Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A handmade 10x10 wardrobe... for 7 weeks and counting!

Hello from Rome! I apologize for not posting for ages, but my excuse is that I've been a bit preoccupied with the joys and trials of living abroad. 

Since the focus of this blog is sewing and DIY projects, I don't talk very much about my daily life. However, you may have picked up on the fact that I'm an artist and a professor, and I primarily teach photography and video. This semester I'm teaching abroad in Rome, Italy. I'm about halfway through my four month stay. 

And that brings me to the topic of this post, a winter 10x10 wardrobe challenge. The 10x10 wardrobe challenge was the idea of Lee Vosburgh of Stylebee, and it's gotten a lot of attention in the sewing community. The idea behind the 10x10 challenge is to really take a close look at your wardrobe and to choose 10 pieces to live with for 10 days. In a commodity culture with easy cheap fashion all around us, the 10x10 is an exercise in minimalism and an opportunity to slow down.

Those of us that sew often invest an incredible amount of time, energy, and money into the pieces we make. There are many reasons to sew wardrobe items, but many of us are interested in sustainability and in creating pieces that fit our bodies and our personal style in ways that mass produced fashion is unable to do. 

This time I decided to really hone down my packing... I really wanted all of my clothes to fit into one carry-on size suitcase. And I had to pack for two seasons! That means I pretty much was unable to take more than 10 winter items. So far, I've been living with these 10 winter items for about 7 weeks!

Here are my 10 items. Most of these are unblogged... admittedly, I had a huge sewing spree right before I left!

Black merino wool cardigan

The Lisbon Cardigan by Itch to Stitch in midweight merino wool from The Fabric Store. I love the Lisbon pattern, it is such a classic design, and it is beautifully drafted. You can seem my review and another version here.

I finally decided to try merino wool from The Fabric Store this fall-- it is of the highest quality, and sustainably produced. However, I can't wear it against my skin comfortably. I made a long sleeve t-shirt from the 180gsm Premium and it didn't make the cut because I'm just too sensitive to wear it without a silk undershirt. But it makes a lovely cardigan.

Gray cashmere asymmetric cardigan

This piece has been in my collection for at least 5 or 6 years, I think I probably made it in my first year of sewing for my wardrobe, before I started blogging regularly. It was a very long, drapey cardigan, but I refashioned it this fall to be a little more practical. The fabric is just incredible, I purchased it from Marcy Tilton and I've never seen anything like it since. It is a double-layer knit, with the two layers loosely sewn together. It is the warmest, softest fabric I've ever seen or felt.

Black fine linen shirt

My favorite shirt ever. Made with the Liesl Classic Shirt pattern in fine linen from The Fabrics-store, with jet black corozo buttons. My review of the Liesl Classic Shirt pattern is here. This is their "IC64" linen which is a medium weight but has a higher thread count. It is just a bit classier and has a lovely feel.

White fine linen shirt

The fact that I can in fact wear white is a revelation-- I always thought I would just spoil a white shirt on the first wearing. As it turns out, I wear this shirt once, sometimes twice a week and it has been just fine. I do try to avoid wearing it on days when there is a high likelihood of staining (like when I'm cooking, or when I'm with the kids all day). I also avoid anti-perspirant deodorants when wearing white to prevent yellowing- either I go with a natural brand or I go without.

There is just nothing like a crisp white shirt. As above, this is the Liesl Classic Shirt pattern in IC64 linen from The Fabrics-store, with extra thick shell buttons.

Black stretch twill Sasha Trouser/Ginger Jeans hybrid

These are my favorite pants ever. I like the classiness of the Sasha Trouser, but quite honestly, I hate those slash pockets, they just bag out on me in the dorkiest way no matter what I do. And I guess the reversed fly is classic, but I can't get used to it. So I used the front of the Ginger Jeans pattern for the curved pockets that lie nice and flat against my body and the unfussy fly, and the back of the Sasha Trouser pattern for the classy welt pockets and darts. If you are interested, this is my review of the Sasha Trouser and the Ginger Jeans (both by Closet Case Files). Since they are both drafted on the same block, they are pretty interchangable!

The stretch twill is from Elegant Fabrics in New York. I couldn't find a truly wonderful black stretch twill at any of my usual online shops, and that wasn't for any lack of trying (swatching, even ordering a few pieces). When I had to be in New York City to obtain my visa, I dropped into Elegant Fabrics and fingered their twills until I found this one. It is lovely-- beautifully stretchy, weighty but not heavy, and velvety soft. There was just enough on the roll to make one pair of pants!

Black tencel twill shirt

Same pattern- Liesl's Classic Shirt, in a gorgeous tencel twill from Threadbare Fabrics. This is the same fabric that I made my long sleeve Kalle in, but the fit on the Kalle is not quite right somehow. So glad I had another piece of this twill (it has sold out!), and in the Liesl pattern this shirt is amazing.

Cream tencel twill shirt

Yes, another Liesl Classic Shirt, in a creamy tencel twill from Emmaonesock. I love subtle color and the silk-like texture, but it is much easier to wear and wash than silk.

Black Ginger Jeans

Another new make! This is a denim from Mood Fabrics. I can't tell you much about it, I just went and fingered all of the denims until I found one that felt right, and since it was a classic off-black denim, I overdyed it with RIT. I added red bar tacks, just for fun. Ginger Jeans by Closet Case Files review here.

Black Dansko Aurora Boots

These are oddly perfect boots for my feet. I can't even wear the famous Dansko clogs-- I have a pair at home that I need to just sell, since they are basically unworn and I find them too stiff to wear. I can't really explain it, but I can walk miles in these boots, unlike any other shoe or boot I've tried. In Rome, where transportation can be spotty, one does literally end up walking miles. I think it might have to do with the toe box being unusually roomy, my feet love that, and the soles have just the right amount of stiffness and flexibility.  I don't love the slouchy style, but I can bear it if my feet are happy. I wore the first pair into the ground, this is my second pair, purchased on Ebay.

Brown Dansko Scout Boots

These are my back up boots. When I first got them I thought they were terribly uncomfortable, but they've broken in well and are my favorite boots when not in Rome. I love the warm reddish brown color. However, on days when I know I'll be hiking it, I wear the Auroras! Purchased like new on Ebay.

10 pieces, 10 looks

Style Notes

I love the simplicity of dressing with these 10 pieces. Everything goes with everything... really and truly. There is only one one real decision-- white shirt or black? If I'm spending the day with the kids, or it is that time of the month... black! If the sun is shining and there might be an opportunity to strut in a piazza with my jacket thrown over my shoulder-- white! Otherwise, it really doesn't matter.

Also, doing laundry is also incredibly simple. White wash, black wash. No special care needed, just wash cold and hang to dry, on hangers. The linen and tencel shirts mostly dry overnight. I keep oxyclean on hand for any accidents on the white shirts, and I have had to use it, to excellent effect.

Keeping the wash simple is especially important here since there are no DRYERS. Which is totally fine for my clothes, which I never dry anyway. However, this totally sucks for endless loads of kids clothes, towels, sheets, etc. I understand the energy savings of a city without dryers, etc, but was the person who decided on this policy a working mom?

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have two black linen shirts with me (both the same pattern), and two pairs black Ginger Jeans. This is does help make laundry a bit less stressful, especially since the jeans can take 2-3 days to dry completely. Also, I've had to alter one pair... the waistband on the newer pair of jeans stretched too much and I had to take it in an inch, by hand. That pair was out of commission for a good two weeks. (I miss my sewing machine-- I even considered talking it somewhere and having someone do it for me, but I couldn't quite bring myself to do that with my handmade jeans!) I also have a pair of cargos and a blue denim Kalle that I wear on weekends or evenings, for hanging out around the house or running errands in the neighborhood.

I am a total fan of the button down shirt. I love its versatility-- it looks great dressed up or down. I totally feel appropriate every day, whether I'm lecturing, chilling at a bar, or splurging on an aperativo in a classy location. I love that its cuffs and plackets allow for easy styling of totally different looks, and also provide instant temperature control.

I also think linen is the perfect fabric, summer and winter. Linen dries fast and stains come out with very little effort. The shirts have wonderful texture when hung to dry, but can also be pressed with steam for a crisp look. Linen is so incredibly cool in the heat, and I've found it to be surprisingly insulating in the winter, especially when paired with a wool cardigan or sweater. In really cold weather, I wear a silk undershirt for extra coziness. I do want to try making some shirts in a really lovely cotton which I might end up loving also, but I didn't quite get to that before I left.

I know for many people, my palette of white, black and gray would be too plain. For me, though, while I love looking at bright colors and patterns, I don't always feel the need to wear them. When I have a lot of patterns and colors in my wardrobe, I tire of them and want new colors and patterns. Also, I worry that people will notice if I wear the same pattern over and over again-- but if you wear a button down shirt every day, no one thinks you don't do your laundry. Oddly enough, I'm much LESS bored with my wardrobe this time than I was the last time I was abroad for a semester when I brought lots of patterned t-shirts.

My white/black shirts and black pants are a personal uniform, and at this time and place in my life, this is sort of liberating. It is sort of like a blank canvas, over which I can be myself.

Lately, if I feel the need for color or pattern, my favorite way to express myself is to wear a bright lipstick. I thought perhaps if I was bored I would buy some fun scarves or jewelry, but I haven't felt the need.

I love living with this smaller, simpler wardrobe... and now I'm wondering if I'll be able to translate that into reducing my wardrobe when I return home.


  1. Impressive combos of your beautiful clothes -
    ... and OMG! you're in Rome!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks for the well written and interesting article!

    Top Gas Cooker in UAE