Kate Mathews’ wardrobe plans

My post on speedy sewing of capsules mentioned Kate Mathews’ “6 yard wardrobe” : jacket, dress, skirt, pants from 6 yards of the same fabric. This idea comes from her book “Sewing a Travel Wardrobe”. But her wardrobes aren’t just for travel. They’re inspiring and helpful for anyone thinking about a small group of co-ordinates.

After reading the book, I had a happy time going through wardrobe patterns checking if jacket, dress, skirt, pants can actually be made from 6 yards (5.50 m). . . It’s surprisingly easy from 6 yards of 60 inch / 150 cm fabric,  though it would probably be a sleeveless sheath dress and a slim knee length skirt. . . You can also usually get a jacket, skirt and pants out of 6 yards of 45 inch/ 110 cm fabric.

Kate Mathews’ book has 7 complete wardrobe plans which include the ‘6-yard wardrobe’ idea. I especially like the unusual ideas for co-ordinating colours. If you’re not happy wearing prints, you won’t like some of the plans. Could you substitute a multi-colour weave, or a stripe ? I wouldn’t wear pants in a big bright print, but there is only one 😀

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Styles for easy alternatives

When you travel, you want everything to go with everything else, so you get the largest number of outfits from the smallest number of clothes. This is easiest if all garments of the same type have the same simple overall shape. All jackets the same main shape, all skirts the same shape, etc. The simplest styles also make for easy layering (and easy packing).

The styles of Kate Mathews’ wardrobes are basic silhouettes with few added style elements : sheath dress, slim skirt, straight pants.

One of the wardrobes has notched collar blazer type jackets – a modern proportioned version might be Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 5818.


Of course you haven’t got to use classic styles. There are many other wardrobe patterns with fitted jackets and different styles of collar.

Most of Kate Mathews’ wardrobes have loose fitting, unshaped, collarless jackets, for easy layering. A version with modern proportions might be Butterick 5429.


Again, there are many wardrobe patterns with different shapes of simple straight collarless jackets, for both wovens and knits.

Some of Kate Mathews’ wardrobes also add simply shaped vest, overshirt, blouse, tee, wrap skirt, or shorts.

Because the fabrics in these wardrobes are interesting, the outfits look so different that you don’t notice the shapes of the clothes are the same every time.

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Wardrobe 1, p.38

2 solids (bright, and dark neutral), 1 main print, and colours extracted from them.

– jacket, skirt in bright solid.
– shirt jacket, skirt, pants in print with same background colour as bright solid.
– pants in dark neutral solid.
– 5 tops – prints in paler versions of solid colours, and colours from main print.

2 jackets
5 tops
4 bottoms

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Wardrobe 2, p. 42

2 solids (bright, and dark neutral) and 2 prints (one bold, one quiet).

– short jacket, dress, top, skirt, pants in dark neutral solid.
– shirt, pants in bright solid.
– dress, long wrap skirt in bold print.
– top, short wrap skirt, skorts in quiet print.

– reversible long jacket in dark solid and bold print.
– store bought tee in background colour from prints.

2 jackets
2 dresses
4 tops
6 bottoms

This is the most ‘art-to-wear’ collection. There are appliqué embellishments :
– dark solid jacket and top with appliqués from bold print.
– bright solid shirt with bold print trim.
– bought tee with quiet print appliqué.
Also bands of solid colour added to edges of wrap skirts.
The dark plain dress is worn with added collars or scarves.

4 fabrics in interesting combinations. Some of us might want more tops, perhaps in solid colours from the prints.

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Wardrobe 3, p.50

The familiar dark neutral/ light neutral/ accent colour scheme, but used in an unusual way. Less use of prints.

– jacket, blouse, pants in dark neutral solid.
– jacket, pants in dark/ light neutrals check.
– reversible vest : dark/ light neutrals print one side, light neutrals print the other.
– pants, shorts in accent colour solid.
– shorts in light neutral solid.
– overshirt, blouse, skirt in mainly dark neutral prints with touches of light neutral and accent.
– 3 tees, 1 in each colour, solids.

2 jackets, 1 vest
6 tops
6 bottoms

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There’s a simple version of the more usual type of 3-colour wardrobe, on p.15 in the text. Minimal prints.

– jacket, top, skirt, pants in dark neutral solid.
– top in light neutral solid.
– top in light/dark neutrals print.
– top in accent colour solid.

1 jacket
4 tops
2 bottoms

Add scarves for more variety.

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Wardrobe 4, p. 52

Oriented round 1 dark neutral.

This is made with several reversible garments, ingenious but difficult to summarise.
– 3 jackets (2 reversible)
– 3 tops (1 reversible, made from 4 fabrics !)
– 2 pants (1 reversible)

Basically all the garments are the same dark neutral, in solids with texture variations. The reverse fabrics are prints of bright colours on the dark neutral background, or medium dark or bright solids.

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Wardrobe 5, p. 56

1 solid (bright) and 2 prints (bold and quiet).

– jacket, dress, skirt, pants in bright solid.
– dress, shirt in bold print.
– vest, blouse, skirt, shorts in quiet print.

1 jacket, 1 vest usable as top
2 dresses
2 tops
4 bottoms

Another very simple plan, but with not many tops. It would be easy to add more in solid colours from the prints.

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Wardrobe 6, p. 59

1 bright solid – yes, really !

This is a ‘cultural city weekend’ set, mainly one 6 yard wardrobe of jacket, slip dress, skirt, pants, plus a lace overdress. Everything in the same bright solid colour. The ‘jacket’ is a draped closed style, wearable without a top under.

Kate Mathews suggests extending this by adding a second 6 yard wardrobe in a dark neutral solid. I think most of us would want to add some tops.

This style is more like Butterick 5101 (add a sheath dress).


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Wardrobe 7, p.61

This wardrobe is made from 3 colour groups – light blue, beige/ivory, and green/teal. I’ve translated that as medium-light, light, and medium-dark.

– jacket, dress, skirt, pants in medium-light solid.
– jacket in light/ medium-dark small check.
– 2 tapestry vests in 3 colour patterns.
– blouse, skirt in quiet print with medium-light background and light pattern.
– skirt, 2 pants in medium-dark solid.
– skirt, pants in light solid.

2 jackets, 2 vests
1 dress
1 top
8 bottoms

Yes, only one top in the written wardrobe list. But the photos include tees in medium-light and medium-dark solids, and it would be easy to add more. This seems to me the least balanced and efficient of the clothes suggestions. Though the colours are inspiring.

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Of course, you haven’t got to use wardrobe patterns or bright colours. Go through the wardrobes and substitute dark for bright, or light for dark, for a whole lot more ideas.

And you can change the style greatly by the character of the fabrics you choose. Think of current prints and woven patterns – animal skins, soft florals, hard edged abstracts, bright plaids, a quiet pin stripe, a tweed or herringbone. . . (Wardrobe 5 in a dark neutral with a plaid and herringbone ?) If you want to use an option with several prints, it’s probably easiest to choose from fabric collections of co-ordinated prints. Or, instead of fabric pattern, embellish to add surface variety : lace or ruffles, sequins or studs. Though these may make a garment less multi-purpose (and less easy to pack).

I think these colour-fabric pattern combinations give food for thought about co-ordinates for nearly everyone. I haven’t listed Kate Mathews’ suggestions about fabric fibres and textures. They add more useful ideas. The best fibres, and details of garment styles, depend on climate and lifestyle.

And I think the book is a fun read 😀 Very out-dated styling, but many interesting suggestions for multi-purpose and multi-look garments, plus tips and projects.

If you really are making a travel wardrobe, there are a lot of good ideas in the travel wardrobe thread at Stitchers Guild.

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Patterns and links available July 2010

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8 Comments on “Kate Mathews’ wardrobe plans”

  1. EJVC Says:

    Looking forward to my copy, and thank you for the pattern suggestions.

    You know, after you post I routinely head to Gorgeous Fabrics to see what I can find to co-ordinate with the patterns you suggest. I don’t buy there because it is too expensive to ship here to the UK. I wish we had online stores like hers!

  2. EJVC Says:

    OK, completely impossible. I went furthest with the wardrobe number 2 in navy/turquoise as the two solids, but a skort? No, no, no.

    • sewingplums Says:

      You can always leave out the skort 😀

      There are lots of co-ordinated fabric lines in cottons, especially available from quilt shops. Amy Butler does modern print fabrics that work for clothes and quilts, though they’re not to everyone’s taste.

  3. Janis Says:

    I’m going to get this book to help with my travel wardrobe. Sounds intriguing.

  4. RuthieK Says:

    I already have the book and enjoyed seeing how the various designers interpreted the brief – Kate is not the designer of the wardrobes – but not utilised any of it for actual travelling. Though it did inspire a patch of buying 5 or 6 metres of fabric every time I saw a good neutral.
    I might get my copy out again and have another read through see if anything new strikes me.
    The light-neutral, dark-neutral is a good way of looking at the plans, as it gets past the ‘urgh pink’ or blue or whatever when the colours don’t suit your personal tastes.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Ruth – I needed to distance myself from all those in-your-face colours and huge shoulders.

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