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A Love Letter to Design Your Wardrobe

Creating a wardrobe as a form of self-care, by Maggie Crisler.

Posted in: Style & Wardrobe • June 30, 2020

A Two-year Sewing Hiatus

I just recently came out of a two-year hiatus from sewing. I didn’t stop because I lost interest. I stopped because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to make anymore. I’m a graphic designer. I create things for other people all the time. I know what idea a client is trying to express, and I create it for them. But lately, I’ve felt like I lost the ability to express myself.

Enter: Design Your Wardrobe. Design Your Wardrobe is an amazing tool put together by Seamwork that walks you through the creative process of creating a capsule collection for a particular season (i.e., Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter—or, if you live in Alabama, seasons are irrelevant) over three weeks. It breaks down the process of designing and creating a collection into manageable and easily digestible tasks so that you can see the process through start-to-finish. If you complete each step, you’ll end up with a clear and organized plan of projects to make.

I’m privileged to work in a creative field. I work part-time for a company that has a loose dress code. I have a loving and supportive husband who encourages me to dress in any way that makes me feel good. I play electric organ in a rock & roll band, and I need to be able to comfortably move when we play. I don’t go anywhere fancy. Business dress isn’t in my vocabulary. I can dress however I want at any time. So, why is this so hard?!

You’d think with so much freedom, I would have no problem creating anything I wanted to wear. But I often struggle with wanting creative freedom and needing guidelines. Something to reign in my ever-racing mind. Will I like it? Will I wear it? Will I have to alter it too much to fit my tall, plus-sized frame? Is it worth the effort? Will it look like a tent? Will (insert name here) think this is cool or weird or ugly or unflattering? Do I care what anyone thinks?

My best friend pointed out to me that I have paralysis by analysis. I let it hold me up daily—in my personal life, work life, and creative life. I have an art degree. I’ve been through countless exercises and assignments to stretch and challenge my creativity. I can produce work for other people that accurately represents their message and their vision. But when it comes to myself, I have no idea. I understand what others want better than I understand my own wants.

My first completed outfit—an Ashton Top from Helen’s Closet and a hand-sewn Car Coat from The School of Making.

An upcoming project—a Seamwork Willis top in Carolyn Friedlander fabric.

Wardrobe-planning with a Chronic Illness

On top of my crippling over-analyzation, I’ve now been dealing with health problems for over a decade that have wreaked havoc on my body—drastically changing how I feel physically as well as my size and shape. Chronic illnesses are no joke. They take a lot out of you, making you realize how precious your time is when you only feel ok-to-good 60% of the time. I don’t have time to waste making things that aren’t practical and functional for my life.

Sustainability is an important issue to me, so making things that are not used is not an option. This illness—really, the treatment—has made me get over this idea that everything has to be perfect or perfectly curated. It’s made me feel really vulnerable, which I absolutely hate. I like taking care of others, and I struggle so much with wanting to seem like I have it all together and not ask for help. I put a lot of unnecessary stress on myself because of this. So, as awful as this treatment has been to this point, it’s weirdly been freeing. I’m seeing that I need to stop making things so hard on myself and stop stressing about looking like I have it together.

With the physical, mental, and emotional stress, this illness and treatment have put on my body, even getting dressed in the morning became stressful. I have too many options and clothes that I don’t wear. I started reading The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees and began to think about developing my personal style—more of a uniform to make getting dressed easier. I attempted to participate in two rounds of Design Your Wardrobe, but I was unsuccessful in making a plan and executing the garments. I couldn’t think of a theme or mood for a collection without already making a running list of projects. My brain goes faster than I want it to sometimes. It made me feel like a failure that I couldn’t complete this program that was so straightforward and helpful in walking you through the creative process.

My second completed outfit—another Ashton Top from Helen’s Closet and a Sienna Maker Jacket from Closet Case Patterns.

Back to the Mood Board

Sometimes the self-imposed pressure to keep up with everyone else makes me just want to stop. Before I started, I decided I only wanted to make things at this time for which I already owned the supplies.

  • I made a list: I made a list of all of the patterns I already own, what size I need (per the size chart), yardage needed (listed for each width), and sorted them by fabric type.

  • I made another list: I made a list of fabrics that I owned with the width and yardage I had on hand.

  • I used more than one wardrobe-building concept: I used DYW and the ideas about personal style from The Curated Closet to develop a plan for garments using the hoarded fabrics in my office closet.

  • I slowed down: I slowed down and matched fabrics to patterns. I looked at what supplies I had in the house to complete projects so I wouldn’t have to go out. And I took the time to create outfits that fit into my existing wardrobe.

  • I went digital: I think that printing out all of the pages for DYW was a weird hang-up in the back of my mind. I work digitally in my everyday life. I rarely sketch on paper anymore unless it’s all I have on hand. So, I drew out my plans using an iPad, Apple Pencil, and the Procreate app (I needed practice anyway to expand my skills for clients).

Three outfit sketches for spring. Outfit 1: Closet Case Sienna Maker Jacket, Seamwork Jane tee, and Seamwork Nolan pants. Outfit 2: Helen’s Closet Ashton Top, The School of Making Car Jacket, ready-to-wear jeans. Outfit 3: Seamwork Quince robe, Elizabeth Suzann-inspired hacked Peppermint Jumpsuit.

The Freedom of Digital Work

Working digitally gave me a small sense of freedom. I could easily erase things I didn’t like or use the Undo button to change course. I wasn’t wasting paper, and I wasn’t worried about having the right color markers or colored pencils to complete the sketches in the way that I wanted. I never made a physical mood board. I used Pinterest to organize all of my ideas and then took screenshots of things that I wanted to create in my outfit sketches—pattern flats, fabrics, shoes, etc.

Once I finally allowed myself to work through Design Your Wardrobe in a way that made sense to me, the ideas started to flow.

It felt amazing to actually accomplish this task that felt so overwhelming and impossible the previous two times I tried it. Design Your Wardrobe is an incredible resource. I watched the videos this time. Something about seeing and hearing Sarai, Meg, and Wallis talk through their process made it feel achievable and greatly reduced my anxiety about the process. I came out of it with a plan. And I’m proud to say that I’ve completed five of the nine projects. All I needed to do was slow down and enjoy the process.

Ending A Five-year Creative Block

Working through Design Your Wardrobe this time has really helped me tap back into my creativity. I thought it was gone, honestly. When you give so much of yourself to others, it’s easy to lose sight of what you like, need, and want. I’ve missed drawing and working with my hands to create something beautiful. I’ve missed using clothing to express myself. I’m grateful that I picked this back up and didn’t give up on myself. And, even though I haven’t completed all of the garments from my spring capsule, I’ve already completed my “Make List” for the summer.

Make List: Seamwork Natalie, Seamwork Quince, Seamwork Jo, Seamwork Bo, Seamwork Adria, Closet Case Patterns Ebony T-Shirt, Seamwork Willis, Closet Case Patterns Kalle Shirt, Seamwork Jane.

I’ve spent the past 12+ years thoughtfully creating things for others. I’ve put so much energy into getting really good at it that I forgot how to do it for myself. I often spend so much time working on things for others that I rush through something that’s for me. But over the past 18 months (since I found out the tumor was back), I’ve had to reevaluate my priorities. I’ve stepped back and started saying “no” to others. I’ve been trying to take better care of myself and focus on my own needs. I thought that sewing clothes to fit me was a waste of time because my body keeps changing, but the process is just as much of a self-care act for me as the garment that comes from it. I’m using sewing and creating a wardrobe for myself as a form of self-love now. I’m not great at taking care of myself quite yet—but I know that I feel great in handmade things, and I know how to sew. It’s a good place to start.

You can learn more about Design Your Wardrobe here. And listen to more of Maggie's story on Seamwork Radio!

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