Archive for the ‘co-ordinates’ category

Building a wardrobe capsule

September 12, 2020

A ‘capsule’ wardrobe is a small group of co-ordinating clothes that can be mixed and matched to make different outfits.

If you only have a small number of clothes, you want to be sure they all fit the needs of your lifestyle. And that they’re all items you love to reach for in the morning – they suit your personality and make you look and feel good. Hence the whole area of ‘wardrobe planning’.

There are many on-line style advisors who suggest the items to make a capsule. For example, Leanne Blackmon at Classy yet Trendy suggests seasonal capsules in 6 different styles.
And if you like to be dazzled by capsule wardrobe ideas, there’s The Vivienne Files.
In both, the styles are mainly ‘normcore’ so it’s easy to find patterns to copy the suggestions.

These stylists have good success because some people find it daunting to make a capsule for themselves.
But actually doing-it-yourself is not difficult.

Wear what makes you feel special

It’s not difficult to choose a capsule, so long as you have some clothes that you love, that make you look good and feel good when you’re wearing them.

If you haven’t got about 20 items you feel like that about, then finding some clothes that warm your heart, lift your spirits, and make your eyes shine and your skin look healthy has much more priority than developing a capsule.

Only follow style advice that makes you feel life’s possibilities are expanding.
The important thing is not to wear any garment (or follow any style advice) that pulls you down, makes you feel lesser or uncertain, diminished or defensive.

As April Grow of Stunning Style says : “If you’re trying to talk yourself into anything you don’t genuinely love, just put it away.”

Another similar saying seen on an FB board : “In case of doubt, there is no doubt.”

An idea for the simplest possible base capsule

Anne Whalley’s approach to easy styling is to have 5 basic pieces (without any added style elements) in the same flattering neutral colour/ fabric. These are : sleeveless top, skirt, leggings, pants, dress.  Add short and long sleeve tops to increase the options.

They make a basic background column, to which you add a star layering item which has all the outfit interest.

Here’s a demo video.

She uses very simple patterns for the basics, so you could quickly sew a group of ‘good for you’ items.  In the demo the basics are in knits or stretch wovens, no reason why you can’t use non-stretch wovens if you prefer.

Many people like Pamela’s Patterns for knits.  

While Alison Glass’s fitting pattern for knits gives you tops, skirts and dresses.

Tips for building a bigger capsule

A complete ‘wardrobe’ capsule is typically about 25-30 items, which could provide you with enough different outfits for an entire season.
Some stylists insist a true capsule is smaller, see later about a travel capsule.

Go through your current clothes and pick out items that you love wearing : 7 tops, 5 pants/skirts, 5 layers, 5 shoes, 3 bags.
If you can’t find these numbers, then find one less. Or pick items that are okay – not ideal, but not ones that make you feel or look bad !

Next remove any item that cannot be worn to make a good combination (one that you are comfortable with) with at least 3 of the other items (not all at the same time!). E.g. does this skirt look good with at least 3 of the tops, at least 3 of the layers, at least 2 of the shoes, at least 1 of the bags ? If not, replace it with something else you like.

If you find combining difficult, consider simplifying :

– choose one main darker neutral, such as :
– – black or navy if your skin colouring is blue toned and your colouring is generally stronger,
– – brown and grey are more difficult to choose but more adaptable, as they can be either blue or warm toned, either light or dark.

Here’s Imogen Lamport on choosing your best neutrals.

Some colour experts say a colour is a ‘neutral’ if it’s not on the colour wheel. I think that is a limiting definition. A wider definition is that a colour is called ‘neutral’ if it’s a colour that can be worn with everything else in the capsule, so makes a good starting point for many outfits (so your starting point colour could be shocking pink if your other colours are lime green and purple 😀 ).
Another criterion for a ‘neutral’ is that you would be willing to wear pants in this colour.
And your ‘neutral’ may depend on what you are choosing your capsule for – so shocking pink for a holiday trip but not for a business one !
You’re nearly always wearing this neutral colour, so it needs to be flattering and well-loved.

– add a lighter neutral – how much lighter could relate to the natural level of contrast you have in your colouring. Many people need a softened white, if they look good in white at all. Creams for someone warm toned.

– add not more than 2 accent colours or prints.

– choose everything with the same silhouette, such as :
– – top and bottom the same width,
– – wide tops over narrow bottoms,
– – narrow tops over wide bottoms.

Imogen Lamport has written a whole range of posts on issues that may come up in choosing items for a capsule wardrobe.
Here is her advice on what to consider if the above way of simplifying things doesn’t work for you : wardrobe basics.
And here’s an interesting post from her about choosing the colours for a capsule.

Classy yet Trendy also has a guide to devising your own capsule, mainly norm core styles and not free, but covers the basics to consider (with a little guidance on getting away from black, white, and denim blue !)

But try to keep things simple. And :
Hey Presto, your first capsule 😀

Some comments

Trying to build a capsule for the first time is not something that’s instant. Make small steps and enjoy your discoveries.
No need to get an ‘ideal’ capsule from the start. It will gradually ‘improve’ as you try things out.

Of course different stylists have different criteria for what a capsule should be like. Imogen Lamport of Inside-Out Style has fewer layers (she lives in a warm climate) and insists that everything co-ordinates.

This capsule idea doesn’t work for everyone. You may be someone who needs to choose an outfit on the day, whatever feels right at the time. What felt right yesterday evening when you were planning may not feel right this morning !
But you can pre-plan outfits, take photos of them, and choose which suits your current mood. Many people find it useful to take selfies of successful combinations, so they don’t have to do much experimenting in the morning.

Even a few steps towards achieving a part capsule can be useful and interesting. A ‘learning experience’. There’s no need to rush.

As you make progress, and learn more about your favourite garment colours, shapes, styles, co-ordinates, many people find that new items fit in without having to give it much thought.
Or if they don’t, don’t buy them !

Put these items at the front of your closet, so they’re the only ones you choose from when you’re getting dressed, and see if you find the capsule idea helpful.

If you love wearing makeup or jewellery, sprinkle on your favourites for even more joy and fun 😀
You could include them in try-out sessions too.
Or would you like to add into the mix : 5 hats, 5 scarves, 5 belts, hair ornaments, gloves ?

A small travel capsule

Choose 3 tops, 2 bottoms, 2 layers, 2 shoes.
In 2 different styles, such as casual + evening out, or work + dressy evening out.
With such a small number of items, it’s best if every possible combination looks good.
Take heavier items with you by wearing them for travel.
Jewellery, scarves, make-up are small light-weight ways of adding more looks.
And if you’re away for more than a few days, what about clothes care – do you mind hand washing in a hotel room ? If you would hate that, add more light-weight non-bulky tops.

If you’d like some more help with this, here is Janice of The Vivienne Files on what to keep packed for unexpected travel.

I’ve mentioned a few capsule stylists I’ve enjoyed following. Many more come up if you do a web search.
Enjoy your discoveries 😀

first published September 2020

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Change style by changing jacket

October 13, 2012

If you typically wear a ‘Key 3’ outfit of top, bottom, and layer – you probably already know it’s easy to change the whole look simply by changing the layer (or, even easier, the fabric).

Janice of the Vivienne Files recently suggested a basic wardrobe of classic knits, tees, shirts, slim pants/ jeans. Here’s her post on it. And my post on possible patterns.

Janice’s only ‘layer’ was a denim shirt-jacket. Which made the whole wardrobe look ultra-casual.

Very easy to change the style of this garment group by changing the jacket.
Here are some of the many options.

Soft cascade styles, short drape (McCall’s 6444), or long drape (McCall’s 6084), depending which flatters your body shape.

”m6444” ”m6064”

Other casual styles, such as hoodie (McCall’s 6614), or quilted (Butterick 5532).

”m6614” ”b5532”

More fitted, such as notched collar blazer (Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6655), or collarless (Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6441).

”m6655” ”m6441”

These are all ‘modern classics’.

Angie at You Look Fab suggests the blazer version as a fashion formula for this season.
(Though actually it’s been a fashion formula for decades. I can remember navy blazer/ white shirt/ blue jeans/ black flats being standard Parisienne style around 1990.)

More edgy/ trendy – the ‘tough-luxe’ look : biker (Kwik Sew 3764), or military (Kwik Sew 3466)

”ks3764” ”ks3466”

Try lace instead of leather for a biker jacket this season.
‘Military’ is emphasised in the November issues of UK Elle and In Style. Easy to use a double breasted jacket and add lots of gold buttons, including on the sleeves.

More arty-creative : asymmetric (Sewing Workshop Riviera), or oversized (Sewing Workshop Ikina).

”swriviera” ”swikina”

Janice at The Vivienne Files herself suggests a similar variety of jacket choices in a post on alternatives to the blazer.

(P.S. See photos of winter 2012-13 versions of these jacket styles from YouLookFab here.)

All these layering possibilities would look good with a tee and slim pants/ jeans/ skirt. No wonder those are considered ‘basics’ !
(See new wardrobe pattern for wovens, Butterick 5821 – hurrah – a wardrobe pattern with a top with sleeves !)


If, like me, you like a top with a collar (more flattering with my body shape and hair style), take a little more care with neckline co-ordination.
I think a mandarin/ band collar would look better with many of these jackets than a shirt collar.

If you like this season’s bow collar blouse, I think a blazer or other classic V-neck or slightly lowered round neck (examples in Simplicity 2154) looks best.

To go with the rest of the basic wardrobe in the colours Janice suggested, use tan, grey, navy, black, or your accent colour.
For jackets that will last for seasons, use solid fabrics.
For jackets that look ‘winter 2012’, use unusual tweed, brocade, brightly coloured fake fur, leather or leather trim.

Which layer is your style ?
Pick your favourite pattern with this style, and make it in casual, business, and special occasion colours or fabrics.
See Imogen Lamport at Inside-Out Style on changing the level of refinement of your clothes by changing the fabrics.
Even a hoodie can be multi-purpose ‘sports luxe’ if made in quality fabric.

Or alter your jacket using trims and embellishment.

There are a couple of on-line videos from Sewing with Nancy : ‘1 easy jacket pattern, 6 terrific looks’ : part 1, part 2. (The pattern used is Indygo Junction 885 Chinois coat, but many patterns are possible.) (book pattern DVD package)

Or, even more adventurous, Marcy Tilton’s Jackets CD.

Personally I’m happiest in a shirt-jacket, though definitely not a blue denim one. Only one pattern – hmm, that I would have difficulty with 😀 In winter I wear thicker fabrics and more ease for multiple layering. And my layers are where I like the interest of my outfits. There are luscious choices by named designers in the shirt section at Vogue. And over 2,000 vintage patterns on Etsy !

Or if you have many moods, make one of each jacket style 😀 and add some vests in a similar range of styles.
(Wear them with dresses and skirts too.)

What’s your pick from all the possibilities ?

Patterns and links available October 2012

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Wardrobe pattern co-ordination : ease for layering

March 31, 2012

Yet more comments on how a pattern like McCall’s 6519 can be a good basis for building a core wardrobe.


Two previous posts on this pattern :
– the interest and usefulness of wardrobe patterns with 5 rather than 4 items. And some other patterns with more items (post here).
– a few comments on how the shape elements of the different garments in this pattern work together (post here).

This post is about how shapes fit together for layering : is one layer large enough to be comfortable over another ? I’m not attempting to say everything there is to say about layering of all styles !

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Movement ease

‘Ease’ is the amount the garment is bigger than the wearer’s body measurements.

The most basic is ‘movement ease’, the amount that needs to be added to be able to wear the garment at all. For wovens, this is usually either 2 inches/ 5 cm or 4 inches / 10 cm at bust level. Some people prefer a close fitting basic style. Other people like their basics a little looser.

Some personal pattern drafting instructions produce a basic block with 2 inches ease, some produce one with 4 inches. Check whether the drafting adds 1/2 inch or 1 inch to the quarter measure at bust level. If you’re going to draft your own pattern block from scratch, look for a method which produces the basic ease level you prefer.

As knit fabrics have stretch, they provide inherent movement ease. Even so, some people like loose knits, some people like no ease. Very close fitting garments made from very stretch fabrics (swimsuits, leotards) may even be designed with negative ease (cut smaller than the body).

So pattern making books have separate basic pattern blocks for knits and body fitting clothes. Different basic blocks for fabrics with different amounts of stretch.

Bending room

In the simplest fitting shell, ‘movement ease’ just means enough room to breathe. You may need more room for real movements.

For example, my sitting hip measure is about 4 inches larger than my standing hip measure. Many skirt and pants patterns have 2 inches ease at hip level. In those patterns, I need to go up a size, to add another 2 inches of ease. So I can wear that style without straining the fabric.

This isn’t a problem with the pants of McCall’s 6519 as they are very loose fitting, with hip ease of more than 9 inches.

It could cause problems with sitting down in that wrap skirt, and I would probably make a muslin to check.

If you are an active person, and like to be comfortable, you may find you need a larger armhole and more fabric at elbow and knee. And you probably know you only like some skirt styles, because you can walk and dance freely in them.

Design ease

Then add on ‘design ease’, the extra needed to give the garment the shape and style that’s wanted. This affects whether a garment is close fitting or very loose. The BMV ease table shows total ease, movement ease plus design ease.

There are modern jacket styles (not the one in McCall’s 6519) which are close fitting, with only movement ease. For example, Basic Patternmaking in Fashion by Lucia Mors uses the same block for making both jacket and dress. These close fitting jackets aren’t mentioned in the BMV ease table. They’re made in jacket fabrics with jacket styling, but not meant to be layered over anything more than a camisole. So it’s worth checking the ease level of your pattern. (Total ease = difference between finished garment measurement and your measurement.)

Layering ease

So ‘design ease’ includes ‘layering ease’ if need be. Make sure there’s enough room to put one garment on over another. Best to have at least 1 inch/ 2.5 cm extra ease for every additional layer something needs to be comfortable over, including a lining.

This applies to knits too, if you want them to be comfortable.

The ease levels in McCall’s 6519 at bust height are :
dress (knit) : 1-1/2 inches / 3 cm
top (woven) : 4-1/2 inches / 11 cm
jacket (woven, unlined) : 5-1/2 inches / 13 cm

So it might not look very good, but if you were cold you could wear all three 3 layers at the same time !

Armholes and sleeves

In this McCall’s 6519 pattern, dress and top are both sleeveless, so the problem of layering the jacket over another sleeve doesn’t arise.

If you want to layer one sleeve over another, then the outer armhole and sleeve need to be larger too.

It’s also easiest if all layers have the same style armhole : all fitted, all cut on, all raglan, all drop shoulder, etc. Most armhole shapes work over fitted, but not the other way round !

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Now there are three posts inspired by McCall’s 6519. The first two were on :
5-item wardrobe patterns
co-ordination of shapes

In the first post I mentioned the easy ways of adding more items to a wardrobe pattern to make a core wardrobe : changing fabrics and lengths. Those easy ways may not add much to the sewing interest 😀

How to add more styles when starting from one pattern ? If you’re ready to try a little pattern altering, you don’t have to go straight to a full-scope professional-training pattern-making bible. There are many simpler sources of advice to use as a starting point. Am planning a post listing some of them.

Or if having ideas for capsules and small wardrobes is the point you get stuck at, look at The Vivienne Files or Polyvore. You may not share their ‘modern classics’ styling, but they’re full of ideas for combinations that make outfits and capsules.

Enjoy 😀

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Patterns and links available March 2012

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Wardrobe pattern co-ordination : shapes and lines

March 17, 2012

Continuing with comments on how a pattern like McCall’s 6519 can be a good basis for building a core wardrobe (see my previous past).


It’s interesting to look at how a wardrobe pattern solves the problems of co-ordination. There are several.

One is the shapes visually, such as : does a loose fitting jacket look good with loose fitting pants, what necklines go together. . . I’ll say a bit about this pattern here. There could be many more points about co-ordinating shape and style elements once you add other patterns to supplement this one. A possible topic for another post.

Another issue is : do the shapes fit together for layering : is the jacket/ overlayer large enough to be comfortable over other garments ? Later post planned on this.

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Visual shapes

Some wardrobe patterns co-ordinate shapes by using garments with few distinctive style elements.

The garments in this pattern have some style interest but still co-ordinate. They do that by having some common style elements.

Necklines and collars

Many people have difficulty co-ordinating neckline and collar shapes. What looks good, what is comfortable. . .

There are 3 necklines here :
– shawl collar with notch on edge-to-edge front (jacket).
– wide notched collar above wrap front (dress).
– simple scoop neck (top).


Notice that it’s quite easy to combine two notched collars if they differ in width, or how deep/ big the notch is, or how high the notch is on the body.

Here’s a photo from Kibbe’s “Metamorphosis” oop book showing some bravura notched collar co-ordinating. Two collars with notches of different shapes at different heights, plus a convertible collar. (A shirt collar would also work well – worn closed for a more ‘controlled’ look.)


(Notice also how this designer uses different textures in the nearly same shade. And the dramatic accessories give a very different impact to the classic clothes. Imagine these clothes more fitted – this outfit is from the 80s when clothes were big shouldered and loose fitting !)


In McCall’s 6519, an edge-to-edge jacket works well over a wrap style, so long as the wrap doesn’t have a lot of fullness.
The simple top can be worn tucked in or out, for more or less formal effect.

The skirt and lower dress are the same pattern pieces.
Skirts and pants share a similar style element – pleats, which makes them good alternatives.

The pants are very loose fitting (9-1/2 inches ease at hip level). So they look best with a not too large jacket. This one has 5-1/2 inches ease at bust level, semi-fitted by BMV ease criteria.

I wrote a previous post on simplifying co-ordinates by using a limited number of shapes.

Type of line

Released pleats give a soft line (sewn down pleats have an more angular effect). Dress, skirt and pants all have these soft lines. The neckline of the top continues with the curves. Knits for dress and skirt also add softness.

Although the jacket and dress notch corners are angled in the pattern, they are softer in the line drawings. You could use slightly rounded corners on the bottom of the front openings and the patch pockets. Or of course you can have mixed curves and angles. Which goes best with your body shapes and lines, your personality ?

A pattern with curves and pleats like this might be better suited to someone who has soft lines in their face and body, or a gentler personality.

If you have straighter more angular lines to your face and body, or need to look crispy efficient, you might prefer Butterick 5760. Angular styling, except for a little softening in jacket silhouette and lapels.


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These two posts have looked at one pattern in detail. There’s more to say on layering, in another post (here). And possibly more later on using this pattern to build a wardrobe. . . Very different from the way most of us usually sew – when we make a different pattern in a different fabric every time 😀

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Patterns and links available March 2012

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