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.



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



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


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:


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…

Wardrobe Architect Week 9: The Capsule Wardrobe

Like Sarai, I was initially skeptical of the capsule wardrobe, a collection of 20–33 items of clothing that function as the basis of your wardrobe. Her issue was a lack of confidence and, as a result, enthusiasm: she was never sure if she’d picked the right items to make up her capsule wardrobe, so she tended to deviate from her plan, which perpetuated the issue of having nothing that went with anything else.

My issue, which stemmed from a misunderstanding of how it works once assembled, was concern that it would stifle creativity, both in dressing and in shopping/making. Since capsule wardrobes are often talked about in the context of minimalism, there’s a lot of stress on “paring down” or “purging,” and an unspoken expectation that once you’ve completed your capsule wardrobe, there’s little need to buy or make new things except for special occasions. In fact, there’s nothing left to do but cycle through perfectly mixed-and-matched outfits every day and breezily exclaim about how much easier it is to get dressed and how much time you’ve saved (or something like that).

Of course, none of these things are entirely or necessarily true. The truth is that a capsule wardrobe doesn’t have to be the end of your wardrobe unless you want it to be. It’s simply the thing you’re trying to match up to when you’re considering buying or making a new garment and ask yourself, “What would I wear this with?” It would, in theory, provide most or all of the pieces you needed if you had to make an emergency weekend trip and had 15 minutes to pack your bag.

To get the most out of a capsule wardrobe, you can and should set your own rules. The number and type of items isn’t something to be handed down by an “expert;” it varies based on the number and variety of activities you’re regularly involved in. You can re-visit and tweak your capsule wardrobe at any time. You’re not even limited to a single capsule wardrobe—based on your climate, you might have two, three, or four capsules to reflect the seasons.

And the best part about it? Having a capsule wardrobe is not incompatible with sewing frosting, or splurging on the perfect accessory that only matches one outfit. The capsule wardrobe is a foundation that you can build upon with more unusual or niche pieces. It’s not all-or-nothing. Whew!

With that said, here are some silhouettes that I’ve been thinking about for building a Summer 2015 capsule wardrobe:


Following Sarai’s example, these aren’t the exact outfits I want to make or the colors I’d want them in—for instance, I’m not sure if I’m keen on the neckline of the dress, but it was the best example I could find of a fit-and-flare dress with a circle skirt not modeled by a person—but I think they capture the spirit of the things I like to wear in late spring and throughout summer. I’ll probably throw in drapey cardigans as well. (The only reason I didn’t include them here is that I thought of them after I’d already started to put together my collage and didn’t want to disrupt the symmetry.)

I got stuck after two silhouettes, even though I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with so few, so Justin very helpfully suggested #3. That, in turn, reminded me that a coworker had been wearing an outfit very similar to #4, and I took notice of it because I liked it so much, so I added that as well.

Reviewing everything together, I feel like I have solid options to work with. I can hardly wait to start matching silhouettes to colors and patterns so I have a guide for future fabric shopping and sewing projects!

FO: Sage Pleated Skirt


Or, proof that I actually sew things!


And not just any things—clothes!


Real clothes, the kind that will keep you decent in public places like Shelley Lake Park.

Almost two years ago, when I was still living in Virginia and had access to an independent fabric store but had not yet heard of the bounty that is five-for-$5 Simplicity pattern sales, I decided I was going to buy a couple of versatile basic patterns and some pretty fabric and start making my own clothes. One of those patterns was Simplicity 2226, a simple pleated skirt with pockets and belt loops and an optional sash belt.


I paid full retail price for the patterns (ouch!), bought entirely inappropriate fabric (stiff quilting cotton anyone?), pre-washed everything, then promptly chickened out and put everything in a box to be largely ignored.

When I pulled out that box a few weeks ago, I realized that I had everything I needed to complete at least one of those projects, which would serve the diverse purposes of using up a sizable fabric remnant, adding a skirt to my closet (which currently has no fall/winter skirts), trying a few techniques that I’d seen on blogs but never used before, and getting friendly with my serger. It also gave me a chance to break a long streak of being too afraid to start anything in case I stalled or failed. It’s true: I have the opposite of startitis, and it’s the #1 enemy of my sewing and knitting. One of my resolutions this year is to conquer this irrational fear.


The pattern, as I said, is Simplicity 2226. I made View A, but cut it to the length of View B/C/D. I used a sage green brushed cotton twill, which I originally purchased more than five years ago to make a doublet for a Renaissance faire costume, for the main fabric. I largely relied on the pattern for guidelines on construction order; I know it’s a beginner pattern, but I still found it lacking in more than a few areas and ended up tweaking it to suit my fabric/equipment and to incorporate better techniques I’ve seen others use.

Based on my initial fabric choice, I decided to buy a cream rayon bemberg to underline the skirt and a Liberty-like floral quilting cotton for the waistband facing and pockets. The pattern doesn’t include instructions for lining or underlining— a somewhat shortsighted decision since it recommends fabrics like twills, sateens, and wools—and I knew my twill would cling to tights, so I basted the underlining to the main fabric immediately after cutting out all of the pieces, and left them basted together until I seamed/hemmed each of the edges. The pattern also calls self-facing the waistband and yoke/pockets—again, somewhat ill-advised given many of the suggested fabrics—but I knew the twill would be too heavy for that to work well, so I substituted the quilting cotton.



The first major change I made was to choose a size based on wearing the skirt at my hips (my preference) rather than at my natural waist (as intended). I went to the pattern envelope expecting to find the finished waist measurements so I could choose a waist size close to my hip size, but the only finished measurement is the length. I guess that would be important to some people, but it certainly didn’t help me any. Next I went to the pattern pieces, expecting to find the familiar plus-in-a-circle with the key measurements next to it. No dice. What? Nowhere on the pattern or envelope can you find finished waist and hip measurements, nor can you find any indication of how much ease the pattern incorporates—not even generic terms like close-fitting or loose-fitting. Simplicity wants the sewist to stick to the body measurement chart and trust the company’s ease choices.

Since we all know how that story ends, I whipped out a flexible tape measure and measured the waistband piece, accounting for seam allowances and whatnot. I fell between a 16 and an 18, so I cut the larger size to be safe. This ended up being overkill, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

The other major change I made was to the Front Yoke and Pocket piece. This is supposed to be a pattern for absolute beginners, but I think that, in an effort to make things easier, the pattern actually makes the construction more complicated because it’s harder to visualize. I know it took me way longer than it should have to understand what was supposed to happen.

Here’s the Front Yoke and Pocket pattern piece:


And here’s what you’re supposed to do with it:


It’s a little difficult to see in this photo, but by folding it in half and stitching around the bottom and side, the fabric creates the yoke and pocket all at once. Okay, so it’s not exactly masterwork fabric origami, but I’ve never encountered a pattern or a piece of RTW clothing with this manner of construction. Sure, it eliminates the need for separate yoke and pocket pieces, which reduces the overall number of pattern pieces by one, and cuts down on the number of edges that need to be sewed, but it also creates a pretty bulky, shapeless pocket.

Since I was using a heavier bottom-weight fabric for my skirt, I knew this was just not going to work, so I borrowed the yoke and pocket pattern pieces from Simplicity 2451 instead. To make sure everything would line up around the pocket opening and side seam, I laid the new pieces over the originals, lining them up as closely as possible, and traced them off.

I assembled the skirt using both my serger and my sewing machine. Before I started reading sewing blogs I had no idea you were supposed to finish your seam allowances (aside: let’s agree to never look at the guts of any of the costumes I’ve made, shall we?), and I’ve always liked the look of serged seams on RTW items, so I went a little crazy and serged everything I could.


The instructions weren’t written with a serger in mind, though, so there are a places where I should have serged before assembling, like the zipper.


I had to pick apart some of the serging because I’d accidentally sewn the zipper shut. I’m just glad I didn’t chew any irreparable holes in the fabric. Live and learn.

Oh, and speaking of learning! That’s the first time I’ve done a lapped zipper. I had no idea I was in for one until I got to that step—I even thought I’d bought the wrong zipper by mistake, since I’ve only done invisible zippers up until now. I’ll admit it was tricky to get my head around at first, but after reading the pattern instructions and the instructions that came with the zipper about 50 times each, I finally decided to just follow each step and see where I ended up. As it turns out, following the instructions is a pretty solid path to success. I was a little surprised, considering the weirdness surrounding the yoke and pocket, but the pattern instructions delivered. And I have to say, I think I like the look of the lapped zipper. I wouldn’t use it all the time, but it seems like it’s a better choice for this skirt than a more delicate invisible zipper would have been. The top of the zipper isn’t even, but I think that actually has less to do with my zipper insertion and more to do with my waistband hacks. (Also, I can’t see it, so I’m not really bothered by it.)

See, after I attached the waistband to the skirt, I decided it was too tall at 3 inches, so I cut it down to 1.625 inches. If you remember geometry at all (or have passable spatial manipulation abilities), you know that when you cut the top edge from a curved shape the new top edge is longer. Since I hadn’t accounted for this change in the flat pattern, the skirt ended up several sizes too large. Luckily, it was a relatively simple matter to pinch out and remove about 3.5 inches from each side at the center back seam. I did lose a pleat on each side of the zipper, which brought the next pleat on each side very close to the zipper and pulled the side seams toward the back, but I think it still looks fine. It probably goes without saying, but I also shortened the belt loops accordingly.


The pattern actually calls for gathering at the waist, but when I tried it (using the clever trick of sewing a zigzag stitch over dental floss) it was way too bulky and puffy. Not a good look. So I converted the gathers to pleats. The distance between the seams was twice as long on the skirt as on the waistband, so I had plenty of material to work with and it divided evenly into four pleats on the front and three on each side in the back. I used a combination of basic math and eyeballing to get the final arrangement you see here.


The shorter length was still a bit too long, so I folded up an extra-deep hem to make it hit above my knees instead of cutting across them. The hem was topstitched with a twin needle, as were the pocket openings. In hindsight I wish I’d bought heavier thread for the topstitching; all I had was all-purpose thread, but I wasn’t about to make a trip to the fabric store for it—that way lies impulse buys—so I settled for a longer stitch length. I also debated whether I should have used a single row of topstitching across the top and bottom of the waistband, but since it will likely be covered most of the time it probably doesn’t matter one way or the other.


All in all, it’s a cute and comfy skirt that will pair nicely with tights and boots. I’ll need to work on finding or making more tops to go with it, but since the temperature here shot from the 60s to the 80s in the course of a week, I don’t think I’ll be pulling this back out until October or November.

Will I make this pattern again? I don’t think so. I want variety in my skirt selection, and while I think this would work just fine in other fabrics, I think there are other shapes I’d rather have more of—or at least try out—first.

Would I recommend this pattern to others? Meh. I think the yoke and pocket construction as written is dumb, but the instructions are otherwise clear and well-illustrated for the most part (with the exception of maybe one diagram in the lapped zipper insertion section). The construction is straightforward without being completely boring, but it still really bugs me that there are no finished measurements anywhere on the envelope or pattern. You could undoubtedly do worse for patterns, but I also feel like you could do better. If you have the pattern already I think it’s worth making up, but if you don’t, I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it.

Before we say a final farewell (for the next five or six months at least), here’s a fun picture with the pockets turned out as far as they’ll go. Imagine they’re waving goodbye to winter and hello to spring/summer.


Wardrobe Architect Week 7: Exploring Solids and Prints

If you explore my closet, you’ll find a lot of solids and very few prints. While I don’t think I’ll ever have Oona’s flair for mixing patterns, I would really like to add more of them to my wardrobe, because wearing an outfit consisting entirely of neutrals always ends up feeling unfinished when I do it. (I know, I know, texture and accessories are the name of the game with neutrals. I don’t have enough of those, either.)

If my current wardrobe is any indication, my favorite pattern is dots. I like small- to medium-sized dots, and prefer even arrangements to random ones. I’m iffy about spots.


Blue with White Dots // Aqua with Gold Pin Dots // Red with White Dots

A close runner-up to dots is stripes. I’m pretty open about them: skinny or wide, balanced or unbalanced, monochrome or multicolored—it’s all good with me.


Navy and White Stripes // Purple and White Stripes // Grey and White Chevron

Behind dots and stripes you’ll find tartans, madras, and checks. I’m pickier about these; I tend to stay away from anything too traditional in favor of brighter and more graphic designs.


Lime Madras // Navy and Purple Plaid // Teal, Black, and Blue Plaid

Trailing behind are geometric and floral prints, which I take on a case-by-case basis. I don’t care for ditsy florals or prints that are too messy or chaotic. Paisley, however, is one pattern I often come back to.


Blue and Green Paisley

I’m not much for novelty prints, although I’m not silly enough to believe there aren’t ones out there that could change my mind and jump into my cart. No reason to tempt fate by claiming I’d never buy them, right?

Eventually I’d like to have something like a 70/30 or 60/40 mix of solids to prints, but for now I’m just looking forward to expanding my horizons beyond a few dotted t-shirts.

What’s your favorite print? Least favorite? What’s the craziest novelty print you’ve ever seen?


For about two decades the start of May heralded, for me, the beginning of the end of the school year, complete with a battery of exams and an obligatory cold. Once I became a regular visitor to Sewing-Blog-Land, however, I came to recognize May as that exciting time of the year when feed readers are full to bursting with photo-filled posts and introspective essays celebrating Me-Made-May. I’ve always thought the name neatly sums up the challenge, but here’s how the creator describes it:

“Me-Made-May’15 is a challenge designed to encourage people who sew/knit/crochet/refashion/upcycle garments for themselves to actually wear and love them.” — Zoe Edwards, So Zo…What Do You Know?

The rules for the challenge are set by the individual participants; pledging to wear one handmade or vintage garment per day is pretty common. The goal is to identify which handmade garments you wear most often and which continue to languish in the back of your closet; to determine where there are holes in your wardrobe that could be filled with a handmade or refashioned item; and to encourage you wear and accessorize your handmades as clothes rather than as finished projects or artwork. (Amy Herzog has a great post about that last topic, definitely check it out!)

Me-Made-May has exposed me to so many amazing sewing blogs and accomplished sewists; it encouraged me to start sewing more seriously (as in, to fill up my closet with everyday clothes instead of just a costume or a hat once a year); and it dovetails nicely with the goals of the Wardrobe Architect series to build a thoughtful wardrobe.

All of that said, I sadly won’t be participating this year. The reality is that I just don’t have any handmade garments to wear. I have a finished skirt (which I’ll blog about later this week) and a finished sweater, one nearly finished sweater, and a handful of scarves and hats; none of those items are appropriate for the weather here right now. I’m firmly resisting the urge to do any panic-sewing because, in addition to being generally discouraged for its crazy-making potential, I’d rather concentrate on making garments I want to wear over simply making things that would make me legally decent to appear in public. (You’re welcome.)

As someone who has watched several Me-Made-May challenges from the sidelines, I had one thought I wanted to share with anyone who’s participating: there’s no need to feel self-conscious. For some reason many bloggers are embarrassed to share a photo every day, or to wear the same outfit over and over again. Why? As a reader and fan I eat up every post with pictures, even if those pictures don’t come attached to clever sewing tips or step-by-step instructions. I love seeing clothes on actual bodies, out in the wild. And seeing the same clothes more than once? It’s a great way to get ideas about how to style the same piece different ways, or to show how a well-made fabric holds up to multiple wears between washings.

Making deprecating comments about feeling vain is just silly: personal sewing and knitting blogs are inherently self-centered, because they’re focused on one person’s project successes and failures, and that’s okay! That’s what readers come for the other 11 months out of the year, so why would May be any different? I haven’t encountered a sewing blogger yet who posted too much, or one who bored me during Me-Made-May. The challenge has been running for five years and the sewing blog community hasn’t shriveled up and disappeared as a result yet, so I’d wager other non-participants feel much the same. So for everyone who has joined the challenge, give yourself a break in the guilt department and enjoy yourself.

Meanwhile, I’ll be cheering you all from the sidelines and plotting to participate next year. If you’re blogging about your Me-Made-May 2015 journey, send me a link? I’d love to add more blogs to my daily digest.