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.

Maker Moment: Show-and-Tell

Today during my lunch break I decided to pry myself away from my desk and head into the break room to eat and knit. Although this break room is open for use by anyone in the company I work for, it’s across the hall from the two primary office spaces, so it’s seldom used by the larger departments. This afternoon, however, there was a young man that I hadn’t seen before eating lunch. He seemed engrossed in his phone, and I had my headphones and my knitting, so I hunkered down without introduction.

Pulling out my yarn and needles got his attention. He introduced himself, then asked what I was working on, if it might be a hat. It was a good guess given his vantage point, but I lifted the work off the table to show that it’s actually a bandanna-style cowl (the free Purl Soho Bandana Cowl, for those interested). He asked how long it would take to finish. I counted out the days that I’d worked on it already, added the one or two evenings left to finish up, and estimated that it will have taken a total of four or five days. Before he could become too impressed by my speed, I pointed out that the yarn and the needles are both quite large, which makes it easy to whip up something quickly.

Now, I know some people would find this kind of interaction bothersome—it’s their lunch break; they have precious little time to themselves, let alone to knit; and they don’t like to be peppered with questions. I’ve heard stories ranging from the anecdotes of mildly irritating folks who insist that crochet is knitting or that they don’t have the time to learn a craft themselves, to the horror tales of rude ne’er-do-wells who will snatch the work from the hands of its owner, threatening to send stitches leaping from the needles whilst demanding to know what the stitcher is making or frostily informing them that they’re “doing it wrong.” Even the well-meaning out there tend to interrupt us when we’re counting or give praise that makes us want to cringe a little. It’s enough to make many a crafter keep their knitting safely at home, venturing out only to the sanctuary of a local yarn store, if at all.

Despite being loath to engage in small talk, I am not one to shy away from knitting in public, and the unexpectedly happy ending to this story has reinforced to me why it’s so wonderful to be seen doing something I love.

See, after I showed off my cowl, my coworker surprised me by saying that he’d only ever stitched up one project, a wallet. I asked whether he had sewn it on a machine or by hand; in answer, he pulled it out of his back pocket. It was very worn, making it hard to tell if it was leather, vinyl, or cloth. Around the edge was an uneven blanket stitch worked in faded and slightly dingy orange thread.

“It’s not very good,” he admitted, but I said, “No, it’s great.”

“It’s almost falling apart. I need to make another one, but I guess I should work on getting better first,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s well-loved,” I countered. He grinned, and it was clear that even though it wasn’t the tidiest piece of work, and it was definitely on its last legs, he’d enjoyed the making and using of it.

It’s not often that I spot handmade goodness in the wild, so it was really heartening to not only see something someone made, but to know that my own handiwork is what encouraged them to pull it out in the first place. I consider myself lucky to have gotten that little peek into someone else’s creative life. I hope it’s not the last time, either.

Do you craft in public? What do you do when others ask about what you’re working on? I’d love to hear other uplifting stories, but if you’ve got a campfire tale of mayhem and madness, bring it on!

Assignment #16: Show Your Living Room a Little Love

At first I was stumped about what to say for this assignment. Cleaning my living room is about as exciting as watching grass grow. I’ve got no helpful tips or funny stories; I simply picked up the things that were out of place and put them away.

Since I was home by myself most of the day and facing down a long list of chores, I pulled up the HGTV Color Splash collection on Netflix. It was only recently added—and I’m so glad, because HGTV is one of the few things I really miss about not having cable—and I figured it might give me some inspiration. Apparently, I’d forgotten how outrageous and, let’s face it, outrageously expensive some of David Bromstad’s designs were. But I still contend that it’s worth watching just to see him create custom artwork for each project.

After watching about 10 episodes, which isn’t as bad as it sounds because each episode is only about 13 minutes long, I looked around and realized how very bare our apartment is. We have one pair of curtains (that I don’t even like very much), no rugs, barely adequate lighting, no artwork, and insufficient furniture. We don’t lack for stuff; we have books, games, electronics, craft supplies, and tools aplenty. But we lack all of things that pull a space together and make it look complete and lived in.

We have more space than we’ve ever had before. In fact, our apartment has about the same square footage as my parents’ single-family starter home. And although it’s probably hard to believe, we picked this place primarily for the location, price, and upgraded appliances, and tend to consider all the space a bonus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice to have, especially when we have people come for the weekend. But moving into a large apartment from a considerably smaller one means that the things we do have seems to be floating like lonely satellites in space.

Seeing rooms like ours transformed from bland or under-furnished into dazzling spaces in a mere 15 minutes tends to be really discouraging, no matter how many times you remind yourself that the design and renovation process took a lot more time and money than the show lets on. This is only compounded when the homeowners have already decorated all of their other rooms, and this last one is just the final piece of a nearly completed puzzle.

When you’ve got an apartment where none of the rooms are even close to being finished, it’s hard to even know where to start. Do you start with the smallest space or the space that’s “furthest along” in its decorating journey, so you have a completed project more quickly? Do you start with the space you use most often, or the one that’s most visible?

To keep this sense of discouragement from spiraling out of control, I took a moment to concentrate on three things:

  1. We see the shortcomings in our space, and we’re committed to working on them. I talked just a few days ago about creating a functioning landing strip, and I already know that when I have the right elements I’m going to float the furniture in the living room to create a cozier TV viewing/game playing spot. We’ve thrown around ideas for a better office configuration that accommodates furniture for a guest room. The only thing holding us back from painting is picking colors, and we’ve been talking about that a lot recently. The January Cure was just a warm-up, a way to prime our apartment for the change to come. There’s no point in beating myself up over the ways things are when we’re already on a path toward change.
  2. Adding things to our space slowly allows for flexibility and change. Transforming a room in one fell swoop might be satisfying because I get to see a dramatic change, but it leaves a lot of room for disappointment and frustration. If I were to commit to changing everything at once, then I would be limited to what’s available right now. I may end up compromising on an item’s size, shape, or color in order to complete my project, or compromising my budget to secure the exact thing I want now rather than waiting for a more affordable option down the line. I’d also be committing myself to something I might think I need or love, but don’t. It can be hard enough to stomach a single bad purchase—how much more so if I had a room full of them?
  3. Decorating should be a joy, not an obligation. Decorating takes time and resources, just like any other hobby. It’s certainly not required to live in a space. (Goodness knows we got by just fine for five years without buying a rug or hanging a painting.) If it’s not fun for me, then I don’t need do it. If I’d rather spend money to see a movie than save up for a lamp, I’m the one who has to sit in the dark—and if sitting in the dark doesn’t bother me, then I don’t need to regret choosing the movie over the lamp. Sometimes saving up for things to improve the apartment will be my priority, and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes I may not have a choice about it, such as on that inevitable day when our one car needs some kind of expensive maintenance. Personalizing our space should be an experience I look forward to, not a chore I dread or a task to check off.

I also remind myself that we aren’t likely to live here forever. Ideally, we’d like to buy a house in a couple of years. But we could end up moving before that, if a compelling opportunity presented itself. There are always events outside of our control. Things happen. In any case, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever “finish” this space. That’s not reason not to make it nice while we’re here, but I’d be dooming myself to failure if I made “fully decorate our apartment” a goal of mine.

I won’t lie and say that that those reminders completely alleviated my feelings about the apartment being bare and style-less, but they did take the edge off. Planning a couple of projects post-Cure helped, too. I’m looking forward to February.

What do you do when your home starts to get you down? Any quick pick-me-ups to help get you past its perceived faults? It’s totally okay if your answer is “window-shop like crazy” or “dream of buying a new house.” I’ve got nothing against a little fantasy.

Assignment #12: The Media Fast

Or, why I won’t be doing one.

According to the assignment summary, I should “take a break from television, computer, tablet and cell or smart phone.” The purpose of this break is to have “the experience of spending time in our homes in different ways” and to take “a rare break from the energy of the outside world finding its way into your private space.” I think these are admirable goals to have, and I certainly don’t fault anyone for pursuing them. If observing a media fast helps a person achieve those things, then I think doing one is both logical and beneficial thing.

But there are three main assumptions in the assignment that I want to tackle, because I find they crop up in a lot of the essays and exhortations about “unplugging,” and I find they bother me more than a little bit.

First, there’s the assumption that “media” only includes, or is wholly synonymous with, electronic media. When I first saw the assignment title, I wondered what I was expected to be doing all evening, since “media” in my mind includes not just television shows, movies, music, and video games, but also magazines, books, and board games. The assignment explanation clarifies that only digital entertainment is off-limits, which to me exposes a certain prejudice for non-electronic media over electronic media, as though literature delivered via printed page is inherently more valuable than that delivered via screen. Or more likely, it reveals an underlying belief that electronic media is consumed quickly and passively, whereas non-electronic media is engaged with slowly and thoughtfully. That may be true of some number of people some amount of the time, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily true, which is to say that I don’t believe electronic media can’t be engaged with slowly and thoughtfully.

Everyone has a choice about how they relate to different kinds of media. Justin and I choose to think critically whether we’re watching a movie or reading a book. Trading one for the other, when we treat both the same, seems like an arbitrary choice with no real benefit for us. So instead of recommending a media fast, I would challenge you to pause and consider why you enjoy your favorite book/show/movie game. What makes it good? What are its flaws? How would you convince someone like me to pick it up?

Second, there’s the assumption that regularly engaging with media largely precludes you from doing any other activities, or it keeps you glued to one spot in the house. Again, I’d say that may be true of some number of people some amount of the time, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily true. Most nights of the week, we watch (and discuss) some kind of show, I catch up on craft blogs via Feedly, and Justin browses his favorite gaming forums. I also usually knit while we’re doing all of those things—I like to keep my hands and my mind busy, even if they’re not working on the same things. Sometimes we’re on the couch, sometimes we’re at our desks in the office, and occasionally we take our phones to bed. We keep ourselves from getting into a rut by playing board games at the dining room table or doing crafts on the living room floor.

So instead of insisting on a new or different activity in order to use a different space, I’d suggest doing something you already enjoy but trying it out in a new spot. Chances are the space is only neglected because you found one spot that worked and had no reason to vary your, and all it takes to change things up is moving the same activity to a new location. This is a challenge I need to take on myself, because we have an armchair in our living room that is pretty much only used by guests. It’s just as comfy as our couch, but I just don’t think about sitting in it. If it turns out that the reason I don’t sit in it is because it’s missing something, like lighting or a place for a drink, then I can fix those things.

Finally, there’s the assumption that the energy of the outside world coming into your space is somehow a bad or disruptive thing. It certainly can be, but I choose to think that I have control over what comes in and what doesn’t, and I can filter things so that as much good and as little bad enters as possible.

As an introvert, it’s easy for me to shut myself in for days at a time without talking to anyone besides Justin, and I’m hardly bothered, because I find being out among people tiring at best and completely draining at worst. But if I also close off all of my online connections, I no longer have access to many of the things that inspire and motivate me. Since I’m already much more likely to avoid people than to spend too much time connected, I prefer not to block out what outside energy I am letting in. So instead of promoting a temporary retreat to your private space and hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign, I’d encourage you to consider what you’re already letting in and see if there’s anything that ought not to get through in the first place. Whether that’s junk mail and endless email coupons or a “friend” that’s bringing you down is up to you.

For those reasons, I chose not to observe media fast tonight, nor do I expect I’ll be doing one any time in the future. I’m going to concentrate on improving the quality of my interaction with various media instead of fretting about the quantity.

Two pieces I enjoyed related to this topic are the New Yorker’s article The Pointlessness of Unplugging and PBS Idea Channel’s video There’s No Such Thing As Offline.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and I’m interested to hear what others think about the idea of a media fast.