Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // There is so much to love about the clothing label Elizabeth Suzann it’s dizzying to know where to begin. The obvious entry point might be the beautiful lines and subtle geometric shapes of her garments that push these classic designs into cutting-edge contemporary minimalism but somehow beckon to the studio artist and the professional urbanite simultaneously. (Just look at that oversized diagonal pocket on the beloved Harper Tunic for solid proof.) Or maybe it’s the beautiful natural fibers, ranging from linen to silk to wool in the most delicious neutral colors, and how they effortlessly combine with other garments in her collections to make the dream wardrobe for linen-loving minimalists everywhere.

But if the designs and fibers didn’t immediately win you over, just scratch the surface of designer and owner Liz Pape’s ethical fashion philosophy — why she offers a living wage to all of her employees; how she’s kept her operations under one Nashville TN roof; that she sources beautiful biodegradable fibers, refuses to follow the traditional seasonal collections of the fashion world and instead makes three collections for all months and seasons (Signature, Warm Weather, Cold Weather). Then start reading her blog. Just start with any post. Just dive in with any question about why she creates clothing the way she does — and, yes, why she needs to charge the prices she charges — and I promise even the toughest critics among you will feel a quiver of light and hope in your Slow Fashion-leaning heart.

If you still aren’t convinced, take four more minutes to watch the video for the Diversity Campaign because it’s the best thing I’ve seen in fashion videos, maybe ever. What designers go this far to connect with their customers and to let their brand be defined by the actual community of humans supporting this important work? So much love. So much celebration. So much connection, all through clothes that are made with intention and worn with pride. Swoon.

I’ve loved Elizabeth Suzann for a few years but sharing her story in this series made me an official Fan Girl. If I could give Liz Pape the Gold Star of Contemporary Ethical Designers, I’d hand it over in two seconds flat. I can’t think of another fashion label that I’d rather support in all their efforts to create a more ethical and ecological fashion future. Liz Pape is the real deal and she’s raising the standards for designers and consumers alike.

. . .

Welcome, Liz. I admire your designs and your work ethos so much, and it’s truly an honor to be able to share your story. To get started can you just tell us about the beginnings of Elizabeth Suzann? When did you launch? What was your impetus for creating an ethical clothing brand?

I launched Elizabeth Suzann in late 2013. It was a very organic thing – I didn’t have this big concept or pitch or business plan. My husband and I moved to Nashville right after I finished undergrad so he could attend law school, and I was in a kind of limbo for a year. I was planning on pursuing grad school (studying art history), so I was taking some time to look at schools and make a game plan. I had sewn in college and made money on the side that way. I reevaluated what I was making, really simplified things aesthetically and thought hard about what I wanted to make, worked on my pattern drafting skills, and experimented with different textile techniques. I took a very small selection of pieces to a local craft fair – Porter Flea – and everything did really well there. After that weekend I realized there was some actual potential here, and I started taking things seriously.

I got a business license, did all of that jazz, and started selling online in addition to traveling to craft shows in cities like Brooklyn, Chicago and Austin. Customers I met at craft fairs would come back and order from my Etsy shop, and shortly after I had enough online business that I stopped doing the shows. I moved off Etsy to a standalone site, and we just kept rolling from there. I think it was a few months between that first craft show and moving into my first studio, in the back of a gym downtown. I was doing everything myself (design, drafting, sourcing, cutting/sewing, packing/shipping, support, web design, photography — all of it) in the beginning, but I brought on an intern, then hired a part-time seamstress, and another — it just kind of happened one step at a time.

In regards to starting an ethical clothing brand, I don’t really look at it that way. I started Elizabeth Suzann because I was making things I loved; things that I thought had value. The way that I made those things was just the way that made sense to me. There wasn’t a decision point where I chose to “launch an ethical brand.” I try to do the right thing whenever I have the opportunity to make a decision, and the result of many decisions like that is a responsible business. In the beginning I did think really hard about the choice to add physical products to the world. I knew that to feel comfortable bringing consumable things into existence, they would need to be damn good, and they would need to be made in a way that I feel good about. I have no interest in being one of many, in producing products you can buy elsewhere. I have no interest in being ordinary or adding detritus to an already detritus-filled world.

Your designs are timeless and classic, and yet they have this compelling contemporary edge. Your website says, “We seek classic silhouettes that are still modern, with style that transcends time and place.” Was this minimalist approach at the center of your brand from the beginning? Meaning, did you set out to create clothing that was somehow both classic and contemporary?

I think the seeds of it were there in the beginning. When I first started selling clothing in college, it was ridiculous. It was all incredibly kitsch, bright, printed – lots of vintage inspired things, lots of lace and trim and excess. It was popular with the college crowd, and it was what I was wearing at the time. But I never felt like myself in garments like that – I always felt like I was wearing a costume. That’s still how I feel about a lot of color, or anything too “of a style.” So when we moved to Nashville and I started working on that first little collection for Porter Flea, I tried really hard to get to the root of why I never felt comfortable in my clothes. I found that the images that really resonated with me as a person and the things I felt most comfortable in were the simplest ones. Denim, white cotton, blacks and creams. Basic button downs, well-fitting pants.

This kind of light bulb went off, and I realized that I was trying so hard to express myself with all of this color and noise and complicated shape, but in reality I was drowning my identity. I began to appreciate the challenge of communicating more with less. I think the first year of ES I was still figuring this out and navigating my relationship with color and shape. (I am naturally drawn to exciting, loud things and still love this in others’ work – I just knew it wouldn’t be my highest point of contribution.) I think I really hit my stride aesthetically at about year two, in 2015. The sustainability of simplicity is huge to me as well – you will get exponentially more wear out of a garment that feels timeless and can pair with anything than you’ll get out of that beautiful but highly particular printed blouse.

I admit, I first fell in love with your silhouettes, but I was really sold on your use of natural materials. Since beginning my Slow Fashion project in 2013, I’ve become very interested in the fibers used to make my clothing. Your designs use the most beautiful natural fibers like linens, silks and wools. How do you go about choosing your fibers and fabrics? Which one is your personal favorite?

Natural fibers are so divine. Sometimes it’s hard to describe to someone who isn’t familiar with textiles why natural fibers are so wonderful, but it’s one of those things you can’t ever go back on once you’ve fallen in love with them. As a teenager and early twentysomething, I couldn’t tell the difference between polyester and silk. But I did know that all of those poly-chiffon tops I wore made me incredibly sweaty, and they looked great on the hanger but always fell flat when I put them on. I somehow ended up with a silk blouse in my closet from a thrift store, and it just felt so different. It felt alive; it felt luminous. It was comfortable and soft, and complemented my skin. Now I can’t unsee the difference — I can spot polyester, nylon and viscose from a mile away. Silk and linen have been my favorite fabrics from the beginning. Silk for it’s luxurious and unbridled beauty (the subtle sheen, unbelievable movement) and linen for it’s durability, rustic but elegant aesthetic, and complete comfort. I added in cottons and wools where we needed them for pants, coats, etc., but linen and silk will always be our core. I really love fabric and enjoy getting to the bottom of the source to make sure we’re using the best product possible. Last year we developed a new wool supply chain with an incredible ranch in Oregon, and I’d like to go that far down the supply chain with each fiber, one by one. When designing products now, I always start with fabric first. I review swatches, order sample yardage and test wash a few yards. Then I can start looking at silhouettes and get a feel for where the fabric will serve best.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

So your designs are incredible, your fibers are beautiful, but your work ethos really melted my heart. When I read the post about your transparent budget — when you shared your costs on the Artist Smock and showed blog readers your actual profit — I was hooked. I so appreciated this cost breakdown and your thoughtful approach. Were you nervous to show these figures? Did you think it might dissuade costumers in some way? Sharing finances can seem so private.

Thank you! That was definitely a scary piece to write. As I’m sure so many of you are familiar with, the price of high quality, ethically produced clothing made with good materials is a sensitive subject. Some shoppers feel that prices are astronomically high, some think they are fair, others are willing to pay it but think that companies like ours must be rolling in cash. I felt a need to kind of clear the air and get our story out in the open. I am really proud of our business, the unique way we manufacture things, the opportunities we’re able to provide for our staff, and the products we make. I don’t ever want there to be any confusion or doubt surrounding the way we run our business. I was really nervous to share real numbers, primarily because private companies almost never publish that kind of information. I was bracing myself for a lot of negative feedback, but it never came. It was our most popular piece of content ever, and customers really appreciated the concrete, no-frills information. I think brands can get so caught up dancing around the truth, trying to present things in a way that customers will understand. That is exhausting, and customers are smart. Telling the truth in a non-watered down, non-salesy way resonates really well with our audience.

I imagine there are plenty of hurdles in running a sustainable fashion brand but could you tell us about one of your biggest challenges to date? I imagine sometimes just finding time to sleep might be the week’s biggest hurdle, no?

Ha — I think you are right on. We’ve certainly had our fair share of unexpected challenges, and every day is an exercise in fire-fighting and rapid problem solving. But I think the longest, hardest hurdle I’ve encountered is figuring out how to not always be working. The growth and never-ending pace is exhilarating, but also a recipe for burnout. Our team is incredible though, and this year we’ve seen staff really step up, which has brought a bit more balance to my life.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Liz Pape of Elizabeth Suzann

And then, what’s been the biggest reward in running a Slow Fashion company? Because I think your work is SO important, but I wonder what you think is the most satisfying aspect.

I think the biggest reward has been seeing and hearing our customers and staff articulate our vision in their own words. That feeling that others are really understanding and believing in what you’re doing — and also feel invested in it on their own — is incredibly fulfilling. It’s like our mission has a life of its own, and it resonates a bit differently with everyone, which is magical.

In my opinion, your work is some of the most exciting work in fashion design right now. But I’d love to know what you think: Who do you think are the most exciting Slow Fashion designers creating work today? Could you name a few of the folks you think are truly at the forefront?

Han Starnes is a local favorite. She has such impressive aesthetic discipline — she never puts out any work that doesn’t perfectly align with her vision and perspective. I admire that so much, and wish I had a bit more restraint. She uses absolutely divine fibers, and manufactures things in a very careful and intentional way.

Alabama Chanin is one of the icons here — they have taken slow fashion to the next level. Their hand-stitched pieces are literal works of art, made by a team of artisans in Florence, Alabama. All organic cottons, all beautiful silhouettes from the mind of Natalie Chanin. She’s also created such a strong community around the brand — I love the whole ecosystem there.

Your Diversity Campaign made me love your work even more. I watched the video of the selected customer-models visiting for the photo shoot and I was actually teary by the end. There was so much joy and connection in that room! Did you expect it to be so moving?

We absolutely did not expect it to be so moving. I was incredibly excited about the project, and of course had high hopes for it, but man I was totally unprepared for the emotion and strength in that room. Meeting the women who embody the spirit of the brand, hearing how our clothing has impacted their lives, watching them be both vulnerable and strong in front of each other and the camera — it was incredible. It felt like summer camp, and we all left with a group of friends for life. It was so powerful and meaningful both for our customers to get this immersive, personal experience with the brand, and for our team to get this immersive, personal experience with the women we serve. Epic.

Okay, top three creative tools you couldn’t live without?

1 – My iPhone. I know that’s probably awful! But seriously, I take notes all day long (I send myself emails with thoughts all day long — by the end of the day my inbox is a mess), screenshot images that inspire me, and use it to stay connected with our customers. Our business would be very different without this device!

2 – A good, fresh pen.

3 – A blank bulletin board. I just can’t get that into Pinterest, I need to see things physically, on a large scale. Old school mood boards all the way.

Lastly, advice you’d offer to emerging fashion designers interested in sustainable and ethical fashion? Any tips or encouraging words you might lend to someone who is just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, but more importantly don’t be afraid to work your ass off. This isn’t the exciting, magic trick advice most people hope for, but I truly believe that what separates most successful businesses from those that never get off the ground is sheer effort. The product must be great, the process must be great, but those two things alone won’t cut it. You have to be willing to put everything into it. The encouraging flip-side is that, if you’re willing to put in the effort, I’m pretty confident you can do just about anything. Focus on filling a need, find an original way to contribute to the conversation, find your unique perspective — that is where you’ll add value. Don’t try to cash in on an idea that’s already saturating the market — you’ll just be playing perpetual catch-up. Trust your instincts, do the right thing, and you’ll be fine.

. . .

Thank you so much for joining us, Liz. It really is an honor to share your story in this series. Your commitment to Slow Fashion — or more simply to people and the planet — is so exciting and inspiring. I can’t wait to see what you do next. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines.

See also: How much can we know about where our clothes come from?

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

.

PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Tom of Holland

Photos © Elizabeth Suzann, used with permission

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

I continue to feel incredibly self-conscious about all this wardrobe planning — especially since I’m doing it publicly — but dang it’s fun and useful! So I’m just gonna get over that. Like I said last week, simply isolating the key players and laying them out in a grid of photos is wildly beneficial for seeing what I have to work with and spotting combinations I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. There’s an extent to which you could look at that grid and just pick a top, a bottom and a pair of shoes, and I could probably sit and do that all day and come up with who knows how many outfits if I wanted to literally represent each and every one of them — I won’t go quite that far. One thing I’m finding with the summer group, though, is there are quite a few tops in the lineup that really only work with maybe 1-3 of the bottoms — limited usage, but hey, perfectly good outfits.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

If this were me working on a packing list, there are pieces that would get cut for not being re-combinable enough. But this whole exercise is about finding ways to wear the things I already made/bought and have allotted space for in the closet. (And making sure I’m making wise decisions about where to spend my future making energy.) Plus many of them may also have a larger role in other seasons, so it’s fine for them to factor in more lightly for summer, for variety. (One thing to note, though: If it involves sandals, it’s not a work outfit, so I’m mentally looking at each of those and asking if there’s an excessive-A/C alternative. If it’s sleeveless, it has to accommodate a cardigan or jacket or it’s also not safe for work.)

Or take the case of this linen Fen top:

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

That’s really three versions of the same outfit, and while I like it/them and will wear it/them, it’s a tiny bit dour, even for me. (The first, the best one, can be seen in full outfit sketch form below.) There are other bottoms it technically goes with, but which I’m not including because I know I won’t wear them. For example, it works with the khaki pants but that’s even drearier. It’s perfectly fine with jeans, but just not me somehow. It’s a hair too short for wearing with the camo pants, since I’m not of midriff-bearing age. (Although I apparently am still of camo-wearing age! lol) It’s adorable with the full grey skirt — that’s probably its best outfit, objectively speaking — but on me that’s way too girly. So I’m limiting how much it gets used.

Then there are the really hard workers, starting with that soon-to-be go-to, my ash linen Sloper in progress, at the top of this post. As you can see, it will go over both of my skirts, all five pants and 3 out of 5 dresses — that’s an outfit a week for 10 weeks right there, at minimum. Knitting time and money well spent!

Likewise the sleeveless black tops I made last year (one hemp jersey, one silk gauze), and the two white tops I have at the top of the sewing list right now (white linen tee — also to be done in black linen — and white cotton sleeveless top—

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

The modified slip dress will also be a fabulous use of a little bit of time, since shortened and be-pocketed, it will be able to be worn many different ways, and will easily accommodate an outer layer for work. This little refashion is top-most priority.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

And what about the pieces I’m trying to be more deliberate about wearing more often? You can see the black, 20-y-o Katayone Adeli skirt factoring in throughout this post, which is marvelous — and makes the full black linen skirt on my to-sew list a less pressing matter. Other pieces I wear only occasionally but love and want to bust out more are the little ivory Meg-made sweater and the black chambray top I sewed up from some scraps back in 2014, just before we moved.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

Possibly the smartest addition to my closet in recent months (of which there have been precious few) was one I thought might be the opposite. When I bought the Nade Studio tunic on impulse at Porter Flea in December, I thought it might be a mistake: I love supporting Maggie’s business and love the piece, but worried that it simply wouldn’t get a lot of use — that it wasn’t very versatile. Once I started playing summer closet rummy, though, I realized it’s actually the star of the show. It looks amazing worn open over a dress or buttoned over a skirt — the skirt just peeking out from that arc in the front hem. These are actually the outfits I’m most excited to get to wear.

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan
Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

To my great astonishment, going through the process of these Summer 2017 Wardrobe posts has transformed my lifelong dread of summer dressing into something resembling optimism or maybe even excitement. Never thought that was possible. Which isn’t to say I’ll ever feel as at-home in a dress and sandals as I do in a sweater and jeans, but it’s a major and welcome improvement.

There are over 70 outfits pictured here, without exhausting the possibilities of these 30-ish items. Not every piece from the inventory wound up being included here, and admittedly several of those that are here don’t yet exist or are awaiting mending/alterations — but nor have I accounted for a couple of other garments on the make list, each of which represents another good clump of options. All told, it seems like I’m in amazingly good shape, as long as enough of these prove workplace-worthy. And I’m already worked up about exploring how everything here (and some of the never-worn Paris combos) will come into play for fall!

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

For the details on any or all of the garments seen here, see last week’s Closet Inventory (which I’ve updated with pics of the new and previously-missing items).

Oh, and lest I forget, these are my topper options — one WIP and one on the make list:

Outfits! : The Summer 2017 plan

(Fashionary sketch templates via Fringe Supply Co.)

PREVIOUSLY in Summer ’17 Wardrobe: The make list

What I Know About: Holding yarns together

What I Know About: Holding yarns together

There are some questions I get asked over and over, some of which I have answers for and many of which I do not. So today I’m kicking off a new occasional series called “What I Know About” in which I or someone more knowledgeable than me will respond to your most pressing inquiries. It might be a Q&A, a guest post, who knows — but I’m starting with probably the MOST frequently asked question and my own answer to it: Why are you always knitting with multiple yarns held together?

There are basically three categories of reasons:

GAUGE
The most common reason I personally do it is to get the yarn I want at the gauge I want. For instance, I wanted to knit a cardigan out of the gorgeous heathery black Linen Quill, but it’s light-fingering weight. I neither want to knit at that gauge or want a sweater that thin, so by holding two strands together, I got the weight/gauge I was after. There are dozens of fabulous lace- or fingering-weight yarns I’d never get to knit with if I didn’t double them up. Conversely, there are limited options available at the bulky-superbulky end of the spectrum, so holding yarns together is a great option for knitting at a bulkier gauge without being limited to the available yarns. Such as my linen Sloper in progress, because there’s no such thing as bulky linen. (Possibly with good reason, lol!)

FABRIC/FIBER
It’s also quite common to hold yarns together in order to blend those fibers into one fabric. (The entire Shibui line is built on this concept.) For example, for my grandmother’s shawl, I held together one strand of Shibui Staccato (70% merino, 30% silk) and one Shibui Linen (100% linen), so the finished fabric is 50% linen, 35% merino, 15% silk. She lives in Texas, but I wanted the shawl to have more soft-cuddliness than 100% linen, so I blended it in this way. And again holding together two strands of fingering weight yarn created a weightier fabric than knitting with either yarn on its own. One really common trick is to hold one strand of something like cobweb-weight Silk Cloud or Kidsilk Haze together with whatever your main yarn is, to give the fabric that soft mohair halo. In addition to making the most astonishing swatch books I’ve ever laid eyes on, Shibui posts a downloadable Mix Cheat Sheet that shows what happens gauge-wise when you hold multiple strands of any one Shibui yarn or combine different ones, which is also a useful guide in general as to how yarns of differing weights might add up. You always have to swatch to know for sure, of course, but that’s a great starting point for getting a sense of gauge.

COLOR
Likely the first reason I ever held yarns together was to create a marl, and it’s still one of my favorite reasons. Again, there aren’t a ton of marled yarn options in the world, but by holding two (or more) strands together, you can create any combo you want!The yarns you’re mixing may or may not be the same weight or fiber content — you could create a 50/50 marl with two stands of the same yarn in different colors, or something much more creative with varying weights and fibers, so a combination of all of the above motivations and results. And it could be a marl or an ombré or lots of other effects. One of my all-time favorite examples of creative mixes is this Chloé sweater from a few years ago. (The swatch pictured up top is mine from awhile back, playing around with different Shibui yarns — two strands of an ivory, one black with one ivory, one ivory with one grey.)

Another example from my own past that’s a combination of the above is my Bellows cardigan. That pattern is written for two strands of Shelter (i.e. bulky gauge) and could easily be knitted with a single strand of a bulky yarn instead. I knitted mine with two strands of Balance, which served a dual purpose: 1) it got me to the bulky gauge, as the original pattern did and 2) it counteracted the need to alternate skeins when working with that yarn. Because the wool and cotton fibers in Balance take the dyes differently, Balance behaves a lot like a hand-dyed yarn. When working with hand-dyed, it’s important to alternate skeins every row if you want to avoid pooling or an obvious change in the fabric at the point where you joined a new ball. By holding two strands together, you’re literally blending them, thereby canceling out those concerns.

So there are lots of reasons you might hold multiple yarns together, but at the center of it is control and creativity — allowing you to create whatever you want.

For more on some of the things you can do with yarns held together, see: The other breed of colorwork

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 3: The make list

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 3: The additions

I’ve been working from my sister’s house in Florida for the past week — hanging with her and the kids while our husbands are on a fishing trip — and have spent all kinds of time working on this whole Summer ’17 Wardrobe series. The other day, right in the middle of it all (literally Fashionary panels strewn all about her house), we went out to lunch then to her favorite consignment shop and then to this little boutique nearby that is stocked almost entirely with very plain Flax Designs linen tanks, pants and dresses in nothing but ivory, black, natural, grey and an ivory/grey stripe. (The shop’s minimalist selection looks nothing like the website! So funny.) I had been in the shop before with her and knew of this tantalizingly simple solution to my dress problem, but all I knew about the clothes was what the tag said: made in Lithuania. I know that there’s a long tradition of linen production in Lithuania (that’s where pretty much all of the Fog Linen line comes from) and had been wondering if there was any chance Flax was a company I could feel good about buying from. There is literally no company information whatsoever on their website — no About page of any kind — so we did a bit of Googling on our way there and found this video a stockist had posted about them. It’s still not much to go on, but there’s an emphasis on lead-free dyes and the sewing is done in small woman-owned factories, and I obviously feel good about linen on all the levels. So it’s a somewhat smallened leap of faith, but combined with the fact that I knew how much love and wear they would get, I decided to buy two dresses. (And follow up with the company to see how much more I can find out, for future reference.) At the second-hand store, I found a full, grey, cotton-linen skirt much like I’ve been wanting, for 12 bucks!

So in a matter of minutes, my entire summer wardrobe situation changed and I had to come back and rework all of the posts! Yesterday was going to be about how I really don’t have the dresses I’d like to be relying on, and no skirt like I wanted. Today was about those items being top priority … but that all changed. And took a lot of pressure off my to-sew list, which was problematically long for someone who hasn’t managed to sew a single thing since last August. Here’s the current situation:

ROW 1 / WIPs: Sloper and Summer cardigan are both currently in progress. I also keep imagining an oversize, crewneck, cotton Sloper for wearing alone now and layering later, but we’ll see if/when that happens.

ROW 2: My dream in life is to be wearing my favorite outfit — jeans and a perfectly fitting grey t-shirt — and have made them both. I’m making the jeans in September (more on that later) and have been planning to make the tee sooner, but this is a long list, Everlane has a tee that looks pretty perfect (made in LA), and I have a store credit. So this one is looking like a purchase in the short term.

ROW 3: What I’m really feeling the lack of most is white tops, and these are both extremely quick and simple. On the left is a mod of the OOP Cynthia Rowley pattern I mentioned yesterday, which I’ll be making in both white linen and black linen. On the right is another version of my little self-drafted shell, this time in crisp white cotton and probably with some gathers at the neck. These are now the top priority to-do’s.

ROW 4: I think Liesl Gibson’s new Soho Skirt, on the left, might be the full skirt pattern I’ve been wanting, and I’m planning to make the first one in black linen, to wear with everything. Now that I have the thrifted grey skirt of similar fullness, though, I’m going to wear it for a minute and see if it suits me as well — and plays as nicely with my other clothes — as I think it will. In the middle is the Hemlock mod I made last year (and shrank and re-homed) which I want to make again in heather grey. I have some remnant bits of a wool knit that I’d love to use — if there’s enough. If not, I’ll either make it or Linden from regular sweatshirt jersey. This is an absolute must by Fall, but would be really useful at work if I can get it done for summer. On the right is the striped version of the Adventure Tank (view B) that I’ve been plotting since making the black one, and was in my plan for last summer, but never got done. I want it very badly, and have the hemp jersey already, but it’s non-urgent. When I get around to cutting it out, I’ll likely also make a heather grey version.

So that’s 6-7 sewing projects right there, most of them extremely quick. And all of them fold seamlessly into fall.

HOWEVER: First, there’s mending and refashioning to do to get a few of the inventory items to wearable status:
– shorten the black slip dress and add pockets
– mend the light jeans
– mend the camo pants
– dye the ivory I+W tee
– lengthen the black cardigan, which hasn’t been mentioned for summer yet but I was hoping would be useful!

And then there’s the little matter of the Fen (hybrid) dress that’s currently in my Summer of Basics plan. (June 1, y’all! Are you excited?) I still very much want this dress, but it will no longer be black linen, so I’m mulling alternate fabrics and maybe even a more fall-ish fabric, and making it the last of the three projects I start for SoB rather than the first.

With yesterday’s 34 Haves and WIPs, the above would bring my summer-edit total to 40 garments, which I have no doubt I can combine into an entire summer’s worth of work and weekend outfits, which I’m eager to do! I’m sorry to leave you on the edges of your seats over the weekend ;) but being in Florida and lacking some key garment photos, I’m going to do that as soon as I’m reunited with my closet. So I’ll have that to share sometime next week.

I hope you have an amazing and fruitful weekend—

(Fashionary sketch templates via Fringe Supply Co.)

.

PREVIOUSLY in Summer 2017 Wardrobe: Closet inventory

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 2: Closet inventory

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 2: Closet inventory

The best part of doing my whole winter wardrobe plan was isolating the couple dozen garments from my closet that would be the main players for the season. It not only simplified the process of getting dressed, but it changed even how I hang things in my closet. I’ve always been a little obsessive about grouping things by category — pants, sleeveless tops, sleeves, etc. (I might as well confess that I hang them from light to dark within those categories! I am such a librarian. And yes, all my hangers match.) That way, I reasoned, I could see what I have and be able to think. But with that little winter-heroes grid taped to the closet door, I didn’t need to look at the hangers and shelves at all, I only needed to look at the grid (or the outfit grids). What happened as a result is that the active stuff naturally shuffled to the center, right in front of the door, and the stuff that wasn’t in play for that season got pushed progressively to the side. Which was perfect because they weren’t relevant at the moment, and rather than simplifying or clarifying things, having them hung together with the relevant stuff was actually cluttering the process of getting dressed. (I don’t own enough clothes to put things away for the season or whatever — everything fits in my little 1950s closet.) The fact that my closet became what I previously considered a disorganized mess didn’t matter at all — it was actually one less thing to worry about.

So here are the key players for this summer:

DRESSES
– black linen Earthen Slip (made in KC, 2016, no longer available)
linen Gallery dress
blue stripe dress
– black linen Flax dress (new)
– striped linen Flax dress (new)

I love the black slip dress I got last summer but I find the calf length hard to wear and the lack of pockets problematic, so I’m planning to shorten it and add big patch pockets. Not sure why I don’t have photos of the next two — pardon the terrible drawings, [UPDATED 05.15] but you can see them at the links — and I’ll tell you about the two newly acquired (as in, this week) dresses tomorrow.

SLEEVELESS
Lakeside camisoles
black Adventure tee
striped cotton shell
black silk gauze shell

KNIT VESTS/TOPS
Anna vest
Meg-made tee
– WIP: ash linen Sloper

TEES, TOPS, TUNICS
– black Imogene+Willie tee (made in LA, no longer available)
Part Wolf tee (2013)
linen Fen top
blue stripe Fen top
– linen Elizabeth Suzann Harper Tunic (recent acquisition)
– black plaid top (me-made 2015, never blogged)
– black chambray top (me-made 2014, never blogged)
– ivory Madewell tunic (2014)
– tobacco linen Nade Studio tunic (2016)
– secondhand chambray shirt

I have another I+W tee in natural, which unfortunately just looks like a white tee gone dingy, so I’m hoping to dye it somehow. Good ol’ Part Wolf is in here partially as a stand-in for the fact that I want a nice fresh grey tee, more on that tomorrow. The plaid top and black chambray top are both modifications from an out-of-print Cynthia Rowley pattern that I’ve tampered with endlessly the past several years and will be doing so again. Nade Studio is a new acquaintance of mine, Maggie Pate, who I met last summer at a little makers’ market in Chattanooga and who sews every piece herself. I bought this linen tunic from her at Porter Flea in December and have been awaiting the time for wearing it. The chambray shirt will really be an outer layer for summer …

OUTER LAYERS
– denim J.Crew shirt jacket (c.2003)
– WIP: grey summer cardigan

My treasured old shirt jacket has become tissue thin all over, so I’m wearing it sparingly — it’s sort of a stand-in here for my actual jean jacket, which I don’t have a pic of.

SKIRTS
– black cotton embroidered Katayone Adeli skirt (c.1998)
– thrifted grey cotton-linen skirt

I would have sworn I recently took a photo of [UPDATED 05.15] the Adeli skirt, which I bought 20 years ago and basically wore for the first time last summer … and haven’t worn since. But I’m determined to get it into rotation this year. The thrifted skirt is another piece I just got this week ($12!) and will talk more about tomorrow.

PANTS
– black linen Elizabeth Suzann Florence pants (new/sample, pockets added by me)
– wide-leg J.Crew khakis (2016)
– natural Imogene+Willie Willies (2016, made in LA)
– camo pants Gap/mended (c.2009)
– visibly mended J.Crew jeans (c.2003)

… if I can finally get in another round of patching/mending on those poor beloved old jeans AND on the camo pants that have recently had a major blow-out around the cargo pockets. There’s also something not quite right about the fit on those khakis, which I bought around this time last year — I’m going to take them to a tailor and see if they can solve it so I’ll actually wear them more often.

SHOES
– black Jane Sews sandals (2016, no longer available)
– tan J.Crew sandals (2009)
– faux snake J.Crew flats (2017, no longer available)
– silver flats (2016, handmade in LA by Solid State for Goodwin, no longer available)
– black ankle boots (Gap 2014)

I’m putting major emphasis on ankle boots for summer, as discussed yesterday, the challenge being that my 3-year-old boots are looking problematically shabby. They were cheap to begin with, poor quality leather, which means there’s not much that can be done to make them presentable again. So I’m in the market for a replacement, but finding exactly the right combination of heel height and shaft height is SO HARD. Maybe if I finally found the exact right pair of clogs, hmm.

. . .

One notable absence here is my chambray Endless Summer tunic, one of the most hardworking garments I own. However, I like it best as an underlayer, hanging out from underneath a pullover or button-up, and it doesn’t quite light me up when paired with any of the bottoms here on its own, so ironically it’s not in the summer lineup but will be back for Fall. Also not here is my Togue Stripes tank, which is being adopted by my sister.

It may not look like there’s not a ton of commonality between these things and what I’ve described as my ideal summer mode of dress, partly because I don’t have photos of the dresses, [UPDATED 05.15] but I’m also lacking some of the most basic of basics that will help pull it all together. There’s also the fact that these items don’t go together in as many different ways as I would like, so what I need to do is make sure the garments I’m thinking of adding will extend the uses of everything here. For example, the plaid top is here but just barely. Despite the tissue-thin cotton fabric, it feels a little too Fall to me when paired with the black pants or the khaki trousers (and boots or closed shoes, if we’re talking about work). It’s cute and summery enough (by my standards) with the natural jeans and sandals, but I can’t wear sandals to my frigid workplace, so its utility is quite limited in this mix. But I’m into the idea of pairing it with a black linen skirt, and that skirt would also add one more outfit option to almost every top seen here. So more about what I’m making or otherwise adding tomorrow

(Fashionary sketch templates via Fringe Supply Co.)

.

PREVIOUSLY in Summer ’17 Wardrobe: Mood and strategy

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 1: Mood and strategy

Summer ’17 wardrobe planning, part 1: Mood and strategy

Nashville slid from a very mild winter into a very early summer — we’re talkin’ 88° and humid in mid-April — so my wardrobe planning is likewise skipping right past Spring … into Summer, ugh. I know the conventional wisdom is that summer dressing is effortless — throw on a dress and sandals and go! — but I find it infinitely more challenging, on a couple of levels.

Summer, in general, is really hard for me. In addition to finding the heat and humidity more oppressive than I can convey (it makes me literally claustrophobic and anxious by the time August rolls around), I also just don’t feel like myself in summer clothes — never have. I almost typed “… never will” but I’m challenging myself this year to try to solve this problem rather than resigning myself to another 3-4 months feeling that way. When I stop and think about it, I do know what the strategy has to be; the trick is to actually implement it this time.

The nut of the problem is real heat calls for dresses and skirts — clothes that touch you in as few places as possible — and dresses and skirts tend to feel too girly for me. The kind of somewhat androgynous, tomboyish looks I tend toward are harder for me to pull off in summer form, but if I remind myself how much I love a good masculine-feminine combo, that gives me something to work with. A skimpy camisole top feels more me when paired with mannish trousers; a skirt can feel more me with a muscle tee; same goes for a dress with a pair of funky/chunky sandals or just the right pair of ankle boots. Nashville, for all its population influx and diversity of sub-cultures, is still a place where nobody thinks twice about anyone wearing boots on any day of the year. (This may be the one thing Nashville and the Bay Area have in common: year-round boots.) And let’s face it: In a place this hot, most of the day is necessarily spent indoors anyway, where we run into the other half of what makes summer so difficult: overzealous air conditioning. Dressing for simultaneous bipolar climates is maddening to me.

So the other trick is to think in a more deliberate way about layers for indoors that easily peel off on the way outside. Outdoor outfit + cardigan/jacket = indoor outfit. It’s not complicated, Karen. Which has me focused on that summer cardigan on my needles, the old jean jacket I don’t wear much but should, and the notion of a linen or lightweight cotton “coat” or “jacket” of some kind than can be worn like a cardigan.

Having really learned something from my Fall ’16 Mood board and thorough winter wardrobe planning — the amount of time and thought that saved me in the end — I’m officially committed to the concept. So I recently put together Summer ’17 Mood, which, quelle suprise!, features a lot of the sort of masculine-femine combos I’m talking about.

As I noted last time, my color palette never really changes: I live in black, white, natural, khaki, camel, army, denim, all the shades of blue and grey, with a spot of green or lilac here and there. One difference is I love black even more in summer than in the cold months. Head-to-toe black when we’re talking long sleeves and pants can feel somber, whereas all black with bare arms and legs is my idea of “sexy.” You can see from my summer mood board I’m in the mood for light and breezy things, in some cases paired with a more structured pant for contrast. And I’m feeling like this summer may have extra emphasis on black-and-natural in various combinations.

Next step is to look at what I have to work with as compared to how I’m wanting to dress …

(Fashionary sketchbook via Fringe Supply Co.)

.

PREVIOUSLY in Wardrobe Planning: Winter 2017 wardrobe

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O’Keeffe

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post marks a full year and the last installment of Jess’s lovely and thoughtful Swatch of the Month column, and it might be my favorite one! It’s been a true pleasure, Jess, thank you for going above and beyond. And if anyone missed any of it, you can read through all twelve of them right here.
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

BY JESS SCHREIBSTEIN | Last January, my partner and I went to New Mexico for my 30th birthday, and I haven’t really been able to shake the place from my mind. Even in the dead of winter, the landscape feels alive and endlessly inspiring. Rust red rock erodes and splatters the sides of the freeway like paint, and bleached ivory and camel-colored cliffs look outright sculptural against the expansive sky and low-lying rabbitbrush, cholla and piñon. At higher altitudes, like in Santa Fe, you’ll wake up to a dusting of white snow over everything that’s usually gone by lunchtime. It’s easy to see why New Mexico, and Santa Fe in particular, has attracted tradesmen, artists, medicine people and even nuclear physicists for generations. There’s a magnetic, intoxicating quality to it.

Of its many famous inhabitants, Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most well-known. While her husband, the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz, preferred the energy of New York City, O’Keeffe preferred quiet and isolation for her painting. She first traveled to Santa Fe in 1917, when she was a relative unknown, and instantly fell in love. She later wrote, “From then on, I was always trying to get back there… and in 1929 I finally made it.”

Before we went on our trip, I picked up a copy of Laurie Lisle’s biography of Georgia, Portrait of an Artist, and continued to read it during the trip and after we’d returned home. The descriptions of Georgia’s attitude and approach to making a life – her painting rituals, design sensibility, mode of dress – were equally reflective of place and her own persona, both modern and of its time and completely her own.

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

HER LIFE

Georgia and Stieglitz met in New York where he ran his famous modern New York gallery, 291, which introduced American viewers to artists like Matisse, Rodin, Cézanne and Picasso. He was married and more than twenty years her senior, but they instantly fell in love. In 1918, Georgia accepted Stieglitz’s offer to move from Texas (where she was living and teaching at the time) to New York, where he would financially support her so she could paint. He displayed her early charcoal drawings and, later, her now-infamous flower paintings on the walls of 291, and her career took off. By the end of the 1920s, she was the most successful and highly paid woman artist in America.

In 1924, Stieglitz divorced his wife and he and Georgia married. Their marriage was intimate and passionate, but also a constant struggle through Stieglitz’s repeated infidelities and Georgia’s vying for professional and personal independence. Lisle writes:

“When some people resented her special position as Stieglitz’s paramour, she found it necessary to remind them that he had given her two shows before ‘he knew me personally,’ as she put it. After their marriage, when people addressed her as ‘Mrs. Stieglitz,’ she briskly corrected them with, ‘I am Georgia O’Keeffe.’ ‘I’ve had a hard time hanging on to my name, but I hang on to it with my teeth,’ she explained. ‘I like getting what I’ve got on my own.’ Once when an interviewer referred to Georgia as his ‘wife,’ Stieglitz objected on her behalf. ‘Don’t call her my ‘wife.’ There was a Mrs. Stieglitz I was married to for twenty-four years,’ he said. ‘From the beginning she just felt she was Georgia O’Keeffe, and I agreed with her. She’s a person in her own right.’”

While Georgia was deliberate about her appearance and persona throughout her life, and Stieglitz largely supported her, he was also responsible for perpetuating an overtly feminine and sensual interpretation of her work. Stieglitz took hundreds of photographs of Georgia in their early years together, many in the nude, which created a public sensation and defined her as a sexual being. He also encouraged the interpretation of her flower paintings as female genitalia, although Georgia flatly denied this. She wanted to be respected as a serious artist, not a serious “woman” artist. She rejected modern feminism, wanting to be compared to men’s work without her identity diminishing how others saw her.

In 1929, after Georgia had been hospitalized for exhaustion and depression, she traveled to Taos, New Mexico, with a friend for several months where her spirit and work were reignited. She bought a Ford Model A and learned to drive, and enjoyed exploring the landscape and collecting bones, rocks and other found objects for her paintings. In 1933, she was hospitalized again for a nervous breakdown, and returned to New Mexico in 1934, when she visited Ghost Ranch for the first time. For the next twenty years, she traveled every year between New York and New Mexico, leaving behind Stieglitz in New York. In the 1940s, she bought Ghost Ranch and later a crumbling hacienda in Abiquiu, which she restored as a home and studio for herself. After Stieglitz died in 1946, she spent the last thirty years of her life there. Her homes are beautifully captured in the book pictured here, Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses.

Growing up, Georgia always stood out for her unusual but self-assured attitude and wardrobe. While other girls wore ruffles and floral print dresses, Georgia dressed in all-black, preferring tailored, structured garments. According to Lisle, Georgia’s former classmate Christine McRae wrote many years later:

“The most unusual thing about her was the absolute plainness of her attire. She wore a tan coat suit, short, severe, and loose, into this room filled with girls with small waists and tight-fitting dresses bedecked in ruffles and bows. Pompadours and ribbons vied with each other in size and elaborateness, but Georgia’s hair was drawn smoothly back from her broad, prominent forehead, and she had no bow on her head at all, only one at the bottom of her pigtail to keep it from unplaiting. Nearly every girl in the study hall planned just how she was going to dress Georgia up, but her plans came to naught, for this strongminded girl knew what suited her and would not be changed though she approved of other girls dressing in frills and furbelows.”

Her style didn’t change much as she grew older. Georgia wore predominantly androgynous, at times monkish, attire. She was a master seamstress and sewed and altered many of her own clothes, preferring natural fibers like silk, cotton and wool and keeping some of her dresses for as long as sixty years. And although she’s known for her vividly colored paintings, she was highly sensitive to color and insisted on everything else being minimalist in color and detail, choosing to work in empty white rooms and to dress in black and white almost exclusively. She once said, “Nothing is less real than realism ― details are confusing. […] It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get the real meaning of things.” At another time, when she was asked by a reporter, “Don’t you like color?,” she responded, “Color does something to me,” and tried to explain why she needed to paint in a colorless room. “I like an empty wall because I can imagine what I like on it.”

Now, thirty years after her death, Georgia’s work and personal style have seemed to erupt across our public imagination. I see portraits of Georgia – mainly the ones by Stieglitz – across social media regularly, and her design sensibility seems to be fresh and on trend. Even Solange paid homage to her in her music videos for her album “Seat at the Table,” saying, “I shot a lot of my [music] videos in New Mexico, just that entire Georgia O’Keeffe vibe — I’m dying to see her exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.”

Speaking of that exhibit, Georgia’s wardrobe and work are now on display, side by side, in Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit, Living Modern. The reviews from The New Yorker (previously linked out by Karen), The New York Times, Huffington Post and New York Magazine are all worth reading for their take on the exhibition and Georgia’s style, as well as lots of photos. I haven’t made it to the exhibition yet myself, but I’m hoping to catch it before it closes this summer.

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

THE SWATCH

Using Georgia O’Keeffe and Santa Fe as a touchstone, I wanted to knit a fabric that reflected the New Mexican landscape she loved, and that would feel at home in Georgia’s wardrobe. It would be easy enough to find a black or cream yarn (I have plenty in my stash) that Georgia would have undoubtedly worn, but I chose a rust-red wool and hemp blend with flecks of cream from Elsebeth Lavold. When I saw the skein of Misty Wool in a yarn shop, everything clicked for me – it so perfectly mirrored the color and texture of the New Mexican landscape.

Next, I wanted the fabric to have both structure and texture, as well as honor Georgia’s minimalist style. Much of Georgia’s early work is comprised of abstract black and white lines and shapes, and her later work continues a focus on lines, divisions of space, blocks of color. With these elements in mind, I chose a herringbone stitch from my stitch pattern book, Barbara Walker’s A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, something that I thought could be easily incorporated into a heavy jacket or rectangular shawl.

Swatch of the Month: Finding inspiration in Georgia O'Keeffe

Yarn: Elsebeth Lavold Misty Wool in Color 11
Needles: US 7 / 4.5 mm bamboo needles
Gauge: 30 stitches / 28 rows = 4” in stockinette stitch

M E T H O D

For stitch method, please see “Little Herringbone” stitch pattern on page 98 of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker.

Jess Schreibstein is a digital strategist, knitter and painter living in Baltimore, MD. Learn more about her work at jess-schreibstein.com or follow her on Instagram at @thekitchenwitch.

.

PREVIOUSLY in Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

New Mexico photos © Jess Schreibstein / book pictured is Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses