12 Dec

One of the hardest tasks I have to undertake in my downsizing is to part with beautiful things made by beloved family members no longer with us. Why part with them at all, you ask, if they are such treasures? Because we are talking about dozens of items, not just one or two, and there is simply not enough space to store everything.

My sister Beth Brett, who passed away in 2003, was a prolific clothing designer, who, from the mid-1970s, produced under her own label, Beth Brett Designs Ltd of London. She specialized in decorative knitwear for women. I owned several dozen of these knitwear items as well as clothing she designed for other companies. Beth gave me some as gifts; others I claimed after she died. A few she designed and made especially for me, including my wedding outfit, a turquoise blue silk cocktail dress with a purple cape.

In the last year, I have begun consigning some of Beth’s creations with Raspberry Beret in Cambridge MA, which sells both recent and vintage clothing. I chose to consign rather than donate because I wanted the people who buy her designs to think about their investment and to cherish what they purchased The money I receive in return is less the object. I honor Beth’s memory as someone who loved clothes by spending what I earn on new clothes for myself. (How convenient!) I do donate some things that aren’t in consignable condition (in other words, not quite perfect). I am glad that others will enjoy her creations, as difficult as it is for me to say goodbye.

This whole process is more time consuming for me because of the emotional value of these items. First, I photograph each one so that I have a visual memory. I also try on each piece of clothing to see whether it might be a keeper. Some don’t fit or look right on me; others seem too dated; and yet others are not practical for my current life, as beautiful as they are (too warm, too fancy, too expensive to clean). Next, I must make an appointment with the shop and take in my stash. When my two-month consignment period is up. I arrange to collect anything that doesn’t sell. I generally donate these orphans.

As I do with much of my slow downsizing, letting go is a matter of winnowing. This season I might keep something, and next year, I might be ready to let it go. Some of my most difficult decisions pertain to clothes that Beth designed for herself but that I can’t wear. These were a part of her, not just her business.

I know I will always keep the wedding dress and appliqued cape, as long as I have room for them. I wear the three, warm intarsia cashmeres I own regularly throughout the winter, along with a few others from her “fairisle” collection. But how can I sell the black jacket with the leather owl applique? Too cute for words! And that long, knitted dress? I treat it like any artwork. It is on display on a dressform in my studio.

If you live in or come to Cambridge, do stop by Raspberry Beret and ask to see what they are carrying from Beth Brett. Be sure also to check out my gallery here on this website for some photos of Beth’s designs.

In another post, I will share Beth Brett’s bio as part of my way of honoring her and as one of my downsizing tasks.

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