Small Closet Chronicles: Resources & Inspiration



Ok, so I’m finally back with more on why I’m interested in maintaining a small closet of intentional clothes. It seems like the term capsule wardrobe is everywhere these days, and while the principles of a capsule are straightforward, I love to see how people approach the concept in practice and make it their own. In my own personal capsule trajectory, I started with attempting to define my style through the Wardrobe Architect and Into Mind resources, and then have continued to seek tips and inspiration as I’ve come across a variety of blogs. Here are the resources I’ve found helpful and continue to enjoy:

Wardrobe Architect by Colette Patterns – a really comprehensive series of exercises to define your style and approach what you sew by understanding what you actually wear. Admittedly, I didn’t make it all the way through the many parts, but I’ve recently been enjoying Christine Hayne’s version.

Into Mind – a blog with a minimalist approach to fashion and a trove of tutorials for weeding out what you wear and don’t want, and building a thoughtful closet. Her book, Curated Closet, is due in the fall and should be a good read too.

Un-Fancy – a capsule wardrobe blog that seems to have taken the internet by storm! Caroline has so much helpful, and un-fussy information that really breaks down the steps of making and wearing a capsule, and I think her story of finding her personal style is really sweet.

Project 333 – possibly the start of the capsule wardrobe revival, with a beautiful blend of substance behind the style, and how living with less can be freeing. There are so many derivations of Project 333 out there, but you can still take the original 333 mini-courses for a foundational understanding. I loved hearing Courtney Carver, Project 333/Be More with Less founder on this episode of the Conscious Chatter podcast, and I hope to make it to her Tiny Wardrobe Tour next week!

My Green Closet – a YouTube channel with videos about making, wearing, and reflecting on a Project 333-style capsule wardrobe. Erin’s approach really resonates with my own (limited shopping, prioritizing secondhand and DIY) and I just think her video style is lovely.

Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe by Reading My Tea Leaves – a helpful and down-to-earth series by one of my favorite bloggers, which is not quite a capsule approach but a holistic way of slowing building a meaningful, wearable, less wasteful wardrobe.

Lean Closet by Style Bee – this is a more recent addition to my blog feed, but I’ve been interested to see how Lee, a fashion blogger, is scaling back on consuming fashion and working on cultivating a “lean closet” which is still super stylish

Lifestyle Justice – a blog on ethical style and other lifestyle topics, with an interesting “un capsule” approach to a tightly edited wardrobe with very slow, considered additions

Slow Fashion October – a month of meditations on materials and making, hosted by another favorite blog of mine, Fringe Association. I didn’t end up posting much in this space for the Slow Fashion October prompts, but I participated in and loved the conversations happening in social media, and am looking forward to it this year!

Stash Less by the Craft Sessions – a challenge for those of us who adore and perhaps hold onto materials a little too tightly, this framework and the series of posts by Felicia Semple is one of my favorites — a constant source of encouragement

One Year Wardrobe by Rebecca Burgess/Fibershed – a local capsule, in a way! Fibershed is now an educational non-profit (and I work on some of the projects, ergo am completely biased) but began when Rebecca challenged herself to dress entirely locally for one year, connecting with farmers and artisans to build a closet that would work for her needs and climate. You can still read the blog archives from the project (linked above) and read more about the trajectory in this Seamwork Magazine article, which just goes to show how small closets can have a big impact!

Even though I find a lot of parallels and crossover between these approaches and frameworks, I still love reading about them and how different people tell their story of minimizing or capsuling their wardrobe. Do you have any recommendations or inspiration for a small closet?


Making a fashion revolution

1-Starred Photos16-001

Last week’s Fashion Revolution campaign has provided so much to read, think about, share, and act on. Fashion Revolution Week continues to grow awareness and expand upon previous year’s one-day campaigns for transparency in the fashion industry (asking #whomademyclothes) in response to the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza Complex in Bangladesh. The tragedy killed over 1100 garment workers and injured 2500, many of whom were trapped in the building.

Of course, and most unfortunately, Rana Plaza was the largest but not the first garment manufacturing accident. Garment and textile industry working conditions have throughout history been abusive, with protests and backlash leading to the abolishment of child labor and the creation of the 8-hour workday.

When the Fashion Revolution campaign asks “who made my clothes?” it is very easy for us makers to answer “I made my clothes” — Fashion Revolution Day is but one week before Me Made May, after all. But last year the maker community went further, with many of us posting “I made my clothes” and then asking “who made my fabric?”

This year, Emily from In the Folds initiated a great set of prompts called Makers for Fashion Revolution, with a topic to post about each day: I made my clothes; By Hand; Mending; Upcycled; Second hand first; Skill up; Goals.

I really enjoyed these phrases as jumping-off points for thinking about why and how I make clothing. I posted almost every day with the series of pictures at the top (you can find me on Instagram to see the full posts :)). I love that there is this virtual community of people nodding in agreement about these issues, inspiring one another, swapping ideas, and crowd-sourcing trouble-shooting and transparency.

And yet, between the #makersforfashrev social media conversations and reading lots of Fashion Revolution articles in different news outlets, I kept coming back to how personal choice is situated within systemic change. When we ask brands for transparency, are we really pressuring them into complying with human rights and ethical practices? When we make (or mend) our own clothing, are we truly creating change in the fashion system, or are we small potatoes?

Just a few days into the week, I found myself scanning through #fashrev posts and feeling dismayed by both the vastness of the industry (80 billion garments leave factories each year) and the (self-critical) virtuosity of my own campaign posts (I make/mend my clothes, and therefore abstain from unethical conditions). My mind went back to an essay I once read for an environmental policy class: To Hell with Shorter Showers.

Turns out, the piece, penned by Derick Jensen, is actually called Forget Shorter Showers, but I think the way I’ve mentally catalogued it sums up the position that individual actions will never even approach the impact of industrial resource use and waste:

“I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.”

Last year there was an article focused on the “the myth of the ethical shopper” which made some parallel arguments. Frankly, I hated that article. Not because I think we can solve all the problems of the fashion industry by shopping ethically, but because it lacked nuance, rejecting the idea that people can be engaged citizens who also shop.

I think in addition to asking, we need to demand change and enforcement of standards — from brands, from politicians, from independent certifiers. We need to divest from fast fashion. And we need to shop secondhand, especially if/when we regularly donate to secondhand shops. Which, of course, does come back around to personal choice.

While it’s possible to extend the “ethical shopper” narrative into a “myth of the ethical maker,” I think that would be entirely overlooking the added engagement provided by a tactile understanding of clothing (and perhaps fiber) production. In our digital age, craft and tactile art practices become a hands-on refuge for learning by doing, which, as Nicki Taylor highlighted in a piece on the Fibershed blog, engenders an appreciation for the systems of production and material sources that make clothing ourselves possible. Though not every maker may have that kind of revelation, I think it would be hard to find someone whose choice to make clothing has not affected their assessment of the quality and quantity of clothing produced by the greater fashion system.

My own experience of sewing and knitting has deepened my understanding of the time and effort involved in developing well-fitting, well-made, long-lasting garments. And precisely because I make some of my clothes, I am constantly reminded by threading the needle of my sewing machine or seaming up a sweater that there people around the world making pretty much every other piece of clothing I come across — as their livelihood, not a hobby.

So I think we also need to use that personal choice to invest in alternative systems – in fair trade, in regional manufacturing, in a fibershed. (If I do say so myself). But not just in terms of economic power — the mythical ethical shopper trap looms again — but in non-consumer efforts like building community, sharing skills, and lobbying politicians.

On Fashion Revolution Day, I opted to ask brands #whomademyclothes rather than focusing on my goals (per the #makersforfashrev prompts), but as I’ve been forming this post, it’s become clear to me that my goal is to figure out how to engage more actively in the political side of this movement for transparency. How to “show up” not just in my personal acts of making clothing, but in my civic engagement.

The personal is political, in so much as it is a hands-on way for us to understand systems of power that benefit from unjust politics — but the personal is not a substitution for the political.

p.s. Some resources I’m starting with: Clean Clothes Campaign; Labour Behind the Label; Detox Fashion; American Fashion podcast on TPP; learning more about Fair Trade standards


the long & the short

Insta Top 9 2015_jesssomewhere

Happy New Year!

Pictured above is a collage of the 9 most popular Instagram photos from my account this year, and also happens to feature most of my favorite makes of the year. Unfortunately, hardly any of them made it to the blog!

The start of 2016 marks about a year since I started this blog, and I’ve been reflecting a lot on what I find useful and enjoyable about it, and what is cumbersome or frustrating. It’s widely speculated online that blogs are dead, but personally I’m an avid blog reader and I especially love following along with sewing and knitting blogs. When I started this space, I spent a lot of time at a very analytical, administrative job and I sought an outlet to document my creative projects and exercise my writing muscle.

2015 was a year of great transition and growth for me: moving across the country, switching jobs, developing my sewing and knitting skills, trying to make new friends and reconnect with long-distance friendships — to name a few! These experiences were incredibly valuable, as well as challenging, and ultimately liberating, and yet throughout these journeys I don’t think I allowed this space to grow with me.

When I started writing on this blog I really wanted to “go deep” into my projects by looking at the supply chain and sourcing of fabrics, as well as documenting my process and reflecting on the results. That’s a lot to cover! Overall I enjoyed these in-depth blog posts but often I would be excited to share something and then lose steam as the post became too long-winded and burdensome. Frankly, I don’t even enjoy reading such lengthy and rambling posts, so why write them?

My goal for the transition and growth of this blog is to write less, more frequently. I really admire the blog Fringe Association in many aspects, but especially the tone, structure, and regularity of the posts. And recently I’ve also loved my insta-friend Ani’s “What’s on My Needles” series where she elects to post a weekly update, regardless of how “finished” or novel the project is.

So this year, I hope to pop into this space once per week to share and document what I’m making. I love the ease and spontaneity of Instagram, but seek to elaborate a bit more and get into the supply chain details and relationships involved in my projects. I hope this helps me strike the balance of a satisfying writing process and a helpful documentation, and I hope you’ll find it fruitful too.

Wishing you a happy & healthy new year!

get in line

my smock

Do you dream of in-line pockets? I did, and I knew there must be a straightforward way to add them to any dress or top, but I couldn’t quite puzzle it out. My obsession began long ago when I saw the Rachel Comey for Vogue Patterns (V1247) skirt over on Sallie’s blog. It’s a popular pattern and well-loved in the sewing blog world, and there was a brief time when I considered getting it, but all the reviewers say it’s a very mini skirt, and honestly, I just wanted the pockets (now it’s out of print, by the way). Sleek, almost hidden, in-line pockets. A little bit mod, a little bit modern, and seemingly a very practical addition. Sallie’s photo of the inner seams helped me understand how the pockets worked, but not enough to fully comprehend how to improvise them.

pocket collage

A few months ago I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a peek of the fall line by Jamie and the Jones, a Nashville-based indie fashion fashion brand I greatly admire. More in-line pockets! This time in drapey, sumptuous raw silk, set in boxy tops and shift dresses.

I started googling, but was quickly frustrated. I’m not actually sure if “in line pockets” is the right term for this look, but all the google results were about in seam pockets, with tutorials for adding pockets to side seams. I guess these pockets are also in the seam, but it’s a horizontal hip seam. Somehow I finally landed on the Colette blog tutorial for a mod-ified Laurel dress, and it’s just the look I had in mind. I think you need to sign up for their newsletter to access the full details of the pattern hack, but in my opinion it’s well worth it because the instructions are crystal clear with great illustrations, true to Colette quality.

I don’t have the Laurel dress pattern but knew immediately that these pockets belonged in my next Prism dress. Since I already had the pieces cut out and adjusted to my size (see my first Prism here), it was super easy to add a hip seam and pockets. Here was my process:

  • Try on my prism dress and measure down the center front to where I would want a hip seam to go. I decided on 18.5″ from the neckline
  • Draw this new horizontal seam on front and back pattern pieces
  • Mark pocket placement & seam allowance (the Colette instructions have good tips for this)
  • Cut out all pattern pieces, as well as 4 pockets (I used the Archer pocket because it seemed to the perfectly sized square and it was already sitting on my sewing table)
  • Sew it up! I followed the Colette instructions for adding the pockets and assembling the front & back, and the Prism instructions for the rest

My goal was to make a Prism dress with in-line pockets and short sleeves, but I want to work with some very special fabric, so I made a muslin first. It’s a chartreuse linen that I found in a free box of fabric (Craigslist free section!) and there was only enough for a tunic length. I picked up the fabric based on the texture and drape, with plans to dye it — maybe with indigo? Or oak galls and rust? In the meantime, I’ve already worn it for several days because it’s so easy and comfy, and the pockets are a dream come true!

Do you have a favorite pocket style?