For a long time I was anti capsule wardrobe. It always seemed so rigid to have X number of garments and accessories that you could combine into seemingly endless combinations.
And then back in 2017 I found the fun that a handmade capsule wardrobe actually could be with wardrobe sudoku.
You know all those times when you go into your closet and throw your hands up in the air because you think you have nothing to wear? Yeah, wardrobe sudoku is just for those moments.
It’ll help you explore ideas for putting together outfits for those days when you really need to have some options.
In this post, I’ll show you how to put together a wardrobe sudoku grid. I’ll finish off with some real life examples so you’re not left thinking this is just an academic exercise.
Let’s crack out the graph paper and make a fun wardrobe that works together.
What is wardrobe sudoku?
The idea is that you arrange a collection of different categories of garments into a grid. It’s not true sudoku, but it’s rather a visual representation of your wardrobe.
The grid helps you easily see the various combinations that all your clothes can make together.
You can make your grid any size really. Something as small as a 2×2 is a low commitment, but know that the bigger the grid, the more possibilities you have.
With 2×2, there’s just 4 ways to combine your various garments together. If you expand the grid to 2×3, you’ll get to 6. And 4×4? There’s 256 unique combinations of 4 items. Pretty wild, right?
Let’s talk a little bit about wardrobe planning.
Planning your wardrobe sudoku
Wardrobe sudoku is really just a more organized way to handle planning a capsule wardrobe.
All the same ideas about using color and picking patterns and fabrics apply here. Be sure to check out how to sew a capsule wardrobe you’ll love to wear for all my tips on gathering ideas for your capsule wardrobe.
Spotting holes in your wardrobe
In your pre-planning, pre-sewing stage, be sure to pick patterns from different categories. Why categories? Categories of garments can help you find wardrobe holes.
Tops need bottoms, and a jacket without something under it is sad!
For instance, I know that I’m always short on layering tops in winter. Some lightweight warm basic long sleeve tees I can layer under everything are always something I plan for when it’s needed.
Maybe you need more pants. Use your grid to find pants patterns you love and build a wardrobe around them.
Use what you have
I think one of the biggest temptations we have as sewists is to want to sew all the things. Hear me now, you do not have to start from zero when you’re planning a grid.
You totally don’t have to! Sometimes going through the process of wardrobe sudoku can help you plan for those wardrobe orphans you may have. At some point we’ve all made something we love but that has nothing to go with it. Use those lone ranger garments in your grid. They’re already made up and I bet with a little thought, you can find them some buddies.
The other thing to use up in your grid: ready-to-wear items. Like I said, you don’t have to start from zero here. For me, while I know what fabric works well for DIY fleece leggings, I’m always going to have a few pairs of ones I buy. And when it’s 15 degrees outside and my legs are cold, I’m not going to be a handmade snob!
Pro tip: reuse patterns
Let’s say you’re dead set on making a 4×4 grid. You’re hardcore like that.
You don’t have to pick 16 unique patterns. In fact, I encourage you to not do that. 16 patterns is a lot of pattern work.
Instead, are there ways that you can use 1 pattern multiple times? Maybe you could use the same pattern and change it in small ways. A simple sleeve change or a little pattern hack can make a big difference.
Think about how your choices play well with each other
The last thing to consider in your wardrobe sudoku planning is how your pattern choices are going to combine together.
That big trumpet sleeve dress? Yeah, those sleeves are going to be tough to stuff into a fitted jacket even if the fabrics are perfect for each other.
What if you chose a vest or a sleeveless duster instead?
Once you have picked your fabrics & patterns, you can either sew everything up or start to create your grid.
How to use your grid
Here’s the part where I tell you I made you a sweet wardrobe sudoku planner to help you. You can grab it when you sign up for the newsletter.
When you have the planner, go ahead and print out the pages that you like. There’s pages to help you plan a 2×3, 3×3, 4×4 grid plus example grids. You can get it instantly when you sign in the little box below.
After that, you have a couple options here. You can take pictures of all of your grid items, simply list them in the grid spaces or you could do this digitally in something like Photoshop.
You can also print out pictures of your garments.
Step 1: organize your garments
Whichever way you slice it, organize your garments into the grids using the template ideas in the planner pages. Here’s a 3×3 for an example.
Step 2: Look for combinations
After you like your grid, start looking for combinations.
In this 3×3, there’s combinations of topper, top, and bottom in each:
- 1 diagonal
- More creative combos
I found 12 in a couple minutes, and I’m sure in a little more time, I’d find more.
Step 3: Write down your favorite combinations
From there, write down your favorite combinations. I promise you will have some that will instantly pop out to you. Write those down on the Favorite Combos page in the planner.
Step 4: Try things on
Inevitably what looks good on paper might not work in real life. So try on your favorite combinations. How did they work? Were they everything you hoped for or did they fail somehow?
After you’ve vetted some of the best options, put your grid in an easy access place. Maybe tack it up on the inside of a closet door.
Your new wardrobe sudoku grid will be there anytime you’re needing to find an outfit fast. It’s a great tool to have in those bleary eyed, before coffee times when you just need to get dressed!
Go to the next page to see some real life wardrobe combos from sudoku grids.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.
15 thoughts on “Wardrobe Sudoku: your handmade wardrobe + puzzle fun”
Wow, this is such a fantastic wardrobe with really great colors that suit you perfectly. I particularly love those yellow pants. I hope you don’t end up wearing the 4-shoe combination too often. 😉
Thank you Helene! I’ve really loved those warm tan pants–they’re starting to be a bit lived in, and I will sorely miss them! 4 shoes would be a bit of a crazy wardrobe choice for the day! 😀 Actually, with my husband’s formula, it doesn’t seem possible. He did it algebraically, (top 1 is A1, bottom 1 is B1, foot 1 is C1, extra is D1 etc.), so every combination has to have an A, B, C, and D. I was really surprised to see that 256 combinations had generated with those constraints, but yet they did. I’ll have to find the time to make sure there’s no repeats in that. The math here is definitely interesting!
True! I belive there are 16 choose 4 = 1820 total combinations. If you instead constrain yourself to 4 possibilities for the first choice, 4 for the second, etc, you get 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 256. But it doesn’t specify which 4 are acceptable for each choice! Ok, I’ll stop now, haha. Math is fun!
That makes sense. I was trying to figure out how you could get 256 combos with all the non-working combinations (like 2 bottoms, shoes, with no top and an extra). This branch of math is very fascinating for sure!
You definitely nailed the color unity! I didn’t see a single combination that didn’t work. Such a great way of maximizing your wardrobe! I’m very tempted to try something like this, if the stars ever align enough for me to have busted enough stash to justify multiple fabric purchases and get my weight stabilized. (Can you tell I’ve been spending the end of my pregnancy longingly drooling over my fashion Pinterest boards?)
Thanks Becky. Someday! I remember feeling like that for many years and hoping for the day to finally be done with the pregnancy body changes. Ultimately, it’s good to be able to sew and cope with whatever state we find ourselves in. Lord knows once 40+ and menopause comes there’s probably a whole other set of issues to deal with! 🙂
What a wonderful wardrobe!!!
Thank you Faye! It came together better than I was hoping, which was a nice surprise!
What a lovely colour palette you chose. It looks so serene. My favourite pieces are your jeans and the trim cardigan. Such a great mix and match wardrobe.
Thanks Katherine! I really like your wardrobe too. I love how you used selvedges in your jeans–I love doing that with my belt loops too. I’ll have to try that with the back pockets–it looks sharp on yours!
Fantastic job! Standing ovation for this capsule wardrobe! I really love the colors you picked- they really compliment you well! The patterns you picked are fantastic too. I really love the bodysuit shirt especially and I think someday I will have to make one too! This is so inspiring! I will hopefully have some capsule wardrobe items sewn by May so perhaps I could join in any Me Made May challenge you might have going on!
Thanks Sarah! The bodysuit was a nice surprise–I had no idea how useful of a style it could be. I’d love to see your capsule pieces–your color palette looks like it’s going to be a great choice for your coloring!
What a HUGE amount of work–I can’t imagine making 10 garments (including a jean jacket) in the 2 month period–AND photographing–AND writing 11 reviews–that seems like more than a full time job honestly. My favorite piece is your jean jacket. I’m going to make those giraffe pants out of the Jale Eleonores sometime this year!!
Thanks Kyle. I think the jean jacket’s my favorite too. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. On the sewing end, it felt just a little more than usual, but the writing/photography end was definitely a lot! I’ll be waiting for your Eleonores!