Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Toward a handmade wardrobe

One of the things I've been thinking about a lot since I've moved is the role that craft plays in my life, and how the things I make, and the work that goes into making them, have also helped me form my identity and find my community. I've been mulling it over a lot this winter – thinking seems to go hand-in-hand with being in "fibernation" – and now I'm going to start writing about it a bit to see if I can make sense of it. This is the beginning of that process.

With the arrival of spring, my mind turns to sewing, but it's been several years since I've made anything more than a zippered clutch or a tote bag. This year, though, I've got the urge to spend some serious time at my sewing machine.

I've recently read a number of blog posts about making an entire wardrobe – a challenge I've been considering for some time, but that I've never really done anything about. My blog-reading tends to be heavily skewed toward knitting rather than sewing, but there is some crossover, and it's in these posts that I've found my inspiration. Karen's recent posts about wardrobe planning and being very intentional about what she makes really got me thinking, as did Felicia's posts about simple sewing.

In short, they are both talking about taking a good look at what you really love to wear, assessing the clothes that you own, and then making more clothes like the ones that you love. It's about choosing to spend time and money on things that will provide enduring value, rather than one-offs that you're making just for novelty's sake. It seems obvious (how long does it take to knit a sweater? how much did all that yarn or fabric cost?), and in some ways it's a natural extension of the movement away from "fast fashion" toward buying ethically made clothing. It's about being deliberate about how you allocate your resources, whether those resources are money, time or effort (or, realistically, all three).

When it comes to clothes, I know what I like and I have a decent idea of what looks good on me, but I also know that I often choose to make things that fall outside of those two criteria – most of the time because I am attracted by the novelty factor. There are basic things I've made that I wear again and again, and there are elaborate things I've made that never get worn, despite how long I laboured over them or how much the materials cost.

Thing is, sometimes I want to reward myself by splurging on luxurious yarn, or I want to support a designer I know, or I want to join in on a community project – even though I know deep down that the yarn won't stand up to the wear and tear of being a wardrobe staple, or that the pattern won't really flatter me in the way I'd like it to, or that I'm joining the knitalong just for the camaraderie, rather than the end product. If I'm going to make my wardrobe, I need to think more carefully about what I make: I need to go for hard-wearing, versatile wardrobe basics, and limit the more frivolous one-offs.

So one day last week I sat down with a notebook and jotted down ideas about what I'd make if I were to make my entire wardrobe. I thought about what I've made and what I wear, and then zeroed in on where those two categories overlapped. Basic A-line skirts, simple boat-neck tops and yoked cardigans, made with natural fibres, in neutrals or jewel-tones: those are where my strengths lie. I'd like more basic bottoms – especially trousers (a challenge, but one that will be worthwhile, I think.) Complex cabled or lace sweaters in bright hand-dyed yarns are fun to knit, but they don't make it into the repeat-wear pile. I'll save the complex patterns, the hand-dyed yarns and the knitalongs for accessories – quick to knit and something I generally get a lot more wear out of.

I think the next step is to gather some patterns, and maybe try Polyvore to see if it will help me visualize how the patterns go together. Ravelry is a great resource, but what's your favourite source of sewing patterns? I'd be grateful for tips!


  1. Oh, how I wish there was a Ravelry for sewing! The closest I've found is Kollabora, but honestly, it's not that useful (fun, but not useful). I think part of the issue is that the big sewing companies produce so many patterns a year, and they're so disparately available (and often, so, so similar) that a database would be overwhelming. For indie patterns, the best sources I've found have just been sewing blogs (Lladybird, Ginger Makes, Cashmerette etc.).

    I am on a sewing kick right now too — it always seems to happen once the weather gets warm, and am working on making more woven tops I can wear to work. I am just a t-shirt and jeans person, and in my casual office a woven tee is a perfect summer compromise. So, that means lots of Grainline's Scout Tee (after many, many tweaks to my pattern) and I'm hoping to add some new patterns to the mix now that I have a better understanding of the alterations I need to make. I'm planning a few Liola Natalie Tops, and then I need to think about skirts and dresses (another Victory Patterns Madeleine, maybe a Southport Dress, or the new shirt-dress from Seamwork).

    It's funny to be a beginner again, after so many years of confident knitting, but it's fun too, and it's making me think really hard about what I want in my knitwear wardrobe too. For sure I need another linen top (or two) for warm weather, and more lightweight cardigans... It's lucky wardrobe planning is fun, because holy moly is there a lot of it when you want to make most of yours!

    I'm really excited to see what you put together!

  2. I really love this post. I have been following along here for a while, yours being one of the craft blogs that made the cut, and this post perfectly expresses my blah feelings towards craft at the moment. With a new job, and consequently a new look, the handknit variegated cardigans have been consigned to the back of the wardrobe.

    I have looked at countless patterns for smart jumpers and linen tops, but the everyday crafting has become about household items, like blankets.

    I love this blog: for really solid wearable patterns, both in sewing and knitting.


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