Design Your Wardrobe: week one

Read this for background on what Design Your Wardrobe is & why I’m participating

The basic structure: folks are emailed a “daily dispatch” every weekday. Each dispatch features a keyword that shapes the daily goal. The dispatches are fairly brief, but they offer some explanation & context for how the daily keyword informs the overall goal of the Design Your Wardrobe program…. You know…designing your wardrobe. Each dispatch has an accompanying worksheet or activity. I see you rolling your eyes at the thought of doing worksheets to help you decide what to sew next. I feel you. I love this kind of shit, but it’s not for everyone.

I spent most of week one procrastinating. The keywords for this week: “setting goals,” “collect,” “story,” “iterate,” & “mood”. Sounds like gobbledygook, doesn’t it? Even after reading the daily dispatches, I still thought, “This is ridiculous. Who lets themselves get this self-important about sewing?” I thought, “I don’t need this, I know what I want to sew, I know what I want to wear.”

I finally started at the end of the week. I decided to address the worksheets & exercises in good faith, with an open mind, & you know what? I learned stuff about myself. I surprised myself. Going through the process was legitimately enlightening & helpful.

The first exercise is a worksheet. It focuses on what a person wants out of their handmade wardrobe–“setting goals”. I was like, “Duh, handmade clothes, next!” But I thought more–especially about the fact that I have handmade clothes that don’t get worn. I actually got rid of a lot of my me-mades whe I was packing to move to Portland. What separates the garments I wear from the garments I don’t? How would it feel to have a wardrobe comprised only of garments I love to wear? What are the missing elements standing between me & that level of contentment? The answers to these questions are then re-shaped into an overall goal for the wardrobe that emanates from Design Your Wardrobe program.

Of course there’s a little voice inside of me saying, “Dude. You are putting A LOT of work into thinking about clothes. Meanwhile, the world is being torn apart by war, climate change, racism, & unfettered capitalist imperialism. Surely you have bigger fish to fry?” I don’t have an answer for that voice. I just want to acknowledge that it’s there.

My biggest day one take-away is that there is sometimes a disconnect between what I like to sew & what I like to wear. I love making crisp shirtwaist dresses, for instance, but they rarely get worn because wearing them just feels like work. I need to think about how to adapt the elements that I love to sew into garments that are easier & more comfortable for me to wear.

Still need to blog this.

Day two, “inspiration,” was all about Pinterest. (Not everyone working through the program right now used Pinterest, but it’s certainly the path of least resistance for executing today’s exercise.) We were instructed to collect fifty “pieces of inspiration”. I thought, “Ugh, that will take forever, & nothing inspires me! All of my brilliant ideas spring fully-formed from my own imagination, like Athena being borne unto Zeus.” Next thing I knew, I had over 130 images pinned to my fall/winter inspiration board.

825fa5314f06396abc9d87b6d99543a8Inspiration: a beautiful embroidered purse by Olympia Le-Tan.

The secondary challenge is to pare the images down to fifty. That was rough. I didn’t want to delete any of my precious inspiration babies! But in forcing myself to edit, I realized my biggest problem with planning my sewing: I grab on to any tiger tail going by & don’t think twice about the consequences. (I’m like that with everything, actually. I have zero impulse control.) Becoming self-aware about the themes & elements I was most drawn to was the genius of the editing process.


Inspiration: antique stockings.

Day three, “my story,” was the day I was dreading most. I’ve been blogging since 1999. I wrote riot grrrl-inspired personal zines from 1994 until 2010. I’m very experienced at “telling my story”. So I kept my focus on my inspiration images while I did the worksheet, & surprise! A story emerged! I had Pinned lots of mori girls, medieval fairy tales, & Waldorf dolls. Concepts like “play,” “home,” & “resilience” kept popping up. I realized that I want to dress like a cross between a hobo & a doll, trying to make her way home through the Black Forest at midnight. I was also very drawn to embellishment. Almost everything I Pinned had layers of different textures, embroidery, beading, flowers.

IMG_4300The last zine I made.

The final challenge was naming the prospective collection. I came up with Poppet Emblazonry. I know, it sounds both precious & pretentious. They are both archaic words, which felt important. “Poppet” is synonym for “doll”–specifically dolls used in witchcraft. I’m not into withcraft spiritually, but I do like the aesthetics. “Emblazonry” means “embellishment,” & makes me think of blazes, fire, the resilience & patience necessary to work by firelight. It put me in mind of the misery & suffering of trying to make it through the winter of 1692 in Salem without getting accused of witchcraft. Read The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, & Hysteria by Stacy Schiff (it’s excellent!), & you’ll see what I mean. It’s a weird source of inspiration, but hey. The heart wants what it wants!

7272bafbdf38b3a253f28af25c51dfcaInspiration: floral pterodactyl fascinator.

Day four was about grounding the inspiration in reality–“iterate”. We were challenged to think about how our clothes are really worn. Not what we would wear in some fantasy best life, but our actual responsibilities everyday, the weather, etc. This forced me to accept that I will not, in fact, be spending the next six months brewing mysterious potions in a cauldron & fleeing hungry wolves in moonlit, snowy forests. Bummer, dude. We then edited our inspiration images in light of these realistic contexts. This is when I started adding actual patterns & fabrics to my board. I’d been avoiding it, focusing on visual & atmospheric influences. But thinking about real garments I might make helped ground my inspiration aesthetic.

260229917cacdcff99f11c0baf71ff5dInspiration: mori girls.

Day five was “mood,” as in board. Time to bring out the foamcore & double-sided tape! I made a special trip to the art supply store to get foamcore, as recommended. But posterboard, cardboard, easel paper from Ikea–all would have sufficed. I had to borrow Ramona’s kid-sized lefty scissors, even though I have giant ham hands & am right-handed. That’s how dedicated I am! I felt that my mood board should be a fantasy piece–something that evokes a mood, as it were. So I stayed away from most images of actual clothes. I started with large images & added paint chips, fabric swatches, & washi tape. I included drawings of mori girls & photos of cloth dolls. I added lots of images of tiny bottles containing weird shit like teeth & garlic bulbs. I thought a lot about my friends Ivanna & Jessika Rae while I worked. They both have pronounced, beautiful personal styles. Drawing on my memories of them helped guide me.

fullsizeoutput_83bMy mood board.

I didn’t look at anyone else’s mood board beforehand. So mine is an outlier, maybe? Almost everyone else went heavy on garment images. Some people included actual patterns & fabric swatches. I used tons of fabric swatches, but more for color & texture than because those are the fabrics I plan to use. I figured there will be plenty of time to get into the weeds of specific fabrics & patterns later, & that my mood board should just be about mood.

jessie-wilcox-smith-little-red-riding-hood-by-sofi01Inspiration: well-dressed child about to be eaten by a cross-eyed wolf.

So that’s week one! We are just finishing week two, so I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on it. Week two was harder for me. I look forward to processing it in an excessively long, self-involved blog post!

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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