#aggressivelyambitious and the Handmade Wardrobe

I did a personality profile recently.  Not like an online quiz kind of thing, but like a detailed personality assessment with a 39-page analysis and a person-to-person de-brief with the consultant.

It was so, so fun.birkman pages

I mean that completely un-ironically.  I LOVE test-taking.  LOVE IT.  Always have.  I would get all a-twitter on days when we had standardized testing, I thought it was like a treat, like Christmas coming early and ALL FOR ME.  I thought the PSAT was a PARTY.  (Side note: I am not normal.  I embrace and delight in this.  My personality profile told me so.)

The point of all this is that for the most part, my personality profile was RIGHT ON.  It really gave me big insight into how I function under stressful conditions, and how others can speak to and direct me to greatest advantage.  It was angled toward workplace interactions, and included a “cheat sheet” for how supervisors could successfully meet my needs and get the most efficiency from me–how to structure assignments, how to provide feedback, how to reward effectively.  It has also proved to be really useful for me and my husband, who also took it, offering us unexpected tools for how to understand one another when we’re having trouble communicating.

I did have one beef with the results, though.  During the de-brief, most of what I heard was unsurprising.  But the analysis characterized me as “aggressively competitive,” which isn’t how I think of myself.  I tried to embrace it, half-jokingly, for a few weeks after, but then I had an epiphany.

teddy roosevelet quote

I am competitive, I don’t have an issue with that.  I don’t think women should apologize for being competitive or wanting things–I am mildly offended that women, historically, have been encouraged to be passive, and all the talent and drive that has been wasted by that particular social pressure.  What I realized as a result of my resistance to the label, though, is that I’m not competitive with OTHERS.  I’m competitive with ME.  I want to win, but not at your expense–I think we can ALL win, and it’s not important for me to beat you so much as for me to achieve objectively.  I know I will push myself to win, but not by pushing you out of the way; I push only because I really, really like to succeed.  As I said to the consultant, “I don’t have to be perfect.  I just like to be reeeeaaallllly excellent.”

Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people.  –Nido Qubein

So I’ve begun to think of myself as aggressively AMBITIOUS.  I like to set giant goals and then see how close I can get to them.  It’s exciting.  It’s why I like tests to start with: I want to see how I measure up, not against YOU, but against an objective standard.  I’d love it if you and I could cross that finish line together and celebrate side-by-side, because I completely believe that there’s room enough for all of us–but make no mistake: I fully intend to cross that finish line.  I won’t sweep your leg or anything, but I’m here because I have Stuff To Do.

olga korbut quote

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about sewing clothing, specifically about mastering the art of FIT.  It’s been a rejuvenation of sorts, largely inspired by the League of Adventurous Dressmakers and the lessons we’ve been exploring together this year.  I’ve been so inspired and excited to make things for MYSELF, for FUN, and it has gotten me really going on making a new wardrobe that makes sense.  (I wrote more about it here.)

ambitious wardrobe all

These are the fabrics I’ve selected.  Yeah.  That’s a LOT of fabric.  It’s ambitious, yes?  I was thinking of it as a summer wardrobe, until I realized that I’m making an ACTUAL wardrobe.  An everyday wardrobe.  My whole wardrobe.  My ENTIRE wardrobe–because there is way too much here for just the summer months.


bo jackson quote

The trick is to balance that ambition and vision with my own issues with greed.  I have also discovered, less through the personality profile and more through observation of my own behavior, that I really struggle with wanting MORE.  We already have a lot.  (Truth check: if you live in the Western World, you ARE the 1% compared to everyone else on the planet, so no matter how little you feel like you have, you are blisteringly rich.)  I don’t want my days and my life to be driven by consumption, and take a very dim view of those who blindly acquire with no recognition of where those goods come from or what cost they have beyond the dollar price–and if that’s the case, then I have to also be honest with myself when I look in the mirror, and at my fabric stash, and at my closet.

So the next logical question is: do I NEED all this stuff?  Yes, it’s great that I want to explore the idea of fit, and that I want to build this wardrobe, and that I’m setting this goal for myself and seeking to achieve something so ambitious.  But do I NEED it?  Have I just replaced mindless spending with mindless sewing?

dieter rams quote

I think about this again and again.  And it derails my plans, over and over.  In fact, those stacks of fabric have been right where they are today for weeks (granted, I was out of town for four of those weeks, but I don’t doubt that all those fabrics would have remained there regardless).

Of course I don’t need all this stuff.  Be serious: for thousands of years, people have gotten by with one or two sets of clothing.  All these garments are a mark of status and wealth, not a necessity.  But how do I find harmony between “need” and “want” in a modern age?  I mean, we’re NOT living thousands of years ago, and we DON’T get by with one or two sets of clothing.  So how much is enough?  When does need cross the line to want and then become greed?  And in the space between meeting needs and avoiding greed, how much room is there for artistic expression and creative outlet?

abitious wardrobe above

I don’t have an answer, y’all.  I’m just working all this stuff through, and hoping to gain something that resembles a working solution.  Today, looking at these piles of fabric, what I can get my brain around is this:

  • there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have nice things
  • having more things than you can reasonably use is the line between “want” and “greed”
  • handmade is only better than store-bought if it continues to allow me to get closer to the ideal of sustainable garments that generate pleasure in the making and the wearing
  • thrift store garments can meet the same goal, and are often quicker than sewing, but can still exhibit inferior fit or poor workmanship from factory production
  • too many handmade garments is as wasteful as too many store-bought ones (although I appreciate the fact that at least handmade removes mass-production from the equation)

In the short term, then, until I can develop some kind of over-arching Comprehensive Theory of Garment Making, my answer is that for every garment that comes into my wardrobe (or off my sewing machine), it must function in two ways:

  1. Any garment must fit into a niche in my wardrobe that fulfills a need and is aesthetically pleasing–that is, it must be both functional and beautiful
  2. Each garment must either replace an existing garment or fill an empty “slot,” keeping the total volume of garments relatively low and creating a selective environment in which pieces are heavily edited to keep only the best

ambitious wardrobe close up

I find these requirements very satisfying.  I don’t THINK I’ve drafted them specifically to allow me to still make EVERY garment I have planned with these fabrics, but I can’t promise that.  The human ability to rationalize is legendary, and there’s every possibility that I’ll look back on this post and shake my head in horror at my own naïveté.  But for now, with the amount of perspective I can gain, this is what I have.

I hope to be #aggressivelyambitious about making beautiful clothes, for my own pleasure and without greed, about placing QUALITY over QUANTITY, about working slowly to make lovely things I’m proud to keep for years.  I think I can have a mostly handmade wardrobe without having an ENORMOUS wardrobe, keeping the very best pieces and investing in fabric & construction techniques that will give me pleasure when the piece is created as well as when it’s worn.  I’m guessing it’ll be just as much fun as sewing massive quantities of stuff, but vastly more fulfilling.

What about you?  Has your sewing met a crossroads with your personality or your values at some point?  We’re all figuring it out, and I’d love to figure this out together with you.

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  • FP Wear
    August 16, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    I enjoyed this essay thoroughly, as I am wondering about many of the same things. One of the requirements that I would add to my own list is sewing for learning. That sometimes even if a garment that cannot or will not be worn emerges from my textile struggles, that it will have been a worthwhile venture if I’ve learned from it. I don’t want to be intimidated to sew by a strict rule set that takes out of the joy. But intentionality is good.
    So that’s where I’m at.

  • Amy
    August 16, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    This is exactly where my thoughts have been lately! Have you heard of the Capsule Wardrobe? These thoughts take that concept to a whole other level and I’m trying to not let it suck the joy out of sewing for me. When I shop for fabric and patterns now, I try to keep these concepts at the forefront and it’s tough not to give in to impulse.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this a couple of months from now…

  • Sabrina B.
    August 17, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    I totally agree, especially about the greed aspect. I find that the less time I spend online, the less greedy I am in my sewing (because I am not shopping for the perfect fabric for some future hypothetical garment) and the more time I actually spend sewing. I like the planning part, which involves pattern and fabric shopping, but I try not to let that be the majority of my sewing life. In the end, it is more satisfying to sew from my stash with patterns that I’ve forgotten I own.

  • Anna
    September 1, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve been focusing on making sure what comes into my home is something I actually need. After spending years of cleaning out, I still feel like I have too much. In the last year or so this has affected my sewing as well. I used to create because I actually needed something – a shirt to wear, a quilt to cover my bed, a headboard, a table. But now it’s gotten to the point where I really don’t need anything. I haven’t really decided what to do, but at least I know where this feeling is coming from. Maybe I’ll figure something out?

  • treen
    September 6, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    What an interesting train of thought! I need to ride it a couple more times to really absorb it.

    At this point, I frankly don’t need to worry about greed in my sewing because I’m not sewing for one. I’m not even sewing for myself yet. I have 5 daughters, ages 10 to 3, who all would love and wear a handmade wardrobe. I’ve phased out most (all?) store-bought skirts and replaced them with handmades. My goal is to do the same with dresses and pajamas, and will probably leave it there. I’m also starting to make quilts, which is where I’m having more fun/creativity right now.