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.

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!

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)