Smock dress dreaming

Smock Dress Dreaming Sewing

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How do you feel about pockets, the bigger the better?

I love being free from a purse, throwing my necessities and maybe a craft project for good measure into a generously sized pocket, and apparently I’m not alone in feeling that capacious pockets offer freedom: “No pocketless people has ever been great since pockets were invented, and the female sex cannot rival [men] while it is pocketless” notes an 1899 article on the Rational Dress Society. Pockets (or lack thereof) are not just a symbol of sexism, but political in nature: evoking swagger, mystery, suffragettes, personal property, equality.

Similarly, the loose silhouette of early 20th Century ‘Village sacks,’ so named for the Greenwich Village artists who made and took to them, freed the female body and “conveyed the message that the wearer was a liberal woman who stood outside mainstream America.” (this I’ve learned from the incredible O’Keeffe: Living Modern catalog).

Which brings me to my modern loves: functional studio-meets-street smock designs by State the Label and GDS Cloth Goods which give me all the heart-eyes, the amazing catch-all crescents of Elizabeth Suzann‘s Clyde designs, and denim shift dresses and full skirts with wrap-around pockets by Aliya Wanek and Carleen. I contend that FLAX designs of the ’90s actually originated many of the sack and pocket shapes we’re seeing these days, my own vintage Flax jumpsuit adorned with inset wrap-around pockets, and a quick eBay search offering much inspiration (lower right in the collage above).

After doodling countless smock dresses on every surface within arms reach, I’ve taken to drafting my ideal dress, a mash up of my smock-pocket dreams and my self-drafted crop top and best woman dress. More soon!

Small closet chronicles: lessons from donations

Donations

It doesn’t really seem like spring yet, but I’m already feeling spring cleaning fever. Part of my reorganization and revitalization efforts include moving clothes out of purgatory — that pile or box where I’m trying to decide if they should be scrapped, sold, or returned to my wardrobe — and into new homes.

Have you heard about the glut of giveaways, the sea of secondhand clothing?

The short version of the story is that pace of consumption is so fast and price of clothing so low, that donations are flooding secondhand stores but the prices are barely competitive with fast fashion shops. I’ve certainly noticed a shift in what I find at thrift stores over the past 15 years, and in my own purchasing power — I started shopping at thrift stores when fashionable options were out of reach, when silk blouses, wool skirts, and cotton jeans filled the racks, and then H&M came to town at the tail end of high school and suddenly I had so many more choices, yet now the secondhand racks are bulging with cast-off trendy tops and misshapen synthetic blends.

So, I try to be very careful with what used goods I’m putting out in the world — of course that largely begins with bringing in a lot less and shopping secondhand in the first place. But still, sometimes it’s time for things to move on — to free up some physical space, and reduce mental and emotional clutter too.

As I drove a box of donations to Goodwill last weekend, I thought through each item in the box and realized I could learn something from what I was getting rid of — something to carry with me, a lesson learned in lieu of the thing itself:

3 party dresses: align your wardrobe with your lifestyle, and choose versatile special occasion clothes.

I don’t really go to parties anymore, neither of the college campus nor the business casual happy hour variety, and after several years going unworn in my closet I can confidently say these clothes can go. When I do have a special occasion on the horizon, I prefer to dress up the pieces in my existing wardrobe, and if I need something new I will remember to keep it classic and versatile (or maybe rent it? That seems like a fun option for events).

1 clothing swap sweater: just because it’s free and intriguing doesn’t mean it’s right for me.

I actually picked up this particular sweater before I had ever knit one for myself, and I’ve realized how much I’ve learned about my preferences in knitwear shape and style since then. Thanks knitting!

3 plain cotton thrifted tees: trust that when you’re ready to make a project, the right supplies will be available.

I picked up a few shirts at the thrift store when I was obsessed with an Alabama Chanin book; I made one garment and may someday make more, but for now these shirts were just taking up space so I decided to release them back into the secondhand ecosystem.

2 half-priced craft books: it’s better to save the small change and request the real deal.

This winter I’ve been really into my non-fiction library queue — when I hear about a craft, art, or design book I’m interested in, I place a request online and then wait for it to arrive. Borrowing it first allows me access to the skills I’m trying to build or inspiration I seek, and time to decide if I really need it in my home library, rather than settling for a discount version that won’t quite satisfy the need.

5 miscellaneous activewear separates: bodies change; it’s ok to let go.

My current approach to athletic wear is pretty similar to my special occasion clothes: I want things that are versatile and actually get used. Workout clothes (and bathing suits) are tricky because I think there’s an element of materialized aspiration, but I no longer see the value in holding onto items purely for motivation or guilt. (yuck)

A shower caddy: avoid organizational “necessities” until you figure out what your space really needs.

This one’s not clothing related, but it’s an important lesson for me, especially as I continue to move apartments. Plus, Goodwill often has tons of these types of racks and baskets, so I endeavor to scout those out first (with measurements on hand!) to find the right fit next time.

A bag of miscellaneous craft supplies: trust your gut and keep striving to stash less.

There’s an amazing annual event here, a communal garage sale for all things textiles and fiber crafts, and I volunteered last year and found it completely overwhelming. I took home some lovely textiles but also grabbed a few things that in my gut I knew weren’t quite right (like the giant embroidery hoop) so I’ll be returning them into the sale and hoping they go to a better home. An annual event provides a good built-in guideline — haven’t touched it and still have no plans for it after one year? Back it goes.

Personally, I think that if you truly can’t use or refashion an item in your wardrobe or home, it’s still better to donate it than send it to the landfill. For vintage or natural fiber items, maybe it will make its way into the hands and heart of an eager thrifter like me, but  just know that it’s probably not going to a needy closet somewhere, it might just go into the rag trade or even get bundled and sent overseas.

Taking the time to reflect on what I’m getting rid of helps steer me toward shopping more responsibly and reducing waste in the long run.

 

 

Winter capsule chatter

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Into the depths we go.

My second winter here is already proving longer and less predictable. But my winter wardrobe? Quite the opposite.

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Since I went into my capsule & creative planning process at length for fall, I thought I’d keep it quick this time: I printed the worksheet, grabbed a pen, opened up my dresser and started shuffling things around and taking notes. Add the new Solange album and a cup of tea and it was a really excellent way to spend a chilly Saturday morning.

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My winter “top 8” includes:

  • Brown silk tee, secondhand
  • Black silk tunic, secondhand
  • Rise & Fall turtleneck, made by me
  • A-frame skirt, made by me
  • Clyde pants, by Elizabeth Suzann
  • Levi’s 501 jeans, secondhand
  • Ondawa sweater, made by me
  • Chunky ribbed v-neck sweater, secondhand

My full capsule includes:

  • 5 bottoms (2 jeans, 1 pair of pants, 1 skirt, 1 pair of leggings)
  • 4 dresses (1 dressier option, 3 casual)
  • 14 tops, tees, tunics, turtlenecks, and blouses
  • 6 sweaters
  • 2 pieces of outerwear (1 heavy coat, 1 wool wrap)
  • 3 pairs of shoes (including 1 heavy snow boot)

What I really find helpful about this seasonal wardrobe check-in is that, for me, it becomes very obvious very quickly what my needs and gaps are, which allows me to prioritize and be realistic about what to make and what to buy. This time, I ended up making a little quadrant on the “shopping list” section:

NEED / WANT / MEND / MOD

It serves as sort of a cross-sectional cheat-sheet of what to prioritize. For instance, most of my fall sewing plans got bumped into the want list, because what I need is a winter-weight pair of pj pants (I’ll use the Hudson pants pattern I own and love), and a big cozy cardigan  (I’m cruising along through Exeter in a beautiful local yarn in natural grey). I used the “pieces I own and never wear” section to reflect on a few items that are in low rotation — those went into the “mod” section — and making my full capsule list showed me exactly what needs mending (2 sweaters and 2 pairs of jeans).

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My budget is probably going to be a little tighter in 2017, so ending the worksheet on that note was helpful. The boots will be my big purchase (thanks to some holiday gift help!), and then I hope to finally repair a new-to-me vintage sewing machine, and later, rent a loom (at the local guild) to dust off my beginner weaving skills. I think by spreading those out over the next few months I can manage them all.

In terms of winter style, I’m loving all the layering possibilities and playing with proportion, inspired by some of my favorite designers and bloggers. To sum it up, I’d say: turtlenecks under everything; front-tuck a big cozy sweater; boxy mock-neck pullovers are winning; top it off with a beanie and booties.

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So far I’ve been working most of this inspiration into my daily outfits and am pretty pleased with how versatile my small closet is. I have my eye on a few new shapes to make from my stash, but they fall squarely in the want not need category, so I’m trying to balance lust with discipline. I’m also trying to avoid buying any more materials (the organic cotton terry for the winter Hudson pants was a small but necessarily slip-up in my de-stash efforts), but something inside me keeps whispering raw silk.

A little bit of thrift store browsing might be in order.

And how about you — are you seasonally planning, capsule creating, or just freewheeling these days?

I really enjoyed Karen’s wardrobe planning series on Fringe Association, which follows the same general framework as the capsule planner, I think. I’m also intrigued by the SewMyStyle capsule challenge that popped up on Instagram — from what I gather, it’s a guided process of sewing one pattern per month, which results in a little capsule wardrobe of its own. I’m not really interested in the patterns they selected, but I like the concept and I basically sew one thing per month anyway. I like how Sienna is modifying it to her own goals and existing stash of patterns, and am looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

Just enough (plenty)

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Over the holidays I spent a restorative week with friends & family, partaking in traditions that were new to me, and new twists on the old familiar. In an effort to share the meaning of Hanukkah, we read some much-loved children’s books, including a very sweet story called Just Enough is Plenty. 

Lessons about latkes and generosity toward strangers and finding joy in relative abundance warmed my heart, and I can’t help but translate that message into this rambling reflection of my fall capsule, a balancing act of seasonal change & wardrobe paucity

Sometimes it’s really nice not to have a lot. Like, all my clothes in this capsule fit on a dozen hangers and into one large dresser drawer, the out of season-ers up above in two bins and another handful of hangers. And I rarely ever struggle with getting dressed in the morning, nearly everything is a favorite or at least a faithful piece that plays well with others and holds a certain amount of meaning to me. (like the outfit below, which I posted for my Slow Fashion October intro)

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But then:

your go-to jeans rip.

your boots fall apart.

your most functional cardigan is embarrassingly pilled.

your one mid-weight jacket doesn’t quite cover the climate.

So: the perks of selection, of alternate options to lessen the all-around wear & tear, the gratitude of being able to sub into rotation while the mending pile awaits.

it seems like the age-old time vs. money quandary to bring in reinforcements, and this season I seem to have skirted the two with happenstance.

The week after my jeans ripped (in the crotch area, again) while riding my bike (to work, for a meeting), my friend Lydia generously gave me a pair of sturdy Levi’s 501s that no longer worked for her. They’re just what I needed, and just in time.

The week after I received the pair of pants I pined for and planned and purchased, I realized I couldn’t quite budget for the boots I had my eye on too. Just then, a pair of Nisolo boots popped up on a resale site, gently worn and half the price. A sturdy substitute, ideal for the season.

And the Clyde pants? I hesitated at first, treating them with kid gloves and wrestling internally with the price. But then life sped up, pants ripped, and there they were: stylish, comfortable, wonderful, and much much appreciated. Truly, they’re worth more than the sticker price anyway.

And all of that queue? It largely remains in list form – on the internet, and on my studio wall.

Which is not to say out with the queue! Because if anything, getting by with a sparse capsule affirmed my plans — a limited addition of a few strategic items would certainly help my wardrobe function a little smoother and rest a little easier. And an addendum: for next year, I would add a jumpsuit to the mix, because the warm weather lingered and I really missed my blue linen jumpsuit but I knew it just wasn’t warm enough. I’m eyeing the new Mitchell Jumpsuit pattern from Hannah Garr, maybe in a heavy linen or light denim.

But in going without, in letting go of the pressure to finish it and make my pinterest dreams come true, I got by just fine. Maybe even turned the corner from fine to great, from overly focused to going with the flow. And in these past few months, the ‘capsule’ season has been dwarfed by the political season; the weather shift outweighed by the climatic shift in American identity; the wardrobe needs cast aside for community needs of time, money, presence, and pressure.

It turned out: just enough was plenty.

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I did finish the sweater (v.2) for Jenn (notes on Ravelry here), and moved on to a few warm accessories for me: a Roku hat, Aspen legwarmers, and Fibershed Knitalong shawl. I hope they’ll bring some coziness & security in this coming season of cold weather and chilling politics. In the very last days of fall I also finished my long-planned A-Frame skirt and will be back soon with details on that and with thoughts on a deep winter capsule.

Project planning for fall

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Back to my point about project planning: whether or not you actually want to make/use/live with a capsule wardrobe, the free Capsule planner can be a helpful tool to plan wardrobe addition. I’m going with a fall capsule wardrobe, but I think the foundation of taking stock of what I have, identifying what’s working & what’s not, thinking about weather and lifestyle and any needs for the upcoming season allows me to easily identify and prioritize pieces I want to add to my wardrobe, capsuled or not.

From my wardrobe planning process, I have a clear color palette, an idea of my favorite silhouettes, and an inventory of what I have and what gaps exist in my wardrobe. I have a good number of boxy tops that I love, but am pretty low on pants and skirts to pair them with (especially pieces that are in good condition and can be dressed up a bit).

The Capsule planner also offered a nice time to reflect on my goals: moving slowly, keeping my closet pared down, and working with my stash. So now, the part I daydream about the most! What to make? How will the things I make pair with what I already have and love?

Since I generally enjoy making most of my wardrobe, I use the shopping list part of the Un-fancy Capsule planner to think about what projects to prioritize. But, considering my current need for pants and the learning curve to make a pair (which I don’t have time for just yet), I decided to invest in a pair of Clyde pants after many many months of contemplation and budgeting. I also need another pair of shoes, ideally boots, which is a bigger budget item, so I’m trying to keep my project budget lean and finish up a few WIPs.

Roughly in order of priority:

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Loose inspirations & interpretations: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

I wouldn’t say this planning method is totally foolproof — I could still end up with clothing that doesn’t quite fit or isn’t durable, or doesn’t ultimately move into regular wardrobe rotation. But I have a natural tendency (ok, borderline obsession) toward planning and I think laying it all out ahead of time is really helpful.

I also know that this fall — really, the rest of 2016 — will be very busy for me, and there’s a chance that I won’t get through even half of the items on my list. Through my summer capsule wardrobe experience, I learned that making one full garment per month is a reasonable pace, so with my fall planning I’m trying not to set my expectations too high, and by prioritizing, I can focus on each item in due course. Still, if I don’t get to making or finishing the items on my list, I know that I have plenty to wear and lots of great options in my fall capsule.

This is my current practice of balancing excitement, inspiration, and desire, with gratitude, responsibility, and time management. Do you have a fall list? I love learning about how others plan (or don’t!) their projects, and welcome your thoughts in the comments!

Fall wardrobe & capsule planning

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By mid-summer, I was pretty desperate for fall to breeze on in and cut the humidity, but now that it feels like fall is in the air, I’ll admit I’m a little sad to see the sunshine waning. But what better way to embrace the changing season than a little wardrobe shift?

I feel like my original notes on using a capsule wardrobe planner to plan projects were rambly to the point of being unhelpful, so I thought I’d share my current wardrobe planning & project planning process in practice, broken into two posts.

Taking Stock

I find it’s helpful to start by getting a full view of what I already have. I printed out the Un-Fancy wardrobe planner (which is called Capsule, but doesn’t necessitate that you actually make a capsule wardrobe, if you’re not interested in that sort of thing) and decided to focus on planning for mid-September through end of November. In this part of the world, fall can be long meander toward winter, or a sudden plunge into cold, so I’m curious to see how well a capsule wardrobe will work. Using the planner, I’m framing the upcoming season in terms of:

  • Weather: I literally wrote “who knows?!” but most likely “crisp, breezy” and mid-70’s to high 40’s over the course of the next few months
  • Lifestyle: the largest portion of my pie chart is working, but I either work from home, at my co-working space, or at cafes, so it’s pretty casual. I want to continue biking and walking to work as much as possible, so that’s a consideration for my wardrobe, and then in my free time I have: sewing/knitting/dyeing project time, exercise and weekend adventures, and lounging.
  • Special events & travel: an exciting work trip to the east coast at the end of October, and then another fun work trip to the Bay Area in mid-November. My goal for both trips is to have a few simple options for looking put-together and representing sustainable fibers/textiles (or at least, not fast fashion).

With these factors in mind, I like to pull all my favorite things from my closet and any storage boxes, and into neat piles on my bed — whatever I’m most excited about gets pulled first, which basically fills the “pieces I own + love to wear” section of the capsule planner, I jotted those down, and then kept adding to the piles. I did this on a Saturday afternoon and made sure to open the curtains wide and put on some music I love, so I can see everything in good natural light and enjoy the process.

Then I turned around to my closet and looked at what was left, which generally fell into two categories: summery things that I want to save for warm weather, or things I’m not excited or able to wear. I made piles for donating, selling, or packing away different items, and then made piles for laundry (hand wash or block, gentle cycle, and regular) and mending to get everything into shape before moving on.

I used the capsule planner to note “pieces I own + never wear” which included two pairs of jeans that don’t fit well (selling & donating them), a vintage chambray tunic that I want to like but have never actually like the fit of (sell if possible), a Hemlock tee I sewed a while ago that has an awkward sleeve fit (alter), and some fancy dresses that hang in the back of the closet (donate and gift a few, keep two I’m not ready to part with).

Lastly, I took stock of the pieces I love and am keeping — do any need mending or alteration? Based on this selection, do I have any holes in my wardrobe? The obvious thing is that my favorite pair of vintage boots (purchased last fall) are totally destroyed and need to be re-soled and likely replaced sometime soon too (a cobbler actually told me that the boots aren’t worth fixing, but I’m unwilling to give in). Less obvious but notable on closer inspection is that my three favorite jeans have all ripped in substantial places in the last 6 months, and each has been mended, some more visibly than others. Since these are the only ones left, after parting with two that didn’t fit well, I want to prioritize more pants and skirts so I have something more durable, and presentable if needed.

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Capsule Planning

Overall, I really enjoyed my summer capsule wardrobe experiment (which I reflected on here), so I’m giving it another shot for fall. I already pulled together some inspiration from the fall styles I’m gravitating toward, but I used the capsule planner to expand it a bit:

  • Word association: layered, casual, creative, contemporary
  • Brands I admire: Elizabeth Suzann (minimal, chic), Lauren Winter (F/W campaign especially – creative, layered), Study NY (upcycled, quirky), Hackwith Design House (contemporary, minimal), First Rite (creative, “cool”), Caron Callahan (utilitarian, interesting)… I save favorites from these talented designers and more here.
  • Brands I draw from to make my wardrobe: Grainline Studio, Sonya Philip, Fancy Tiger Crafts, A Verb for Keeping Warm, Brooklyn Tweed, just to name a few.
  • Colors: neutrals (cream, black, natural/undyed tones) and grays (as noted here), deep indigo, and warm and bright accents in red, maroon, and yellow/mustard/gold tones

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My “top 8” pieces for this capsule are:

  1. Black silk blouse (thrifted)
  2. Ondawa sweater (handmade, details here)
  3. Hackwith Design House tunic (purchased at sample sale)
  4. Linen pocket tee (handmade, noted here)
  5. Khadi Prism dress (handmade, posted here)
  6. Chambray vintage dress (flea market purchase)
  7. High-waisted, cropped jeans (thrifted, modified)
  8. Sven clogs (purchased)

Based on my favorite pieces, what’s working for me? Definitely boxy, loose tops, either cropped or tunic-length; vintage denim and chambray; and details like split side seams, kimono sleeves, or dropped shoulders. Fabrics I love to wear are natural fibers including silk, tencel, denim, chambray, linen, wool and alpaca.

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Since I decided I wanted to go ahead with a full capsule wardrobe, I basically turned everything I had put onto the bed into that list:

  • 3 pairs of jeans & 1 pair of pants
  • 6 dresses (5 made by me)
  • 8 short-sleeved tops (4 made by me)
  • 6 long-sleeved tops (2 made by me)
  • 5 warm layers (all made by me: a cotton knit Linden sweatshirt, Escher sweater, Hayward sweater, Ondawa sweater, and Liv Light cardigan)
  • 2 jackets (1 made my me)
  • 4 pairs of shoes (sneakers, clogs, chelsea boots, loafers)

All of the above steps and contemplation laid the foundation for planning out a few items to add to my wardrobe, which will fit with my fall capsule, my goals of reducing my stash, and my love for making things. More on that next!

Marled sweater inspiration

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I’m in total agreement that the best prize of a knitalong is the resulting knitwear, however, I was totally floored to win a sweater’s worth of Brooklyn Tweed Shelter yarn as WIP of the Week.

And it’s funny, because when Brooklyn Tweed released the Shelter marled colorways, I was sketching out my Fringe & Friends KAL plans and part of me (ok, most of me) wanted to ditch the Shelter sweater that needed un-doing and re-using to get my hands on those beautiful neutrals.

So I’m still in disbelief that I get to both reuse the existing sweater’s worth of Shelter (a treasured gift to Jenn), and then I’ll get my own sweater’s worth of Shelter gifted to me. Crazy.

But what to knit?

My first thought for a Shelter sweater went to Bronwyn, which totally stole my heart when it was released, but I wonder if the texture would get lost or feel too overwhelming in a marl. I actually already have a marled, cabled sweater — my Ondawa (shown below) is in a very similar colorway to “Caribou” and I love it, so I think another camel marled sweater would be too similar. That leaves me deciding between “Newsprint” in black & white, and “Narwhal” in grey & white.

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I love the contrast of Newsprint and I remembered Jen Beeman’s gorgeous self-designed Stone Lake marled sweater. Less cabled than Bronwyn, but it makes me think Bronwyn could look nice in the Narwhal colorway since it’s lower contrast.

But, while I love knitting within the natural “grey rainbow,” I feel like Newsprint would be a nice treat as a change of pace — something less common in the small farm yarns I usually gravitate toward. In fact, the other sweater quantity of yarn in my stash is a medium-dark grey from a local small farm & mill, purchased with Exeter in mind. Maybe the marl wants to be something simpler, a break from cabling…

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So then I thought about shape and style elements — what shape would best complement my existing sweaters? I have a simple, v-neck pullover that’s a hand-me-down from my dad, a men’s cashmere sweater that shrunk one too many times to fit him. It’s inky black and luxuriously soft, albeit moth-eaten with elbows that look like swiss cheese. I adore it.

Maybe a pullover with a nod to the soft, slouchy shape of this sweater I love? Immediately I thought of Lucinda, whose clever purl-side-out would certainly showcase the marl beautifully. My only hesitation is that Lucinda’s lovely drape and texture seems to come from yarns with a mixed composition, usually with a bit of silk.

Browsing some of the other Madder designs by Carrie Bostick Hoge, I remembered the newly-released Junegrass pullover, showcasing the gorgeous Colorado farm yarn Junegrass by Fancy Tiger Crafts, which includes one of my most favorite garment details: a split side seam.

Which leads me to my current daydream: a black & white marl Junegrass, with a neckline more like Lucinda (perhaps using my top-down customization skills learned in the knitalong), and a sleeve length slightly in between 3/4 and full sleeves (to match the feel of my well-worn and loved black pullover).