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Build an authentic capsule wardrobe

The clay-colored linen of my dreams! And look at that poppy gold!

It began with a tidy stack of naturally dyed skeins and a plan for the perfect sweater

Something changed for me when I got some skeins of Kelcey’s (KnittingNiqabi) fingering weight Ludo. It’s such a different color than my usual go-to's; it's saturated, complicated. Raspberries muddled in sunshine, seen through a golden hour filter. I wanted more.

A rusty raspberry sweater hem with deep ribbing and twisting cables. A shell with pink and peach rocks in it.
I'll take a chilly beach and a glass of red, please!

Then, I got my copy of Jacqueline Cieslak’s Embody. Hands down, my most worn garments are linen dresses with little to no shaping. I have two from Conscious Clothing and one from Simone's Rose, and I wear them every week, year-round. I knew right away that I wanted to sew the Woolfork dress, and I ordered my prints of the pattern immediately.

At my local independent fabric shop, I fell in love with a bolt of clay-colored linen. I tried hard not to look too closely at the price, closed my eyes, opened my wallet, and took it home.

A few days later, I was experimenting with dying some yarn using avocado pits, creating an earthy blush color. I haven't ever done this particular craft before, but was super inspired by Modus Operandi Fiber's Dirt & Dye leaflet and decided to just play. It was so much fun that I have half a dozen avocado pits waiting for me in the freezer for another go!

A pink and camel winter scarf with a gradient, a skein of yarn hand-dyed with avocado pits, creating a soft earthy blush.
I DYED this yarn! With FOOD!

Planning a wardrobe from scratch has never worked for me

In the past whenever I’ve tried to get serious about planning my wardrobe, I’ve gotten stuck on thoughts like “where do even start?” and “what exactly is my style?” and “will I actually wear this?” I’ve browsed Pinterest, trying to find looks and styles that resonate, but never able to quite translate that to my closet. Maybe I find a picture I like, but it's a dead-end, not available to buy. Or I can't imagine how I'd style it. I love that shirt, but it requires slacks and there's no way in a million years I'm going to wear them. Or, maybe worst of all, I fall in love with something dry clean only.

So here I am, with a stack of useful facts. I've effortlessly identified which things in my closet I wear the most. I have a dream color I keep gravitating towards. And I have a stack of things in my home that I keep styling together.

Keep layering in existing pieces

I grabbed a few more favorites from my closet - this mustard hemp knit jacket (also from Conscious Clothing, what can I say, I'm a fangirl). I saw this necklace in Target and went 'oooh! my colors!' and snatched it (I regret this, it's already broken, if you can help me find something handmade to replace it I would like to make amends to my closet). I have the perfect pink-to-camel gradient scarf, and that ends up in all these photos too.

A mustard hemp fleece jacket, skeins of warm olive green yarn, knitting needles, and a fast-fashion necklace with clay colored fringe.
My most-worn jacket, and some yarn wound for my upcoming sweater, Soft Structure.

With experimentation, themes emerge

As I worked on getting some photos for my Insta, I noticed that I had styled my pictures with all the same things from around my home. Unifying elements started to appear, and they translate directly to wardrobe planning - some in obvious ways, some more subtle:

  1. All of these colors play nicely. So I'm here for warm olive, saturated goldenrod, clay, blush, brown, and white.

  2. Each of these photos has an organic element, and that element is typically adding granular texture. So if I run into some earrings that have little wooden beads, or a statement necklace with a big wooden hoop that has wood grain showing, those are coming home with me. I know they'll work, sight unseen, and have a place with every piece of this capsule.

  3. Each of these photos has a gold or bronze element. Good to know.

  4. I'm gravitating towards clothes that are solid, with accessories that add texture. Okay, so I'm looking for a blush gauze scarf, ideally with some embroidery or fringe.

  5. I love each of these photos with a white or ivory element - if I find a tote bag with a rope handle, or a watch with a macrame strap, I'll know it'll be perfect.

  6. Apparently, I'm really into shells? I didn't know it but the proof is here!

Below, you can see how I started to really experiment with texture and color. If you had asked me if I could pair blush with mustard, I probably would have thought not - but then again, I'm pretty open about not being great with color. Obviously, I won't be styling this look with a skein of yarn - but maybe this yarn needs to be a little scarf or cowl? Or maybe in cotton?

I think what I love most about where I've arrived is that even though I don't yet have all the pieces I'm imagining, I am confident I'll know it when I see it. I don't feel any desire to go shopping, because I know the odds of finding what I'm looking for by casually browsing is unlikely to yield the exact thing I'm looking for. That frees me up to take it slow and to shop for (and design!) handmade pieces as I have the budget.

A skein of naturally dyed yarn is worn around my neck, I also wear a mustard colored knit jacket with great drape and a light gray linen dress. Peony leaves are in the foreground.
I'm in the market for a pattern for this yarn!

Plan your closet - and your makes - around concrete constraints

I'm much better at solving a problem with constraints than I am being outright creative. I like a word problem, not to start from scratch by searching Pinterest for 'capsule wardrobe ideas'. For me, picking an initial concrete starting point (I like to wear linen dresses and I'm going to sew one) grounded this entire experience.

If you'd like to experiment with this method, start with no more than two things in your closet that you absolutely love. Then walk around your house and gather things that tell a story with it. A book. your purse. A leaf from your tree. Don't limit yourself to things that feel like photo props. Maybe you love the packaging from your TJ's crackers or the way your newspaper looks where you spilled coffee on it! As you try out different combos, I'll bet some themes emerge for you, too. If it doesn't come all at once, it may take coming back for a few days, and that's okay. The point of dressing sustainably is to create a wardrobe that lasts for years, so there's no rush.

What can you knit that fits perfectly into your capsule?

One last photo - I've had to set this project aside to work on some deadline projects, but I can't wait to get back to my The Ocean Shawl, from Tangerine Designs. The yarn is from Ritual Dyes, and this was a splurge I could make because I haven't been buying fast fashion and that I'm confident I'll wear because it fits with everything I'm planning!

A mosaic knit triangular shawl with brick, clay and sand details. The texture is nubby. Pictured with a fast fashion necklace with a warm clay colored fringe.
I can't wait to get back to working on this - just a few more rows til the lace!

Go Further

  1. All of this stuff is great - if you're making clothes that meet your sensory needs. Check out this post for more on wearability.

  2. Clothes from Conscious Clothing and Simone's Rose.

  3. Macrame earrings are from Wandered Goods, who also makes gorgeous, intentional crystal jewelry and pieces for the home.

  4. If you ever feel stuck in a rut, check out the Dirt + Dye leaflets from Modus Operandi Fibers. Everything from Rin is super inspirational, and although I'm normally someone who likes to do things that I'm already good at, it was a tremendous joy to step outside my comfort zone and do something that felt like play.

  5. Similarly, my time in Gavriella's flatlay class was one of the most energizing and exciting few hours I've spent since the pandemony started. If you're on the fence, jump in, it's worth every penny.

PS: I'm almost done with the muslin for my Woolfork dress. I'm getting there, y'all. As I said, it's very nice linen...

If you have any thoughts, or ideas for others planning their wardrobes, drop them below!

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