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.
There is something Jack and I say to each other at dinnertime some nights, when we’ve cooked something that’s filled the kitchen with a delicious smell most of the afternoon, like a potato, leek and cabbage soup that feels perfect for a snowy January evening.
As we ladle soup into our bowls with rising anticipation of a satisfying meal, one of us may say,
“This will never make it onto the magazine cover.”
Which means, This may smell good, taste good, and nourish both body and soul, but it’s lacking in the looks department, so many people will pass this up. The joke is on them. Look at what they’re missing out on!
I thought of this little scenario as I contemplated this past year of getting things sewn: 2018 will never make it onto the magazine cover.
Because it was a very potato-soup kind of year:
But nourishing? Yes.
For me, 2018 was hardly a stellar year for sewing production. From January to November I sewed all of three sleeveless blouses, from the same TNT pattern, for myself (and posted about only one); one shirt for Jack; and…I think ten placemats.
And yet–developing a TNT blouse pattern so I could concentrate on improving my construction was progress.
Designing a shirt for Jack from the same yardage as my blouse , but different from my blouse, was a fun design challenge.
And figuring out how to make beautiful, useful placemats from my irreplaceable souvenir fabric was very satisfying.
2018 was the year of sewing pants muslins. I lost count of how many I sewed. If you save the fronts of a pants muslin, rip out the backs, and cut and sew on new backs, is that a new muslin, or not? By anyone’s count, I made a lot of muslins from January through September. Dozens.
Then I took lots of photos of myself in these muslins–front, sides, back–printed out the photos, scrutinized every drag line, read lots of pants-fitting advice, and tested methods of improving the fit. Sometimes I did make progress but never got to a satisfactory result on my own.
In 2018 I spent hundreds of hours studying, experimenting with, and documenting pants-fitting. This morning I pulled the binder of notes I kept, curious about how much it weighed: more than 2 1/2 pounds!
If only there were a direct relationship between the number of hours spent and the quality of the result, I should be able to claim a high level of expertise and sport a closetful of beautifully fitted pants. I did make three wearable tests with varying degrees of success after meetings with two sewing and fitting experts, as I wrote about in November. Then I took a break from pants–
–and sewed something completely different: living room draperies. November into early December the sewing room was a drapery workroom. What a wonderful project. I will write about it soon.
2018 was the year of the Goodbye Valentino Ready-to-Wear Fast, in which I was one of about a thousand participants. I steadfastly refrained from buying any ready-to-wear, which was not that difficult for me because most ready-to-wear clothes don’t fit anyway, so it was hardly a sacrifice.
However, merely stopping browsing and buying clothing did not turn me into a clothes-making maniac.
First of all, I had decided it was time to confront my bête noire, pants-fitting. That kept me occupied for months. I kept thinking I was awfully close to a decent fit and that soon I’d be fitting a handful of other carefully selected core-collection patterns for wardrobe capsules for every season. You know the rest of that story.
The RTW Fast was a way to nudge sewers toward realizing their clothes-sewing dreams, and many sewers did just that in 2018. Me? The value I gained was considerable, but not, as Jack and I would say, something that would rate magazine cover status.
Over the course of the year I wore the same clothes (plus the three summer blouses I made) again and again. And again.
In 2018 I gave myself no recourse to a temporary fix from one of my favorite consignment stores to tide me over till I had something I really liked. The results of limiting myself were:
I wore more of what was in my closet, out of necessity.
I created new outfits, out of necessity, and realized that some clothes were more versatile than I’d thought.
I wore things I didn’t much like, just to avoid total boredom.
I understood better than ever before what I didn’t like.
I began editing down my wardrobe more decisively than ever before, based on condition, comfort, or style.
I resolved never to have certain wardrobe items, like scratchy wool sweaters, ever again. I would just have to come up with alternatives that suited me.
I noticed more than ever how certain colors were downright unflattering, or fell short of flattering, and decided to replace them only with colors that work for me and work with each other.
I recognized even more I had put a great deal of effort into sewing garments that were technically good but wrong in proportion, color, pattern, or style and had created wardrobe orphans. This had to stop.
Over the course of the year my wardrobe grew more sparse, and much of what remained were simply placeholders till the day I sewed or bought things I liked and that went together.
But–what do I like? What does look good on me? What things do work well together in outfits and capsules? 2018 was a year I puzzled over these questions afresh.
2018 was also a year I thought a great deal about designing and managing projects. In January I wrote about Jon Acuff’s bookFinish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. I am not as sure as the author is that it’s perfectionism that stops people from finishing their projects.
I was probably still trying to figure out a better explanation than perfectionism when, in February, I wrote a behemoth of a post listing every factor I could think of that went into project design. It turns out there are a lot!
I am convinced there’s no one-size-fits-all process for getting things sewn because different people have different talents, experience, work styles, learning styles, aversions, and ambitions. Each of us has to work out our own path–possibly strewn with dozens of pants muslins–to determine the processes that work best for us. It may take longer than imagined, but it’s time well spent.
That conclusion might not get approved by the magazine cover committee–but they don’t know what they’re missing, do they?
Almost five months after my first report about my pants pattern-fitting journey I’m back with an update.
Surrounded by some (not all!) of the pants muslins I’ve made on this pants odyssey.
In my previous report I said that despite my concerted efforts to understand fitting principles and fit myself I needed in-person, expert help. Since writing that post I did find help.
I checked the class listings of a small, local fabric store and noticed for the first time that individual lessons with some of the teachers could be arranged. I called, explained my dilemma, and was told I should come in and talk to one teacher in particular.
And that’s how I met Madame X.
Madame X may be famous for being painted by John Singer Sargent, but she also fits pants patterns!
I explained to Madame X that I had gone as far as I could go on my own and was now just doing variations of different, but not better. Madame X explained that while she was experienced she wouldn’t claim she was an expert. If I was willing to be a good sport, she’d see what she could do.
It turned out she could do quite a lot.
What a relief it was to put on a muslin and have someone else examine the fit! I could skip my time-consuming rigamarole: setting the camera on a tripod on time delay, taking very unflattering pictures of myself, downloading the photos, printing some, and writing copious notes critiquing every wrinkle (in the muslin, that is).
After two, maybe three muslins Madame X had worked out quite a nice fit for me. I was very encouraged.
The next step was a wearable test. To sew it I used an oyster gray wool blend with a weight and drape similar to what I’d want in wool trousers. Here’s the result:
A little extra fullness needs to be removed, but a much better overall drape in the back than I was able to achieve on my own.
The waistband is being pulled down a bit, but the darts and hip line are nice.
How much wrinkling and extra fabric is fine and how much can be eliminated? It’s a fine line and I’m still learning.
I had mixed feelings about this cut of pants. The big plus was the way they hung smoothly seen from the side and the back. I was concerned, though, whether the volume in the backs of the legs was too much and could be reduced while preserving the hang. In the fittings Madame X and I went back and forth about this. In my own fitting attempts my perennial problem was long diagonal wrinkles in the backs of the legs. When Madame X allowed for more volume in the back, as in classic trousers, the wrinkles went away and I had a nice, smooth line.
But was that line in scale with my figure? That was the question. At 5 feet 1 inch tall I’m always thinking proportion, proportion, proportion. Would this pattern draft give me the best proportion for my figure?
I put on the pants. “They’re hanging from the hips,” Edith said. “They should hang from the waist.” She pulled the waistband up and then pinned it in place snugly. She subtracted 4 whole inches from the waist, put more curve into the hipline, generously scooped the back crotch curve, and slightly narrowed the legs. Before long I was trying on the muslin made from her pattern alteration. It fit nicely, and it definitely hung from the waist.
Home again and back in the sewing room, I sewed a wearable test from Edith’s pattern. This tweedy gray is a wool blend, lighter in weight than the oyster gray but also drapey and nice for trousers. Here is the result:
I think the amount of wrinkling is okay.
There’s much to like about these tweedy gray pants. They do hang nicely from the waist. However, is the waist emphasis okay, or too much?
I tried a second wearable test. I added back about 1 inch in the waist. The fabric was a linen-rayon blend that’s a nice weight and drape for spring and summer. Here’s the result:
Not the most graceful pose.
Hmm–I think the wrinkles in the left leg indicate my uneven stance.
I can’t see much difference in the appearance of the waist with 1 inch space added back in. I think one reason is the in-seam pockets I sewed in this pair are gaping open and adding to the curve in the hip. This is not flattering. I’ll research other pocket options.
I continued to wonder whether I really needed this much room in the back of this pants pattern:
I was suffering from pants-fitting fatigue (can you blame me?), but I thought I should try another muslin. I added back yet another inch to the waist, and subtracted just 1/4 inch each from the inseam and outseam of the back and front pieces to eliminate a total of 1 inch from the leg circumference.
Here is the unflattering result of that experiment:
The dreaded drag lines have returned! Ugh!
This is pretty much what the backs of my pants muslins looked like when I was working on my own, pre-Madame X. These wrinkles were the big puzzle I hadn’t solved and which Madame X did. It seemed like the insides of my knees were the source of the wrinkles. I don’t fit the classic knock-knees scenario, but it seemed like I needed a knock-knees solution. At any rate, Madame X came up with a solution that gave me a smoother line, and Edith, with her decades of pattern-fitting experience, was able to subtract design ease without messing with the fitting ease.
Then I crossed a line and messed up the fitting ease.
Then I went to a week-long Buddhist retreat and learned how to detach myself from–
–No, I didn’t!
I tried on the tweedy gray wearable test one more time. I tried folding the waistband under and envisioning the pants with just a faced waist. The look would be more streamlined. That would work.
And in the coming fall and winter months I could sew lined wool trousers from my existing pattern and see how I liked them.
In other words, I decided to declare a partial victory. The fit is good enough, and now I’ll turn my attention to perfecting construction details. Along the way I’ll read more, learn more, work more with Madame X, understand a few more bits and pieces, and eventually try fitting more pants.
And who knows–maybe jeans, too.
Gather round, muslins! Have I got a story for you!