Saturday, March 23, 2013

Wear all the things

Sweater knit skirt, Lux; long-sleeve tee, Gap; fair isle pullover, no tag but I'm pretty sure it's vintage. All thrifted, plus some burgundy tights.
I recently started a new project: wearing clothes.


Oh, well, okay, what I really mean is that my project is to wear all my clothes.

This is about to be a really long, possibly self-indulgent, and probably shallow (or maybe not) post, but I'll tell you a secret, I love reading about other people's wardrobe overhauls, so I figured maybe you do too.

Anyway, for several months (if not longer) I'd been having a hard time getting dressed. Some days I would grab whatever clothes were hanging over the bedpost in the morning--i.e., exactly the clothes worn the day before--which left me feeling schlubby. Other days I would select an outfit, put it on, and realize it totally didn't work--either the proportions were off, or the shirt wasn't comfortable under the sweater, or etc. So I'd switch out one piece for another, find it was still wrong, repeat this process several times, and wind up grabbing the clothes off the bedpost again. At which point I felt schlubby and demoralized to boot: WTF, I can't even get dressed if I try? (And also, crap, now I have a giant mountain of clothes to clean up. AND, jeez, that was a waste of time for nothing.) And then sometimes I would look at my closet full of clothes and be totally overwhelmed, unable to even come up with an idea of what to wear.

Legging jeans, Express; plaid tunic that miraculously makes me feel like a model in a Japanese pattern book, no tag; big black sweater that is currently losing the constant battle against cat hair, Michael Michael Kors. All thrifted.
 The Internet is, of course, full of advice about how to edit, purge, and rebuild your wardrobe. But none of it quite worked for me.

There's one strain of advice that focuses on creating a minimalist wardrobe. Project 333, for example, where you create a capsule of 33 items and wear them for 3 months. That was the opposite of what I wanted! I mean, roughly speaking I had been wearing the same 33 items for 3 months, and it was depressing me.

Plus, I am not a minimalist. I don't want to own the fewest possible clothes. Actually I want to own the maximum number of clothes that I can effectively store, care for, and wear.

How many is that? Well, let's be honest, probably fewer than I currently own. But how many? To me it has been helpful to think about Dunbar's number, which refers to the maximum number of social relationships we can maintain, based on how many people and their interconnections our brains can keep track of. I think the same concept could apply to clothes: after all, we have to remember what we own, which items go with which other items, and so on.

Well, nobody knows how big Dunbar's number really is. But 150-ish seems to be a generally agreed on rough benchmark. What does that mean? It definitely doesn't mean that everybody should have 150 items of clothing, no more and no less. It just means that 150ish might be the theoretical maximum size of a wardrobe that doesn't require a lot of cognitive effort.

By cognitive effort I mean that I don't want to have to do things like make lists and take Polyvore-esque snapshots of outfit ideas (another piece of advice that I've frequently seen). Some people might be perfectly happy doing that, and more power to them. Me, I think clothes are fun to think about, but I don't want to think about them that much. I just want to be able to open my closet and pick out something pleasing to wear, and then get on with the rest of it.

I don't have any proof of all that Dunbar's number business but it's an interesting idea to ponder.

The other common piece of advice of course is "get rid of everything you don't absolutely love and wear." Oh, well, okay then. I mean, if it were that simple we would all have perfectly curated wardrobes already, wouldn't we?

Rose-print dress, Kimchi Blue via Urban Outfitters; houndstooth cardi, Mercer Street Studio, thrifted. And some bright vermilion tights.
And anyway, I have a lot of things that I do love, or think I love, but don't wear. What I want is to understand why not. And to figure out how to wear them.

So here is what I came up with: a sort of Slow Wardrobe Purge, if you will.

The rules are:
  • Wear every item in my closet. Season-appropriate, that is--I'll do this again in the summer.
  • Every item in a category (pants, skirts, etc.) must be worn before one is repeated.
  • Plan what to wear the day before. (Because otherwise: clothes from the bedpost and/or the whole day in sweatpants.)
  • If I can't wear a garment for an entire day (because it's itchy, uncomfortable, unflattering, or just blah), it goes immediately into the Goodwill bag. I can't recommend this strategy enough. A plain black long-sleeve tee looks like a useful basic when it is sitting on the shelf, but once it's been on my body for a couple of hours and I've realized it's kind of boxy and stiff, neither very comfortable nor very flattering--buh-bye. A totally angst-free (if slow) method of getting rid of things, and I think it is much more effective than just briefly trying on each item of clothing.  
  • Each day, write down what I wore and how I felt about it. I'm embarrassed by how self-indulgent this sounds, but it has really helped me to understand what I feel comfortable in and what I like to wear. I also try to notice things like: What garments are hard to wear or not very versatile? What item in a category gets worn first? Last? Are there categories of things that I just don't feel right in? If I'm not comfortable in my clothes one day, what would I rather be wearing?
The pictures in this post are a few of the outfits I've put together during this exercise that I've especially liked.

Black cords, Kut from the Kloth via Nordstrom; moss-green cowlneck sweater, Ann Taylor Loft, thrifted; Aran cardigan, vintage John Molloy. The sweater, which I got in a clothing swap, is nearly always the answer to the question "what would I rather be wearing?"
Because I live in a very casual city and work from home, I think of myself as a jeans-and-a-sweater kind of girl. But I've been surprised to find that a lot of the outfits I've felt best in are dress- and skirt-based. (With these tights I am comfortable all day, able to resist the siren song of my sweatpants calling to me from the very next room.) Realizing that these can be everyday outfits, even if I am going no farther afield than the school bus stop, immediately makes me feel like I have a lot more variety in my wardrobe.

I am not done with this project yet but I have identified the outfit formulas that make me feel good. For me, that's mainly skinny denim or corduroy pants + tunic top + long cardigan sweater; or loose-fitting dress + cardigan + leggings or tights; or A-line skirt + tights + long-sleeve tee + cardigan. (Why yes, I have noticed the almost comical consistency of the cardigan bit.)

Look at how different that list is from the usual advice about garments that "every woman" "needs." I don't own a single blazer, as I can't imagine why I would ever wear one when I could wear, yes, a cardigan instead. I don't have a pencil skirt, a white button-up shirt, a sheath dress, a wrap dress, or a shirtdress. At this point, I don't miss any of those items.

I am far from a style expert but I think what I can say with confidence is that in order to have a wardrobe that works you have to start with what you, idosyncratically, want to wear. It sounds simple and obvious I guess, but a lot of wardrobe-building advice out there is based on totally different principles.

So I do know what I want to wear, that's the good news.   
The bad news is I have relatively few of some of these items in my closet (especially the day dresses and the long cardigans--plenty of cardigans, but not so many work with the skinny pants).

Black knit dress, Max Studio; gray rose-print cardi, Sarah Spencer; both thrifted. Plus those vermilion tights again!

The good news is I have quite a stash of fabric to make them (the dresses at least; no idea what to do about the sweaters, I am NOT going to take up knitting!).

The bad news is my recent sewing-for-myself output consists of one upcycled men's t-shirt, a cut-but-still-not-sewn muslin for a long-sleeve tee, and a half-finished dress (the poppy print) that I haven't touched since last February.

So I am probably doomed, but we'll see how it goes.

(I have another wardrobe-ing exercise that I did along with this one, but I've already gone on more than long enough for one post, so stay tuned.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On the other hand

...a few reasons why I don't make many of my daughter's clothes.

Because you never know when you're going to inadvertently kneel in still-wet leprechaun tracks. (And because the paint at Kindergarten is not as washable as the paint at preschool.)

Also, because who thought it was a good idea to give Kindergarteners real pens?

And also, because this. (Yes, that's two pairs of leggings ruined in less than a week.)

I'm not saying my daughter is suuuuuch a tomboy, she does like twirly-girly things, but she is sort of inattentive to general matters of kemptness. (The kid who neither notices nor cares that she has magic marker all over her face? That one's mine.) And she's enough of a tomboy (or whatever; actually I kind of think that term is problematic) that her primary sartorial concern is: Can I stomp in rain puddles effectively while wearing this?

My man commented the other day that the clothes that I make for my girl hardly ever get worn. (Not that she doesn't wear them; it's not that she's rejecting them, it's that I rarely suggest them.) For the past several years I've made her a dress/outfit for her birthday, and one for Christmas. And maybe, in fact, that's all my schedule can support!

But I'd like to make her more (and for them to be worn more). Partly because I have tons of ideas and it's fun to make adorable kids' clothes, and partly because I like the idea of being able to make her exactly the garment that she has dreamed of.

I have this really distinct memory of wanting, when I was in maybe third grade, a prairie dress with "pink and blue rosebuds on a fawn-colored ground," an idea I must have gotten either from the Little House books or the In Grandma's Attic books. No, I never had that dress, but I remember how much I wanted it (and how vividly I imagined it). And I think how cool (and how much easier, in an age of indie pattern companies and Spoonflower) it would be to fulfill that sort of wish for my girl.

So, anyone have any tips on getting over the fear of handmades getting ruined, so that they can actually get used?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sewing inspiration from South Lake Union

Late last week I had to go to South Lake Union (it's one of Seattle's up-and-coming neighborhoods, and a biotech hub) to do an interview for work. The interview itself was great, but as soon as I left the building a seagull pooped all over my head and shoulders. I cleaned myself up (very poorly, as I later found out), and thought I would go get some lunch at a Tibetan dumpling place a few blocks away that I'd been wanting to try. When I got over there, I found that the dumpling restaurant had closed down. Phooey on you, South Lake Union!

In an attempt to salvage the whole experience, over the weekend I made a sketch of an outfit I saw while wandering around looking for the restaurant. I liked the mix of browns in the outfit (and if I'm remembering correctly the woman wearing it had auburn hair, too). But what really intrigued me was the top: a loose-fitting sweater with a waist tie that emerged through two buttonhole slits in the fabric, and a floaty, ruff-like collar made from white chiffon.

Of course, she may simply have been wearing a sweater layered over a chiffon-collar shirt, but I decided I really liked the idea of a knit top with a woven collar. Perhaps that pattern I recently traced off would be a good candidate, if I can get it to work. I bought a jersey knit sheet at the Goodwill and cut out the pieces for a muslin on Friday night, so now I just need to sew it together. I'm realizing this is the stage at which my attention/motivation often flags. That's right, I love everything about sewing, except the sewing part.

Anyway, my girl got in on the fashion illustration action too, and has requested a purple dress with a print of pink and green roses, and solid purple short sleeves. (About those funny lines emanating from the dress--she colored in so thoroughly that the paper warped from the wetness!) So I guess I'd better get busy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


My plan is working.

I was so excited about this I couldn't take a decent picture to save my life.

(I tried; there were multiple photoshoots. But I wanted to get this up so I'm just going to figure you get my general drift.)


I'm sort of gobsmacked that my bulbs came up at all, and that they have the effect I was imagining. 

(Of course, I'm hoping that they'll fill in a bit, or "naturalize," in coming years. But this is a really good start.)

It's crazy, but I almost like my cheesy rock wall.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The pot of gold at the end of my rainbow

is, of course, my little leprechaun-girl.

We got into the spirit for the St. Patrick's Day party at kindergarten with a bright-green cardi and and a skirt in rainbow colors.

"Let's put the green part of the skirt in front, Mom!" Good idea.

How I wish I could say this is a moss-covered forest path! Sadly, no, it is our moss-covered front walk.

Please indulge me while I relate one short anecdote, just to show that she really is as mischievous as a leprechaun.

A friend was over for a playdate the other day, and they were playing a board game. She was farting around, being silly, etc., and her friend was losing patience. "Come on, do you want to play or not?" he said. And she looked at him and said, witheringly, "Why are you acting like my mom?"

St. Patrick's Day proper isn't until Sunday, so there's still time if you want a twirly rainbow skirt of your own.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to store printouts of tiled PDF patterns

One of the great sewing-related things about the Internet is the advent of tiled PDF patterns. Yay for instant gratification! Yay for no shipping charges!

(And I was going to say Yay for the long tail, but it turns out that means something different than I thought--I always thought it was about the Internet's ability to keep more things available over time, that is, to prevent books, albums, patterns, etc. from going out of print. But that's not quite it. Anyway, Yay for whatever phrase actually does describe that phenomenon!)

But the trouble with tiled PDFs is that once you get them printed out and taped together, they are hard to store. Folding them up to manila-envelope size makes them horribly bulky and unwieldy, for example. (And even though I tend to trace my patterns onto Swedish tracing paper, I often like to keep the copy paper printouts around, in case I want to make another size of a garment.)

But I've just hit upon a tidier, more efficient way to store these patterns. You will need an empty wrapping paper tube, a rubber band, some tape, and a tag and pen for labeling.

Roll the pattern sheet around the wrapping paper tube. (I rolled with the printed side out, as I think that will make it easier to keep the paper flat with pattern weights when I unroll it again.) Secure with a rubber band. Write the name of the pattern on the tag and tape the tag to the inside of the tube.


When I have more patterns to store this way, I plan to simply remove the rubber band and wrap the new pattern around the existing one on the tube, then add it to the list of pattern names on the tag.

Pretty simple but I thought it might be a useful tip.

(In case you're curious, the pattern shown in these pictures is this one, and it's free--Yay Internet!)

How do you wrangle your patterns, PDF and otherwise?