Revisiting Wardrobe Architect, Part 3: A Capsule and A Spring Sewing Plan

Edit: After sleeping on it, I realized that I hadn’t shared my list of garments because I was embarrassed that others would think it greedy to want so many pieces of clothing. But hiding the list didn’t make it go away, and if I don’t share it here, I won’t have a record of what I was thinking and planning at this place in time. It will be interesting to look back in a season or a year and see what things remain on my must-sew list and what things were only passing fancies. So, I’m adding in my list where it should have gone in the first place. 

Each time I’ve tried to take a second run at defining a capsule wardrobe, I’ve ended up with a list far too long to reasonably be called a capsule. Even though I’m of the mind that my capsule isn’t about limiting myself to a set number of items for a season, but rather about building a foundation of remixable pieces that work throughout the year, once I start adding up all of the combinations of garments, materials, and colors/prints I’d like to have, the list quickly balloons.

Instead of fighting it, I’ve decided to embrace it and see where it takes me. I’ve made a list of all the garments I’d like to have in my closet, and broken it down according to items that will work best as casual pieces, items that will work best for special outings and the more polished work look I’d like to achieve, and items that will work equally well for both.

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Items marked with an asterisk are ones I don’t currently have and would need to make or buy. I have a lot of black work attire already, but going forward I want to avoid adding any more black to my wardrobe, since I find it very harsh with my skin tone and would prefer navy, brown, or grey. Cardigans in every color of my personal rainbow will be a key addition since I’m so often cold, and I’m optimistic that I can knit them all myself. I’ve combined items wherever I’m not picky about cut or color, such as t-shirts and skirts.

For the late spring/early summer, I’ve prioritized about a half dozen based on fabrics and patterns I already have. Instead of queuing them in a particular order, I’ll let myself pick my next project from that pool as the mood strikes. When I’ve gotten through those projects, I’ll go back to the original list, add or subtract garments based on changing needs or tastes, and pick another half dozen to work through. Groundbreaking stuff, huh?

Want to see the fabrics?

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From left to right, the fabrics and their intended projects are:

  • Nicole Miller Ditsey Eden in Black – Faux wrap dress – Simplicity 1653 (View B)
  • Sew Classic Rayon Spandex Knit in Potent Purple (I think) – Empire-waisted surplice dress – McCall’s 7116 (View D)
  • Lightweight Cotton Polyester Jersey in Navy with Skinny Red Stripes – Relaxed t-shirt and/or tank dress
  • 100% Cotton Interlock in Kelly Green – Blazer – Simplicity 1421 or Simplicity 2446 (Fingers crossed I have enough fabric for this, since I bought it with a completely different project in mind)
  • Stretch Cotton Sateen in Blue Floral – Skirt or dress?
  • Stretch Cotton Sateen in Poppy Floral – Skirt or dress?
  • Stretch Cotton Sateen in Blue-Purple Floral – Skirt – Butterick B4686 (View A) (To show off the border print)
  • Featherwale Cotton Corduroy in Navy – Skirt

I wish I could link to more of the fabrics, but with the exception of the first two, they came from Hancock Fabric’s going-out-of-business sale. I also wish I had more specific patterns nailed down for the skirts/dresses, but I keep waffling. Pencil skirt? Flared skirt? Sheath dress AKA bodice with pencil skirt? Fit-and-flare dress AKA bodice with flared skirt? If I thought I would actually wear crop tops (and could get away with it at work—we’re not that casual) then I could have it all. Instead, it is decisions, decisions. But! they’re decisions I’m looking forward to making instead of dancing around with a faint sense of anxiety. I’m excited to adding the finished garments to my wardrobe, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Finally.

Revisiting Wardrobe Architect, Part 2: Colors and Patterns

When I looked at colors and prints the first time around, I understood the value in narrowing things down to a “manageable” number, and several more experienced capsule creators recommended choosing palettes based on the seasons. Seemed reasonable enough, so that’s what I did. But I had a rather difficult time narrowing things down, and some of my decisions ended up being driven more by a desire to create a balanced, restrained palette than by what I was likely to wear, and trying to plan actual pieces based on this less-than-ideal palette required a degree of mental acrobatics that’s laughable in hindsight.

This time around, I didn’t restrict myself to planning for the upcoming season alone, which only makes sense when I think about how I tend to drag out individual projects. (Staying on top of sewing for the seasons is something that I can only dream about right now.) Instead, I just gathered all of my favorite colors to wear in one place:

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I’m sure I’ll continue to favor the darker, jewel-like tones in autumn and winter and the lighter, brighter tones in spring and summer, but seeing them all together will remind me of how things fit together, and maybe encourage me to consider less common color combinations (for me, at least) and seasonal switch-ups.

Even with such a large palette, I don’t intend to limit myself strictly to these colors, but I suspect that most purchases will easily include at least one of them. I’m also prepared to continue refining it as time goes on. I’ve already added purple back to the mix, because even though I have a hard time pairing it with other colors, I just can’t quit it. (I know that it naturally allies with yellow, but that gives me uncomfortable flashbacks to my high school’s and university’s spirit days—no thank you.) I’m also skeptical about how much lime green and powder blue I’ll actually end up with, but only time will tell.

Prints didn’t change much, but it was fun to put them all together in a fun little swatch:

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Stripes, dots/spots, checks/ginghams/tartans, and large-scale florals were all clear recurring themes in my inspiration images. I especially like the unexpected pattern mixing that can happen, like a flowered skirt with a striped t-shirt. While I could certainly see myself picking up the occasional abstract, geometric, or even animal print, I think these will be my go-tos.

With inspiration, color, and pattern now more closely aligned, I feel much more confident that I can put together a plan and start to build a wardrobe. With any luck, some real live sewing and knitting might start happening around here again!

Revisiting Wardrobe Architect, Part 1: Inspiration and Silhouettes

In March and April of last year, I examined how the clothes I like (and don’t) make me feel, what clothing shapes I gravitate toward, and what combinations of shapes are most comfortable and “me.” While I felt like I did a pretty good job of responding to the prompts, answering honestly, and collecting inspiration that actually resonated with me, in hindsight I see that somewhere along the way there was a disconnect between the style that I aspire to and the style represented by my capsule selections. My proposed capsule was too bright, with too many repeated colors and not enough pattern or texture to break it up. It felt too casual, instead of channeling the sleek put-togetherness that my inspiration images embodied.

At the time it was easy to overlook (and later shrug off) these shortcomings on the grounds that it was more an exercise than a concrete plan—that I was challenging myself to venture outside my style rut, not committing to making those precise pieces. While it’s true that I wasn’t locked into sewing what I’d sketched out, having a guide that was more puzzle than passion meant I didn’t have much more direction on actual garments than I’d started out with. As a result, I made a few questionable fabric purchases, added more patterns to my collection, and continued to waffle between potential projects because I wasn’t particularly excited to sew the things I’d laid out for myself and there was a lingering division between the clothes I wanted to make and the supplies I had to make them.

Now, a year later, it feels like it’s time to step back, reconsider, and figure out where I went off track so that I can create a sewing queue and wish list that I’m genuinely motivated to tackle.

To kick things off, I revisited my inspirational collage. Since we’re already well into spring, I removed the more autumnal and wintry photos and replaced them with warmer-weather pictures; I may bring the old ones back in a separate collage when it comes time to make fall/winter sewing plans. I also culled photos where the silhouette didn’t seem like 100% my style or the colors weren’t my favorites. That’s not to say I’d never sew or wear anything like them, but I wanted my collage to showcase only outfits that I would wear pretty much as-is—distilling all of the available inspiration to a style concentrate, if you will.

The result looks like this:

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I had the hardest time choosing dresses, no doubt because I wear them so infrequently. I don’t dislike dresses, but in the spring it’s often chilly enough in the mornings for tights but hot enough in the afternoon to make them oppressive, and in the summer there’s the constant tension between sweltering temperatures outside and frosty air conditioning inside. Suffice to say that always-cold me usually plays it safe by wearing pants. But I’d like to change that, because rotating in the occasional dress makes me feel a little more feminine and, ironically, like I made an effort, even though they’re usually less effort to style than a pair of pants.

Speaking of pants, let’s talk about those palazzo pants. They represent the biggest gap between the image shown and the finished items I’m looking for, mostly because it can be so hard to find a specific, illustrative image online when you already have the perfect vision in your head. But when I was a kid, I had a pair of rayon challis trousers in sage green with tiny white flowers to wear to a semi-formal summer event outside. They had wide, straight legs and a narrow elastic waistband, and the material and drape of the fabric made them wonderfully comfortable in the heat and humidity of high summer in Virginia. I wore them with a sleeveless white button-down shirt that knotted at the front waist and a pair of white sandals. I remember feeling very glamorous in this outfit, and that’s a feeling I’d like to recapture. Plus, matched with the right top and shoes, I think it can work equally well for work or play.

In terms of silhouettes, I think these images capture my preferred looks exceptionally well; they represent not only my my favorite colors and moods, but also the specific combinations I’m drawn to. They also neatly illustrate one of the principles of fashion that I picked up from (of all places) a dressing room ad, and have since found works very well for me: pair a loose top with a fitted bottom and a fitted top with a loose bottom for instant visual interest. (Not everything fits this mold, nor does it need to for me. But if one of my outfits is feeling off, it can sometimes be remedied by swapping out one piece to create this appealing contrast.)

If I had to sum up my silhouettes, then, they would be:

  • Skinny trousers with a draped blouse (blazer optional)
  • Skinny jeans with a relaxed tee or tank top
  • Flared skirt with fitted t-shirt and cardigan
  • Flared dress with cardigan
  • Wide-legged pants with a fitted tank top or slim-cut blouse

When it comes to tucked versus untucked shirts, I generally favor untucked. The exception is probably tucking a t-shirt into a skirt or palazzo pants; for those instances, I’m thinking I may pick up the Closet Case Patterns Nettie Bodysuit. For shoes, I tend to wear heels to work and to go out to restaurants or movies, and stick to flats for casual Fridays and errands. I love the look of skinnies with heels—they make me feel taller and feel inexplicably chic—so I’ve been wearing that combination more often lately. I’m still on the hunt for a pair of flat sandals that aren’t unbearable to walk around in all day when I want to look cute during a weekend excursion, and I’d love to save my running sneakers for the gym and get a pair of cute, casual sneakers for casual days when it’s too cool, wet, or walking-intensive for sandals. Accessories are a moving target, but statement jewelry and smaller, colorful handbags are on my list, and I’m in dire need of an attractive pair of sunglasses.

My first inspiration collage brought a sense of relief that maybe I had a burgeoning sense of style after all. This one brings a spark of real excitement, because I can actually see myself making pieces to create outfits like these, and I already can’t wait to wear them and show them off. That’s how I want to feel about my handmade wardrobe.

Have you ever gone back to an inspiration board or a sewing/knitting/design plan to refine it? Did it change a little or a lot? What effect did this have on your craft?

Wardrobe Architect Week 14: Overcoming Editing Hurdles

It’s fitting that the final assignment of the original Wardrobe Architect series would be about editing. As a writer, I’ve heard all the aphorisms and pithy advice about the importance of revision, that the real work—and real success—comes not from writing but from re-writing. Once you have both the idea and the raw material, you have to lay one over the other and trim away all the little bits that don’t line up. You change one to fit the other; in the end, you’ve changed both. It makes sense that cultivating a wardrobe is much the same: you’re continually trying to shape what you have to match what you want, or reconsidering what you think you want in light of what you’re actually buying/making.

I know these things, but man! is it hard to live them. This is probably because, as a writer, I am a terrible editor. Wait, I retract that statement in favor of this one: I am a terrible self-editor. I can be absolutely brutal when I’m revising someone else’s work, scratching out words and rearranging sentences or paragraphs with cruel efficiency, with no regard for the author’s feelings. But when it comes to my own work? I’m basically useless.

You would probably assume—completely understandably—that this is because I think my work is too precious to be changed, or because I can’t take criticism. Not so! (Okay, a little bit so for the second one, but I’m working on it.) Really, it comes down to how I write. I’m a slow writer. A really slow writer. (The last time I clocked myself on a creative writing assignment was in college, but I remember that it took me an hour per page. The pages were double-spaced.) I deliberate over each sentence, each word, because I crave coherence, and I need each part to hang together with all the rest. I can’t move forward if something doesn’t make sense or doesn’t flow. I tend to edit as I go; in fact, I tend to edit before anything actually makes it out of my brain and on to the page screen. So when I come back afterward to do that all-important second pass for revision, it’s hard to imagine things written any other way.

It’s a little bit like that with clothes, for me. I don’t shop for clothes very often. I never have. I usually buy things in small groups: a pairs of slacks and a couple tops for work, a handbag and a pair of shoes to match a dress I own, or a sweater in three different colors. The items in these bundles usually work with each other, but they don’t always work so clearly with other things I have. Sometimes I’m in a pinch for something specific, like warm tops in winter, or there’s a sale, so I buy something that’s not quite right. I don’t usually fall prey to trends (at least not in the sense that I-must-have-this-only-because-it’s-popular), but I’ve certainly bought things I didn’t love to fill a hole or score a deal without a lot of consideration for the long-term.

And because I don’t buy clothes very often, it’s hard to get rid of things. It took time to accumulate what I do have, so if I give something up, my brain reasons, it will take a long time to replace them. It’s faulty logic, of course. If I’m barely wearing something anyway, and I don’t particularly enjoy it when I do wear it, it’s no great hardship to give it up. Even if it were, if I have a clearer idea of what I want instead, I can deliberately seek out or make a well-made, well-fitting replacement, rather than hoping to stumble upon something or continuing to fill up my closets piecemeal with whatever seems important in the moment.

After repeating these things to myself a few times, I scoured my closets and drawers and came up a little pile of clothes.

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The only thing I’m really bummed about are the two pairs of light grey slacks toward the bottom. They’re two different cuts and fabrics, but they’re identical to several other pairs of slacks I have in black and brown. But for some reason, they’re just tighter in the waist and shorter in the rise than the other colors, which makes them just too snug for comfort. I can only assume that they’re on the extreme end of the sizing tolerance. If I thought I could let them out I would, but they’re not exactly a high-end brand, so they don’t really have seam allowances to work with.

To be safe, I’m not going to get rid of these garments immediately. Instead, I’ll let them marinate in the Outbox until I have a chance to go to a used clothing or thrift store. That will give me a chance to rescue anything if I change my mind. But most things that go into the Outbox don’t come out again, so I’m pretty confident I’ll finally be letting these go. It feels a bit tough now, but I know it will be a relief later. I’m looking forward to things that will take their places, because they’ll be thoughtfully planned and carefully sewn me-mades.

Wardrobe Architect Week 13: Downloadable Planning Worksheet

Since this week’s “assignment” was originally just a giveaway with a bonus (free!) one-page downloadable worksheet to plan sewing projects, I decided to print one off and use it to jot down my intentions for my OAL 2015 dress. I’ve gathered most of the things I need already (although I realized I’ll probably need to pick up some lightweight sew-in interfacing, since I’m not sure what I have lurking in my stash at the moment), but it gave me a chance to look over the pattern and anticipate the next steps, like what size I intend to cut and how I want to deal with seams and such. Plus, I got a chance to bust out some long-neglected color pencils and do a little drawing.

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Cute, yeah? Figuring out what size I want to sew was the hardest part, because the back of the pattern envelope lists the finished measurements for the bust and hip only, and it’s the waist that usually trips me up. I had to carefully unfold the tissue so that I could find the marking for the finished waist size. With any luck, the largest size in the envelope should be big enough. But I’m planning to muslin at least the bodice before I cut into my fashion fabric, just to be sure. I have Friday off from work, so I’m going to try to do the bulk of the sewing then. Wish me luck!

Wardrobe Architect Week 11: Planning My Pieces

Two weeks since my last Wardrobe Architect post, yikes! With only a three weeks left in the series including this one, you may well have wondered why I didn’t post on time, especially when I’d expressed so much excitement for planning garments and outfits. I certainly wanted to, but when Wednesday showed up in the middle of the week (as it has a habit of doing) I didn’t actually have a plan. And I knew if I threw together a list of whatever popped into my head while I was sitting at the computer, I’d end up with a list of pieces I wasn’t 100% thrilled about, which is a recipe for a) making a bunch of clothes that I won’t wear, or b) going off the rails and ending up with a closet full clothes that are just as disjointed as I have now. So I mulled it over, looked through my recent pattern acquisitions again, and came up with something that I’m pretty stoked about.

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1st Row Four fitted t-shirts: one white, one aqua, one with navy and white stripes, and one red with a white print.  I’d like to try out the Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick Tonic Tee pattern—it’s designed specifically for petites, and it’s free!

2nd Row Two drapey camis made with McCall’s M6359, one in coral and one in yellow. One drapey sleeveless button-down in green; I really like the Portofino shirts from Express, so I’ll keep my eye out for one in a nice cheery Kelly green.

3rd Row Two drapey open-front cardigans, one in navy and one in smoke. It’s a toss-up whether I’ll make these with McCall’s M6084 or buy them from Express. I have two of the latter already that I really like, but I may not be able to get them in the color I want; on the flip side, I know good sweater knits can be tricky to find in fabric stores.

4th Row Three fitted cardigans in green, yellow, and white. I’m knitting the green cardigan already, and will probably knit rather than sew the other two as well. I haven’t picked specific patterns yet, but have plenty of options to choose from in my Ravelry queue.

5th Row A woven khaki pencil skirt made with Simplicity 1465; a knit navy pencil skirt made with Simplicity 1465; and a woven, elastic-waist swishy skirt in some print (not necessarily the fabric or even the color pictured) made with Simplicity 1662.

6th Row A Lady Skater dress, a woven McCall’s M7156, a knit McCall’s M7116 View A, and a knit McCall’s M7116 View C. All of the fabrics are just placeholders, although I’ll probably be looking for things in similar colors and patterns.

7th Row Two pairs of shorts, one in navy ikat (totally ripping off Lauren here) made with the Grainline Studio Maritime Shorts pattern or similar, and one in white, which I already own. Two pairs of leggings, one in smoke and one in navy, made with McCall’s M6173. And—if can miraculously find them in a store, be it retail or fabric—one pair of coral jeggings.

That’s a pretty ambitious list, to say the least. I doubt I’ll get through all of it by the end of the summer. The biggest hurdle will be sourcing and buying fabric and yarn, since I’m trying to sock away money for a big upcoming purchase at the same time. But I’ll go crazy if I don’t have a steady stream of projects, and my wardrobe desperately needs an infusion of new pieces, so I’ll be looking for economical ways to make this capsule wardrobe a reality. I’m open to suggestions if you’ve got them!

Wardrobe Architect Week 10: The Capsule Palette

Easily the best part of the Wardrobe Architect series is the way each assignment builds upon the previous ones. No task feels frivolous, and as I’ve worked through them my confidence in my choices, in my overall direction, has grown. Back in Week 5 I identified a color palette that speaks to me; in Week 6 I organized my palette into neutrals, nearly neutrals, and statement colors; and today I’m going to narrow my palette down to the colors I want to focus on for my spring/summer wardrobe.

Neutrals

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White was a given. Next I added Camel, but when I started thinking about the other colors I wanted to include, I realized that Khaki makes more sense, so I made a substitution. Justin suggested adding Graphite, but I went with Smoke instead for something a little softer and, I think, more suited to warmer weather.

Nearly Neutrals

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This was a no-brainer: I knew weeks ago that my palette was going to be anchored by and revolve around Navy. I feel happy every time I look at it.

Statement Colors

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I kid you not—I agonized over this section at first, which is silly, because the whole point of this exercise is to make wardrobe-building less stressful.

Initially I was thinking Red, Mustard, and Kelly Green, but I felt like I needed a fourth color and I couldn’t settle on one that matched enough of the others. I entertained the idea of adding Purple, but the truth is, while purple used to be my favorite color, and I have several pieces of clothing and jewelry that are purple, I find it difficult to pair with other colors. (This is probably because I’ve avoided yellow for a long time. I thought I couldn’t wear yellow because I’m a fair-skinned blonde, but I’ve since been disabused of that notion by my dear mother and husband.) I’m happy to have a few special purple pieces, but I just wasn’t excited by the prospect of making a bunch of things in that color.

Next I considered Powder Blue, Mint, and Petal Pink. I consider them all solid spring colors, and I’d definitely like to have them represented in my closet, but as the high heat of summer approaches, I’m craving bright, peppy colors instead of pastels.

I started to wonder if I’d made a horrible mistake when assembling my initial palette, since I was no longer feeling certain about the options I’d given myself to work with, and then I found Crafting a Rainbow‘s Me-Made-May 2013 wrap-up, which included a palette with several of the colors I’d been considering, plus a few I hadn’t thought of. So I shamelessly lifted some of her choices. (Thanks, Gillian!) Suddenly, everything clicked into place and I felt confident once more.

With that solved, I assembled a final palette showcasing the colors I’ll be aiming to work with over the next few months:

2015-05-27_4_Spring-Summer-2015-Palette

Seeing it all in one place makes me so excited, I kind of want to squee. I’m already daydreaming about the outfits I’ll be able to create, but I’m resisting the urge to purchase any fabric or yarn until I’ve got a more concrete plan. Soon, soon…