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.

Project: Vogue 4036, Jacket (1959), part 1

Readers,

Every time I look at this large-collared, boxy little late ’50s jacket the word “demure” comes to mind, and I don’t know why. Demure is not a style I’m after. There’s just something about that collar.

Dressed for lunch at the Chintz Room at the Lazarus department store, Columbus, Ohio, 1959. I hear the chicken salad is excellent.

Dressed for lunch at the Chintz Room at the Lazarus department store, Columbus, Ohio, 1959. I hear the chicken salad is excellent.

Here’s another word that pops into my head about this jacket: “suburban.” That’s a 1950s suburb I’m thinking of. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the easier fit–not the early or mid-1950s closely fitted silhouette with the more formal feel–paired with that easier hat. This jacket looks just right for a midweek lunch out at a finer department store. After a morning of shopping, of course.

This plaid is more vivid in person than this photo conveys.

This plaid is more vivid in person than this photo conveys.

I have no ambitions to sew outfits for midweek lunches at finer department stores, and yet I’m so curious about this jacket that I’m going to give it a go. It may be that this sassy greenish yellow and bittersweet chocolate plaid wool blend just cried out to be made into Vogue 4036, for the sheer contrariness of it.  I’m curious whether “demure” will go right out the window when this plaid sashays in. I would hope so.

I realized recently that this jacket my mom made–I’m guessing it also dates from the late ’50s–bears more than a passing resemblance to Vogue 4036. It’s boxy, and has a prominent collar, and is made up in a very undemure plaid. I love this plaid.

A jacket my mom made, probably in the late '50s.

A jacket my mom made, probably in the late ’50s.

I don’t recall this jacket, but maybe I do have some residual memory of it lodged deep somewhere.

This jacket has princess seams, which I like. Maybe I can track down the pattern.

This jacket has princess seams, which I like. Maybe I can track down the pattern.

I have enjoyed the skirt I made up in this fabric. Would a matching jacket be too much?

I wear this skirt with a very textured, bracelet-length sleeved sweater from Banana Republic.

I wear this skirt with a very textured, bracelet-length sleeved sweater from Banana Republic.

And then, that collar shape. Would it look smart on me, or…hopelessly demure? I’m not getting enough feedback from my muslin to tell.

Is this collar a good one for me? My muslin didn't answer this question.

Is this collar a good one for me? My muslin didn’t answer this question.

Why don’t I just cut out the collar from the plaid and try that first? If the shape, texture and colors look fine, I’ll go ahead and cut the fronts. How do they look with the collar? Too busy–or good? I have high-contrast coloring that might handle this amount of color and pattern fine.

I bought these vintage buttons in Greenwich, England. Would they work well?

I bought these vintage buttons in Greenwich, England. Would they work well?

It may sound perfectly sensible to you, and you may have already been doing this for years, but I’ve never thought of cutting only a few pieces of a pattern to try. It’s the trap of either-or thinking: either my fabric stays intact but never used, or it’s hacked up and misused.

There is another way, I have to remind myself. If I don’t like how the collar looks, or how this much pattern looks next to my face, I would still have yardage to use for a different application. I like that.

A bit hard to make out the lines of this jacket from the illustration. It has set-in sleeves, center back seam, and a vent. (I'm eliminating the vent.)

A bit hard to make out the lines of this jacket from the illustration. It has set-in two-piece sleeves, a center back seam, and a vent. (I’m eliminating the vent.)

One of my sewing teacher Edith’s sayings is “Don’t commit before you have to.” She was actually referring to making a slashed pocket in a jacket front, but her point can be more widely applied. Don’t take an irreversible course as long as you can have the option to reverse.

Test small before testing big.

That sounds just right.

From my mom's reipe clippings: the famous chicken salad from the Chintz Room at Lazarus.

From my mom’s reipe clippings: the famous chicken salad from the Chintz Room at Lazarus. Love that “gay trim of red apple paring”!

Bolts from the Blue

Readers,

It started early yesterday morning when I was checking out the latest conversations on PatternReview.com. “What Minnesota PR members will I see Saturday morning at the Guthrie Theater Fabric and Trim sale?” asked SewMN. “It’s on Saturday, October 19, from 9 am to 1 pm at the Guthrie Theater.”

Fishing for fabric: catches of the day.

Fishing for fabric: catches of the day.

This was news to me. We live only a short, scenic drive from the Guthrie. How could I not go? At 8:58 am I was about twentieth in line for the sale.

Since settling in at the Jean Nouvel-designed, three-stage Guthrie Theater complex the costume shop had been acquiring fabric until every storage space was crammed. It was time to clean house. Hundreds of fabrics rolled on tubes or tied in bundles had colored price tags indicating $20, $10, $5, or $1.

My new purchases, taking it easy in our back yard.

My new purchases, taking it easy in our back yard.

Fabric rummage sales are certainly exciting, but I’ve bought my share of “bargains” that sat in my stash. A few years ago I bought some beautiful wool at such a sale with the department store credit card receipt, dated 1983, tucked into the folds. Guess what–I ended up donating it back to the same annual sale a few years later.

The mint green wool matches shades on the Yellow-Green card of the 3-in-1 Color Tool.

The mint green wool matches shades on the Yellow-Green card of the 3-in-1 Color Tool.

Having learned some lessons editing my fabric stash earlier this year, I’ve wised up about what I allow in. My fabrics can’t be prima donnas. They must play well with each other and with my wardrobe.

The gray in the fabric matches a tone on the Orange card. That explains why I like this gray, unlike many others.

The gray in the fabric matches a tone on the Orange card. That explains why I like this gray, unlike many others.

After circling the remnant-laden banquet tables a couple of times, I scooped up a perky, loosely woven gray and white checked wool and a mint green wool with milk-chocolate brown flecks in it. They both said “early spring suit” to me.

I brought my bolts over to the window to examine their colors in the natural light. Another sewer was clutching half a dozen fabrics rolled on tubes. One grabbed my attention: a wool in the mossy greens that go with my eye color so well.

The mossy green wool relates best to colors on the Yellow card.

The mossy green wool relates best to colors on the Yellow card.

I must have looked especially covetous or else she was feeling extra generous in that moment. After I admired her choice, she asked if I wanted it. I protested feebly.  She said, “I don’t have a plan for it. You know what you’d do with it.” I had to agree.  She said, “If I handed it over to you, would you take it?” She had me there. Yes! Of course!

Which is how I ended up in the checkout line with three fabric pieces of unknown lengths totaling $50.  Each of them, it turns out, is about 58 inches wide and  3 1/3 yards, which is plenty for a couple of garments each.

Could these buttons work with the "mint chocolate" fabric?

Could these buttons work with the “mint chocolate” fabric?

Now, I know my tendency to attach colorful stories to my fabric purchases. I don’t want or need to change that habit. What I’m doing differently now is imagining possibilities more fully–continuing the story of each fabric through the planning, construction, and wearing stages.

Can these buttons hold their own against this background?

Can these buttons hold their own against this background?

When I brought these beauties home I looked at what buttons, patterns and wardrobe items could go with them. Even though I didn’t see any dazzling button-fabric combinations, the gears started turning, and that’s enough for now.

When I saw this fabric, this pattern came to mind immediately.

When I saw this fabric, this 1962 pattern came to mind immediately.

I think there are some winning pattern-fabric combinations, though. The moment I saw the checked fabric I was thinking about this 1962 jacket with detachable scarf. This fabric has some loft to it, which would be great for the scarf. It is also very ravelly. I’ll learn how to work with this characteristic.

From 1956, ladylike jackets. Check out that bow on the back!

From 1956, ladylike jackets. Check out that bow on the back!

The mint green, brown-flecked wool has the warmth needed for the end of winter and the colors of early spring. One of these 1956 jackets could be delightful to wear in March or April.

From 1959, a smart jacket for the moss-colored wool

From 1959, a smart jacket for the moss-colored wool

The mossy green wool is not a coat weight, but has a little more body than many jackets need. I found this 1959 pattern for a between-kind of jacket:  warm enough to be a light coat in cool weather, yet light enough to wear indoors, too.  I’ve admired this pattern for years and have another fabric in mind for it. The mossy wool could be my practice piece before I cut into the more unusual fabric I have ultimately in mind.

On the back deck before rain and hail chased my photo shoot indoors.

On the back deck before rain and hail chased my photo shoot indoors.

These serendipitous finds have fired up my imagination. It really wouldn’t take that much more planning to turn them into living, breathing garments.

Would it?

Why not make it so?

The hail pellets were the size of pretzel salt. The photo shoot continued indoors.

The hail pellets were the size of pretzel salt. The photo shoot continued indoors.

What Works/What Doesn’t

Readers,

The infamous green scarf.

The infamous green scarf.

Maybe you remember a post titled Anatomy of a Dud: The Green Scarf, in which I modeled a regrettable purchase.

I’ve rethought that post.

Oh, I still think the scarf is a dud for me. And I was imposing a look on myself, and that doesn’t work.

One thing the scarf has going for it: a great color. It matches a green sweater I wear frequently.

One thing the scarf has going for it: a great color. It matches a green sweater I wear frequently.

So, what does work?

If I want to do more than just avoid duds, but to find and make things to create a wonderful wardrobe, I need to distinguish what works and what doesn’t.

Obviously.

What I’ve realized since the green scarf post is that no item in my wardrobe is all good or all bad.  That almost everything has features that work for me and features that don’t. And that it’s extremely useful–even entertaining–to take one item and sort out what works and what doesn’t.

I tested this idea on the green scarf using the chart I sketched out.  For each category in the Individual and Context columns I asked myself, “What works? What doesn’t?”

Individual

  • Color: Does this color work for me?   It matches a shade on the Chartreuse card of the 3 in 1 Color Tool. Those yellow-green shades go great with my eye color. Yes.
  • Personality: Does this work with my personality? When I wear this scarf I feel upstaged. I feel like it’s getting the attention, not me. So, that’s a no.
  • Silhouette: Does this create a silhouette that works for me? It does bring the eye up, which is good, but because it overwhelms me, this gets a no.

    The scarf matches a shade on the Chartreuse card. The complementary colors of Red-Violet are also wonderful. But the great color can't overcome the other problems.

    The scarf matches a shade on the Chartreuse card. The complementary colors of Red-Violet are also wonderful. But the great color can’t overcome the other problems.

  • Style: Does this work with my sense of style? I like texture, and that’s part of what attracted me to this scarf. But actually, it doesn’t have a whole lot of texture. What it has a lot of is bulk.  I hadn’t made that distinction before. Aha!
  • Fit: Does the way this fits work for me? I thought this was a funny question to ask about a scarf. Then I thought, no–it doesn‘t fit. It’s the wrong scale for me. Too much scarf is crowded into too small a space.
  • Physical characteristics: Does this work with whatever physical characteristics apply? I get cold a lot, and I like warmth around my neck. This is wool and silk, so it should be warm.

    Two fabrics from my stash that have texture without the bulk.

    Two fabrics from my stash that have texture without the bulk.

  • What I’m growing into: Does this work with any new ways I’m seeing myself?  I’m certainly not seeing myself as a bulky scarf person. No.

On to Context.

  • Occasions. Does this work with the occasions I attend?  I keep seeing this as the kind of thing you’d expect to see at a gallery opening, or at an event at the Textile Center of Minnesota–places where artsy, handcrafted garments and jewelry are the norm. But I never go to gallery openings or Textile Center events. This is a big no.
    Not practical for my life in the sewing room, kitchen, or dining room.

    Not practical for my life in the sewing room, kitchen, or dining room.


  • Activities. Does this work with activities I do? I wouldn’t sew, or iron, or cut out patterns, or work in the kitchen wearing this scarf–it would get in the way. I wouldn’t wear it sitting at a dinner party or standing with a glass of wine or a plate of appetizers for the same reason. So, no.
  • Roles. Does this work with roles I play in social situations? Right. I can just imagine hosting a tea and getting jam and clotted cream all over this. No.
  • Physical conditions. Does this work with the kinds of weather or indoor conditions I find myself in? Yes-cold weather, and I can see myself wearing this on a plane that’s drafty and chilly.

    This sweater has lots of texture, which I like, and only a little bulk, which is good.

    This sweater has lots of texture, which I like, and only a little bulk, which is good.

  • Mood of the occasion. Does this work with the formal or informal, happy or somber, businesslike or casual moods of the situations I’m in? Good question. I see that I can’t quite figure out where this scarf falls on these continuums. I don’t know what mood it expresses, which is somewhat maddening.
  • Other wardrobe items. Does this work with anything else in my wardrobe now? Does it work with outfits in my wardrobe now? A resounding no. It doesn’t work within my present wardrobe at all. In fact, I can’t think of an ensemble it would be part of. This scarf is a classic wardrobe orphan.
  • Fabric, pattern and button stashes. Does this work with fabrics, patterns, or buttons I own, or inspire clear ideas of fabrics or patterns to find to complete an outfit using this item?  I’m stumped. All I can think of is to make very simple knit pieces as blank canvases for this scarf. And I don’t dress that way.
  • What I’m moving into: occasions, activities, roles, etc. Does this work for occasions, activities or roles in my future? I don’t see myself moving in circles where I’d feel average wearing this scarf. I’d always feel self-conscious. Trying to be something I’m not.

This exercise drove me to the same conclusion as before: this scarf doesn’t work for me. The difference is, I know much better why it doesn’t work.

Not only that, but now I know better what does work for me. Soon I could find myself thinking, “That green scarf: great color, but too bulky and fussy for me. But I have this red-violet, soft, chenille-like fabric in my stash that has texture but not bulk. I could make a simple scarf that would be smashing: warm, easy to wear, great color, and I can see it with some of my coats and jackets.”

Now that works.

IMG_2926 (460x345)

A soft, textured red-violet chenille will make a great scarf with two fabrics I’ve sewn into coats.

Sale Away

Readers,

Wearing the coat I recently finished, I dug through the wools table for more treasures.

Wearing the coat I recently finished, I dug through the wools table for more treasures.

Back from the Textile Center Garage Sale, an annual one-day event many sewers, including me, look forward to all year.  Imagine thousands of bundles of wools, cottons, silks, synthetics and mystery fibers; yarns and thread, notions, sewing and crafts magazines and books; looms, sewing machines, pressing equipment, even UFOs (unfinished objects), all donated by local sewers clearing their workspaces, at incredibly low prices. It’s a crazy, wonderful sale.

Back in February I evaluated all my fabrics and set aside about a quarter of them for the sale. I looked at all those donations once more earlier this week.  I ended up keeping a few after all, just for making wearable tests–the step between making a muslin and cutting into my beloved fashion fabrics.

For the 1930s jacket I’m currently working on, I made a wearable test from a linen-lookalike polyester. Lookalike, but not sew alike. I should have known a poly wasn’t going to help me see how a linen would behave. So I swapped out yards of synthetics I’d bought on the cheap at previous Textile Center sales for several natural fiber fabrics of different weights and drapes for my test garments.

The purchasers of eight or nine of my fabrics today got a card with a note.

The front looked like this:

What a beautiful, crisp cotton shirting.

What a beautiful, crisp cotton shirting.

 

IMG_2187 (460x345)

A message in a bottle. I hope the buyer noticed this note on the reverse of the card!

The back looked like this.

I gave a lot of thought to the wording of my message.  I had only this small space to convey a history and a request. The fabric represented happy memories: a trip, a garment, or at least enjoyable daydreaming. But I didn’t want to seem overly protective of “my” fabric.

I also didn’t want to appear too nosy, obligate the sewer to get back to me, or shamelessly promote Getting Things Sewn.  Was I too subtle? Did the buyers even turn over the cards and notice the messages on the backs?

If I get any responses, I’ll let you know.

As for me, I joyfully rummaged through the wool and cotton tables, and carted home two grocery bagfuls of fabric: 13 pieces totaling $65.

My camera and computer monitor hardly do justice to the caramel browns of several pieces destined for jackets and skirts.IMG_2216 (460x345)

Or the two yards of matka silk, the color of a basket of blueberries, that will probably become a jacket.

Exactly the colors of fresh blueberries in this silk matka.

Exactly the colors of fresh blueberries in this silk matka.

Or the subtle colorations of a textured wool that’s a wonderful pairing for a fabric in my stash and some of my vintage buttons.

Neutrals used to leave me cold. Now I'm appreciating how wonderful some of them are.

Neutrals used to leave me cold. Now I’m appreciating how wonderful some of them are.

The splendor of this rose print just looks lurid in the photo.  The color combination is so much better than what I captured.

Trust me, the color combination is better than this.

Trust me, the color combination is better than this.

The Textile Center sale is as close to gambling as I get.  I take risks buying fabrics without fiber content labels, guarantees or return policies.  But the stakes are low. I can experiment and test my knowledge.

The three yards of crisp blue shirting I bought today for $3:  is it cotton?

Mystery fiber. Cotton?

Mystery fiber. Cotton?

I tried a burn test, using the chart in Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide.

Cotton, the chart says, burns “rapidly, yellow flame, continues burning burning, afterglow.”  The odor is of “burning paper, leaves or wood.”  Residue: “Brown-tinged end; light-colored, feathery ash.”  This fabric smelled like cotton burning, but the ash was different.  Maybe this is a blend? I could burn some fabrics I know are cotton for comparison.

Is this a cotton and synthetic blend?

Is this a cotton and synthetic blend?

I’m more interested, though, in identifying the colors of my new purchases using my nifty 3-in-1 Color Tool and then seeing a multitude of ways to coordinate them with the rest of my fabrics and wardrobe.

Fabrics come and go, but the challenge remains: getting things sewn.  I just let go of fabrics I’d had for years. I don’t want these new purchases to suffer the same fate.  What if I set myself the goal of doing something with each of today’s acquisitions before the Textile Center’s sale in 2015 or else turn them back in? This is a reasonable challenge. I’ll take it!

Will I get any response from the buyer of this fabric?

Will I get any response from the buyer of this fabric?