There is an annual contest called Sewing with a Plan, or SWAP for short. It is organised by the Stitchers’ Guild, and is an amazing opportunity to work on your own projects along with others, world-wide. The skill level is high, but no-one is excluded. There is a lot of enthusiasm, advice and support available and I would like to encourage anyone who sews to join in this year. It is free to enter, and there are no prizes. But if you get a beautiful hand-made wardrobe, with several items that work together, in colours and styles that suit you and fit well, then you are definitely a winner. I intend to post my progress every Saturday over the next six months, and warmly welcome feedback at any stage.
The rules have just been published, and here is a summary.
We need to make 11-garments, with all the tops working with all the bottoms, and wildcard garments that work with every other item.
- 5 tops
- 3 bottoms
- 3 “wildcard” items
At least one garment must be reversible, transformable, or up-cycled from another garment. For instance: a dress that can be worn as a shirt, a pair of pants that can roll up to be worn as shorts, or a jacket that can also be a dress. “Up-cycling” includes remaking an older garment into something new, taking a vintage pattern and modernising it into a more current style, or recycling the fabrics or notions from another item to incorporate it into something new. The original item to be reworked does not need to be a garment; you can remake a dozen scarves into a skirt or transform an old handbag into a collar and cuffs – use your imagination.
The “wild card” options can be just about anything you like, but they must be “garments” not accessories. One of the garments can be purchased, and one can be made before the official sewing time which is 26 December to 30 April. Between now and Boxing day the idea is to plan the wardrobe.
I joined in last year and really enjoyed it. I was pleased with my set. I have worn the outfits consistently, apart from the pink jacket.
In my opinion the key thing is to get the fabric choices right. I cannot plan in detail until I have the cloth. While I could plan out a colour scheme first I would then have to buy fabric to work with the colour scheme which would imply buying it “off the bolt”. My own approach is to buy offcuts, remnants, charity shop finds, end of roll, damaged goods etc. I do this for reasons of economy and I find it more interesting. I have always thought any fool can make a great meal if they have a Sainsbury recipe card and all the items listed on it. My skill is on rustling up something appealing with a bag of frozen peas, a packet of spaghetti and a few random things at the back of the fridge.
I have tried before to start with a set of patterns, but I soon realised that without the fabric I can’t really deliver it. So the planning period is, for me, the fabric hunt. While I have no particular colour scheme in mind I am short of yellows, purple, red and green in my wardrobe. Some of my daily basic (neutrals – navy, grey, dark green) suits are showing wear and tear. However I am keeping an open mind.
From my experience last year, in order to make everything work together, it is desirable to get some patterned fabric into the mix, and to use this as the inspiration for the whole set. I take this concept from French interior design. Their idea is to choose a nice chintz for the curtains, and then use this colour palette for the rest of the room.
If this chintz was your curtaining, then you could for example include a dark green carpet, a white sofa, blue lampshades, pink cushions and a deep pink chair. It works and if you want to put a limited wardrobe together this can be a really helpful idea.
When I made my last SWAP I had a multi-coloured floral cardigan that I used as an inspirational palette and it pulled everything together. It is a type of chintz really, and I wear this cardigan a lot with turquoise, pink, red, dark green, white and blue dresses, skirts and trousers. I really like the colour scheme and it suits my colouring. My SWAP may depend on finding an item like this to start me off.
An alternative is to find a woven fabric with quite a lot of colour in it and use it for the coat. One idea I have (as I like to use English or Scottish products) is to use a Harris tweed for the coat. Many of the fabrics are soft muted shades which I don’t really go for. There are some great bright Harris tweeds available now, and it is easy to see how they could lend themselves to a creative colour palette.
Last year I used a few peices of Linton (English) tweed. Another idea might be to use tartan. I would like a green and navy tartan, but is there such a thing as a reversible tartan? Who knows. But this might mean paying full price, off the bolt. I will have to start looking.
While many participants start with patterns, often relying on their “tried and tested” patterns, I have no specific patterns in mind at this time. That too depends on the weight, colour and type of fabric. So the 11 garments I am planning to make, which may change a little, is
- two suits, each with a matching blouse (6 items)
- skirt and blouse (2 items)
- a pair of trousers and purchased knitwear (2 items)
- a coat (1 item)
If the fabric works out one of these items may be reversible. Otherwise I shall probably be using vintage patterns, buttons and fabrics, so that would meet the reversible/up-cycle requirement.
About the process
I will be posting a SWAP update thread on Artisan’s Square and here, every week. Last year I didn’t have a blog, and I didn’t share my thinking with anyone. Putting a fully formed wardrobe of 11 outfits out there at the end came as a shock to me as well as those who voted. This year I will be doing my planning, and my sewing, in public as it were. This will be a different experience for me. I will share the experience in case anyone finds it of interest, and to record my own progress for myself. I do worry that my mistakes, blind alleys and changes of plan might undermine the idea that the whole thing is first constructed in the imagination and then carefully executed. Others will have the skill, expertise and thinking style to work like that, but I cannot do it. I make it up as I go along and may well be madly sewing completely new and unplanned items in March 2015.