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Sonya Philip, an interesting wardrobe, and projects that require practice

May 10, 2018

Recently I’ve realized that I am at a point in my life where many of my current projects require PRACTICE, repetition, and solid habits. Maybe its the theme of this decade (my 30’s)?

The things that I’m interested in taking forward in both my creative work and my personal life are the sorts of things that don’t come easily or quickly. These kinds of projects require daily or weekly attention, a load of work, and seem to develop so very much more slowly that I’d prefer!

Just a few of the swatches and prototype projects that I’ve made as I develop colourwork designs for our upcoming collection.

A few things I’m working on personally are my posture (pilates), fitness (regular running), and re-learning piano (I just started lessons). In my knitting and design I am focussed on building skills and experimenting within stranded colourwork, as Alexa and I put together our next collection.

Let me tell you, designing in colourwork requires A LOT of practice! These hats are from our Week Of Colour blog post series that explores different colour strategies.

Perhaps somewhere between the professional and the personal floats my grand ambition to develop a more interesting wardrobe for myself. For as long as I can remember I have bemoaned my lack of an ‘interesting’ wardrobe. Despite being a designer, my clothes have always been woefully boring, and yet I’ve always admired women and men who let their personalities and playful sides show through clothing.

As I write this post, I realize I have a load of stylish friends who inspire me; Ysolda puts together quirky yet thoughtful combinations and wears loads of hand-made items, Jess of Ginger Twist Studio rocks vintage pieces alongside a stunning array of knits, and the lovely ladies of PomPom never fail to impress with their whimsical mix of delicious colours and modern designs.

Sonya Philip, creator of 100 Acts of Sewing

A view from the Instagram feed of Sonya Philip, textile artist and creator of 100 Acts of Sewing.

I recently met a woman who REALLY knocks me out with her fashion sense and creativity. At the Edinburgh Yarn Festival this year I ran into my current style idol, Sonya Philip in person! I’ll have to admit I butted right in to her conversation with ‘OMG I LOVE YOUR WORK SO MUCH’ in true awkward fan style. Luckily I ran into her later on and apologized!

Sonya and I headed to EYF 2018 – we made a pretty great colour combination eh?! Photo by Jeni Reid

Sonya is a San Francisco-based artist and the creator of a series of sewing patterns, called 100 Acts of Sewing. In 2012 she began a project to sew 100 projects. In her words: “What began as a personal challenge to make 100 dresses in a year, has developed into a larger exploration of praxis.” Read more on her site.

Sonya’s Instagram feed is one of my very favourite. Ever. It just makes me crazy happy! There are many things that I love about her work, but the thing I want to focus on is PRACTICE.

100 Acts of Sewing patterns

With the 100 Acts of Sewing patterns, Sonya has created basic patterns which erase any barriers to creation. It is in each person’s use of these patterns, their curation of fabrics, pattern, and details where these patterns really shine. For me, Sonya’s work is an invitation to play, to practice, to become proficient. Not to BE perfect, BE proficient, or HAVE the ideal thing instantaneously, but to create, step by step, day by day, and revel in the joy of this process and its results.

Sonya wears her designs so well! I find her combinations of colour, pattern, texture so joyous and inspiring. How can I drool over this endless source of inspiration, but then pull on the same jeans & tank top every day?! Well… because it is a long process, a daily or weekly practice, to go from boring shop-bought wardrobe to interesting hand-made wardrobe. And to be honest (and make my excuses!), my kids are 2 and 3.5, so life is only just now becoming a tiny bit easier!

an interesting wardrobe for me

So there it is, a 30’s life goal … making and wearing clothes that speak a little bit more of me, who I am, and what I love. I’ll be starting with sweaters (naturally!), and moving from there. I made these swingy tank tops last year, and I think I’ll make a few more because they’re what I really love to wear under my sweaters.

To move beyond jeans, I think the sewing project that I need to ‘nail’ is trousers (I suppose that 7 years in Scotland means I’m converting from ‘pants’!). So I’m hoping to find or develop a perfect pattern for a) high waisted wide leg trousers and b) slim trousers, like a jeans fit but made in other fabrics. Any suggestions for likely sewing patterns that might fit this bill? I’ve got some great woollens collected to get started on…

As for the sweaters I have planned… Well it’s all about yokes for me for at least another year! I’ve got A LOT of sweaters planned for me. In the past I’ve had very few handmade sweaters for myself, but recently I acquired a hand operated knitting machine. I’ll talk more about this useful tool in a future post, but suffice it to say that it’s allowing me to complete some sweaters for my own wardrobe, something I have seldom had time for in the past few years.

A few initial concepts / colour explorations for the sweaters I have planned

I may work on adding to my wardrobe in ‘outfits’; one sweater plus one pair of trousers. Conceptually, I don’t want to do a lot of different things, I want to take 2 or 3 basic patterns: our Strange Brew yoke sweater recipe, and two styles of trousers, and work various iterations within these basic patterns. There are SO MANY ways I could do a yoke sweater, right?

Here are a few of the recent yokes I’ve made, but this has only just whet my appetite for more!

And with one or two trouser styles, and a stack of different colours and textures I am sure I will be able to build a handmade wardrobe that I find both interesting and practical. Inspired by Sonya Philip’s iterative exploration of simple basics, I will work within the canvas that I’m loving (the yoke sweater), and practice; again and again.

Concept sketches of my new ‘uniform’ … let me tell you, yoke sweaters are featuring BIG in my imagination! And sexy trousers… and boots that go stompity stomp.

Neon… it goes with everything, right?!

This amazing green has been especially calling to me lately. Next year’s ‘Christmas Sweater’ is going to be this vivid ‘Vintage’ green with pinks and deeper greens at the yoke. I swear, I probably told everybody I met at EYF this year about this green sweater idea I was obsessed with… So after talking it up so much, it had better be good!

I just need to swatch to determine which pinks & greens to use through the yoke. Or maybe a little of all of them? The cone is Rennie’s Supersoft, and the balls are from Jamieson & Smith, Jamieson’s of Shetland, and Rennies.

Do you have grand master plans for a handmade wardrobe? Or to bring more of your personal style out through the clothes that you choose to buy?

Tin Can Knits sweaters that make great wardrobe additions:


Strange BrewFlax Light by Tin Can Knits

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandy permalink
    July 6, 2018 7:28 am

    I am way behind reading this blog however, I just realized I need to Knit a crop top to go with my favourite skirt. It’s 30years old haven’t worn it for 15 but refuse to let it go 😂because I love it. Just seeing the drawings of the pants with sweaters was an eye opener and I knew that’s what it needed. Thank you so much

  2. July 6, 2018 6:40 am

    I adore your neon yoke jumper. Did you use Rainbow Heirloom wool? Would be fab if you released the pattern!

  3. Terry Snook permalink
    June 4, 2018 12:02 pm

    Love them all. Happy family

  4. Natalie D Sommer permalink
    May 19, 2018 5:04 pm

    Thank you for your article. I’ll be 50 on July 4th and am embarking on 50 adventures within the year to christen my half century. One of those is Sonya’s Build a Wardrobe at Arrowmobt and another is knitting 20 designs from Plum Knitting as accessories for my ndsknitting cruise with Arne&Carlos in March. I wish you an amazing journey, creating your stylish wardrobe!

  5. Meredith MC permalink
    May 12, 2018 9:04 am

    Very inspiring! Your collection of fabrics is drool worthy. Do you follow Fringe Association? She does a lot of posts about making basics, and is hosting the summer of basics make along. It might be just what you need to kickstart your plan.

  6. Anne permalink
    May 12, 2018 12:14 am

    Your thoughts on interesting dressing echo my own!! I admit I am just to scared to be myself and go for it. I have two of Sonia’s patterns ……. I vow to make something soon. I have just started dyeing my own yarn and the sheer pleasure of knitting myself a sweater with it is indescribable….

    I hope you DO go for it and make something out of your wonderful fabric stash soon!!!!

  7. emccarten permalink
    May 11, 2018 6:25 pm

    I’m a knit designer who practically lives in Sonya Philip’s 100 Acts of Sewing garments. I have three Dress #1’s (four if you include the gathered high-waisted version I made from the basic pattern), two skirts (one long, one short), and umpteen Pants #1’s. Oh, and I almost forgot two Dress #2’s and a tunic made from that pattern. I pair all these items with knits from my own collection. Since I love A-line shapes, it’s a combo that works.There’s even a tunic sweater I designed to go with Dress #1, but it’s not yet published. I chose a palette of colours with a mix of neutrals and colours and have built everything around that. In fact, this whole project has turned into a great way to add more colour to my wardrobe. Sonya is such an inspiration!

  8. darkautumnknits permalink
    May 11, 2018 7:10 am

    You should look up the Lander Pants and Ginger Jeans patterns. I think that they will be what you are after. I myself have been thinking more about what I wear lately. I have decided to be more intentional about expanding my hand knit wardrobe and purchasing only long lasting clothing that fits me well.

  9. Emily B permalink
    May 11, 2018 6:50 am

    Heather Lou at Closet Case Patterns just released a high-waisted wide-leg trouser pattern this week! https://store.closetcasepatterns.com/products/jenny-overalls-pattern-dungarees-pattern
    She also has a slim leg trouser pattern (Sasha), but I’m not sure that fits the bill of jeans type styling.

    I haven’t made those specifically, but I’ve made several other patterns from her and they’ve all be really excellent. The instructions do a great job of walking you through complicated steps, and her blog has lots of pants fitting posts.

  10. Judy Ruan permalink
    May 11, 2018 5:38 am

    Very inspiring….now you have me thinking…and dreaming😍

  11. May 11, 2018 5:00 am

    Enjoyed reading this post, it spins in the way I am spinning myself. But mainly thanks a lot for the Week of Colour articles that I found in your post. So helpful and full of ideas.

  12. May 11, 2018 12:39 am

    Just completed your Grain Shawl….love it….oh, that I could write witty, informative, interesting blogs….super talented and obviously very focused!

  13. Nicola permalink
    May 10, 2018 10:49 pm

    Just sewed the closet case Sasha trousers . My first pair of trousers and the fit was amazing . Used the sew along and the fitting guide and wore them to work the most comfortable and smart pair ever. Bought the fabric for two more pairs just need more time in the day.

  14. Penelope Goodes permalink
    May 10, 2018 6:15 pm

    Isn’t Sonya wonderful? Her latest post on the MDK blog is superb.

    Wide-legged trousers are on my list too, if I can tear myself away from my spinning wheel long enough to sew.

    Check out Closet Case Patterns for trousers – the new Jenny pattern includes high-waisted trousers, and the Sasha trousers might fit the bill for the second style.

    https://store.closetcasepatterns.com/products/jenny-overalls-pattern-dungarees-pattern

    https://store.closetcasepatterns.com/products/sasha-trousers-pattern

    True Bias Emerson trousers might be worth a look, too.

    http://shop.truebias.com/product/emerson-crop-pant-shorts

  15. Angie permalink
    May 10, 2018 5:08 pm

    I’ve been eyeing these wide leg trousers – https://fringeassociation.com/2018/05/01/hipster-painter-pants-2018-fo-12/

  16. May 10, 2018 11:06 am

    I would love to have a more handmade wardrobe but my Peanut isn’t even one, so for the immediate future I am going to have to live vicariously through yours!
    The Lander pant from True Bias is nice and swingy, and the Kim jumpsuit from By Hand London can be made as trousers too! (I guess I live vicariously through a lot of sewists 😂)
    Good luck with your projects, I can’t wait to see how they turn out!

  17. May 10, 2018 10:51 am

    Re your search for sewing patterns – check out https://closetcasepatterns.com

  18. Jess permalink
    May 10, 2018 10:16 am

    “Not to BE perfect, BE proficient, or HAVE the ideal thing instantaneously, but to create, step by step, day by day, and revel in the joy of this process and its results.” This times a thousand!!! Thank you so much for these words, which were somehow exactly what I needed to read and think about today.

    Also, I love every single photo in this post. :) The colorwork! The yarn! That stack of fabrics! The concept sketches! Swoon…

    • Bindy permalink
      May 19, 2018 1:36 am

      Yes. Agree totally. The psychology research from all over the world says that western women tend strongly towards the belief that they have to be sure they’ll be good at a new thing before the try the new thing. Men, on the other hand, tend to ask “could I learn how to do that?” If the answer’s “yes” then they’ll give it a try. This is a great nudge to temind me that my sewing skills will grow with practice, not with bemoaning the skills that I don’t yet have. The other question is around how realistic my “I don’t have time” statements are. Food for thought. Thanks!

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