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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How to ensure rain – sew up some shorts

My knitting was pushed to the back burner this week when it became obvious that my biggest girl REALLY needed some new shorts, she’s shot up in height this summer (and her shorts were not).
Shorts for my big girlI chose the Deer and Doe, Chataigne shorts pattern, I ordered the paper pattern, and it arrived within a few days from France. Big girl’s measurements were a size 44 in the waist and a little above 40 in the hips, I chose to trace and make the size 42. The white floral stretch cotton were the first pair that I made; she tried them on before I sewed down the waistband facing and as it gaped at the back, I took about 5cm out of the centre back waist band which improved the fit considerably. For the second pair in the pink needle cord I altered the pattern pieces and took some out of the back leg pieces at the centre back to flow more smoothly into the altered waist band.

I left the leg cuffs off both pairs as I wanted a quickly completed pair of shorts, but the weather has changed to cold and wet today and I’m hoping that I wasn’t too late after all.

button detail

On the first white floral cotton pair I used a coordinating white concealed zip, but for the second pair I constructed a button placket to avoid having to get a pink zip, I’m very happy how it turned out and will probably do the same on the next pair that I make.

All the facings were cut from coordinating scraps of cotton to reduce bulk and for the fun of it. The floral pair has pale blue cotton pocket inners and facings, gleaned from an man’s shirt, the pink pair has a lilac gingham, the left overs from a pair of pyjama trousers that my daughter made for herself.

I’m very happy with how well this pattern went together, it was very well drafted and clear, the instructions are clear and the quality of the pattern paper itself is nice. I chose to trace the pieces as I can see myself making more than one size, both for my daughter as she grows and for myself. The fitting issues that I encountered have more to do with my daughter’s shape than anything wrong with the pattern, and that is always likely to be an issue sewing for a teen.

The shape of these shorts is really lovely, very flattering and easy to wear without being frumpy, I might well make myself a pair with the leg cuffs, given that I’ve not worn shorts for almost twenty years, that’s an indication of how fabulously flattering I think the cut of these shorts is!

pocket lining detail

My next project is going to be this pattern with an extended leg to make cropped trousers for her using the scalloped edge instructions.

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The care and feeding of a handmade wardrobe

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

Part 1: Do you really want a handmade wardrobe in the first place?

There really isn’t anything wrong with knitting* for the sheer pleasure of the activity, for feeling the yarn move through your fingers, for enjoying the gorgeous panoply of colours available, just for the hell of it. If you are a process knitter who cares not a whit for the finished article, there is no shame in that, own it and enjoy it. (And perhaps come back later, this might not be the article for you)

(*substitute sewing as you see fit :o)

However that’s not me, I aspire to have a handmade wardrobe of my very own.

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I’m not one to say that I’m a process knitter (or sewer for that matter), as much as I love the physical act of knitting I unashamedly love having the finished object more! Yet even so I’ve found myself getting cranky at the proliferation of handmade wardrobe posts springing up around the web. Very odd, some of my most favourite bloggers and designers are writing about something that I spend a fair quantity of my leisure time doing – creating a handmade wardrobe, and I get grumpy – why? And then it hit me, it’s the usefulness of the activity that rubs me up the wrong way, why should my leisure activity be useful? No one expects golf to have a useful outcome! (Cue gnashing of teeth at this juncture) Obviously I have some angst about this issue that has nothing all to do with the inspirational posts popping up all over the blogosphere – that I’ll come back to another day, for now a remedy.

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To counter the irritation the best course of action I find is to immerse myself in the flood of inspiration; I’m happily polycraftual and will as happily sew as knit (though it’s not as convenient for snuggling down with on the sofa) so my inspirations are mostly similarly polycraftual.

There are of course many and varied motivations to creating a handmade wardrobe, from concerns about ethical consumerism and worry about ecological sustainability to a wish to experiment with self-expression and personal autonomy.

Creator of the wonderfully inspiring Me Made May is Zoe at So Zo … what do you know? Her focus is primarily environmental sustainability, she sews but doesn’t knit, she has recently had a daughter and is clothing her in the same way that she clothes herself which is fantastically inspiring.

Someone else who I’ve been following for almost as long as Zoe is Libby at Truly Myrtle. Within the last few years, she moved to New Zealand and has taken up designing knitwear, she does sew as well though, often creating whole outfits and has a podcast where she talks through her creations.

Through the Truly Myrtle podcast  I’ve started following the wonderful Georgie Hallam (of the Milo  vest fame) on her website Tikkiknits.com.  As many others have, I’ve knitted the Milo vest more than once but I wasn’t very aware of her whole range, mostly of children’s patterns, I’ve quickly remedied that and am having my very own little Tikki fest knitting Posy and Jane for my girls this summer (more in a later post) I find her whole blog and website are very inspiring for me as I strive to create my own handmade wardrobe (and sneak a little into the children’s’ cupboards and drawers).

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One of my biggest inspirations is Isabelle at Fluffyfibers.com I have followed her work for years from when she only sewed, then began crotchet and now knits and spins as well. Her work is amazing, she has a wonderful eye for colour and proportion and has exquisite taste, all the while managing a family life and a demanding professional career. She also has a podcast which has recently become a video podcast; my favourite as I love to see all the pretty things being talked about.

Of course, there are lots of wonderfully inspirational crafters whose work I love to follow, but if I need a quick fix, these are the ones that I go back to time and time again.

 

 

Next time in part 2 : Creating a handmade wardrobe that won’t be left at the back of the closet, aka making a wardrobe for the life that you lead.

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