Valancing Act

Readers,

What did it take to go from this:

A very sad valance accompanying spindly mini-blinds in the kitchen of our 1958 house when we bought it.

To this:

The sad valance is gone, thankfully–but what window treatment would be best?  Not a lace cafe curtain, that’s for sure.

To this?

Got a minute?  I’ll tell you.

I’m a fabric person, so I wasn’t thrilled to conclude that the best window treatment for our kitchen was a blind. Not floor-length draperies (obviously), or little cafe curtains, which would leave too much hard, dark, shiny window glass exposed before sunrise and after sunset when days are short.

No, for what we wanted–to be able to watch the passing neighborhood scene or shut it out, according to inclination–a blind was just the thing. Back in February I called the blind and curtain company Smith & Noble to send a designer over. She walked me through the whole process of choosing the widths and colors of slats and twill tape, did the measuring and the ordering, and in a couple of weeks our blind was installed.  It looked and worked great.

I lived with the blind very happily, but it wasn’t long before I returned to the matter of adding more colors, patterns, and shapes by way of fabric into the view of our kitchen window wall.  I knew which fabric I wanted to use, too: a printed cotton from the legendary French fabric producer Souleiado.If you have ever seen Pierre Deux’s French Country: A Style and Source Book you may recall the gorgeous fabrics chapter showcasing Souleiado.

My well-thumbed copy, which I bought in 1985.

I had found this faded but still vibrant Provencal print at my favorite store in the world, Grandview Mercantile (right here in Columbus, Ohio), covering a little homemade comforter. I was immediately taken by the unusual combination of mustardy yellow, spicy brown, and vivid turquoise balanced by a terracotta pink. These weren’t conventionally pretty colors, but I found them arresting. I bought the little comforter for $35.

Months later, I took out my seam ripper and carefully undid the stitching of the comforter. That’s when I discovered this enchanting pattern was made by Souleiado. That was as exciting for me as it would be for someone else discovering that a lamp picked up at a garage sale was made by Tiffany.

I wanted to use this fabric where I could enjoy it every day, but I didn’t want to ruin it. That was a quandary so familiar to me as a clothing sewer: longing to use a fabric but fearing cutting into it before being certain the fit and the style of the garment were right.

How could I get to the point of being brave enough to cut into my precious, perhaps irreplaceable, fabric?

I thought, okay–I’ll just have to do a lot of mockups. Instead of thinking I would never know enough to be able to cut into my fabric, I thought about how many easy, cheap or free, reversible experiments I could run.

How about tracing the outlines of the kitchen window wall from a photo? After I did, I thought, “Everything but the faucet is a right angle! I want to mix in some curves!”

Here’s the photo…

…and here’s the tracing. It was when I traced the basic outlines of the wall that I noticed they were all right angles. How about adding some curves to this view?

Paper is cheap. How about testing shapes and sizes of valances in paper?

Better yet, how about color-photocopying my fabric at our local library for 50 cents a sheet? Tape the pages together and hang them to get a sense of the impact of the colors and patterns mixed with the existing colors and patterns on the window wall?

I also thought to try finding more of this fabric and set up a daily search on the word “Souleiado” on eBay. After a couple of months, a three-yard piece turned up, in perfect condition–a very lucky find.

I set up a Pinterest board to collect valance and cornice pictures. (I mostly found designs I didn‘t want.)

I used a scrap of the furring strip to balance the staple gun. Jack held the mount steady while I stapled down the Velcro.

I wanted a valance I knew could be machine-washed if it got dusty and dull-looking. That definitely meant I had to create my own construction plan to guarantee washability. But the instructions for the Zigzag Pelmet/Valance from the book Curtains and Blinds by Lucinda Ganderton and Ali Watkinson turned out to be very helpful.

I had two main questions to answer about the shape of this valance: the depth, and the bottom edge. I studied pictures to get a sense of what looked proportionate–not skimpy, and not like a hat that’s too big for its wearer. Then I tried paper mockups.

The mount was attached to the wall with angle irons.

I realized after trying out some curves in paper mockups that determining the right size is not as easy as it seems.   It was only after studying the print for awhile that I noticed the unbroken lengthwise curve that supplied the obvious shape of the border. I cut my photocopy along the curve–another cheap, easy, risk-free test–and had my answer.

On the taped-together photocopies I cut along the curve in the print. Would this curve make a nice border? Yes.

A closeup of the mount

The lining for the valance was another question. It had to be machine-washable and the right weight and drape. In my stash was a white cotton flannel sheet I had been saving for interlining coats that turned out to work very well.

All during this project I wished I could get a few minutes’ input from a designer for aesthetic guidance and from a window furnishings maker about construction techniques. That would have boosted my confidence and saved me time.

My idea of using separate pieces of Velcro for the returns helped to create crisp turns around the corners.

Instead, I dithered about the size and shape of the valance, questioned the completeness and accuracy of the instructions I was more or less following, and worried about drilling holes in the wall in addition to worrying about chopping into my fabric.

I had a lengthy conversation with the hardware store clerk about the right size of angle irons and wall anchors to buy as well as the dimensions of the furring strip for the valance mount.

The instructions I used did not call for pressing in a crease at the turns. A crease gave a much better look than the original floppy ends.

In the absence of professional advice I did learn a lot along the way, and I applied knowledge from curtain- and garment-making to create a pretty nicely finished, proportionate–machine-washable, even!–valance from a beautiful fabric.

Monday afternoon I finished the stitching and pressing, and Jack installed the valance on its Velcro’ed mount.

The lining can be glimpsed from the front, so I’m glad the flannel I used didn’t have a cute print!

What works, what doesn’t?

What works is, I’m satisfied with the construction.  With my level of knowledge as a home sewer of mostly garments, I don’t think I could have done better.

What doesn’t work? The best way I can put it is, I think this burst of color, shape and pattern will work better when the eye can travel around the room and pick up on other bursts of colors, shapes, and patterns that will set up an intriguing rhythm.

Putting objects in a room is just the first step. Creating relationships among the objects is where a lot of the fun is going to be. I have more of this beautiful print and am thinking about how I can use it to delight the eye.

A few of my favorite things

Figuring Out My Figure Type

Readers,

I’ll cut to the chase: I have an “X” figure type with sloping shoulders.

Photo taken by Cynthia in her studio Oct. 20.

The suspense is over. Let the fitting begin!

To update:

My longtime reader(s) will remember that one of the first topics I tackled in this blog, in 2013, was identifying my figure type, which I wrote about here and here.

For those posts I followed instructions in The Perfect Fit (Singer Sewing Reference Library) to trace my life-size silhouette onto paper and to compare my proportions to “an average figure that is used as a sizing standard for patterns.”

The exercise was interesting, to be sure, but my conclusions weren’t definitive.  It would have been great, having had this “X-ray” taken of my figure, to have a “radiologist” interpret the image or send me back to the drawing board to make an outline with more precisely placed markers.

I didn’t know exactly what the “ends of shoulders” were that I was supposed to mark. Where was the base of my neck?  My waist location was a cinch, but where should I mark the hip–where the bones are, or where I’m the widest?

Although a yardstick laid from the shoulder to hip was very nearly vertical, indicating a “balanced” figure, I didn’t feel balanced. (“Ballast” was more like it.) I’m always wanting to add visual weight to my shoulder line. The books may have labeled me an hourglass, but I thought I’d better heed the advice for pears. Right?

“Kinda” knowing my figure type was hardly better than not knowing at all. After all, avoiding the worst designs for my figure type is only a start.  I want to know–without so much costly trial and error–what’s worth sewing or shopping for to create beautiful outfits–even whole seasonal collections.

Having my figure evaluated by an expert was one of the main reasons I joined Imogen Lamport’s program 7 Steps to Style.  A couple of weeks ago I donned a leotard and leggings, and Cynthia took a nice, clear photograph in her well-lighted studio. I posted the photo to the 7 Steps to Style Facebook group, where a couple of dozen fellow members very kindly offered their opinions.

And you know what? It is not necessarily easy to size up somebody else’s figure! Some thought “X” (the hourglass shape); some thought an “8” (which has a hip shape resembling Barbie’s, so I’m told); some had reason to believe I was an “A” (which is a nicer way of saying a pear). It was even suggested that I was an “I,” which was interesting because I definitely have a waist.

Responding to lot of observations, I volunteered that whatever figure I had, I had the mindset of an “A” because I always wanted to add a strong horizontal shoulder line. That’s one reason why I like fashions of the 1940s.

I had posted my photo midday Friday my time but at the beginning of the weekend, Australia time, so it was a couple of days before I got Imogen’s response of an “X” figure.  The line from shoulder to hip is vertical (not slanted out like an “A” or in like a “V” figure) and I clearly have a waist. “X” it is–with the further qualification of sloped shoulders.

I know, it makes sense, and maybe I should have had this all figured on my own long ago. But it was awfully helpful to have the opinion of an expert who’s worked with thousands of women to distinguish my salient characteristics.

But this is not just the end of an old story; it’s the beginning of a new, richer story.  Possibly the best feature of this program I’m participating in is the ongoing feedback from Imogen and hundreds of fellow 7 Steps to Style members. I have this new, solid piece of information I can test and refine over the months and through the seasons, with the possibility of critical but supportive input beyond what I’ve ever had before.

Things are looking up!

Photo by Cynthia DeGrand

Cooking Up My Style Recipe

Readers,

Have you ever tried to define your fashion personality and wardrobe style in just a handful of words? Me neither.

At least not till a couple of afternoons ago, when I undertook what I’ve found so far to be the single most important–and head-scratching–exercise in image consultant Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program.

Imogen Lamport at her desk - Creator of Inside Out Style

Melbourne, Australia-based image consultant Imogen Lamport.

After months of reading dozens of Imogen’s immensely enlightening (and free!) posts on her blog, Inside Out Style, about figure types, coloring, proportions, color- and value-contrast, and wardrobe-building, I finally took the plunge and bought her program so I could be advised individually and admitted to the Facebook group of sister “7 Steppers,” who encourage each other and offer helpful feedback.

I had gone about as far as I could puzzling out my coloring, figure type, proportions, and so forth on my own but was still perplexed. My closet still has too many wardrobe orphans, and I still sew too many duds.

Uh…Do we have a fitting problem here? (Jack nicknamed this 2013 sewing project “Anoraksia Nervosa.”)

It was time to tap into the knowledge of a pro who had analyzed the figures and determined the coloring of thousands of clients for as close to an objective assessment as I could ever hope to get.

But the subjective assessment was all on my shoulders. In Step 1 of the program, “Personality,” Imogen writes,

During my image consultant training, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t just the shape of clothes that’s important to finding the right styles for each person, but also your personality traits need to be reflected in the clothing, as this is how you will feel the most comfortable and stylish.

“[D]iscovering your personality style,” she continues, “is the jumping off point in my 7 Steps to Style. Without discovering all about who you are and what you love, you’ll never really feel as stylish and attractive as possible.”

This jacket from a 1930s pattern was a technical hit but a fashion miss. That’s a lot of effort to put in for so little return.

And so what occupied me a couple of afternoons ago was, first, taking the Personality Style Quiz, to help determine my preferences for seven styles of dressing: Classic, Relaxed, Dramatic, Creative, Rebellious, Feminine and Elegant Chic.

I appreciated not being confined to one category but choosing qualities I liked from as many categories as I liked and leaving the rest, as if I were filling my plate from a vast fashion “buffet.” I took big helpings from Classic and Elegant Chic, a sizeable portion of Creative, and appetizer-sized servings of the rest. Translated into a wardrobe item my “fashion plate” (ha!) might mean a well-fitted (Elegant Chic) trench coat (Classic) in a nontraditional color like chartreuse (Creative).

The next section, which I also tackled with relish, was answering “What do you love? What speaks to you? Write down the elements that make you excited.”

Let’s see…I love autumn colors, and apple pie, and berets…but not the scratchy wool-blend I used for this capacious coat!

Imogen listed:

  • Colors
  • Textures
  • Fabrics
  • Patterns
  • Design details
  • Jewelry
  • Shoes
  • Handbags

To which I added the category

  • Hats

What sewer doesn’t have opinions on these subjects?  The spaces were hardly big enough to list all the colors I crave (Mustards! Olives! Chocolate and caramel browns!),

Wearing some of my favorite colors.

patterns I love (houndstooths, plaids, stripes of every stripe), or design details I adore (buttons and buttonholes, contrast facings and linings). In my self-generated category Hats, typical of an Elegant Chic I listed berets (and typical of a Creative, I own them in many colors).

One of my many berets.

For 7 Steps to Style participants who dress differently for their workplaces than in their personal lives, there’s a section for defining the wardrobe and style requirements for each area. I pressed on to the last section: Create Your Unique Style Recipe.

“By now,” Imogen writes,

you should be starting to get a clearer picture of the styles of clothes you love, the elements of design that excite you, and your personal style. So it’s time to create your Style Recipe–these are the words that help you make decisions about clothes and outfits, whether or not you should keep them in your wardrobe, or buy them at all.

What you’re going to be doing is creating a list of words that resonate with you as a person and how you want to be perceived. A list expressing your authentic and best self that will be used when you shop for something new, or just when you’re putting together your outfit for the day.

This was the most challenging exercise for me as for almost all 7 Steps to Style participants.  How do you condense your tastes and aspirations into a few words? Just start. Experiment with your words, and modify as needed.  As with a recipe, season to taste.

For me, the stumbling block was addressing the question of how I want to be perceived. If you want to see me cock a skeptical eyebrow in record time, tell me to use words like “bold,” “mysterious,” “edgy,” or “powerful” in my style recipe. I guess the problem I have with this is, for better or worse, I can’t control how others perceive me.

However, I definitely see how not understanding the powerful vocabulary of dressing means not being able to create strong, consistent messages through clothes and outfits.

Forget what the color orange is saying about me–what my face is saying is, “Hurry up and take the picture!”

And for a sewing blogger, such a misunderstanding would be pretty ironic.

I decided not to let myself get bogged down in the being-perceived piece of this question and pressed on. I remained curious to see how I could use carefully selected words to make finer distinctions and chart a more interesting, personal–and enjoyable–wardrobe path.

I asked myself, What am I aiming for in my wardrobe? and my answer came back about what I want in my clothes. And that’s when I winnowed several dozen words down to five and came up with my Style Recipe, Version 1.0.

The words are:

  • Crafted
  • Useful
  • Vintage
  • Enduring
  • Surprising

Here’s why:

  • Crafted.  I realized that it really matters to me to make a significant part of my wardrobe. I enjoy nice clothes–who doesn’t?–but when I slide my arm through the sleeve of a coat I’ve sewn, my enjoyment is multiplied.

    I enjoy wearing the “belted topper” I made from an early ’50s pattern.

    It is further magnified when I recall choosing the fabric, conversing with the dealer who sold me the vintage buttons, or solving the puzzles of designing and constructing the garment. Once in a long while a purchased garment approaches that level of satisfaction, but really, nothing compares with the feeling I get wearing something I’ve made.

    This Pendleton jacket from the 1950s that I discovered in a vintage clothing store is beautifully made and a joy to wear.

    (But if I really dislike the process of making some wardrobe items, I’m fine with buying ready-to-wear.)

  • Useful.  Utility should be the bottom line for wardrobe items, right? Yet, how many times have I settled for a wardrobe item that wasn’t useful enough? A scratchy sweater, a shoulder bag that slips, shoes I can’t walk distances in? On the other hand, there are ingeniously designed items that carry usefulness to a new level.

    This early ’50s easy-to-sew weskit with big pockets is stylish, easy to wear, easy to pack, and so useful for holding swatches!

    And there’s another kind of useful–say, a yellow raincoat that keeps me dry but also makes me easy to spot when Jack and I travel.

    Henry VIII may be bigger, but in my yellow raincoat I’m no shrinking violet!

    “Useful” is in my style recipe to remind me to design multiple kinds of utility into garments I sew. And when I shop I’ll ask “Is this useful?” and “How is this useful?”

  • Vintage.  There’s no getting around it: I have a special liking for the styles, silhouettes, and details of many patterns from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.  The only time I’m consistently excited about contemporary patterns is when I browse the Marfy pattern company site.
    Sewing pattern Jackets / Shrugs 3223

    When I think of the Elegant Chic style, Marfy patterns come to mind.

    Those patterns come without instructions, which feels scary, but the styles are so enticing I’ll eventually attempt to sew one. Of course, I don’t want my closet to be a costume museum, and it doesn’t have to be. Vintage designs can be adapted, sewn in today’s colors and fabrics and worn in fresh combinations.

  • Enduring. I want to like my wardrobe so much that I would use everything till it fell apart. If not everything in my wardrobe is of enduring design, I will still aim for a much higher percentage. If I want to get rid of an item while it still has much wear left, I’ll want to know what’s unsatisfactory with the object or what’s different in my life now and what would suit my tastes or activities better.

    The weskit? Love. The colors–meh. I can do better.

  • Surprising. I think without Surprising in my style recipe my wardrobe could end up feeling like a bowl of oatmeal: nourishing but not very exciting.

    Flannel pajamas: as exciting as oatmeal. Perhaps pair them with a robe in a fun print?

    Surprising could take so many forms:

    • a classic garment in a nontraditional color (like a chartreuse trench coat)
    • a detail that’s a different size than what’s usually seen (like a large collar or pockets)

      I love the generous-sized collar on this 1959 jacket pattern.

    • a contrast facing for a collar or pocket flap that perhaps only the wearer knows about
    • a clever combination of patterns or colors that “shouldn’t” work–but does

I think of Surprising as the ingredient in my style recipe, like a squeeze of lemon juice, that brightens up the rest of the dish. Surprising is freshness, humor, delight. Whether I’m planning a garment to sew or an outfit to wear, I’ll ask myself where I might incorporate an element of surprise.

Okay, so not every surprise is a good surprise…(from my field trip to The Alley Vintage and Costume, Columbus, Ohio)

Well, that’s the recipe I cooked up on a quiet afternoon earlier this week. After I’ve had my colors analyzed and my figure type identified I’ll evaluate my wardrobe, fabrics, and patterns in earnest. That’s when I’ll really start putting this style recipe to the test.

(Studio photos and the “surprising hat” photo are by Cynthia DeGrand)

What Instructions Will Never Tell You

Readers,

I don’t think it’s emphasized nearly enough how much this thing we call “sewing” is a process of formulating questions, cracking puzzles, experimenting, course-correcting, and adjusting expectations.

From idea to finished product can be a pretty circuitous route, and I am still surprised how many decisions are required along the way.

Take the shower curtain I made over the weekend.

Clamping a remnant over the curtain rod: Would this be a good shower curtain?

I’d been meaning for months to make one for our remodeled bathroom but had been shying away from actually committing to the project.

The bathroom when we bought the house: Hello 1958!

The remodeled bathroom, in need of a nice-looking shower curtain.

I have dozens of potential projects competing for my attention, and how any one of them finally breaks away from the pack and gets chosen would make a good research project. (I’ll put that on my project list…)

The dining room before we bought the house. We think the couch was placed to prevent innocent househunters from walking out the sliding door and tumbling 15 inches onto the brick patio.

The dining room now, with draperies I made with a Craftsy class taught by Susan Woodcock. Would leftover yardage work for a shower curtain?

Out of curiosity last week I Googled “how to sew a shower curtain” and looked at a couple of sets of free instructions, from Craftsy and from Good Housekeeping magazine.  I’d say the best thing about such instructions is their infectious cheeriness. “It’s easy!” they practically shout, and, in a way, they’re right:

  • Use the curtain liner as your starting point for measurements.
  • Use one extra-wide piece of fabric or seam together two regular widths.
  • Hem all sides.
  • Install grommets or sew buttonholes
  • Hang the curtain.
  • Stand back and admire your handiwork. Aren’t you clever!

In Instruction Land, making a shower curtain is a simple linear process, with one step logically following another till you’re done.

But in Getting Things Sewn Land, making a shower curtain is…well, anything but linear. And I think this is a big reason for my procrastinating on starting practically every project, however straightforward it may appear at the outset.

There’s the image of the dream at the beginning, and the reality of the finished object at the end–and between is the murky middle where I have to figure out what questions even to ask, let alone how to answer them.

I wanted the curtain to extend a little beyond the plastic liner. A pesky detail: How much beyond? Where shall I position my buttonholes?

In Instruction Land it’s assumed that all technical and aesthetic questions have already been settled. What’s left is a simple matter of assembling the parts.

How high or low can I hang the curtain? How much clearance does the rod need?

But in Getting Things Sewn Land I find myself asking technical and aesthetic questions right down to the finish line.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for the clarity and optimism of Instruction Land. I just have to keep reminding myself, though, that step-by-step, linear instructions represent only part of the process of getting things sewn.

The curtain top reaches the top of the ring: is that okay? Make a sample and check it out.

In my experience real sewing projects are almost always better represented by a diagram starting with a central node with many nodes linking to it to capture ideas and questions first, then decisions and experiments, then more decisions turned into steps.

The curtain sample looks crowded against the rod and inside the ring. Moisture could accumulate and cause a mildew problem.

Part of my hesitation was over whether yardage left from the dining room drapery project would be a good choice for a shower curtain.  (By the way, this is Buffalo Check by P Kaufmann in the colorway Biscuit and it’s 100% cotton.) As I discovered laundering and pressing a sizable remnant, Buffalo Check didn’t retain its crispness and stayed a little wrinkly.  So, not an ideal candidate for a shower curtain.

The buttonholes are positioned closer to the top in the actual curtain.

However, the curtain would not get a great deal of use being slid back and forth on the rod or being splashed, since this shower and tub are backups we use only when we surrender the upstairs bathroom to overnight guests.  The curtain would be functional, but from day to day would be just decorative.

I decided to match the check by hand-slipstitching and then machine-stitching my two remnants. Then I would cut the length of the shower curtain.

Speaking of decorative,I also wondered about the color, pattern, and scale of this fabric working in this scheme.  It can be tempting to use remnants because it’s economical and convenient and can make you feel inventive, but the materials should fit naturally into the visual context, too.

Slipstitching the check for a perfect (I hoped) match.

The colors in the bathroom are cool, but I thought it would be interesting to introduce a warm counterpoint.

When I pressed under the edge of one length, the cotton shrank a little compared to the other length–hence, the puckering.

I was lucky to buy Buffalo Check on clearance for under $6 a yard, so my financial investment would be minimal. I was also hankering to make a little home improvement. So the two 3-yard cuts of Buffalo Check wrapped around the cardboard tube got their work assignment.

Machine-stitching along my hand-basted line.

I made samples to check the size and positioning of the buttonholes and whether my sewing machine would balk at stitching through two double hems overlapping at the upper corners.

I figured out my finished and cut widths and lengths.

I don’t know what went wrong matching the checks. I decided to slipstitch the two remnant lengths together and then machine-stitch the seam.  Okay, so it’s time I learned to use my walking foot to match the checks vertically perfectly.

My pattern-matching left something to be desired!

But whatever caused that horrible slant at the bottom of my curtain? I’ve never made such a big sewing blunder without understanding my mistake. (I still don’t know what happened. Was one cut off-grain?)

The frustrating reality. This is my worst off-grain problem ever.

This is where I had to weigh my options, and Instruction Land was not going to be a big help. I was on my own, making judgment calls in Getting Things Sewn Land.

I debated whether the mistake would be less glaring at the bottom or at the top of the curtain.  I draped the panel over the rod and guessed the bottom.

No, I don’t like this result, but the curtain will be pushed to the side 99% of the time, minimizing my embarrassment.

It was somewhat consoling to realize

  • the curtain would be pulled to one side almost all the time.
  • when it was closed there would be only one person–the one taking a shower–witnessing the error.
  • the witness would almost always be only Jack or me.

So I brought the panel back to the sewing room and finished hemming it Sunday evening without very much satisfaction.

Monday I hung the curtain and steamed most of the wrinkles out with my garment steamer.

The finished curtain. We are not amused.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but even when the curtain is arranged to one side I feel as if I can see that slant, and it  bothers me. So I don’t know how long it will stay in its place. It could be a year or two.  Or ten.

After all, I have a lot of other projects competing for my attention.

The completed curtain in place. I’m okay with it–for now. Just barely.

Book: Let It Go by Peter Walsh

Readers,

I haven’t seen a decluttering book specifically for sewers–yet–but when I came across the phrase “material convoy” to describe “the massive pile of stuff that you collect and carry along your winding journey” in Peter Walsh’s new book, Let It Go I ruefully nodded.

A snapshot of my “material convoy.”

In his latest title the organizing expert addresses the daunting task of downsizing your own home or that of a parent, other family member, or close friend.

I wanted to see which of Walsh’s observations or guidelines might apply to sewers and sewing spaces. Here’s what I found valuable:

  • In Chapter 1 Walsh quotes gerontology expert David J. Ekerdt, “Our possessions are extensions of ourselves. All of these things in the convoy are part of our past selves, but they’re also part of our possible selves. They’re selves I could become, so I hang on to the object to accomplish that.”

Aren’t fabric and patterns seductive, even–or especially–in their pristine state?  Years ago I attended a neighbor’s estate sale that included musty old dressers and file cabinets crammed with at least 1000 1500 patterns from the late ’40s through the ’70s–untouched except by moisture and mold.

What dreams Maureen must have had! But how many remained sadly unfulfilled?

Maureen’s estate contained hundreds of patterns like these, at 50 cents apiece. I limited myself to 12. (Hard!)

Well, of course I can’t say, but I do know the siren call of aspirational buying, and in the end it’s rarely satisfying. I’m sure she never meant for her patterns to be hauled away in grocery bags by eBay vendors.

What steps am I taking to see that my vintage buttons don’t meet a similar fate?

  • “If your home is like most people’s,” Walsh writes in Chapter 2, “it probably contains half-completed projects that the kids abandoned a year ago, an old coffeemaker that you keep in the kitchen, just in case you need it again, a broken printer that holds up the working printer, and gifts gathering dust in cabinets, still in their packages. Such homes are filled with what I call un objects: things that were unwanted and unopened, that go unused, that are unappreciated, or simply unnecessary.”

If I remember only one thing from Let It Go it will be this brilliantly simple concept of un objects. And now I have a new question for myself:

Is this item an un object? 

If I have to ask, probably so.

When I set up this sewing room 3 years ago I saw this baker’s rack as a parking garage for projects. Today I see it more clearly as a graveyard. Now I am limiting the number of projects I have going.

  • “All the stuff you own will fit into one of three categories: Memory Items, I-Might-Need-It Items, and Trash/Recycling. It’s easy to determine where each goes, and this will be your first task when you start doing the hands-on downsizing work.”

You’d be either a genius or a fool to whittle all possible categories for stuff to just three. Walsh is a genius.

  • In Chapter 4 Walsh describes four kinds of Memory items: treasures, which you keep; and trinkets, the forgotten, and the malignant, which you don’t. “Here’s a good rule of thumb: If something makes you smile, fills you with joy, brings back a good memory, and makes your heart sing when you look at it, then chances are high it’s a treasure. If not, it likely isn’t.”

    “Treasure” objects: Souvenirs of Wayward, the vintage haberdashery store in St. Leonards On Sea, a little town on the English Channel.

  • Most things by far might appear to be I-Might-Need-It items, but the only ones you’ll bring to your new home will be the ones he describes as “worthy:” “Your worthy items must have a readily visible purpose in the next stage of your life, and you need adequate space to store them appropriately. You must have a better reason for keeping them than ‘I just don’t feel like getting rid of this yet’ or ‘I can’t make a decision now, so I’ll box it up, take it with me, and deal with it later.'”

    I was going to bind the ragged edges of these towels, but you know what? They would still be old towels. They don’t meet my “worthy” standard. So off they’ll go to the humane society.

  • In Chapter 7, Walsh warns that “Thinking ‘I’ll move this to my new home’ is an overly broad and general statement that discourages downsizing. So I recommend ‘shrinking’ your ‘thinking.’ This means viewing your new home not as one space but as many smaller individual spaces, each of which will be used for a specific purpose. Not only should you break your new home into rooms but you should also consider the spaces within each room.”
  • “You only have the space you have. This is worth repeating, since it’s so important.”

“You only have the space you have.”

Walsh adds, “Accept this fact now or you’ll struggle with it later.”

Walsh recommends recording the measurements of cabinet space, closet space and shelf space as well as the dimensions of rooms and assigning them purposes as crucial steps in downsizing to your new space.

It’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought about this reality check so clearly before:

Do the Math.

“You only have the space you have:” Figuring out the sewing room floor plan in 2014. (It was fun, by the way.)


Walsh is writing about physical space, but it’s occurring to me that I need to do the same with mental space. I can manage only so many sewing projects in my head at a time. Or, for that matter, in a lifetime.

So, of the dozens of sewing projects I could consider, which ones strike me as the treasures? Which, no matter how difficult (or easy) they may be, would yield me and their users the deepest satisfaction? What physical and mental space am I prepared to dedicate to those special endeavors? “Treasure” projects might take a greater investment of resources, but the rewards would be greater, too.

Downsizing can be an intimidating undertaking, but Peter Walsh argues for engaging fully with your stuff to win the life-enriching benefits .  If you follow the Let It Go process, he writes, “You’ll have less focus on the amount of your stuff and greater happiness with the quality of the treasures that surround you. The possessions you carry forward will support your daily activities, bring you joy, resurrect happy memories, say something important about you, and perhaps serve as treasured heirlooms after you’re gone.”

From here on out, when I evaluate my fabrics, patterns, and equipment, I’ll ask myself, “Honestly–is this an ‘un object,’ or do I have a plan to make something wonderful from it?” And when I think about the things I could possibly make, I’ll ask myself which could be the “treasure” projects.

Because this sewer certainly doesn’t have time for “un projects.”

This vintage fabric by Souleiado is one of my favorite possessions, and I want to turn it into something wonderful. I just have to commit to doing the practice runs before I cut into this beauty.