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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, October 27, 2016

On minimalist wardrobes


The best thing about this blog is your comments. Really what fascinating reading.

You make me think.

Thank you so much for that, for taking the time to share.

A few thoughts of my own now, seems less profound than what you have written here but here goes.

My house was built in 1958.

The bedrooms have closets that are a little more than one standard door wide, probably less than 3 feet across in each one. This surely reflects the number of clothes folks wore then.

Who had a walk-in closet in those days? How many families had three, four, five kids and one bathroom?

Imagine trying to talk minimalism then?

So this is about the times as much as about clothing collections.

After all you need a fair amount of stuff before you "edit".

I have just got back from New York where I did have to pack a minimalist wardrobe to get by with a case I could carry on,  in black and grey (which I hardly ever wear at all at home these days) so I looked a little less like I had an out of towner sign on my forehead - although I am sure I blew that one every time I opened my mouth and got all chatty with everyone I met.

It also occurred to me that all these minimalist wardrobe articles and adherents seem to be from New York. Thin racks of white shirts and black pants etc.

Well have you ever been in a Manhattan apartment? My son once shared one for a rent that would have paid for a mortgage with a pool and a four car garage around here that was so small he had to put his shoes on the dresser. Worth it of course because there was so much going on outside that apartment, but you can see where the minimalist thing might be pretty handy in apartments like that.

OK what do I think?

Well I get a uniform in that you don't have to think about getting dressed but what defines a uniform? 

We all have one I guess, our go to - for everyone it is different (that's a great next topic - what is your uniform?) For me it would be an apron on at home and poop bags in my pocket when I go out, knitting in my purse in case I have to wait anywhere, knit tops I don't have to iron.

Back to minimalism.

It seems to me that this works for folks who have minds on other things. Of course Obama is a wardrobe minimalist.

But what if you are a person whose mind, at least a good part of it, is on the business of your wardrobe? Mine is and what's in that closet (three now of the '50s kind) is more than a work in progress, more a record of my changing ambitions and ideas. I am always starting from scratch it seems, always trying to figure out a better way to get dressed every day (and for someone who has just confessed to poop bags being her most consistent accessory this is a remarkable indication of optimism and lack of self-perception). 

I can't imagine of multiples of any of the same thing. 

To make laundry easier? Maybe if you did it in the laundromat, but I don't mind going downstairs to the washing machine when I have to - it's next to my sewing room and there is always something interesting to do in there.

And colour.

I couldn't live in black, grey and white no matter how easy it would be to dress.

Who could do without coral in a summer dress?

A red jacket in the rain?

A green sweater on a grey day?

Or how about combos?

How nice wine goes with sky blue.

Or lime green next to navy.

What about great buttons?

You know the really amazing ones.

Why cull those out?

Why eat just toast when there is pie?

Why is it is so important to focus on only the best things and cherish them?

They are just things.

What you cherish are four-year-olds.

Quality things are easy enough to find.

Finding the quality people takes more work.

This week I took my friend for a walk.

They are calling it frontal lobe dementia.

Early onset.

I did the zipper up on his jacket. The jacket didn't matter, that he had candies in his pocket he put there for me did.

His dog walked at a pace with us. Slowly and stopping every few yards to make sure we were still OK.

I am thinking minimalism comes anyway sometimes,

In the meantime I think I will go with living brightly.


KS_Sews said...


I agree with cherishing what's happening around us rather than our black wool trousers. :)

It is pretty gray around here lately and I think tomorrow is a good day for a chartreuse sweater.

Elle said...

And this is exactly why I love, love your blog.

lsaspacey said...

I truly look forward to and love your writing. Thank you.

bbarna said...

My minimalist working wardrobe was based on "having my colours" done, back in the 80's. Navy blue was my black. I searched high and low for navy leather bags and shoes. With the navy, I wore white, pastels, burgundy and camel. I had a ton of scarves too. Now I have switched to blue jeans, Tshirts and casual jackets. Still minimalist, but I still love colour too. Love the posts.
Prince George, BC

Anonymous said...

Dear Barbara,
I am a psychiatrist from Germany who happens to sew for some years now and regularly browses the internet for blogs on this topic. I found yours some time ago, and I thoroughly enjoy every post you write. Isn´t it wonderful, that I can enjoy your thoughts and photographs and stories, not to mention your great sewing advice, that I can learn so much about a lady on the other side of the world, I would never have "met" without the internet? Thank you very much for sharing everything you do!
On a minimalist wardrobe: I also have been thinking about this for some time now. Have you been reading Colettes "Wardrobe architect"? This series is not so much about wearing only white blouses but about finding out, what you really want to wear. Intending to avoid wardrobe-failures that fill all the space in your closet and instead filling it with clothes you love. I like this approach.
I´m looking forward to reading more posts from you!
Guede from Germany

Lyndle said...

Yes. Even rejecting excess can become an obsession, excessive in itself. (Many major world religions have strictures on avoiding ostentation not only in greed but in self-denial - Islam, I have heard is quite specific about neither using more fabric than you need in a robe nor skimping).
I like what you say bith in a deep level and in a self serving ine. I will never be a minimalist and I'm happy with that!

Patricia Gardner said...

Thank God. Live brightly. Absorb life and give off light.

Bunny said...

"Living brightly",,,,,says it all!

Kansas Sky said...

I LOVE what you write about. And I love this topic, and I love what you have written today. Clothing matters, and it's a joy to have a variety of ways to dress. Thank you for your wisdom. There's a good reason that man put candles in his pockets for you. A friend like you ---- priceless to him, and in so many [cyber] ways, to us. THANK YOU.

PJSewlady said...

Great thoughts. I am not a minimalist and likely never will be. And I appreciate all points of view. Sometimes I feel guilty about having a lot of stuff, but mostly I don't. I pare down what I need to, but I like to sew. And I sew for relaxation and am always learning. If it adds to my closet so much the better.

LinB said...

Indeed! If you treasure four-year-olds, you will have to part with at least some part of your wardrobe on a regular basis, because: spills happen, paint goes where it shouldn't, and fabric can rip. And grubby hands will be sure to caress your best white silk blouse, because it is beautiful and feels delicious and you are wearing it and that four-year-old adores you.

Which is far more important than owning a pristine collection of outfits.

And, as always, I maintain that if you can't be bright, you can at least dress brightly.

Janome gnome said...

I tend not to pay attention to adverts that use the word "simply", to parenting advice that starts "why don't you just" or to any way of life promising I'll never have to make a decision again. I like choosing, playing, using the language of clothes. Its a really useful form of communication. And no matter what they say, everyone's using it. Zuckerberg is saying he doesn't have time for decisions about clothes and practically screaming between the lines that he is just like steve jobs. Obama is saying he is a firm decision maker, knows what works and gets on with business. I lived in Pakistan for six years. People back home often thought women in Pakistan were oppressed by their clothes but really it was the men who were. The men wore shades of grey and brown that blended into the roads. The women wore such creative outfits with amazing colours and styles that promoted conversations in the street and established long running jokes between friends, so much so that I felt so sorry for the oppressed men, I really did. Plus they got run over more in low light. I gave up grey then, mostly. Who wouldn't choose creativity fun conversations with other women and road safety?

a little sewing said...

I just finished assembling a PDf (Style Arc Misty Jeans) while listening to your podcast. I could relate to your comments about the pie and the SWAP and why they don't work for me. I have figured out what works for me over time. When I was trying to figure out what to wear to my daughter's wedding, I had a little epiphany. I realized I did not have the TNT pattern collection that I should have. I realized there is a list of abut a dozen styles that I love wearing and I made a decision to build up that capsule of patterns. That way, I'd always be able to see fabric and think, 'OK, I know exactly what I can make out of this' without fretting over whether I'd be able to get the fitting right.

I couldn't help thinking about what my mother wore to my sister's first wedding. She had a TNT dress pattern and I used to tease her that her whole wardrobe was make up of that dress sewn in different fabrics. I predicted she what she would do, and I was right! (I may have also thought, well I'LL never do that!! Ha). Sure enough, after she had worked out all the other wedding arrangements, at the 11th hour, she bought some dressy fabric and sewed up that TNT pattern. She wore an amazing hat with it and now I understand. For the last 18 months I have been slowly building up a stable of TNT patterns. Now I have good basic patterns for a shirt, knit top, pants, shorts ... and here is the thing: I can use a simple shirt pattern and a super fancy fabric and that actually works great. It's the fabric that makes something appropriate for the occasion.

Now, I understand completely why others would not enjoy this, but I do. I love to listen to books on tape (now expanding to podcasts ;) while I work. I can use my basic TNT patterns to adapt a commercial patten when I'm in the mood for that, but mostly I like to get into a zen-zone with sewing (and that does not include reading & puzzling out pattern directions.) I am sure my sewing path would have gone much differently if commercial patterns fit me without too much alteration, and I'd use them a lot. The reality is that all my best patterns were self-drafted and therefore a big time commitment. (I don't think I can ever use the word 'huge' again :/)
But I am getting some return on the investment now.
OK, off I go to compare my TNT pants pattern to the SA Misty, and sew them up!

Anonymous said...

Wise words.

Thank you.

JustGail said...

It's not just the (lack of) closet size in older houses, what about the lack of electrical outlets? In our current house, I had outlets with 4 plug-ins installed in the sewing room and the living room behind the TV, and it's still not enough. Our old 1950s house had 1 outlet with 2 plug-ins on each wall in each room :-O

I've been saying for a while that people who live in tiny houses and apartments with minimal possessions often don't really live in those places, they are mostly living out and about in the world.

I like the idea of minimal & capsule wardrobe, it would save me from so many "I like!" purchases that end up going with nothing I have.

Candis said...

I couldn't have said it better! Love Love Love this post! Thinking about clothes and closets and uniforms is useful, insightful and even fun but we never want to loose sight of what makes it all worthwhile. Thanks for sharing your gift of sewing, love of words, and outlook on the world with us all.

Jean said...

Live brightly! Words to live by! I was ordering a sweater the other day, and was intending on purchasing the gray one. But I was drawn to the hot pink one, and finally I thought: "Why hide in the gray one? Stand out in the pink one!" So I bought it. You're an inspiration, and this is my favorite blog.

me said...

Live Brightly - I agree. I'm not a minimalist - never will be - why should I - for who's pleasure - certainly not mine. I love to sew - my closet is packed with clothes. I am moving and am seriously downsizing a lot of things but not clothes and/or accessories; fabric; and sewing related items. I cringe every time I see or hear of - "read the Kondo method of purging, etc" We're all different - what works for one is definitely not a 'one size fits all' I love your blogs

Elizabeth said...

I love this. Love love love love love this! Cherish the 4-year olds for sure... and make them twirly skirts. And they'll have "too many" but how else do I bond with my twirly skirt loving niece than to be a twirlier aunty!?

This was so beautiful, it made my heart hurt. :)

Marianne said...

Now I know why I love to wear my red winter coat. I too want to live brightly, especially in winter, when the days are often dark. Love that phrase!

Your post reminded me of the many, many walks I took with my mom, in the later years of her life. She always had peppermints in her pockets. Until she stopped remembering, then I put them in my pockets.

GwenVK said...

I have a small business and I arrive downstairs every day in jeans and a black top (sometimes white but it depends on what bra is clean). But I sew. Colour really does cheer people up. When I wear a top made from an outrageous pattern with colourful buttons, everyone smiles and comments on what a great shirt I am wearing.

AlaskaBerninaGirl said...

...because pie fixes everything.

Sally King said...

Thank you for your wonderful words. Life is short. Love what is important.

LWS said...

Such a relief to know I am not the only one struggling with what my wardrobe should look like. You would think that at 69 I would have this figured out, but I seem to live in a perpetual state of transition where the elegance I aspire to is just beyond me... I do confess to being a black-white-gray person, with multple pants and tops in those colors. This is partly because of the difficulty of finding good clothes that fit; when I (finally) find a good tee I buy six. Now that I have gone back to sewing I am branching out a bit. I use scarves and ethnic jewelry and the odd jacket to brighten up plain clothes and that seems to work for me. I do appreciate the point that elegance is not always compatible with rolling out pie dough, or building a cardboard block house with the 4 year old, or walking the dog on a cold day, and anyone who would choose elegance over those things has an empty life indeed. Love this blog -- I always feel at home in this community.

Sally King said...

Thank you for your wonderful words. Life is short. Love what is important.

Rose said...

Thank you for the thought-provoking post and encouraging the comments that I love to read. My "minimalist" wardrobe is pretty big. You see, I absolutely need a variety of clothes to fit my variety of moods. When I want to wear hot pink, I want something there. When I want to wear gray, I want it there, too. Fortunately, I have big closets. Selfish? Maybe. I do insist that everything is washable. After all, grandchildren and dogs are messy. I have TNT patterns that I treasure and use often. At the same time, I love sewing challenges. I want to try new techniques and patterns. Some of them go in the Goodwill bag, but I still have fun. My life and my sewing is never boring and I want to keep it that way.

badmomgoodmom said...

I, too, love your blog.

I am not and never will be a minimalist. Well, perhaps if I had to push all my possessions around in a shopping cart, I would cull my stuff. But, I do like my collections of things. If I use them, or they hold fond memories, and I have the space, it stays with me.

As I get older, I take extra care with the people that have made life's journey with me. We won't be around forever, and they are an important part of my life portfolio.

Hill Country Gal said...

We just returned from a 16 day trip to Italy where we had a carry on and small back pack. I was never so sick of garments than I was on this trip; it required wearing basically the same thing with scarves/accessories for the entire time. When I came home I threw away the black sweater I wore every day. Not for me, give me color and variety!!!

sewingkm said...

Your posts nearly always make me LOL- thanks. I sew so I can have variety and color in my wardrobe using mainly TNT patterns. I don't apologize for my rather large wardrobe but keep it within range by discarding/donating an item for each new one added. This works for me now. Karen