Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 in Review: Goals; and 2016 Goals

Last, and by far the shortest of my 2015 review posts (previously: How I Spent My Money and Things That I Made) is this one about goals last year and this year.

My goals and ambitions for 2015 and the outcomes I actually achieved are as follows:
  • Stick to my 2015 budget. This includes a resolution to spend less on patterns as a % of total than in 2014. DONE and DONE. \o/ (See the Money post for more details)
  • Use more fabric that I buy, and reduce my overall garment stash by 50m and my bag stash by 20m by the end of the year.  Partial \o/! I did use more fabric than I bought and my total stash decreased. However, this was by a rather more modest total of -33.1m, with the majority being a reduction in my bag stash (-28.55m) rather than garment stash (-4.55m). I need to do better on the garment side of things this year.
  • Reduce my yarn stash by at least half. DONE \o/ My yarn stash reduction is a definite win. I sold a lot of yarn I was never going to use, used a bunch and refrained from buying too much. Not only is my yarn stash considerably less than half what it was before, it also presently conforms to my ideal stash: it contains only my current projects, some defined future projects and a small amount of scrap.
  • Maintain and stick to my wardrobe plan. DONE \o/. I am very happy with my wardrobe planning efforts.
Sadly, I didn't achieve even one of my new technique/new garment type ambitions in 2015, mainly due to illness making it very difficult for me to start or complete complex projects. However, they all hold true as things I want to do so I've just copy & pasted for 2016.

More pleasingly, I also aimed to:
  • Finish the Slowest Quilt In The World. \o/ DONE!
  • Make 6 knitted items (1 sock = 1 item) and increase the complexity of patterns I'm using. DONE \o/. I actually made 7 items and none of them were socks, and I significantly increased the complexity of my knitting during the year from only ever knitting simple scarves to trying out lace and successfully completing a sweater.
A couple of little blog plans:
  • Continue to try to improve my photos. Well, I tried? I'll give myself a \o/ for trying.
  • Finish the wardrobe planning series of posts. I didn't finish, but I did write one more and I have another half done. \o/
 As for 2016, these are my practical goals:
  • Stick to my 2016 budget and reduce my spending on patterns compared to 2015
  • Reduce garment stash to less than 150m (from ~193m at the end of 2015).
  • Use at least two thirds of 2016 fabric purchases within 2016.
Some specific ambitions:
  • Make: woven trousers (with or without fly); a woven dress; a piece of outerwear; a lined tailored blazer
  • Try: welt pockets; bound buttonholes; contrast top-stitching; fly fronts
  • Make: 2-3 really great bags
  • Make: an Alabama Chanin style embellished item
  • Complete: 6 knitted items completed
  • Sew and buy according to my wardrobe plan -- two-thirds of new clothes handmade vs RTW, half of new RTW thrifted.
And as always, my biggest goal is to enjoy my sewing! :D

Monday, 21 December 2015

2015 In Review: Things That I Made

This is part of my 2015 in review posts, which started with How I Spent My Money.


First up, some numbers, because it wouldn't be me if I didn't lead with the numbers.

This year I acquired 57 garments in total (compared to 78 in 2014). I discarded 86 garments, so overall my wardrobe shrank by just over 10% compared to 01/01/15.

Of the 57 garments added to my wardrobe, I sewed 34, knitted 1 and bought 22. My goal this year was to make (rather than buy) about two thirds of my wardrobe acquisitions, and I am going to call it good enough that I made just over 60% of them. This is about the same proportions as last year, and I am quite satisfied that that is a sewing/RTW mix that suits me for now

My RTW purchases were mainly trousers -- linen trousers for summer, cords and jeans for winter --  a handful of knit tops in styles I don't want to sew or fabrics that I can't source (especially wicking fabric for active wear), plus a couple of other random things, plus also lingerie.

Of these, the thing I'd at least like to have the option of making is trousers. I haven't really worked on fitting trousers yet though and a major fitting project like that is outside of my capabilities at my current level of health, so for the time being RTW is really my best option. Luckily, I don't find it overly challenging to buy stuff that fits at least reasonably well and this year I was also able to get some new-with-the-labels-still-on thrift buys that worked out really well. I did discard one thing I bought this year due to poor fit.

Of the 35 things I made over the course of the year, I discarded 4 more or less immediately due to poor fit (2) or poor fabric choice (2), and another 2 after about 6 months worth of wear. I'm not super excited by my attrition rate among my hand-made garments, but on the other hand I'm not going to keep something in my wardrobe if it doesn't work for me or looks ragged just because I made it.

Patterns used

I used 24 different sewing patterns to make my 34 sewn garments this year. Of those, 18 patterns were completely new to me this year, and I made 23 garments from them. The remaining 6 patterns (11 garments) I had used in previous years.

My 24 patterns came from 10 different pattern sources. Half my patterns came from issues of my two favourite sewing magazines: Ottobre (7 patterns) and Burda (5 patterns). I made up 7 traditional envelope patterns (3 New Look, 2 Butterick, 1 Kwik Sew, 1 Burda envelope. (I also produced a total wadder with a Simplicity pattern). From the indies, I made 2 StyleArc, 1 HotPatterns and 1 Wiksten. I also drew up one (extremely simple) pattern based on a RTW garment. This distribution between the types of pattern sources is pretty consistent to last year.

Garment outcomes

You can see everything I made in 2015 by category here on my completed project page for the year.

FAVOURITES: 3 garments
Favourites: Burda 03-2014-124, StyleArc Estelle, Burda Classics 2013 005B

My absolute favourite thing I made in 2015 is my Burda 03-2014-124 rolled-cuff blue gingham summer blouse. If I regret anything it's that I didn't have enough fabric or the foresight to make proper long sleeves with cuffs so I could wear it year round. I love it partly because I really like the fabric (an inexpensive but extremely nice 100% cotton gingham) and partly because I really like the design, especially the shape and fit of the collar and the spiffy button placement. I plan to use this pattern again for sure. This was my most-worn woven top this summer.

I also really love my black and white lace print StyleArc Estelle cardigan. I made a blue one as well that I also like but overall I like the black and white fabric more. This was the first StyleArc pattern I tried and it went together beautifully and it is very easy to wear as a layering piece.

My third favourite garment is another Burda pattern, this time the only skirt I made this year: Burda Classics 2013 005B. I had SO many problems sewing the hem on this full skirted maxi and it's very far from perfect if you look at it critically, but it's still lovely to wear. I made it from a very lightweight green paisley fabric that floats and twirls perfectly. I wore this skirt frequently through the summer months.


StyleArc Issy, Ottobre 05-2011-11, Ottobre 02-2006-04: Good, but not quite favourites

The black and blue StyleArc Issy top might not have a huge longevity -- after a few washes the inexpensive viscose fabric is already not looking great, which is why it's not in the favourites section -- but it's a lovely top to wear and I love the cowl neck design, which I think is highly flattering.

I've worn the blue and white blobby Ottobre 05-2011-11 top less because it's not such a great layering piece, though I'll get more wear out of it in spring I hope. It misses on being a favourite because of the problems with the facings that persist in wear (they tend to pull just a little), but it's still a really great top.

Another top I really liked was a red sleeveless blouse I made using Ottobre 02-2006-04. I only wore this twice because we didn't get the weather for sleeveless shirts after I made it, which is why it's not in favourites -- it hasn't quite stood the test of time or washing yet. However, I really like the way it turned out and the fit is surprisingly flattering for a shirt that looks so boxy on my tailor's dummy.


Three of my five uses of a modified pattern based on New Look 6150 this year
A lot of people say they can't be arsed to make t-shirt type knit tops, and I can definitely see that if you can buy inexpensive, moderately good quality tees that fit you then it's probably pointless to make them. However, I like my tees a very specific length and shape that I find difficult to find in shops at a good price. Thus, I have made my t-shirt sloper based on New Look 6150 (link to tag) eight times now, including making five this year, and it comes out perfectly every time. I wear these tops constantly and I love them. Tragically my favourite from this year, the navy stripe in the middle above, has gone saggy and sad as the fabric was poor quality and I washed it a LOT this summer.

Also boring but incredibly useful: I made a TON of pyjamas this year with various patterns, but most notably Butterick 5704 (PJ trousers), Burda 8271 (PJ capris), and Ottobre 05-2011-02 (PJ shorts). These are all workhorse patterns for me that I will continue to use every time I need PJs. None of them are at all glamorous but they work really well and I love them.

I also made a couple of pairs of loungewear type knit trousers using Burda 11-2005-127 that I've worn and washed to the point of extinction. I actually don't know if I'll make the pattern again because I fancy using a different pattern when I make some replacements early next year, but these have been wardrobe staples for days at home in cool weather.


Butterick 5826, New Look 6407, Ottobre 02-2010-17, Kwik Sew 3555
I really wanted to like my blue and brown paisley pullover top made with Butterick 5826, and I actually did wear it several times early in the year because I liked the fabric so much. However, I fought with the pattern the whole time I was making it and would never voluntarily make it up again. It's also really not great to wear: the fit is off and the sewing problems I had with the neckline don't look any better for the top having been washed a few times. It did not survive the most recent wardrobe cull.

New Look 6407 was another disaster throughout when making it. I struggled with the vertical darts, fit and facings. I tried wearing it once only and halfway through the day I ripped it off and put something else on because I hated it so much. It went straight in the bin and I have no plans to revisit this pattern.

Another 'I wore it, but..." garment is this white pin-tucked blouse I made using Ottobre 02-2010-17. I really liked the idea of this but the pattern was much more oversized than I anticipated and although I wore it a few times I never liked how it fit. The fabric is so very sheer and lightweight that it doesn't hold the shape of the shirt at all and after a couple of washes it turned into a rag. It too went in the recycling when I last reviewed my wardrobe.

Most disappointing of all though is the short-sleeved shirt I made with Kwik Sew 3555 in green checked linen. Earlier in 2015 I had made the long-sleeved version of the shirt in blue polycotton quite successfully, although the high poly content of the fabric makes it sweaty to wear. For this version I used this (very expensive) fabric that I bought while I was living in Ireland. I really thought it would make a great shirt. However, the hand of the linen turned out not to be ideal for a shirt and after I first wore it, it shrank in the wash despite two pre-washes. Even more disastrously, one of the yoke seams unravelled horribly as well and I had to do a very ham-fisted patch job. I am so reluctant to discard this shirt after only wearing it a couple of times because I loved this fabric, but I am not sure I will ever wear it much as it's too short and the yoke seam is a mess. I've left it in my wardrobe for now but I may well discard it when summer 2016 rolls around.


A selection of indifference, failures and other stuff
Unwearable muslin, then wearable but indifferent version 2: I made two versions of the HotPatterns Weekender Sunshine Tee. The first, a turquoise "wearable muslin" was, in fact, an unwearable muslin as it was entirely too low cut. I think I wore it twice before I discarded it. However, the second version, in grey animal print, while still lower in the neckline than I like, turned out much better and I wore it a good number of times through the summer. The neckline is too chilly for me in the autumn and winter though.

Indifferent: Boob vortex tee (Ottobre 05-2012-11) -  I wore this a reasonable number of times this summer but the fabric shrank a bit in the wash despite pre-treatment and the pattern never 100% worked for me. I'll replace it next year. Also indifferent: New Look 6890 nightdress.

My choices are baffling: Backshore sweater (knitted). But WHY did I knit a 3/4 sleeve DK sweater? If it's cold enough for a DK weight sweater then it is cold enough to need warm arms! I did wear it a few times in the autumn but it's a sweater of limited use.

Why did I make this?: Wiksten tank in green cotton voile. I hate tank tops and can't think why I made one, especially of this nearly see through cotton voile. It is no longer in my wardrobe. 

Worst fabric ever: Green flames top - surely the itchiest fabric in the world. I wore this Ottobre "Summer Basics" top once and then got rid of it after spending the whole day feeling like I was wearing a hair shirt. Dreadful.

Adventures in Extreme Wadders: I reviewed, even though it was never finished or added to my wardrobe, a dreadful knit top wadder made with Simplicity 1063.

OVERALL, I'm not sure if it was it a good year or a bad year for sewing outcomes. I (mostly) enjoyed myself making everything that I made, which included some other random things as well on top of the garments described here -- I sewed a quilt, blinds, some tote bags and a handbag, and I knitted scarves, shawls and a hat. I very often think that the pleasure I usually get from the process of sewing outweighs the outcomes anyway. So I am willing to call 2015 a good year for sewing, even if not everything turned out well, and nothing at all turned out perfectly (not that it ever will). :D

Saturday, 19 December 2015

2015 in Review: How I Spent My Money

I love annual review posts, both writing them and reading them, and last year I did three: one about how I spent my money in 2014, one about the things I made and how they worked out for me in the longer term and one briefly reviewing the goals I tried to stick to over the course of the year and thinking about goals for 2015. I'm going to use the same format this year, and start with How I Spent My Money.

Being a giant nerd and currently on a fixed budget, I track all my finances pretty closely. Although I give myself a generous budget for my sewing, knitting and other crafty activities I'm also pretty concerned to make sure I stick to it, so I keep a close eye on my spending through the year. This year, I had to be stricter with myself the second half of the year because I overspent by about 10% in the first half. However, I ended up spending in total just a hair under my planned budget -- and I mean a HAIR, I was under by just £5.

I made no major one-off purchases for my sewing room this year; all my machines and my sewing setup are the same now as they were at the end of 2014. All my spending this year therefore fell into the following categories:

I am a giant nerd, so here is a pie chart of my spending

FABRIC: This year I spent 22% of my budget on fabric, buying a total of 54.8m of fabric. I used 18.1m of my 2015 purchases during the course of the year and the rest is gracing my stash. I am not particularly happy to have sewn barely a third of the fabric I bought during the year, as I originally planned to try to move to much more of a "buy mainly for immediate use plus a little stash" model. In fact, I probably reversed the ratio that I was hoping for -- I would have been quite pleased to have used two thirds of my purchases and stashed a third.

Looking at what I have left in stash from this year's purchases, the reason for this is immediately clear to me: I bought fabric for a fantasy life where I was not ill and needed to sew smart clothes. I can't even say I got better at this as the year went on and I realized I wasn't going to get better any time soon: my most recent purchase of this type of fabric was only last week. /o\ Since I vehemently resist sewing for a fantasy life, I have just ended up with a pile of fabric I didn't use, much as I like it. When (eventually) I do have to rebuild a work wardrobe I am going to be spoiled for choice with nice fabrics for work appropriate clothes. However, since that day is still an indeterminate distance away, it's a little frustrating that most of the things I stashed in 2015 probably won't make it out of stash for a while yet.

On the plus side, however, this year's total is the smallest value AND volume of fabric I've purchased in any year since I started sewing. Also positive: my leftover 2015 purchases are mainly things I still like and want to use, and overall there's very little "what on earth was I thinking?" from this year in stash. (I do have two pieces of fabric where I go back and forth between "This is so great!" and "What was I thinking?". I don't think I'll decide which it is until I actually try to use it.)

MAGAZINES: My biggest purchase category, at 28% of total budget, was pattern magazines.

Knip: My big pattern magazine innovation this year was subscribing to Knip (formerly Knipmode), the Dutch sewing magazine. I've received 5 issues so far, having started my subscription with the September issue (plus the June issue, above, that I bought as a one off to see what I thought of the magazine). Unfortunately, I haven't really done much sewing since I started my subscription because of illness. All I can say right now is that I am very pleased with the magazine from a content perspective -- I find a lot in the magazines I'd like to sew and wear -- but I can't say anything definitive about the patterns, sizing, etc. or working with the Dutch-only instructions, because I've yet to make anything. I will report back on this when I do in more detail.

Burda: I went Burda back issue crazy this year again and bought a ton of them. (This is in spite saying at the end of last year that I had all the back issues I wanted. I lied.) To be honest, I regret nothing about these purchases. I am thrilled with my Burda library and whenever my enthusiasm for sewing wanes a little I find that flipping through a few past issues makes me desperate to sew all over again.

I was sadly less excited by my subscription to the 2015 issues of Burda. I tend to blame that on not being super excited by the broader 2015 fashion trends, which Burda seemed to reflect quite faithfully. I have continued to subscribe though because there are always just enough good patterns for me to decide I don't want to miss an issue. Plus sometimes Burda is a real sleeper thing, and I'll realize 2 years later that I love something and need it immediately. I also bought the two Burda Easy and one Burda Vintage (The 1960s) magazines this year from the Style Special issues. I'm dubious about these purchases but got sucked into it somehow anyway.

Ottobre and MyImage: I bought both the S/S and A/W issues of each of Ottobre and MyImage magazines this year. Funnily enough, there was a real surge in interest and enthusiasm for Ottobre in the sewing blog community this year, right when my own enthusiasm diminished quite a lot. I wasn't overly struck by either of this year's issues and haven't made anything from them. That's not to say I won't in the future, but there's nothing from either 2015 issue in my sewing queue right now. This is a big change for me as I usually stack my queue with recent Ottobre patterns. I won't unsubscribe, but I am hoping 2016 is more to my taste as I do love Ottobre's style and drafting.

MyImage I am just about ready to be done with. I got both issues this year while they were on sale but my enthusiasm is very low indeed. I will only buy them next year if I feel really very struck by the content, because I feel it's very same-y and tedious at this point.

I bought so many coat patterns this year. If I keep buying coat patterns, a coat will magically happen, right?
PATTERNS: In 2014 I spent a stupid amount of money on patterns and I resolved this year to try to cut down on pattern buying. Outcome: I spent 20% less this year in absolute terms compared to 2014, and about 15% of my total budget compared to 19% in 2014.

I feel I've been garment sewing long enough now that I've become a lot less interested in new pattern releases. I already have a great selection of patterns between my existing pattern stash and my Burda library, so it wasn't hard to cut down a bit on my pattern spending. I can still see an obvious problem with my 2015 purchases: even as I restricted what I bought, I still kept buying things for that same fantasy life I'm not actually leading. Not only do I not really need work dress, party dress or tailoring patterns right now but I already have SO MANY of them. I really just need to stop.

One very noticeable trend in my pattern buying: I bought very few patterns from the indies this year. I bought a couple of StyleArc patterns, a handful of inexpensive knit top PDF patterns, and the Grainline Morris jacket in PDF which I have printed out but can't be arsed to stick together. There just hasn't been much to tempt me coming from smaller pattern makers this year at all.

I am not at all sure what I was thinking buying this book. Is the M&M style really me, I have to wonder.
 BOOKS: This year I spent 12% of my budget on sewing books. These included: The Shirtmaking Workbook by David Coffin; The Merchant and Mills Workbook; three Japanese sewing books; Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns (the latest Alabama Chanin book); several tailoring reference books, and several fabric and sewing reference books. I love books and it's not really in me to regret buying anything book-shaped, but the most notable thing about these purchases is that, of those that came with patterns, I've yet to make up a single pattern.

OTHER: Last year I spent way too much in the "Other" category on Craftsy classes I never watched. This year, I spent only 4% of my budget on "Other", mainly because my Craftsy purchases were limited to the Alabama Chanin class (while on super duper sale) plus the all-access pass in October, which I thought was great value. Also in "Other" is my PR membership. I had actually decided not to renew it and then I won a year's PR membership recently, so that charge won't be in there next year and after the free year ends I will probably cancel.

KNITTING & NOTIONS: Each of these was about 10% of my budget, and I have nothing to say about either. I didn't make any major or significant purchases in either category. For notions, my total reflects a fairly consistent and low-key monthly spend on little necessary items like zippers, buttons, elastic and thread, that sort of thing. Knitting spending is more lumpy as I tend to spend nothing for months and then buy patterns, yarn and notions for my next project as I approach the finish of the current one. I have basically no knitting stash, which is exactly how I want it.

In 2016 I resolve to only buy fabric and patterns I want to use immediately, plus Unicorn Fabric and Patterns because I admit that I am weak (This is Pusheen the Cat being a unicorn, by the way)

OVERALL: I feel pretty good about my spending overall. The main thing this review highlighted for me is that some of my spending was maybe a bit misdirected: too much fabric and pattern buying for a life I'm not actually living. I'd like to try to avoid that in 2016, or at least until my real life catches up to my fantasy life and I am able to leave the house more!

My 2016 fabric buying plan is therefore to buy fabric only if I'm going to use it more or less immediately and I don't have anything suitable in stash, or if it really and truly is Unicorn Fabric. (Unicorn Fabric is fabric so perfect and magical and amazing that I just HAVE to have it and be hanged to everything -- it is definitely a rare thing!). I'm not really planning to fabric fast in any severe way because I know for a fact that I'll need to buy knits on several occasions this year. I need to replace multiple knit garments in my current everyday wardrobe and I have nothing suitable in my stash.

As far as patterns are concerned, I know I now have SO MANY patterns that I will never be able to use all of them, and that annoys me. My plan is therefore to really only buy Unicorn Patterns in 2016, as far as possible, and to try to get a lot more use out of my magazine library, subscriptions and existing envelope and PDF patterns stashes. I think when you've been sewing a certain amount of time and accumulated a certain number of patterns you begin to realize that Unicorn Patterns are actually even more rare than Unicorn Fabric, so maybe my pattern buying will fall off a cliff this year.

I have no goals with regards my other spending categories. Magazines will always be quite a big category for me but I like my subscriptions and don't plan to change them unless I decide against renewing Knip once I start using it.

If I am going to spend less on patterns and potentially less on fabric then in theory at least I could reduce my overall budget for 2016. However, at this point I will put my hand up and admit that during my recent sewing hiatus I picked up another hobby. For reasons, I started drawing, painting and doing a little papercraft in the last few months, and I'm really enjoying it and plan to continue. If you felt so inclined, though why you would be I do not know, you can read about it on a blog I decided to set up: And Then I Absent-Mindedly Ate Half My Still Life. My artistic endeavours so far have not had quite the initial upfront costs as sewing, insofar as you don't need much to get started and most individual items are quite cheap, but it will probably eat up any surplus from (hopefully) spending less on sewing.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Wardrobe Planning IIIb: My wardrobe by the numbers

This is a return to a series of posts I started writing more or less this time last year. Previous entries:

Wardrobe Planning I: In which I talk about the reason I am interested in planning my wardrobe
Wardrobe Planning II: In which I digress into discussion of the role of sewing in my wardrobe plan
Wardrobe Planning IIIa: The numbers game

The TL;DR of these posts -- and if you're new or didn't read them the first time, you should note that I took my normal baffling wordiness to extremes with these three posts, and likely will again with all subsequent posts -- is as follows:

I have, over the years, had a difficult time with clothes and my wardrobe and fashion, for reasons (Part I). When I started to sew my own clothes a couple of years ago, this unexpectedly improved a great deal, but also made me want to make sure that I kept making the right things -- things I would wear and love and enjoy frequently. This in turn made me more and more interested in planning what I made or bought in a more deliberate and thoughtful way (Part II). Once I started to think about planning to make sure I made only the most useful and delightful clothes, I found I fell down a rabbit hole about overall wardrobe size. I started to ask myself a lot of questions how many clothes I really needed, and what social forces and ideas might affect how I perceived that number, and what other people have said about it all. (Part IIIa)

The last post, IIIa, was written in January of this year. Since then, I have been quietly doing all sorts of things in the background around wardrobe planning, sewing and yes, tragically, also some numerical analysis in Excel spreadsheets, for lo, I am the nerdiest nerd of all. This post and the next in the series are therefore the outcome of a year's worth of experience, 6 months of the most mind-bogglingly ridiculous data-gathering on my actual clothes-wearing habits, and general thought about the numerical requirements of my wardrobe.

But first, I have to say this as a  preface to the whole conversation:

I don't care what your actual number is, or what your opinion is of mine (and nor should you)

There is this thing I see people do that I really don't like: someone with some size of wardrobe -- and most often I see this among people working a minimalist thing, although sometimes also from the highly fashionable with a huge trendy collection -- will try to make everyone else feel bad about whatever it is they have. In the grand scheme of possible interpersonal conflicts, I hope this is a tiny blip for most of us. However, it does grate on me a little when I see people acting as though they are approaching sainthood for either their conspicuously anti-consumerist wardrobe or their devotion to and enjoyment of fashion. Ultimately, my take on the whole numbers game is this:
Whatever number of clothes makes you happy with your wardrobe with is a good number.
I am thus not here to tell you that either (a) I have struck upon the One True Number, to which all people should now conform; or (b) that the number you have decided would make you happy is in any way wrong. I also do not care if you think that the number of garments I have is too many/too few, or that the underlying reasons I have for choosing those numbers are faulty. I am not the gatekeeper of your happiness; you are not the gatekeeper of mine.

To be honest, I do not even think I have hit upon a permanent One True Number for myself, because I think it could easily change as things in my life change -- the job I do, the climate I live in, and so on. What I do think is that I have some better idea of my current baseline, and how it might be adjusted.

The number to be happy

Even if we all agree that our ideal numbers are (should be!) all different, we still all need to determine individually what a happy-making wardrobe would look like in size terms. After thinking about it on and off for about a year, this seems to me to come down to the answers that we each choose to a mix of practical, aesthetic, lifestyle and even moral questions. (For example: How often do you feel comfortable wearing the same thing and how does your job/living with a sticky fingered toddler/laundry routine/whatever affect the frequency with which you wear things? How much storage space do you have? How much seasonal weather variation do you have to deal with? How much would you value being able to mix and match 90% of your wardrobe vs. having a lot of colour choice and/or the option of many striking-and-distinctive garments? How many different sorts of events and activities do you have going on that require significantly different types of dress? What level of consumption and discards can you afford and how much can you live with as an educated consumer aware of the social and environmental impacts of the clothing trade?)

Some of the more practical questions are quite easy to answer. For me, the very tiniest minimalist wardrobes are just not workable because I am, I am sorry to inform you, grubby and sweaty. I always end up with mud on my trouser cuffs, gravy on my cardigan sleeves and I perspire inelegantly on everything. I sort of always hoped I'd grow out of these unfortunate tendencies, but: no. I just turned 40 and I am as grubby and sweaty as I have ever been. Laundry frequency is therefore a significant constraint for my wardrobe because I cannot go to work with last night's gravy on my jumper.

My current laundry/ironing routine works very well for me, involves exactly the level of effort I am willing to put in and no more, and has endured for many years. I have almost zero interest in changing it. I can't say laundry ever precisely makes me happy, but I would definitely be annoyed if I had to suddenly change my routine. Thus, I have an automatic, practical constraint on the size of my wardrobe: at an absolute minimum, I have to have enough clothes to last between laundry cycles, with a little bit of wiggle room for safety (in case I am sick on the day I usually do the laundry, etc). The tiny minimalist wardrobe would be a source of laundry-based irritation, and thus won't work for me.

Other sources of happiness are less easy to quantify. There is a point of having belongings when I start to feel uncomfortable, and I get this visceral reaction: argh, I have too much stuff. It feels out of control, oppressive, and annoying. By contrast, I quite enjoy having the right amount of things. For me, this means being able to see all my choices, nothing being crushed or lost in a crowd, nothing falling out of the cupboard when I open the door. I like to know I've used the things I own and am pleased when I feel I have had value for money. I don't mind a bit of visual clutter when I look at my belongings, but too much and I feel overwhelmed.

When thinking about your wardrobe on a purely numerical level, I think recognizing if you have a specific comfort level is key. Maybe it delights you to open a closet door and see a space packed with clothing choices. Maybe you like to open your wardrobe and see three pairs of black skinnies and six stripey black and white t-shirts (each with different stripe widths, naturally!) and nothing else at all. Those two people might accumulate past their comfort level and hit argh, this is too much stuff on the exact same day, but it is going to be at a very different actual number of items that prompts it.

I don't think there is a "right" number for that discomfort to hit, but I actually do think most adult women have probably experienced it at least once -- we've all done that frantic, cathartic wardrobe purge at least once, right? -- and probably have some idea where their preferred comfort level is and how strongly they feel about it. Getting to grips with this was important personally because until I thought about it I kept getting stuck in a loop of regretting that I wouldn't be able to have shiny new things all the time if I set limits on the size of my wardrobe. Now I remind myself how very much I disliked having too much stuff vs my relatively fleeting moments of dislike of a lack of novelty.

I do think people who sew have a double problem here, because if you feel like you've hit your ideal wardrobe size and don't need anything new at the moment then you've unfortunately engineered yourself out enjoying of your hobby. In my case, I am again still more uncomfortable with owning an excess of stuff than annoyed by having to take a break from sewing until I need something. I know for sure that other people I know find their equilibrium on this swings much more towards making sure they have a constant flow of sewing projects and never mind the accumulation of clothes that results -- and that's fine, too, as long as you take into account your preferred sewing output when you make your wardrobe plan.

At any rate, as I've thought through some of these questions over the last year or so, and come up with ways of working out what it means in concrete terms, I've started to reshape my wardrobe to the size (and distribution among garment categories) that makes the most sense to me. Hence:

My current wardrobe by numbers
Since I am a giant data nerd with a wardrobe spreadsheet I can tell you exactly how many items of clothing I own. Thus: if you include every single thing I own except the contents of my sock-and-lingerie drawer (I do not keep track of these, though I have a one-in-one-out policy for all my lingerie etc because I feel like whatever I own right now is the right amount of stuff and I want neither more nor less).

In total, therefore, I own 216 garments, from winter coats to swimsuits, from t-shirts for bands that broke up two decades ago that I wear to sleep in, to formal evening wear.


However, not all garments are actually available to me. My weight fluctuates a lot (in 2015 it has wandered up and down an 18lb range, which is pretty typical for me). Most of my wardrobe copes reasonably well with that level of weight change but I have some things that only really fit at the top and bottom of the range. Right now I'm more or less dead centre of my normal weight range and thus I have 29 garments that live in storage boxes under my bed that don't fit me, pretty much an even too big/too small split.


I have 2 pieces of evening wear in my wardrobe, which I don't wear much, obviously. I also have 33 items of nightwear/loungewear and 39 items of active/gymwear/swimwear, etc. These numbers are very stable and again, the right amount of stuff,  so I mostly also manage these with a one-in-one-out policy. I always take these out of my "everyday" clothing numbers because although I do wear some of it every day, I don't wear them out of the house (or outside of the gym in the case of activewear) and I don't plan how they go together in any way. (As a result I always look like I chose my PJs with my eyes shut because absolutely nothing matches anything else, but I quite actively don't care -- comfort trumps all aesthetics in PJs.) Once you exclude evening-, active- and nightwear, I have:


As much lamented, I have had to take an extended break from my career due to chronic illness. When I work, I'm a university lecturer and work in business schools. This requires something akin to a business casual wardrobe with some more formal business wear for some situations. I was in the process of rebuilding this part of my wardrobe following my (jeans-and-a-sweater) PhD years when I became ill and had to give up work.

My current, mainly house-bound, miserable sick person lifestyle only requires a wardrobe that varies between "pyjamas", "almost but not quite pyjamas" and "casual/jeans" for when I do go out anywhere. I have 26 items of clothing (tailored trousers, blazers, skirts and formal blouses) that,  while they fit, are not useful, and just hang about waiting for the glorious day when I get to go back to work.


It is December right now. I live in the UK and while we don't have massive seasonal weather fluctuations (compared to other places I've lived, at any rate) the winter is colder and wetter than the summer. There are 40 useful, everyday, current lifestyle appropriate garments in my wardrobe (shorts, summer skirts, short-sleeved tops, linen trousers) that I don't wear in the dead of winter, and are currently tucked away until next year.


Thus, it turns out that for my current lifestyle 40-50 garments in my everyday wardrobe is actually an extremely practical number that also makes me happy for other, less quantifiable reasons. It feels like this is the number where I have the right level of repeat wears vs novelty for me, the right amount of mix-and-match vs. this-top-doesn't-go-with-much-in-my-wardrobe-but-I-don't-care, the right amount of variation for the range of things I have to do day-to-day, and feels like the right amount of stuff.

The big caveat here is that 40-50 active garments works for me right now because of my lifestyle, and it might not have worked at other points in my life and may not again in the future. I don't need separate work and a casual/at-home wardrobe, because I'm not working. I don't need clothes to go out in the evening or beach holiday clothes because, alas, these are activities currently conspicuous for their absence from my life. So, my happy equilibrium at 40-50 garments that I can wear right now is (hopefully!) a temporary one, that I will need to revisit again in the future as circumstances change. I think that is always true, though, for everyone.

As this post is already extremely long (bafflingly wordy, remember), I am going to stop here, and come back in Part IIIc to discuss the distribution of my garments among categories, my alarmingly nerdy data gathering process about what I actually wear and how often, the fact that I have an actual wardrobe calculation formula embedded in my spreadsheets, and my horror at my acquisition/discard numbers.