Book: Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub

Readers,

How can I write a tidy little review of a book that, like its author, is seeking–but only occasionally finding–order? I’ve just reread my extensively mind-mapped notes from Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub, and my mind is jam-packed with random thoughts about this sometimes exasperating book.

After the publication of her book Year of No Sugar Schaub decided to confront another personal and societal bugaboo: the burden of owning So Much Stuff. In a effort that simply screams “follow-up book project” Schaub was going to confront her borderline hoarding tendencies by tackling the 22- by 25-foot-square “Hell Room” of the Vermont home she shared with her husband and then 10- and 15-year-old daughters.

Surely a year would be more than enough time to identify, sort, reassign, relocate, and organize–or dispose of–the mementos, arts and crafts supplies, and occasional dead mouse that crammed the malodorous Hell Room.

But, no surprise, facing a lifetime of indecision about what to own and why took longer than a year to sort out.  And, of course, it was far from a year of no clutter–it was about fifteen months of maddening uber-clutter, which afflicted the entire house and its occupants. Schaub seems to have made dozens of trips to drop off clothes, books, CDs and miscellany at thrift shops, charities, and libraries with no end in sight.

At the end of this book younger daughter Ilse’s offhand reference to going to the “art room” indicates how the Hell Room has taken on a healthy new identity and role, even if the “disgusting” carpet is still waiting to be taken out and the family photos still need to be dealt with.

Similarly, Schaub has advanced from attaching symbolic importance to virtually every object she touches, requiring her to keep it to the end of time, to being a little more selective.  This is no small amount of progress in a year, so good for her.

Although thankfully I don’t have a Hell Room to deal with, as a sewer I have fabrics, patterns, and other supplies that can easily cross the line into clutter. What is clutter, anyway?  Schaub’s clever chart, “What Is My Stuff?”on page 161, shows that items that meet these two conditions, “I do NOT have a designated place to keep it” and “I do NOT use it on a regular basis,” constitute clutter.

I don’t disagree, but I think that’s just a starting point for myself as I ponder fundamentally reorganizing my sewing room in the next couple of years.  What might happen if I maximized my planning and production spaces? What if I could painlessly edit down my supplies with no cost to my enjoyment or creativity?   I mean to find out.

I said this book could be exasperating. Here are a few examples of what didn’t work for me:

Schaub says she’s read Marie Kondo’s international best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, but seems to have completely misunderstood Kondo’s approach:

Although Marie Kondo disapproves, I’m not about to stop collecting my own life. It has been a source of pleasure for me ever since I can remember; it helps define me. (page 125)

Anyone who’s heard of Kondo’s book knows about her criterion for keeping things: “Does it spark joy?” If you answer yes, it matters to you and is worth keeping. I’m not seeing a conflict.

Schaub also criticizes Kondo acolytes who “follow Kondo’s book to the letter and purge away an enormous percentage of their belongings” in what she seems to imply is a game of one-upmanship among themselves:

When they are done, they turn and look to their closets and shelves and see a small handful of things they love, a fraction of what had been there before, and they feel a tremendous sense of freeness. (p. 267)

A few pages later she writes

I’m part of the way there, to Kondo’s land of the immaculate, joy-sparking place, but I also know that I will forever be an exile to that land. (p. 274)

An exile has to have lived in a place first before either skedaddling under duress or being booted out, so I think Schaub is more accurately an outsider.

Perhaps this “immaculate” place Schaub imagines feels sterile, one-dimensional, or too untethered for her tastes and the Kondo super-fans too smug and self-referential. I certainly would also find it hard to listen to her friend Mary-Anne triumphantly relate, twice, in excruciating detail, how she had tossed in the trash the “paper Santa” made by her daughter after treasuring it for years. Schaub rightfully questions whether Mary-Anne is trying to convince herself she did the right thing.

My underlined and flagged copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

However, Schaub was never in danger of stripping her Vermont home bare.  When her mom offered her the family piano, which Schaub never learned to play, here’s what happened:

And then, as Mom prepared to move, what was I to say when she offered me this millstone? How could I say anything except, “Yes, I want it”? (p. 138)

Oh, I dunno, how about “Yes, I want it, but we already have Grandma’s piano, and nobody’s playing that one, so I’m sorry; I really have to pass on your offer.” Instead, she took in the second piano, because selling the piano “simply isn’t me” and “giving away these things seemed wrong to the very core of my being.” (p. 139)

Surely, between experiencing the unsettling void of purged closets and the suffocating surfeit of a growing houseful of memory-laden, cumbersome Stuff,  there must be some middle ground that would allow the author to be “me.”

On the “what worked for me” side of the equation:

–Schaub’s observing that most decluttering advice addresses only one or two facets of the clutter problem while ignoring all the others:

A big reason [the advice isn’t helpful] is a misunderstanding of the many different stumbling blocks there are to getting and keeping clutter-free. The advice columnist or organization expert on the talk show might address one of the existing problems or even two but none of the others.

Because there are so many different facets of the Stuff problem, they can all merge together to form a tangled mass as daunting as that island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. (p. 175-176)

–Her realization that the Hell Room was not an island, entire of itself, but part of the main:

The next morning I woke up on fire. I had come at last to the realization many doctors already know: every part of the patient is connected to every other part of the patient. I was dismayed to realize that my prior one-room approach wasn’t cutting it. I was going to have to approach my house holistically. I saw it all very clearly: the pantry, the guest room, the front room, the Hallway Room, the Hell Room–they all existed like dominoes: where one went, the rest followed. (p. 236)

–And lastly, when Schaub weaves strips of many treasured items of clothing into her “autobiography rug” at her weeklong summer weaving workshop:

It felt wonderfully therapeutic to work with these fabrics that clearly had a lot of metaphoric significance for me and transform them. I couldn’t hold on to everything forever–no one can–but I could take these bits that I still had and make something useful and beautiful with them. I couldn’t keep everything. Couldn’t know what had happened to the things that went missing. But I could do this. (p. 223)

Early on Schaub tells us she’s been to art school and has degrees certifying her as “an Official Creative Person,” which explains her urge to collect materials with any potential for art and craft projects. It’s only during this week at the weaving studio, however, that we get to see her create something.

Up to this point we see her collect and keep items in their original state: mementos, which help her recall her past, and supplies, which have potential for future artworks and craft projects.  It was interesting to see her engage directly with her stuff: interpret it, take control of it, and actively design it into something combining her past, her present, and her future that was dynamic and inclusive.

Making the autobiography rug struck me as the type of creative experience Eve Schaub could repeat endlessly as a way to express the “me” she is so fearful of losing and also to intelligently, sensitively edit the flow of physical life.  If she can avoid getting caught in the deadly undertow of Stuff, maybe she can ride that powerful wave instead.

For inspiration she might want to check out the work of Emily Adams Bode, a fellow “official creative person” (Parsons), who merited a story in July 13’s New York Times “Styles” section. Described by the Times as a “millennial men’s wear designer with the work ethic of a midcentury dressmaker,” she’s turning textiles such as century-old quilts, 1930s dress fabrics, and souvenir tablecloths into jackets, shirts and pants that are useful, beautiful–and simply delightful.

It’s hard to limit myself to one example. Here is a jacket Bode made from a 1960s blanket with a lining printed with football helmets.  I love how she reimagined this blanket.

Wool Shirt Jacket

Emily Adams Bode’s work can be seen on her website, https://www.bodenewyork.com/collections

What Problem Does That Solve?

Readers,

Blame my background as a librarian for calling a new form that I’m experimenting with an “Acquisitions Record.”

Out of my 22 years working in libraries I spent four and a half in my system’s Collection Management department, in Acquisitions, selecting adult fiction, large print, and audiobooks. (I also pestered advised my colleague who ordered the cookbooks and sewing books.)

Since my time as a selector I’ve thought about where it might make sense to apply library principles and practices to getting things sewn.  I haven’t actually drawn up a collection management policy, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea. (That’s a topic for another time.)img_0934-460x307

What I did do, on the spur of the moment about a month ago, was record a few facts, reasons, and plans concerning a book I’d bought.  Why did I buy another sewing book, why now, and how was I planning to actually use it? I did have a plan for it–right?

It’s way too easy to acquire sewing stuff, with the best of intentions, and then not to use it to its full potential. And that bothers me.

The Sewing Bible: Curtains--not to be confused with Katrin Cargill's Curtain Bible, of course!

The Sewing Bible: Curtains–not to be confused with Katrin Cargill’s Curtain Bible, of course!

I threw together a table in OneNote and started making columns to collect facts.

  • Date: Aug. 21
  • Type: Book
  • Description: The Sewing Bible: Curtains
  • Price: $4.29; originally $24.99
  • Where purchased: Half Price Booksimg_0936-460x288

Then I created a couple of columns to collect explanations.

  • Reason/What problems this solves: Looks like good instructions and designs for curtains and draperies, different from what I already have.
  • Why now? Kitchen curtain and dining room drapery projects by mid-Oct. before our next houseguest arrives.img_0935-460x361

Then I pushed myself to move to the planning stage:

  • Plans to use it: Read about sheers, tab-top curtains, design, construction.
  • Projects scheduled: Visit Fabric Farms 8/29. See list [of supplies to look for] in Outlook.
  • Projects completed: Aim for mid-Oct.img_0936-2-460x439

That was my first entry.  I was being ambitious: the heat of August persuaded me that October was a long ways off. Nevertheless, asking myself what problems this purchase was meant to solve, and why I was buying now made me think longer, more creatively, and more concretely.

My next sewing-related purchase turned out to be the very next day:

  • Date: Aug. 22
  • Type: Class
  • Description: “Fast-Track Fitting with Joi Mahon” plus Vogue fitting pattern for the class
  • Price: $21.14 (incl. shipping the pattern), usually $44.99
  • Where purchased: Craftsy

And my explanations:

  • Reason/What problems this solves: Different approach from Kenneth King’s in “Smart Fitting” DVDs, and complementary. I don’t want to wait to get help from my old sewing teachers. Also, I can ask Joi questions online as part of the class, and I can’t ask Kenneth.
  • Why now? Sale was one day only. This was on my wish list. I’ve read her fitting book, very impressed with her clear, organized explanations. Returning to sewing in earnest after blog sabbatical; want to crank out garments I love. Fitting is my biggest Achilles’ heel.

Fitting and pattern alteration have always seemed beyond my abilities. Could this Craftsy class change my attitude?

On to the ambitious planning:

  • Plans to use it: Aggressively use to fit my patterns, then try fitting a blouse for Cynthia.
  • Projects scheduled: E-mail Cynthia to set date to measure me per Joi’s class. Possible blog series. 1959 Vogue belted jacket pattern: read instructions Aug. 23.
  • Projects completed: [left blank]

Even though my simple little acquisitions record was barely 24 hours old, it had already begun to work some magic. I wasn’t just recording a past expenditure. I was thinking more systematically and strategically before my purchase.

That’s especially important for me when I buy Craftsy classes. They don’t occupy physical space, and it’s easy for me to forget that they’re resources like my books and tools–and maybe better, because Craftsy instructors respond to students’ questions.

In the last month I’ve made six entries in my acquisitions record: for a book, two online classes, a fabric remnant, and two patterns.  I have found that’s it’s been fun to track what things are coming into this sewing room and what potential they offer:

  • methods I can understand for fitting patterns better even before I sew the muslin
  • methods for altering ready-to-wear to perfect the fit
  • curtains to grace our new kitchen and dining room
  • flannel pajamas with flair
  • a steady supply of custom-fit aprons

    Got the cotton duck, got the apron pattern--now on to getting those aprons sewn for our new kitchen.

    Got the cotton duck, got the apron pattern–now on to getting those aprons sewn for our new kitchen.

That tantalizing potential is there, for sure.  And, I know, it certainly is easy to get over-ambitious creating projects and deadlines without the necessary follow-through: call me Exhibit A.

But I think this simple form is going to help move me in the right direction to get things sewn.  It’s a good starting point.

And when I get a better idea–I’ll just create another form.

Setting Up My New Sewing Room

Readers,

My sewing room, occupying the largest bedroom in Jack’s and my new home in Columbus, Ohio, is about 90 percent set up now.  It was fairly easy to plan the layout, and fun, as well.

With my mannequin, Ginger, in our new home.

With my mannequin, Ginger, in our new home.

From my little desk I merely have to turn around to bask in the morning light streaming in from two directions. This morning I’m enjoying a clear blue sky and the last bright leaves of fall.

From my second-floor perch I have been enjoying a spectacular fall in our neighborhood.

From my second-floor perch I have been enjoying a spectacular fall in our neighborhood.

Then, without leaving my chair, I can roll a short distance to my sewing library and survey titles without bending or squinting.

To retrieve a book or magazine I can just roll to my right.

To retrieve a book or magazine I can just roll to my right.

Pulling my pattern catalog from the shelf, I can swivel half a turn to a work table to page through it.

From pattern illustration...

From pattern illustration…

If I think, “Hmm–what fabrics would look great with that pattern?” in no more than an instant I’m unfurling yardage and scattering buttons over it.

...to fabric and buttons pulled from the shelves in the blink of an eye.

…to fabric and buttons pulled from the shelves in the blink of an eye.

From my other chair I can stitch and then swivel to the ironing board to press open a seam–or stand and use my new steamer.

I can lower the ironing board to press while sitting. More often, I press standing.

I can lower the ironing board to press while sitting. More often, I press standing.

As you can tell, I’m thoroughly enjoying the new headquarters of Getting Things Sewn. I am really glad we made a sizeable sewing space a high priority in our house hunt.

However, it took imagination, a leap of faith, and lots of work to transform this into a room I love being in.

Like the rest of the house, my future sewing room was dingy, drab, and smelled like an ashtray.

Like the rest of the house, my future sewing room was dingy, drab, and smelled like an ashtray.

At first, the entire house smelled like a giant ashtray. Everything was in desperate need of freshening up.

The imitation wood-grain Contact paper dated from the 1960s or '70s, probably. Out!

The imitation wood-grain Contact paper in the closet dated from the 1960s or ’70s, probably. Out!

Much of the oak flooring was covered with decades-old carpet underlaid with disintegrating padding.

Pulling up carpet released fibers into the air.

Pulling up carpet released fibers into the air.

Rolling up the last of the carpet, which was at least 30 years old, I think.

Rolling up the last of the carpet, which was at least 30 years old, I think.

Goodbye carpet, and good riddance!

Goodbye carpet, and good riddance!

Removing the crumbling padding revealed oak flooring in decent shape.

Removing the crumbling padding revealed oak flooring in decent shape.

The windows were covered with cheap, unattractive blinds and valances. All the walls were dingy.

These valances and blinds must go!

These valances and blinds must go!

A month and a half before the moving van came, Cynthia (my sister, photographer and now neighbor) and I pulled out the ratty old carpet and padding and pried out hundreds of carpet staples . Jack flew down from Minnesota for a long weekend to paint the whole upstairs, plus the living room, with a potent primer called Kilz.

In one long weekend Jack primed the whole upstairs plus living room. Then he flew back to Minnesota to finish teaching and sell our house.

In one long weekend Jack primed the whole upstairs plus living room. Then he flew back to Minnesota to finish teaching and sell our house.

We had the floors refinished, and they turned out gorgeous!

We had the floors professionally refinished.

We had the floors professionally refinished.

The final coat: wet...

The final coat: wet…

...and then dry and lustrous. The room was beginning to be beautiful.

…and then dry and lustrous. The room was beginning to be beautiful.

July 10, Jack and the moving van both arrived from Minneapolis. Reunited at last!

July 10: the moving van arrived.

July 10: the moving van arrived.

And then we opened lots and lots of boxes.

All our possessions arrived safe and sound, including my fabrics, which had been in the garage for 3 months.

All our possessions arrived safe and sound, including my fabrics, which had been in the garage for 3 months.

Messy!

Messy!

And before we got settled in, we had the exterior walls insulated to save on energy costs in the years to come. There was never going to be a better time to have this done, but waiting for the insulation guys to finish the job required a boatload of patience.

Holes were cut into the exterior walls and insulation blown in.

Holes were cut into the exterior walls and insulation blown in. Then the holes were filled.

All the filled holes had to be sanded and primed. Lots of fun!

All the filled holes had to be sanded and primed. Lots of fun!

As soon as the insulation job was done, Jack set immediately to work painting the sewing room so I could execute my grand plan. It was a fun puzzle to solve. I had learned so much from planning the basement sewing domain in our previous home in Minneapolis, creating a zone for each activity.

Before: an unsightly closet.

Before: an unsightly closet.

After: neat and clean!

After: neat and clean!

The room measurements were 17 feet by 13 feet. I measured my bookcases, metal shelving units, work tables, desk and printer stand, rolling chairs, the ironing board, steamer, and even the base of my mannequin, Ginger–anything that would take up space. On a large sheet of graph paper from Cynthia I laid out the locations of doors, electrical outlets, and windows.

The floor plan.

The floor plan.

From a colorful old file folder I cut out scale representations of all these sewing furnishings and started moving them around my graphed-out room. It was immensely satisfying to do this.

I imagined how much more I would enjoy my sewing room if only I positioned my fabrics to be easily seen from the hallway.  So that decided where I would put my metal shelving units for storing fabrics and buttons.

We set up the metal shelves where we could enjoy seeing the fabrics whenever passing through the hallway.

We set up the metal shelves where we could enjoy seeing the fabrics whenever passing through the hallway. The rest of the arrangement fell into place.

I cut heavy adhesive felt to size to protect our new floors from being damaged by the metal shelves.

I cut heavy adhesive felt to size to protect our new floors from being damaged by the metal shelves.

Then I assigned the rest of the zones I needed: places for writing and planning; consulting my sewing library; cutting and stitching, pressing and steaming; photographing garments on the mannequin, and closet storage.

Writing, planning, and sewing reference along this wall.

Writing, planning, and sewing reference along this wall.

When I first saw how close together my work tables, shelves, chairs and pressing equipment were on my graph, my heart sank. I thought I wouldn’t have enough room to do my work. Then I realized that 90 percent of the time I’d be in here by myself and wouldn’t need much clearance. Plus, I could find this smaller space to be  more efficient than my other, larger space.

In my previous sewing space my most frequently used tools were hung on pegboard or stored in a wide, shallow box on a work table. They were easy to see but often just out of reach, on the other side of a table. Over the years the minutes I spent walking around a table to reach for a hemming gauge or pair of shears resulted not only in lost hours but lost concentration.

I repurposed Elfa file carts to hold frequently used sewing tools, my patterns, and pressing equipment. They fit right under the work tables.

I repurposed Elfa file carts to hold frequently used sewing tools, my patterns, and pressing equipment. They fit right under the work tables.

In a moment of inspiration I saw using our Elfa file carts more profitably to store my sewing tools than our papers. I have filled one with pressing tools and the other with sewing gadgets and my patterns. The carts roll to wherever I need them and stow handily under the work tables.

The Ikea file cart has three drawers, space for hanging files, and enough surface to open a book. It’s awaiting its work assignment.

Someday I'll go through the clippings in that box and organize them in this Ikea file cart.

Someday I’ll go through the clippings in that box and organize them in this Ikea file cart.

My baker’s cart, which holds unfinished projects (and anything else, these days), fits perfectly in the closet. That was lucky. I also use the closet for interfacings, wearable-test fabrics, muslins, threads, notions, rolls of paper, and the serger.

The rolling baker's rack, which holds unfinished projects, fits perfectly into the closet.

The rolling baker’s rack, which holds unfinished projects, fits perfectly into the closet.

The baker's rack rolls out for easy access.

The baker’s rack rolls out for easy access.

The closet stores muslins, sewing project problems, interfacings, fabrics for wearable tests...

The closet stores muslins, sewing project problems, interfacings, fabrics for wearable tests…

...notions, rolls of paper, the tripod, the sewing machine cover, a couple of pillows to recover, and the serger.

…notions, rolls of paper, the tripod, the sewing machine cover, a couple of pillows to recover, and the serger.

What’s left to do?

  • Improving the lighting. I’m making do with a couple of clip-on utility lamps and a five-headed goose-neck floor lamp from Home Depot until I make a plan.
  • Decorating! This room is functional, but it needs personality! Fashion clippings! Swatches! I used a neutral paint color for photography, but I want color, pattern, texture on my bulletin boards.
  • After a seven month hiatus, SEWING!

    The stage is set.

    The stage is set.

Editing My Pattern Stash: How It Turned Out

Readers,

Some of the patterns from the 3-star pile.

Some of the patterns from the 3-star pile.

If you’re short on time (I know I am), I’ll get right to the point: editing my pattern stash turned out surprisingly well.

Move 'em on out: difficult side closure, too boxy, I'd never wear it. Brings the eye down, I have better choices, rounded shoulders, boxy and brings the eye down.

Move ’em on out: difficult side closure, too boxy, I’d never wear it. Too much ease, I have better choices, rounded shoulders, boxy and brings the eye down.

As with editing my fabric and button stashes last year, editing my patterns was informative, fun, and productive. Even painless. What more could I ask?

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

The trick in editing my stashes, I’ve found, is designing a process that’s intuitive and easy (are those the same thing?) and that helps me do something better than  before.

Great uses for my vintage buttons, but I would probably not wear either.

Great uses for my vintage buttons, but I would probably not wear either.

The process has to be intuitive, so I understand it; easy, so I actually do it; and helps me accomplish something that matters, so that it’s worth the trouble–worth the trouble of executing the process, but also designing it, which has been the real bugbear.

Bolero overload. Sweetheart necklines: no!

Bolero overload. Sweetheart necklines: no!

But on to the results.

Using the rating system I devised, I assigned one to five stars to each of 200 patterns.

Sloping shoulders, no waist definition.

Sloping shoulders, no waist definition.

Basically,

  • 5 stars: I’ve made these and they were successful. Keep.

    Duplicate, better choices, not my style.

    Duplicate, better choices, not my style.

  • 4 stars: I haven’t made these, but they’re flattering and I love them. I can definitely imagine making them. They would work in my wardrobe. Keep.

    I have better choices, looks like a home ec project, ditto

    I have better choices, looks like a home ec project, ditto

  • 3 stars: I haven’t made these. I’m ambivalent about something here: some features are flattering and some aren’t; the style might work or it might not. These would probably never be tops on the sewing to-do list.  Are these worth keeping? Look at these again and decide.

    Elegant, but lots of other patterns are better wardrobe matches.

    Elegant, but lots of other patterns are better wardrobe matches.

  • 2 stars: I haven’t made these. Something is a dealbreaker: the style no longer suits me, or I now know that’s not a flattering silhouette, or this duplicates other patterns. Out they go.

    Sloping shoulders, dropped shoulders, bolero overload

    Sloping shoulders, dropped shoulders, bolero overload

  • 1 star: I have made these. Face it: they’re duds. Maybe they’re fixable, but I will never make it top priority to fix them. I’d rather choose a different pattern. Bye-bye.

    I wouldn't wear it much, zipper closure, not sure I'd wear it.

    I wouldn’t wear it much, zipper closure, not sure I’d wear it.

The 3-star pile was the most interesting and instructive. Seeing all the 3-starred ones together, I could see similarities in design features that just didn’t work for a triangle figure like mine:

  • Insufficient shoulder definition: dropped shoulders, kimono sleeves, raglan sleeves
  • Little or no waist definition
  • Features that drew the eye down or just didn’t draw the eye up
  • Too much design ease

    Scoop neckline--no; I'd never get around to sewing this; boxy

    Scoop neckline–no; I’d never get around to sewing this; boxy

I saw styles I wouldn’t wear now; I wasn’t that person anymore, if ever I had been.

Sloping shoulders; wrapround dress insecurity; what--MORE boleros?

Sloping shoulders; wrapround dress insecurity; what–MORE boleros?

Some patterns looked costumey to me now.

I have another shawl collar dress that's better; wouldn't wear it; boxy, sloping shoulders and boxy; sloping shoulders

I have another shawl collar dress that’s better; wouldn’t wear it; boxy, sloping shoulders and boxy; sloping shoulders

Whenever I found myself saying “There are better choices,” I paid attention.

Given how many 4-star patterns I have sitting on the bench begging to be put into the game, when would I ever sew the 3-stars? Like that famous New Yorker cartoon, how about never?

After the edit I arranged my pattern catalogue differently. That was not part of the original plan.

After the edit I arranged my pattern catalogue differently. That was not part of the original plan.

Because I understood why I was keeping what I was keeping and weeding what I was weeding, I had no second thoughts and no regrets.

I hadn’t set out to weed out a certain number. It came to about 60, or about 30 percent, just using this star rating process.

When I looked at the keepers, their winning qualities stood out all the more for not being lumped together with the ones that were only pretty good. For me, that’s the ultimate value of an edit: to clarify what interests and inspires me the most, and identify the resources–the fabrics, buttons, and patterns–that are the best matches.

Arranged by garment category now, not by year, the way I arrange my wardrobe.

Arranged by garment category now, not by year, the way I arrange my wardrobe.

There was another unexpected result from this edit: I changed how I arrange my pattern catalogue.

Years ago, to sidestep the problem of choosing one category for a multi-garment pattern, I arranged patterns by year.  But I realized recently that arranging my patterns by year emphasizes the historical period of the garments, which doesn’t help me plan a wardrobe.

Sometimes I attach swatches to the page.

Sometimes I attach swatches to the page.

When I want a coat, I should be flipping to the coat section of my catalogue and examining all my coat choices regardless of the era.

In a couple of instances, it turned out, did I want to put a pattern into a couple of garment categories: both “Jackets” and “Tops,” for example.  In those cases I can just make an duplicate page.

Tracing the outlines of the garment helps me see it better.

Tracing the outlines of the garment helps me see it better.

What I had feared–that my catalogue would be the size of an unabridged Webster’s dictionary–has not materialized.

Abridged, then?

Perhaps.

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

Editing My Pattern Stash

Readers,

I think I’ve come up with a pretty good way to edit my pattern stash.

Is this too many coat patterns?

Is this too many coat patterns?

Although I’m writing this on the road from Ohio, where Jack’s and my househunting adventure is taking exciting new turns, my mind has not strayed far from life’s really important questions:

  • Do I have too many patterns?
  • What’s the right number, anyway?
  • Will I ever know how (or care) to make my own t-shirts?

    This belted topper pattern from 1950 is a keeper.

    This belted topper pattern from 1950 is a keeper. 5 stars.

I know these questions have been plaguing you, too, readers. That’s why I have been spending all my waking hours this week–the ones not on the phone with our real estate agent–pondering a process for evaluating pattern stashes.

What I made from the topper pattern exceeded my expectations. I love when that happens.

What I made from the topper pattern exceeded my expectations. I love when that happens.

I’ll spare you the details of those first 30 hours of pondering and first two drafts of this post, and cut to the chase: I now have a working model for sorting patterns.

Another great in my pattern pantheon.

Another great in my pattern pantheon. 5 stars.

When I get back to the sewing domain in Minneapolis in a few days, this is what I’ll do:

1. Bring together all my patterns. I have about 200.

One of my favorite sewing projects ever.

One of my favorite sewing projects ever.

2. Sort them into categories such as:

  • Coats
  • Jackets and suits
  • Blouses, shirts, tops
  • Vests
  • Skirts
  • Pants
  • Accessories
  • At-home wear (robes, pajamas, exercise clothes, aprons)
  • Menswear
  • Home decor

    From 1936, another favorite pattern.

    From 1936, another favorite pattern. 5 stars.

Patterns will be judged and compared within their category.

3. Make space for five piles.

4. Patterns will be rated from one to five stars.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

5. Each star rating has objective and subjective statements related to it.  Assign each pattern to the pile with the statements that make the best match:

5 stars

  • I have made this.
  • I love it.
  • I would make it again.
  • Even if I don’t make it again, it’s worth keeping this pattern.
  • This flatters my figure type.
  • This works well with my other wardrobe items.
  • If this is a new direction for my wardrobe, it’s worth building outfits around this.
  • This works well with the life I’m living or am looking ahead to living.

    I can see this in my mind's eye with fabric and buttons from my stashes. 4 stars.

    I can see this in my mind’s eye with fabric and buttons from my stashes. 4 stars.

4 stars

  • I have not made this.
  • This flatters my figure type. (For me, a triangle figure type, that would include emphasizing the upper body with a defined waist and shoulders.)
  • I love this pattern.
  • This would work well with my other wardrobe items.
  • I can vividly imagine fabrics or buttons I’d use. (Even better: I have the fabrics and buttons.)
  • I can vividly imagine where or when I’d wear this.
  • I can vividly imagine what I would wear with this.
  • I can imagine loving wearing this.
  • If I had to learn new skills or get help to make this, I would.

    Some of my vintage buttons are waiting for their star turn on this coat. 4 stars.

    Some of my vintage buttons are waiting for their star turn on this coat. 4 stars.

3 stars

  • I have not made this.
  • I like this pattern, but I can’t say I love it.
  • This has elements that flatter my figure type.
  • This also has elements that do nothing to flatter my figure type–they’re either neutral or detract.
  • Something appeals to me about the style.
  • I might be able to make this work.
  • I have never vividly imagined the fabrics or buttons I’d use.
  • I have never vividly imagined where or when I’d wear this.
  • I have never vividly imagined what I would wear with this.
  • If I had to make multiple muslins or learn new skills to make this, I would choose a different pattern.
  • If I were in the mood to experiment, or had the right help, and the time, I would make this.

    From 1947. I like this.  Would it be too boxy on me? Shall I try it? 3 stars.

    From 1947. I like this. Would it be too boxy on me? Shall I try it? 3 stars.

Two stars

  • I have not made this.
  • Even if this is right for my figure type, it’s not to my taste anymore.
  • This doesn’t match my life now or how I expect to live in the future.
  • I am not willing to experiment with this pattern. I would choose a different pattern instead.
  • I like it well enough, but have never vividly imagined anything about it, I realize.
  • This is a perfectly good pattern, but it duplicates others I have.
  • If I let this go, I wouldn’t really miss it.

    I bought this for the lapels, but I'd have to take so much design ease out, I might as well choose another pattern. 2 stars.

    I bought this for the lapels, but I’d have to take so much design ease out, I might as well choose another pattern. 2 stars.

One star

  • I have made this.
  • This is a dud. It doesn’t work for me in fit or style.
  • If I made it in a different fabric or color it would still be a dud.
  • It is not worth it to me to fix the problems with this pattern. I’d rather choose a different pattern.

    On the 5 foot 10 inch tall model, this anorak looked great.

    On the 5 foot 10 inch tall model, this anorak looked great.

The 5-star patterns are keepers.

The 2- and 1-star patterns can be let go.

On me, not so much. 1 star.

On me, not so much. 1 star.

Then I’ll look at the 3-star and 4-star piles again. What can I learn from those piles? What makes one pattern a winner in my mind and another an also-ran? How much am I swayed by the front-of-the-envelope illustration? Is the technical drawing on the back just as appealing, more appealing, or less? In my experience, some patterns have fallen short of the promise on the front of the envelope–but others have exceeded it.

I had such high hopes for this 1934 pattern.

I had such high hopes for this 1934 pattern.

I may notice more patterns that are similar enough to consider duplicates, and choose to edit a few more out.

I won’t limit the number of patterns I can own in each category. However, I do have limits of time, money, and attention. I’m likely to accomplish more by perfecting a smaller number of patterns that I love, especially ones that adapt more easily to different seasons or occasions.

Do you think cutting about 8 inches off the length changed the proportions?  Am I willing to try making this pattern a great one for me? 2 stars, or 3?

Do you think cutting about 8 inches off the length changed the proportions? Am I willing to try making this pattern a great one for me? 2 stars, or 3?

As I work through this process, I may notice different questions and statements occurring to me, as in the menswear, accessory and home decor categories. “Make, or buy?” for instance. How willing am I to perfect a hat pattern? In the past, not very.

In the future? Put that question in the 3-star pile. I’ll deal with it later.

Interesting belt choices, pockets, and the chance to use beautiful buttons put this pattern into the 4-star pile.

Interesting belt choices, pockets, and the chance to use beautiful buttons put this pattern into the 4-star pile.