How to make a visual closet inventory

How to make a visual closet inventory

OK, so I’ve had a lot of questions about how I do my photographic closet inventory and Closet Rummy™ outfit planning — especially since talking about it on the Love to Sew Podcast — and with so many people participating in the closet cleanout challenge for Slow Fashion October, I wanted to post a full rundown on how I do it.

This has been the single most effective thing I’ve ever done in terms of helping me really really KNOW what’s in my closet and how it works together; saves me time getting dressed; and prevents poor making/purchasing decisions. For instance, if I’m considering knitting something like a navy blue pullover, let’s say, it’s easy to think “oh hell, that’ll go with everything.” But when I can pull up all of my pants (har!) and say, Now really, which of these will you wear it with?, and the answer turns out to be two plus jeans, that’s informative. (Like is that enough to justify it, or will it lead to the ol’ “I need to make x, y and z to go with my navy sweater.”) Or if I’m obsessing over a pair of shoes, I can glance at the most recent outfit rundowns and ask myself How many of those outfits would I actually wear them with, and are they better than whatever is already pictured there?

It’s funny how many people have said to me “I know your closet better than my own,” and that says it all about how clear and illustrative it is to have this sort of photo inventory, and to consult it regularly.

My process might not work precisely for you, but I hope you’ll be able to adapt it in a way that will! Here are my steps:

1. TAKE PHOTOS

This takes like two minutes, total, when it’s a matter of adding a new acquisition to your existing inventory (and hopefully you add rarely anyway, right?), but it can feel daunting when you’re starting from scratch. So I don’t recommend trying to photograph your entire closet. Pull a selection of the clothes that are relevant right now, that you’ll be wearing in the next month or two, and just photograph those. Then you can add gradually over time.

– Place the garment against a white wall or surface and in daylight. (You don’t want a surface color or the yellow tint of artificial light throwing you off.) Our guest room gets excellent natural light so I use the wall adjacent to the window for this (and the rice paper blind acts as a natural filter). I take a painting off the wall and hang the garment on that nail, then aim my iPhone at it. It would be even better to have a large sheet of white foam core or illustration board (from the art/craft store framing department); lay it on the bed or floor near a window or open door; and lay the garment on there with no hanger. I do this with shoes and mean to start doing it that way with clothes to eliminate the hanger.

– Why is that better? Ideally, you’d have nothing in the photo that isn’t the garment, and especially nothing that’s adding an extra color. If you make a black-and-white outfit combo and the shirt is hanging on a pink hanger or background, it will register on your brain as a black-and-white-and-pink outfit, which it’s not. My wooden hanger is at least a neutral, but it would be better to have a white hanger or no hanger at all.

– Do your best to hold the camera so it’s parallel with the garment. You want the photo to be as straight and accurate as possible, with no distractions or distortions. And I try to keep the scale the same from one photo to the next, so the relative proportions are evident — although that’s not always strictly possible. The hanger (along with the paneling of my guest-room wall) is helpful in that regard: I try to keep the hanger about the same size and position in the frame when shooting tops, for instance. You could also make markings on your foam core for where you want the hanger and the edges of your photo to be, or whatever works!

2. EDIT AND SAVE PHOTOS

-iPhone photos, at least, tend to be quite yellow and/or grey, and you’re not likely to have perfect light every time, either. I use the A Color Story app on my phone to correct the photos (as previously discussed here, along with tips from Jen Beeman and Brandi Harper) but you can use the built-in edit function or any app you like. If you are not familiar with photo editing, a few simple steps will go a long, long way. Use the Sharpen function. Play with the Brightness and Contrast settings, and try the Curves tool in ACS. (It can be as simple as grabbing the center dot on the curve and dragging it toward the upper left corner a little or a lot.) Use the Warmth slider to correct the blue/yellow balance, and the Tint slider to balance the green/red tones. Seriously, with just a little trial and error you’ll get the hang of it! Then it will only take you a few seconds per photo once you do, and you’ll be able to use those skills to improve all of your photos.

-Again, try to be as consistent as possible with editing the photos so they’re all nice and clear and bright.

– If nothing else, make an album in your camera roll and keep all of your garment photos together in there.

– Even better is to save them together in a folder on your hard drive or in the cloud, which is what I do, with descriptive filenames like “black linen pants” and “ivory fisherman sweater.” I have few enough clothes that I don’t subcategorize them, apart from the fact that I keep shoes in their own folder, but if you want to make folders for pants and dresses and sweaters, go for it! (That might also help you see any imbalances, like if you have 20 pairs of pants and only two shirts.) Again, organize them in whatever way works best for you. I like having mine on a cloud-based service so I can access them from anywhere, anytime I might need to.

3. COMPILE PHOTOS INTO OUTFITS

– Once you have them saved somewhere, even just opening up that folder in grid view wherever the images live can be enough for you to see your whole closet at a glance, and that alone will likely give you outfit ideas or guide your future decision making.

– Since I use Photoshop every day of my life, I use it to compile my outfit grids for the Wardrobe Planning posts, which I then print out and keep handy. There are quite a few apps now that apparently allow you to do the same sort of thing, but I have not personally tried any of them, since I have a process that works for me. Stylebook is the one that gets mentioned to me the most often. Capsule Wardrobe was created by knitter Kelsey Leftwich. And I recently ran across one called Personal Lookbook on Instagram. I’m sure there are many more, and would love to hear from anyone who has used any of them!

– But you can also line up pics into outfits anywhere you can import a photo. It could be a spreadsheet or a word doc or just about anything, really. The only important thing is that you be able to place any given photo more than once, since you’ll want to incorporate any given garment into multiple outfits, right?

Like just about anything, this could feel daunting and time-consuming while you’re in startup mode, trying to figure out your best tools and techniques and process. But once you find a system that works for you, it will actually save you a ton of time and take only a few minutes here and there to update — and then a fun hour here and there planning a month of outfits or what to pack for your next trip.

I hope everyone will share their own strategies and advice in the comments below! And if there’s anything I’ve left out, just ask!

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By the way, pictured is my recently finished Anna Vest, the pattern for which published yesterday. It’s my 21st FO of the year, the third knitted garment I’ve finished in 2018, and there are a few other details on Ravelry. So this photo has been added to my wardrobe files!

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Linen-cotton Carolyn pants (2018 FO-20)

Non-pj Carolyn pants (2018 FO-20)

When I sewed my striped Carolyn pajama pants last month, I noted — and many of you chimed in — that they are surprisingly polished and 100% street-worthy, so I vowed at the time to try them in an equally street-worthy fabric. I still fully intend to make the navy-and-black piped linen pair, but these jumped ahead in the queue, and here’s why. Ever since relying so heavily on my black linen pants while traveling this past year+, and after seeing Martha’s natural linen pair on her recent trip, I got it in my head that I wanted to make myself a pair of Carolyns in natural linen — but I also didn’t want to buy fabric. Then when I was compiling and sorting my stash for the (ongoing) sewing room cleanup, I discovered just the thing.

Last summer, when ordering the fabric for my button-up, I had also bought two lengths of a linen-cotton blend that I assumed would be sort of a light shirting weight. I’d never unwrapped it or washed it; just added the tidy, ribbon-tied bundle to the stash. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was heavier than I thought. And after a wash, I was convinced it would work for these pants. Once I realized they’d be just the thing for a certain photo shoot last week, I somehow whipped them out one night in a fugue state. And then Hannah snapped this photo of me actually grinning at a camera. (I know.)

So what do I think of the pants? Here’s the thing: They have a lot of structure in terms of the pockets and the faux fly, and no part of that wants to gather really, once you install the elastic. (True of the pj-weight ones; even more so with a heavier fabric like this.) So what happens is the gathers collect in the little space between the pockets and the fly, almost like pleats. And in this light-colored fabric, that can wind up looking a little awkward in the crotch. In this photo, I’m conveniently striking a pose that counteracts the issue. It’s not terrible or a deal-breaker, but it does make them a Like rather than a Love. Still, it won’t deter me from making the navy pair!

Pattern: Carolyn Pajamas, view A (size 12, no mods, 2″ hem)
Fabric: Half Linen Solids from Miss Matatabi

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PREVIOUSLY in FOs: The ivory aran-gansey (FO 19)

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The ivory aran-gansey (2018 FO-19)

The ivory aran-gansey (2018 FO-19)

Hey look, I knitted a sweater! Crazy how long that took me. Inspired by Daniel Day-Lewis’s perfect gansey but bearing in mind what works best for me and my frame, I sketched out this little aran-gansey mashup as part of my Summer of Basics plan, and cast on in the middle-row bench seat of a van lurching its way through the winding roads of rural Portugal. I hadn’t done any actual math or planning. All I had was my inexact-texture-but-gauge-ly predictive swatch plus the little sketch taped into my notebook. So in that van seat on that steamy late June day, I did just enough math to calculate a good-enough cast on, and in I went.

Because it was a slapdash start and I didn’t expect it to work, I also didn’t put any basting stitches in the raglans, or take many useful notes. I thought I almost certainly was just knitting a bigger, more texturally accurate swatch, which I’d eventually rip out. But I never did! And I just kept winging it the whole way. (Albeit with lots of intermittent blocking to make sure everything would work out ok.) So while I normally share all my stitch counts and measurements for any Improv sweater I knit, I’m sorry, I don’t have that for you today. Plus if I were to do this again, I’d make a thousand tiny tweaks. So perhaps at some point I will do this again (in navy!), make those tweaks, and take proper notes for sharing. But the short version is that it’s just a standard top-down raglan with a stitch pattern thrown in for the first 9.5″ or so — double moss stitch broken up every 3″ with two bands of garter stitch. And I put garter along the top of the waist ribbing as well. And used my favorite folded neckband technique.

Natural sweater inventory

You may recall the overarching aim of this one was to make myself a much-needed, easygoing, 3-season-ish pullover, and I couldn’t be happier with it in all those respects. I’ve knitted quite a few sweaters with O-Wool Balance at this point — organic, machine washable, 50/50 cotton-wool blend — and am thrilled to have a mostly stockinette one for myself, as I covet Bob’s every time he puts it on. This fabric is so incredibly cozy. (I like it best after a machine wash and a few minutes in the dryer, but do mind your gauge if that’s your intention! Don’t wet-block your swatch and then machine-wash your FO.) And if you’re thinking back to my recent sweater inventory, you’ll note this rounds out my collection of natural sweaters quite nicely: There’s the shrunken cotton fisherman (L.L. Bean 2010), this new cotton-wool gansey, the heavy-duty wool fisherman and the wool cardigan.

I also made those pants I’m wearing above, which I wouldn’t actually intentionally wear with this sweater — that’s a bit of a blah combo even for me! But it was convenient to take the sweater photos while I happened to be wearing the pants, so I’ll tell you about those tomorrow.

Speaking of the wool fisherman, I also sent it through the washer and dryer last week — being incredibly vigilant the whole way — and it finally fits the way I always wanted it to! (Assuming it doesn’t grow back to its former size when worn.) Officially all set in the ivory department!

Pattern: Improv
Yarn: O-Wool Balance in Natural

You can browse all the posts about this sweater and save/fave it at Ravelry.

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PREVIOUSLY in FOs: Wiksten Kimono, pajama-style

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Wiksten Kimono, pajama style (2018 FO-17/18)

Wiksten Kimono, pajama style (2018 FO-17)

Friday afternoon, depressed at seeing “sew kimono” stuck in a long, dreary list of weekend chores, I gave myself permission to skip out of work and let a couple hours of stolen sewing time be an indulgence rather than just another to-do. (Thank you, Felicia.) So by midday Saturday, I had finished the Wiksten Kimono I’d laid out as part of my alternate pajama plan for Summer of Basics, and I actually enjoyed every minute of sewing it.

I followed Jenny’s notes for the unlined version of the kimono jacket, leaving out the interfacing on the collar so it would be soft and bunchy. And again in the interest of yardage preservation, I cut the under collar on the cross-grain. Otherwise, it’s straight from the pattern, and I’m quite pleased with my little housecoat — although I like it best with the collar up and bunched and the sleeves pushed up, super ’80s all the way, so wish I hadn’t done that with the cross-grain. But still! I like it, and will probably even wear it out of the house. It’s the mid-length medium, by the way, and thanks again to Jenny for sending me the pattern.

It seemed appropriate (or at least justifiable) to take Sunday morning photos of it with my Carolyn pj pants, complete with bedhead so you get the full effect:

Wiksten Kimono, pajama style (2018 FO-17)

And then there are these, uh, boxer shorts? When I was done with the kimono, I still really wanted a pair of pj shorts to go with it, so I pulled out another remnant of remnants and the pajama pants pieces I had traced off before, and made the quickest possible version of them: no pockets, no cuffs, not even the actual shorts pattern, just the pants lopped off and teeny hemmed. Of all the lovely design details of the Carolyn Pajamas pattern, the only one I kept intact was the faux fly, which — combined with the fabric — wound up looking like a somewhat sad pair of boxer shorts. But eh, I’m happy to have them. And more committed than ever to making a proper pair of the shorts, cuffs and pockets and all (in the blue stripe fabric of the kimono, if I can squeak it all out of what’s left), as well as getting back to the navy linen pants plan, as soon as possible.

Who knew pajamas were so fun to make? And talk about an indulgence — I’ve never had such nice pajamas before. (Although I have worn plenty of boxer shorts with my tank tops.)

It occurs to me I’ve now technically completed three garments for #summerofbasics, as pictured here, although none are exactly what I initially set out to make.

In case anyone missed it, here’s how to submit your final SoB finishes for a chance at the grand prize! I’m not eligible for prizes, but I’m still trying to finish my sweater in time!

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PREVIOUSLY in SoB PJ’s: Carolyn pajama pants

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Pajama pant perfection (2018 FO-16)

Pajama pant perfection (2018 FO-16)

You guys, I haven’t finished anything since the beginning of June, and it’s been even longer since I had had a major jolt of that “wow, I made that” feeling. These pajama pants are pure love. But wait: pants? That was neither the plan nor the revised plan.

To recap: As part of my Summer of Basics plan, I was making Carolyn pajama shorts in navy linen with black piping, but they were a little too fitted for comfort. They were also so gorgeous in the navy-black combo that I decided I wanted to do them as the pants instead of the shorts, with the intention of wearing them out of the house. So I resolved to make another, simplified pair of the shorts to work out the size, and then would go back to the navy pants.

So. Saturday morning I went into my sewing room and began tracing off the bigger shorts, then realized it would be easier to trace the pants and just make them shorts length, and then I’d have the pants pieces all ready to go (assuming the size was right). My plan to “simplify” things by doing them hemmed instead of with the cuffs was counterintuitive: As I was giving myself a migraine trying to figure out how to rework the side seams and inseam (in matching ways from front to back) to accommodate the wide hem I wanted, I realized that would be so substantially different from the pants that it wouldn’t tell me anything at all about the fit of the pants! So if I wanted this next pair to function as a fit muslin for the navy pants, I would have to make the pants.

Pajama pant perfection (2018 FO-16)

The bad news is: I still don’t have the pajama shorts I really do need right now. The good news is: I do also need pajama pants, and these are fantastic. If I hadn’t sewn them in such pajama-y fabric — translucent, no less — I would 100% wear them out of the house. So now I’m more excited than ever about the navy linen pair.

These are View A, no cuffs, but I like them enough that I might actually go back and add cuffs at some point. Meanwhile, I just turned the hem 3″ and 3″ and sewed it with a medium stitch in case I decide to take it out and do that. And sewed the waistband my usual way. No other mods — the cut and fit is spot on. For the record, these are a straight size 12, just with a wider hem.

And yes, I’m counting these as my first finish for #summerofbasics.

(Worn here with my omnipresent black Adventure tank)

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PREVIOUSLY in FOs: Linden sweatshirt

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Almost-perfect sweatshirt + Squam packing list

Almost-perfect sweatshirt + Squam packing list

This past weekend, I packed two totally different sets of clothes for two very different trips: Squam Art Workshops and Portugal. Pretty much all of my current favorite garments went into the Portugal pile (show you later), which left me combing through my remaining clothes looking for just the right few things that are A) reasonably presentable enough to teach in, B) appropriate for tromping around in the New Hampshire woods, and C) suitable for the cool, changeable, early-spring weather (as I sweat here in Nashville). And also, I seem to have entered some phase where each time I pack I’m in some kind of competition with myself to see how few things I can get away with! So, y’know, just a few complications there. But thankfully I left myself some very helpful notes after last year.

The Squam trip is just five days: travel there, teach, teach, playtime/art fair, travel home. (Although it feels so long and peaceful in those woods.) Having just watched On Golden Pond, which was filmed on Squam Lake, what I really wanted was to dress exactly like Katharine Hepburn in the movie — i.e., a daily diet of big button-down shirts over a jersey turtleneck and trousers.

In reality, there are two things going in both suitcases — my trusty old denim vest and my recently finished grey sweatshirt, above. It is perfect in every way but one: I cut the fabric the wrong direction. But it’s fine! And I’m looking forward to having it along for sleeping in, for knitting on the screened porch at night, and of course for those chilly mornings on the dock before class. It’s Grainline’s Linden Sweatshirt, and all I did was raise the neckline about an inch all the way around. The fit is utterly perfect, and I’ll definitely make it many more times over the course of my life.

So I’m takig 7 primary garments (outfit clothes) in my Squam suitcase:

Squam Art Workshops packing list

Black cardigan
– Denim vest (J.Crew, ancient)
– Chambray shirt (hand-me-down)
Black shell
Striped shell
– Clay wide-legs (Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Culotte, made in Nashville, sample sale 2017)
– Jeans (Imogene+Willie Willie, made in US, 2017)

(Lots of overlap with last year.) Plus for around the cabin: the sweatshirt, a tee, old cutoffs and my thick black leggings. And since apparently my good ol’ Chucks were the only shoes I wore last year, they’re the only shoes I’m taking this year — hopefully no rain. I’m tempted to throw in my black turtleneck, just in case.

Funny to think I’ll be seeing some of you in the dining hall tonight!

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PREVIOUSLY: Squam 2017 reflections and outfits and Knitting in paradise

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The Clyde jacket-to-vest rescue mission: accomplished!

The Clyde jacket-to-vest rescue mission: accomplished!

I finished two more things from my spring make list this weekend and technically this is the latter of them, but I’m telling you about it first because I am so over-the-moon in LOVE that I need to shout about it immediately. This, you may recall, began life as the Clyde Jacket that fell into my hands at the Elizabeth Suzann sample sale back in early December for $35, mysteriously unfinished (as in: it had never gotten its sleeves). Upon close inspection, the stitching around the hem looks as if the machine was acting up, and it even chewed a hole in the fabric in one spot, at which point there clearly was a decision made not to bother attaching the sleeves. Thankfully, instead of being tossed on the fire, so to speak, it was tossed onto the sample-sale pile — and I’m SO glad, because rescuing it has given me some serious joy, and I also might never leave home without it.

To convert it from an unfinished jacket to a finished vest, all I did was put it on my dress form, put one of my State Smocks on over the top of it, and trace the big armhole of the smock onto the canvas of the jacket with a chalk pen. When I took away the smock and looked at the line I had drawn, it perfectly echoed the shape of the pockets, as if fate had intended it all along. The Clyde jacket has front and back panels flanking the wide side panels into which the crescent pockets are set, so all I did is adjust the markings a tiny bit so I had just enough fabric running alongside those vertical seams to be able to attach bias binding. As it happens, I also had a bunch of navy linen fabric from last summer’s ES garage sale, which matched the navy canvas perfectly. So I cut long strips of bias, attached them all the way around the armhole, then turned it all under and top-stitched, so in the end the vertical panels form the tops of the armholes, with nothing visibly added. It makes for a really nice detail!

I don’t even mind the aforementioned hole in the fabric. You can barely see it, the jacket is so dark, but it’s also a good excuse to try out the darning function on my machine at some point.

So in the end, what I have is a shorter version of the Clyde Vest, and it feels completely indispensable to me — like the garment I can’t believe I’ve lived this long without. In fact, I have a Clyde Jacket in Clay that I paid full price for last year (and adore), and I’m considering making the same alteration to it! I may even have some matching canvas for that from the garage sale …

The Clyde jacket-to-vest rescue mission: accomplished!

Worn here with my canvas pants. And the other thing I finished this weekend is over on Instagram.

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PREVIOUSLY in FOs: Recycled denim pants