Decisions, decisions

Readers,

Yesterday I wrote this post and was almost finished with it when I had to stop for the day. This morning I sat down to finish it, add images, and hit Publish. I reread what I wrote and–saw a glaring omission. I hate when that happens!

I asked myself whether I should scrap this post or send it out. I decided to send it out and write a follow-up in the near future. Stay tuned.

Today, like a thousand other days, I pulled a fabric from my stash, looked at it intently, and asked myself, Is this a keeper or should I let it go?

I haven’t been able to decide, which bugs me. I tell myself, “Don’t keep not deciding,” but if I do decide, I should have a guiding principle for my decision. Just tossing something out may be an action, but I don’t see that as a decision–unless you call “I don’t want to deal with it” a decision.

Do any of these buttons go with this fabric?

I keep going back to this somewhat coarse, muted, heather green wool I picked up at the Guthrie Theatre costume department’s textile sale several years ago. Some days I think the color is just too muted and the value too mid-range to look good on me and that I should move the fabric on to somebody else. Maybe a redhead.

Nevertheless, I always reshelve this piece, thinking I haven’t yet fully grasped the color and value ranges it sits in and so what would complement them.

Most of my other fabrics just do not want to play with this Guthrie fabric. Most accent colors look too busy and bright, leaving the Guthrie one looking taciturn and glum. Neutrals just look drab paired up with the Guthrie, as if each is waiting for the other one to start the conversation. The silence is deafening.

A common activity in my sewing room: identifying colors in fabrics and finding suitable companions.

It seems as if this fabric is sitting on a line between a color and a neutral. It has too much color to be cast in a typical neutral role, but not enough color to hold its own against other colors. It’s neither light nor dark. But if I give this heather green wool just the right role in the right ensemble, it may reward my efforts tenfold. The prospect is enticing, and that’s why I keep playing this game.

The piece of equipment I most like to use in this color game is my 3 in 1 Color Tool, which is so old that another edition has since been published. This elusive color, which doesn’t reproduce well on my monitor, is kind of Yellow card 1 and kind of Chartreuse card 2. Even without matching the color perfectly I can see whether it tends toward pure, a tint (white added), a tone (gray added), or a shade (black added), which might help me locate companion colors with similar qualities. This wool seems to be a shade; it’s certainly muted.

And then I can flip the card over and see these wonderful color relationships set out on a color wheel–analogous, complementary, and so forth–that set my mind ablaze with ideas. I find myself pulling stash fabrics and buttons and wardrobe items to try different relationships that wouldn’t have occurred to me without this wonderful tool.

The 3 in 1 Color Tool is so helpful showing the possibilities in relating colors to each other.

If your eyes are glazing over at this point I can’t blame you, but then you probably took art classes and learned color principles in the first week. I thought I knew about the color wheel but never learned anything about actually applying basic color principles to designing garments, outfits, and a whole wardrobe.

Maybe if I quilted I would have had many a conversation about color concepts. But over the many years I’ve browsed fabric stores and attended sewing classes I don’t remember any discussion of color beyond “Oh, that would look good with that” or “That looks good on you.”

I recently learned about this Color Matching Guide for painters, which is also great for finding complementary colors for fabrics.

Color is hardly the only characteristic I’m intent on identifying, of course. There’s weight, and drape, sheen, texture, weave, pattern, contrast, fiber. There’s what the fabric is capable of doing physically (take a crease well or keep you warm) and psychologically (the luxurious feeling of silk).

My stash cards just barely all fit onto a standard ring.

I was thinking this morning that for years I’ve tracked simple factual information about my fabrics with my swatch cards: fiber, yardage, when and where purchased. A nice enough start.

So much data and so many ideas to collect! I am experimenting with a Fabric Inventory worksheet.

A few weeks ago I started experimenting with a worksheet to collect and hold more information: what garments this amount of fabric was suitable for, for what seasons, and what coordinates (fabrics, buttons, wardrobe items) I had on hand.

Yesterday morning I noticed I hadn’t created a space to record vital information for me: the Color Tool number. Time to revise the form! And I think there will be more revisions and additions to come.

Every day I’m reminded how planning and sewing a wardrobe is a multi-dimensional activity, with a multitude of  circumstances and choices that connect in a great big web. There are so many variables and dizzying possibilities that I can’t possibly keep them all in my head.

There are contextual circumstances like

  • occasions
  • activities
  • roles
  • physical conditions
  • what’s in my stashes and wardrobe to coordinate

And there are individual factors like

  • personality
  • style
  • figure type
  • coloring
  • physical characteristics

to factor in.

My swatch cards were a start. The fabric inventory worksheet is another step. But what I really want is to think much bigger.

I want to devise a streamlined, comprehensive system that will move me with minimal effort toward sound decisions, so I no longer find myself lingering over a decision–unless I want to.

What Really Counts

Readers,

A disconsolate letter poured into the Getting Things Sewn headquarters this morning addressed to our advice columnist, Miss GTS.

Miss GTS says, “Compare and despair? Au contraire, ma chere!” (Miss GTS knows that the first “e” needs an accent grave.)

It read,

Dear Miss GTS,

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I should be excited to be in the Ready to Wear Fast year-long sewing challenge, but I’m depressed, and it’s only Day 4!

Over a thousand sewers have signed up, and some have already posted pictures of their first finished garments on the Facebook page!

Meanwhile, all I’ve done so far is give up on a pattern that’s described as “so easy even the schoolgirl can make it.”

I had high hopes for making a sleeveless jacket from Pictorial 7318, but the 1930s pattern-drafting mystifies me and I don’t know whether the fault lies in the pattern or in my feeble understanding.

This jacket, a sleeveless version traced from the pattern illustration, looks contemporary.

I guess those schoolgirls in the 1930s all went to vocational schools in garment districts.

While I was folding up the pattern pieces and putting them away yesterday I was mad because I can’t count this project toward my total count, which I was planning to be awesomely awesome.

Are the pattern pieces fine or do they need to be fixed? The waist was marked a full three inches above my waist–that was definitely not right.

The one who sews the most garments wins, I’m already behind, and I’ll never make up the lost ground.

Miss GTS, what can I do? I’m miserable!

Sincerely,

Sniffling in Columbus

Dear Sniffling,

It sounds like you’re suffering from a common malady called Compare and Despair. You are using a cheap, off-the-rack mental shortcut to compare your projects with other people’s projects rather than a tailor-made instrument to judge your results against your goals.

I could say “Just stop counting–right now!” but that would be as ineffectual as telling you not to think about a polar bear.  Instead, I suggest that you radically change what you count.

The number of garments you make is much less important than how well you’ve planned those garments to work with each other.  Leverage the power of capsules to create hundreds of outfits.

If you make 8 tops, 8 bottoms, and 8 jackets or cardigans that all go together, that’s 8 times 8 times 8, or 512 potential outfits. Is that impressive, or what?

And remember, zero is a number, too. How about aiming for:

  • Zero wardrobe orphans
  • Zero fabrics in unflattering colors or patterns
  • Zero patterns that don’t work for you
  • Zero Craftsy classes or sewing DVDs bought but never used
  • Zero unfinished projects

But even creative counting can get you only so far. The most valuable lessons, skills, and knowledge awaiting you are unquantifiable. If you are lacking in pattern-drafting knowledge see how you can achieve your goals within your current capacities.

Before you can be a practitioner, you have to practice.

Learn more patience. Practice using your serger.

Learn more diligence. Practice fitting a pants pattern.

Learn how to ask for help in more ways. Take advantage of being able to ask your Craftsy instructors questions.

Push yourself to work on your challenge edge–and be sure to give yourself credit for it.

Also, take breaks.

So for a vastly more interesting, productive–and fun!–year, drop the self-defeating game of Compare and Despair and design your own game of Dare and Declare. Dare to define what you want to accomplish, and declare, “This is what I’m doing–you’re welcome to join me!”

I know you can do this, Sniff.

I’m counting on you.

Sincerely,

Miss GTS

I’ll get back to this pattern eventually.

Starting the New Year with a Calendar to Inspire

Readers,

This New Year’s Day morning, like millions of other people, I hung a new calendar. This one is so special I just had to tell you about it.

This wonderful calendar is the joint effort of my sisters Cynthia and Donna. Donna is the owner of the Etsy store Timmees, and Cynthia is the photographer. Timmee is this whimsically designed tea kettle that has a determined air that reminds me of The Little Engine That Could.

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”

All the pictures in the Timmees calendar are of objects Donna has uncovered in her thrift-store sleuthing and put up for sale in her online store.

Like a Gold Rush miner, she has to pan tons of gravel to find valuable nuggets like this vintage hand mixer–

–or these cherry-red Bakelite earrings.

When Donna uncovers these treasures, they’re often dirty, and their identity and value have gone unrecognized for maybe decades.

After she’s brought these precious objects home, there’s still the work of cleaning them and researching their backgrounds to write the copy for the Etsy store.

Then there’s the product photography.

How ever do you bring out the character of each of these objects to convey their charm and beauty to customers around the world? That’s Cynthia’s job assignment.

Every medium–glass, ceramics, beaded purses, metal or Bakelite jewelry–poses different challenges in lighting and composition more than I could ever imagine.

Cynthia has to represent each object both honestly–nicks, scratches, and all–but also strives to express more qualities. Like the heft of September’s vintage stapler.

Or how a yellow Bakelite necklace can suggest the glow of Halloween pumpkins.

When I unwrapped my copy of the Timmees 2018 calendar on Christmas Day I silently admired all the skill and workmanship that went into the making of it.

But what I said out loud, immediately was “I want my own calendar for 2019!”

How great would it be to page through a calendar with photos of beautiful garments I sewed in 2018? Pretty great, I thought.

So as I start the Ready to Wear Fast year-long sewing challenge I’ll be thinking about the calendar I could hold in my hands a year from now–if I stay the course.

Inspiration and motivation come in many forms, and one of them, it turns out, is a calendar.

Wishing you a happy and productive New Year!

Do You Know About the Ready to Wear Fast?

Readers,

I was taking a brief break from Thanksgiving Day cooking when I saw an invitation in my e-mail. Sarah Gunn of the phenomenally successful sewing blog Goodbye Valentino was inviting her readers to join her in a year-long “ready to wear fast” starting January 1. The more I read about this challenge, the more my enthusiasm mounted. I headed back to the kitchen practically whistling a happy tune.

As Sarah explained,

The Ready to Wear Fast is a vow to abstain from buying clothes for one year. You will give up buying clothes from January 1-December 31, 2018. You may sew anything, and you may fabric-shop as much as you like! The purpose is to Save Money and Improve Your Sewing Skills, but believe me, the rewards of the commitment will exceed your expectations.”

The only exceptions to the clothes-buying rule will be wedding gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses. No sweaters, no swimsuits, no mother of the bride dresses, not even scarves can be bought during the year-long fast.

But when I read the restrictions I noticed I thought, good! This will give me that nudge to try sewing knit tops and cardigans like I’ve intended to do for years. The same with scarves, which have been my only frequent ready-to-wear purchases for years: it’s time I learned to do those fine hand-rolled hems on scarves I make myself, cut to the dimensions I choose.

And pants, which have been my sewing holy grail for years: I’ve made do with occasional ready-to-wear purchases that have tided me over but have hardly been figure-flatterers.

Sweaters!  Even those sized “XS” are often too long in the torso and sleeves and too big around. The armholes are huge, restricting range of movement for sleeved versions or exposing too much flesh in sleeveless versions. Color choices are limited to what garment industry experts chose based on color forecasts made many months earlier.

Skirts, blouses, dresses–I can count on the fingers of one hand how many I’ve bought readymade in the last decade. Either fit or style is an issue, and, again, color and pattern choices are limited.

As Jack can attest, I’ll pop into a retail or consignment store to check out shoes and hats and sometimes specialty outerwear, but when I browse regular clothes racks I almost always leave the store muttering, “I’m glad I sew!”

So I think I am 90 percent of the way to a ready-to-wear fast anyway. If a fast means deprivation I already feel deprived, that’s for sure.

But if deprivation and restriction characterize a fast, why do I feel so upbeat about the approach of January 1? Because what I see is a yearlong sewing feast.

Oh sure, the sponsors of the RTW Fast are sure to dangle some enticements–fabrics, online classes, patterns, maybe even a sewing machine–before those of us who took the pledge. But what I think will have me singing Zippety Doo Dah in 2018 will be the abundance of encouragement and inspiration we participants will be sharing on our private Facebook page to realize our wardrobe dreams.

I know it sounds crazy: I sew, but do I have a closet full of seasonal custom clothing capsules to create dozens of outfits? No! As a matter of fact, since I joined Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program four months ago I have drastically thinned out my wardrobe–including clothes I’ve sewn. Everything–my patterns, fabrics, wardrobe, style, my coloring, my figure type, and what I want to dress for–has been undergoing a reexamination.

When I read about the RTW Fast it struck me that it could give me just the right combination of structure, incentives, flexibility, and accountability to get me out of analysis paralysis into purposeful action. I am going to give the RTW Fast my best shot to turn 2018 into a year I can look back on with a feeling of accomplishment. That doesn’t sound like deprivation to me.

Signing up for the 2108 Goodbye Valentino Ready to Wear Fast ends Dec. 31, 2017. Click on the link for registration details. I hope you can join us!

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