Thursday, February 26, 2015

On the psychological paradoxes of capsule wardrobes

Well as you have probably guessed from my silence since last month's capsule wardrobe post, I've been a bit swamped over here. But it's (past) time for another outfit linkup with In Residence and Just Jacq and I've just met a massive writing deadline, so I thought I'd try to get a post up.

I find myself fascinated with some of the paradoxes people talk about related to capsule wardrobe experiments. For example: the more I got rid of, the easier it was to let go of things. As you'll gather below from my lopsided subtractions and additions lists, that's been the case for me too. But it's not out of some general sense of finding out that it's so easy to live with less. Instead, it's that the fewer choices I have the less inclined I am to tolerate not-so-great ones.

I think in the past I've let a lot of items hang out in my wardrobe that I might wear once in a blue moon even though they are fussy or "off" in some way. But when I put such items in the context of a capsule wardrobe and contemplate wearing them every two weeks for three months -- it's easy to see that they should go.

I also hear people say things like: the fewer clothes I have, the more I feel like I have to wear. I do think that when you strip away the wardrobe dross, you have a higher percentage of workable choices, and that leads to the perception of more choice. It's the difference between "nope, nope, yes, nope, yes, no freaking way, no, nope, nope, yes" and "yep, yes, hell yeah."

On the other hand, at this point I think I've pared back my winter capsule so thoroughly that I do bump up against a lack of options. I generally plan what I'm going to wear weekly (this might sound weird or obsessive, but the fact is that I have five minutes to get dressed in the morning while also haranguing my child to get dressed, checking to make sure that she has everything in her backpack, etc., etc., so it's much better to have an outfit on deck ahead of time).

So given my acceptance of the idea that "everything goes with everything" isn't a workable goal for me, and the fact that I generally prefer not to wear a given item twice in one week (again possibly weird or even misguided, but there you go), and also the need to dress for the weather (waterproof shoes or no waterproof shoes?), sometimes outfit planning feels a bit like sartorial Sudoku these days.

Of course this is a bit silly, since I have a whole bunch of other perfectly serviceable clothes sitting on my shelf that I'm choosing not to wear simply because they're "not in my winter capsule." So I simultaneously have these clothes and don't have them; they're sort of like Schrödinger's pants.      

Well this is all an experiment anyway, so I'm just putting it all out there -- the good, the bad, the possibly silly, and the (self)-contradictory. So with all that said, let's get on to what I've been wearing.

February outfits

tan clogs | burgundy cords | purple long-sleeve tee | fair-isle pullover
Dutch locket | dark blue bead earrings | agate ring
Just my cup of casual-folkloric tea.
black dressy tall boots | black opaque tights | black jersey dress | sky-blue cardi
silver and black enamel bangle | agate ring | blue stone earrings | lavender/aqua paisley scarf
This outfit is so simple -- just a neutral background, a cardi with some interesting details,
and a few beloved accessories -- but was such a pleasure to wear.
gray tall boots | gray skinny jeans | lavender cashmere tee | ivory Aran cardi
Russian silver earrings | abalone ring | photo-print scarf
I tend to wear this scarf mostly as outerwear -- this outfit is from one of those crazy-warm
and sunny days that we get every now and then in Seattle in January and February. 
gray tall boots | medium-wash skinny jeans | white tuxedo shirt | gray shawl-collar cardi
Russian silver earrings | abalone ring | agate ring | lavender/aqua paisley scarf
I put this together on the fly after the outfit I'd planned for that day turned out to be a total fail.
So despite the impression I gave above, my current collection of items does
enable that "get dressed without thinking" feat every now and then.

February subtractions

Here's what left my capsule this month and why.



Black/gray/white fair isle crewneck: I like this sweater a lot, but I don't like wearing it at all. The neckline is too high, the hem tends to roll, and it's puzzlingly itchy (it's made of merino wool, which I normally have no problem wearing next to my skin).

Black cashmere tee: Neckline is too high. I will never choose this over my black scoopneck layering sweater -- which isn't perfect either, as it is a fiber blend and tends to pill. What I really want is a black all-cashmere scoopneck, but until then, instead of keeping two imperfect items in my closet I'll just hold on to the imperfect item I'm actually wearing.

Ivory cashmere tee: Again with the too-high crewneck. This tee and the black one used to be absolute wardrobe staples. How could I have failed to see how unflattering this neckline is on me?

Black maxi skirt: I want to like maxi skirts, but they don't play very well with my vintage-y tops and sweaters. I could only come up with a few possible outfits from my capsule using this skirt, and they all felt costumey to me (with a solid black maxi skirt it's all too easy to veer into "witchy woman" territory). I may keep this around to see if it works better in my summer capsule, but more than likely I'll let it go altogether.

Ivory argyle sweater vest: Droopy up top, boxy down below, no thank you overall.

Gray shawl-collar pullover: Any outfit that I can make with this pullover I'd be equally if not more happy wearing with my gray cardi instead. I'd rather just wear the cardi a few "extra" times, and free up mental and physical space for something that lends more true variety to my wardrobe.

Black Aran cardi: My ivory version remains a beloved staple, but this is bulkier and itchier. I've known that, I think, and yet I've kept this item in my wardrobe because I really want a long, cozy black cardigan. It's been a placeholder item, if you will. But if I'm not actually going to wear it and enjoy it...what's the point of marking the place?

Gray argyle v-neck: The pattern on this sweater isn't really gray, white, and burgundy, it's gray, white, and brown, and I don't wear brown. Doesn't that sound impossibly self-indulgent? Oh, I'm getting rid of this because it doesn't perfectly fit my color palette. Check your privilege, girl. Well, frankly, the sweater doesn't fit all that great either -- it's a little short and tends to ride up. (It must also be admitted that I'm carrying a bit more weight these days than I was when I purchased this item.) So this is a case where the imperfect color makes it easier to acknowledge the less-than-stellar fit.

February additions

Here's what I added to my capsule this month and why.



Medium-wash bootcut jeans: LOFT (not currently available). Pretty much the same color as my medium-wash skinny jeans, I know, but the difference in cut is important here. All of the other pants in my capsule are on the skinny-ish side; I prefer to wear longer/larger tops with skinny pants but a larger fraction of my tops/cardis are shorter and more fitted. So these should help balance out my wardrobe a bit. They need to be hemmed, though -- bah!

Ivory scoopneck layering sweater: Woolovers. Similar to last month's gray scoopneck sweater purchase, I've swapped out an unflattering cut for one I much prefer.

Norwegian silver earrings: vintage via Ebay. Oh, heck. I really can't justify these from a "minimalist wardrobe" point of view, can I -- after all, I just bought another pair of silver earrings last month. I will say though that I don't really use the two pair interchangeably -- I tend to wear these as pretty much my only accessory, whereas the others are less "statement-y," if you will. The dangles at the bottom are called "spoons" and they are meant to protect the wearer from evil spirits, which pretty much qualifies these as "wardrobe essentials" in my book.

Gray and pastel scarf: Liberty of London via Ebay. I have to admit that the color palette here is a bit darker than I was expecting based on the online photos, but I do think it fits in my winter capsule and I'll wear it in spring too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Thoughts on month one of dressing like a birch forest

Linking up today to the January Outfit Showcase at In Residence and Just Jacq.

January Outfits

While capsule wardrobes promise to simplify the process of getting dressed, I struggled at first to put together outfits that I liked.

I think this is because I am sort of an obligate layer-er: in order to be comfortably warm during the cooler seasons of the year I almost always need to be wearing a long-sleeved top with a long-sleeved sweater over it. Sometimes the necklines or hemlines of these layers don't combine well, plus there is the comfort factor of one set of sleeves underneath another to contend with. So it has taken some trial and error to figure out which combinations of the tops and sweaters in my capsule are feasible. I've come to the conclusion that while it's easy to create mix-and-match collages of clothes on a computer screen, "everything goes with everything else" isn't a realistic goal in real life. 

That said, a well-chosen set of items does have tons of mix-and-match potential, so here's a week's worth of outfits that I've really enjoyed wearing.

tan clogs | medium-wash skinny jeans | fuchsia scoopneck sweater | ivory Aran cardi
agate ring | abalone ring | garnet earrings | teacup-print scarf (worn in hair)
I love the way this abalone ring looks against my burgundy and fuchsia items.

black casual tall boots | black skirted leggings | fuchsia scoopneck sweater | burgundy long cardi
wedding rings necklace | pink pearl earrings | abalone ring
I wear these skirted leggings a lot on the weekends -- they're super comfortable but a step up from yoga pants.

black dressy tall boots | black ponte knit pants | white tuxedo shirt | light blue long cardi
gray/pastel paisley scarf | agate ring | gray pearl earrings
I wore this on a day when I had a professional event in the evening -
I had forgotten it was happening that night and was very happy to feel like I didn't have to worry
about what I was going to wear because I was already wearing something appropriate.

black dressy tall boots | black opaque tights | black jersey dress | fair isle cardi
black enamel and silver bangle | agate ring | blue stone earrings
This cardi is admittedly difficult to mix and match, but I do love it so.

black dressy tall boots | black ponte knit pants | charcoal tunic sweater | blue handknit cape
black enamel and silver bangle | agate ring | blue stone earrings
Rather dramatic in an equestrienne sort of way --
yes, it felt a bit over the top at first, but ultimately this outfit was great fun to wear.

black dressy tall boots | black A-line jersey skirt | gray scoopneck | medium-blue cardi
black crochet tights | recycled metal necklace | braided metal bracelet | dark blue glass bead earrings
I love the vintage feel of a slightly A-line skirt and a longer, narrow-fitting cardi.
black dressy tall boots | merino jersey straight skirt | dragon-print shirt | sky-blue cardi
black crochet tights | agate ring | black enamel and silver bangle | onyx and pearl drop earrings
In the past I've always paired this shirt with a black cardi --
I like the way this challenge is pushing me to try new combinations. 

Items Not Yet Worn

I don't have much to say about this, I just thought it might be useful to record which items in my capsule are the last ones I reach for, and start to think about why.

gray/black/pink rose-print dress | black maxi skirt | black cashmere tee | black Aran cardi
ballet-pink cardi | gray shawl-collar pullover | blue and rose floral shawl

January Subtractions

Here's what I removed from my capsule this month and why.


Black and white plaid pinafore: This top has elastic along the neckline and shoulders which has lost its stretch, rendering it pretty dumpy looking at this point. And it was never very versatile to begin with.

Black faux-wrap pullover: In theory, effortless and apres-ballet-chic. In practice, just plain fussy with all the tops I tried underneath it, and gapes unflatteringly.

Ivory short-sleeve sweater: At some point I had convinced myself that this was oversized in a funky way, but it is really just bulky. Also it has slightly puffed sleeves, which aren't flattering to my broad shoulders.

Gray fine-gauge turtleneck sweater: I just feel frumpy in this, and will never choose it over one of my long-sleeve tees when I need a top with a higher neckline to wear under an itchy sweater.

Blue-gray lace pullover: I love the color and the lacy knit, but the cut makes my torso look like a short, squat rectangle.

Silver and faux-pearl bracelet: This was my grandmother's, but it's not really my style. It is retro in a  Mad Men kind of way, whereas I am more Call the Midwife.

Brooch with thistle and bee; brooch with watercolor landscape: I still like these items so I'm not removing them from my jewelry box -- just from my capsule, because I realize now that they don't really "fit" the overall look.

January Additions

Here's what I added to my capsule this month and why.


Gray scoopneck layering sweater: Cashmere Cache, via Ebay.
You could say that this replaces the gray turtleneck that I got rid of this month, swapping out the frump for a top in a similar color with a neckline that I much prefer.

Sky blue cardi: Nieman Marcus, via Ebay.
I realize that these mosaic pictures make this look like a duplicate of the medium-blue cardi already in my capsule, but the color is quite different as is the cut (this one is fitted and a bit cropped; the other is longer and straight). I know. I sound like I'm rationalizing, even to myself.

Onyx and pearl earrings: via Ebay.
These are not so much an addition as a replacement for a long- and much-loved pair of onyx and pearl earrings, one of which I lost on New Year's Eve. Sob.

Russian silver earrings: vintage, via Etsy.
I wanted a pair of silver earrings that would have more presence than my thin silver hoops. One of the real benefits of this approach that I can already see is the aesthetic clarity it brings to purchasing decisions. Yes, my jewelry box was lacking a pair of plain silver earrings, but there are hundreds of such earrings out there; how to figure out which ones I should add to my wardrobe? Riffing on the idea of the landscape I'm channeling with this capsule, I started thinking about the lands of winter birch forests -- Russia, Scandinavia. I could see assembling just a handful of old but not too precious jewelry pieces from these areas -- together with a few distinctive items like my fair isle cardi and photo-print scarf these could define the look and feel of my winter wardrobe, which would also contain many basic pieces (gray scoopneck layering sweater, medium-wash skinny jeans) that carry over from season to season.

Norwegian silver pendant: vintage, via Ebay.
I have a couple of tiny gold pendants that I wear a lot, but I think silver fits better with the palette of this capsule. This was a mateless screwback earring that I got for a song, and converted to a pendant. Also, see earrings discussion above!

Braided metal bracelet: husband's grandmother.
This is not new to my jewelry box but I didn't initially include it in my capsule because it is gold. I added it because my black enamel and silver bracelet didn't look right with my recycled-metal necklace. This bracelet is a pretty soft or muted tone of gold, so it still blends well with the silver items in this capsule.

For the record, yes, I do feel rather sheepish that so far I've added nearly as many items to my capsule as I've taken away. I would say that in general I have really enjoyed wearing this capsule, but I sometimes feel frustrated by fussing with it. Of course, this is exactly why people do the work of defining their capsule up front and then just get on with the wearing of it. I keep reminding myself that hopefully, this is my up front -- just a longer, more experimental version of it.

For more about my approach to capsule wardrobes in general, go here.

For details on the items in this capsule, go here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

On narrative play


My daughter had her cousin over for a sleepover this past weekend. That's the two of them in the picture above -- my daughter, 7 1/2, is on the right and her cousin, who is almost 9, is on the left.

The girls set up a sprawling landscape in the living room using our wooden train set, a number of quirky Lego structures, and various Playmobil sets. In the picture above, they're sorting out the details of an area called Camp Happy Hollow.

They also spent a lot of time playing "kitties," which I'm pretty sure is the game my daughter would prefer to play over any other and involves acting out a long and fluid narrative about being slightly skittish yet resourceful beasties in need of a home.

(At one point I was recruited to muse aloud about the DELICIOUS MOUSE PIZZA I was ordering for dinner, and drop broad hints about when I would be out of the house so that the ravenous kitties could sneak in and eat my leftovers.)

I'm thinking a lot about narrative these days, as the project I'm working on during my 32-day writing challenge is a novel. In the great schism between pantsers and plotters I am sort of a self-hating pantser and I'm chagrined to admit that even though I started working on the story *mumble mumble* years ago there are still whole swathes where I don't know what happens next.

So it was fascinating to see how the girls would sometimes change some aspect of their kitties narrative and then re-enact a scene to reflect the change. It wasn't just that they made things up on the fly and the story evolved over time, they actually went back and revised earlier scenes in the game.

It struck me as not all that different from what I am doing with my own writing, and I started wondering whether that sort of re-vision and re-enacting is an important part of the developmental function of narrative play, or maybe even something fundamental to how we humans create and experience narrative in general.

All this isn't apropos of anything much; I suppose it ties in with our earlier discussion about creativity and family life, but mostly I just wanted a place to record these observations while I mull them over.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My (non-minimalist capsule) wardrobe for winter 2015

Following on from my last post, these are the items I began with in my winter "capsule" wardrobe experiment. Again, these are items that I already had in my closet, and I expect that I will subtract as well as add over the course of the challenge (spoiler alert: I already have) as I figure out what works.

Below each of the mosaics in this post I've detailed the provenance of the items pictured, with links to where they can be purchased if still available at retail. These are not affiliate links, but part of the point here is to illustrate my (I think) offbeat or unusual way of assembling a capsule. I do a lot of secondhand shopping and I believe that this doesn't have to be a recipe for a hot mess but instead can be the foundation of a functional wardrobe. (Also, I have 100% cashmere tastes on a 5% cashmere budget, so don't imagine this is entirely high-mindedness on my part.) At the same time, my priority is finding exactly the right items for my wardrobe, and if that means buying retail I'm totally cool with that.

Bottoms (13 items):


Black cords - Kut from the Kloth via Nordstrom; Black jersey maxi skirt - via thrift; White sweater-knit skirt - Lux (Urban Outfitters) via thrift; Burgundy cords - Madewell via thrift; Black ponte knit pants - Gap; Black A-line jersey skirt - American Apparel; Gray cords - Old Navy via thrift; Black/gray/pink rose-print dress - Kimchi & Blue via Urban Outfitters; Black skirted leggings - Eileen Fisher via Nordstrom; Black merino knit skirt - Neve Designs; Gray skinny jeans, Gap; Medium-wash skinny jeans - LOFT; Black jersey dress, Max Studio via thrift.

Tops and layering sweaters (16 items):


Black cashmere tee - Charter Club (Macy's) via thrift; Ivory cashmere tee - Charter Club (Macy's) via thrift; Charcoal tunic sweater - Woolovers; Fuchsia scoopneck sweater - Banana Republic via thrift; Black scoopneck sweater - Banana Republic via thrift; White tuxedo shirt - J. Crew via thrift; Light gray turtleneck - Coldwater Creek via thrift; Rose-pink cotton tee - Gap via thrift; Black cotton tee - Gap via thrift; Owl-print blouse - Anthropologie; Gray/white striped blouse - H&M via thrift; Purple cotton tee - Gap via thrift; Black/white/gray fair isle pullover - J. Crew via Ebay; black/white plaid pinafore - via thrift (no tag); Silk dragon-print shirt - Jade via thrift; Lavender cashmere tee - J. Crew via Ebay.

Sweaters (17 items):


Black Aran cardi - vintage via thrift; Gray and black rose-print cardi - Sarah Spencer via thrift; Gray cable-knit cardi - Aqua cashmere via Ebay; Burgundy long cardi - Charter Club via Macy's; Ballet-pink cardi - Clan Douglas (vintage) via thrift; Camel cable-knit cardi - Aqua cashmere via Ebay; Black cable-knit cardi - J. Crew via thrift; Gray/white/burgundy argyle v-neck - J. Crew via Ebay; Gray shawl-collar pullover - J. Crew via thrift; Burgundy lace-knit cardi - handknit via thrift; Medium blue boyfriend cardi - J. Crew via Ebay; Fair isle cardi - Banana Republic via Ebay; Black faux-wrap pullover - J. Crew via thrift; Ivory Aran cardi - vintage via swap; Gray-blue lace-knit pullover - handknit via thrift; Rose fair-isle pullover - vintage via thrift; Light blue long cardi - Ralph Lauren via Ebay.

Etc. (4 items):


Gray/white argyle sweater vest - J. Crew via Ebay; Ivory short-sleeve sweater - Moth (Anthropologie) via thrift; Medium-blue cape - handknit via thrift; Blue/rose flower-print shawl - Liberty of London via Ebay.

Shoes and boots (6 items):


Black dressy tall boots - La Canadienne via Ebay; Black casual tall boots - North Face via REI; Black ballet flats - Aerosoles via DSW; Gray tall boots - Born via REI; Tan heeled oxfords - Cobb Hill via Amazon; Tan clogs - Lotta from Stockholm.

Scarves (6 items):


Ivory/gold feather-print - Vera Neumann (vintage) via Ebay; Gray/pastel paisley - via thrift; Fuchsia teacup-print - Vera Neumann (vintage) via thrift; Pink/white/gray dancers print - vintage via Ebay; Aqua/purple paisley - Anne Klein (vintage) via Ebay; Photographic print - Anthropologie.

Tights (6 items):


Black crochet tights; black opaque tights; cream crochet tights; gray ribbed tights; burgundy textured tights; pink crochet tights - all via Sock Dreams.

Earrings (8 items):


Pearl studs - husband's grandmother; Garnet and silver - tourist shop in Granada, Spain; Dark blue glass beads - Christmas gift from dad when I was in high school; Yellow and gray stones - made by me; Gray pearl drops - hippie clothing store in Seattle (?) a long time ago; Pink pearl drops - made by me; Blue stones - made by me; Silver hoops - Etsy.

Necklaces (9 items):


Double-strand pearls - husband's grandmother; Delftware locket - my grandmother; Rose quartz beads - husband's grandmother; Freshwater pearls - gift when I was in middle school; Blue and white porcelain necklace - vintage, thrifted when I was in high school; Recycled metal necklace - Noonday Collection; Silver tube necklace - via thrift (I call this my caddisfly necklace though that is surely not its actual provenance); Blue stones - made by me; Wedding rings on chain - great-grandparents.

Bracelets, rings, and pins (14 items - I seem to accumulate a lot of pins but rarely wear them, anyone else?):


Black enamel and silver bangle - vintage via Etsy; Marcasite bracelet - husband's grandmother; Silver and faux pearl bracelet - my grandmother; Jet ring - my grandmother; Agate ring - my grandmother; Abalone ring - vintage via Etsy; Dragonfly pin - gift; Embroidered pin with blue flower - my mom made it; Embroidered pin with thistle and bee - vintage via thrift; Silver flower pin - husband's grandmother; Silver and turquoise flower pin - vintage via my mom; Rhinestone pin - my grandmother; Seal pin - gift; Watercolor landscape pin - vintage via Etsy.

So that's 50 items of clothing, 6 shoes (oops, sorry, I miscounted somewhere in my previous post), and 45 accessories, or 101 items altogether. I think this was a useful exercise for me especially because accessories are often considered "freebies" in capsule wardrobe challenges. It's easy to see that even when one feels one has a manageable number of choices in any given category, the total number of items adds up fast!

But numbers can also be deceptive when it comes to the functionality of a wardrobe. Four skirts -- but three of them are solid black and the other is white: boring! In general this collection of clothing skews a bit darker and more neutral than I would like. I probably have too many sweaters, and perhaps not enough tops. I bet I will get bored with my selection of footwear.

But I'll leave things there for now. Next week I'll post a few of my favorite outfits that I've drawn from this capsule so far, as well as additions and subtractions made this month and some thoughts on the process so far.

Meanwhile: anyone have tips for wearing brooches in a non-grandmotherly way? Should I just embrace my inner Madeleine Albright and be done with it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thoughts on capsule wardrobes for non-minimalists


I recently started a new project: wearing only some of my clothes.

That's right, it's sort of the opposite of my "wear all my clothes" effort a while back, though the goal is more or less the same: to develop a wardrobe of clothes that I love and that I wear regularly -- and nothing else.

I am always fascinated by capsule wardrobe challenges like 30 for 30, Project 333, and the like. But ultimately, they don't quite scratch my itch for a better wardrobe, a more functional closet. First, as I've said before, I'm not a minimalist. I am happily non-minimalist, as a friend puts it. I like variety and I like my things, I just want those things to be well and deliberately chosen, and functional. (Which is where I do meet up with the minimalists -- too much stuff or too many things and I can't effectively use what I have.)

Second and probably relatedly, numbers-based challenges always seem arbitrary to me. Why 33 items and not 34, aside from the fact that Project 333 is much catchier than Project 334? Of course, people adapt and individualize these challenges in all sorts of ways. But I don't want to get caught up in endless justifications of whether shoes, accessories, or outerwear "count." I just want to build a wardrobe that works for me in some sort of organic way.

One idea that does hold a lot of resonance for me is that of having a wardrobe for a particular time of year based around a specific color palette. The queen of this approach is DaniBP Mop Philosopher, whose seasonal "colour stories" are pleasing to the eye and also seem like they would be quite practical from a mix-and-match perspective. Plus, the nature-girl in me really likes the idea of dressing to follow the seasons.

So that is my wardrobe project for this year: developing a series of seasonal "capsules" around shifting color palettes. "Capsule" in scare quotes because this is not about numbers per se, but rather about finding cohesive, overlapping subsets within my larger wardrobe.

I hope that this will help focus my creativity around a manageable number of items each season, while the seasonal switch-outs will serve my need for variety. I also hope that reducing the number of items in my active wardrobe at any particular time will help me see more clearly what makes a functional wardrobe for me -- both in terms of overall size and in terms of structure (proportion of tops/bottoms/sweaters, how accessories contribute to the feeling of variety, and so on).

My initial thought was to organize my winter capsule (which I plan to wear from January through about mid-March) around black, white, gray, burgundy, and shots of icy pastels. Think of a snowy birch forest at rosy dawn. I took some items fitting that color palette out of my closet and spread them out on the floor, just to get an idea of my starting point.


A common piece of home decorating advice is to design a room around a printed item like a rug or curtain fabric. Similarly, I think it can be helpful to use a printed item of clothing to guide a wardrobe's color palette. The queen of this approach is Janice at The Vivienne Files, who uses beautiful scarves as a springboard for planning capsule wardrobes. With this in mind, I took a look at two of my items that really captured the "feel" of the wardrobe I was trying to build (though admittedly I probably wouldn't wear these two items together). The fair isle cardigan gave me the idea of adding a little bit of camel to my palette. From the scarf I pulled medium blue and rose pink.


At this point my thinking about the structure of my palette shifted a bit -- what I had was less a group of colors than an interplay between color and value. I had a dark neutral (black) and a light neutral (white), and three colors that moved through a range of values (charcoal gray --> light gray, medium blue --> ice blue, burgundy --> ballet pink). Small amounts of lavender and camel rounded out the picture.


I didn't find it necessary to box up all my other clothes as is recommended in some capsule wardrobe systems. I did rearrange the shelves in the bedroom so that all of the "current capsule" clothes are together.



In my closet, items fitting into the current palette are hung towards the center of the rail. A scarf hanger holding winter-capsule scarves serves as the divider from the "inactive" items.


I also rearranged my jewelry box, pulling everything that fits my current color palette towards the front of the drawers.


My wardrobe includes 53 items of season-appropriate clothing and footwear that fit this color palette. (I'll detail those items as well as accessories in my next post.) That's substantially larger than most capsule wardrobe rubrics prescribe, but I think it's limited enough to offer a manageable number of choices.

Also, note that this is just a starting point, as I am approaching this project in the opposite way from many bloggers who write about capsule wardrobes. The dominant approach seems to be to plan and shop for a seasonal capsule up front, then impose a "shopping ban" during the wearing of the capsule. But I find it difficult to know up front what I need in order to make a capsule function well, and what I want in order to make it a pleasure to wear. So I'm starting with what I have, and expect that I will subtract items that prove to be sub-par in practice, as well as add items as I develop a better sense of what would really improve the mix. The downside of this approach, I realize, is the potential for more time and head space to be occupied by wanting and shopping for things. I'm okay with that for now, as I think this is the best way for me to develop a wardrobe of lasting utility, with less turnover from year to year.

I'm linking this post up to the winter capsule series at In Residence and Just Jacq, even though the details of my winter capsule are still to come -- I'm a bit behind on documenting this project, although for the record I've been wearing exclusively the pile of clothes above since January 2.

I'm curious to know whether anyone else has done something similar, particularly the part about seasonal color palettes? Please share any observations or advice you have.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Half-rectangle triangle sachets


Readers, I sewed.

I am not going to claim that our new shared office/atelier space makes it easier for me to find the time to sew. And certainly the reality is not always pretty.



But having the space to spread out a cutting mat and set up an ironing board without moving a bunch of other things out of the way first sure makes the whole experience a lot more pleasant.





Recently I made some sachets as holiday gifts for some friends and family members. This was a nice, manageable project that nevertheless offered the fun of picking out fabrics and the excitement of learning a new patchwork technique.

I bought some little muslin bags at our local hippie supply store and filled them with lavender and plastic scent beads that I had soaked in cedar oil. I sewed the tops closed and clipped out the drawstrings to reduce bulk at the top of the bag.



Then I made covers for the sachets. One side was a simple rectangle of fabric and the other was composed of two triangles of coordinating prints. I love half-square triangle patchwork and it turns out that half-rectangle triangles are not much harder to do.

I do wish that I had managed to sew the covers closed in a tidier way. But I needed a quick machine method to finish these, I didn't have time to sew them closed by hand. And I think they do the job even so -- we've kept similar sachets (though without the fancy covers) in our closets for the last year or so and they really smell wonderful.



Materials:

  • Top row, fabrics from the Liberty Lifestyle Bloomsbury collection. Triangles are Dorothy and Woolf; backs are Catherine -- all in the Pale Blue color way.
  • Bottom row, fabrics by Anna Maria Horner. Triangles are Bubble Burst in Sweet Cream from the Innocent Crush collection and Sundials in Amethyst from the Field Study collection. Backs are Specimen in Dreamy, also from Field Study.


Methods:



(I have to admit that with the section above I'm sort of ripping off this excellent quilting blog. The science nerd in me can't resist and the journalist in me is compelled to cite my sources.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I want to be Vampire Weekend Mom

We had a few friends over for dinner on New Year's Day, and I made Persian New Year Soup. I'm aware that Persian New Year is near the end of March, not at the beginning of January, but the symbolism still seemed appropriate, both in general and for a kind of hidden, idiosyncratic reason that I'm about to explain.

The recipe I used came from Silk Road Cooking, a collection of vegetarian recipes that spans Italy to China. The author is Iranian-American culinary scholar Najmieh Batmanglij, also known in our house as Vampire Weekend Mom.

The moniker comes from a brief New Yorker article of the same title, in which Margaret Talbot recounts meeting Batmanglij at a Washington, D.C. party in 2010. The women get to chatting and Talbot soon learns that one of Najmieh's sons, Rostam, is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for the indie rock band Vampire Weekend; her other son, Zal, is a filmmaker.

The rest of the article shapes interviews with Najmieh and the two Batmanglij boys into a kind of testament about raising creative children and living a creative life as a parent. I'd read the article when it was first published in 2013, but I admit it didn't make a terribly strong impression on me at the time. Then, a few months ago, a rousing family dance party featuring "Diane Young" prompted me to recall the quirky title and reread it.

I have read the essay about a dozen times since then and never fail to get choked up, so perfectly does it seem to encapsulate my deepest desires for motherhood, family life, and my own creative pursuits, as well as my deepest convictions about how these things can be combined and even feed each other.

Of course, I had to buy a copy of my new role model's cookbook. Everything I have made from it has been excellent (although, it must be admitted, profoundly unphotogenic in the way that the plant-based peasant dishes I love most usually are). And, as part of my effort to channel Vampire Weekend Mom, it seemed right to start off the new year by cooking one of her recipes.

Relatedly, also on New Year's Day a friend dared me to join a 32-day writing challenge, and write for an hour each day from January 1 through February 1. Most days I've been splitting my hour in half, with one writing session during that gloriously productive no-one-else-is-up-yet hour of the early morning, and the other sandwiched in between homework, dinner, and my girl's bedtime.

Each night I announce, "I'm going to do my writing now, I'll be back in a half hour and please don't disturb me," and I don't feel the least bit guilty about hiding myself away from my family to write. On the contrary, I think I'm showing my daughter an important lesson. After all, that's the first commandment of Vampire Weekend Mom, as Talbot puts it: "Model creativity by being creative yourself, and in so doing, give your kids a realistic sense of how much work is involved." For a whole host of reasons, I wish I'd done this years ago. But I'm glad I'm doing it now, and I'll tell myself it's baby, baby, baby, baby right on time.



Ash-e Reshteh (Persian New Year Soup)
Adapted from Silk Road Cooking: A vegetarian journey, by Najmieh Batmanglij

For the soup:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup beluga lentils
10-12 cups water
1/2 pound linguine, broken in half
1 Tbsp unbleached flour, diluted in 2 cups water
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1 lb. package frozen chopped spinach
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup rice vinegar

For the garnish (nana daq):
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp dried mint flakes (the contents of two mint herbal tea bags will do here, in a pinch)
1/2 tsp turmeric

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for 10 minutes until translucent. Crush the garlic through a garlic press into the pot and add the salt, pepper, and turmeric. Stir-fry for another minute or so to blend the flavors. Add both types of lentils and stir to coat them with the oil. Pour in 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the noodles and flour, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the scallions, dill, parsley, spinach, and chickpeas and cook a few minutes longer to heat through. Test the lentils to make sure they are done.

Meanwhile, make the nana daq garnish. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet over low-medium heat, add the garlic and stir-fry gently for a minute or two. Don't let it get too brown or it will be bitter. Remove from heat, add the mint and turmeric, and stir well. Set aside.

Just before serving, remove the soup from the heat, add the vinegar, and stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir the nana daq into the soup or garnish each bowl with a spoonful.

Serves 12.