As much as I love sewing and cutting fabric and draping and adjusting patterns and actually being knee deep in fabric and projects, I am someone who needs time to prepare. I need time to think. It’s just as fun–and important–to me that I invest the time thinking about my projects as it is bringing them to life. I love the challenge of deciding what projects to tackle next based on my needs and aesthetics, it’s a thrill to rediscover fabric in my stash that I’d long since forgotten, and editing colors and textures to create a group of workable and sensible garments is my idea of a good time. I’m guilty of pouring time and energy into less-than-practical one-off garments all the time, but I’ve found that I enjoy myself to the max when I’m working on a little collection of sorts that I’ve planned out in advance. It makes achieving your sewing goals much easier.
When I was in business we had to work so far in advance that it was a constant challenge staying inspired, because you were always trying to anticipate trends and consumer needs. Now that I’m just sewing for myself, I still work ahead because sewing takes time, but I’m also in a position to enjoy working in the moment. It’s much more fun when you can work a month out from something as opposed to 18 months. Even though my lead times are shorter now, the planning I learned in college and practiced in business is something I can apply to my personal sewing endeavors.
So, when it’s time to figure out what to sew next there’s a few things I do to inspire new ideas, keep me engaged in the process, and stay organized the whole way through.
First things first, get a calendar and use it. Are there special events coming up that I need to prepare for? Do I need to include a cocktail dress on my to-do list or can I stick with casual separates this time? (As luck would have it, I need a cocktail dress for an event in March, but more on that later.) I’ve been sewing long enough now that I know about how long it will take me to make something, so it’s helpful to glance at a calendar if only to make a note about a production schedule. For example, if I know I need a pair of linen pants in three weeks, I know I can fit those in along with a dress and maybe a blouse or two, all in three weeks time. I used to cram so many projects into a short time frame that I was always disappointed in the end because I couldn’t get to everything. Now, I’m more realistic about what I can actually finish in a given amount of time.
Take notes like you’re being graded on it. I’ve gone through tons of notebooks over the past few years. Notes, swatches, measurements, ideas–everything gets written down. I find it’s helpful to cut a swatch of a fabric anytime I buy something new, and catalog it in my design journal. I don’t use new fabric right away all the time, so this is easier than constantly digging in drawers. I also keep a sketchbook on my desk where I draw ideas, which is especially helpful for handbags and clutches because I can draw them to scale for a better idea about size and proportions.
Visit your closet, and take inventory. Last summer, I discovered that I need to invest in sewing a handful of skirts and dresses with an elastic or drawstring waist in flowy, breathable fabrics that don’t need to be lined. For instance, loose fitting linen skirts and pull on rayon dresses. I have quite a few fitted, more formal dresses, but those simply will not do in the Texas heat. I also need some easy to wear, pullover blouses to go with these summer skirts. Now that I know what some of my needs are, I can adjust my projects accordingly. It might be a bit tedious to do six blouses all at once, so spread it out and do other fun things at the same time. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be doing two or three blouses, all different in design, along with skirts and dresses. Keeps it interesting. (Side note: please don’t be impressed with those wooden hangers. I got those when I was in business so things would look nice at shows and poo-up shops. Highly unlikely I would invest in them otherwise. In fact, Ty’s side of the closet is where all the plastic and mismatched hangers live!)
Plan your colors. This is something I picked up along the way in business. We produced so much in house that we had to be meticulous in production to make the most of our time and resources. That meant an assembly line based primarily on color. So now, when I think about a group of projects to make, I like to choose fabrics and colors that keep me from changing the serger thread too often. I have two machines, so I keep white thread in one of them at all times, and I use the other one for knits or other colors.
Refer back to line sheets, textbooks, and old notes. Sometimes, if I’m not feeling inspired I will look back at my college projects or handouts. I’m always reminded of a great neckline or silhouette that might become the starting off point for a new design or project. The internet is also a wonderland of information, if you don’t hang on to every little thing like I do.
Pick your patterns. I absolutely love using patterns. We had to draft each and every pattern ourselves in business, so now that I don’t have to work from scratch I am one happy girl. I still adjust things quite often, but having these patterns is such an advantage. Plus, they’re inspiring and more and more on trend lately, so it’s easy to get excited about sewing. I spent a lot of time last week looking through the patterns I had and also taking advantage of the pattern sale at JoAnn. I bought up a number of new patterns for spring and summer, which I cannot wait to use. These are but a few of the patterns I’m using over the next couple of months.
That’s it! Investing the time into planning your projects is so worth it. Don’t worry about the time away from your machine either–this part of the process makes the time you do spend creating your projects even better. And let me know if you have any planning tips that help you in your sewing journey. I’d love to hear all about it!
Have a great week!
A cold front has made its way down to us here in Texas, and I must say that it’s pretty fantastic. Finally, it’s boot-wearin’ weather! I’m more of a summer girl myself, but I can certainly appreciate a few months of chilly weather. It’s worth noting that it makes my 12-mile daily bike rides that much more enjoyable!
I chose this pattern because I loved the design (hello, big skirt!) and because I knew I would get a lot of use out of it. I had to start with some basic colors because I was filling a need in my closet, but this skirt is begging to be made in bright colors and prints. It’s gorgeous. I have a lovely Christmas-y floral twill that I think I will make next.
A few years ago, I had a dress. It was exceptional. My mom and I had spent the day shopping together, and we capped it all off with a stop at our favorite store, Dillard’s. This is where we found The Dress. It was straight out of the 1950s: it was fitted in the bodice with an enormous, tea length full skirt and side seam pockets and a belt. It came in pink and blue; I bought blue and my mom bought pink. We were so delighted with ourselves trying it on and twirling around in the fitting room, talking about how quickly we could come up with an excuse to wear it. (Pretty sure that’s when I started saying “I don’t care! I’ll wear it to the grocery store it’s so good!”) This was circa 2004, before camera phones and social media, so I regrettably never got a picture of this dress. I wasn’t a big picture taker back then to begin with. Anyway, somewhere along the way I lost that dress. At some point I probably thought it was too mature for me, or maybe it just got lost during one of the dozen or more times I moved in my 20s. Either way, I sure wish I still had it.
I took an international politics class in college, and a requirement of the course was participation in a mock UN meeting. I chose to represent Monaco, and I thought my new blue shirtdress was the perfect thing to wear. I will never forget the feeling of wearing that dress. It was like I was floating. I remember sitting at my table listening to the international relations majors engage in mock debates, and all I could do was daydream about my dress and getting back to tailoring class to finish the blazer I was working on. My thoughts were soon interrupted when I got a note from Spain, sitting at the table behind me. This too, I wish I still had, because it one of those things that has stuck with me. It read, “Hey, Monaco, I love your dress.” There may have also been a smiley face doodle, I can’t remember. Spain was represented by a male classmate of mine, and that whole exchange stands out in my mind all these years later. The power of clothing and style and your confidence in clothes is real and cannot be overstated. Was he flirting? Did he just really like the dress? Did I look better in it because I felt so good in it? Maybe a little of all of it.
Here’s what I know: a shirtdress is classic, and it looks good on everyone. A few months before I closed my business I started thinking about shirtdresses again. So once I was free and clear to start sewing just for myself again, I was on a mission to make a few. At first, I had trouble finding the right pattern, but eventually I discovered Vogue 9077. It’s not the truly full skirt I’m ultimately after, but the details were too good to pass up. I love the front bands and the gored skirt. The first time I made it was last spring, and I used an eggshell linen/rayon blend. The skirt swishes and sways like you would not believe.
The second time I made it I used a pink linen/cotton blend, and it’s nothing short of lovely. The third and most recent time I made it was in olive sateen, and I love it. The swish factor isn’t there as much as it is with the others, but you lose some of that movement with sateen–and I’m okay with that. I went with long sleeves, and I adjusted the button placket so that I could sew a facing. Just to change things up a bit.