Monday, 30 September 2013

The Planned Wardrobe: September Review

At the start of September I wrote about how I'd decided to give a simplified, relaxed version of Project 333 a go. I moved 33 items into my wardrobe, took everything else out, and planned to wear basically just those clothes for the month of September.

My experience of doing this basically fell into two halves: the first two weeks, I thought it was great. The second two weeks, I started to not enjoy it that much, and by the end of today, after getting dressed, I not-at-all-regretfully re-organized my wardrobe back into a cohesive whole. I'm really glad I tried the experiment, and I definitely learned a lot from it. However, I don't think the Project 333 model, even this easy, relaxed version, is something I want to keep doing.

The main problem I had wasn't the raw number of clothes. The problem was that I didn't have the right clothes in my selection, and there's just not enough flexibility for it to work for me. Here is a list of the problems I experienced:

1. I didn't get the mix right for the weather, which is no surprise since the weather is never particularly easy to forecast in the British Isles (because we live on the cusp of several different competing weather systems, which is a tangent I won't go into, but basically, yes, unsettled weather all the time) and especially difficult in seasonal transition months like September. I thought I'd covered all the possibilities but no, I really didn't, especially since my one pair of summer trousers disintegrated two days in. I had one day where I looked outside, looked in my wardrobe, and ended up grabbing something out of storage to wear because nothing that was clean was suitable for the combination of weather and my planned activity. That was the only day I went totally off-plan, but I had a few layering additions as well on colder-than-expected-for-September days, and I sweltered unhappily through some much-warmer-than-expected-for-September days because I didn't include enough hot weather options.

2. About 40% of my selection was pure workwear, i.e. things I would never choose to wear if I'm spending the day mostly in my apartment or out and about e.g. tailoring, woven blouses, etc. If I were actually working full-time right now, I probably would have been OK with this mix. However, my employment situation is weird right now (long story, don't ask) and as a result, I was only on campus three times this month for less than half a day per visit -- maybe 5% of my actual time. In reality, my 33 garment wardrobe was therefore, for the vast majority of the month, more like a 20 garment wardrobe. Luckily I had some things in the mix that were more flexible, like jersey tops that were just as reasonable to wear with jeans as with work trousers, or it wouldn't have worked at all. The obvious answer would have been to do some kind of swap part-way through. However, the problem is I can only say now, with hindsight, that my employment situation was going to be weird all month and I would at no point in September need my work wardrobe. For most of the month I've been expecting it to sort itself out. While this was a fairly extreme case of the wardrobe not matching my life, if I were thinking of doing the three-month thing I can easily envisage hitting similar snags all the time, to the point where I'd probably spend as much time off the planned wardrobe as on it.

3. I really had to stay on top of my laundry and ironing. If I didn't, the whole thing became increasingly unworkable, particularly since I was already limited by the selection errors above. I could of course solve this by getting more organized with my washing and ironing, but let's get real: it's much more likely I'd carry on being disorganized/lazy/busy/prioritize other things over doing the washing, and getting annoyed with my wardrobe than that I'd suddenly come over all organized.

4. It turns out you really need to like every single thing in a limited wardrobe. If you put something you don't really like in the 33, you won't wear it any more than you'll wear it when it's lost among a larger wardrobe. I had a half dozen I-don't-really-like-this-but-I'll-include-it-anyway items in my selection, on the false premise that (a) I would "get some wear" out of them; and (b) I might grow to like them with greater familiarity. Some of them were workwear and weren't really needed anyway. The other items I either avoided wearing, thus reducing the number of available garments even more, or I did wear them, mainly due to lack of choice, but it didn't make me like them any more. In fact I went from mild dislike to active loathing of one thing, and flung it in the recycling pile with great glee this morning. My overall happiness with my wardrobe was generally in direct proportion to how often I had to wear the things I disliked.

5. There's definitely a tension between choosing things that you can wear a lot and in a lot of different ways, which seems to suggest you should go for reasonably bland design and not too much bright colour, and wearing things that are visually interesting. In the 33, I got the mix wrong, and I was surprised how much this aggravated me. I wore the things that were more colourful a lot more often than anything else. I felt driven to do so, even though it meant I wore purple (my "accent" colour) more frequently than I ever have in my life, because otherwise I had so much neutral/black in my mix. I forgot that I find wearing black non-stop incredibly depressing and that I really only like to wear black head-to-toe very occasionally. The weird part is, I don't think of myself as a very colourful dresser because I don't wear certain really eye-catching colours at all (yellow, orange, pink), I don't tend to wear a lot of colour combinations or prints, and because I tend to stick to neutrals for things like trousers and coats/jackets. However, I really love my colourful tops and skirts, and I am definitely getting more and more interested in wearing prints after years and YEARS of avoiding them. This 33 selection was way too heavy on dark, solid coloured clothing. Maybe that would be possible to fix, but I don't know how I could put together the ratio I would prefer within a 33 item wardrobe without ending up either washing a few neutral items every few days (see above: never going to happen) or wearing wacky colour combinations that would make me uncomfortable.

6. I am a really serious wearer of layers, and this gave me a problem selecting garments, and screwed with the number of outfits I could get out of the 33 garments without doing a load of washing. Again, I've never really thought of this as a style, or even that it's a thing at all, but actually yes, I like to wear layers a LOT, more than other people, apparently, and this introduced another level of frustration to using the 33. Some of my favourite tops were in the mix, but the base or top layer I wear them with was not, due to the number constraints.  This is the most helpful of all the problems I had because it clarified a thing I've always been kind of baffled about: people who have an actual totally different wardrobe for all four seasons even though we live in such a temperate (if unsettled) climate. I have a very few things that I reserve for the (rare) extremes of summer and winter but the vast majority of my wardrobe is wearable at least 9 months of the year, provided I'm wearing it in layers. It also explains why I've always been disappointed in cowl necks or draped fronts: they're really hard to wear either over or under another layer. Wrap and faux wrap are a bit more versatile because you can wear a little tee underneath or a drapy non-buttoning cardigan thing over top, but do you have to pick the right style. My favourite tops of all are flat and without embellishment so they can go under or over another layer if need be. This is really helpful information when thinking about avoiding buying patterns/making things I just won't wear in future.

The biggest problem of all, though, is that I spent all kinds of energy this month thinking about how to make the "rules" of the experiment work better for me for a longer-term project. I went through a whole series of possible personalised plans: I was inching towards the idea of a stable 30-ish wardrobe for three months, with a complicated monthly allowance of swaps and edits. I spent some time trying to work out the "right" seasonal split to get 90 days with weather that wouldn't throw the selection criteria for a loop (spoiler: this is not possible in a country with uncertain weather). I tried to figure out what my selection errors were so I could iron out the problems in future limited number wardrobes. I danced around the question of what had to be counted vs. not counted in the 33. I also found myself gaming the system, just because I could. I was constrained by numbers in my regular wardrobe from having my favourite red sweater in the mix, so I shuffled it sideways into my "around the house" clothing so I could wear it more often, which, what was the point of that? The arbitrariness of the number 33 began to annoy me more and more, just from a philosophical standpoint, but every other number I came up with seemed equally arbitrary and annoying, and I kept going around in circles.

Then, a few days ago I sat back and went, or, hey, you know what else I could do? NOT DO THIS. And then I breathed a sigh of relief.

So that was all pretty negative. However, I genuinely did learn some useful things, and over the weekend I did three things as a direct consequence of the experiment:

A. I culled all the things I really don't like out of my wardrobe. There are all kinds of reasons that I've ended up keeping things I don't like, most prominent of which is the belief that because I paid X for something, I have to hang on to it until a least poorly defined time Y, just in case whatever moment of madness that made me buy it in the first place revisits me and I fall in love with it again. However, I tried to set that aside and just went through my clothes picking out what I really don't like and don't want to wear, and put them on one side to recycle. Seeing my wardrobe cut down to just the things I am at worst indifferent to (black trousers, never going to be very exciting) to things I love (little blue top of joy! It looks like nothing at all in the photo but I love it) actually makes me really happy. There are no wardrobe errors staring me in the face any more!

B. I looked at the things in highest rotation for the month and that I most enjoyed wearing. There were things in my 33 mix that were basically never in the wardrobe, always either being worn or in the wash. This, together with my wardrobe inventory that I've been running in the background for a while, plus the fact I had a deliberately limited wardrobe from June to August before the main body of my belongings came over to Ireland, really gave me a better insight into what I'll actually wear. There wasn't anything very surprising about the outcomes, but it gives me more confidence in my wardrobe planning.

C. When I originally put together the 33 things, I used my inventory spreadsheet to do it, and that is really how I ended up making the colour/pattern and layer selection errors (I did have a qualm about all the black when I first started, but I ignored it!). When I did the latest iteration of a wardrobe plan this weekend, this time I used Polyvore to come up with an image display of what it would actually LOOK like. This way I could see how things would fit together, how much colour and print there would be. That's given me a much better idea of what I'd like my dream wardrobe to actually look like, how much colour co-ordination I could have, how things would layer up, and so on.

Overall, an interesting experiment! I'm both glad I did it, because I learned some useful things, and glad I'm done with it!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Bits and pieces

1. I am finally done with setting up my sewing room! Eventually there will also be a fold-out bed in here for (very occasional, which is why I don't have one already) visitors, and hopefully my enormous fabric stash will decline in size to accommodate it. Here's a photo so you can see where I will be sewing. Isn't it gorgeous? Love the light in this room during the day, much less keen on the actual overhead light which is very faint. I need some kind of reading lamp for my sewing table. Please excuse the carpet, which desperately needs hoovering as I had some polystyrene in there that just crumbled into a million pieces while I was unpacking.

2. I went to Aldi today because they had a bunch of knitting and sewing stuff in this week's special offers. I bought a TON of yarn, in total defiance of my long held plan to only buy one project ahead for knitting purposes. :( Still, several of them are tiny scarf kit projects that I picked up to do while I watch TV in the evenings. I also got some chunky so I could make another cowl, and some Aran because I'd like to use that to make my next jumper. I also got a little "tailor's kit", which is a sort of cheap assortment of plastic sewing tools, but most importantly for me includes a cheap tracing wheel, which is something I've wanted to try using for a while. That plus some basic needles, a seam ripper and a thread snipper made it worth the €5.

3. In the process of unpacking everything in the world, I came across the only thing I have left from my home economics sewing classes at high school. I would have been 12, maybe 13 when I made this skirt. I can't think why I bought this fabric because I've never been a big fan of little sprigs of flowers. It's both better and worse than I remembered as a sewing project. Anything hand stitched is beyond terrible, but the machine stitching is not actually quite as bad as I expected, and the lapped zip is actually pretty good! I wonder if my mum helped with that bit. I am kind of torn now between preserving the skirt for amusement/posterity, and using the fabric for something else. The sentimentalist in me thinks keep it as is, the practical part of me says it's a waste of fabric that I could make into pocket bags or something.

4. I'm still thinking about that green leather jacket that I want to turn into a bag and so I'm still thinking about patterns. Increasingly I'm thinking I need a pattern that is intentionally a bit slouchy. In the meantime, I immediately bought ChrisW's new pattern the Lombard Street bag while the coupon was still available, and I previously bought her Sugar and Spice Tote pattern as well. ChrisW is one of my favourite pattern makers, and her patterns are totally unlike most of the rest of the bag pattern world, which is big on totes and low on RTW-style complexity. Nothing wrong with a tote, but generally I prefer to carry an actual handbag.

5. This is another sort-of WIP, previously seen draped on Flossie in my sewing room photos above. It's a vintage sequinned panel of chiffon. My plan is to make a really really simple shrug, by just hemming the edges and then sewing the rectangle together down each side. However, it needs to be hand sewn rather than machine sewn, which is a bit of a daunting task. (Before that it needs washing, as well. I had it out and airing for a few weeks but the musty smell isn't improving. I think a bucket and some soapy water will improve it without all the sequins dropping off.)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Made: A "Gap-tastic" Cowl

I actually made something! I know, it's been aeons since this blog had anything other than rambling on it, but I finally did manage to finish something.

Actually, I say "finally", this was actually a stupendously quick and easy knit. I'd been thinking about doing a very easy project just to take a break from the never-ending purple jumper, and a friend recommended I try to find a chunky (bulky) knit pattern and yarn as she thought I would find it quicker and easier to knit than the DK sweater I am working on (and will probably still be working on a million years hence). I had a ton of errands to run last Friday and in my search for a post office happened across a little row of shops that included not only the chemist and post office I was looking for but also Winnie's Craft Cafe, which is a little yarn shop/cafe in Booterstown not far from the university campus. I bought 300m (4 balls) of Sirdar Click Chunky with Wool in charcoal fleck. You can just make out the multi-coloured flecks of wool in different colours in the photo below.

"Gap-tastic Cowl"
 The pattern is the Gap-tastic cowl (Ravelry link, won't be viewable unless you're logged in), which has to be one of the most popular patterns on the site. It's an infinity scarf in moss stitch, basically, and it's really really easy but produces a really nice finished product even if you screw it up. You can also just about see where I went wrong at the start of the scarf (at the bottom) but didn't realize until I was miles further on.

The fibre content is 30% wool, 70% acrylic. I went out with the idea of getting cotton or 100% wool, but although Winnie's was adorable and I was very happy to support a small local yarn shop, the operative word here is small. The choice wasn't terrific and the chunky choice even less so, especially since I had it in my head that I wanted some kind of variation in the yarn rather than a solid colour.


So, knitted item #4, and it's super easy and quick as well as being yet another scarf but I still feel a great sense of accomplishment for having made it at all. I'm back to knitting the sweater I've been working on for months and months now, and eventually I will one day have that to show off as well.

Meanwhile, here's another project I am slowly working on. For about 10 years now I've had this jacket hanging in my wardrobe:

My olive green leather jacket
It's an olive green leather jacket, and I have never worn it as much as I thought I would for 3 reasons: (a) it's really boxy, even with the sides cinched using the attached strap/buckle arrangement; (b) it had HUGE shoulder pads in that did my big square shoulders no favours at all. I actually only just recently took them out to see if it improved the way the jacket hung on me, and the answer was: not especially. Overall, the shoulders were just too big on me; and (c) the lining was a really cheap non-breathable acetate that meant the jacket retained heat and moisture in an unpleasant sort of way (note to self: when making jackets in the future, use really nice lining fabric.

This one shows the colour a little better
I had a look at selling the jacket but decided that it was quite likely I'd get a whole bunch of nothing for it if I listed it on eBay. Therefore: time to try bag making with leather! I've disassembled the jacket to some degree to get the largest possible usable area out of it -- took the sleeves off and unpicked the seams, so that I have the full piece of sleeve, which should do for straps and unpicked the collar piece and opened up the shoulder seams so the whole back and front is a single flat piece; and took out and threw away the lining. 

Now I am just left trying to decide what kind of bag to make with it. I'm not sure I have enough usable fabric to make something complex like an Evelyn, which was my first idea. Also, I don't know that my machine would cope with some of the bulkier seams that would be involved. So then I was thinking maybe a Michelle Patterns Messenger Bag or one of her older patterns, a Cross Body Bag, which is more slouchy. I keep wondering if there's a way to keep the welt pockets intact, but actually the pocket bags are really rough and the leather has discoloured badly on them vs. the rest of the of jacket, so I'm not sure if I really want to.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Planned Wardrobe: Thinking about quality

I've been doing the 33 items in my wardrobe thing for 2 weeks now. I won't bore you with my Thoughts So Far, although only because I plan to write a really long and boring post about my Thoughts So Far at the end of the month.

What I have been thinking about is the question of quality and the small, planned wardrobe. MaryMary86 linked me in the comments of my previous post about my 33-items-of-clothing-for September to a blogger who has an even tinier wardrobe. Here's that blogger's very recent post about the 12-item core wardrobe + extras that she's planning to wear this autumn/winter. (In reality, when you count in the extras, she has just over 20 items in her wardrobe, including t-shirts and blazers and so on, but it's still a very small wardrobe overall.)

A few things strike me about this: (a) there's very clearly a huge climate difference between where I live and where she lives; (b) there's also clearly a big difference between what she can wear to work and what I can wear to work, but above all, (c) wow, her wardrobe is tiny but it's also EXPENSIVE and she's obviously gone out of her way to buy quality. The descriptions are all silk! Designer labels! Jimmy Choo shoes! But then she says in the notes to her video that she's owned quite a lot of her clothes for several years, despite the fact that evidently she wears them all week in, week out during a season since she has such a small wardrobe. So obviously she takes care of it all AND it's all high enough quality that it lasts. So that was the first thing I was thinking about: the idea that if you're going to go small and wear things a LOT over a given period, you should make sure it's stuff that's going to look as good in week 13 of 13 as it did in week 1. Looking at my September wardrobe, it's painfully obvious that a good part of the wardrobe I have right now wouldn't cope with the demands of being worn very regularly for a full season.

I also read this article about wearing a "uniform". It's again part of that simplify-your-life blogosphere that I'm not really a part of at all, but it did remind me of my interest in making TNTs, and being able to have a wardrobe full of clothes that really, truly fit me. My suspicion is that a lot of the "dressing well" thing is bunk, and outside of a few industries like fashion I bet most people don't really notice what you're wearing at all. Certainly most people wouldn't notice if you used the same pattern over and over but in dramatically different colours and configurations of co-ordinating items. I suppose I might notice if a woman I knew wore the same exact dress pattern but in a lot of different colours or fabrics, and maybe so would some of the rest of us hobby sewers. However, I don't know that I would notice it negatively, as in, that I would think it was odd or unfortunate of her (unless, I don't know, the thing she was repeating over and over was badly fitting or unsuited to the office, or it was a dress pattern with some really dramatic and unique feature). In fact, I've known really chic, elegant women and I was aware then that often they wore the same sorts of things all of the time, just in different colours.

So, here are my conclusions: If I'm going to keep my wardrobe pretty small (and, spoiler, my experience of the first two weeks of this relaxed small wardrobe experiment is that it is AWESOME, so on the basis of the first fortnight, this isn't an implausible decision) perhaps I should really make the effort to buy/make really GREAT clothes. If I'm only buying 2 sweaters, I could make sure they are wool (or cashmere, even!) rather than buying half a dozen crappy acrylic sweaters that pill in three washes. I could buy a metre of silk jersey if I made one basic jersey top rather than six. I could choose to spend a lot more time on fit and technique if I decide not to sew for volume in any way but to concentrate instead on making things with the very highest standard of quality I could manage.

The big stumbling blocks I have for this initially are (a) my extensive cheap fabric stash, which is kind of a black mark against a high quality wardrobe; (b) the fact that I actually can't sew that well yet; and (c) I haven't got any TNTs yet, really, other than that one t-shirt pattern from Ottobre, and even that will need to be adjusted for weight loss eventually. Individually, these are each a bit daunting as problems go. However, they actually work together really well if I think about my future, theoretical, planned awesome wardrobe in a really long-term way.

Among my cheap fabrics there are some nice things that I really like, but I don't have much that is very high quality. Going purely on price, I have maybe three or four pieces of fabric that were over the £5/m mark, but the vast majority cost around the £3.50 mark. Fibre content-wise, there's a lot of synthetics in there, and there's a lot of stuff that just outright isn't the highest quality. I'm not saying the fabric won't make up nice clothes, but, crucially, it's not necessarily going to make up into clothes that have any more longevity than cheap high street clothes.

My benchmark for this is a shop I never shop at, Zara, only because they are unusually open about how long inexpensive fast fashion "should" last: 10 washes. I don't buy a lot of what might strictly be considered fast fashion, I buy mostly from mid-to-low end high street, but I very much doubt that there's any appreciable change in longevity between Zara and places like Next or M&S if you're buying seasonal clothes (acrylic jumpers, jersey tops etc. Things like suits from M&S probably do better). It is openly part of Zara's strategy that purchasers are expected discard clothes after a season, and they reckon 1 season of wear = 10 washes. So they design clothes that don't have to last more than 10 washes. In my experience, if something is designed to disintegrate after 10 washes, it looks a wreck after 6 or 7 washes. So, imagine I make something and it ends up in a 33-piece wardrobe. Each 33-piece wardrobe is for ~90 days-ish, and let's assume my very favourite things (on current evidence) get worn every 8-10 days. That's 10-12 washes in a three month season, right in line with Zara's seasonal expectations.

My actual experience of what I have sewed is very much in line with this. My very informal/unplanned summer capsule wardrobe didn't all survive 10 washes intact to wear for another season. The jersey tops I'd made faded and pilled, one of the woven tops shredded at stress points, and the other faded. To be fair, some of the problem is the result of bad sewing on my part but I am pretty confident some of the problem is that I used cheap fabric.

The upshot of all of which is this: if my clothes are made from fabric that will only survive 10 washes, and my sewing will only survive 10 washes, and my weight loss is of the slow and steady variety (which it is, historically) where I probably spend about 90 days losing enough weight to drop a whole clothes size, then I should stop worrying and start sewing my way through my cheap fabric stash to make clothes that fit right now and work for the current season, with the assumption that I am, for the time being, making my own version of fast fashion. This also has the advantage that as I reduce my stash I create space to start consciously moving my stash away from "lots of cheap fabric that I picked up without much of a plan" to "a much smaller amount of really high quality fabrics that are all bought for a specific reason". The sheer size of my stash means that's a long-term plan, anyway. I kind of feel like it should maybe be my three-year plan for while I'm here in Ireland: arrive with over 200m of cheap fabric, leave with MUCH less, and what I leave with should all be awesome.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Bits & Pieces

1. Quick note to the pattern giveaway winners from like, a month ago. I finally sent your patterns off yesterday! :D? :D? /o\ Sorry about how long it took, but yeah, they should be with your shortly (for varying definitions of 'shortly' depending on your distance from their postal origin in the UK).

2. The whole blog world seems to be talking about the new Finnish indie company Named. I am not really interested in many of the patterns but I have completely fixated on one of them, the Dakota shawl collar dress as shown in this photo. The only reason I haven't bought it so far is that you have to buy a 2 size pack of the pattern and, since it's expensive, I am waiting for my weight/size to stabilize before I buy it. However, it's on my list. I also did that thing where I went through every Style Arc pattern and figured out which I would buy if I had all the money in the world. Note to self: win the lottery! It would help.

3. I am actually very very slowly preparing to sew something -- a skirt from Ottobre -- since I've started to feel almost completely back to normal and I've also managed to get my flat a tiny bit more organized. \o/ Hopefully soon this will mean less gabble and more actual sewing content on this blog soon (although how soon I don't know, since I can only do about half an hour a day on my project due to the pressure of other stuff).

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Wrong on the internet

Yesterday I spent a considerable amount of time seething over the most recent Colette post (by a guest blogger) about plus-sized grading. (I am not linking because I don't want the ping-back to appear in the Colette comments). In short, the blog post re-iterates well-known information (you can't just grade up from a small size to much larger sizes successfully, you need a whole new plus-sized block, and this is challenging). None of this is particularly novel or controversial -- in fact we could probably all chorus it along with the people explaining it to us -- but that is not what annoyed me. What annoyed me was the guest blogger finishing with this paragraph:

I can totally understand frustration with finding garments and patterns that you just adore, but they don’t fit. At the same time, don’t get too frustrated with companies that don’t offer it. My theory is that I would rather have it done right, than poorly.

Don't get frustrated that nobody wants your money! Don't get frustrated that you don't even have the option of a bad pattern! Don't get frustrated that you're not business X's target market... or business A-W's target market, and probably not businesses Y or Z!

Sorry, no, I will get frustrated if I damn well want to, and don't tell me not to.

Also, please don't set up the straw-man, as many people in the comments did, of "but not every pattern is suitable for plus-sizers!". Well, no. Shockingly, not every pattern is suitable for ANYONE, irrespective of size. Moreover, I totally, 100% agree, it would be totally unreasonable to demand that EVERY business offer something for plus-size sewers. It would be totally unreasonable to demand that tiny one-person design companies with no plus-size experience start making amazing plus-size patterns when their target market is straight-size sewers. For example, it is very clear that at least up to this point Colette at least has made the decision that the straight-size sewing community is their main target -- and that is fine! It's working for them! There's no call to be defensive about that as a business strategy (as the designer was when I tried to make the point of this blog on the post) because it's a perfectly sane and sensible decision to make. The company has limited time and resources, and up to now they have concluded that those time and resources are better allocated to releasing new straight-size patterns than in, for example, going back and reworking an older pattern for plus-size to capture that untapped market for that particular pattern, or releasing a basic plus-size pattern (plus-size Sorbetto, for example) as a test of the market. That is a perfectly legitimate business strategy, and they must believe it is better for the company by whatever metric they are using. We can tell that their business strategy right now is not to address plus-size requirements by the fact that they haven't released a plus-size pattern. (And no amount of the designer going "But just not yet! That doesn't mean plus size sewers aren't our target market!" changes that. If you are not currently releasing products that plus-size sewers can use then they aren't your current target market, no matter what nebulous future plans you have in your back pocket.)

I really don't have a problem with companies doing a cost/benefit analysis and deciding not to serve a particular market on the basis of it. I certainly don't think it's discriminatory of any particular firm to make that decision, any more than it's discriminatory of Colette that they don't release an equal number of men's patterns as women's. It might be disappointing to me on a specific pattern-by-pattern basis that a particular firm has made that decision, but that's about the limit of my pain on the topic when I think about any specific firm, unless you get the kind of absolute bag of dicks like the Abercrombie and Fitch executive who outright said fat people are too ugly to wear his clothes.

I do think there is a lot of that attitude going around, although I am pointing absolutely no fingers at any particular pattern designer here. However, it's the over-whelming message of our society at present: fat people can't be beautiful. If you can't be beautiful, since you're fat, then you won't really want or deserve nice clothes. Here is a tent you can wear, or maybe we'll pay lip service and suggest ways that marginally less tent-like clothes might "flatter you" (by which we mean, hide away some of your un-beautiful fat, and/or help you pretend you are not quite as un-beautifully fat as you actually are, although, spoiler, we'll still be able to see you, so we'll know anyway). Better people than me have unpicked those issues and how they affect our options as consumers elsewhere, and I am not going to go into them except to note that I suspect that some number of the "cute pattern" designers operate on an unexamined belief that cuteness has a pretty specific size range attached to it. However, that aside, even if I roll my eyes at the "but it's haaaaard to make plus sized clothing!" explanation I do acknowledge that it takes time and money to perfect those designs, and those are finite resources. I don't jump to BIGOT! from a series of business decisions, I do jump to "company has decided they would make more profit from straight-size than plus-size sewers".

The problem is that almost every indie pattern maker is making the same calculation, with a few notable exceptions: Cake, Hot Patterns, Petite Plus, off the top of my head. (Obviously there are also plus patterns available from e.g. Big 4 and Burda, but those firms are at a different level of sophistication and resource). When you can count the number of independent firms that offer patterns in larger sizes on LESS THAN ONE HAND, one of which doesn't apply to me because I am 5'8" and am only petite compared to a basketball team, damn right I am going to be frustrated. I am frustrated by a lack of choice. I think some designers are getting their profitability projections wrong. I think they are under-estimating the market, not least because business research suggests that if you court plus sized people the right way you can uncover a huge hidden market (see: the way Modcloth and similar firms are currently courting young plus-sized RTW buyers). I am frustrated because I am an affluent consumer in a segment that is historically under-served, and nobody seems to want my money. I am not frustrated that any single firm has made whatever decisions it made, I am frustrated that I am seeing the same decisions made over and over again despite the fact that there is a clear, unexploited market opportunity.

Therefore, no, I am CERTAINLY not happy that the market isn't flooded with shitty patterns for plus-size sewers. I'd MUCH rather have a huge pile of shitty patterns that contained the beginnings of interesting design ideas that plus sized sewers could critique and begin to fix. I'd rather see the market develop, for money to start moving around, for people to start seeing plus sized sewers as a legitimate, interesting market to serve, even if that means suffering some bad patterns for a while. I will take that suffering if it prompts a series of better pattern-makers and niche designers to come into this market segment when they realize that there is an audience for better designs and money in wallets that could be coming their way.

In conclusion: no, I am not going to stop being frustrated. (And yes, I am and will continue to be passionate about these issues even though personally I sometimes fit in straight sizes or straddle the straight/plus line.)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Wardrobe planning, sort-of Project 333 and a note about weight loss discussion

A note: Weight and weight loss can be tricky, upsetting topics for some people, and even triggery for people with eating disorders. I would never want a reader to be blind-sided by this, to so avoid harm I will just say this: in this entry, I am going to talk a little bit about historical weight loss and gain, but mostly about how I am planning my wardrobe in a period of weight loss. Despite the fact that weight loss is thing that is happening for me right now, please don't worry this is going to become a diet blog or pre-occupied with weight loss issues. It's really just that, well, I don't know how we can talk about sewing clothes without talking about our bodies to some extent, and a change in body shape and size is relevant to the discussion. Most of my comments will be pretty much factual and as non-political as any size related discussion can be ("This doesn't fit any more" and "I sewed this before in [a larger size]"), rather than celebratory or political. I am not into the whole celebration of thinness, or thinner-ness. I don't need or want anyone else to celebrate it for me or to comment on it positively or negatively, no matter how well-intentioned those comments are. Generally, I won't engage in those conversations or respond to those comments. Meanwhile, I believe that other people's bodies, their shape, size and weight, are none of my business. The care and feeding of any particular body is best left to the person to whom it belongs. I aim, but probably do not always succeed, to neither intentionally nor unintentionally make any other person ashamed or self-conscious about their body.

And with that, on to the sewing content.

The reality of my wardrobe is this: I have weighed a lot of different amounts over the last 10 years, including my very highest weight as an adult and my very lowest, and at every weight I was at I bought and wore various items of clothing. All of the things I own at the moment are from the lower half of that range, for various reasons, but since the range is pretty enormous that still leaves me with clothes in three sizes (by "size" I mean "clothes that fit at a particular weight" as opposed to "clothes with the same number on a label", since the latter are not remotely consistent) complicated even more by the fact that I have different types of clothing in different sizes: lots of winter work-suitable smart and smart-casual in the smallest sizes, but nothing for warm weather or outside of work; nothing at all work-suitable in the middle size for any season, but lots of deepest-darkest winter weekend jumpers. More alarmingly, every size is littered with wardrobe orphans and random assortments of things that really don't go together. And, since I've been a PhD student for years with not much cash to spare and not much inclination to worry overly about my clothes past "Are they clean? And warm enough?", except for the clothes bought/made for summer 2013, most of the things I own are old and at varying levels of wear.

This leaves me with three related problems: What do I have to wear that actually goes together and fits right now, for the season I am in, for the types of activities I have to do right now? What (if anything) do I need to buy to complete my wardrobe? What can I/should I sew to add to my wardrobe?

Since the beginning of the year I've been playing around with a few ways of thinking about my total wardrobe. One thing I ran across is the Project 333 idea. To summarize, in the "official" version of Project 333, you choose 33 items of clothing including accessories, outerwear, shoes and of course day to day wear, and live with that as your wardrobe for 3 months, or roughly a season. (It does exclude things like your work-out gear, wedding ring, etc, and there are some extra "rules" like you can have 3 items in reserve to substitute in over the 3 months, etc.) The idea comes from a minimalist/sustainability/mindfulness part of the clothes/fashion blogosphere, and as such it appeals to me at some levels but not others. Since you have to pay for the content I would actually be interested in (how to choose your clothes) and the content you need to pay for is generally couched in a particular language and style I find irritating, I decided to give it a miss. However, the idea of Project 333 stuck with me, even though I didn't (and don't) think the original plan would work for me.

A few things have changed my mind about whether I could give a variation on the Project 333 theme a chance: 1. The weight loss thing and the related wardrobe problem; 2. The state of my fabric stash, which is really really heavy on certain colours, and which I can't afford/don't have space/am reluctant to diversify; 3. The fact that if I am spending money on clothes right now I need that money to be spent on the right things; 4. An attempt at wardrobe planning that I've been working on for the last few months.

On the latter point, one of the things I did while playing around with wardrobe planning was to produce something that was an inventory of my dream wardrobe. As the list got longer and longer, I realized a couple of things: I found it weirdly stressful to think about owning so many clothes, even if they were mostly imaginary; and I felt like what I was planning was actually a whole series of tiny capsules of just a few clothes. That might really work for some people, but for me personally I suddenly realized I really disliked that idea and that, more importantly, it doesn't actually match up to how I live. This is probably why I have been overall kind of ambivalent about the 6PAC thing I tried: I actually don't like these mini-capsules where it all hinges on a single item of clothing. I kind of want a no-work wardrobe where many things can be worn in combination with many other things.

Probably there are lots of ways to deal with this, but at this point I suddenly became much more interested in the content of a blog I have been following for a while, The Vivienne Files. This is an American blogger who basically compiles wardrobes/mini-wardrobes. Not all her blog content is to my taste (either aesthetically or philosophically), but I really like her take on Project 333, her travel packing plans and her "Whatever's Clean" wardrobes. Her take on Project 333 in particular is much more relaxed, and she's produced pictorial guides to example wardrobes and some suggestions of how to structure the wardrobe in terms of numbers, colours, etc, which I find really helpful -- here's her image of her own wardrobe for Autumn 2013, for example. Her version, which is the one I've decided to try out, is basically 33 items of clothing for a season, excluding work out wear, stuff for lounging around the house, shoes, accessories and outerwear. She also works on a 3-month basis, and she doesn't seem to swap things in and out much, or only if they're really not working for her.

My plan is even more relaxed, mainly due to weight loss constraints. I am starting from The Vivienne Files version: 33 items of clothes for every day wear, but I am working month by month rather than for the full three months. I am excluding: shoes, accessories, outerwear, exercise clothes and PJs or their close cousins that I wear to lounge around the house. I am also excluding any clothes I need for totally one off events, like if I have to go to a wedding or something (I have nothing like this planned, so it's a theoretical exclusion at present). I am not limiting swaps, except insofar as it's one-in-one-out. This allows me to swap out anything that doesn't fit due to weight loss and also anything that I've ear-marked as requiring an upgrade due to overall condition.

At this point, I had to actually confront a series of mental objections to the idea of even a relaxed 33-piece wardrobe:

1. It would just not be enough clothes.
2. I would miss the diversity of my full wardrobe.
3. It would mean giving up a lot of sewing AND shopping (and I am not even someone who shops a lot so why I worried about this I have no idea).
4. I am not actually capable of putting together that kind of co-ordinated wardrobe that genuinely contains 100+ different outfits, even if I follow some general guidelines culled from several posts in that blog about what needs to go into the wardrobe (number of tops and bottoms, how to add colour, etc)
5. Free-form guilt about "wasting" clothes that fit right now by not wearing them while I can.

Over the weekend I pulled together a 33-piece wardrobe for September and put everything else away. I did all my laundry so that I had the total, complete 33 piece wardrobe hanging up where I could see it. Actually, I had 31 items, because I decided that to make my wardrobe work I needed two specific things, both of which I bought yesterday.

Here are my discoveries so far:

1. 33 items of clothing is a LOT MORE than you think it is, especially if you do laundry every week. I could actually easy go 2 weeks without doing washing, which is the longest I tend to leave it. When it was all hanging in the same place I suddenly realized that 33 items is WAY more than I launder most weeks, once you exclude PJs and exercise clothes and so on. I had a problem getting to 33, in a way, and that was for the very specific reason that my current wardrobe does not have the right proportions of top/bottoms/layers. I sort of knew that because I was constantly frustrated by it before, but now I could see much more specifically what I was actually lacking (and hence, what I had to go buy pretty much immediately).

2. I can't really say, after 4 days, whether I will find I have enough choice or will miss the diversity of my wardrobe. Right now, I feel like I have a lot of choice in my wardrobe. Yes, there are colours that are not in there because I can't fit them in. Like, my brown trousers got exiled because they just don't fit in with the general scheme I am working. On the other hand, I didn't pick brown as a colour in the scheme because 98% of my wardrobe doesn't work with it anyway.

3. I had to include a few things for September that are actually not in great condition (see above re. the overall state of my wardrobe) and since the whole weight loss thing is kind of a long-term venture and as I move into different sizes the same exact problems and wardrobe holes will chase me the whole way. So there is plenty of scope to sew (and because I'm picking the colour schemes based not only on what I already own in the way of clothes but what is in my fabric stash, this should really work from a stashbusting perspective). In the longer term, I can also sew my loungewear (which I already do a lot of) and my "frosting" clothes for special events, and outerwear, and bags, and also knitting and maybe picking up some other related hobbies, as well as gradually moving closer and closer to a mainly hand-made wardrobe. I really don't think not having options about what to make is going to be an issue.

4. I am amazed by my 33 piece wardrobe now I have it in one place. It actually DOES look like it all goes together. I mean, it's a bit unadventurous and I'd like to put some different colours in, but actually getting dressed in the morning is really easy, not least because I can see everything.

5. It's no more wasteful to put half an outfit on, realize it doesn't go with anything, take it off again and put it back in the wardrobe than to have it hanging somewhere else to begin with. Plus there is not some optimum amount of wear that will make my return on investment on any particular item of clothing more palatable.

In conclusion: I've been talking about a radical wardrobe reinvention for a year. This is the actual radical wardrobe reinvention in implementation!