July 28, 2011

French Chic, and the essential list

I've been reading The Vivienne Files which are awesome.  Her idea of appropriate fabrics doesn't work with my wash and wear lifestyle, but I love her concepts.  If I was going to distill her words down, they would be these:  choose your best colours and stick to them, buy the best you can afford to take care of, make sure that every piece says something about your essential style, and no fluff.  She does a two things I really agree with: limits the colours to two or three that work together, and mixes the level of 'formal' in the wardrobe so there is more flex for real life planning than a lot of other planning suggestions I have seen. 

Her list of the 15 essential garments was summarized from a book I have never gotten my hands on.  In her words (July 8 blog post, for those interested):


One of the things about the book French Chic (Susan Sommers) which intrigued me was the list of garments which included "The seven essentials no well-dressed Frenchwoman would be without".
That list included:
  1. A black straight skirt
  2. a V-neck or cardigan sweater
  3. a suit
  4. a pair of jeans
  5. a silk shirt
  6. a couple of white tee-shirts
  7. an Hermes scarf
The idea of a list of essential clothing fascinates me; in a world that tries to compel me to over-consume, that finite-ness of a list like this, in which I could have some discipline and some structure, seems heaven-sent. 

She adds more here, and finishes with another list:

But of course, the French wardrobe is not limited to just the above.  French Chic counsels us that there are eight other garments which will round out the wardrobe.  And this still is not the end of a French wardrobe - they do indeed own more than 16 pieces of clothing, but it does make up the core.

"The eight extras in a well-dressed wardrobe":
  1. A white cotton shirt
  2. a pullover sweater
  3. a full or pleated skirt
  4. pleated trousers
  5. a simple sweater dress
  6. a trenchcoat
  7. a black leather blouson
  8. a heavy coat


I think it is a great foundation list.  It reminds me of Tim Gunn's ten essentials list, and a few others I could name, like the Eileen Fisher's style lists. 

I know me, so there are things I definitely would do differently in my own life.   I don't wear pleated pants, for example, so I would include a fuller leg, dressy pant instead.  Sweater dress with my thighs isn't going to happen but I will wear a sheath dress or a classic 50's style dress.   Scarves are out; I don't wear things around my neck because they are a safety hazard.  I love the concept of starting with an inspiration piece, and the scarf with its many colours is a good example of working from inspiration to limit colours.     

If I was going to summarize this list down to some essential pattern basics for someone who truely wanted to sew their wardrobe, it would go like this:

Three really good pants patterns: 
  • a good basic trouser pattern--nice dress pants, or good chinos, depending on your fabric
  • a jeans pattern
  • a pleated pants pattern, or a fuller leg dressy pattern
Two really good skirt patterns:
  • a slim skirt pattern--for me, this is the classic knee length straight skirt, but I think the style depends on your personal preferences
  • a fuller skirt pattern; for me this is a 12 gore skirt, but I could see a pleated skirt here too
One, or two really good dress patterns
  • a good classic dress up or down dress; for me this is a sheath or dress without a waist seam
  • a more casual dress with a waist seam; for me, this is the 50s style dress, with a skirt
Several tops patterns, which can be changed to go up or down in formality, depending on fabrics and styling
  • a twin set pattern, which included a shell and sweater--my preference would be a vneck sweater and sleevelss shell with a scoop neck, but I can see tastes varying for this
  • a really good tshirt
  • a blouse pattern--button down the front, good styling, that can be made from cotton or silk to be formal or casual
  • some form of pullover sweater pattern; for me, this is a  v-neck classic style (although, I would be more likely to knit this than sew this garment
  • a jacket pattern, classic styling for a suit, but with some definite style.  
And, over it all layer patterns
  • a trench coat, rain coat, or all weather coat
  • a leather jacket or dressier all weather coat
  • a decent heavy coat
What she doesn't include in her list at all is gym wear, which in the French tradition is worn strictly in the gym, not for every day wear in the street.  If you are exercising 3 to 5 days a week you need gym clothes.  I would add to her list two more items to her list of essentials: decent gym pants (yoga pants, or capri pants or shorts) and some kind of warm up jacket.

 Looks like a pretty good list of clothing to start with.  Now, off to plan.  

July 27, 2011

Summertime Blues Wardrobe: Finally, some pictures...

Finally, some of the promised pictures.  It all started with this blue ruffled sweater, and just grew.  This is both my Spring and Summer capsules, with a few extras.  I ended up with two sweaters, a jacket, two dresses, three skirts, five tops, as well as a pair of pants, a pair of black capris, and a pair of black city.  No pictures of the pants, yet. 

All of it goes with what I already own, which is black.  Some of it, like the sweaters, are more transitional than summer weight, but when you consider that I started this whole wardrobe in April, that makes sense. 

The ever present Simplicity 2603 drape sweater, made from a ruffled sofa throw.  I had about 9" square left.  No center back seam, and all the edges were preruffled from the throw.

Top: Ballet top, self drafted, cut as a double layered reversible top, edged with serger ruffling.  Skirt is self drafted, and gathered using the ruffler foot on my new serger at a 2:1 ratio.







Top: Simplicity 3566, cut with a 12 for shoulder and length, and a 16 through the body. Finished with a full back facing instead of the turn and topstitch suggested in the pattern.  Skirt: self drafted 12 gore, exterior seaming detail. Fabric was a neat cotton print gauze remnant found at a second hand store.

Dress:  Self drafted Ballet dress, sleeveless.  Fabric is printed rayon jersey; it doesn't have a lot of body, but it breathes.

Dress: Self drafted Ballet dress, sleeveless, with full facing to finish edges.  Fabric is a linen cotton blend that relaxes with wear.  Comfortable, as long as it doesn't get stuffed into the dryer by hubbie, because then it shrinks until it has been worn for a couple of hours.

Jacket: Loes Hinse Bolero, longer length.  Cut XS shoulders and medium body (notice a pattern here); sleeves shortened about 4".  This came out way way more formal than I expected, but it is definitely sharp. 

Top: Sleeveless tie neck blouse, cotton knit of unknown age.  PMB draft, taken in about 4" total because of the stretch of the knit.  Comfortable, but dressier than I expected.

Top: yet another version of the Simplicity top. Lightweight white double knit.  Great pattern. 

Top: yes, another Simplicity top.  Black cotton single knit, of unknown age. 

Skirt: Self drafted 12 gore pull on skirt.  I used all kinds of remnants of bits from the black clothes I have been making for the last 6 months including striped/sheer knit, cut in several directions, rayon poly-lycra crepe, rayon poly lycra stripes, black stretch baby corderoy, black single knit, black rpl double knit, and at least one mystery piece.

Top: white scoop necked tank cut from the ballet dress pattern, double layer on front with cotton stretch lace.  The edging didn't work as well.  I may redo this edge again.

Sweater: Another Simplicity 2603 drape sweater.  This one is white cotton double knit for the front and the sleeves, and white stretch lace for the back.  I finished it with the serger ruffle edging, but I may just take that off again, because it feels like too much on. 

Back of the sweater, shown over the white tank top.  The back is sheer, just the lace.  I thought it was a fun detail; the teenage fashion commentator was not convinced. 

July 26, 2011

Look Chic but Wash and Wear like Iron!

For the last two weeks, I've been looking over all the information about swap, sewing with a plan, capsule planning, small wardrobes, and packing with a weight limit, and I have one thought I keep coming back to when I try to take these concepts back to my own life: I have to sew for reality!  Sewing to reflect reality means making choices in fabrics and styles that reflect my own every day life. My reality is this:  my clothes must look chic, but wash and wear like iron.

I love the whole idea of The very tiny closet, and French Chic, but I don't work in an office or corporate environment.  Three really high quality mix and match suits are not part of my lifestyle options. I work in an elementary school.  I love 3 ply silk  and wool and silk twills with the best of them, but my lifestyle is more along the lines of LL Bean and  Eileen Fisher fabrics.  High quality rayon poly-lycra fabrics will survive, but wool and silk twill probably won't in my glue and glitter, 7 year old filled world.  I have to be able to get dressed in a very short amount of time, and look put together and trustworthy and thoughtful, no matter who walks through my classroom door.  I need to look appropriately presentable even when the Governor General's representative, along with about 6 secret service people, walk in the door of the gym unexpectedly, or I meet the Education Minister of India.  Suits are probably not going to be high on my must invest in list of clothing, but outfits that work together and look put together no matter who I am talking to while I'm helping program robots are really high on the list.  Scarves that drag into the glue really aren't, even if they are beautiful. I have a couple of very nice straight black skirts that I don't wear, because I can't get  down on the floor to play when I am wearing them.  A 12 gore swing skirt is more appropriate to my life than a lovely straight skirt, much as I like them. 

I'm also really not an avant garde kind of clothing woman.  I have less height and more curves than most of those patterns, which are mostly appropriate to the straight and statuesque figures.  As much as I like the ideas and thought and executions of some of the more interesting vogue patterns, I know I'm not going to wear them.  My hems needs to be level.   I'm not going to colour block with exposed edges; they don't feel trust worthy or appropriately put together to me, even if I do like the concept.  There has got to be a little more polish in my clothes than fraying tshirt edgings.

My sewing for my fall capsule wardrobe needs to reflect these ideas: 'put together,  approachable, thoughtful, chic, wears like iron'.

Facts, and facing the sewing room...

Has anyone else here found, after looking for a pattern, that they had more than one copy of the same pattern in the same size?  Or, since they can't actually find the pattern, given up and gone out and purchased another one, only to find it on the shelf above the cutting table, ready to trace?  Well, yeah.  This happened in the last two weeks.  Both of these things.  Combined with the 'I cannot sit down anywhere because of the piles of stuff' and I don't want to sew because of the piles of stuff, I have come to two realizations: I have too much, and it is time to thin. 

I hate thinning stuff, but it has to be done because if I don't,  I won't sew.  I refuse to think of it as 'wasted money' (it will bless someone else, I am sure), but it is frustrating to take bags and bags of stuff away from your space that you will never use or sew.  Tastes change over time.  Mine certainly have.  More to the point, my children's tastes, and sizes have changed.  I have thinned five full garbage bags of things like patterns that no longer fit anyone in our house, and are not classic enough to keep for the grandchildren or friends' children sewing, dated books or magazines that really no longer are worth their shelf space.  These will bless someone else, Even fabric got thinned: fabric that is for babies,  or is too small a piece for anyone to use  except a toddler, or simply isn't going to get made by us any time soon.  There are three sewers in my house now, so when a fabric really doesn't make that cut, it needs to go out.  I had three copies of Kwik Sew's sewing for babies; really? I need one copy.  Someone else will enjoy the others, because they are good books. 

(There should be a picture of many boxes and black bags here, destined for our local second hand shop, but I will spare you).

On the sewing front, I have been working on bits and pieces that go together, for my summer blues wardrobe.  I've been trying to do some versions of a pattern for the Sewing Pattern Review One Pattern, Many Looks.  I've been playing with the Silouettes Three Piece Yoga pant pattern, for this.  Some versions are much better than others, lol.  The denim yoga shorts went from my body into the black bag.  They were cool, but just didn't work, even with the fun pockets.  Just not comfortable.  But, I am wearing the black knit city shorts version right now, and they totally work.  From that pattern I have made two pairs of shorts, two pairs of capri pants  and a pair of pants.  I'm going to add a pair of stretch denim pants and a pair of stretch denim city shorts, and then post a review.  But, I am still in picture challenged mode.  Hopefully tonight. 

July 2, 2011

Working on the summer capsule....

Does anyone ever stick to a plan more than a weekend?  Since this has gone on so long now, I changed a few things, but that always happens.   I decided I would combine some ideas from Sewingplum's blog which has really great line drawings of shapes that will work for me with a little bit of tweaking of my tnt patterns, with the skeleton of ideas from  Dr. E's Sewing 6 pack.  

About 3/4 of the spring capsule is sewn.  I've settled out on steel blue, plum and white between the two wardrobes.  All those colours will work with my black basics from last summer, and I can extend them to grey if I need to add another deep coloured basic, but I'm trying to lighten things up this summer.  

SPRING: A touch of the blues:
This is a more casual wardrobe that can be dressed up or down, depending on the circumstances.  This means layers, light, washable, and mostly knits. 

Trousers (neutral)--blue yoga pants, tnt pants with a modification of elastic in a bound waistband

1 blouse to match--v neck tie neck shell, done
1 complementary blouse: reversible lace/knit shell with ruffle edges, in layers
1 complementary blouse: still thinking about this one, maybe it will be a pink shell
1 Layering top/cardigan (to match skirt/trousers)-blue ruffled swing style jacket
Jacket (co-ordinating neutral)- zipper jacket, to match the yoga pants, still working on this one
 Additional pieces:
Dress--pull on knit dress with big blue flowered print--done and awesome
Pants--blue, straight leg capri style
Skirt in matching blue knit--Eileen Fisher style, with fold over waistband

SUMMER
Dress--another pull on knit dress, of some description, maybe grey?
Skirt (accent colour)--plum skirt, using the slim skirt style of Eileen fisher, with the foldable waist band to vary length
1 blouse to match skirt--plum knit blouse with draping sides
1 blouse to complement skirt--draped front neck shell, simplicity pattern tnt
1 blouse to complement skirt--white shell, lined lace front with plain white back, tnt pattern
1 light layering top/cardigan--white cardigan, with lace back matches the lace on the shell

Planned bonus pieces:
leggings in black and blue, from the newest Ottobre Woman Magazine
capri pants in grey, plum and steel blue