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Wardrobe and Spending Management Through SWAP

Once upon a time, like a lot of people, Aunt Toby ‘fell in love’ with certain items. That’s the way I used to shop. Really. Before Aunt Toby ‘saw the light’, that is exactly what would happen. I could rationalize any clothing or shoe purchase on the basis of: bargain pricing (as in, % off); merely hanging on a rack with the sign ‘Clearance’ on it; or the fact that it came in my size (with a foot that needs a 6-D, this is an argument that Aunt Toby STILL fights on a regular basis since that size in a comfortable but fashionable shoe is pretty close to performing ‘cold fusion’ on my kitchen table…but I digress).

This is one of those roads to Economic Hell — we invariably end up with a closet full of stuff that doesn’t go with anything else and spend too much time staring into it hoping for inspiration. And then, we get disgusted and send bags full of stuff to local charities, having wasted our money. A couple of years ago, this changed for me when I stumbled upon something called SWAP.

SWAP stands for ‘Sewing With A Plan’. For non-sewers, we can also substitute another ‘s’ word for sewing, “Shopping With a Plan”. Although the whole thing started with a series of articles in an Australian sewing magazine, “Stitches”, in North America, the person to be given primary credit for turning this rather homely idea into a movement is the former owner of a Canadian fabric store named Julie Timmel (who has since retired), who ran a series of SWAP contests which proved so popular that it’s taken on legs and life of its own and now resides with another group of people entirely. Here are the original two posts that Julie Timmel ran discussing the concept:


Now, I admit that I have never ever done a SWAP; what I did (and what turns this into something that even non-sewers can take advantage of in terms of wardrobe and spending management) was to take out everything in my closet, spread it out and starting putting things that went together..together. Things that did not go with anything else became…orphans and I had to decide if they were so special or could be made into such an important contributor to the wardrobe that I would keep them. Anything that did not make that cut got contributed to a community clothing closet.

At the top are two items that I fell in love with. The skirt is really more of a turquoise or teal color and the jacket is more lemon. Both of these were bought on the ‘bargain’, “I love the color”, ‘gotta have it” bases. The best I could do with the yellow jacket for a long time was to pair it with navy blue slacks or a skirt. I had nothing else that would go. The teal skirt eventually got paired with a summer-weight aqua/teal jacket that got worn to death. They never really felt as if they were ‘pulling their weight’ in the closet. I had an enormous number of pieces of black clothing (which is the fashion cop-out since you can dress with a blinding hangover and still get it right if everything in the closet is black – no challenge there) but wanted to put more color into my wardrobe. I don’t work in an especially formal office in any case and I really do like to have some fun with color – I have one of those complexions that just looks deathly in black and I feel I look healthier with some color going on.

So, I made the decision to move the wardrobe on an incremental basis away from black and more toward these colors. This is really where being able to sew helps tremendously because I can never, ever find exactly what I want in the stores. Either it is the right color but the wrong size; or the right shape and size and the colors are all wrong. Especially now with the internet, sewists can pretty much find whatever they are looking for, in whatever fiber they want it.

Partial solution in the photograph: I found some wonderful knit in a white/yellow/brown/turquoise, which I made into a top and matching skirt. Now, I had matches for the teal skirt and the yellow jacket and I could use the top and the skirt together as a dress or each piece independently (though when I do that, I wash both together so that if there is any fading, it happens to both simultaneously). I also found a brown velveteen jacket that I purchased. I recently had a family event to go to and decided to expand that collection by making a turquoise wool gabardine dress and a silk tweed jacket that has several different colors of brown, beige and turquoise in it. I also got enough of that tweed to make a matching skirt so that I have a nice suit that is not black. What is also not seen in this photograph is a tan twill jacket that I made so that I have a brown jacket for summer.

Where do I go from here with this collection? Well, I don’t go off and buy anything. I sat down with this and asked myself this: Do I need anything else for the spring/summer/fall that can be part of this? If I did, where would I go?

If I were going shopping, what I would do with this collection at this point for summer would be to be on the lookout (either thrifting or hard core bargain shopping, which right now is pretty productive) for a couple of pieces to do more work with that silk jacket – another dress or a skirt or nice pair of slacks in brown or tan. That is it. Now, I don’t know what’s in the stores now and whether or not I could even find a dress in beige or a summer weight fabric in turquoise and beiges can be ‘iffy’ since the beige in this jacket is rather more toward the tan end rather than the grey end of beige. If I were a shopper, what I would do is put this list on my trusty “Look for” 3×5 card in my wallet and when I found something in a good hardwearing fabric and made well, at a decent price, I’d get it. But, having that list written down would be how I would manage this – I would have no ‘need’ for anything else and would have my ‘hunting assignment’ already set out for me. No need to go looking at or for anything else. I think that removes a lot of temptation once you have written it down like that.

As a sewer, though, the world is my oyster. What I’d look for to complete this list would be stretch cotton twill in the right colors and make a dress and skirt to go with that jacket. I already have the matching fabric so there is my sewing schedule for the summer already made out for myself. What I’d then have for that jacket is this:

Jacket and turquoise wool dress – fall/winter
Jacket and beige dress – spring/summer/fall
Jacket and matching skirt – spring/summer/fall suit
Jacket and beige skirt – spring/summer/fall

If I choose the right beige, I will also be able to wear the skirt and the dress with the brown velveteen jacket. And I’ll be able to wear the white/yellow/brown/turquoise knit top with both skirts as well. And the dresses can be worn on their own.

Triple play.

(If you are interested in where Sewing With A Plan is going now, see “6th Annual SWAP Contest” at
Stitchers Guild )

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  1. egregious says:


  2. Shannon says:

    Great post! I think the SWAP concept is the most influential idea that I have ever applied to my sewing. Even when I’m not doing a formal SWAP, the idea of “matching” garments is pervasive in my planning.

  3. Toby Wollin says:

    Oh, Hungry Zombie(Shannon) — I am truly honored by a visit from you — your blog is constantly inspiring, esp on the SWAP side of things.

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