Wardrobe Planning and Peace of Mind

Fall is well underway, which means I’m already late in getting my fall-winter wardrobe planning done. There are reasons, of course. There were preparations for the ASG Chicago fashion show last Saturday, for which I collaborated with a friend to coordinate submissions and prepare the lineup and then I wrote the commentary for the 65 entries that walked the runway. There were 67, but one of mine and one other had to be pulled because they didn’t get finished. Before that, I was working on a jacket for a challenge for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago. The challenge topic was actually my idea, so I wasn’t planning to enter the challenge, just show the jacket. It, too, is unfinished. Sigh.


Oh, and there’s the dress I promised to a very dear, very understanding friend almost a year ago. And then there are the countless garments I have in my head, some of which seem urgent because they belong in my core wardrobe.

So, if the title of this post left you wondering what wardrobe planning has to do with peace of mind, the best explanation I can give is that it helps me clear a calm space in my head.  Sometimes, creative paralysis stems from something other than perfectionism. Or maybe it is actually a form of perfectionism. Sometimes I can’t dig in and do one thing because all the things I have to or want to do are vying for my attention. Pretty soon I’m feeling overwhelmed and I can’t decide what project to work on first because I’m sure I’ll never get through all the projects in time for this season. Does any of this sound familiar?

In reading about strategies for overcoming procrastination or perfectionism (great avoidance activity!) I’ve seen this syndrome described as mental static or mental clutter. The clutter analogy resonates with me, because I’m one of those people who has to take a break from work from time to time just to sort through the piles of paper on (and sometimes surrounding) my desk. I’m convinced it’s impossible to think in the midst of clutter. Yes, organizing papers and tossing months-old to do lists does sound like another avoidance activity, but I find it very useful. I feel as if I’m getting a fresh start when I sit down at my desk again and the writing goes much better.

So, how can this strategy be applied to wardrobe planning for a sewist? I’ve tried lists because I’m a compulsive list-maker. That doesn’t work, because the list goes on and on. I’ve tried flow charts – same problem. Plus there’s the whole mastering-flow-chart-making-time-sucker issue.

Last summer, I stumbled on a method that actually worked. I was “shopping” in my fabric collection (I hate the word stash) for a piece of fabric I thought I had for a blouse I wanted to make when it occurred to me that I should pull out all the summer fabric I wanted to work with and spread it out on a table. I sorted by type – bottom weight, blouse-weight, linen I had planned to use for a dress, and knits.

IMG_0004I labeled them with Post-It Notes and what emerged for me was a clear picture of what I wanted to do with each of the fabrics in front of me. It also became clear that I had to eliminate some pieces, or at least defer them until next year.

The next step was to inventory what I needed for the pieces I planned to sew. What linings did I need and did I have them? How about interfacing, zippers, thread, etc.

The last step was to prioritize. What did I find myself reaching for most often that wasn’t in my closet yet?

Of course, summer is really short and it’s even shorter if you don’t get started until July. That means I didn’t get through everything I planned out that day, even after the culling I did. But that really didn’t matter. What mattered is that I had cleared the clutter from my head and created a calm, quiet place that allowed me to work on one garment at a time and enjoy wearing each one when it was done.

Fear of Beginning, Fear of Finishing

Have you ever Googled “paralyzing perfectionism”? I did it this morning (not for the first time) and got 18,600 hits. You have no idea how comforting it is to know that I’m far from the only one suffering from that affliction. On second thought, you might know exactly how comforting that is, in which case you and I have something in common other than a passion for sewing. This syndrome is why The Couture Counsellor has been incubating for months. It’s why all-nighters are still part of my work life. And it’s one of the reasons why closets brimming with fabulous clothes exist only in my head. The good news is that I’ve been chipping away at those fears. The closet I do have in my compact city apartment is filling up with clothes I made and love and I’ve started this blog without waiting to get the perfect logo designed, find the perfect blog theme/platform, become a better photographer, learn more about Photoshop, learn HTML, lose 50 pounds, blah, blah, blah.
I approach learning about sewing the same way I approach any research project, which is to say I like to be thorough. Okay, I’m a research junkie. It sometimes serves as my primary avoidance activity.
In classes, when everyone is writing down the technique being demonstrated, my brain is comparing and contrasting what this instructor is saying with what other instructors say about the same subject while my hand is scribbling down the information being given. For a long time, the contradictions threatened to drive me the rest of the way to crazy. Then I realized it just means there is more than one way to do just about anything and our job as sewists is to find the one that works for us, or maybe have a couple of different options available for different situations. Take sewing corners for example. Sew to the end? Pivot 90° at the corner? Pivot 45° and stitch across one stitch? Or is it two stitches? Or three, even? The answer is: It depends. That answer will cause normal people to grind their teeth, but it’s an answer we lawyers use all the time, so I can live with that.
Remember when I said fear of starting is only one of the reasons I have so many more garments in my head than I have in my closet? The other reasons are other demands on my time—working for a living, volunteer work for sewing organizations—and the ridiculous amount of time I spent trying to develop a good set of basic fit patterns. I’ll tell you about that experience and the solution I found at the end of that long, twisty road in an upcoming post. If you are on that road now, I can show you a shortcut. Stay tuned.
The title of this post mentions another fear—fear of finishing. That’s a fear that has become much less of a problem now that my hand sewing skills have improved and I’ve learned how to tackle what I call The Fussy Bits. By that I mean hemming, hand tacking, getting hooks and eyes and snaps in the right place and  sewing all kinds of closures so they look neat and tidy instead of knotted and gnarled. We’ll get to advice about those Fussy Bits in a later post. What I can tell you now is that there is no substitute for getting your hands on fabric, needle and thread and sewing some samples and sometimes some less than stellar test garments. You can read about sewing techniques and watch other people demonstrate them and it will give you a better idea of what to do, but it won’t get you all the way there. It’s like the old joke my father loved to tell about the young person who stopped an old man on the street in New York and asked, “Sir, can you tell me the way to Carnegie Hall?” The man smiled and said, “Practice, practice….”