those elusive wardrobe goals

The impossible happened: I found an image on Pinterest that captures all I want from my work wardrobe. Just like that, it expresses exactly the look I’m after. Here it is, folks, the essence of my wardrobe goals:

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Image found on Pinterest hereabouts.

Before finding this gem I was very skeptical of Pinterest as a helpful tool for me where style is concerned. The site still in fact keeps suggesting images of waifish Olsen twin lookalikes carrying enormous cups of Starbucks coffee while sporting sack dresses with knit cowls the size of millstones draped around their long, slender necks.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s more than fine to be waifish. Hey, it’s okay to be an Olsen twin or an aficionado of the sisters. It’s not fun to be constantly flashed the message that that’s the way to be though. It gets exhausting. Oh algorithms, oh the shortcomings of our culture, oh my poor little head.

Brace yourselves because I have yet deeper thoughts about why that image above speaks to me. It’s not just my non-waifishness and aversion to the pairing of thick woolens over summer dresses (throw in some boots and you get a popular combination that is completely unwearable to me). It’s a combination of — as one musician said about touring (and life and the universe at the same time) — good shit and bad shit. Pardon my language.

I like to be comfortable at work. I often have to stand in front of people and talk, which has gotten easier over the years but is still challenging on some level because I don’t really enjoy being looked at all that much. Overall, I feel must comfortable at work when my wardrobe tilts into a somewhat androgynous, menswear-inspired zone.

The way it makes me feel is good. And many of you, I think, will agree there can be something very stylish and appealing about that.

Bear with me here because we might disagree on what I say next. Part of the reason why clothes like those make me feel so good is positive, maybe even wholesome you could say. Hurrah for flat shoes, hurrah for pants that let you move around, and shirts with neat details.

But here’s the dark side. These clothes make me feel comfortable because they make me feel safe. More feminine clothes make me feel unsafe and bared to judgment. It sucks.

I’m not invested in ideas of modesty — that’s after a lot of thinking about the subject, and after being brought up to be modest and dress modestly, and after a lifetime of listening to women being described in terms that implied that their dress conveyed something about their morals and, sadly, value as fellow people.

I hate all that with a passion. But as much as I examine my own thinking about other women, when it comes to getting dressed, the “good shit” still mixes together with the “bad shit.” Plainly: I’m both enthused about those lovely menswear-inspired outfits and kind of scared of dressing “too feminine.” Here’s where that leads me sometimes: I will look at a coworker wearing a dress and think that she’s really brave. Yeah, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true.

I’m just going to leave this up here and close with some images from my “work” Pinterest board, including some slightly more feminine ones (how brave of me, after what I confessed above — Please note the sarcasm).

What’s your mix of good and bad when you figure out how you want to dress?

All images can be found on Pinterest. You can also take a look at my “work, work” board where I collect wardrobe ideas and then get this kind of deep thoughts.

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book review: The Curated Closet

 

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Anuschka Rees, The Curated Closet
Ten Speed Press, 2016 (U.S. edition)

I tend to read with rapt attention everything I can find about wardrobe planning. If you are undertaking the Wardrobe Architect challenge, I will likely wait for every post as if it were a new episode of a hit TV series. But my passion for reading about wardrobe planning is matched by my strong resistance to commit to any wardrobe planning program fully and faithfully. I refuse to be diligent and orthodox in favor of gradual changes.

So I’m not going to tell you that I’ve conscientiously worked through every step from The Curated Closet. But I am going to tell you that I’ve read the book with great pleasure, paused, took notes, tried out a few things, and am definitely returning to the book.

Anuschka Rees is throughtful and sensible in her approach to wardrobe planning and — perhaps more importantly — in her approach to giving advice on this loaded subject. Now, if The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has indeed changed your life, you might want to skip to the section of my review below the next photo, because you might not like what I’m going to say. While I’m all for keeping a good cleaning and de-cluttering routine, the tyranny of “sparking joy” that’s spread over the Internet thanks to Kondo’s book has really worried me. The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh observed long before Kondo’s book came out that Westerners appeared to him “enjoyment-challenged,” and in teaching Western students to meditate, he focused on helping them find joy in the practice. For the students that meant finding out what joy is through mindfulness.

Maybe if Kondo’s book took a detour into Eastern thought before sending readers on a purge of epic proportions, I’d have ended up less worried about its impact. But without this more philosophical training prior to throwing out everything that’s not immediately running away from you, we got a lot of talk online about joy, a lot of yard sales happened, and then, inevitably, a lot of shopping. I wrote this earlier in a comment thread elsewhere, but I hope you won’t mind me repeating myself: I bet a lot of toilet brushes got thrown out and then, quietly, bought. I don’t know of anyone who’d describe them as “sparking joy” but a house is miserable without them.

I don’t want to use that book as a punching bag. I genuinely believe a lot got lost in translation and in the deep forest of substitutes for joy that capitalism has readily provided for us. One of such substitutes is the illusion of control that comes with these epic purges. It’s an illusion that disappears as soon as we stock up anew.

There’s nothing easier these days than getting rid of your old wardrobe and completely replacing it in a very short period of time… And that’s part of the larger problem.

What I really appreciate about The Curated Closet, beyond the practical tips and the clarity of their presentation, is that Anuschka Rees is not afraid to spend time on describing the substitutes for joy offered by fast fashion.

I’ve found the section on analyzing the connection between your lifestyle and your wardrobe particularly helpful for understanding why clothes shopping has typically been an exasperating experience for me.

Take a look at this pie chart:

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Source: The Curated Closet

It’s witty — and how often do we think of pie charts in those terms? — and it makes me think of what happens when I go shopping for clothes. Unless I’m at a thrift store, I feel like I’m walking into a story about an aspirational life, which is also decidedly not my life. “Here’s the kind of top you should be wearing to work this season”; “pair it with these pants, or these skirts, and just the tights in those specific colors,” the racks and shelves call out. The design details are very specific, and there’s often quite a bit of embellishment to contend with. Every section of the store corresponds to an area of such a lifestyle pie chart — it seems to be set up for particular (and often idealized) life situations. It’s easy to leave the store equipped for this unlived, surreal life.

That’s where the minimalist argument from the book comes in. Our real lives are both simpler and more complicated. The embellishments and details can’t be too uniform or overwhelming if we are to transition between areas on our real pie charts. At the same time, our tasks and life situations will be more real and concrete than the drinks at the rooftop restaurant scenario some clothing brand has aspirationally planned for us.

Not wanting the readers to lose our minds over this conundrum, Rees gives us some real pie charts to look at (and make ourselves):

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Reality check courtesy of The Curated Closet.

The pie chart exercise has helped me think about the discrepancy between “want to sew” and “need to wear” that inevitably sneaks into my sewing plans. I’m not trying to weed out all spontaneity from my sewing choices, rest assured. But I really like the idea of not letting an imagined life gleaned from different sources overshadow the real life, and the real need for nice clothes for the non-glamorous moments.

I also really love the explanation for why it’s worth to resist the urge to do a complete “clean out” and just buy a new wardrobe that the book offers. I’m slowly phasing out some of the more worn RTW items. Many of them never “sparked joy” but I try to appreciate how well they’ve served me and understand the role they’ve really been playing. And to mend whenever possible, which Rees also advises.

In a nutshell, I highly recommend this book both to those who like to be more orthodox in their planning efforts, and those who like to read, take their time, and don’t mind making up the occasional pie chart.

And if you’d like to know more about the author and her approach before investing in the book, you can find her blog here. This post is one of my favorites, and has been one of the most practical aides I’ve found for defining and actually wearing a “style.”

(PS: This isn’t a sponsored post. I bought the book myself, having enjoyed reading the author’s blog, and I’ve offered my genuine opinion above.)

Me-Made May 2017: days 1-6 and first discoveries

First off, a big heartfelt thank you to everyone who’s commented on the previous post both here and on Instagram. It took me time and brainpower to write that one up. I wanted it to be clear and helpful. Thanks again for the lovely response, and I’ll be sure to follow up on that post when I learn something new about fitting.

Me-Made May is here! And it caught me in a shirt-making frenzy and already showed me another serious wardrobe gap: clothes for the home.

Here’s a quick roundup of what me-mades I wore on the first six days:

Top row, left to right: May 1:McCall’s 7387May 2: Plantain tee and denim Rooibos dressMay 3: Laurel blouse and pleated pants from Burda 8/2016
Bottom row, left to right: May 4: Plantain tee and handknit cardigan (pattern is Walnuss by Ankestrick), May 5: Floral Menace Helmi and my last handknit cardiganMay 6: Mesa knit shift and my favorite handknit cardigan (pattern: Oblique by Veronik Avery)

I decided to take as much pressure off as possible when it comes to photos. If it’s easier to snap a quick photo before getting dressed, I do just that. No repeats, no posing. I’m treating these as documentation rather than a photography challenge.

Thoughts so far: my work wardrobe is finally taking shape. The pants I made this year and the new shirts are really filling an important gap. Hurray!

But on days I’m working from home and on weekends getting dressed is not so easy if the plan is just to stay in. I need some nice clothes for that time at home. I’d better stop trying to “save” knits for dresses and make more tees and pants for lounging. Step away from the shirt patterns…

How is May going for you? Are you taking part in Me-Made May this year? Any discoveries?

shirt story. chapter two: I finally made one!

It certainly took me long enough to get there! Lots of fretting, fitting, and pattern alterations. Here it is:

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Here at the House of Shiny Door Knobs we have nowhere to pose where the clothes could be the proper focus.

Fresh off the happy wave of the #sewtogetherforsummer shirt dress, this is McCall’s 7387 — a pattern I bought on impulse, started fitting, realized it had some features I wasn’t crazy about, and then discarded.

I’m writing this post after realizing that you can’t keep the momentum going forever. It turns out that trying to quickly prepare another shirt pattern after a long day at work is not the best evening plan. Luckily, I stopped myself before fabric scissors came into play. Oh, wonderful wave of shirt-sewing mojo, let me do your beauty justice by giving this shirt a proper write-up.

I could call this a blouse, I guess, but I prefer “shirt” because I really like the variations on menswear in women’s patterns. You can mix and match elements and not be afraid of David Page Coffin criticizing you in your dreams. Or so I’m hoping.

Construction details aside, my primary concern is always fit. I often see photos of tissue-paper pattern pieces pinned neatly to freshly cut fabric on Instagram and I wonder — sometimes with a bit of envy — how many of you out there have the luxury of getting a good fit “straight out of the envelope.” Not me. I’ve been working pretty hard over the years on not blaming it all on my body and how it fits or doesn’t fit into some sort of “standards.” So, to be honest, what really bugs me is how much time fitting and alterations can take. Not that much time left for sewing in the end!

This one took a while from first muslin to completion. For a long time we weren’t talking because I wasn’t sure I could figure out the alterations and hack it to get the design details I wanted.

I got it at a pattern sale, where the siren song of $1 or $1.99 always lures me. I didn’t notice just how deep that back pleat was or that there wasn’t a collar stand.

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No collar stand. Even after digging through the pattern envelope for a long time. It turns out reading the pattern contents might save you some time!

I really hated the back pleat when I made up the first muslin. It felt like a heavy tail sitting atop my derriere, and the curve of the pattern piece gave it unnecessary length that made it pile up on said derriere. Not a cool look. It was the first thing I knew I needed to do away with when I eventually picked up this pattern again.

It’s the kimono sleeves that made me reach for it. And fabric leftovers that didn’t add up to much on their own but really got me fired up about this project once I realized how I could put them together.


It did take some creative cutting, some plans changed along the way. The main fabric was leftover chambray from the circle skirt I made as one of my first sewing projects (you can see a photo of it here). The button placket got integrated into the fronts. I could have turned it the other way around and it would look like intended. (But I didn’t because I thought, “why not go in the opposite direction and just let it look like the continuous piece that it is?”)

I cut out the inner yoke from the last precious bits of the Cotton and Steel print from my first dress. For the outer collar and cuffs I used linen/rayon left remnants from these pants. And because the yoke and back piece were both cut out in the chambray, I decided to set them apart with some flat black piping.

I wanted slightly feminine buttons to balance out the crispness of the fabrics. And that’s that when it came to style choices. I really felt steered by the fabrics on this one and quite enjoyed the limitations of the yardage in each. I don’t know if I could have stumbled on this combination otherwise.

I’ll follow up with some notes on fit alterations.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What are you working on?

pants #3, or, what I’ve learned so far and why I’m venturing on

Dear readers, my adventures in the scary land of pant/trouser making continue. I’m extremely grateful for all the encouragement I’ve gotten on my previous pants-making posts. Thank you all for your kind words! I’m happy to hear that I’ve also managed to get some of you encouraged by my dive into this intimidating area of garment sewing.

I think it’s worth the risk even if you fail. For one, I’ve been learning just how little I understood about the fit of pants when my choices were limited to ready-to-wear. And even though I haven’t had a “it fit straight out of the pattern envelope” experience with any of the pants I’ve made (well, I basically never do with any pattern), with some patience and basting, I ended up with wearable pants every time. So as I go along I’m learning about fitting and — more importantly even — I am really enjoying clothing my bottom half.

The third pattern I tackled from my sketched list came from Burda 8/2016. The photos from that issue (scroll through these posts for exhibit #1 and exhibit #2) didn’t give me a clear an idea of what those might end up looking like — more like an alluring suggestion. I’m somewhat surprised by where I arrived, though in a good way, I should add.

Today I take you to my messy sewing nook to meet my less-than-clean mirror in these very candid and completely unstyled shots of the new pants:

Totally unstyled but completely me-made: Plantain tee ans stripey socks by yours truly

Gah! That mirror desperately needs cleaning. But the pantsL I’m extremely pleased with them after wearing them out a couple of times and I’m liking them more each time I wear them. But I’m not going to lie to you: it took quite a few rounds of basting and fiddling with the fit before we got there.

Here are some slightly clearer photos. And details.

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I’d say they ended up looking like I imagined the Thread Theory Lazo Trousers would. Or maybe how the Lazos do on the figure type for which they are drafted. I’d say that if you have a flat tummy and a derriere that is not quite as pancake-like as mine, you’re bound to get a lovely result with those. Morgan’s own samples look great, so do Meg’s Lazos (and she has a neat post about them). I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum and the muslin turned out hilarious. I’d show you if I were less self-conscious. The crotch length for which they’re drafted was all wrong with my body proportions and I decided to end it on that one muslin and just shelve the project. Please don’t take my experience as a criticism of the pattern. Morgan’s posts about fitting these helped me diagnose what didn’t work for me, and I can definitely see myself returning to both the pattern and her posts to do some altering that would make these work for me.

Okay, but back to the Burda pattern. Running to Burda from an indie pattern that had a sewalong and fit advice is not a move I can explain logically. And I didn’t follow the instructions for the pattern because I didn’t get most of them. I’m definitely not fluent in the super laconic language of Burda instructions.

Here’s what I did instead, in case you want to follow my path but don’t speak Burda-ese:

  1. I cut out the size according to body measurements, to be on the safe side, and I basted the pants together, leaving the waistband off for that first try-on. (I slipped a length of elastic over the top to hold the pants up.) These pants have slash pockets, which I did not cut out yet; in fact, I superposed the pocket over the cutout and just chalked the spash pocket line in on the inside, so I could baste to fit without worrying about pockets at all.
  2. That first try on gave me some insight (the size I cut was too big, especially in the hips). I recommend basting in the waistband and pinning it closed to get a better idea of the fit. That’s what I did next.
  3. I’m not going to give you my fit adjustments in excrutiating detail since your needs might be very different from mine. I worked with Pati Palmer and Marta Alto’s book Pants for Real People to figure those out. Most importantly, I took the inseam in to accommodate as per the “pancake butt” adjustment (many thanks to Melanie for introducting this phrase to my fitting vocabulary). I also ended up shaving quite a bit off the outseams, especially on the hips. At this stage, I merely chalked in the new seam lines, didn’t cut anything out just yet.
  4. I determined the pocket placement using my new seamlines and cut out the pocket slash line. Then I made the pockets (the pattern instructions didn’t mention stabilizing the pocket openings but I did, with some lightweight fabric selvedges I had kept from an earlier project).
  5. I sewed the darts on the back (they needed some altering after the try on) and the pleats on the front, sewing them down partly, as was suggested in one of the comments to the pattern photos (but not in the pattern instructions, gah!).
  6. Next I tackled the fly front following Sandra Betzina’s tutorial. I’ve watched a few different tutorials for this step, and this one I find the clearest and easiest to follow, hands down. I second the advice on interfacing — I’m glad I stabilized the zipper area.
  7. This pattern didn’t have a fly shield but I added one. Make sure you cut out the waistband long enough to accommodate this if you also want to add one.
  8. Inseam, then crotch seam (where I did a double line of stitching once I was happy with the fit), basted outseam. There was some basting and ripping here before I felt comfortable with the fit, so I’d recommend not rushing this part.
  9. Sew the outseam, add waistband (I recommend interfacing if you’re working with a streth suiting like I was), hem pants.

So that’s my blueprint for sewing these. Pardon me if I dumbed it down inadvertently. Feel free to correct me or add steps I might have forgotten about here.

As you can tell from the two photos above the list, these don’t necessarily look fantastic from all angles. I definitely fretted about the fit and my understanding of how pleats play into it… But the final test for me is not my dubious photography skills but the wearing. These feel comfortable. Not perfect maybe but definitely good enough to fill a woeful wardrobe gap for me.

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Hand sewing: waistband on the inside, hook and eye closures (well, obviously), and hems.

And that’s a milestone for me. So if you wear pants a lot, dive into making them. I’m glad I did. I wish I had more time so I could get on with the next pair, but that will have to wait.

More from me soon. As always, I’d love to hear from you. What are you working on or planning to make?

Seasonal Wardrobe Disorder #2

Some time in the middle of last week I sat down to make the following sketch:

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It was getting warmer and my overall seasonal wardrobe deficiencies were stirring my imagination, so I cooked up a list that reflects my (as yet mostly unfulfilled) shirt and shirt dress dreams and also includes one vanity party dress project (Simplicity 1059), two haunting UFOs (McCall’s 7314, a shirt dress I spontaneously cut out and half-sewed last summer, please don’t judge; and a Colette Beignet skirt for which I cut out a lining but, inexplicably, not the main shell), and a half-baked cardigan hack inspired by Johanna’s brilliant tutorial.

Very nice, but possibly also very unrealistic.

… And cue sudden temperature drop and now the thing trending on Twitter as #blizzard2017, and I’m back to the previous page in my sewing notebook. (I’m also back in the Keaton pants, which continue to be my stylish saviors in this a—-ole winter of cruel deceptions.)

As a reminder, here’s my previous wardrobe disorder remedy sketch, with some actual results:

Ladies and gentlemen, we are almost out of Pipe Dream Province here as most of the sketched items have been sewn. One item remains on the list (but with the pattern cut out, so baby steps are being made!). That last item will likely be Butterick “See and Sew” 5908, subbing for the pattern from Burda Style Wardrobe Essentials that I’ve been too lazy to trace (this one, and yes, I might still change my mind and trace it).

And here’s the current garment-in-progress, pleated pants from Burda 8/2016:

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Magazine photo and my hand-basted pair ready for first try-on, with additional cat hair embellishment.

It seems like it’s all pants all the time here now and like I’m suddenly very cavalier about making them. I’ve by no means become a pant fitting expert overnight but, to be honest, the pairs I’ve made so far look and feel better than almost all the RTW pairs I own, so that motivates me to keep working on new pairs. I stumbled upon this great post by Jasika Nicole about how exhilarating making pants is and: (1) I agree, (2) I bought that Burda pattern, so now that’s some kind of a plan, too.

So it looks like I’ve become more of a planner than I’d imagined possible, and making/hoping to make all these pants patterns, and more than mildly Burda obsessed…

Pants against blizzards, friends. Cheer me up in my snow prison and tell me what you’ve been up to.

seasonal wardrobe disorder

winter-wardrobe

Today’s post is brought to you by my oddly late realization that virtually everything in my wardrobe is completely and totally seasonal. Or seasonally-affected, ha! That truth (which should have been obvious, you might argue) was beginning to sink in when I was putting my Top 5 of 2016 post together and noticing that at the time of writing it I wasn’t able to wear almost any of the clothes on that list if I was leaving the house. 

Then I realized that trying to wear rayon tops at this time of the year was a strange act of defiance only made possible by handknit cardigans. Then I made the Keaton pants, and, finally, the loving embrace of brushed cotton snapped me out of my state of denial.

And that’s when I made the sketch above. That there is the truth about what I need in my winter wardrobe. No dresses and no skirts, it’s no country for them. Only pants, handknits, and knit tops allowed in the presence of snow shovels.

I see the light now and I’m finally replacing my well-worn RTW clothes with me-mades. Here’s what I’ve made so far:

First up, the Keaton pants + a trio of Plantain tees (I already have four long-sleeved ones, I should add).

I feel like I don’t praise the Plantain tee pattern enough. My photography skills are not up to hyping it up more as a basic, but it’s a brilliant pattern that’s helping me replace a lot of not-so-great RTW tops with ones that I really enjoy wearing that are also neutral enough to go with almost everything.

I’m thinking at this point that even if Deer and Doe decide not to go the PDF route I kind of owe it to them to do a transatlantic paper pattern purchase just to express my gratitude for this wonderful free pattern.

Up next, the first fruits of my Burda tracing frenzy (thanks to everyone who offered their tracing tips in response to my Instagram post): two pullovers from pattern 106 from Burda 8/2016.

On the gray one I messed up everything it was possible to mess up because I was sewing when I was tired. I figured (wrongly) that I could do some sewing in lieu of a nap. On the upside I learned to unpick serged seams and I got a wearable pullover in the end.

(Photos clearly inspired by the Leaning Tower of Pisa.)

Size-wise, it was pretty big and I shaved off quite a bit on the side seams. I also didn’t add enough of a seam allowance on the neckline. It was enormous and droopy. What saved it in the end was inventiveness forced by being down to pitifully small and narrow fabric scraps. I used a non-stretchy scrap cut lengthwise with the selvedge included.

The fabric was leftovers from an unblogged Oslo cardigan. I’ve seen some lovely makes from it pop up on Instagram. What I personally don’t love about it is its poor recovery.

On to the second one, also from leftovers. This thick interlock knit had already become a Finlayson pullover (another unblogged Christmas gift) and the black dress from this post.

This pattern is good for squeezing out of leftovers, thanks to the central back seam. By the way, that seam is brilliantly shaped — it comes in on the lower back, thus working as a sway-back alteration. I’m seeing that on many Burda patterns and it impresses me every time.

Not that you can necessarily tell but in those two bottom photos I’m attempting to show off the pleated detail on the sleeves. That detail is my favorite feature of this pattern.

The second time around I only added a seam allowance on the neckline and the central back seam. Still, I “smallified” it once again by shaving off a bit off the side seam.

Oh, and the cuffs are from a textured knit remnant I picked up at Joann a while back. Not that you can actually see that it’s a different fabric in these photos.

I give the pattern a solid thumbs up, “smallifying” efforts notwithstanding, since they’re just my preference, not a pattern issue.

I can’t wait to tackle the two Burda pant patterns I have on that list. The pleated pair is traced already, the other one not yet. The fabrics are pre-washed. I just need to either muslin or dive in with a bit of fake courage.

But after Katie’s post I fished out McCall’s 7445 out of my pattern stash and now I want to make those, too.

Decisions, decisions. I thank you in advance for wishes of an early spring. But I believe Punxsatawney Phil has already said no to that and the snow banks outside my window seem to be feeling very at home.

What’s your seasonal strategy for sewing?