Remedy for the listless: make nine

1-2018 make nine.jpg

If in turning the new year you find yourself coming up short in inspiration, a quick list offers a tool to rekindle: make nine.

A long, drawn-out sewing project combined with holiday frenzy, rolling into a month of intense report writing left me high and dry, or rather blah and blasé, even faced with all my favorite fabrics and yarns in my newly downsized stash.

Nine is nice number for slightly more ambitious garments: the big projects, the repeat sessions, the future wardrobe heavyweights. Add in some lower hanging fruit to ease in, divide by twelve months, totally doable. In fact, nine is exactly what I completed last year.

A bit of wardrobe annual planning, skill-building goal setting, and moodboard all in one (all image sources here):

These nine projects all pull from my current fabric and yarn supplies as a way of reinvigorating my broader goal: to use what I have. In fact, listing nine things to make provided a baseline to achieve my long-sought goal of simplifying my stash. I wrote out a calendar with 1-2 projects per month, including the nine above and a few things I’ve long promised to make for others, or ideas + fabric pairings that have been idling on my shelf for too long.

Might this contradict all that slowing down and simmering I espoused just last week? I wholeheartedly maintain that there’s value in planning things out and letting them linger, yet I think this can be paired with challenging oneself to make space. Every project I’ve slated for 2018 has been lingering for as long as I’ve had the fabric, which is at least a year, so it’s almost a speeding up to slow down, if that makes sense. And it’s perfectly timed to coordinate with the #makeyourstash camaraderie this spring, if you’d like to join.

Throughout the year, I’ll aim to share updates on how the list and stash challenges fare, and a few ways I plan to keep my project pace and consumption in check.

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A year in garments, made & imagined

2017 Garment summary

When I started thinking back on my creative projects throughout 2017: two lists emerged, one of garments and goods completed, one of those unfulfilled. Just about equal in length, and after a moment, in satisfaction.

I completed 9 garments for myself in 2017:

I had concrete plans (and for the most part, materials) for 9 more: a cardigan, two woven tops, a knit top, wide-leg pants, two dresses, and overalls.

In all the things imagined, even craved, yet unmade, I kept coming back to the slowness of slow fashion. Delaying, pausing, and re-evaluating plans: a reminder to just sit with it.

I was thrilled with each item I added to my wardrobe, and buoyed by the skills I grew and honed, which made it unflinchingly easy to let go of things that went unrealized. Surprising no one, I got dressed every day, felt the warmth from wooly layers, softness of silk against my skin, the cool of linen on hot days, brightness from a vibrant hue, the ease and strength of wearing thick denim.

Dreaming, planning, sketching, scheming, all came in waves over the year as I peered through my fabric stash or my closet. But I feel a certain liberation in looking back at all the lists and shapes imagined, recalling how much enjoyment it brought me to consider and craft those plans, and realizing that everything is fine as it was.

A few ideas have risen to the top of my list for the months ahead, a few garments have been reimagined, and a few fabrics were released into new hands.

A stack of garments is certainly a satisfying way to (re)view a year’s work. But sometimes the bigger work, the slower fashion, is found in those pieces left on the page.

Smock dress dreaming

Smock Dress Dreaming Sewing

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

How do you feel about pockets, the bigger the better?

I love being free from a purse, throwing my necessities and maybe a craft project for good measure into a generously sized pocket, and apparently I’m not alone in feeling that capacious pockets offer freedom: “No pocketless people has ever been great since pockets were invented, and the female sex cannot rival [men] while it is pocketless” notes an 1899 article on the Rational Dress Society. Pockets (or lack thereof) are not just a symbol of sexism, but political in nature: evoking swagger, mystery, suffragettes, personal property, equality.

Similarly, the loose silhouette of early 20th Century ‘Village sacks,’ so named for the Greenwich Village artists who made and took to them, freed the female body and “conveyed the message that the wearer was a liberal woman who stood outside mainstream America.” (this I’ve learned from the incredible O’Keeffe: Living Modern catalog).

Which brings me to my modern loves: functional studio-meets-street smock designs by State the Label and GDS Cloth Goods which give me all the heart-eyes, the amazing catch-all crescents of Elizabeth Suzann‘s Clyde designs, and denim shift dresses and full skirts with wrap-around pockets by Aliya Wanek and Carleen. I contend that FLAX designs of the ’90s actually originated many of the sack and pocket shapes we’re seeing these days, my own vintage Flax jumpsuit adorned with inset wrap-around pockets, and a quick eBay search offering much inspiration (lower right in the collage above).

After doodling countless smock dresses on every surface within arms reach, I’ve taken to drafting my ideal dress, a mash up of my smock-pocket dreams and my self-drafted crop top and best woman dress. More soon!

Indigo tamarack: part IV

Indigo Tamarack 1.jpg

All the while making this jacket, I thought to myself: this will either look crazy, or crazy good.

As I rounded the home stretch of binding the jacket edges, I knew that the latter was confirmed. Introducing my indigo Tamarack jacket: hand-dyed, patchwork-pieced, hand-quilted, lined in upcycled flannel, filled with locally made wool batting, bound by hand, a supremely cozy feat of skill-building slow fashion.

Indigo Tamarack 3.jpg

It just feels so good — crazy good — to finally wear something that has been growing and evolving, stretching and reflecting over a year of creativity. In a way, this jacket charts my trajectory in style and skill, explorations and impulses. In a way, it’s less a statement jacket and more a summary.

In nearly any incarnation, the Tamarack Jacket pattern by Grainline Studio seems like the perfect transition-season outerwear. For mine, I lengthened the body by 1″ and the sleeves by 2″, my standard adjustments, and the fit is perfect for lightweight layering. It’s a little crowded with my Exeter cardigan underneath, but just right over a fingering-weight sweater or simple sweatshirt (may I suggest: Liv light or Linden). It doesn’t yet have any form of closure, though I plan to add a few hooks & eyes, which I’m waiting to see if I can find at a textile recycling event later this month, and the updated version of the pattern includes a delightful looking snap option.

Indigo Tamarack 4.jpg

Should you choose to make a Tamarack Jacket in pre-quilted fabric, or perhaps a vintage quilt (yes, please do that!), you could probably have one in a day. Should you go for custom machine-quilting, you can probably still finish it in a weekend. Should you wish to make an indigo vat, cut apart and patchwork together your pieces, source your batting locally, quilt it together with sashiko thread, bind all the interior seams, finish the exterior binding by hand, and embroider your heart into painstaking welt pockets — well, it might just take you a year and a half.

And it might be a crazy-neverending WIP, but the payoff might just match the persistence.

Indigo Tamarack 2.jpg

Worn with: vintage silk tee & jeans, handmade shawl, favorite necklace & clogs.

Exeter cardigan, ode to sheep sylvia

Exeter Cardigan 1

Cabled coziness, fuzzy luxury, place-based wardrobe fulfillment.

I arbitrarily told myself I couldn’t/wouldn’t share photos of my “finished” Exeter cardigan until I finished weaving in the ends. Maybe it was less arbitrary and more motivational (I’m always loathe to weave in ends).

But as soon as I tucked away the most conspicuous yarn ends, I slipped on the sweater for the evening. And then I got up the next day and put it on to fend off the late-winter chill. And then the next day it was really the best fit with my outfit (hallelujah, sleeve and shoulder ease).

Exeter Cardigan back

On and on I reached for this cardigan, swaddled myself in it, even traveled with it, for a solid month before finally & reluctantly ending the loose ends.

It still doesn’t have buttons, but I’m calling it good, wearing it while I hunt for button-mates.

The pattern, of course, is Exeter by Michele Wang from the BT Spring Thaw Collection, with full modification notes here. I’m thankful as ever for knitter friends, for real-life sweater try-ons and internet-based helpful hints. The main change I added was length: to the body ribbing, the pockets, and the sleeves.

Exeter Cardigan front

The yarn is a local treat: squishy, lustrous, taupe-y grey wool, purchased at a local festival in spring 2016. It was surprisingly hard to find a full sweater’s worth of yarn from a local farm at this festival that was supposedly all about the shepherds, but I knew I had a winner as soon as I spotted the table piled with this yarn. Simply called Farmgirl Yarns, the label denoted it was raised and spun on-site by English Gardens Fiber Mill in southern Minnesota.

Everything on the table was undyed, with beautiful natural neutrals and subtle variations in grey-brown hues. I gravitated toward this lot immediately. The name: Sylvia. The breed: 1/2 Blue faced Leicester, 1/4 English Leicester, 1/4 Columbia, noted in neat and swirling hand script.

The natural shine of the yarn made the cabling even more addictive, the plump 3-ply showing the texture with distinction. I dutifully swatched and blocked each of the three stitch patterns as called for in the pattern, and the fit is exactly what I wanted — a little bit longer and slimmer (less ease) than the shown on the model, with excellent drape.

Exeter Cardigan Side

What surprised me, though, is that the yarn is really softening with wear. And by that I mean, it’s already pilling more than any of my other hand knit sweaters. It doesn’t bother me so much as perplexes me, because with the little bit I know about Leicester breeds I had thought they were longwool and thus a heartier fiber. I have a pretty high tolerance for wool, not one who needs merino next to skin, so I thought it would be great to have a cabled cardigan in a more substantial wool that would wear really well.

It wears beautifully in its cozy comfort, sheen, and drape, but it has quite the fuzzy halo when you look up close, and will need regular combing on the sleeves and lower ribbing where the most friction occurs. I had thought that pilling was mostly the result of shorter fibers coming free with wear, and maybe that’s true with this yarn, but I wonder if it’s more due to the construction — a ‘softer’ spin that makes the yarn more open and pliable, thus pillable?

Of course, this will hardly stop me from wearing it, it’s more of an observation and perhaps a consideration for the future to do a bit more of the dirty work with a swatch before casting on a whole sweater. I think Karen was really on to something with that hot tip.

One thing I know for sure I’ll take with me to the next big knit: tucking in my name and date, as noted, a little way to make my mark and meld my work with that of all those in the supply chain, from Sylvia the sheep to the spinnery and the shepherd.

Exeter Cardigan Pocket Detail

Small closet chronicles: lessons from donations

Donations

It doesn’t really seem like spring yet, but I’m already feeling spring cleaning fever. Part of my reorganization and revitalization efforts include moving clothes out of purgatory — that pile or box where I’m trying to decide if they should be scrapped, sold, or returned to my wardrobe — and into new homes.

Have you heard about the glut of giveaways, the sea of secondhand clothing?

The short version of the story is that pace of consumption is so fast and price of clothing so low, that donations are flooding secondhand stores but the prices are barely competitive with fast fashion shops. I’ve certainly noticed a shift in what I find at thrift stores over the past 15 years, and in my own purchasing power — I started shopping at thrift stores when fashionable options were out of reach, when silk blouses, wool skirts, and cotton jeans filled the racks, and then H&M came to town at the tail end of high school and suddenly I had so many more choices, yet now the secondhand racks are bulging with cast-off trendy tops and misshapen synthetic blends.

So, I try to be very careful with what used goods I’m putting out in the world — of course that largely begins with bringing in a lot less and shopping secondhand in the first place. But still, sometimes it’s time for things to move on — to free up some physical space, and reduce mental and emotional clutter too.

As I drove a box of donations to Goodwill last weekend, I thought through each item in the box and realized I could learn something from what I was getting rid of — something to carry with me, a lesson learned in lieu of the thing itself:

3 party dresses: align your wardrobe with your lifestyle, and choose versatile special occasion clothes.

I don’t really go to parties anymore, neither of the college campus nor the business casual happy hour variety, and after several years going unworn in my closet I can confidently say these clothes can go. When I do have a special occasion on the horizon, I prefer to dress up the pieces in my existing wardrobe, and if I need something new I will remember to keep it classic and versatile (or maybe rent it? That seems like a fun option for events).

1 clothing swap sweater: just because it’s free and intriguing doesn’t mean it’s right for me.

I actually picked up this particular sweater before I had ever knit one for myself, and I’ve realized how much I’ve learned about my preferences in knitwear shape and style since then. Thanks knitting!

3 plain cotton thrifted tees: trust that when you’re ready to make a project, the right supplies will be available.

I picked up a few shirts at the thrift store when I was obsessed with an Alabama Chanin book; I made one garment and may someday make more, but for now these shirts were just taking up space so I decided to release them back into the secondhand ecosystem.

2 half-priced craft books: it’s better to save the small change and request the real deal.

This winter I’ve been really into my non-fiction library queue — when I hear about a craft, art, or design book I’m interested in, I place a request online and then wait for it to arrive. Borrowing it first allows me access to the skills I’m trying to build or inspiration I seek, and time to decide if I really need it in my home library, rather than settling for a discount version that won’t quite satisfy the need.

5 miscellaneous activewear separates: bodies change; it’s ok to let go.

My current approach to athletic wear is pretty similar to my special occasion clothes: I want things that are versatile and actually get used. Workout clothes (and bathing suits) are tricky because I think there’s an element of materialized aspiration, but I no longer see the value in holding onto items purely for motivation or guilt. (yuck)

A shower caddy: avoid organizational “necessities” until you figure out what your space really needs.

This one’s not clothing related, but it’s an important lesson for me, especially as I continue to move apartments. Plus, Goodwill often has tons of these types of racks and baskets, so I endeavor to scout those out first (with measurements on hand!) to find the right fit next time.

A bag of miscellaneous craft supplies: trust your gut and keep striving to stash less.

There’s an amazing annual event here, a communal garage sale for all things textiles and fiber crafts, and I volunteered last year and found it completely overwhelming. I took home some lovely textiles but also grabbed a few things that in my gut I knew weren’t quite right (like the giant embroidery hoop) so I’ll be returning them into the sale and hoping they go to a better home. An annual event provides a good built-in guideline — haven’t touched it and still have no plans for it after one year? Back it goes.

Personally, I think that if you truly can’t use or refashion an item in your wardrobe or home, it’s still better to donate it than send it to the landfill. For vintage or natural fiber items, maybe it will make its way into the hands and heart of an eager thrifter like me, but  just know that it’s probably not going to a needy closet somewhere, it might just go into the rag trade or even get bundled and sent overseas.

Taking the time to reflect on what I’m getting rid of helps steer me toward shopping more responsibly and reducing waste in the long run.

 

 

Cautious spring color

spring color_darning

I’ll admit to feeling some winter funk lately, after a few fleeting warm and sunny days and a return to grey. I’m craving color, cheer, change — signs of life.

(It’s snowing again as I write this).

I funneled some of my restless spring energy into a Pinterest board, a holding space for all things bright, bare ankled, and smock-pocketed.

But I’ve found another outlet: imbuing the last of my winter projects with a bit of spring fever, creating my own vibrancy until the landscape gives way. It started when I finished my big winter knitting project, the Exeter cardigan, and even worked through a few smaller gift items. Finally, restless fingers found time to pick up a holey hand-me-down cashmere sweater, fumbling my way through some experiments in darning.

Inspired equally by the visible mending movement and the shabby slouchiness of a sweater past its prime, I decided to accentuate the darning with contrasting thread colors from my collection of vintage spools.

It takes a closer eye and a bit more fine-tuned attention than evening knitting, but I’ve actually been really enjoying darning, turning each little hole into a tapestry. The overall effect reminds me of days spent in the painting studio, returning home with splotches of my palette in unsuspecting places, building color onto garments instead of canvas.

spring color_sock

This cheery nod spilled over into my next knitting project, a simple pair of socks I’ve been wanting to make out of some local Babydoll Southdown wool. Last summer, I dyed half of my lot in fresh indigo, so I decided to swatch in stripes. But it seemed like it was missing something, so I divided off another portion of the white yarn and made a quick dye bath of dried marigolds. The bright yellow is unexpected but exactly what I needed — sort of a, when life won’t give you daffodils, make your sunshine, kind of shade.