Category Archives: design your wardrobe

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.

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!

Design Your Wardrobe: prologue

Seamwork, the online sewing magazine that is devouring Colette Patterns whole, has developed a program called “Design Your Wardrobe“. I assume it’s a descendant of the Wardrobe Architect series that Colette did a few years ago, & which I ignored because I was pretty new to sewing at the time & didn’t feel like I needed &/or was ready for that kind of deep thinking about my personal style, wardrobe needs, et al.

Design Your Wardrobe is a month-long program aiming to help a person develop & identify their personal style & brainstorm a sewing queue that reflects their wardrobe needs & wants, in terms of color, silhouette, life context, etc. It’s still not something I felt I really needed. I know what I like to wear (black & pink, easy clothes in natural fibers, but the more embellishment, the better) & I am not hurting for ideas. When my foot was broken & I couldn’t sew, I made a list of everything I wanted to sew. Guys. GUYS. The list was almost 150 items long. (Not all of it was clothes for me, but still.) I have PLENTY of ideas.

But my main objection to joining in is that it’s a Seamwork member exclusive, & I swore I would never sign up for Seamwork. I mean, why would I? You can read the magazine for free (if you want–it’s mostly just an eleaborate monthly advertisement for itself), & I can’t over-state how uninterested I am in actually sewing a Seamwork pattern. I know there are people in the sewing community who swear by them…I don’t claim to understand.

IMG_6705This cat has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a really cute cat that came up to me & scratched my car tires when I went to enroll Ramona in kindergarten the other day. I’m including it because this post is heavy on snark, light on pictures.

My beef with Seamwork is essentially an extension of my beef with Colette, & comes down to two words: shitty drafting. I’ve sewn a few Colette patterns, & I had all the fitting problems that others have struggled with: darts too long & too high, crazy wide necklines, armscyes that haven’t been drafted for three-dimensional arms…I imagine these issues are present throughout the Seamwork line as well. Seamwork also churns out two new patterns every month, & claims they can all be sewn “in three hours or less,” which aside from being dubious, also doesn’t fill me with confidence that these patterns are thoughtfully designed, with the kinds of smart finishes & construction details that I prefer.

I will add: I’ve met people who know their way around a sewing machine–professional fiber artists–& they had so many fitting & construction problems trying to make their own clothes from Colette & Seamwork patterns that they just gave up on garment-making. They assumed that they didn’t have the requisite skills. Again: these are people who literally sew professionally. But they were completely discouraged by these patterns.

So! Why did I swallow all of this & sign up for the current round of Design Your Wardrobe? GREAT QUESTION! The answer: I don’t fucking know. All I can say is, I love to sew, & I love to plan. I might enjoy planning as much as I enjoy sewing, which is A LOT! & that means that Design Your Wardrobe is a marriage of my two favorite pasttimes, & that’s hard to ignore.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 8.04.30 PMRemember this?

Also, if forced to say something nice about Colette/Seamwork, I would say that they really shine when it comes to self-obsessed navel-gazing. I know that sounds perjorative, but trust–I am not above a little self-obsessed navel-gazing! I’ve said for years that Colette should just re-brand themselves as a creative lifestyle brand: life coaching for garment-making hobbyists. Viewed through that prism, the Design Your Wardrobe course is kind of a gimme. I asked Jared whether or not I should do it. He observed, “You like to sew. You like to plan. …I’ll be honest, I’m not seeing a downside.”

1f8b45ed86132ac29f49f6dd930c7dc9Evidence for my lifestyle brand idea: this hilarribly tone-deaf post that was published at the height of the furor over the Rue dress debacle. Nope, I’ll never forget, & I’ll also never stop laughing.

I’m about two weeks in now, & what do you know? It’s been enjoyable & illuminating. Being idea-rich & time-poor means that I can get stuck in my head easily, churning through concepts without managing the focus to make them reality. & that can trigger my ever-waiting anxiety. The exercises thus far have forced me to get specific about swirl of images & ideas in my head, which has been really helpful.

fullsizeoutput_83dMy binder (on top of a cross stitching project).

It’s also triggered more resource accumulation than I’d prefer. The “getting started” dispatch instructs one to  procure a three-ring binder & three dividers & print out the Design Your Wardrobe worksheets & the Seamwork planner. The planner is free to everyone, not just Seamwork members, which is nice, but it’s definitely designed to be used in conjunction with the Design Your Wardrobe program. I don’t know how useful a person would find it outside of that context.

IMG_7004Does this mean anything to you? It would if you were doing the Design Your Wardrobe project. PS–Ignore the hideous font used for the word “criteria”. Seamwork used a nice font there, which my browser refused to recognize & print accurately.

The program also assumes you have a color printer. I know it’s 2018, but…I didn’t. I’ve wanted one for years, but Jared always said, “It’s a scam! The color cartridges are too expensive!” I went to therapy & talked about all the money anxiety I’m having because guess what? Moving across the country is fucking expensive! I said “I want a color printer but the idea of spending the money makes me so anxious!” & she gave me one! I don’t know how professional that is from a therapist-client relationship standpoint, but I’m not a Rockefeller. Gimme gimme free stuff!

So, my plan is to work through the program (this sounds so 12-step-y) & post updates here on how it’s going. I intended to make this post the week one wrap-up, but I felt the need to contextualize my feelings about Colette/Seamwork first & that got a little out of hand. I wanted to make clear that I am coming from a place of skepticism regarding this brand, BUT I am going into this project with as open mind. Come back soon for my thoughts on week one!