My year without buying clothes

30 Sep

In the middle of last year I realised that I had too many clothes and couldn’t close my wardrobe or really fit anything in any more. The internet suggested several approaches to dealing with this problem, which yes, is a very first-world problem. One of them was quite clever, and suggested changing your hangers all to hang one way and then whenever you wear an item you put the hanger back the other way. That way, after a few months you can see which things you haven’t been wearing and you can get rid of them. That seemed like a really good idea, but I was at a stage where I had too many hangers already and couldn’t see the direction all that well.

That idea did get me thinking though about whether or not I needed these things at all, so that was helpful. Then, I started reading some articles about people who decided not to buy any clothing for one year. It began with this article in The Guardian by Rebecca Smithers. I read a few more articles by people who had completed the challenge, and got really interested in the psychological effects they wrote about. To start with, they said that it had made them wear clothes they forgot they had, rediscover old favourites and relive past events or memories revived by a particular jumper or dress. That sounded quite nice.

The second thing they pointed out was the obvious fact that they spent less money. A few of them said that the easiest way to avoid tempting sales or impulse clothing buys was to avoid big shopping centres, which allowed them to save even more money because they weren’t tempted by anything they saw. They went on to say that as a flow-on of that, they had more time on their hands and found they had more time for friends, reading, gardening, baking and other hobbies. It all sounded good to me!

The third theme I noticed from these blogs and articles was that it had made people re-evaluate their approach to modern life, as they found that they didn’t need new clothes if they patched up old ones, or wore different garments together to make a new style. They found this spilled over into other aspects of their lives, like fixing furniture that was broken or in disrepair rather than replacing.

I put a much higher value on clothes during my year of not buying any, and you always value something you've made more than something you've bought

I put a much higher value on clothes during my year of not buying any, and you always value something you’ve made more than something you’ve bought

I could do that!

I thought I might give it a go. At the time I made that decision, I really didn’t know if I could do it. I was really nervous. Looking back, I think that is completely ridiculous. I can’t believe I actually felt nervous at the thought of twelve months without buying clothes! I made a few escape clauses: I could buy underwear, and an outfit for an event like a wedding if I didn’t have anything suitable, because I didn’t want to bring down the tone of someone else’s event.

One of the main reasons for wanting to do it was that I thought it might force me into making more of my own clothing. If I wanted a particular type of outfit, I could make one if I didn’t own anything like it already.

I set my start date for mid-September, because that was when I came back from overseas. The first few months were really difficult, and I found I was so tempted by websites and walking through shops. I stuck to it though and eventually banned myself from websites like ModCloth, and from walking through department stores and even looking at shop windows. That really helped, and after that I really didn’t think about it.

I started making some clothes for work, and of course, half-way through the twelve months I set about my challenge to become the Homemade Bride!

After looking through my wardrobe, I started putting out clothing to charity shops. At first it was a bag full here, a bag full there, but eventually I think I got rid of about half of the clothes I started out with. I really didn’t miss them. I realised that the garments that were a higher quality were the ones that still looked good after years of being at the back of the wardrobe, and they came out for an airing. I wore a jacket I hadn’t worn in ages, and colleagues and friends started complementing it and saying they liked the style and hadn’t seen anything like it for a while. Good quality at the time of purchase stays good quality!

End of the challenge

Yesterday, I bought clothing for the first time in a year. It was really hard! I refused to buy anything that wasn’t good quality material, or that I couldn’t make myself with a bit of effort. That basically left things made of jersey (I can’t sew stretch) like t-shirts and singlets, and a shirt that goes over a tank top. I bought about five items, and it seemed like the biggest binge!

I might buy the occasional piece of clothing, but only if I need it and can’t make it.

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Hello World!

26 Sep

Alphitomancy is back!

Hello everyone! After a month in ‘holiday mode’, Alphitomancy is ready to come back into the light (or at least into the grey-white cloud cover) and rejoin the world.

I’ve moved north-north-north-north-and-to-the-west-a-bit to Reading, England. I’ve been in the UK for almost a month now, travelling around the place to say hello to family, go on honeymoon and set up the flat in Reading. Whew! What a month!

I’ve been to England many times before, but always as a tourist. My first impressions of residing in England are: forms, licenses, and having to say “Oh, I think that’s what we call…” because everything is slightly different. Also, apologising for not understanding a process or system and explaining that I’m Australian. Once those things stopped clouding my vision, I was able to see all the wonderful new things that are in my life now:

  • I’m in berry heaven! Raspberries for £2 a punnet, blackberries, redcurrant tarts… It’s wonderful!
  • Cheese is so much cheaper here than in Australia, and so much stinkier!
  • People are really friendly, and will chat to you about anything.

We went even more north to Scotland for our honeymoon. If you haven’t been, put it on your list and make sure you write ‘Highlands’ next to it. It’s so worth going.

Just get to the fabric already.

Alright. In Beauly, which is west of Inverness in the Highlands, there is a fantastic shop that you absolutely must go into if you’re in the area. It’s called Campbell & Co, and is a family-run business founded in 1858 and run by the current family generation of brothers and sisters all above the age of 60. They are just gorgeous together, and I guarantee you have never seen more elegant ladies in tartan and tweed and wool.

The shop is stacked floor to ceiling with tweed bolts, and they have furniture custom-made to accommodate bolts of fabric,  huge cutting tables and the biggest, sharpest scissors I have ever seen!

Family-run business in Beauly, Scotland. Definitely worth a visit!

Family-run business in Beauly, Scotland. Definitely worth a visit!

Tweed bolts stacked to the ceiling

Tweed bolts stacked to the ceiling

They also make the clothing up for you, if you want.

Alphitomancy is back online

Alphitomancy will be brought back online on Etsy very shortly. New items will be appearing, inspired by my recent travels and my new surroundings! I’m so excited to get back to work.

Alphitomancy is taking a short break

16 Aug

While we relocate to the United Kingdom, Alphitomancy is going on holiday! I’ll be back in September with new jewellery, cards, stickers and more.

I can’t wait to be inspired by our new surroundings! My email address is in the contact page of this site, so if you’d like to get in contact, please feel free to drop me an email.

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The Home-Made Bride’s Jacket

11 Aug

MOD TARTAN

In Edinburgh last year, I bought the most beautiful black and white tartan from Edinburgh Fabrics. If you’re in Edinburgh, you should stop by. Even if you don’t make clothes, the shop is amazing!

Wool black and white tartan

Wool black and white tartan

I wrote a post a couple of months ago about this wool tartan, which I’ve called ‘mod tartan’, and said that I was going to use v2934. I knew that it was going to be very cold on my wedding day, and that I would need something to wear over my wedding dress if needed. It turned out that I really did need it, because the maximum temperature was 7 degrees celsius, with a windchill of -5!

The cat, inspecting the wedding dress fabrics

The cat, inspecting the wedding dress fabrics

I laundered it in Softly, and laid it out for cutting. To match the lines across the front panels, I cut it single thickness. Then, when unpinning the paper, I moved a few pins to the other side, flipped it over to show the material side up and placed that over the rest of the fabric to line up all the lines. When I couldn’t tell where the fabric stopped and the already-cut piece began, I removed the cut fabric and pinned the pattern piece there. Whew! Just explaining that was hard. It was easier in real life.

The actual jacket didn’t take long to make – it’s a very simple jacket. The armscye is basically at the waist, and it looks rather like a stingray when in pieces. I didn’t put any interfacing in it because I wanted extra drape.

I lined it in navy blue silk satin, to tie in with the wedding dress.

Navy blue silk satin lining

Navy blue silk satin lining

It took a bit of pressing, and positioning of the lining before hand-sewing it.

Before frog clasps

Before frog clasps

I decided I wanted frog clasps to fasten it – my then-fiance (now husband!) is a frog ecologist, so the name really appealed to me! They also happened to look really good. I used a charcoal coloured clasp.

The end result is that I have a jacket that I absolutely love, that I can wear again and again to remember my lovely wedding day. It’s a very flattering pattern, and looks surprisingly good with jeans.

Windy, cold day!

Windy, cold day!

Good result!

Good result!

 

 

The Home-Made Bride

8 Aug

In March this year I got engaged! It was very exciting, dizzying and yes, busy. As an avid list enthusiast, I was ready to take on the wedding prep and roll up my sleeves. We decided to get married in July – this year – which gave around four months to plan the whole thing.

And, because I like a challenge, I decided to make my own wedding dress. I will say this: it seemed like a good idea at the time. And now that it’s done, it was a good idea. But the week before the wedding, I did not think that way.

I want to use this post to show what I was doing for the period between March and July 2013 instead of meeting up with friends, enjoying evenings, relaxing at weekends, and creating more items for my Etsy store.

So, here it is. Here is how I became The Home-Made Bride.

YOU’RE DOING WHAT??!

This is how my conversations started in March: “I got engaged!”

Everyone wanted to see the ring, which I didn’t have because it was being resized – it was my great-grandmother’s engagement ring. When I couldn’t show them the ring, they asked when the wedding was.

“July”, I said to blank faces. Then they thought it must be July 2014, or 15, or 35.

“No, this July”

What they said as a response shouldn’t really be repeated here. Then I broke the news: “And, I’m making my own dress”

This was too much for people.

I’ve been sewing properly since February 2012. I enrolled in an industrial sewing and garment production course at the Canberra Institute of Technology with a friend, and we learnt industrial methods for making clothes. I left CIT after one semester to focus on domestic sewing techniques with my fabulous sewing mentor – the Needlewitch, aka Bernadette. So, although I did have some quite developed sewing skills, there wasn’t a lot of experience floating around in my head. But, Bernadette believed in me and said she would help me out.

I had purchased Vogue Pattern v1084 last year, and when thinking of a wedding dress, all I could think of was this dress. I just knew it would be my wedding dress.

Here’s how the dress started out: Just a fabric swatch and a list of materials. I ordered them from EM Greenfield, Surry Hills.

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Just a swatch and a list

I decided on off-white silk dupion, with off-white silk/satin lining and a navy blue petticoat made of polyester organza on silk/cotton.

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THE FIRST TOILE

I made the first toile out of cream poplin. The first two steps were horrendous! These were the first tears of many for this project. But, I did what many do when confronted with a crisis – I got my mum. We just stood and looked at the pattern instructions until we figured it out. The problem was that it’s a kimono sleeve with a side front panel – three sides to join, one a right angle. Difficult. Now I’m a pro at them, but at that time it was a nightmare join to make.

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Paper panel pieces

The major problem was the underarm reinforcement. I had to just keep sewing that same part over and over again to get it right. I’m not sure that it really did that much to the actual dress, but I’m glad I did it anyway.

The underarm reinforcement

The underarm reinforcement

Once the first two steps were out of the way, the rest was surprisingly simple. I drew all over the toile to help with fitting. Bernadette had offered me some fittings with her as an engagement present – the most valuable present in the whole world.

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Toile markings

The toile sort of fitted – a miracle for me because of my narrow shoulders and waist – but I hated the neckline on me. Bernadette fixed that by making the neck into a boat neck – much more flattering on me – and doing some adjustments to the waist. So far, I had a weird, cream, see-through poplin dress with writing all over it. Not very weddingy.

THE SECOND TOILE

I made the adjustments, but ran out of cream poplin and could only get yellow. So I had a two-toned, weird, see-through poplin dress with writing all over it. Less and less weddingy all the time.

I kept working on the dress, doing and re-doing tricky seams and joins and learning different techniques ahead of the actual dress. I was itching to get into the real material, but also terrified. But, just because something is terrifying doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

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Crumpled up two-toned second toile

The next fitting went well. The dress fitted perfectly. I was ready to start making the real dress. I didn’t feel ready, but it was time.

THE DRESS

The material had to be laundered and pressed, and pressed, and pressed. I had 9m of silk dupion, 6.5 of silk satin and I won’t even get into the organza yet. I starched the silk satin with Crisp (not enough Crisp, as it turned out) to stop it moving around during cutting, but it had no effect so I ended up with lumpy lining pieces. More tears.

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Here is me cutting ever-so-carefully.

The silk went better. It was like cutting paper. It was so gorgeous and luxurious and wonderful to work with. But it frayed! Just looking at it frayed it. But it all got cut out, and I started sewing. I did more and more each day and tried to just keep ploughing through it.

Soon, I started to have things that looked a bit weddingy all over the place.

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The right front panel, with HK finish on side front edge

I bound some of the edges for a Hong Kong finish on the side front panels with bridal ivory binding from Addicted to Fabric in Phillip, ACT. Fabulous shop. For the long seams, I did a French seam – my favourite seam. The pure silk thread I used for the dress was from Canberra Sewing, also in Phillip – the shop my domestic classes were held in. Buy local where possible!

It’s not a very glamorous way to see a wedding dress, but this is the reality of making clothing.

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Not very glamorous

I ran into a fairly major problem with the lining. Bernadette had suggested I do a flat lining, meaning that I cut the pattern pieces out on silk and then again on silk satin, tack the two together and make as one garment, rather than inserting a lining into the already made dress. The problem was that the silk satin had moved during cutting and after and so didn’t fit the outer pieces. Many, many tears. I had made a big error by hanging the pieces before they were all bound and sewn together, which stretched them as the skirt panels were cut on the bias. I think I gained about 10cm in length, which robbed the side edges because of the stretching.

At this point I didn’t know if I was even going to be able to keep going with it. I really didn’t know what to do. It was a real low point in the whole project. I had wasted all that time, all that money, and all that lovely fabric. But, Bernadette answered my ‘Dress SOS’ email with a calm ‘Come and see me, we’ll figure it out’.

We ended up having to use a quilt basting glue spray to spray the materials together on the skirt, and then cut about an inch off the sides of the skirt panels. It was such a wide skirt that it didn’t matter, and maybe even improved it on my small frame. It was a very tense few days though.

It was successful, but meant washing the dress a few times to get the glue out.

It all came together, and soon I was able to put the dress on, and yes, it did look a bit weddingy. Not all that much, but better than the toiles by a long way!

FINISHING

The last few stages were fairly painstaking – hemming, binding the neck, and doing the zip.

Hemming

Hemming part 1

Part of me is still glad I don’t have to hem and handstitch it ever again.

Hours and hours at the ironing board, hand sewing the hem up

Hours and hours at the ironing board, hand sewing the hem up

ARE WE THERE YET?

So, it’s mid-July, and around a week before the wedding. Most of the dress is in hand, and it’s time to think about other things like finishing touches. These ‘touches’ include finishing the petticoat, which I had been working on for many weeks. Every evening after work, I would sit and seam bind organza ruffles – I used 28m of seam binding. I thought it would go on forever, and I think I did slip into a ‘ruffle-coma’ at one point.

Here is a bit of a montage:

Seam binding on the ruffle edge

Seam binding on the ruffle edge

Just keep sewing

Just keep sewing

The first layer of ruffles

The first layer of ruffles

THE FINISHED PRODUCT

After all the hours, weeks, months, and all the tears, failures and successes, I finally made it. My mum sewed the button at the back neckline just before Thursday 18 July turned into Friday 19 July – the wedding was Saturday 20 July.

What I had dreaded for four months was that I would look like ‘the home-made bride’, stumbling around in a lumpy, ill-fitting mess. What I ended up with was a beautiful dress that fit me perfectly, was flattering to my body shape and made me feel great. I also had a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I learnt a lot about sewing, discipline, deadlines, techniques, and more importantly, some life lessons. One thing I will remember forever is what I learnt about the importance of setting challenges for yourself, and also the difference between failure and success. I learnt that for a lot of the way through any process, it feels like failure for 99% of the time. It’s that 1% at the end, when you realise it’s worked, that you can look back and see the path you took and feel good about it. But most of the time you’re doing something, it feels like you’re just ambling about without much chance of getting anywhere.

And, I’m proud to say, my biggest fear came true. I was the ‘home-made bride’, but instead of it being embarrassing, it was liberating and wonderful! I’m proud to be ‘The Home-Made Bride’.

If you want to be a home-made bride too, I say: do it! You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more rewarding to work on. But, if you are going to do something like make your own wedding dress, remember your family and friends are there to support you and encourage you. And, trust your instinct that when you have a weird yellow and cream see-through toile with writing all over it, you can end up with something completely weddingy!

The Home-Made Bride and the Groom

The Home-Made Bride and the Groom

Bride and Groom and Groom's parents

Bride and Groom and Groom’s parents

With the coat that I made for the wedding - it was freezing

With the coat that I made for the wedding – it was freezing

Windy, cold day!

Windy, cold day!

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Mod tartan

8 Jun

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I love love love this wool tartan! I think it’s a bit stylish, and maybe even a little mod? I bought it in Edinburgh last year on holiday, and have kept it, waiting and looking and hoping for just the right pattern.

I think I’ve found that pattern!

I’m going to use it to make a coat to wear over my wedding dress. It’s a vintage Vogue pattern from the 1950s, v2934. It’s got dolman sleeves, and sits around the waist line. I’m so excited!

I love the chequered mod look, I drew upon it for my mod style button ring. The ring is my most popular creation, and now comes in two sizes of tops.

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Autumn leaves

17 Apr

Autumn leaves

Gorgeous red autumn leaves at their most vibrant. We are, at the moment, in that one week when the leaves are at their most beautiful before they turn brown and fall to the ground.

This time is great for short scarves and cowls, and for changing the wardrobe over to the warmer items (and finding your coats again).

There are a couple of items in my Etsy shop which are perfect for this time of year. One is the hand-knitted chocolate brown cowl with wooden buttons – the wool is naturally that colour – and the other is the zig-zag coconut wood button ring. Check them out at http://www.etsy.com/shop/alphitomancy

Hand-knitted naturally coloured chocolate brown cowl

Hand-knitted naturally coloured chocolate brown cowl

Coconut wood button ring with zig-zag pattern - gorgeous for autumn!

Coconut wood button ring with zig-zag pattern – gorgeous for autumn!

High Court of Australia carpet

1 Apr

This clashing of carpet colours is at the High Court of Australia, in Canberra – home of Alphitomancy! The vibrancy and clashing of these two carpets can be seen throughout the landscape in Australia, just look at some of our birds!

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Join between two carpets

 

Click on the picture to see which of my Etsy items continues this theme!

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Carpark floor, Sydney

1 Apr

Carpark floor, Sydney

Converted carpark in Pyrmont, Sydney

The squares are left over from the previous use of the building. I love that these squares used to mean something, but have been discarded and painted over, driven over, had oil spilled on them.

Click on the picture to see an item from my Etsy shop which continues on this aesthetic!

Coconut-wood button rings

27 Mar

Alphitomancy took a ‘business’ trip to Sydney recently and stopped by the fabulous Buttons Buttons Buttons shop at The Rocks. While there, we fell in love with these coconut-wood buttons and went a bit mad buying them.

Each button is slightly different, because of the nature of the material. There are some lines, different colours on the back and creases which gives each one a unique character.

They are the most gorgeous buttons ever, and I couldn’t resist! I’ve been making them into rings and wearing them with simple monochrome dresses to work. I’m selling them for $11-16AUD on my Etsy site.

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