Curated Closet part 2: inspiration

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This part has taken a while, but it’s been truly worth it. Whenever I try to decide what to sew next, my head is always full of competing ideas, each trying to shout louder than the others. It goes something like this:

Pattern 1: “It’s nearly Christmas – time to make a party dress. There’s some lovely velvet in the shops now…”

Pattern 2: “The only parties you’ll be going to are children’s parties, what you really need is more jeans.”

Pattern 3: “Maybe. But jeans can be too casual for lots of things, you should make basics, like a knit dress. You can wear those anywhere”

Pattern 4: “A knit dress? Too boring. Take on a real challenge, like a coat.”

And so I end up scurrying around frantically trying to make all the patterns in all the fabrics. After going round in circles much of this year, and the list of gaps in my wardrobe mounting up, I decided to try Anuschka Rees’ book – The Curated Closet – to pin down what I actually want/need to wear and how to put it together.

For part 1, I looked at what I wear at the moment, which revealed a definite Mum-iform. Part 2 was a huge Pinterest-fest of collecting inspiration, and gathering the images that ‘speak to me’. I took Anuschka’s advice and tried to pin only things I’d actually be able to wear in real life. Here’s what I ended up with:

There are some clear themes – most of the images I’ve chosen are:

  • simple with lots of solid colours and few prints
  • neutral colours with some deeper jewel colours for variety
  • simple shapes – there’s not a ruffle in sight, but there is structured clothing, tailoring and wrap-front tops
  • casual, weekend clothing with some pieces that would also work for work
  • not too done-up – there’s a relaxed, off-duty feel to the styling
  • fairly slim-fitting, waisted, with longer, clean silhouettes and sometimes asymmetry

From this, I’m trying to piece together how I’d like my own wardrobe to look. It feels something like this:

Overall vibe: classic, tailored, minimal, relaxed, grown-up

Colours: lots of neutrals like white, charcoal, dove grey, taupe and navy, (although not black) sprinkled with a few pastels like pink and pale blue, low-contrast colour blocking, and a side order of jewel colours like ruby, emerald, sapphire and purple

Individual items: plenty of trousers – wide-leg and slim-fitting, wrap jersey tops and blouses, leather jackets, tailored jackets and shirts, shirtdresses, wrap dresses, cosy roll neck and v-neck knitwear, simple shoes and boots

Silhouettes: wide-leg trousers with slim-fitting tops, snuggly knitwear over narrow trousers with boots, wrap tops with pencil skirts, fit-and-flare dresses

Materials: wool, leather, well-worn denim, tactile materials like silk, smooth, slinky and crisp textures

Styling: long, choppy layered, natural-looking hair (phew – I don’t have to get a pixie crop!), earthy/subtle make-up, big sunglasses, fedora hats, silver necklaces, rings and earrings.

So far, that sounds perfect to me, and it might just silence the pattern chatter in my head. Roll on part 3…

Have you tried working through The Curated Closet, or Colette’s Wardrobe Architect series? How far did you get, and how did it help you?

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An unloved shirt

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I haven’t finished this shirt.

It started out as a surprise birthday present for Mr Wardrobe and it’s been languishing in my UFO pile since August.

The problem isn’t the pattern – it’s the Thread Theory Fairfield shirt, which I made him last Christmas and he still refers to as his ‘best shirt’.

It’s not the fabric, either. That’s a gorgeous organic cotton woven check in light navy that I found at Draper’s Daughter (now sold out).

The problem is that I didn’t think this through all together. I thought a short-sleeved shirt would be a great summer birthday present . But I forgot that there’s a reason he doesn’t own any short-sleeved shirts – they don’t suit him.

My husband’s a wiry, long and lean shape. Basically, he’s built like cyclist Chris Froome, only he doesn’t look quite so much like an undernourished weasel. Short-sleeved shirts make his slim arms look like twigs. Twig-arms in a checked short-sleeved shirt make him look more than a bit geeky, and that’s not quite the look he’s going for. So it’s been sitting in my UFO pile ever since he tried it on. I haven’t had the heart to finish the hem or do the buttonholes, but other than that it’s finished.

I think I have three choices:

  1. Try to locate more of the same fabric elsewhere, unpick the flat-felled short sleeves and replace them with long sleeves. Major PITA, but it would probably get worn. If I can find the right fabric.
  2. Donate it, but – given that I’ve adjusted it to fit Mr Wardrobe, it might not suit anyone else either. Easy, but the fabric was not cheap, so I’d rather see it worn by someone I know.
  3. Keep it in the cupboard for the next 12+ years and hope that it looks better on my son than on his Dad…

What would you do?

I think I know what I ought to do, I just can’t quite face it.

 

Denim skirt – more embroidery, less cowgirl

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Wow, this month has been chaotic in the Wardrobe household. I’ve been scurrying around like a headless chicken for work, writing reams of copy for clients and our half-term trip to the Isle of Wight crept up on us.

I’ve also had a weird period of sewing since the summer: one or two makes haven’t turned out as planned; there are more WIPs and UFOs hanging around than usual; the darker evenings are swaying me towards knitting; and I’ve also fallen behind on my stash diet pledge to use up 12 or more cuts of fabric this year. The race is on to complete and blog four more makes before the end of the year!

Here’s something I have finished – another New Look 6346 skirt. I’ve already talked about the pattern and the fit, so I’ll stick to what’s different about this version.

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The fabric

This one’s been lurking in the stash for a while… I found the pink and red border print a bit country and western for my liking.

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The border print was pretty full-on. It’s even got little mirrors sewn into it!

But once I’d made the decision to chop that off, the remaining embroidery is fairly subtle, and I could also go back to using the lengthwise grain, rather than having to work on the cross grain to accommodate the border print. It’s a lighter weight fabric than my first red wool version, so the skirt has a slightly softer shape this time, which I prefer. Ultimately, though, I’m going to have to use something with more drape to get this pattern spot on – maybe a wool crepe?

I didn’t bother to line this version, which made things a lot easier – especially the stitching in the ditch to secure the waistband.

And since it’s denim, I couldn’t resist a bit of topstitching around the hem (just seen) – with a bright red thread to match the embroidery.

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Skirts feel like a good place to be at the moment (some poorly fitting trousers are one of my WIPs right now). And sooo quick, compared to fitting both halves of a dress! Do you have any skirt patterns you’d recommend for winter fabrics?

Red alert: New Look 6346 skirt

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Autumn has definitely arrived in these parts.

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The Forest of Dean: canine heaven

I’ve had this gorgeous solid heavy red wool crepe in my stash for over two years, but as the trees began to turn, it felt like the right moment to finally cut into it and make something bright to wear on dull autumn days.

I used New Look 6346 – a really simple flared skirt pattern with two basic variations and a contoured waistband. I opted for view D, with the plain front and an invisible zip at the centre back. I also considered the Sewaholic Hollyburn pattern, but didn’t want the centre-front seam.

This pattern has so much hack potential – I’d like to try adding pockets or belt loops and a midi version would be great for work. On the down side, I think it comes up a bit large. I originally cut the size 18, based on my body measurements, but ended up downsizing to a 16 so that the skirt would sit neatly at the waist.

Because the heavy wool crepe fabric is a bit itchy, I opted to use a scrap of quilting cotton for the waistband facing, and also to add a contrasting lining. This tutorial helped me work out how to construct the skirt with the lining included.

And for a super-smart finish, I hand-stitched the skirt hem using a bias facing finish. There’s something about wool – I just can’t quite bring myself to machine the hems.

Looking at the results, I think I might end up removing some of the flare from the skirt in this heavy fabric – and I definitely need to put more thought into what to wear with it (long brown boots? chunky knitwear?). But to begin with, I’m just going to wear it around a bit and see how it feels.

Cosy, I hope.

The Curated Closet: getting started

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I’m stuck in a style rut. Somewhere in the last ten years, I stopped paying attention to my wardrobe and began to accumulate clothes that don’t fit; clothes that are worn out; and duplicates of things I already own. I think I know how this happened.

It’s ten years this month since I gave up my supposedly high-flying job in London and retreated out of the City to run my own business. Later, I became a dog-owner and then a parent, so the stretchy, machine-washable, goes-with-trainers section of my wardrobe expanded. And the ten minutes I used to spend thinking about what to wear each day evaporated into a sea of nappies, porridge flinging and school runs.

I’ve decided I need some help to solve this problem. And since my budget won’t stretch to a personal shopper, I bought a copy of Anuschka Rees’ book, The Curated Closet, and settled down with a cup of tea.

I like this book. Yes, it does tell you to spend, like, a whole day on Pinterest. But it’s also methodical and systematic. No sane person is ever going to follow all the ideas in the book to the letter, but there’s enough there to get me thinking. It doesn’t duck out of the difficult conversations like dressing to suit your shape, but neither is it Trinny-and-Susannah prescriptive.

 

Chapter 2 suggests that people in my position start by recording what they do wear for two weeks. I keep forgetting (!) but the collage above shows the clothes I’ve lived in over the last month or so.

What did I notice?

  • I live in trousers, partly due to problems with my feet which makes finding shoes harder, so I’d like to find more shoes/boots that would go with skirts, and that can cope with a lot of walking, some of it on muddy tracks
  • I don’t wear a lot of prints, unless stripes count as a print?
  • There’s a lot of blue, green and grey in my wardrobe – I’m not wearing my other favourite colours
  • My uniform is a stripey T-shirt, jeans and a jumper. It’s practical, but I’m also bored by it.
  • None of my jeans fit as well as I’d like. Sadly, even my handmade Gingers have stretched out since I finished them, and no longer have the fit I was aiming for. I really, really want to sort this out.
  • The shirt collar looks nice – why don’t I have more shirts?!

Where do I want to get to?

My wardrobe has two personalities but neither of them are really like me.

I have clothes I wear day-to-day, and then more glamorous going-out clothes that I don’t wear often. My day-to-day clothes are boring and scruffy, but my going-out clothes are largely a bit OTT for daily life, and I’d like the two halves to move closer together. I’d like to look more chic and put-together without losing practicality. And for client meetings, I need something that looks professional, but ideally it would mix and match with the rest of my wardrobe for other occasions too.

I really struggle with what to wear on my pear-shaped bottom half and I need to learn to flatter my current shape with modern styles rather than dressing the way I did five or ten years ago.

I’d like my clothes to have more structure, more style and creativity about them, but without losing the relaxed feel I need to be comfortable working at home and scurrying around after a four-year old.

And lastly the colours, prints and patterns in my wardrobe don’t really coordinate. I’d like to organise this and finding things that will link them together.

That’s my challenge for the months ahead. Have you worked through a wardrobe review like this? (Maybe Colette’s Wardrobe Architect series?) Did you find it useful, or does this sort of thing come naturally to you?

Visit to Beckford Silk, Gloucestershire

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I managed to wangle a day off work yesterday, so to get over missing out on the Sewing Bee Live event this weekend, I took a trip to a local fabric producer up the road near Tewkesbury. I thought I’d share a few pictures and some info in case you’re curious.

Beckford Silk is a family-run silk printing and dyeing business that’s been going for around 40 years. From their workshop in Gloucestershire, they use screen and digital printing to create some beautiful designs on around a dozen different silk fabrics. Lots of their fabric is turned into scarves for museum and heritage clients (think National Trust gift shops), but they also sell plenty of solid-coloured and printed silks by the metre for dressmaking.

If you visit, as well as the shop and a cafe (with sublime fresh scones!), there’s also a small visitors’ centre room. Here you can watch a film about the printing process and the history of the business. There are large swatches of the different fabrics to examine and a fantastic display of old printing blocks on one wall.

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A scarf-sized swatch of each fabric is available to handle so you can examine the different weight, drape and feel of each one.

There’s a range of different printed silks available to buy in the shop – my favourites included this, and this. Plus there’s a even larger range of solid colours. If it were payday, I think I’d have succumbed to this oxblood silk velvet, and a metre or so of this deep red heavy crepe de chine – perfect for a slinky-but-office-appropriate woven t-shirt.

After my first experience of working with slippery silk fabrics earlier this year, I’m now definitely inspired to try something else in silk soon. The new Liesl + Co Chai Tee pattern stood out as a potential silk make for me this week. Or a dressing gown, perhaps?

Have you sewn with silk, and which substrate would you recommend as the easiest to begin with?

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If you’ve got a bit longer to spend in the area, there are two awesome things to do nearby:

  1. On a clear day, take a walk up Bredon Hill for fantastic views of the Cotswold ridge, May Hill, the Malvern Hills and beyond to the Brecon Beacons.
  2. On a cold, wet day, head over to Tewkesbury High Street and seek out Cafe au Chocolat. The speciality hot chocolate is to die for…

J x

Fabric shopping my way round Britain

 

I don’t like to think of myself as shallow, but I do love a bit of shopping. Not the buying – that’s always painful – so much as the looking, and contemplating the possibilities.

As the parent of a four-year old, I haven’t spent much of the last four years pondering, browsing, or pottering about. Much like the dog, my son has a three-shop limit. So a trip to a fabric store without anyone whining “Muhhh-meee, can we go now?”, is a rare treat to be savoured, relished and positively luxuriated in.

Thanks to DH, one time that I get to do this is on holiday. He has no interest in shopping either, but he does willingly look after both boy and dog while I browse. I’ve really enjoyed visiting different sewing shops in some off-the-beaten-track locations (like Bentham in North Yorkshire), and getting a little snapshot of the sewing habits of each town.

And because I also really, really love maps, I decided to keep a record – a sewing shop map, plotting the sewing shops I’ve visited in Britain.

Sewing shops don’t always have flashy websites, or even social media accounts, so it can be a bit of a mission tracking them down online and working out what they do and don’t sell. In case it’s useful for anyone else, I’ve made my map available to access on Google maps, and included a short description of each one with a date, so you know whether it’s up-to-date or not.

I’m heading to the Isle of Wight in October, so let me know if there’s anywhere you’d recommend I visit there!

Bridesmaid Betty

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My sister Alice got married last weekend, so this is what I wore to be one of her bridesmaids.

(I have a feeling that technically I was a matron of honour rather than a bridesmaid, but no one knows what that means, so I’m sticking with bridesmaid.)

Alice and her new wife, Kate, let us choose our own dresses. The only rules were that it had to be a dress, and it had to fit with the day’s blue/turquoise/silver colour palette. We don’t live close to each other so we each chose our own dresses and only saw the others’ dresses on the day. (If I can get one or two of the professional photos to share I’ll try to remember to add them here.)

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The pattern

I opted to make Sew Over It’s Betty dress, which probably doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a simple darted bodice, with a slash neckline at the front and a V at the back. It fastens with an invisible zip up the centre back, and the neckline and armholes are finished with a combined facing. The pattern is fabric-hungry because it has a knee-length circle skirt.

In cotton, this pattern is a great first dress for a beginner sewist. There’s nothing very tricky in the construction, and the darted bodice is the one that most fitting tutorials use as an example. The instructions are pretty clear and there’s also an online sewalong.

What I really love about this dress is the possibilities it offers. Sew Over It have released an add-on pack, with a scoop-neckline variation and a set of sleeves. But you could also try drafting these at home, add a lining or attach this bodice to any skirt you please. There are so many great variations and hacks around to choose from.

The fabric

First time out, I stuck with the suggested fabrics and chose a medium-weight cotton in this gorgeous swallow print from Guthrie & Ghani. I squeezed mine out of 4.3m, despite lengthening both the bodice and the skirt.

Fitting

I made two toiles to get the fit right – you can read about those here. In the end I made the following alterations:

  • added 1″ to the bodice length just above the waist
  • added 1″ to the skirt length at the bottom
  • graded from size 12 at the shoulders to size 14 at the waist
  • did a 2″ FBA and moved the bust dart both up and back from the apex
  • removed a tiny 1/8″ from each outer shoulder as a sloping shoulder adjustment
  • 1/2″ swayback adjustment at the back waist
  • removed a little vertical distance from the right side at the waist seam to allow for my shorter side
  • re-drew the facing pieces to mirror the changes to the bodice.

If I were making it again, I’d also tweak the fit at the back a little – possibly a narrow back adjustment or taking larger back darts. And I’d increase the sloping shoulder adjustment on my right.

If you need to alter the bodice of this dress to make it fit you, the pattern doesn’t help you much. There are no lengthen/shorten lines marked, and nor are the bust apex or the natural waistline. Not deal breakers, and one or two tutorials are on the SOI website, but a similar Big 4 pattern would include these markings.

Construction

The instructions tell you to staystitch the back neckline, but I’d suggest you also do this to the front neckline and the facing.

If you can sew an invisible zip, you can make this dress. The trickiest part is the facing, which doesn’t feel intuitive the first time you try it, but does (honestly) work in the end. If you’re struggling with the SOI instructions, you could try reading this Threads tutorial, which also helped me to get my head around it.

I made two small changes to the inside. I finished most of my seam allowances on the overlocker, but for the facing, I used some pink bias binding I had lurking around. You’ll need to make sure that your bias is really lightweight so it doesn’t add bulk, but it adds a nice contrast in a place where you’ll see it every time you put the dress on.

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Secondly, I decided to overlock and then hand catchstitch the hem rather than turning it up twice and machine stitching it as the instructions recommend. I’ve had problems in the past machine stitching curved hems – they tend to creep sideways on me, creating diagonal wrinkles in the hem. A machined blind hem would also work well in a medium-weight cotton like this, especially if you tack it in place first.

I gathered the excess fabric in the hem curve using my overlocker. I don’t have a special gathering foot for it; I just fiddled with the differential feed setting, practising on scraps until it produced the right degree of curve. I used this to finish the edge and gather (just ever-so-slightly) in one, then pressed it up with plenty of steam ready to stitch. The handstitching was a pain (did I mention this is a humungous circle skirt?), but I do think it gives a nicer finish, and I had some TV to catch up on…

The wedding went off without a hitch – apart from the actual hitch, of course.

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And one of the best things about a full circle skirt is that there’s enough fabric for a four-year old to hide behind!

What’s on my sewing table?

Although I’ve been quiet on the blog this month, there’s plenty of sewing going on. Some successful, some less so. Here’s what I’m up to this week:

Bridesmaid Betty

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I’ve just, just finished handstitching the enormous hem on this, and it’s all ready to photograph. I just have to decide whether to take my own pictures for the blog, or see if I might be allowed to use the professional ones from the wedding.

A short-sleeved Fairfield shirt

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This was originally intended as secret squirrel surprise sewing for Mr Wardrobe’s birthday last week. It’s almost finished: there’s just a bit of finishing on the collar to do, plus the hem, buttons and buttonholes. But there’s one small problem. When he tried it on, we both remembered why he doesn’t own any short-sleeved shirts – they actually don’t suit him. His arms look weirdly stick-like and this shirt really brings out the geek in him. So now I need to either abandon it, or find another Mr-Wardrobe-shaped owner for it. I might see if my Dad would like to try it on…

Returning to the scene of a previous blunder

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Now that 1990s patterns are pretty much vintage in the sewisphere, I dragged out the first pattern I ever attempted (with disastrous consequences, all the way back in 1992) and it’s starting to look quite appealing again now. Since I currently own exactly zero pairs of shorts, I thought this might be fun to try again. Only this time I’ll be making view C in a lightweight tawny linen, rather than View B in a rose-print rayon challis type. (SO not a good fabric choice for a first project – if only my teenage self had listenened to her Mum.)

Stepping up my skirt game

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Having worn out my favourite RTW denim skirt this year, my wardrobe definitely needs skirts. So I’m planning a few as we move into autumn. First up, this gorgeous red heavy wool crepe is going to become view D from New Look 6346 – a straightforward flared skirt pattern with a contoured waistband and invisible zip. I was eyeing the Sewaholic Hollyburn pattern orignally, but I already had this one, plus it’s more economical on fabric so that swung it for me.

Knitting plans

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It’s time for a new knitting project, so I’ve spent some time on Ravelry this week, trying to work out how best to use some yarn oddments I have stashed away. I have four different balls of double knit (one cotton, one alpaca, two merino/cashmere blend) lurking in my stash and absolutely no idea what to do with any of them.

So that’s the next few weeks taken care of, then. Do you keep several projects on the go at once, or do you limit yourself to just one UFO at a time?

 

 

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Hand-knitted hot water bottle cover

I’ve got something different for you today – the first non-garment ever to appear on this blog!

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For about two or three weeks now, my brain has been anticipating autumn and winter – I’ve found myself thinking about wool fabrics for my my autumn wardrobe, browsing A/W fashion collections in the September issues, and yesterday I even bought myself a pair of winter mittens I spotted in the sale.

When you move out of a city (I grew up in Leeds, and in my twenties I lived in London), the first thing you notice is how much more influence the weather has on your day-to-day life. Suddenly you’re not moving from one air-conditioned building to another, so the temperature and the climate make the seasons feel much more distinct. If you also have a dog to walk, the effect is magnified because you’re outside in all weathers.

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Last year, Mr Wardrobe and I made an effort to get into the hygge trend as a way to combat any winter blues. I’ve always loved winter, but even so, it’s still not easy to occupy an active pre-schooler in a small town on a wet day; there are weeks when the view from the office window is continually gloomy; and the endless mud that the dog brings home can start to get you down.

What seems to help is having the right kit – good-quality waterproofs for dog-walking, a bright light if you’re prone to seasonal affective disorder, and some really cosy gear for those evenings when nothing but a roaring woodburner and a mug of hot chocolate will do the trick.

On really cold nights, I love using a hot water bottle to make the bed all toasty before I sink into it, and this snuggly merino/cashmere blend cover should make it even better. (Plus it stops you scalding yourself if you’ve put too much boiling water in…) I knitted this using yet another pattern from my beginner’s book, Knitty Gritty by Aneeta Patel. It’s pretty simple – if you can knit and purl, you can easily knit this.

The yarn I used is actually an aran, rather than the double knit recommended by the pattern. That was mainly deliberate – and I like the densely packed effect it gives. Beige might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it goes really well with the bedroom curtains I sewed last year. I wouldn’t say I’m all set for autumn yet, but this takes me one step closer.

Do you love the changing of the seasons, or would you rather it was forever summer?