For the last month or so I have been opening my closet door to behold not only my spring-summer clothes and accessories but–my spring-summer fabrics!
My very small warm-weather wardrobe is interspersed with yardage.
Earlier this year I’d subjected my whole wardrobe to a new level of scrutiny, weeding out about a third of it. The remainder I divided into what I labeled Placeholders and Keepers.
The Keeper section was pretty sparse. While inspired to see only things I liked as starting points for new outfits, I was also a little unsettled to see so much open space. I was also curiously lacking in direction or focus for my sewing projects.
One day it just occurred to me to try interfiling my spring-summer cottons and linens by color with my clothes and scarves. Within minutes my yardage was hanging cheek by jowl with tops, scarves, jackets, and skirts. And a funny thing happened: I instantly began seeing affinities between fabrics and wardrobe items that had escaped me before.
I also was more easily seeing interesting groupings of several fabrics and wardrobe items. This was heartening. My editing process had pruned out the sartorial deadwood, but new growth had not begun. Now I was beginning to see genuine possibilities.
I also saw which fabrics and wardrobe items were outliers. Did they just not belong, or were they the start of a new way forward?
In the following weeks I have greeted my new closet denizens as not only potential but likely dresses, tops, skirts, pants, and jackets. Sometimes I shuffle a fabric from one color section to another to discover yet another form of compatibility–in value, or texture, or pattern–that is pleasing.
Something I’ve found particularly valuable is seeing a fabric’s affinity consistently over time, and not just with one other wardrobe item. Judging a fabric only in the context of other fabrics in my stash is kind of silly, anyway. I need to see how well it will play with others as a wardrobe item among other wardrobe items: hats, bags, shoes, jewelry, and clothes–the whole nine yards.
It’s been at least a month now since my spring-summer fabrics took up residence in my closet, and I’m in no hurry to return them to their shelves. They have such a friendly, encouraging vibe I’m beginning to see the sense in Marie Kondo’s animistic tendencies. Mind you, I’m not holding long conversations with my cottons or cross-dye linens–yet–but I don’t think a whispered “Thank you” would be out of line.
Two scarves hang next to a blouse I made last summer.
The Kondo effect has reached me even though I haven’t watched any of the Netflix shows yet: I recently examined everything in my wardrobe.
I pulled coats, hats, and gloves from the coat closet; raided the laundry basket and to-be-ironed pile; unearthed shoes waiting to be polished since last summer; retrieved skirts from a pile of mending; and emptied my dresser drawers and closet. Nothing escaped my scrutiny, not even the eyeglasses perched on my nose.
Everything got categorized as a Keeper, a Placeholder, or a Discard.
Keepers I broadly defined as aesthetically and functionally the best stuff I own, what I would like to incorporate into new outfits and plan into wardrobe capsules.
Placeholders had fatal flaws in fit, color, style, or function but would stick around till I bought or sewed replacements, at which time they would be demoted to Discards.
Discards: I don’t really have to define them, do I?
Well, the interesting thing I realized last week is that there are four types of discards. I know this because–and this will show you what an organizing nerd I am–I created a table analyzing all 67 of the items I was discarding and noticed behavioral patterns and situations unique to each type.
Then I wondered how I would explain my discovery to you, Readers, and came up with this:
For extra credit (awarded by me to myself) I came up with a facial expression representing the emotion of each category.
We’ll start with Liked and used. Items of this type were enjoyed and worn till they were worn out or no longer needed. They were part of an active wardrobe and ordinary turnover.
Next, Liked but didn’t use. Items of this type were wardrobe orphans. I hoped and believed that someday–soon!–I would be wearing these things I liked. And yet, there was something lacking: the right occasions for wearing them, or accessories, or most likely, knowledge. I often didn’t know whether the color or the lines really were flattering on me, or lacked the technical knowledge to sew coordinates for the pulled-together look the item deserved.
Next, Didn’t like but used. Items of this type I would describe to myself with a sigh or a frown, “It was the best I could do.” Pants that fit relatively well but had a lower than ideal rise, warm sweaters that were scratchy, a purse with lots of compartments great for travel but not stylish were all adequate without being satisfying. You can’t have everything, right?
Last, Didn’t like and didn’t use. Items with this designation may have been clothes I wore in my job that I haven’t touched since retirement, gifts not to my taste, or souvenirs I liked until I brought them home and realized I’d have to change my personality or lifestyle to wear them. There was a mismatch, but as long as I hadn’t clarified what a really good match was, in fit, color, or style, I wasn’t highly motivated to edit out these pieces.
Readers, I am so glad I took an extra step to see beyond the general category of discards to classify them by type. I noticed how I had tolerated mediocrities, defaulted to outdated styles because I didn’t take the time to come up with better ideas, and perpetuated bad habits that would carry my petty dissatisfactions into my future if I didn’t clean up my act.
But I also saw where I had enjoyed a garment or accessory and discarded it only when it had reached the end of its lifespan.
This is the model to follow for my future wardrobe: buy or make, wear and use with satisfaction till worn out. Repeat.
On the bulletin board just above my computer is tacked my favorite cartoon, by Charles Saxon of The New Yorker. It’s what I see every time I look up from my keyboard, and I’ve never grown tired of it.
I always imagine that it’s a Friday evening, and the husband has returned on the commuter train from his job in Manhattan in banking or investing to his home in a Connecticut suburb.
He’s shed his tie and shoes and sunk his head into a pillow on the genteel but not comfortable-looking settee, stretching out for a restorative nap before dinner. The downturned mouth suggests he’s still ruminating about work and that his weekend has not quite begun.
And then his wife descends the staircase clutching a clipboard and says, tentatively but hopefully, “If it’s all right with you, I thought we’d do some long-range planning tonight.”
Don’t ask why I think this cartoon is so hilarious, but it may be because it hits so close to home. I am that wife with the clipboard and the torrent of bright ideas.
Until recently, that is. Lately I’ve been feeling more like the husband on the couch: brooding and in a state of torpor.
If I learned anything from participating in the Ready-to-Wear Fast last year, it was that simply refraining from buying clothes does not instantly supply inspiration for designing a new wardrobe.
I may have learned better than ever what I dislike in what I presently own–and that was actually very useful–but I was not automatically transported to some new level of understanding of what I like and what looks wonderful on me. No, I still need to do my homework.
This homework has been complicated by the fact that my coloring seems to be changing, so I’m not sure what does look good on me. Some days it seems like the gray in my hair is quickly multiplying, yet other days I think I still am overall a dark brunette. I’m noticing that different colors near my face can make a huge difference in whether the gray or the dark brown is more noticeable.
I’ve also wondered whether my complexion is cooling. I think some years ago I was decidedly warm, but now it seems I am just on the warm side of the fence, which is affecting which colors complement me and which upstage me. It looks like I’ll be saying goodbye to some favorite colors that are too strong for me now, and that’s a little disorienting. I haven’t yet made the acquaintance of colors that will be new favorites.
In this period of adjusting and reframing I’ve been reviewing the materials of Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program and reading vast amounts of the free content on her impressive blog, Inside Out Style, which has been great. I needed the refresh. Imogen bases her wardrobe-building strategy on a combination of objective elements, like your coloring, level of contrast, and figure type, with subjective elements: your fashion personality and “style recipe.” Some days I make more headway on factual research. Other days I have a new insight into my style recipe, a concept that’s earning a new level of interest and respect from me.
Another way I’ve recently tackled the indecision doldrums was by attending a free, two-part talk at my local library given by the first certified KonMari consultant in Ohio, Michell Domke, about putting the principles of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up into practice.
Only minutes into the presentation Michell was having us close our eyes and visualize our ideal lifestyles as expressed in our homes. I’m sure the vision was different for every single person in the room but equally powerful. Michell told us that one of her clients had struggled for two years to apply the KonMari organizing methods without imagining the ideal lifestyle she wanted to aim for, and guess what? She got stuck. She made no progress.
So, back to the cartoon that sits above my computer. Now I think I’m a little bit of each of the people in the drawing.
Part of me is nodding off on that couch with a furrowed brow mulling over one problem or another.
But part of me remains that lady with the clipboard, hesitantly yet insistently inviting me to do some long-range planning.
For the best vision it helps to have an up-to-date prescription.
Do you subscribe to swatching services from fabric vendors?
If you do, do you buy much fabric or use the matching service for coordinating thread, linings, interfacings or buttons? Do you spend enough to qualify for discounts on future purchases or earn a free extension of your subscription?
Do you find that the services seem to know your coloring, tastes, and lifestyle, simplify your shopping, and help you move straight to sewing items for the coming season’s wardrobe?
And then do you follow through and sew those clothes?
I’ve been thinking lately about swatching services, because I subscribe to two: Sawyer Brook’s Distinctive Touch and Vogue Fabrics by Mail. My six-month Distinctive Touch subscription just ended, as a friendly notice recently reminded me:
Distinctive Touch’s more or less monthly envelopes of 20 swatches have been a bright spot among the bills and flyers in our postal haul.
Sawyer Brook’s Fall III 2018 swatch collection
Likewise, Vogue Fabrics by Mail’s appearance in our mailbox six times a year is cause for a little celebration. Each mailing brings about 50 swatches to be pasted, taped, or stapled into a catalogue designed around a theme. Vogue’s fall swatch collection theme was pirates–female pirates, to be precise.
(Don’t ask me to explain what pirates have to do with bottom-weight stretch wovens; I really don’t know.)
Swatches automatically prompt thoughts of possibility, and now I’m thinking that has been their greatest virtue for me.
Being in a city–no, an entire state!–without a comprehensive fashion-fabric store is far from ideal, especially after I was spoiled for choice for 25 years at the fabulous Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, Minnesota. Now that going to a fabric store is a rare treat I find it’s easier to succumb to the enticements of swatching services.
Only some of the many swatches from Vogue Fabrics by Mail Fall catalogue.
But the fact of the matter is, in the 4 1/2 years I’ve been living in this fabric desert I haven’t bought anything from a swatching service. Possibilities are fine, daydreams are fine, but nothing has fired my imagination to the point where I actually placed an order.
So I started thinking more about swatching.
How did various little bits of fabric arrive in my sewing room, anyway?
And how many of those samples led to a purchase and eventually to realizing an idea? This was very interesting to think about.
I reacquainted myself with the contents of my two boxes of swatches. And I came up with a fresh perspective on swatching.
I’m not going to renew my subscriptions to these swatching services, and now I know why. When I think of all the factors that have to combine to make a fabric right for me, it’s increasingly unlikely that a preselected assortment will yield many winners.
Vogue Fabrics presents collections of fabrics coordinated by color and pattern six times a year.
Every fabric has a multitude of characteristics:
color brightness or mutedness
weave or knit
The main characteristic that knocks so many fabrics out of the running for me is color. Warm colors look better on me, eliminating almost all the cool colors right from the get-go. Black looks harsh on me now, so fabrics with more than a little black in them are out.
The next big eliminator is probably contrast. If the contrast is much more or less than my contrast, it’s not a good match.
Next is probably pattern, which includes the elements of color, shape, and scale. Most patterns fall by the wayside because one of these factors is not a good fit.
And so on: I admire a fabric for its color–but wish it were a different weight. I like the texture–but wish it didn’t have scratchy wool fibers in it.
Once in a while a fabric does tick all the boxes but I don’t love it enough to commit to learning to work with it, or I don’t have coordinates for it.
Till now I hadn’t realized how out of sorts this winnowing process leaves me. I feel like a finicky cat turning up my nose at every tempting morsel. I’m dissatisfied with the swatches, but equally dissatisfied with myself for being dissatisfied!
With this scenario repeating itself month after month, you’d think I’d finally get the message:
If I want fabrics that suit me, the starting point can’t be an average of thousands of customers and what the fabric vendors think they can sell in enough quantities to make their service profitable. The starting point has to be me.
And so I’m better off inventing my own swatch service for my one and only customer: myself.
I could track this customer’s preferences for colors and patterns; fibers and textures; and what fabrics, buttons, and patterns she wants to combine for which seasons and occasions. I would alert her to fabrics only when I found any that met all of her specifications.
I’d watch for interesting fabrics that might fall outside her present requirements but pull her forward–maybe even toward dusting off her serger and learning to use it!
On behalf of my only customer I wouldn’t hesitate to pay what most online vendors charge for individual swatching.
And on my travels I’d browse fabric stores, finger the yardage, and swatch for my customer in person.
Prepackaged swatch catalogues, it turns out, just don’t work for this persnickety customer of mine. So I will let her subscriptions lapse and reallocate the money for online individual swatch requests.
But if ever a fashion fabric store opens again in central Ohio, guess who will be vying to be first in the door.
On New Year’s Day 2018 I wrote about the wonderful calendar my sister Cynthia, a professional photographer, had created for our sister Donna. It was filled with gorgeous pictures of glass, jewelry, and beautifully designed everyday objects Donna stocks in her Etsy store, Timmees. When I saw that calendar I immediately wanted a calendar of my own for 2019.
And I got it!
Here it is:
January: Some of my vintage buttons, set off by colorful Fiestaware plates, spelling out the initials of Getting Things Sewn.
February: From a post from 2013, featuring a handcrafted scarf that looked wonderful in the store but not so great on me. I never got the hang of wearing it.
March: Some of my vintage buttons, many of which I bought at vintage fashion fairs or the Portobello Road market in London.
April: Fun with thought balloons: “Paula with her thinking cap on…’I wonder what I’ll do today…Maybe I’ll go through my stash…or maybe I’ll finish that jacket I’ve been putting off…!”
May: Vintage buttons and my favorite freebies–paint store samples.
June: Two jackets I sewed from McCall 4065: the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket” from 1941. I used this same pattern to teach myself Kenneth King’s tailoring techniques in a big project in 2015.
November: Posing in my sewing room with my mannequin, Ginger, who is wearing the jacket you see on my homepage.
And December: I’m wearing the wearable test of a swing coat pattern from, I think, 1950. Either I was waiting for Cynthia to finish testing her lighting setup or she had given me a prompt and I was wondering what to do. Professional models, your jobs are safe!
This calendar was a wonderful gift and a great compliment to me that took a lot of time and thought to produce. Cynthia dipped into her photo archive but also set up new shots. I got to see not only my work in print but also Cynthia’s work. That made this calendar even more special.
The 2019 Getting Things Sewn calendar has reminded where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.
Those two jackets, sewn about fifteen years ago, represent a watershed moment in my tailoring skills–but 27″ is much too long for my 5″ 1″ height. Sadly, these jackets are wardrobe orphans.
That swing coat is too full and long for me and the patch pockets are too big and placed too low. A couple of years after that photo was taken, I brought the coat to a patternmaking teacher who took the excess fullness out of the pattern while retaining the swingy feel, scaled to my proportions. The revised pattern awaits testing.
My striped linen blouse is nicely sewn, but now I see how cool and light colors should not be the basis for my wardrobe. Warm, deep colors are better on me.
As I look ahead to a 2020 calendar I’m thinking about what would be very satisfying to see represented. Beautiful outfits? Rooms graced by home dec sewing successes? An improved sewing room with a project in progress? All sound good.
A calendar can be a good way to reflect on past accomplishments and also provide inspiration for the coming year.