Makeshift is a wonderfully expressive term for “making a shift”:  shifting your thinking to come up with a creative solution that accomplishes the task at hand in a unexpected way. When you find you don’t have something you need, you improvise a substitute or “shift” what you are making to accommodate it. Makeshift is one of our favorite words.

So, of course, we LOVE the blog Makeshift, which documents the daring, ambitious art-and-research project of Natalie Purschwitz. For an entire year starting September 1, 2009, she’s wearing ONLY things she has made herself: clothes, socks, shoes, underwear, coats, jackets, hats, bathing suits, accessories, and…

“….anything else I might need to protect my body from the elements while trying to lead a fulfilling life. It will be an investigation into the relationships between ‘clothing’, ‘making’ and ‘living’.”

Even her shoes! We can’t begin to imagine the amount of work and thought that goes into each day’s outfit but we love seeing the results: everyday a new picture of her standing there forthrightly in her new outfit. We also love seeing the evolution of ideas, some of which Purschwitz writes about…like these amazing yellow shoes, which evolved out of a technique for making Christmas ornaments:


“Quick and easy new shoes! I made these by incorporating a technique for making christmas ornaments that my friend Etsuko in Japan taught me. She is a quilter and to make the ornaments you start with a foam ball and draw your design on it. You then cut the line out with an exacto and take a piece of fabric that is about the same size and with glue on it, squeeze it into the cut line. In the end you have a kind of quilted looking ball. So for these shoes, I cut a line with an exacto knife into the (fake woodgrain) foam and the sqeezed the leather (with glue on it) into the incision. So easy! I’m hoping to make a pair of running shoes using the same technique.”




Although the commentary is a bit sparse, it is always at once charming and full of insights:

“I made a new pair of pants yesterday. The funny part is that I forgot that I used the same fabric to line my spring boots so it kind of looks like my pants are growing out of my leafy boots. I’m ok with it. I’m growing a new fondness for certain kinds of matchy-matching.”


…The process shots are especially compelling…



…….though we don’t think they tell the half of it…


…this woman is working and thinking hard…


Her logo says it all:


…115 days to go!

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6 replies on “inspired makeshift: a year of personal fashion

  1. This post brought back vivid memories of my mother, grandmother and two sisters making our seasonal pilgrimage to the local fabric store – a mom-and-pop “department store” that sold everything and anything, though there may have been only one style or color option available. As this was 1970’s rural America, and farm families like mine were still making most of what they wore (and ate), the store did have a suprisingly good selection of fabrics, trimmings and notions as well as patterns by McCalls and Butterick. You had to travel to the much bigger town (population 15,000) several miles down the road to see the chic — but overpriced, in our humble opinion — Vogue pattern book.

    The four of us labored over every decision in the process of making a piece of clothing. Hand made dresses, skirts, shorts, pajamas — even bathing suits — accounted for about half of our collective wardrobes. Every piece of fabric was scrutinized in order to make the best possible decision related to the pattern we choose, the way the garment was to be constructed, the skill of the maker (which varied among our little group), how it would need to function, and how it would actually LOOK on our bodies. It was one giant creative brainstorming session and I loved it. Our visit lasted hours and was packed with advice giving and giggling and complicated sketches and calculations on scraps of paper. The excitement of leaving that store with all of our freshly measured and cut “ingredients” wrapped in kraft paper, tied up with a string, still gives me a chill. The big ideas were still in their initial stages. The more daunting production phase was about to begin.

    Makeshift is indeed an ambitious project and the documentation of it is my favorite part. Natalie’s sketchbook is the best piece of your post, in my opinion — the artist’s process exposed.

    I’m going to check in on that blog during these final weeks and see if it motivates me to go back to the fabric store… and when I go “home” this summer, I’ll see if my mother and sisters and nieces want to join me.

  2. thanks so much Pamela for this glimpse into your treasured past…i could feel your connection and delight and more.

    and, again, thanks to all of you at “the improvised life” for creating such a playful, provoking and inviting space to share this infinite territory. i, for one, am drawn to this edge…of discovery…adventure…of ????

    separate note, but perhaps not so, my gift to myself on mothers day was reading, from start to finish, “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman, which I highly recommend in the spirit of exploring edges.

  3. Dear Pamela, Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this amazing memory. I could feel the fun and excitement….what I would LOVE is to see some pictures of some of the creations you all came up with…

  4. Oh, let’s see…. I remember purple velvet bell-bottoms with a matching cropped jacket for me; a brown and cream colored polka-dot mini shift complete with covered belt created by my mother; ruffled prairie skirts in the eighties (an intense lesson in gathering); my grandmother sewed matching flannel nightgowns for all seven of her granddaughters; and so much more. My older sister once made a pair of “jeans” out of some kind of velour that actually froze in the Minnesota winter. We were walking to the school bus one morning and her pant legs were as stiff as cardboard – she could hardly walk, let alone climb the bus stairs. She was mortified. A creative project gone wrong!

    Yes, there are photos somewhere. I think I wore the purple “pants suit” in my sixth grade class picture. I’ll look for them….

  5. what a great story pam! i would love to see those pics too. i was a sewer from early on too – and by necessity also. that experience turned o0ut to be incredibly valuable later – i became a single, incredibly poor mom at after high school and with no real skills or support i decided that the only way i would get off welfare was to make my own way – including the ‘professional look’. so i convinced several local companies to let me work for them for free (thereby learning incredibly valuable skills) and i started hitting up all the fabric stores for their mega sales. necessity IS the mother of invention! i even made a very cool suit out of upholstery mat3erial that was on a wicked sale. that professional wardrobe gave me not only the confidence but the look i needed to eventually do everything i wanted and more in my professional life.

  6. THAT is an incredibly illuminating and story. Working for free (for a while, if you can) at targeted places can be a great way to get free info, experience and cred. Got any pictures of your suit of upholstery material?

    And we’re just getting ready to buy a sewing machine, because there are too many easy things to make that we’re tired of paying the dry cleaner to do.

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