Design Your Wardrobe: week two

This is the third post in my series about the month-long Colette/Seamwork Design Your Wardrobe course. I’m doing the fall/winter course, which started in early August. The goal is to develop a seasonal “collection” & sewing queue. You can see the first two posts here & here.

Week two: “colors & fabrics”. Obviously I’m only halfway through the month, but this was a difficult week for me. It had me questioning the logic & utility of the entire program. Maybe you can spot the problem: we’re thinking about fabrics before we’ve considered patterns! Unless a person has displayed a certain lack of imagination (in my opinion) in creating their mood board & just went ahead & made a bunch of specific pattern decisions then, who the fuck knows what fabrics are going to work?

Day six: “shop your stash”. Uh…shop for what, exactly? I have many great fabrics, but a pair of pants & a henley require a very different textiles. We were told to use our mood boards for guidance. I just swatched everything that seemed like it could be made into a fall/winter garment. Which was almost everything I have. You can still wear linen & Swiss dot in the winter! They can be layering pieces, or employed as trims or accents for heavier fabrics. It took me almost two hours & I wound up with over 100 swatches.

IMG_6886This isn’t even everything.

I don’t know exactly what I intend to make, but I know that I’m planning to make everything, which complicates things. Not just skirts/pants/dresses/tops, but also lingerie, pajamas, bags, shoes, a coat…I sew my ENTIRE wardrobe. Some people opt out of making their own bras or coats or whatever because they don’t enjoy that type of sewing. I have yet to find any kind of garment-sewing unenjoyable. & so I have an enormous variety of textiles on hand, everything from cork to powernet to denim to embroidered tulle. I even have heavy treaded rubber for soling shoes.

Day seven: “shop for swatches”. I was like, “Are you kidding me? Now we’re shopping & we still don’t know what garments we’re making?” The dispatch said, “You might find other fabrics that fit your mood board.” Well…of course! Put a person who sews in a well-appointed fabric store, & s/he is not going to struggle to find textiles s/he loves!

But I’m not going to ignore an excuse to go to the Mill End store, in southernmost Portland. I love that place. So much gorgeous fabric that I am dying to wear. It was a colossal struggle not to buy anything. I found a gorgeous mid-weight linen that was my exact favorite Pepto-Bismol shade of pink. I don’t know how I walked away without buying the entire bolt. I had to remind myself: I already have more fabric than I can reasonably sew in a year…or five. & it’s my personal policy not to buy fabric without first having an intention for it.

clockwise from top left: striped denim, that gorgeous pink linen, hot pink silk dupioni, a lovely lemon yellow Swiss dot.

That’s why this week was so hard for me. My funds are limited, so I can’t impulse-buy fabric. It would lead to financial ruin! There are a million beautiful fabrics in the world. I can’t buy them all, & I wouldn’t realistically wear them all. I’m often attracted to fabrics with red tones. But I don’t wear red–I don’t like how it looks on me & it’s an inexplicable anxiety trigger. Sometimes Ramona turns on lights mid-day, & that triggers the same suffocating anxiety. I’m already taking Prozac, but it seems to have no effect on weird lighting- & red fabric-triggered panic attacks.

Day eight: “categorize your colors”. We were instructed to look through the swatches we had gathered & note the dominant colors, & then categorize under three headings: “neutrals” (goes with everything), “basics” (goes with practically everything, but is a little more in your face), & “statements” (colors that really draw the eye). This was pretty easy for me: lots of black, gray, yellow, & pink. Pink is basically a neutral for me.

But I bowed to Seamwork’s more conservative palette concepts & duly categorized cotton candy & Pepto pink as basics, & bright pink (“wild strawberry”) & deep saturated pink (“lipstick”) as statements. I also had some wild cards–colors that were unexpectedly prevalent. I had some mint green, deep sea green, eggplant, & a saturated deep blue.

On day nine: “build your palette”. This was a straightforward exercise. We selected a couple of colors from each of the categories from the day before, along with a handful of coordinating prints. Boom. Palette. Done.

It was at this point that I gave up & decided that I simply could not complete these exercises without knowing what the fuck I wanted to make. So I sat down & made a list of everything I was thinking. Some of my ideas were fully-formed–I know I’m going to make a French terry Lady Skater dress with a hood. I’ve already purchased a few yards of black speckled French terry for that purpose. I want to make a paid of black linen Named Patterns Astrid wrap pants. I made turquoise linen Astrid shorts earlier this summer & I love them. I’m definitely making some T-strap sandals at the shoemaking workshop next weekend.

Me wearing my Astrid shorts & a lemon print Blanc tee from Blank Slate Patterns at the Portland Zine Symposium a few weeks ago.

I generated a list of 63 garments. !!! I drew some rudimentary sketches & came up with twelve different head-to-toe looks. After that, I could FINALLY envision my palette.


Day ten: “fill in the gaps”. In my opinion, this was the most WTF exercise of the week. We were instructed to go shop for fabrics that suit our palettes in the event that we had included colors that were not yet represented in our swatches. I was baffled–I’d already swatched my stash & gone hog wild taking photos at the Mill End. Those are the fabrics upon which I based my palette. Why would I need to shop for more? It felt needlessly acquisitive. All it did for me was sow a lot of angst over a jersey print I want to use for pajamas. Does it “go”? Is there too much teal? Is the yellow too mustard-y? Should I use something else instead…even though I already have the jersey in my stash & would have to buy a replacement fabric? I still haven’t decided. HALP.

Should I replace the one on the left with the one on the right? I’m leaning toward yes.

So. Weird week. Picking colors & considering fabrics before making decisions about garments/patterns 100% did not work for me…& judging from a lot of the chatter on the private Design Your Wardrobe boards, most others weren’t really doing it that way either. There was a lot of, “I want to make X pattern from X red fabric, so I put red in my palette.” Maybe I am misunderstanding something? Next week is all about garment/pattern selection. This strikes me as ass-backward, Y/Y? Obviously this program isn’t prescriptive, but I assume some thought went into the order of exercises, & I don’t understand why they chose to structure it this way.

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.

5 thoughts on “Design Your Wardrobe: week two

  1. I think you have very good insights about the program! I agree that I usually find a pattern THEN think about what material I wish to make with it! That is the GAP I want to fill in my wardrobe making! I have been following your progress and can see why THIS week was terrible for you! I am screaming in the background for you…”NO NO…don’t listen to that…GO with your GUT!!!” But hey, what do I know, I never took a lesson in my life! These are the pros, right?

  2. This sounds like an arduous process. And one that would not work for me. I decided to take a global view of my existing clothes and my current and future clothing needs. I’m now filling the gaps or replacing tattered and threadbare clothes. Where possible I’m using up my considerable fabric and pattern stash.

  3. I can see how the imaginative process of the first week would be really useful – you’d figure out some of not-always-conscious pulls, to certain styles (that may or may not work with your body type, actual inclinations,and daily life) so that would be handy.

    I think the trouble with this week may have been a lack of grounding in that reality. The patterns/styles act as grounding in what we would buy at the fabric store, and even what utility we expect from our clothes.

    It’s like, if I were cooking, I might love truffles and caviar , but who would put that in spaghetti, you know? So that silk chiffon might be a draw at the fabric store, but I wouldn’t buy it – it would be aspirational, in a way. But “aspirational” doesn’t help with making dinner, uh, making clothing I will pull out and wear every weekday I can, because I love it that much and it’s no trouble to make, and it’s fun to wear/goes with other stuff I have/is practical for my life.

  4. I feel like they skipped a step, which would be determining what elements you love about specific patterns/style of clothing, and maybe they are doing that next week, but maybe this week should have followed after that?

    I do see about the navel gazing. Pretty much always thought this about Collette stuff.

    1. Exactly! I read forward a little bit & this week looks like it’s about nailing down styles & patterns, but a lot of the decision-making process for that goes back to week 1 exercises, like considering the contexts for which we need to sew.

      Swapping the week 2 & week 3 exercises seems a lot more sensible to me, & that’s what I’ll do if I ever do this program again. I absolutely could not settle on a color palette until I had generated a list of patterns I wanted to make, so week 3 is going to be weird for me. It seems like I’ve already done a lot of the work.

      I’m hoping that there will be comething in there to help me edit & prioritize. We shall see. I’m going to go look at reviews people have written about the spring/summer DYW to see if other people struggled with this…or admitted it.

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