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?

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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

The murky depths of my fabric stash…

After last year’s stash diet, I’m pleased to say that my fabric collection is back under control. I’ve set myself a rule, which is that I must not buy more fabric than I can manage to sew! I make an average of just over one garment a month, so I’ve restricted myself to buying just one new length of fabric a month. That leaves me some slack to work through my stash, and to do a bit of scrapbusting on the side.

Yesterday, I got the whole pile out and and tried to work out what’s been in there the longest. I pulled out three pieces that I’m calling the lurkers – fabric from the murky depths I’ve had for more than two years, and that I haven’t yet decided what to do with. I’m hoping you can help me with some suggestions!

Lurker number one

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This is my oldest piece – it’s from my Grannie’s stash, which I acquired in 2012, but she probably picked it up decades ago in a remnant sale at a woollen mill. It’s a heavy navy blue wool tweed, and astoundingly, it was even made in England. There’s not enough for a coat, so I’m wondering about a jacket of some kind?

Width: 140cm

Length: 1.46m

Lurker number two

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I bought this embroidered border denim in a pile-it-high fabric shop in Cheltenham two years ago, and it’s been there ever since. It’s not the best quality denim, but the main worry is that I’ve never worked with a border print/embroidered border before – how do I deal with the grainline? And how do I stop a garment made from this looking too, ummm… cowgirl?

With 150cm

Length: 1.5m

Lurker number three

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This one has definite possibilities. It’s a heavy-ish wool crepe (yup, I did the burn test) of some kind that I bought at the Worcester Resource Exchange. I’d originally planned to make a Hollyburn skirt, but I don’t think there’s quite enough for my favourite knee-length version. Can you recommend a less fabric-hungry skirt pattern?

Width 146cm

Length: 1.4m

So there they are. How would you use any of these? And what’s lurking in the Mariana Trench of your stash?

Natural fibres v polyester

Stack of four folded fabrics: two polyester, two cotton
Top to bottom: polyester crepe de chine, polyester coating, cotton denim and striped cotton jersey

The #sewtallandcreative2017 challenge has taken me out of my comfort zone. Instead of my usual circuit of jersey, cotton, wool and wool coatings, I’m sewing with lightweight silk and crepe instead. To prepare, I’m making a toile in polyester crepe de chine… and discovering that this particlar fabric might be my nemesis.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a good sewing experience with woven polyester. I’ve made trousers in imitation cotton drill, half a pair of shorts in polyester crepe, two children’s coats in polyester coating and battled with some polycotton shirting to run up a toile.

The trousers feel scratchy, the shorts were too slippery, the coating wore out my hands and my shears , and the polycotton shirting came out looking a bit like a supermarket school uniform.

The lovely Gillian, over at Crafting a Rainbow, has written a very useful – and persuasive – post in praise of polyester knit fabric, so I thought I’d put the case against woven polyester fabrics.

Let’s get the main reasons we choose polyester out of the way first, shall we?

It’s cheap

It’s cheap for a reason: polyester is a polymer, meaning that the key raw ingredient is crude oil rather than a plant or animal fibre. Oil is undervalued because no one’s currently paying to clean up the damage that digging it up and using it does to the environment. Climate change, and the potential damage to sea life are two of the most disturbing side effects of our love affair with fossil fuels and man-made fibres. If these externalities were priced in, would polyester still be cheap?

It doesn’t crease

If you’re the sort of person who really, really loathes ironing (hello to my Mum and Dad if you’re reading this) then that’s fine. But if it won’t crease then it won’t press. You can’t mould it like wool, or crease it crisply like cotton or linen – and that’s going to cause problems when you’re turning up a hem, shaping a dart or pretty much any other task you’d expect to do when making a woven garment.

But it doesn’t breathe

I’m always amazed by wool. Wool is breathable, waterproof and warm. British sheep live outdoors on wet and windy hillsides, and yet they manage to stay warm and dry – and then their wool can be sheared and made into clothes for me. How is that even possible?

[Someone, somewhere is making a killing on wool, but it’s not the farmers. Wool fabric and yarn are anything up to £50 per kilo, but British farmers receive as little as 30p per kilo, meaning they may even make a loss on shearing their sheep.]

Polyester, on the other hand, can turn a short walk to the shops on a warm day into a clammy, sweaty mess. The static cling on skirts especially is horrendous. Plus it squeaks when I sew it. (Or is that just me?)

There are some great uses for polyester though…

Where polyester and other artificial fibres do win out is in outerwear and sportswear, especially when they’re blended with natural fibres like cotton or bamboo. I can’t imagine my workout gear without spandex, or my waterproof jacket without nylon.

After my experience this week with a polyester crepe de chine that clings so badly it won’t drape, I think I’ve sworn off polyester for a while.

How do you feel about polyester? Do you love all the quirky prints and the low prices, or would you rather sew with linen, cotton and wool?

 

 

#sewtallandcreative 2017: inspiration

So a couple of weeks ago, a box of fabric arrived in the post…

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These are the four fabrics for the MARGE/Tall Guides design challenge – all remnants from the MARGE clothing range. Left to right, they are:

  1. A polyester stretch lace with a dark green leafy print, as used in the JORGINE wrap dress
  2. A dark purple, very sheer silk chiffon, which was used for the *gorgeous* INGA dress
  3. An embroidered, sheer-ish pale pink and white silk, as used in the ADA top
  4. A coral, acetate/viscose mix crepe, originally used for the LIV slip dress.

There’s between 2 and 3m of each one, and MARGE also included plenty of delicious Bemberg rayon lining in ivory and black.

The guidelines for the challenge are:

  • Each of the four tall ladies (the other three are Allison, Beth and Tiffany) must make a summer dress
  • We have to use at least two of the four fashion fabrics.

Clearly time for a rummage through my pattern library and Pinterest for some inspiration!

So many possibilities, and I expect I’ll probably change my mind about eleventy billion times between now and the next stage. I think the trickiest part for me is the idea of combining two fabrics. I don’t often colour-block or use multiple fabrics in the same make, so it’ll be good to expand my horizons.

So (or should that be ‘sew’?), what would you make? Which two fabrics do you think would combine most successfully?

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. (This post)
  3. Design process and choosing a pattern
  4. Construction
  5. The finished dress…

 

A tall order – the MARGE/Tall Guides sewing challenge

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If you sew, chances are it’s because it’s hard to find the clothes you like in the shops. I enjoy being tall, but at 5’10”, I usually find most high street clothing is just too short to fit my frame. Sure, I can buy a pair of trousers with a 34″ inside leg fairly easily, but they won’t also come with another 1-2″ added to the crotch depth. And woe betide the tall woman looking for a one-piece swimsuit or a jumpsuit…ouch!

My height was an important part of what drove me to learn to sew my own clothes. These days I love being able to create a fit and flare dress where the waistline lands actually at my waist, or where the sleeves are just the right length. (Ever wondered why rolled up sleeves are so popular in fashion photography? It’s because clothing models are usually tall, and rolling the sleeves up disguises the fact that the garment sleeves are too short for them.)

I love meeting other taller-than-average women who sew, so I’ve signed up to take part in the MARGE/Tall Guides #sewtallandcreative2017 design challenge. Alongside three inspiring tall sewists – Allison, Beth and Tiffany – I’ll be using leftover fabrics from MARGE’s most recent collection to create something new.

(If you haven’t heard of MARGE before, it’s a high-end US clothing brand, specifically designed for taller women.)

If you’re tall, was it part of the reason you wanted to learn to sew? And for you, what’s the best thing about being tall?

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

2. Inspiration

3. Design ideas and choosing a pattern

4. Construction process

5. The finished dress…

 

Sewing in snippets

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Before my son was born there was a lot more time to sew. Mr Wardrobe would go out to play club cricket on summer Saturdays, and I’d have a lovely long sew-in all afternoon and half the evening, immersing myself in fabric and fitting for the day, half-listening to TMS. And one evening a week I used to go to a sewing class at my local FE college for a full three hours of sewing with like-minded ladies. Bliss.

These days, as I scurry between work, childcare and chores (to a soundtrack of ‘Mumh-maaaaay’ rather than cricket commentary) I now have what’s described as ‘time confetti‘: unpredictable snippets of five minutes here and ten minutes there in between conference calls and pre-school pickups.

And my dedicated sewing space that used to be in what’s now my son’s room has upped sticks to the home office, so I have to pack my machine and fabric away after each session.

If your sewing time is similarly fragmented, here are some things I find I can still do even when time is short.

If I’ve only got five minutes

  • Start a project bag or box to collect all the things to make my next project
  • Go through my notions and choose the buttons and thread
  • Neatly cut out one pattern piece*
  • Load a bobbin
  • Stitch or finish a seam, or two or three if they’re short
  • Sew on a button
  • Descale the iron

*Once I’ve laid out and pinned my pattern pieces to my fabric, I cut around each one roughly with my shears so I can stack them on top of each other and pack it all away quickly if I need to. I then come back to the stack and cut each one out neatly, adding the markings for that piece before I move on to the next one.

If I’ve only got ten minutes

  • Go through a sewing book or magazine to look for a pattern
  • Cut out interfacing or lining pieces
  • Fire up the iron and press as many seams as I can
  • Try out different stitches on some scrap fabric and perfect the tension – then write the settings down in case I forget later
  • Try on a toile and snap some quick mirror selfies so I can assess the fit later
  • Clean the lint out of my machine and cuddle oil it

I can’t say I’m managing a garment a week (I can still dream!) but I am spending more time sewing and less time just wishing I was sewing.

Interested in speeding up the sewing itself? There are some great posts out there by other sewists with tips for sewing faster.

Advice from Colette on what we can all learn from industrial sewing

Tips from Craftsy, Melly Sews, Tilly and the Buttons and Lladybird on sewing more quickly.

What sorts of sewing tasks do you tackle if you only have five or ten minutes? And am I the only person left in the entire sewing community who still uses pins?

 

 

The end of my stash diet

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Back in September, I decided my fabric stash was beginning to get out of control, and that it was time to take action. I was accumulating fabric faster than I was sewing it up and it was making a very definite hole in my wallet.

So I began a stash diet, and I made myself a promise:

  • I wouldn’t buy any more fashion fabric in 2016
  • I would sew the garments for which I already had both the fabric and the pattern.

The first thing that happened after that was that I went to #sewbrum – a sewing meet up of over 100 fabric-hungry sewists, complete with a tour of Birmimgham’s best fabric shops. Nightmare. But I stood firm and (possibly for the first time ever) didn’t succumb to the delights of Guthrie & Ghani’s shelves.

What’s surprised me is that I’ve actually enjoyed it.

Working through my stash and completing some of the projects I’d had planned for a long time (Fifi pyjamas, Fairfield shirt, Christmas pudding pyjama bottoms) has been really satisfying. And because it’s so long since I bought some of these fabrics it feels a bit like getting free clothes.

It’s forced me to confront the stuff at the bottom of my stash and assess whether or not I’m ever going to use it. One or two pieces have made their way to charity shops, and I’ve spent time thinking about how I’m going to use the rest.

There’s been a psychological change too. It felt liberating to just delete all those emails that tried to tempt me with 20% off Liberty prints or 15% off wool coating. Once I’d said I wasn’t buying any more fabric , I no longer had an excuse to browse for it online. My fear of missing out began to lessen, and I stopped trying to examine and assess all the possibilities.

And this week I came across (courtesy of the Oliver + S blog) something else that struck a chord. Deep in an article about ways to save money painlessly, was the following advice:

When you’re passionate about a particular hobby, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accumulating stuff related to that hobby rather than actually doing things within that hobby.

That hit home. I often say I’d like more time to sew. So why am I spending all this time buying fabric and browsing fabric rather than actually sewing?

So my 2017 stash resolutions are:

  1. Not to buy fabric faster than I can use it – for me, that’s one piece a month.
  2. To start thinking about my pattern purchases in the same way. Half price patterns, or the latest indie sensation is definitely not a bargain if I never get around to sewing it. Unless it’s a rare vintage pattern, it WILL be there in six months when I actually have time to sew it.
  3. To spend less time browsing fabrics online and use that time to actually sew things!

Have you resolved to sew your stash this year? What’s the best approach for you?

Top 3 misses of 2016

Not everything I made this year was such a roaring success as the top 3. These three projects were top of the flops this year.

The beige scoop-neck T-shirt that I thought might become a handy wardrobe staple turned out to be best worn under a crew neck jumper.

The multi-coloured cardigan I painstakingly knitted for my son wasn’t finished until winter was almost over and the loose weave meant it didn’t look great over his brightly coloured T-shirts. Plus there was something very odd about the sleeves.

The one I’m most disappointed about is this white scoop-neck T-shirt. I spent ages getting the fit spot on, but in the end I haven’t worn it much because of the poor-quality fabric. I chose a relatively thick T-shirt jersey made from 100% cotton, thinking it wouldn’t show my underwear and would hold its shape nicely. But I didn’t check the stretch recovery… actually it doesn’t spring back into shape well and each time I wash it it curls up at the edges and has to be ironed. Not what I’m looking for from a T-shirt!

Those are the misses – all knits, in one form or another, and all doomed by poor fabric and yarn choices. That should give me some pointers for next year.

You can find the hits in last week’s post.

Top 3 hits of 2016

If you read the lovely Gillian’s blog, Crafting a Rainbow, you might have seen her Top 5 Best Projects of 2016. It’s a simple idea she’s encouraging other people to try. I don’t sew nearly as many garments as Gillian (She makes over 50 things a year! How is this possible?), so I’m going to share my top 3 instead.

  1. Self-drafted Breton striped T-shirtP1120280

I’ve worn this to death since I finished it in the summer. The boatneck shape with 3/4 length sleeves is one of my favourite shapes, and the jersey I thought would be too lightweight when I bought it has actually stretched and hung really well. I should clearly make more of these.

2. Cotton candy pyjama bottomsP1110671

This is another simple make that’s been in heavy rotation this year. The brushed cotton fabric is soft but not too warm. It was worth spending ages wrestling with it during the cutting out, after all.

3. Sea-green Sallie jumpsuitP1120960

I didn’t expect this to be in my top 3 when I finished it. My husband hates it, for one thing. (Clearly jumpsuits fall into the man repeller category unless they’re the black leather Michelle Pfeiffer version.) But it definitely qualifies as secret pyjamas, and yet I think it can be dressed up for summer evenings. The deep teal colour is really gorgeous and so much more interesting than black. Now I just need more occasions to wear it – maybe a holiday to a Greek Island, or a disco themed BBQ party? It’s not something I need two of in my wardrobe, but let’s hope 2017 brings more opportunities to wear it.

What have I learnt this year? That I live in knit tops day-to-day, and that I should make more of them in decent quality lightweight jersey. That you can never have too many pairs of pyjamas in your life. And that repeating the same pattern over and over is a pretty good way to build a wardrobe that fits..

What are your top 5 makes of 2016? (Or even your top 3?!)