Sew creative to build a wardrobe

You know that feeling . . . the one you get when you open your closet and think, “Ugh. I Don’t have a thing to wear.” And in reality, your closet is bursting with clothes. What would you say to the possibility of eliminating that “ugh” feeling? How? Simple: sew creative to build a wardrobe.

For its July meeting, Sew Chicago  welcomed Cennetta Burwell as its guest speaker to talk about planning a wardrobe that complements your body and lifestyle. Cennetta is the wisdom behind the The Mahogany Stylist, a blog dedicated to style, fashion, sewing, and is the cross-roads where “Julia Baker meets June Cleaver.”

“Designing the perfect closet is 60% classic pieces, 20% basic pieces, and 20% trend pieces,” Cennetta said to the group. She defines classics as those “good quality items: jackets, skirts, and pants that fit you well.” The Basics are “good quality t-shirts, stockings, and lingerie, etc.” And, finally, trend pieces are “current trends or those long passed.”

She explained that when you are ready to build or rebuild your wardrobe there are three steps to follow:

  1. Take stock of your closet
  2. Think like a fashion designer
  3. Shop for what you need, not what you want

Cennetta added that wardrobe planning is an on-going process. As our bodies change, our careers change, our lifestyles change, so must our wardrobes. Now, where to begin . . . .

Take stock of your closet. The first step is always the hardest, but what may make it easier is knowing what looks good on you: colors, silhouettes, lines, etc. You may love jackets with Peter Pan collars and own several of them, but if that style makes your look like a school girl, it’s time for the jackets to go. [Check out Sew Chicago post, Necklines that Flatter.] This is when you weed out all those pieces that simply don’t fit, wash out the color of your skin, you purchased them on a whim, it was a gift that you’ll never wear, or you haven’t worn it in a year or more.

“I clean my closet on a regular basis and admit there are times when I can’t throw out something, but if it sits there long enough, I know it has to go,” said Cennetta. She also stressed that this is something to do on a regular basis. [Hmm, could this approach also apply to your fabric stash?] The goal isn’t to clean out the entire closet, but to give a critical eye to what must stay in the closet. You may have a few good foundational pieces worth holding on to for the next step.

Think like a fashion designer.  “A successful fashion designer looks at an entire collection and considers what works and what doesn’t. You need to learn to edit out what doesn’t work and bring in what does,” Cennetta told Sew Chicago. If the thought of building an entire collection is overwhelming, start with just the classics. You may want to focus on one season, but to be successful, consider where fabrics can cross-over multiple seasons enabling you to get most out of your closet.

When it comes to the classics, every so often a fashion magazine or celebrity stylist will come out with their top 10. Who are those gurus of style? Take what works for you or bits and pieces from the ones you really like. Cennetta recommends to start with the following classic items:

  • A good trench coat
  • Good quality knitwear
  • A cocktail dress
  • A white shirt
  • A great pair of jeans
  • An A-line skirt
  • Man-style pants
  • Knee-high boots
  • A beige leather tote
  • Anything else that suites your personal style

Let’s say you have a good white shirt, a light grey A-line skirt, and a trendy plum sweater. Add some jewelry, shoes and you have one outfit in your collection. How can your take that skirt and dress it up for work or dress it down for a weekend lunch date with friends? How can you get 10 more outfits by adding a jacket, pair of pants, jeans, and a couple more tops? Think of your classic collection.

If you shop, many stores will sell mix and match separates that will help you look like almost everyone else in your office cafeteria. But, if you sew, you’ll have a collection created by what inspires you and, most certainly, one-of-a-kind pieces.

“Plan the wardrobe that you love by finding your inspiration,” stressed Cennetta. Just like a fashion designer, create a mood board for your collection. Take photos of the foundation pieces that remain in your closet,  place them on a bulletin board and start adding items that move you, but try to remain focused because it’s easy to be distracted with this. Maybe there is an era or a movie or a culture that inspires you. Flip through magazines and find photographs and colors that express what you’re thinking. For help here, you may want to visit Cennetta’s blog for “The Inspiration – Where Does it Come From?” Take the time to research trends not just for silhouettes, but also for the latest colors.

“Color unifies a collection,” said Cennetta. She added, “Pick two anchor colors and one or two accent colors. Dark and neutral colors are typical anchors.” From here add new pieces by first shopping “for fabrics in groups to create garments you can mix and match perfectly and try to buy in threes.” You may want to bring the light grey skirt to your local fabric store and see what it works well with to begin building. By buying complementary fabrics in threes or more, you allow yourself to build a stronger and more creative wardrobe.

Cennetta recommends you think of a collection with five to 12 pieces.  “If you’re planning to build your wardrobe and buy a pattern with skirt and dress options, make both,” she said. For Cennetta this is when creative sewing comes in to play as much as smart sewing. To get more out of your sewing time, plan ahead. You made your mood board, you bought your fabrics, you decided on a few patterns and now is when the assembly line work begins.

“Fit your muslin before you cut out your fashion fabric. When you’re ready to cut, cut out as many garments as you can in a single session,” Cennetta recommended. “Sew the garments that use the same color thread as a group. Batch similar procedures, such as serge all raw edges in one session or save the hemming on all the garments until the end.” She explained that it may take some time to perfect the production line approach, but it’s worth it in the end.

Shop for what you need, not what you want. After you take the time to clean out those old clothes and build your new wardrobe, don’t waste those efforts by buying on a whim. Shop for core items that you won’t make for yourself, such a good lingerie, or pick up that top you know will only be in for one season and you can buy at an inexpensive, trendy store. If you are going to spend, spend it on quality . . . such as quality fabric to expand your wardrobe.

And when it’s done, you’ll have a wardrobe you love. Cennetta closed with a few tips for Sew Chicago to remember when planning their next wardrobes:

  • Stock up on timeless classic you’ll wear for years
  • Focus on seasonless pieces that can be layered and worn year-round
  • Invest in multi-functional pieces that can be worn day or night, casual or dressy
  • Think quality, not quantity
  • Round out your wardrobe with inexpensive yet chic trendy pieces
  • Discover the power of accessories
  • Take care of your clothes

3 thoughts on “Sew creative to build a wardrobe

  1. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak to your group about wardrobe building. I was certainly a pleasure and I look forward to attending more meetings. Susan, excellent write up on the presentation.

  2. This is a smart blog. I mean it. You have so much knowledge about this issue, and so much passion. You also know how to make people rally behind it, obviously from the responses. Youve got a design here thats not too flashy, but makes a statement as big as what youre saying. Great job, indeed.

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