Stash? What Stash?

Two bloggers I follow recently shared mini-tours of their sewing rooms, and another I’m familiar with was featured on Design*Sponge for her sewing nook makeover, all of which reminded me that I am incredibly fortunate to have a spacious apartment with enough room to dedicate to sewing and other crafts. Not only that, but the sunroom is, true to its name, the only room in our apartment that gets any light, and it’s got rather a nice view of the woods behind our building. Unfortunately, it’s severely lacking in the furniture department, which means that for now it’s mostly just a storage corner.

But storage for what, exactly? As a self-proclaimed non-stasher, I shouldn’t have all much beyond my sewing machine and serger, swift and ballwinder, and assorted small tools and notions. Once I get a work table or desk to set up my machines, a small bookcase for my reference books and patterns, and a pegboard or hanging rails for things I reach for most, I shouldn’t really need a storage system for fabric and yarn. It’s not as though I have fiber heaped to the rafters; I’m not tripping over boxes or moving things out of the way to get to other things.

But I do have a couple of bins, and I couldn’t stop thinking about dragging them out into the middle of the floor, dumping them out, and sorting through them with a fresh eye. I have a tendency to keep anything that might possibly be useful for something someday (sidebar: as a member of a generation that can talk meaningfully about post-scarcity economics, where does this Depression-era mentality come from? I really want to know) so I wanted to be sure that I hadn’t squirreled things away that I didn’t actually need or want anymore. I’d like to think this is step one on the road to having the sewing room of my dreams: figure out what the sewing room of my reality actually has in it so I can decide how to make it work best for me. The last thing I need is to go out and buy a bunch of totes or shelves or whatever that I don’t actually have a use for. I mean, I love an IKEA trip as much as the next person, but even I have a limit when it comes to shopping for things to put other things in.

Right, back to the stash. Let’s take a look…


Top row: Utility fabrics (cotton batting, heat-shielding batting, white and black interfacing, clear vinyl, unbleached muslin)
Top-middle row: Apparel fabrics (cotton jersey, drapey cotton blend, brushed cotton twill, polyester charmeuse, rayon bemberg, cotton lawn, novelty cotton)
Bottom-middle row: Craft fabrics (crepe-back satin scraps, quilting cottons)
Bottom row: Craft fabrics (polyester curtain scraps, brown and white vinyl scraps, quilting cottons and bed sheet scraps)

Well then. For someone who doesn’t stash, that’s more than a little bit of fabric. Not a lot, no, and a chunk of it is leftover from completed projects, but there are more than a few pieces of fabric that I had forgotten about buying until I saw them. (I have not yet progressed to the stage where I have acquired fabric with no recollection whatsoever of its origin, thank goodness.) I prefer to buy fabric and yarn with specific projects in mind, because it cuts down on the chance that I won’t have enough material to finish, and because I’m not a designer or improviser, so I don’t really need to have oodles of it on hand for inspiration.

But looking at everything arrayed like this makes me acutely aware of the yardage I bought for specific projects that I never actually started. For instance, I picked up the navy and white quatrefoil with hot pink dots with the goal of making a perfectly fitting pencil skirt with a bit of spunk. Immediately after buying it, I realized that a woven pencil skirt isn’t something I’m likely to wear if given the choice, and that quilting cotton often doesn’t make a very good apparel fabric anyway. Feeling a bit ashamed for making this misstep while buying, I set it aside to “use later,” and promptly forgot about it.

It’s like a sophisticated and stealthy form of self-sabotage and/or denial stashing. If something doesn’t work out, or I think it won’t work out, I set it aside, and then like any other maker I get distracted by my next project idea and off I go. Repeat a few times, and suddenly I’ve grown a stash without realizing it. An accidental stash, if you will.

To prevent this from happening again—or at least slow the rate at which it happens—I decided to swap some bins around so that I could move my fabric out of an opaque container and into a transparent one:

2015-03-29_2_Fabric-binsSimple, but effective. It will be a lot harder to forget what I have when I can see most of it at once. Seeing all of it has renewed my interest in many of my original projects, plus sparked ideas for a few new ones. Which leads me to my pattern stash…


This obviously doesn’t include PDF patterns or magazines, though I don’t have many of either. Overall it’s much tamer, but not very practical. Costume patterns take up 40% of my paper pattern collection. (I love costumes, and bought most of them during a sale.) While there’s definitely nothing wrong with having a lot of costume patterns, I only have one “regular” top pattern, and I know already that the Lisette dress pattern is not for me. This is not exactly a firm foundation upon which to build a handmade wardrobe. I’ll definitely be looking for ways to thoughtfully expand this collection to include practical and versatile everyday clothes.

In the meantime, everything will get stowed in a spare IKEA KASSETT box:


With all this talk about fabric, let’s not forget about yarn…


Ravelry tells me this totals about 9,020 yards. I pretty much have plans for all of it, I just can’t knit it up fast enough!

Of course, that’s ignoring a few lingering, unwanted bits and bobs…


I’ve known for a while that I was never going to use these up, but I’d been at a loss about what to do with them. While I was cleaning out my supplies, I discovered some knitting pattern pamphlets and aluminum DPNs that I knew I would never use (my tastes in patterns and tools have changed since I bought them as a knitter just starting out), all of which fit neatly into a little tote bag I’d sewn up out of remnants that really isn’t my style either. So I packed everything together and have set it aside for a day that I meet a knitter that might want them. It’s not exactly a kit to get someone interested in knitting started—I donated those items to an art co-op before I moved here—but more of a goody bag for anyone who likes string. (This is one of those rare occasions when it would be handy to have friends with kids. Free art supplies!) If I can’t find anyone to take it in the next few weeks, I’ll drop it off at The Scrap Exchange.

Even though it was a bit of a surprise to discover that I’ve accumulated a stash, and even though I didn’t do much to thin it beyond a few odd balls of yarn and a couple of small cuts of fabric, it was deeply satisfying to take stock. Things are in better order, I have plans for my next projects, and I walked away feeling pretty sure that I don’t need to buy any white cotton broadcloth in a while (unless I plan to make curtains or something).

What is the state of your stash? How often do you take stock?

Wardrobe Architect Week 2: Defining a Core Style

The first time I read the title of this week’s assignment, I thought, “Wait, what? Isn’t this the whole point of the Wardrobe Architect series?” I was uneasy about having to pin down my core style in a single exercise, because if I haven’t been able to do it in a little over two-and-a-half decades of being alive, how am I supposed to tackle it in an hour or two? (Or five or six hours, if you count all the time I spent surfing for inspiration images.)

Luckily, this exercise isn’t about picking specific garments, colors, or patterns—those all come later, and one at a time—but about sifting through the emotional responses you have to clothes. Like Sarai points out, we usually know what we like. So the goal here is to identify how the clothes you like make you feel, and how the clothes you don’t like make you feel, and, if you’re like me, how you want your clothes to make you feel.

When you are wearing your favorite clothing, how do you feel (e.g. confident, sexy, poised, powerful, etc.)?

My favorite clothing makes me feel mature and polished, but comfortable. I like things that are feminine without being fussy. “Sexy” tends to carry provocative connotations, and I prefer something that’s more understated—something that doesn’t cry “Look at me!” but that invites an admiring look. My favorite clothes make me feel alluring, and hearken to ideas of classic beauty.

When you’re wearing something that is not quite right, how do you feel? What are the feelings you want to avoid about the clothes you wear?

I touched on this last week, but I hate anything that makes me feel constricted or bulky. I also hate anything that makes me feel frumpy or drab, because it reinforces the feeling that I’m lazy with my appearance. I try to avoid anything that makes me feel the least bit childish, since I already have to fight to convince people of my age, and I resent anything that should make me look and feel like grown-up but instead makes me feel like an impostor to adulthood. All of these things make me feel both self-conscious and alienated, which are a pair of opposites that feel a lot like being overly caffeinated while also being completely exhausted.

Who do you consider to be your style icons? What is it about them that appeals to you?

I struggled with this question more than any of the others this week or last week. Because I don’t follow fashion or any kind of celebrity, I hardly knew where to look for ideas. I started with the women named in the essay—Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O, Katherine Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Alexa Chung, Solange Knowles, Sofia Coppola—but none of them were close. I thought about actresses I think are pretty, like Emma Watson and Hayden Panettiere, but they didn’t really capture it either. I ran through a list of names I could think of, even pulling up more obscure celebrities whose style I knew nothing about, with no success.

While I certainly think that everyone is entitled to their privacy, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that most or all of the images I could find were from high-profile events. What do these women wear in their day-to-day lives? Obviously they’re not gadding about in evening gowns. Do they wear jeans? Dresses? A rainbow of colors? A uniform of jeans and white button-downs? I want to see what they look like when they’re being people, not just famous actresses and singers and dancers and directors.

Finally, I remembered a fashion blogger that I’d followed for some time before I realized that reading her posts was making me feel bad about myself instead of inspired, and I unsubscribed. That feeling was not the blogger’s fault, though, so I pulled up her most recent post and was reminded why I liked her so much: Jean from Extra Petite always looks put-together without being overdressed, and she’s great at mixing colors, prints, and textures in a way that feels layered but not chaotic. She embodies the kind of style that I’m currently aspiring toward.

What are some words that describe styles that you like in theory, but are not quite you?

I understand why some women gravitate toward vintage, but it’s just not my thing. I like things that are comfortable, but not too relaxed or oversized. I want to look and feel feminine, but I don’t care for things that are too soft, like ruffles or ditsy florals. On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t really pull off bold, edgy, or adventurous styles unless I’m in costume. I need more color in my life, but I don’t think I’m wired for a vibrant, technicolor wardrobe.

Look over your answers from last week on history, philosophy, culture, community, activities, location, and body. List at least 15 words that you associate with your answers. Think about descriptive words, moods, and feelings you associate with these things.

unselfconscious, professional, slim, trim, poised, effortless, ready, put-together, fresh, classic, classy, polished, timeless, mature, feminine, unfussy

Are there other words you would like to add to this list? What other words describe your core style?

Nope, that’s it. I already reused a couple to answer the last question. 🙂

Look over the answers to all of the questions above. If you had to narrow your list to only 3-5 words to describe you, which words would you choose?

classic, polished, comfortable, poised, feminine

Now for the fun and/or stressful bit: trying to find images that capture those ideas. I don’t currently follow any fashion blogs, and I’ve already established that I am completely out of touch with the world of celebrity (the blessing and curse of having no cable TV), so finding sources for images was a challenge. I had an idea of what I was looking for, in a sense, but how do you search for a mood?

I resorted to trawling through Jean’s posts, then checking out nearly all of the blogs in her blogroll. As a result, a lot of the inspiration images I looked at featured petite Asian-American women. I am 100% okay with this.


Photo sources from left to right, top to bottom: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 9 // 10 // 11 // 12 // 13 // 14 // 15 // 16 // 17 // 18

Already I can see trends: skinny pants, stripes, pumps (especially brightly colored ones), blazers and cardigans, and skirts that hit just above the knee. I tried to include some handknits, because knitting is a big part of my creative life these days, but it can be tricky to find handknits that are actually styled like regular clothes. Overall I think these photos may be a little heavy on woven fabrics, since I much prefer the comfort of knits (or stretch wovens with spandex), but that’s something I can sort out down the road. For now, I think this is a really good starting place. I’m finally starting to feel like maybe I have a modicum of style after all.

Wardrobe Architect Week 1: Making Style More Personal

What captivated me about the Wardrobe Architect series was the way it expressed thoughts I’ve had many times before:

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the endless bounty of prettiness on the internet?

Sometimes you might wonder, how do I combine all of these disparate things that I like into something that actually feels like me?

But just because you like something, that does not mean it fits you. Enjoying looking at something doesn’t mean it has a deep connection to who you are, necessarily. Some things are just nice to look at and appreciate on their own.

When I first read those lines, I immediately thought, “THIS. Exactly this.” I’ve never been one to collect magazine clippings or keep a pinboard (analog or digital), and I think that’s because I see a lot of things I like—that are designed to be liked, photographed in the right setting with the right lighting and the right accessories—but that I don’t like like. It was a relief to have someone say, “It’s okay to appreciate the beauty of something without making it a part of your personal story.”

As a writer, narrative is a fascinating concept to me, with applications far beyond the written or even spoken word. Once, when pressed to explain why I didn’t seem to have a desire to pursue a certain path in life, I found that the best way to describe it was this: It’s just not part of the story I tell myself about myself.

But what is part of that story? That’s the starting point of the Wardrobe Architect series, and that’s what I’m going to share below.

History: How has your personal history informed the way you dress? When did your tastes crystalize? Have they changed over the years, and why?

My tastes have not yet crystallized. In middle school I didn’t care at all what I wore, and I frequently dressed in sweatpants, hugely oversized t-shirts, and sweatshirts. In high school, I started to care a bit about clothes, but since I was accustomed to oversized outfits, I bought things that were too large and large unflattering. In college, I wanted to look as put together as my logo-ed and brand-clad classmates, but I didn’t have the money or the direction and often reverted to jeans and hoodies. Now, at 27 years old, I want to look like a mature professional woman, but I still want to have a bit of youth and playfulness in my outfits. I finally want to look like I’ve got everything together. Unlike other areas of my life, my clothes don’t reflect my sense of self, my awareness of my own expressive voice.

Philosophy: How does your philosophy, spirituality, or religion affect your aesthetics and buying habits? Or, what aspects of those things would you like to see reflected?

In terms of buying habits, I’d like to be more supportive of environmentally sustainable, ethically made clothing. I value handmade and want to incorporate more of it into my wardrobe in a way that is still practical and stylish. I also value small and independent businesses, and I’m lucky enough to live in an area where there are many thriving, so I’m trying to seek out these businesses when it makes sense to do so. In terms of aesthetics, I don’t want to be ashamed of the attractive parts of my body, and I don’t want to dress with false modesty or prudishness.

Culture: How has your cultural background shaped the way you look? How did the aesthetics and values you grew up with affect your tastes as you got older?

Growing up in a middle class family of modest income has led to a focus on getting affordable clothing, often in the form of inexpensive, solid-colored separates. I’m slowly unlearning this habit, because I’d prefer to buy a few well-made things, and I’d like more pattern and texture in my closet.

Recently, I’ve also reacted by wanting, irrationally, to emulate styles that I’m not actually comfortable in. For example, I’ll see several bloggers I admire showing off the latest indie pattern release, and they’ve done such a good job of putting together a vibrant, attractive outfit that it will trick me into thinking that I too want to wear an at-waist skirt or a boxy top (I don’t).

Community: How are you influenced by the people around you, including friends, family, and other communities you’re involved in?

When I was in middle and high school, I had a few close female friends whose conservative style heavily influenced (and at times overrode) my own. Now, almost 10 years after my high school graduation, I don’t have any female friends that take an interest in fashion, so I don’t have any role models in that regard. I’m not in touch with the world of celebrity, so I’ve never gravitated toward a style icon. More than anything else, it was sewing and knitting blogs that encouraged me to consider and develop my own sense of style.

Activities: How do your day-to-day activities influence your choices?

Because I’m a driven person that needs to always be doing something, I appreciate clothes that transition well from office to errands to crafting to lounging. Comfort often trumps style for me, and nearly all of my clothing is made from knits or stretch wovens.

Location: Does the place you live inform the way you dress? How does climate factor in?

I live in a place that has four seasons, so having hot, cold, and transitional weather clothing is important to me. I’m also often cold, so outfits that layer well are key. This is going to sound ridiculous, but outfits that look good with (or don’t show) socks are also really important.

Body: In what ways does body image affect your choices in clothing? What clothes make you feel good about the body you live in? What clothes make you feel uncomfortable or alienated from your body?

I like clothes that emphasize that I’m slim or make me look curvier. I dislike clothes that make me feel straight, thick-waisted, stocky, heavy-legged, thick-ankled, or small-chested. I also dislike clothes that are constricting through the waist or arms.

It was liberating to get all of that down on paper. (I wrote it out long-hand before typing everything up.) When it’s all swirling around in your head, it’s easy to feel like your preferences are hang-ups and your self-image is a form of judgment. But when it’s all written down, it’s easier to look at everything as facts that can be examined. Through writing, the past is transformed from a stumbling block to a stepping stone.

Kicking Off Wardrobe Architect Wednesdays

Do you consider your collection of clothes, shoes, and accessories a wardrobe? Do you have a personal style when it comes to these items? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, I envy you. Even though I have plenty of clothing to see me through each season without having to do laundry every third day, and even though I have many items that I like or even love, I still find myself standing in front of my closet from time to time complaining of nothing to wear.

Of course the problem isn’t really that I have nothing to wear, but that I have nothing I want to wear. This is compounded by a nagging sense that, even on my best days, I never feel completely “put together.” My favorite outfits often still feel flat, and many days I cling to the idea that at least my clothes are clean and reasonably well-fitting if not especially stylish. On those days I’m all too happy to come home and immediately change into lounge wear or pajamas and forget about what I wore to work.

Truth is, I often don’t feel like I’m very good at “being a girl.” I don’t have a knack for putting together a cute or polished ensemble. I’ve never had a signature look, and I often find myself torn between wanting to look like an adult so that I’ll be treated like one (I was mistaken for a high school student twice on my 27th birthday) and wanting to have fun with my clothes even if my choices aren’t entirely mature. I had little interest in makeup as a teen, so I never really learned how to do it well or fast. I like wearing my hair long, but often find myself resorting to a ponytail because I’m bad at getting ready efficiently in the morning, then regretting that I didn’t take more time to take care with my appearance.

I’d like to change all of that.

When the Coletterie launched the Wardrobe Architect series last year, I followed along with a great deal of interest but didn’t engage with it in a practical way. I was afraid that the focus would be on removing undesirable items from one’s wardrobe, and that I wouldn’t have the skills or means to replace the things I would inevitably need to part with. Luckily, it reverses the order of most wardrobe-building exercises, focusing on what you like, need, and want and giving you the tools to make or purchase those things with confidence; editing is saved for last. And, since there’s been a deluge of indie sewing patterns released, a host of informative books published, and one amazing piece of knitting software programmed in the last year—plus I’ve gotten an absolutely fantastic serger to call my own—I think I’ve got everything I need to dig into the process of thoughtfully building a wardrobe.

For the next 14 weeks or so, I’ll be dedicating Wednesdays to going through the steps of the Wardrobe Architect series so that I can try to work out what, exactly, my style is and make plans to start shaping my closet to reflect that vision. (There is an expanded, year-long project going on now following up on the original Wardrobe Architect series, but for now I’m going to watch that without participating.) Along the way I’ll be supplementing that series with wisdom from Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter book and any other resources that seem helpful.

Unfortunately, this means I’ll be in the thick of things during Me-Made-May 2015, which I had hoped to participate in, but I’ll either make a small, manageable commitment based on what I already have (since panic-sewing is a no-no) or plan to skip this year and commit to participating the next time a challenge arises.

Tell me: if you’ve gone through the Wardrobe Architect series or another wardrobe planning exercise, how did it go? If you haven’t, would you consider it?

Maker Moment: Spread the Love

Last night, Justin and I decided to check out a new-to-use deli for dinner. The shopping center where it’s located, which is a mere five minutes from our neighborhood and full of local shops, is more of a warren than a plaza, with many narrow streets and alleys between clusters of buildings. Since it was nearly 8 PM when we finally settled on where we wanted to eat, it was already dark and difficult to figure out where the deli was amidst all the other cafés and boutiques.

While driving down one of the many one-way streets and peering up at the neon signs, Justin said something fantastical that was completely at odds with his level tone: “That’s a Disney princess.”

“Come again?”

“There’s a Disney princess on the sidewalk between those two buildings.”

Intrigued, we decided to park the car and investigate. (Rather serendipitously, we ended up walking by the deli, which we’d driven past.) Sure enough, there were three young women in full princess regalia being photographed under the streetlights in the covered walkway between two shops. They were perfect replicas Cinderella, Elsa, and Anna, from their hair and makeup down to their gloves and shoes.

I’m a huge enthusiast when it comes to costuming/cosplay, and I’ve been to a fair few Renaissance festivals, Halloween costume contests, and fancy dress parties (as I found out they’re called in England). I have no problems going out in public in garb, whether or not there’s an event, and I don’t mind when people ask questions—far from it!

But I can’t think of time when I’ve seen others in costume outside of event, and I don’t chat up random strangers about their clothes on a normal day. Actually, I don’t chat up random strangers at all, if I can help it. I avoid small talk more diligently people with sniffles and those salespeople at mall kiosks selling lotion. I will absolutely dodge down another aisle if I think someone in the grocery store might try to strike up a conversation.

As someone who loves costumes and likes to make things, though, I had to know: did they make their dresses?

So, bolstered by my curiosity, I walked up and said hello. We admitted to stopping because we caught sight of their photo session; were they dressed up for something in particular? The Cinderella premier at a nearby theater, it turns out. Cinderella herself said they were a huge hit with the kids going to see the movie.

“Did you make your own outfits?” I asked, all nervous anticipation.

Anna pointed to Elsa and said matter-of-factly, “She made everything herself.” Anna’s was a group effort; Cinderella’s was purchased.

While I would have loved to stay and get more details, it was clear that they’d planned the photography, and I didn’t want to interrupt them any further. I let them know that they all looked amazing and wished them a good time. I left feeling heartened that there are other sewists here, and that they’re some super-talented and warm ladies to boot. Even if we never run into each other again, I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared my admiration for their work. I know if I were in their glass slippers, I would have been immensely flattered. I’m glad I could spread the love.