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Take a look at what you wear. Sometimes this is as easy as looking at what is in the laundry basket each week. If you find yourself wearing one thing, but buying something else, perhaps there is a need for a reset, a sort of clothes audit if you will.

The same is true of knitting and sewing. Do you find that you’re attracted to the latest designs and reflexively place them in your queue? Maybe that same queue is filled with pullovers, when all you really wear are cardigans, or vice versa.

Sonya is wearing:  Acer Cardigan by Kirsten Kapur in Beaverslide Merino Worsted; 100 Acts of Sewing Tunic no. 1; and Pants no. 1.

Clothing can represent a conflict between who you were versus who you are now, or versus who you think you should be. Add to this the pressure of advertisers selling you another version of yourself, to convince you to buy more and more products. It’s no wonder that the idea of defining a personal style is loaded with minefields. The concept of a “signature look” is indeed a daunting one, especially if you think it involves creating something chic and wholly original.

Setting Priorities

Finding your voice where dressing is concerned is really a matter of determining your clothing priorities. For myself, these are comfort and color. For someone else, it might be every shade of navy and a tailored silhouette.

Stopover by Mary Jane Mucklestone (modified as cardigan) in Light Lopi and Noro Kureyon; Tunic no. 1; Dress no. 1; and Pants no. 2.

Think about an outfit that makes you feel great, the combination of clothes that expresses your authentic self. What are the different components? Pay attention to the length: where does the garment hit? Notice the fit: is it oversized or cut close to your body? What kinds of colors or prints are in your outfit? Once you’ve answered these questions, the next step is to take your findings to your closet.

Shop Your Closet

If everything you’ve listed is already there on hangers, or folded in your drawers, then you can use these pieces to create different iterations of the outfit. However, if there’s a deficit of garments meeting the criteria, then you have your work cut out for you.

Scoop Neck Cardigan by Debbie Bliss in Noro Silk Garden; Dress no. 2; and Pants no. 1.

A clothing audit doesn’t mean tossing everything out. While this can be very cathartic, it can also be a little chilly. I am a firm advocate of re-fashioning to make your clothes work for you. If you never wear something because the color is just not right, try overdyeing it. Get together with some friends and mix up a vat of indigo. Or just add Rit dye.

What’s Next

After a clothing audit, it’s important to have an eye towards the future. Determine what you want to wear more of, and make a plan to slowly add those items. There is a tendency to want everything instantly. The internet, with its limitless choice and same-day shipping, feeds the immediacy.

Knitting Pure and Simple # 294 Summer Open Cardigan by Diane Soucy in Rowan Linen Print; Shirt no. 1;  Dress no. 1; and Pants no. 1.

Add one or two good pieces a season. Before you buy, sew or knit something, ask yourself how this piece of clothing will fit in with what you have. I encourage a more holistic view of your wardrobe, seeing it as something to collect and curate.

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • Oh Sonya, please continue to lead by example. You are my fashion maven.

    • You are too sweet, thank you!

  • Thank you for your ideas on how to make your wardrobe work for you! I’m not as brave as you are with color and layers, but I admire your style!

    • Thank you so much! You know, some of my favorite outfits are monochrome or combos of black & white prints. If you want to start playing with colors, try accessories – a bright scarf is a simple way to try a shade you might not feel comfortable dresses head to toe in. Also wear what you love, if it makes you feel good, you’ll carry it off with great panache!

  • My bigger problem is pants. I want generous pockets, loose enough for long underwear in the winter, and long enough to cover my ankles. Not bit cut. What ever happened to choose in pants? For the rest. Color and comfort sounds great to me!

    • My answer to that would be – Make Pants! But I know that can be a tall order. I was on the hunt for pants as well, but for linen: total California person over here. I would suggest looking for gardening or utility pants and then altering them to fit, sewing elastic into the back waistband to make a loose pair fit at the waist, extending the leg with fabric, hello color block hem! I do hear you, pants are tricky!

  • Just bought some beautiful light weight linen at Brooklyn General to sew some top patterns I have from you.
    Love your posts on MDK.
    Very inspiering.

    • Aww Jane that makes me so happy and linen – you are speaking my fabric language ❤️

  • This has been and is still something I struggle with. Right now my focus is to think about the clothes I will need for the upcoming season and get started on that. It gets into the 100s daily where I live during the summer, and even though in my mind I see myself in chic little summer outfits, the reality is all I want to wear are loose tops or dresses (and no bra!). And I will often need to shower twice a day and wear fresh clothes, so I need a lot of them. And then during those hot days I should be working on things for winter. It’s a struggle!

    • Brigid, I hear you with the loose tops and showering! I was in South East Asia in December and I swear I was taking two, sometimes three showers a day. Ugh, the sweat. The good news is, loose tops are fairly straight forward to make. Someone was just telling me that she found hemp fabric to be super cool to wear, it might be something to check out. I know that Dharma Train Co. sells ready to dye hemp and hemp blend fabric. Not to add more to your list of things to do. As for making things, I can NEVER seem to get the hang of that making-for-the-next-season and it sounds like the last thing you want to do it work with heavy materials in the stifling heat. Each garment you make is a small victory and your wardrobe will grow, slowly piece by piece, a dress here, sweater there.

  • Your words are so inspiring! My goal for this year is to be more mindful of what I create, making sure it fits into my wardrobe and style. It pains me when I make something and then it sits in my closet unworn because it doesn’t match with anything…no more!

    • Yes! We seem to be on the exact same wave length. I’ve determined I need to stop making asymmetrical designs, while I like the look of them, I don’t wear them and then after all that work the sweater is neglected. Here’s to more mindfulness!

  • Encouragement is such a nice form of love! It’s great to see you wear what you make and how you express your personal style. It’s a lesson for us all✌

    • Oh Gwen, you put it so beautifully – encouragement is such a nice form of love. I will remember that. Thank you so much!

  • I find that the things I want to make are not the things I wear. I love color, texture, and interest when I knit. I wear neutrals in clean, simple shapes and finishes. How to reconcile the two?

    • I am sort of the same, though I like to wear colors more than neutrals. But I do like to *make* wild stuff (bright colors, interesting techniques, freeform crochet), then I feel timid about wearing it. My plan is to try making wild stuff in tame colors. And save wild colors for accessories. This plan makes me feel optimistic. ☺️

    • Now that is a conundrum Lee! It makes me think you need to find someone to knit for, an exchange program, where they knit you neutrals and you knit their brights. Barring that you could try and trick yourself – use the colorful, textural knits as a reward project for knitting one simple, neutral. There really should be a MDK matchmaking service for this. Best of luck!

  • I follow you on instagram and I just love seeing your outfits! I am inspired to try to sew some of my own clothes for the summer. You are an inspiration!

    • Thank you so much Dara. And summer is a great time for sewing. Can’t wait to see what you make!

  • Very Nice

    • Thank you!

  • I love this so so much……and feel super inspired!

    • Thank you Jennifer!

  • Sonya, you are brilliant! My closet is stuffed, and yet I wear the same few pieces over and over! I need to do a serious audit!

    • Thank you so much and I wish you successful sort out Merry!

  • “Finding your voice where dressing is concerned …” I have long wished to do just this but had no idea how to begin. (Lots of false starts.) Thank you Sonya! Once again you come to the rescue and not a moment too soon.

    • Oh Annie I know false starts very well! You might want to take photos of your outfits – with them laid out on a bed or wearing them. You don’t need to share them, they can just be records for you. I found it useful as I was trying to figure everything out clothes-wise. I wish you the very best of luck and have fun!

  • What a delight! Love the variety of colors across knitted projects…….just lovely!

    • Thank you very much Anne!

  • Since I retired, my wardrobe is much simpler! I have also discovered that while I love pullovers, they are too hard to remove if I get too warm, so yes, I am switching to cardigans. I love your look! Still defining mine.

    • Defining style is an ongoing process, it’s these little steps. And I feel the same way about pullovers. Buttons = ventilation

  • I love your colors and design choices, but as much as i love color on someone else i find it distracting to wear. So thank you for recognizing the person (me!) who needs several shades of navy blue. My goal is to add a little bit of color, just not too much. Thank you for your wonderful columns and great advice.

    • You’re so welcome Grace. I believe that there needs to be less wrong or right when it comes to what we wear. Everyone is different. Here’s to pops of color!

    • Here’s to navy, never black. I’m finding a pop of neon orange peeking out at my neckline or a tiny slice of lemon/lime at a navy cuff is pretty and fun!

      • I like the way you think! Neons and lime – those tiny pops of color can be delicious indeed.

  • SUCH excellent advice! Finally, at age 59, I’m figuring out my “signature look” — and I can tell you . . . it ain’t what I was wearing for all those years! (Better late than never. That’s my motto.) XO

    • Thank you so much Kym! And better late than never is *totally* right. Have fun fostering your style and growing your wardrobe ❤️

    • I love it when you write. If only more people would heed your philosophy, especially in this throw away society. People are amazed I can sew, knit, create things. It’s just usual for me, I have to create, like breathing . Thankyou for continuing to share your message.

      • I’m really glad you enjoy my writing Terri. Thank you so much for your kind words. We really need more people sewing and knitting, I’m hopeful about people caring more about what they wear.

  • Really, I just want to stop wearing winter clothes. Come on, SPRING! Skirts and bare legs. Soon.

    I love your color sense.

    • Thank you so much and sending some California sunshine your way

    • I am so with you on this! After yet another snow storm this week, I am ready to put my hand-knit sweaters away, much as I love them. It’s hard to pull out and evaluate spring and summer clothes when there is till snow on the ground!

      • Oh my goodness Claudia, you deserve two springs and a very long summer. I hope it comes soon and you can exchange your woolens for some warm-weather clothes.

  • I love your outfits. They always exude joy. Or perhaps it’s your amazing smile. Thanks for adding your happiness to my world.

    • Thank you so much Marilyn for your sweet words!

  • Beautiful article once again! I look forward to these articles and I love, love, LOVE, your black and white polka dot leggings. (I don’t own a single article of black because I got burned after 3 years of wearing black, gray, and red. They were the only clothes I had with me and I couldn’t find anything in my size or supplies to make anything else. I don’t wear black or red anymore, but still love gray.) I might have to add a few black basics since I love wearing color! I love dyeing clothes in my wardrobe fresh colors. Indigo is high on my list along with a bright green. And some bright pink. Purple. Turquoise. Yellow. Love your colorful outfits!

    • Thanks so much Carolyn! Yes, polka dots are indeed a favorite of mine and it sounds like we are fellow color lovers

  • Sonya!
    I think you look so adorable with all the clothing Items you put together. So far I got boots, black and white polka dot leggings, scarves and home made knit caps (with crochet roses, poppy’s and leaves and sometimes pompoms)what I have been searching for is the cutest tee shirt you wore, sometime ago, of a large sheep (ewe) it was so sweet!!! Can you help me find one?

    • Hi Risë, thank you so much! Glad you’re getting a lot of inspiration. You can find the sheep fabric over at Maker’s Mercantile, specifically search for Stenzo Textiles Jersey Digital Print – Skating Sheep Panel.

  • This is so timely. I just noticed yesterday that the outfit I wore to work was comfortable yet professional and I made a mental note to look for more like it. On the other hand, IF the weather ever changes, I need to find a work solution that deals with a hot commute into all-day air conditioning. I’m looking at Sonya’s leggings. Maybe I will just keep a few pair like those at work to put on under a dress.

    • That’s great Kristen! it’s really exciting when you hit upon an important balance like that, you were super smart to take note. Layer those leggings, there’s some great knits out there, happy sewing!

  • Sonya, you are a genius and I love your work. Thanks for your wisdom. My favorite look here is the second one! But of course they are all great.

    • You are so kind Ariana, thank you!

  • Thank you Sonya! I’ve been thinking of how much I need to change the way I dress for a couple years.
    Illness and surgery changed my shape and my clothes no longer fit. I love your patterns and outfits.
    You inspire me so very much!!

    • Hi Coni, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think that dressing for the bodies we have can go a long way towards equilibrium and perhaps even happiness. I’m a firm believer in wearing things that make you happy – whether that’s certain colors or cuts.

  • “Clothing can represent a conflict between who you were versus who you are now“ Wow, that really strikes a chord with me. As a fairly newly retiree, I am struggling with my wardrobe. I love wearing dresses and wore one several days each week when I worked in an office. However, I find they aren’t practical in my new lifestyle, no longer keep me warm enough in the winter, and I end up changing my clothes mid-day because dresses aren’t practical for hiking with the dog or whatever activities I’m doing outside. I now wear yoga pants everyday with tops that don’t suit me, and I feel frumpy and unhappy with my appearance. I need to resolve this conflict between who I was and who I am now. I will keep that in mind as I start changing my wardrobe for the summer season.

    • Hi Nita, I imagine it’s quite a challenge to adjust. Do you know the designer Andrea Rangel? She will often post photos of the handmade outfits she wears while hiking – often with dresses. Take a look at her instagram, there might be some ideas of what to make and wear.

  • I am new to your blog and designs and cannot wait to order a pattern! My question is where to buy quality fabric especially linen and cotton? Online source ideas would be great. Thanks for inspiring me to start sewing!

  • Sonya, this has been so helpful as I’m changing my wardrobe over from fall/winter to spring/summer. I’m letting go of items that just don’t work and taking a closer look at what does. I love your style!

  • Ms. Philip, thank YOU!
    You are GORGEOUS. I WISH I had HAIR! (Mine never grew back). YOU LOOK MARVELOUS! I used to sew most of my clothes and am encouraged to return to sewing – I’ve had some ideas…
    I have been feeling so very irrelevant (not that I EVER felt relevant), passe’, less deserving of life and enjoying life (post cancer & multiple complications..—including surgeons and doctors that see me as less deserving since having changed size post- cancer, refusing to repair multiple hernias from scar tissue—.loooooong boring story). I was ready to not only hide, but hoping to be erased. Your article gave me a lift and hope. THANK YOU, you brilliant woman. Rock on!

  • Sonya is so darn cute! And her style is wonderful. Wish I could sew, and make wonderful simple outfits as such….

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