Here's Patty pinning the two layers of cloth together. Note her cute pin cushion.




Here's Patty making a half inch clip on the beginning of the cloth and then tearing it off the end to make sure a beginning straight edge.


Measure the width at 37 inches.


Measure the length at 37 inches.


Clip a half inch into the cloth and then tear across the cloth, just like when you were straightening the first edge of the cloth. Some cloths don't tear well, so for those cloths, you shld measure and cut. You'll notice that we didn't cut or tear the material for the long turban for complicated reasons that Patty assures me a REAL sewer will intuit.


Don't get dizzy. This is Patty measuring and cutting the lengthwise edge.



Finally at the sewing machine. Patty is hemming the square piece of fabric.


The edge is turned under on the backside or reverse side of the fabric This is done on ALL four sides. And this concludes the sewing of the square turban.

Now for the sewing of the LONG turban


Here's Patty starting at the narrow end of the long turban. Notice that the material is inside out.


Notice how beautifully Patty turns the corner!!!!


This shows that an opening is left midway down the length of the turban to leave space for the turban to be turned rightside out. So skip the opening, abt twelve inches, and continue sewing. Till you get to the end. And turn the corner!!!!!


Clip the corners, all four of them, so you won't have a big lump in each corner when you turn the turban rightside out. And then, the big moment: turn the turban rightside out.this same maneuveur:sew inside out, clip corners, leave an opening, and then turn rightside out, can be used for the doublesided square turban too. (It's also a handy operation when making pillow cases.scarves, or anything w/ a lining.


And now to close up the twelve inch opening left to turn the turban rightside out. TURN the edges under and topstitch the opening. It will show on the outside, but how compulsive do you want to be?????? Anybody who really cares can close this opening by fine fine handstitching..w/ a stitch called the blind stitchmaybe because it makes you blind to do it.


DONE. Here is Patty showing off the long turban.

Finally, How to Wrap the Long Turban and here is Nancy Forbes to show us the way.


nancy what I can put down abt her experience w/ breast cancer.


Start w/ the center point of the turban on yr forehead.


And bring both ends across to yr back


Make sure the cloth covers from yr forehead to the back of yr head, tucking that in, begin to wrap one side around yr head, keeping it at the level across yr ears that you wd like it to lay. You cd twist the fabric as yr wrapping it around to give a different look. Not more snazzy, just different. At the end of the first full pass around , leave a one foot section free.


Then begin to wrap the other end around yr head until you have one foot of cloth left. Tie the two ends. Then bring each end around to either side and tuck them in.


Nancy Forbes cd, if she wanted, do a few variations of this long turban. One is to start at the end on yr head from the forehead to the back and then wrap the whole length around yr head and tuck in the corners and the end. Walking around Cambridge or wherever you are, you may notice people wearing long turbans in different styles and they will very likely be friendly and want to share tips w/ you.

Now, A NEW START: Nancy Forbes is going to learn to make a turban out of the square fabric.


Here is Nancy starting to wrap her turban out of the square fabric. Center the bottom end of the triangle on the nape of yr neck.


Bring the center corner over yr forehead and bring the end corners around to the front and tie them.


Bring the center corner, the one you brought over yr head, tuck it over the front tie, then tuck each end into the sides


FINIS.........Note that Nancy has jazzed up this turban w/ a silver brooch.


If you actually do all this, buy material and sew yr turban and WEAR IT, send us a picture of you and we will put it up on this site. Good luck. And by the way you surely don't have to be dealing w/ cancer to wear a turban!!!!! Turbans are high style.

If you see a picture of yourself on this page, and you do not want it to be here, contact Elsa immediately.