This month I am re-introducing you to Holly Chayes, and we’re going to talk about Holly Chayes’ Self-Made Wardrobe project! These monthly features of other creative businesses are a way for all of us to get to know these wonderful businesses; It has been a long-time interest of mine to explore how other creative people make their way as professionals.
Introducing Holly Chayes’ Self-Made Wardrobe Project
Holly, welcome back! I’ve been wanting to talk to you in more depth about the Self-Made Wardrobe Project that you did in 2015. I really relate because when I was your age I always made everything I wore (bras and panties and jeans excluded). Since there is probably 35 years difference in our ages, I could actually sew my wardrobe more inexpensively than I could buy it at that time.
Q: Explain a little of what got you started with this. I know for you it is always questions, so what was the primary question, and did that evolve over the 365 days?
A: Thanks for having me back Jill! You’re right, I do always start my projects with a question, and for the Self-Made Wardrobe Project, the first question was “could I do it?” and the second question was “what would it be like?”
Those questions themselves didn’t really evolve, but like all good questions do, they did spawn other questions, like: why does what I enjoy making differ from what I gravitate towards wearing? why do I wear what I wear? and why do I make what I make?
That last one is really great. What I enjoy knitting the most isn’t what I love to wear the most. I think I’m probably the same with garment designing. I know my students at FIDM were surprised at how creative I am because I don’t have a radical physical persona.
Q: What preconceptions got reinforced? Which ones got blown up?
A: The notions that got reinforced were mainly wardrobe preferences, such as I don’t really enjoy wearing blouses, or most dresses, and I prefer fuller skirts to pencil or A-line skirts.
The first was about the practicality of skirts. Before this project I had, stashed in the back of my head, the idea that skirts weren’t as practical as pants. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Whenever I was facing a day where I had to run around and do lots of things, whether it was a day of errands or a day at work where I knew I’d be running around, I would pull on a pair of jeans in the morning. Those running around days didn’t go away when I started the Self-Made Wardrobe project, but I didn’t have a pair of jeans to pull on (and still didn’t until 200-some-dd days into the project), so I did all the running around in skirts. It took a little bit of getting used to, but ultimately wasn’t any harder than running around all day in jeans.
And the second notion was about the cost of the project. I expected the Self-Made Wardrobe Project to cost a lot more then it did. Again, I discovered I had a preconceived notion that making clothing is prohibitively expensive. And while it is true that making clothing can be expensive, it is at the same time true that it can be incredibly inexpensive as well. A lot of how much does a piece of clothing cost comes down to what the piece of clothing is, and how much you’re willing to spend on it.
I delved deeper into the whole money part of the project, in this blog post – including how much each piece of clothing cost in materials and also how much each piece of clothing cost divided by the number of times I wore it.
I love cost per wear, but you never know going in! I have a coat which you can literally see through the left shoulder (where I carry my handbag most often). I have not thrown it out because I want to copy it. I was convinced it was too expensive when I bought it, but I’m sure I have worn it enough so that it cost me a few pennies per wear. I have a pair of slacks like that too—except I may have gotten money back on them!
Q: What unexpected things came up for you during the Wardrobe Project?
A: I was actually astonished by how many times I wore a particular hand knit sweater dress, that I never would have looked twice at if I had seen it in a store. This dress, when I paired it with leggings, sort of turned into my default lounge wear. Because of course I spend a lot of my time working from home, and therefor spend a lot of time in comfy clothing – all of which got packed up when I started the project, because it was all store bought. Here’s the blog post about the dress, I experimented with wearing it as a tunic over something, but ended up wearing it almost exclusively with leggings.
Q: Did you have any wardrobe emergencies? How did you handle it/them?
A: Yes and no. I never had any days where I had nothing to wear. And I never had any days in the fall or winter where I didn’t have enough warm clothing to wear. So there were no straight up emergencies.
But I did have a number of days, mostly at the beginning of the project when I started sewing a piece of clothing in the morning, finished it around noon or one, and wore it out that afternoon.
Ah, the benefit of working from home!
Q: How much time did you spend making clothes?
A: The amount of time I spent making clothing is one thing I wish I had tracked a bit more carefully.
Thinking back on it – I certainly spent a lot of time making clothing, but it never felt like I spent an inordinate amount of time at it. I spent a lot of time making clothing, because making clothing takes a lot of time.
Things also calmed down a lot a bit into the project – once I had a comfortable amount of clothing, then I started in on more complex makes, and also taking time for making non-clothing projects.
I could probably go back through my calendar and calculate the amount of time I spent making – but that doesn’t in any way sound appealing. Though I did chart what day I first wore each piece of clothing, and included it in this blog post about how often I wore each garment in my wardrobe.
Q: I know you blogged about it, but what other records did you keep or track for the Self-Made Wardrobe Project?
A: The primary thing I did to track this project was to take a daily photo (and then also to keep the receipts). I posted the photos each Friday, accompanied by what I wore each day, and a bit of what I was thinking about that week.
Along with that I posted finished object posts for each piece of clothing. And for a couple years now, I’ve written a post each Wednesday about what projects I’m working on – so the Self Made Wardrobe project ended up in those posts a lot.
I loved the wrap-ups. This one was great because you were looking ahead. Traveling is always a good way to see how many ways something can be worn. It has been a great revelation to me that it is my desire for newness, not that other people even notice what I wear!
Holly Chayes’ Shawl Geometry
Q: I became aware of you through the Shawl Geometry books. Tell me about the update currently underway.
A: Oh this update. Haha!
The Shaw Geometry Books are a series of 3 books, that teach you all the ins & outs of shawl shaping – taken together they are basically a masterclass in shaping knitted shawls.
I wrote them three years ago, and at the beginning of this year I got it into my head to give them a polish. Another round of editing to get rid of a couple small consistently & formatting issues, add a couple shapes that I had left out, but nothing too terribly drastic.
A couple months later, with twice the original number of shawl shapes, and three times the number of pages, this update has turned into a fully revised 2nd edition – the notion of a small, quick, polish is a very small idea in my rear view mirror.
But I got the first book to my technical editor a couple days ago & am plowing through the edits of the second – so it’s really starting to come together!
Congratulations! I am frightened each time I decided to relook at something. I am currently working on a project that started out as just an update. It has expanded quite a bit since then!
Q: What else?
A: I’m incredibly excited to start sharing this project with people. It’ll be out in the Fall, and if you want to know as soon as the second edition of the Shawl Geometry Books are available, sign up here for updates!
Holly Chayes’ Virtual Assisting
Q: I know you do work as a Virtual Assistant as well as knitwear, so tell me more about that. [Full disclosure: I have hired Holly to work on a project on my website. She is logical in ways I am not and it has been a joy working with her.]
A: So, in addition to doing clothing and wardrobe projects, and writing knitting books & patterns, and working at a fabric shop, I also work as a virtual assistant for a handful of creatives – because why be busy when you can be super busy.
As a virtual assistant I help my clients with a whole variety of things – mostly focused on websites, social media, photos, graphics, that sort of thing. I help them do all the technical website things that creative business owners know they “should” get to but just don’t have time to.
For example, for you, I’m organizing & spiffing your techniques database. For other clients I’ve built websites, revamped blog archives, worked on project launches, created promotional materials for classes & trade shows – that sort of thing. I basically give my clients extra hours in their day.
Thank you for the extra hours! I sent Holly an email earlier this week saying it was crazy that I ever thought I could do the project she is working on by myself. Getting those extra hours is huge! Yay for VAs!
Thank you again for having me back Jill! It was absolutely wonderful!
Okay, but now I think I need to get you on the calendar to talk about the new, revised Shawl Geometry at the proper time!
Missed something above? You can read the whole story of Holly Chayes’ Self-Made Wardrobe project here. Below are other pertinent links for the multi-faceted Holly Chayes!
Important Links for Holly Chayes