Wardrobe Architect 4: Proportions & Silhouettes

I must admit I struggled with this month’s exercises. In the first place, there’s the confusion of the terminology. Both ‘proportions’ and ‘silhouettes’ seem to be referring to the shape of garments that you wear together. Jeans + t-shirt + sneakers, for example. I might call it an ensemble, but regardless of the label you choose, that’s what we’re talking about.


The second problem I had is that at first I could only think of one ensemble that I wear – leaving aside for the nonce such things as headwear (always) and footwear (socks and slippers, mostly; shoes or boots outside).
I wear a long-sleeved full-length dress pretty much every day. But there are variations on the theme. With or without belt; with or without cardigan/jersey; skirt full or straighter. Occasionally short sleeves in summer.

Then I realized that there are other ensembles I wear – sometimes. Tunic over full skirt, tunic over loose trousers, tunic over laplap (straight wrap skirt). But I don’t want to include these in my wardrobe architecting, much as I enjoy wearing them, because they leave me stranded without pockets (cue Scarlett-O’Hara-at-intermission moment again).

What else is there? Then I remembered: one of my dresses has fasteners all the way down the front (it was designed to be a throw-on layer over less-modest clothing), and I often wear it half-open over a full skirt, in a vaguely Elizabethan sort of way.

Portrait of Mary Tudor, Queen Mary I (1516 - 1558), circa 1550s
As the dress contains the all-important pockets, this is a satisfactory outfit, even allowing for different combinations – had I more than one of each sort of garment, which I don’t. I have occasionally worn the dress with loose trousers and a tunic or long slip, but there comes a point where you wonder if you are still wearing a dress, or just adding a light coat with convenient pockets.

Of course, if we’re talking about what we’d like to wear, I’d love a dress designed to look like a full skirt and matching waistcoat, which could then be worn over a variety of shirts – allowing for a simplicity approaching or even exceeding that of my husband’s wardrobe.

Not that I have ever seen such a dress, mind you, in person or otherwise. But I have hopes that one day, as I pursue my sewing endeavours, I will eventually gain the necessary skills to make myself one of these dream-dresses (with perhaps a matching jacket).

English women's riding habit c 1890 LACMA
What are your favourite ensembles (/silhouettes/proportions)? What ensembles do you as yet only dream of?

Getting Control of Your UFOs

Spreadsheets have a reputation for being cold and factual. Less often are they seen as a form of inspiration and a repository of dreams.
I Love Spreadsheets
Let me explain. Some time ago, I was going down for what felt like the third time under a morass of unfinished things and dreams deferred. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, as the writer of Proverbs sagely observes, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. (You know you have too many UFOs when even the creator and sustainer of the universe tells you to get your act together and start finishing things.)

But where was I going to start? There were too many of them, and some had to be done before others, and they all had different conditions attached, and….

Enter the spreadsheet. The first thing to do is to list all the projects you have underway, followed by all the projects still at planning stage (Column A). To my shock, my list came to nearly 20 items.

Fotothek df roe-neg 0006317 003 Zirkusdarbietung einer Jongleurin mit ReifenThe next step is to assign them deadlines (Column B). These socks need to be finished by the intended recipient’s birthday; those curtains need to be lined before summer; this project needs to be completed before that one can be started, and so on. Some things don’t have a deadline; that’s fine. Just put down NA.

Then reorder them accordingly. Column B gives you your deadlines (where applicable) but it’s Columns C and D which really tell you what to work on next.

Column C tells you whether each project is portable or not. Can you take it out and about (to the theatre, on the bus, to a friend’s place), or is it a strictly stay-at-home kind of project? Obviously, if you only do one or the other sort of project, skip Column C.
Albert Guillaume 15 minutes d'entr'acte
Column D rates the concentration necessary for each project. A rating of 1 means you can do it while focussing on something else – TV, someone reading aloud, a conversation… Plain knitting, sewing hems or seams, and projects you’ve done a zillion times all fall into this category. A rating of 3 means that the project requires your full attention: complicated projects, cataloguing materials, or trying something you’ve never done before.

A column for notes can also be handy – take photos throughout for this one; break this one down into smaller tasks; check you have all the materials before starting. Do not attempt when tired. Here be dragons. Whatever.

The results? While I still have plenty of UFOs, there are fewer of them. Fourteen at last count, of which only six are actually UFOs – the others are still in the planning stages. When I add something new to the spreadsheet – for a gift, for example – it moves toward completion more quickly.
Albert Anker Sitzendes Mädchen mit einer Katze 1903And then it disappears. You may wish to keep a record of your Finished Objects, so you know where all your time went, but don’t clutter up your UFO spreadsheet with them – you want to see at a glance what you still have on your plate, and what you have, so to speak, eaten. (Let us leave this metaphor before it becomes any more ooky.)

After so long spinning my wheels, I finally have traction, and I am enjoying it. Enjoying making progress, enjoying knowing the UFOs are under control, enjoying seeing my dreams come closer, and enjoying the productivity of my hands. Because good time management isn’t about being harried by a to-do list, it’s about enriching your life. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

Making it Happen

Ten years ago I had a dream: a dream of making a beautiful quilt for a friend. Something warm and cosy; something to curl up under while watching classic movies and sipping cocoa on a winter afternoon.

Crazy Quilt, 1884

I went for it.
Did I make a perfect little lap quilt? I did not. Did I make a comfortably-sized one-person wrap quilt? I did not. Did I make a freakishly over-ambitious monster crazy quilt with emphasis on the crazy?
Well, no. I started one.

I chugged away at it, but it was not long before I realized it was not going to be finished in time for the intended birthday. It’s been bundled in and out of boxes and bags and wardrobes ever since, worked on here and there, added to in fits and starts, but mostly just taking up space and making me feel guilty.

If I’m honest, this one project was a big part of my decision to make 2015 my Year of Finishing Things. Over the years it had become symbolic of my lack of self-discipline, my good intentions never followed through, and my failure to finish anything I started.

fail

Not surprisingly, all the feelings bundled up with this UFO (Unfinished Fabric Object) made me reluctant to go near the thing, let alone commit to the many, many hours it would take to finish it. But it was still there, a big fat purple plug between me and moving on. So this year, I decided, I was going to get it out of the way. I was going to finish it, and thus become a Person Who Finishes Things.

I had the best of intentions, and when those failed, I made a rough plan. That made a bit of progress, which then fizzled out, so I made a more detailed plan. Which I didn’t keep. Then I made an even more detailed plan, which led to more progress, which also fizzled out. I even made a place for it in my schedule.

What I didn’t make was a commitment. If I was already doing something else, if I didn’t feel up to it, if I just didn’t want to, I didn’t. I still wanted it done, I just didn’t want to do it. No – that’s not quite right. I wished it were done – but I didn’t want to do it.

I did do bits here and there, but the small amount of progress I made was swallowed up by the magnitude of the undertaking. The quilt top is 155cm wide and 200cm long (about 5ft by 6 1/2), and has perhaps a hundred pieces, each with multiple edges to sew, embroider and embellish. Not quite big enough for the Great Bed of Ware, but it’s felt like it at times.

Bed of Ware

But the only way out is through, and there were some things I did that helped.

First, I sat down and asked myself what the obstacles were that prevented me working on it. A big one was the amount of time and effort involved just to get it out, spread it out, figure out where to work next, and put it away again at the end – if I could only find half an hour at a time, just handling it would eat most of that.

So I found somewhere where I could leave it folded and rolled, with the active part spread out in the middle. I made it easy for myself to just sit down and do a bit. I worked on one area at a time, so I could see and gauge my progress. I also borrowed and downloaded audiobooks (legally) to listen to as I stitched away.

I haven’t finished it yet – there’s still the centre section to embellish, as well as the attaching of the backing fabric to the front. I may not finish it by the end of the liturgical year (28th November, this year) but I will have it finished by the end of the calendar year.

egg_timer

I don’t know if the intended recipient will even want it – or indeed if she ever wanted it – but I’m not doing it just for her any more, I’m doing it for me. She can use it, regift it, or donate it to the SPCA for dog bedding; I won’t mind.

It will be finished, and I will be a person who finishes things. It has long been a failing of mine to launch straight into an over-ambitious project without working my way up via smaller, more manageable projects.
I think I’m cured now.