Theresa Shingler Knits > care and feeding of a handmade wardrobe > The care and feeding of a handmade wardrobe – part 2

The care and feeding of a handmade wardrobe – part 2

An ongoing series looking at what at the making and sometimes breaking of a handmade wardrobe

Part 2: Creating for the life you lead

Am I the only person whose head is easily turned by pretty delicate fabric, colourful yarns, patterns for glamorous dresses and thick chunky sweaters? Probably not, but I’ve got a houseful of small children, I wear quite a small palette of colours, my days of balls and clubbing are over for now and I don’t wear many think heavy sweaters; living in the UK it’s not often that it gets cold enough for anything thicker than worsted weight yarn, certainly inside.

piglet's slipover 001When I first began to sew and knit for myself, I was in what I call the delusional phase of my wardrobe making life, I made dresses that were hopeless for nursing in, little jacket toppers that in themselves were beautiful but didn’t go with anything else in my wardrobe. I knit cardigans that had necklines that I would never have bought. I found it a terrible temptation to lie about what the tape measure was telling me so everything was a size too small.  Thankfully the delusional phase didn’t last long, but it also put me off making for myself and I moved onto making for the children. Somehow those same temptations didn’t call so loudly when making for them. I made them what was missing in their wardrobes, I addressed the issues that I faced in dressing them. For my little boys, trousers that fitted comfortably over their cloth nappies, I knitted them woollen tank tops (vests) to keep their little bodies warm and their arms free. For my daughter, I sewed soft cotton nightwear that felt lovely to sleep cosily in, I knitted woollen cardigans to give warmth and not just the thin acrylic chilliness available in the shops at the time. And for them all I knitted woollen hats and mittens, knitted socks and sewed soft absorbent bibs and drawstring bags for their treasures. As the successes built up, my confidence in my ability to create slowly returned and grew.  It was through working on the small items that I learnt important lessons that I was (eventually) able to put into use when making for myself.

My self imposed rules for making for MY life


  • Look at what is missing and or worn out – if I’m always looking for woollen socks, only to find a ratty pair with holes, or I’m waiting for them to dry on the radiator, it’s a fairly sure bet that I could do with making some more.
  • And look at what is never worn. Conversely, when I’m carried away wanting to sew the next hot pattern (Anna dress – I’m looking at you) I need to remember the beautiful woven wrap dress that although I love, I very rarely wear and certainly can’t breast feed my baby boy easily when wearing. Jennifer Lauren Vintage has written a wonderful article on why we don’t wear our handmade clothes, a thing that she picks up on that certainly applies to me, is that they frequently don;t fit into our ‘uniform’.
  • Look at the shapes and proportions of what I wear happily time and time again? Consider why and what makes those garments so successful. Look for patterns that have those elements. A when I find a designer that designs the shapes and proportions that suit me, keep her or him in my favourites to look at when I next what a new pattern.
  • What do I wear again and again, should I make more? Last year I discovered a love of shawls and shawlettes, so this year I have more in the works, knowing that they will get lots of wear. If I …..
  • Use colours that you like to wear. When putting time and effort into a new make, that might not be the time to experiment with a colour that you never usually wear, certainly not over a large garment. It’s much less painful to experiment with a pair of socks or a shawlette than it is with a sweater or cardigan. I wear a quite limited colour pallet, unfortunately I don’t always remember that when buying yarn, those skeins either become small accessories or presents for my loved ones.
  • Be realistic about my speed and abilities, I find this very difficult sometimes and frequently draw up very ambitious wardrobe plans only to then crash and burn; I’m a much happier handmade wardrobe maker if I can avoid this form of self-flagellation.
  • It doesn’t have to be dull and worthy. It doesn’t have to be big and boring, shawls, socks and hats are arguably worn more than sweaters. I know that here in the UK with our wet and generally fairly mild climate that the socks, shawls, cardigans and fingerless mitts are worn daily from Autumn to Spring ( and frequently summer) whereas a heavy sweater will only be worn in Winter.
  • Sometimes, throw the rule book out of the window. I’ve very recently made an Enchanted Mesa, although it’s in my colours (as it’s made up of the left overs from my previous projects) it’s not at all what I consider a wardrobe staple, BUT I had the best time ever making it, an absolute blast – it flew off the needles, and what’s more, I’ve already worn it twice during the damp and dismal summer that we’ve ‘enjoyed’ in England this year.

20150910_093356-2These are my rules, of course yours will probably be really quite different. Different climate, different life, but by thinking clearly why you want to sew or knit a new wardrobe item at the beginning of a project will usually result in a happier result at the end of the project.

A great post about how one woman approaches building a capsule wardrobe can be found on the Kzjo’s Studio blog and really shows the process that she goes through to fill those spaces in her wardrobe for Autumn/Winter 2015

Another great resource for filling the gaps is the Colette Wardrobe Architect series

Disclaimer: At the start of the series I mentioned that I have a problem with knitting and sewing being seen as ‘useful’ and ‘practical’ no one expects golf or computer gaming to bring practical results. There is nothing wrong in ‘just’ enjoying the process and having fun making the world a more beautiful place. I almost never ‘make’ myself create something just for its utilitarian value. I crave the aesthetic delights that creating a handmade wardrobe affords me, but it’s not for everyone and if it’s not for you, don’t beat yourself up for it, enjoy the pretties.

Next time in part 3 : Caring for the handmade wardrobe, tending, mending and storing


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