The Holistic Seamstress

The Holistic Seamstress Logo

Wardrobe sewing is personal lifestyle choice. If I was a scientist, I might even hypothesize that it’s coded in our DNA. Whatever its origins, making clothes puts a seamstress at the intersection of her physical body, skills, available time, tools & materials, and even her personality. These five elements come together in a unique way for every sewist, leading to a handmade wardrobe that is not only a reflection of individual style, but a wearable record of personal growth. In an effort to understand the relationship between these elements and how they influence my approach to clothes making (and life), I am going to explore these topics in a multi-part series.


Background

After writing about how sewing has shaped my self-esteem, a whole new world of navel gazing about my craft opened up for me. I started connecting dots that I know will bring a balanced awareness to my sewing that I’ve been missing. Discovering my core style and preferred silhouettes through the Wardrobe Architect challenge was a great tactical exercise, but making my own clothes is a lifetime commitment that has more layers to it than just choosing what I want to sew. Every garment I make says something about WHO I am, WHERE I’ve been, WHAT I know (and don’t), HOW I sew, and WHERE I am going. I want those stories stitched into every seam.

The 5 Elements of Wardrobe Sewing

To live holistically means living in balance with ourselves and our environment by understanding and honoring the interconnectedness of all things. When I say stuff like that my friends call me a hippie and make jokes about my crunchy granola lifestyle —it doesn’t help that large batches of granola are actually baked twice a month in my kitchen —but, I don’t mind the teasing because I’m secure in my hippiehood and embrace it. In fact, most makers are part hippie, part nerd, and part artist. The best sewists leverage all of these traits while navigating what I like to think of as the Periodic Table of Wardrobe Sewing Elements.

Periodic Table of Wardrobe Sewing Elements

I believe that examining what’s true for me about these five elements —skills, body, supplies, time, and personality—will elevate my sewing experience, molding it to fit my reality. Too often I have looked to books, experts, other bloggers, or even sewing patterns to help me make sense of my sewing journey, when the truth I seek comes from the same place as Dorothy’s power to leave Oz and return home. It comes from inside. Knowing my constraints, what I’m bringing to the table, and what motivates me. I have a feeling that making those connections will change everything about the way I sew.

The Schedule

I am usually pretty casual about when I blog. A breadwinning mom with a toddler in the final stages of potty training gets a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to following the rules of blogging consistency. But, writing about this feels so right, it can’t be wrong. Nor can it wait for the time when life slows down (by my estimate, that will be in the year 2031). So in the continued spirit of sharing the start of projects that equally scare and thrill me, here is the schedule for The Holistic Seamstress blog series. If the stars align, new makes will be shared in between:

  • Part 1: Skills (Week of October 12th)
  • Part 2: Body (Week of November 30th)
  • Part 3: Supplies (TBD)
  • Part 4: Time (TBD)
  • Part 5: Personality (TBD)

Thanks in advance for sticking with me through what I think will be a close-up look at a seamstress’ attempt at sewing enlightenment.

Maxi Mom Fun

Maxi skirts are the new mom jeans. That’s an observation AND a declaration for the summer, my friends. And, I plan to thoroughly live up to it. The summer sale racks are overflowing with maxi styles and my weekend afternoons could be spent playing I Spy a Maxi (on the playground, at the market, crossing the street, etc.). But, the best view of a summer maxi I’ve had so far is the twirl-generating, floor-skimming linen skirt I made a few weeks ago and have already worn a million times since.

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Over the last month, my sewing mojo has been at its peak. I went head first into my wardrobe sewing plan and started plowing through muslins and 1-hour t-shirts like a one-woman factory. For a brief moment though, I was nearly defeated by a streak of wadders and unintentional wearable muslins – garments made with good intentions that lose cool points because of stupid construction mistakes on my part. I channeled that epic fail feeling into a new, scaled back sewing plan (more on that later) that functioned like Ritalin on my haphazard making.

This outfit was the first high-five I earned in weeks. It inspired an impromptu photoshoot at the end of an awesomely productive day at the office that I am certain was influenced by how good I felt in my clothes. I’ll give you the top-down tour.

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The t-shirt marathon that produced this blue rayon jersey top began with a short lesson in twin needle stitching. Where had it been all my life? Constructing the four seams of the fantastically free, Maria Denmark Kimono Tee (get it now if you don’t have it yet) with my serger and then swiveling to my sewing machine for twin needle hemming was the best way to breeze through an already quick sew even faster. Taking the time to hand wind my bobbin with bulky nylon thread slowed my groove a tad, but it was worth it for a functional set of stretchy hem stitches that won’t pop while pulling the shirt on and off.

I lengthened the sleeves of this version of the Kimono Tee using Maria’s tutorial and added a narrow wraparound neck binding, my new favorite way to finish a knit neckline. Everything came together so easily and so fast, I looked around the room half expecting someone to tell me I broke the law.

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Back to this linen maxi skirt with its gorgeous wrinkles and flirty swishyness. I lengthened my go-to dirndl pattern 15 inches and added pockets and a self-drafted waistband. The simplest of simple. I think it’s the light, billowy nature of the linen that gives the skirt life. It catches the air when I walk in such a regal way. During a business trip last week, it was the perfect traveling skirt. I hurried through Dulles and Atlanta airports in my DIY maxi and Keds, letting its soft, rhythmic rustling sound give my strut added purpose.

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Styling it with a wide belt for this outfit was my second high five moment. With so much fabric on my lower half, I didn’t want to overdo the accessories – the right belt was all I needed to tie the two pieces together. Boom. And, I’m dressed.

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The most notable fun factor for this skirt is its universal swish appeal. My daughter instinctively grabs the sides when she’s standing next to me and starts swinging the fabric. And when it’s story time, she cuddles up on my lap like it is the coziest toddler hammock in the world. Because it is.

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What’s your favorite way to wear a maxi skirt? And, why do they always make you feel majestic even when there’s crayons in your pockets and dirt on the hem?

The Best of #OOTD

On the heels of the recent Me Made May marathon (applause to all of the participating sewists with brilliant handmade wardrobes I developed crushes on), I was inspired to assemble my own round up of ensembles that feature garments I’ve made (as documented on Instagram with an ‘outfit of the day’ hashtag). Mostly to prove to myself that there really are seven days worth of gratifying outfits in my closet after its February diet.

These seven outfits weren’t worn consecutively, but they could be. They include my favorite makes (read: the ones with tolerable flaws) paired with my most appreciated RTW pieces. I really need them to play nice together while the minority population grows.

mondayMondayLinen floral dress with skinny floral belt.

ootd collage

Tuesday. Liberty dress with belted, gray linen blazer (popped collar, optional).
Wednesday. Green linen, leaf-print skirt with RTW top and bolero (DIY smile required).
Thursday. Pale day dress in signature silhouette with RTW bolero.
Friday. Kimono tee (unblogged) with RTW knit pencil skirt and DIY necklace.
Saturday. Yellow plaid cotton dress with blue plaid RTW shirt (worn under or over & tied)
Sunday. Patch pocket linen dress with RTW cardigan and Monday’s floral belt.

And there it is. A full week of pre-planned wearables to rescue me from indecision, pack in a suitcase, or simply bore my Instagram followers with as repeat #OOTDs….at least until I sew up another week’s worth.

Because a goal without a plan is just a wish…

sewingplans

After a week of weird home Wi-Fi problems that we might as well blame on a poltergeist, I’ve returned to the world of ones and zeros with a pretty solid spring/summer wardrobe sewing plan. Being locked out of the Internet for hours at a time turned out to be the perfect environment for good, old-fashioned list making. Writing down my sewing plans got my head of out of the clouds long enough to realize my original vision needed to be scaled back a bit. Of course, now that I’m back to modern living, my paper and pencil list got a quick Polyvore upgrade.

This month’s Wardrobe Architect 2015 challenge was to nail down the patterns I’ll be sewing for spring and summer. I started with my happy silhouettes from February, made some edits and additions, and organized my final garment/pattern choices into three lists: Sew Now, Sew Soon, and Sew Someday. The Someday list is where my fantasy sewing projects will live – garments that might be a new silhouette for me or just beyond my skills. I’ll share those throughout the season. The Now list is focused on filling in wardrobe gaps with simple, easily sewn pieces, while the Soon list takes things to the next level when I’m ready.

Sew Now

The undisputed frontrunner of my wardrobe is going to be a knit fit and flare dress. The Moneta, to be exact. I’ve recently made some changes to my Moneta (a story for later) that helped me confirm its place as my wardrobe workhorse pattern. My threat of sewing a rainbow of them is slowly coming true.

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With all of the sweat I put into getting the perfect knit dress, it made sense to stay with the groove and have a knit sewing marathon. These are the garments that landed on my Sew Now list.

  1. knit fit and flare dress
  2. fitted t-shirt
  3. long cardigan
  4. bodysuit
  5. knit pencil skirt
  6. leggings
  7. high waist panties

A handful of Moneta dresses, some tees, a pencil skirt in a great color, a cardigan topper, day of the week panties (because saggy drawers ain’t cute and Hanes doesn’t make briefs in petite size), and a bodysuit to wear with full skirts will kick off my warm weather sewing. My serger is threaded with new spools of Wooly Nylon and I already have my first assembly line cut. A few late nights of sweatshop work could get me halfway through the Sew Now list, but knowing me, I’ll opt for beauty sleep and continue to squeeze in my sewing before work and over the weekends.

Sew Soon

If I don’t get sick of sewing knits first, the Sew Soon list is up next. My return to woven fabrics starts with these garments:

  1. pajamas
  2. woven t-shirt
  3. pleated narrow leg pants
  4. gathered or pleated skirt
  5. cropped cardigan
  6. signature dress
  7. cap sleeve blouse
  8. culottes
  9. pleated neck shift dress
  10. woven fit and flare dress

I’m especially excited about this list because it includes another signature silhouette dress (possibly in another Liberty print!) and another self-drafted shift dress, both are TNT patterns that deserve some love and mindful execution. There’s also the set of magnificent pajamas I’ve never owned, a reprise of my first successful pants and woven tee patterns, an attempt at buttonholes on something other than a pillow (cropped cardigan), a trendy pair of culottes, the Sencha blouse I muslined in November, and a new fit and flare dress inspired by Dolce and Gabana’s dreamy $1,300 wisteria print frock (basically, the woven version of my Moneta silhouette).

This list is crazy, right? I’ve never planned out my sewing like this. To make a list of 17 garments and actually sew them feels like planning a walk on the moon without my space camp badge. When I plan projects at work, I set a target date for each milestone or at least forecast when things will be wrapped up. For this project, that would be something like 1 garment a week for 17 weeks, but if I consider the first day of fall (September 23rd) as the official end of summer, then that gives me 24 weeks of warm weather sewing and wearing time. Not bad. A heroic accomplishment if I pull it off.

How’s your seasonal sewing (or shopping) plans going? Anyone else trying out culottes?

WTF Do I Wear in the Meantime?

I’m no stranger to closet purging. I do it religiously every season. But, now that my style standards have been solidified in my mind, I’m feeling ‘meh’ about  98% of my outfitting options and now I have a small NOTHING TO WEAR crisis to solve.

Empty Drawers

The Wardrobe Architect challenge encouraged me to figure out what I like to wear, and for this month’s exercise, we’re all evicting the rejects from our closets…but there’s no guidance for hard to fit, prodigal sewists who are now stuck with a closet of mostly random, lackluster ready-to-wear garments.

I started with these steps to clean out my closet:

  1. Launder. Wash and dry everything in the hamper.
  2. Setup. Clear off the bed, gather baskets and bags for sorting.
  3. Evaluate.  Consider every garment in the closet and dresser and ask myself (with try-ons, if need be):
    1. Does the shape make me happy?
    2. Does it fit?
    3. Is it in wearable condition?
    4. Does it have outfit companions?
  4. Sort. Based on the answers, put garments into one of 4 piles:
    • Donate
    • Mend / Alter / Refashion
    • Keep
    • Maybe

The results were satisfying. Got warm weather stuff tucked in the right corner and current, cold-weather and season-less stuff in the main sections. Lots of empty space and naked hangers. The Maybe pile will get re-sorted in a couple of weeks, the pile of garments to repair or change was moved to my sewing room, and the Donateables are waiting in the trunk of my car for a trip to Goodwill.

I can actually shut the closet doors completely for the first time in weeks and my feng shui is at level 9 (a scale I made up).

Closet after purge

After all of that… I can’t assemble 7 days worth of outfits! Figuring out my Monday through Friday outfitting options has always been a useful part of my quarterly closet clean out. The process doesn’t feel complete unless I have 5 season-less work-ready outfits, and 2 for the weekend. And, yoga pants and hoodies don’t count.

Starting with my Liberty dress (the recent star and pedestal of my wardrobe), I found two long cardigans to pair it with, but struck out on any cropped cardigans that coordinate. The same goes for RTW skirts and pants, most of them are missing tops.

So, before I start sewing all of the happy silhouettes I’ve chosen, I will sew outfit-completing garments to fill the gaps in my wardrobe and hopefully take it from ‘meh’ to functional. Once I have a week of outfit options, then, it will be time to transition things from functional to fabulous.

Do you feel invigorated or overwhelmed when you clean out your closet? What purging methods work best for you?

Wanna Be Sewing: Happy Silhouettes

I’m back with more wardrobe building nonsense. My sewing mind (and scrolling finger) has been consumed with it lately. But, I think I have finally settled on some core shapes and silhouettes to go with my recently articulated core style.

I used the Wardrobe Architect challenge’s Exploring Shapes worksheet to rate the types of garments that I feel happiest wearing. I thought about each garment in terms of the elements that affect it (such as ease, length, waistline, or fullness) and how its shape can change if one of those elements varies.

Discovering which shapes rock my world and combining them into different silhouettes (outfits) was my mission. I used polyvore to assemble several four-season garments, kept the colors neutral, and left out accessories to simplify planning.

One dress, two skirts, 2 pants, four tops, and 2 toppers worth of core shapes. Each of these basics could have 3 or more variations (sleeve length, neckline shape, etc.), but for now I’m focusing on these shapes that I rated a 9 or 10 on the happy scale.

A complete silhouette includes garments and shoes. Like the fit and flare silhouette below of dress (fitted bodice, full skirt) + cropped cardigan + leggings +  riding boots that’s become my uniform this winter.

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But, sharing all of the shoe combinations would take days. So, I’ll leave the shoes out and just show some of the garment-only silhouettes that I’ll be building with my “happy shapes”.

Silhouette #1

{Dress (fitted bodice, full skirt) + cropped cardigan}

Basic Silhouette 01

Silhouette #2

{Fitted, elbow sleeve t-shirt + full skirt + cropped cardigan}

Basic Silhouette 1

Silhouette #3

{Fitted classic shirt + full skirt}

Basic Silhouette 03

Silhouette #4

{Dolman sleeve peplum top + pencil skirt}

Basic Silhouette 05

Silhouette #5

{Sleeveless peplum tunic + skinny jeans}

Basic Silhouette 4

Silhouette #6

(Loose-fit wrap blouse + skinny jeans)

Basic Silhouette 04

Silhouette #7

{Fitted, elbow sleeve t-shirt + leggings + long cardigan}

Silhouette 06

7 silhouettes from 12 shapes is just scratching the surface. There are a gajillion outfit possibilities for my favorite shapes. I’m still narrowing down the patterns I’ll use to sew all these shapes and silhouettes (except for the jeans, I’ll leave that to Levi’s for now), but getting this far in the process is hugely empowering. I’m even excited for this month’s closet purging task.

What are the favorite outfits or go-to silhouettes in your closet?

Wanna Be Sewing: My Core Style

I was a tomboy in the 90’s.

So, it’s kinda funny to me that I love to dress all ladylike now. I’m also surprised by the fact that there’s a core style at the heart of what feels like a haphazard attempt at dressing myself.

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Inspired by the prompts and exercises from the Wardrobe Architect 2015 Challenge going on at The Coletterie (shiny new badge on the right), I’ve been thinking hard about my core style, what influences it, and how to describe it. I like the idea of THOUGHTFUL wardrobe sewing for the entire year.

Using the images from this pinterest board, I’ve jumped right into January’s challenge: Defining Your Style.

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To help articulate my core style (so it translates into sewing clothes that make me happy, that feel like me) I filled out this nosey, but effective worksheet. The results of that introspection led me to the five words that describe my core style: classic, feminine, confident, playful, natural.

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It took some time to narrow down that list. Being so honest was a little intimidating. Ultimately, though, the words started to tell a story about the woman I am/want to be.

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I have had a long standing crush on the following women.

The graceful and talented Dorothy Dandridge.

The bold and authentic Jill Scott.

The powerful but soft Oprah Winfrey.

The petite and curvy Marilyn Monroe.

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The sultry and self-assured Kerry Washington.

The ageless and amiable Phylicia Rashad.

The stunningly gorgeous Thandie Newton.

The smart and sartorial Michelle Obama.

As my style icons, these eight women embody one or more of my core style words.

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I really enjoyed digging deep on this topic. I already feel more prepared for some serious wardrobe building. Next week, I’ll be sharing some of the silhouettes that will become a part of my core style and 2015 wardrobe.

What words or people represent your core style? Has your style changed over the years?