10 Essential Patterns

On PatternReview, I posted a thread asking other sewists what ten patterns (plus five bonus patterns if they were very, very good!) they would pick if that was all they could have to build a basic wardrobe. I excepted underwear and accessories from consideration. It has been interesting to see what items (and what specific patterns) various people have picked.

When I sat down to make my own list, I found the first ten items to be fairly easy to come up with. First, I came up with basic rules:

– Fitted at the waist/torso.

– Yokes and waistbands required.

– Tops should have interesting necklines to draw the eye up and give my body balance.

Then, I went looking for clothing types. I think I could dress to my satisfaction every day and in almost every circumstance with the following ten items:

1. Jeans (bootcut/flare)

2. A simple knit top that could work as either a t-shirt or shell, if sleeveless.

3. Bootcut/flared pants.

4. A woven top with waist definition (“peasant” style).

5. A buttondown.

6. A pencil skirt.

7. A gored or circle skirt (basically, a skirt with some flare).

8. A three button jacket, possibly with a peplum.

9. A sheath dress/fit-n-flare dress (ideally, this would be a fitted bodice with two options for the skirt).

10. A tailored coat.

It all falls apart, though, when I have to decide on five bonus patterns. There are too many options that would add zing and variety to my wardrobe, and I can’t decide what is most important. This is the best I can come up with:

11. Nightgown/cami/slip pattern.

12. Knit top with an interesting neckline.

13. Yoga pants for lounging.

14. A knit cardigan/sweater.

15. A woven shell/top.

Then, I went looking for patterns, and the project became even more unmanageable. My initial reason for posting the thread was that I was thinking about how to create a basic, well-fitted wardrobe. I keep thinking of Lekala’s tempting, interesting patterns, which are drafted to match your custom measurements.

Lekala offers an option to purchase their patterns in bundles, including bundles of 10 and 15. If I could have ten to fifteen custom patterns–patterns that I had a good chance of getting to fit quickly–could I dress myself for all occasions? I wondered.

It’s more difficult than I expected. In following posts, I will share my selected “wardrobes,” both all-Lekala options and mixed.

Hubby Wants Pajamas

So, I’ve been dragging my feet about finishing my t-shirt because I don’t like how it’s turning out (but I do want to finish it and take a photo for posterity). And I’m dragging my feet about starting my next top because I’m annoyed by my hips. I mean, I’m not even at my highest weight and I don’t like the idea of having to grade out two or three sizes from my bust measurement to accommodate my (so not big!) hips and bottom.

IE, it’s been a stalemate in SewingLand. So, hubby came to the rescue.

New Look 6859

New Look 6859

Turns out, he really wants pajamas. He needs pajamas. This morning, he informs me that nothing I could possibly make could be worse than his spare pair, and he immediately puts them on and models them to prove his point.

Point taken.

The pjs that he’s wearing have one hem torn off and a rip from the cuff all the way up past his knee. One pant leg flaps in the breeze as he walks around the home office, like a grey plaid flag. I really couldn’t do worse than what he’s wearing right now.

So here is the real next project: New Look 6859. I did my measuring, noting how unfair it is that he’s 6″ taller and 30 pounds heavier than me, but he’s a small and I’m a medium (grrr hips).

Anyway. Yeah. I guess getting used to the reality of my body and sewing to accommodate it is going to take a while. Knitting is much more forgiving.

Ok, back to the pajamas. I have read over the pattern (which I already own) and reviewed what new techniques I’m going to face in making it: buttonholes, pockets, elastic waistband (rather than fitted), drawstring. I found New Look’s instructions to be good overall (and loved that they pointed out that you could avoid getting your elastic caught on seam allowances by using a bit of fusible interfacing or basting stitches to anchor them).

One big omission–though I imagine most people will notice it!–is that they don’t instruct you to repeat all the steps for the front/pockets to the other front piece of the pajamas before you start to sew the fronts and backs together. Seems obvious, but on an “easy!” pattern it might have been worth including “Repeat steps 1-X for the other front piece.”

Today, hubby and I are going to see a matinee of Cinderella on Broadway. We’re going to leave early so we can drop by the Garment District and pick out some clearance cotton, an appropriate amount of elastic, and some twill tape for a drawstring.* I’m kind of looking forward to finding out what fabric he picks. Probably the cheapest available. Hopefully it won’t be Monty Python-inspired print, though that is a distinct possibility–if it’s the cheapest.

So, I am going to finish that last armhole on the Devil’s T-Shirt, but after that it’s pajama pants all the way. Elastic waistbands, drawstrings, and a man’s figure are all likely to prove less frustrating than my own, and he is certain that he’ll be happy to wear anything that I come up with.

Anything at all.

Can we get three cheers for my awesome husband, who just earned his very own tag?

* He was all for me making him pajamas out of my new muslin fabric–which is actual unbleached muslin–until I pointed out that it would probably be semi-see-through, rendering trips down the hall to the trash chute even more awkward than his current, half-demolished pjs do.

Color Me Beautiful Colors Me Confused



In Colors and Me, I wrote about the Color Me Beautiful fad of the 1980s and my experience as a pre-teen when my mom got my colors done. For those who didn’t read that post (or don’t remember it!), I was diagnosed as both a Summer and a Winter, in what was either a brilliant sales tactic or genuine confusion about what category I fit.

Since returning from my visit to my mother with my two “Color Me Beautiful” swatch books, I decided to follow up the color theory by getting my hands on a copy of Carole Jackson’s original book and Doris Pooser’s Always in Style with Color Me Beautiful (an expansion of Jackson’s system that acknowledged that people are often on the border between seasons and can successfully wear at least some of the shades of the “secondary” season).

The editions of the books that I got are used and deliciously 80s, but the color pages seem to be in good shape; I don’t think the swatches have deteriorated much in the years since the books’ publication. The books are actually quite detailed, each offering their own system for a complete style overhaul, and I think that they deserve book reviews (perhaps in tandem).

However, right now I’m interested in the basic question that was left unanswered all those years ago: What season am I? Winter or Summer?

Somehow, I expected that–with age and the hair-color-change from blonde to brunette/auburnish that happened during my college years–finding my season would be easy. I’m sorry to say that, even with the help of both gurus, Jackson and Pooser, I am still uncertain! My skin tone is definitely blue, which makes me one of the two categories I was assigned at age 12. As I go over the checklists and descriptions, I fit them both right down the line.



The only exception, following Jackson’s system, is related to my freckles. According to Color Me Beautiful, Winters, when they have freckles, have charcoal colored ones. But then Summers can have “rosy or charcoal brown freckles.” My freckles are golden brown, which Jackson classifies as Autumn.

So, um . . . yeah. When I check the palettes in the books, I regularly wear colors from both the Summer and the Winter palates, plus I do very well in burnt orange (what she called “terra-cotta”) and coral, which should be “warm” colors.

Jackson is rigid in her insistence that you should only be one season, and her explanation is sound: by committing to your best season of colors (rather than mixing in second-best), you raise your likelihood of looking good each and every day and ensure that your wardrobe will coordinate seamlessly. That second part is, perhaps, the most important. Limiting those colors to a bare minimum (30 swatches per season that definitely go together) means that if you follow Jackson’s system, you are much more likely to have a harmonious and versatile wardrobe.

But that doesn’t help little ol’ me, who still doesn’t know if she’s a Winter or a Summer, nor does it answer why I look good in colors that aren’t in either season’s palette.

Pooser’s Always in Style is written for people like me, people who don’t fit neatly into Jackson’s four categories, and also for those who are feeling a bit rebellious against Jackson’s meagre 30 colors and want permission to branch out. I need to look more closely at how Pooser approaches color; so far, I’ve only been able to skim these two books. However, here’s the gist:

Pooser’s system creates “flow” charts for those who are between seasons (and gives a system of analysis to help you determine which seasons you cross into from your main one). Her flow-charts group your major season’s colors on one side, the minor season’s on the other, and puts a band in the middle of good “cross-over” colors.

I have to admit that–when I look at Pooser’s Winter/Summer “Cool Chart”–I see me. Well, me without several of my favorite colors–but with many more of the ones I feel comfortable wearing. But then I think, “Perhaps this is cheating! Perhaps you like this just because it lets you do what you want, without actually facing up to what looks really good and what doesn’t!”

In addition to the color analysis, both these books are full of tips for makeup, wardrobe, and general image overhaul; I look forward to reading those sections more carefully (and trying to update them to suit the 2010s rather than the 1980s). Nevertheless, I’m left feeling a bit disappointed because I haven’t found “the answer” to what colors would suit me best. Having a system would, in fact, be nice–as long as it isn’t too restrictive.

Color analysis isn’t going anywhere; it may not be as big a fad as it was when Jackson’s book first came out, but it’s flourishing. When I search online, I find a lot of consultants–and those consultants look to be mighty expensive. Moreover, they seem to have made Jackson and Pooser’s systems even more complex, and the color palettes they sell seem to contain 60+ colors. That’s an almost overwhelming amount–and though it might ensure a flattering color, you’d have to shop with great care to have a lean, coordinated wardrobe.

It makes me wonder: If Jackson’s four season approach with her spare colors for each was too restrictive, perhaps we’ve now gone too far in the other direction?

For now, I think my best bet is to set up hubby’s photography light, cover my hair with a shower cap (Hm, I’m gonna need to get one of those . . . ), and try on the colors in my closet. I simply do not have the fabrics on hand to do a full-scale “drape” test.

I wish I had a buddy doing color analysis training so that I could be her test subject!

ETA: If I were to go by the colors in my closet that I like to wear, then I am a Summer more than a Winter. Hm. But what about the orange and coral?

Resisting a Primal Scream


I’ve been working on Simplicity 8523 (aka the Devil’s T-Shirt), so this post can be read as a primal scream. After I cut into my “fashion fabric” and sewed together the front and back, I discovered that some of my pattern alterations had changed the shape of the back. I needed to do more work (including picking apart the shoulders, restitching, and drafting a new back-neck facing) in order to get the thing to work. The good news is that I was right: the fashion fabric’s drape is better than the muslin’s, so the top is somewhat more flattering.


I don’t actually want to write an entire post about the Devil’s T-Shirt, however. That can wait for when I complete it and write my REVIEW.

So instead of talking more about my “progress,” I’ll report on my shopping last week. In a trip through the Garment District, I found some nice fashion fabrics for my next two projects: Simplicity 3750 (which looks like it will be a lot more complicated than I anticipated), and a remake of Simplicity 5914 (a simple A-line skirt).

The former will be made out of a lovely turquoise and brown paisley cotton. That top, however, calls for a contrast fabric for the tie. Since the paisley on the main fabric is a hard-to match reddish brown with easier-to-match tan highlights, I found a length of mottled quilting cotton which incorporates both shades. It has an interesting texture and seems to be of a similar weight to the paisley cotton.

I found a lovely light-blue linen for the A-line skirt: it’s sturdy feeling and detailed with embroidered flowers. Since the bolt was 60″ rather than 45″, I might have enough fabric left over to make a small top. We shall see. The day before we left for our vacation (from which we just returned) was spent in battering and shrinking this linen as much as possible. I went for three hot washes and three hot trips through the dryer. Now, it looks characteristically crinkly and comfortable.

Since my goal for my next version of Simplicity 5914 was to learn how to insert an invisible zipper, I obtained an invisible zipper foot and the proper color and length zip for my fabric. I have a T square and a set of drafter’s french curves so that I can trace patterns diligently from now on. I have bars of soap collected by both myself and hubby on our vacation and his business trip for marking fabric. I’ve . . . it seems . . . got sewing swag!

So, basically, I have two projects in the hopper, everything ready to go, and the Devil’s T-Shirt almost completed. I’m both excited (because pretty fabric and interesting patterns!) and annoyed (because if I can’t fit That Stupid T-Shirt, what am I doing sewing?).

Excited had better win out, or hubby will side-eye all my new sewing books and tools, and he’ll refuse to wrap me in paper tape.

Next Project: Simplicity 3750

Hubby took my measurements before he departed, and now I am preparing to start my next top. I went back and forth about what to do next, because I have already done three Simplicity patterns and wanted to try something different. However, I also really want this top:

Simplicity 3750

So, finally, I decided to go for it. I’ll be doing the sleeveless view for now. I’ll find out if another pattern company’s basic fit is better for me later.

I haven’t got a fashion fabric for this top yet, but I do have all the notions necessary except for bias tape, which I can make. I’m going to try to put my measurements to good use, and I’m learning from my mistakes. Therefore, the process will be:

  1. Cut around the needed pieces, but keep all the sizes uncut (done).
  2. Iron tissue, then go at the pieces with a ruler to see how the size that my measurements suggest is right for me (Size 10) actually compares to my own measurements as I move down to waist and hip, so I’ll know where to grade out to a larger size.
  4. Then, I’ll see about tissue fitting, figuring out whether the waistline of the traced pattern meets mine, and making needed adjustments.
  5. Muslin.
  6. Fix stuff.
  7. Pick out a fabric that I absolutely love and make it for real.

I have to say, I’m not feeling patient right now. I’d sort of like an easy victory. At the same time, I know that if I rush and cut the tissue, I’m going to be sorry. I’m still figuring out how my body and flat paper can be reconciled.

(And when I get the proper weight interfacing, I’ll be returning to my V-Neck shirt.)

Wish me luck.

Book Review: Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige

Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige

Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige

Two summers ago, as a geared up for a presentation at a major conference and for the beginning of a college-level teaching position, I decided I needed to revamp my look. I had to go from slouchy-backstage-person-slash-academic-slash-bookworm to Credible Scholar (and not the absent-minded kind, that only works when you are older and/or a man).

Thing is, grad students don’t have much money–and I had only three months to upgrade my look (including having enough sharp outfits for a five-day conference, without repeats). This might not seem like much, but I didn’t even have stylish shoes. Because of my scoliosis, I wore clunky Danskos or Birkenstocks–and the former made me twist my ankles so often that I was beginning to despair of being able to wear them.*

That’s when I decided to buy Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige, an ex fit-model who runs a website called centsofstyle.com.

Paige’s book is my favorite style handbook out of the three that I’ve read. Although I find her diction overly colloquial (full of “Can we have an Amen?” and “Woo-hoo!” asides) to be grating when I re-read it (and I could go a life-time without hearing my bottom referred to as a “bow-chicka-wow-wow,” or whatever it was, again), her content is excellent.

Paige focuses on two points: what you need to look for when examining ready-to-wear clothes to ensure a flattering fit, and how to work the retail and thrift-shop systems get the most bang for your buck. She starts simply, with five basic rules to elevate your look right away (ranging from the simple “always wear lipstick” to the very-unhelpful-to-me “you must wear cute shoes”). She explains how fit in the fashion industry works. She even spends a whole chapter on foundation garments, including bras and shapewear, and how spending a bit extra to make certain the former fits properly (and most of us wear bras that do not fit right) will make all of your clothes look and lay better (it’s true, I can attest).

Other topics covered by the book are how to find a pair of pants that fits properly and hit the waist at the most flattering position, how to operate in discount stores and outlets, insider information about why garments end up on sales racks or in T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s (often fit issues, it seems, which means that you shouldn’t trust the size label, but always bring a measuring tape and try various sizes on).

She also stresses the importance of shaping and encourages the reader to elevate her wardrobe by having her clothes tailored or hemmed to the proper length, because (so Paige claims) the small expense of fitting a garment just right can elevate it’s perceived cost by a great deal.

The author also covers color–like which colors look richer and more expensive–and gives tips on how to get a unified wardrobe going quickly (pick your poison: turquoise or coral as your core color, then add contrasting accessories, and build from there).

The downside to this book is (for me) a heavy focus on sale-stalking–something I have no patience for–and that irritating girl-talk diction. Also, since this book is intended for a general audience, she focuses on what styles are most likely to be flattering to the majority of body types, and though she addresses some figure variations, her bugaboo really is showing the reader how to get a flattering, body-skimming fit that falls from one’s curves at just the right places.

Fortunately, her advice is applicable to many body types and most budgets.**

In summary, I found Style on a Shoestring immensely helpful. During the time when I was following her suggestions and challenges, I definitely elevated my personal style, got more compliments, and felt more attractive. I am still grateful to her for helping me find out that Lucky Brand jeans fit me better than the tried-and-true brands I had been wearing for years before (which sat too low on my hips).

Just last week, I re-read Paige’s book from kindle-cover-to-cover, and though I wish I could strikethrough every single “Yippie!” I once again feel inspired to do a closet-cleanse, to narrow down my stock to what really looks good, and to systematically build my wardrobe stocked with versatile, dark, neutral basics and eye-catching tops and accent pieces.

* Finally, a year and a half later, my ankle twisted as I walked down a NYC block and I fell–twisting my back because of the heavy bag of research books I was carrying–and hit my head on a metal trash can. The Danskos immediately went into a bag to Goodwill, despite how I loved them, and I am still looking for a mildly attractive, flat, non-wedge or platform-style replacement shoe.

** Paige suggests a fun game/challenge of putting aside $20 of “mad money” each week to spend on whatever item you fall in love with, or if you don’t spend it, save it for a more expensive purchase later. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford $80 per month for basics or accessories that you really, really want. Fortunately, I think this game can be scaled back a bit–and one should remember to buy only what you really, really love.

Personal Style Time Travel (Results)

Well, I did as I said I would. I took advantage of being at home to dig through all my photo albums (and my mom’s) to find pictures of myself in favorite outfits from when I was in my teens–a time when I had a definite “look” that I felt good wearing. (Back in the days before my job led me to wear tanks, jeans, knit tops, and sweaters with sneakers, and little else).

Well, when I called kittens my fashion accessory of 1988, I was joking. Turns out, the joke is on me. I went through a decade worth of photos, and this is what I found:


Lily: One of the Many Pets that Covered Up My Clothes in Photographs.

Yes. I definitely had a sense of style, but I have nothing I can post as a sample. Every single photo of me dressed nicely is either a closeup of my shoulders and face, or features me holding a pet squarely in front of my beloved and carefully chosen outfit.

Every. Single. One.

That speaks well to my happy childhood and love of animals. It does not help me create a visual collage of what I wore when I felt strongly about what I was wearing. What I can do is summarize what I liked and wore over and over again:

  • Maxi dresses and sandals (with a cat or dog in my arms).
  • Knee-length dresses with empire waists and/or smocking around the bosom, releasing at either a high waist or empire waist.
  • Floor-length sheath dresses (which I think suited my 98-106 lb body more than they would my 125 lb body, which is hippy-er).
  • Peasant-style tops, sometimes with flared sleeves. Gosh, I loved those bell sleeves.
  • Scoop-necked tops. Square-neck tops. V-neck tops.
  • Princess seams–again, often on maxi length dresses, but sometimes knee-length.
  • Dressy-dresses with a flair at the skirt, hemmed at the knee.
  • I had an absolute favorite brightly colored, woven wrap-dress with a square neck. I can’t remember how it hung below the waist, though, so I’m not sure that it would suit me now!
  • Circle skirts with draw-strings (long). These won’t look good on me now, I’m pretty sure.
  • I wore earrings, necklaces, and makeup more often–at least when I knew I’d be photographed.
  • Jeans: always bootcut or slightly bell-bottomed, even when it wasn’t in fashion.
  • And when I wasn’t dressed nicely, I was in oversized sweaters and too-big t-shirts (I was so tiny that most of my clothes were a bit too large, at least on top).

The only thing that was a constant style-choice then that I have not worn or bought in ages is a maxi-length dress. I think that I quit wearing them when I stopped wearing shoes with any heel at all.

Looking back, it strikes me that I had a good idea of what suited my body–at least when I chose to dress up. Almost all of those shapes are still in my list of “best looks.” So, I think I’m going in the right direction. I’m picking shapes that worked and appealed, and still appeal, and I’m going to make an effort to find fabrics I fall in love with. That way, I can–once again–develop my personal style.

After which I will surely pose for a picture or ten with my cat.