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

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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.

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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.

Make one, mend one

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Or in this case, two.

I first read this tip from Zo (originator of Me Made May): alternate finishing a new garment with fixing up an old one. I remember thinking: how admirable, but how annoying.

In the abstract, it seemed to me like a nuisance — to go from the joy & pride of a newly finished item to the tedium, and perhaps nagging disappointment, of fixing something gone awry or worn out.

But in practice, I’ve been thinking about ways to ‘bundle’ together projects, one to make and one to mend. Probably because winter is dragging on and my mending pile is growing and instead of gleaming at me from shelves of neatly lined stash fabric and yarn, it’s beginning to glare at me from the corner of my bedroom. Motivation to the rescue!

As noted, I have a handy little quadrant for winter wardrobe-related projects, categorized by: need / want / mend / mod. First up to bat in the new (and needed) garment category was a pair of cozy organic cotton terry hudson pants (shown here).

And you know what goes well with plain cotton thread and jersey needles? Two hemlock tees awaiting some mending and modifying (from the ‘mod’ quadrant).

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So, when the last threads of the hudson pants had been snipped, I took some time to slip them on and revel in all their long-planned-finally-finished glory, then I cleaned up the scraps, and made room for the tees.

The Hemlock tee by Grainline Studio is a community favorite for sure, with its simply boxy cut and myriad of modifications posted by creative sewists. I’ve made both knit and woven versions in the past few years, and realized I just wasn’t reaching for these two tops very much.

Are you tired of hearing me blab about the benefits of my experience with the capsule wardrobe planner? Well, it really has helped me hone in on what garments I love, what shapes I’m most comfortable wearing, and what is languishing in the back of the drawer. For instance, a warm-weather absolute favorite item of mine is a blue and white striped t-shirt that I got at a thrift store. Something about the cut and proportion is just perfect to me, so I took a few nods and notes from it to make my hemlock tees a bit more beloved.

For the brown and cream stripes, that meant chopping off the length at the hem and a little at the sleeves — I was always tucking it and pushing up the sleeves anyway — and creating a split side seam (a favorite detail of mine in general) that is slightly longer in the back.

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For the black and white striped tee, I had experimented with the shape but I hated the visible zig-zag topstitching and the awkward length of the sleeves I had created. I unpicked the hem and neckband, and cut the sleeves short. I added sleeve bands (using the sleeve scraps!) and re-did the neckband and hem with a twin needle.

In both shirts, I tucked signifiers to distinguish the front and back, which I always think will be obvious when I’m making a shirt, but when I pull boxy tops out of my dresser it irks me that I have to pause and consider the right side. Here’s to making yourself happy with the little things.

And, here’s to discovering that the satisfaction of rectifying your old clothes is truly on par with making new ones, so may I suggest: make one, then mend one (or two).

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Here & there, vol. 3

Here

Is the world melting or is it just some of the snow?

The past few weeks were challenging on many levels, and turning to manageable, tactile, creative tasks has helped me get through it. Of note:

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The finishing touch on ultra cozy Hudson pants (the better to spend a Saturday morning snuggling & writing postcards to Senators).

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Finding my own way to commemorate 2017. I think it’s critically important that we continue to define & document our own narratives — I’m starting in the pocket of this sweater (thanks, Beth, for the tip).

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Slow stitching inspiration, thinking about the role of thread and fiber in mark-making, heritage, and recording history in cloth.

There

Looking forward to this series interviewing slow fashion leaders

Honored to be included in this piece on slow fashion sourcing

One step at a time, times 3: to lead, to follow, to make a habit.

Other numerical comforts: take 5.

Finding hope in local: local knitting, local elections, and learning how to be an active ally.

Plus: Ebony’s interview & illustration series

Fair Dare fabric recommendations

Fight!

 

Winter capsule chatter

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Into the depths we go.

My second winter here is already proving longer and less predictable. But my winter wardrobe? Quite the opposite.

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Since I went into my capsule & creative planning process at length for fall, I thought I’d keep it quick this time: I printed the worksheet, grabbed a pen, opened up my dresser and started shuffling things around and taking notes. Add the new Solange album and a cup of tea and it was a really excellent way to spend a chilly Saturday morning.

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My winter “top 8” includes:

  • Brown silk tee, secondhand
  • Black silk tunic, secondhand
  • Rise & Fall turtleneck, made by me
  • A-frame skirt, made by me
  • Clyde pants, by Elizabeth Suzann
  • Levi’s 501 jeans, secondhand
  • Ondawa sweater, made by me
  • Chunky ribbed v-neck sweater, secondhand

My full capsule includes:

  • 5 bottoms (2 jeans, 1 pair of pants, 1 skirt, 1 pair of leggings)
  • 4 dresses (1 dressier option, 3 casual)
  • 14 tops, tees, tunics, turtlenecks, and blouses
  • 6 sweaters
  • 2 pieces of outerwear (1 heavy coat, 1 wool wrap)
  • 3 pairs of shoes (including 1 heavy snow boot)

What I really find helpful about this seasonal wardrobe check-in is that, for me, it becomes very obvious very quickly what my needs and gaps are, which allows me to prioritize and be realistic about what to make and what to buy. This time, I ended up making a little quadrant on the “shopping list” section:

NEED / WANT / MEND / MOD

It serves as sort of a cross-sectional cheat-sheet of what to prioritize. For instance, most of my fall sewing plans got bumped into the want list, because what I need is a winter-weight pair of pj pants (I’ll use the Hudson pants pattern I own and love), and a big cozy cardigan  (I’m cruising along through Exeter in a beautiful local yarn in natural grey). I used the “pieces I own and never wear” section to reflect on a few items that are in low rotation — those went into the “mod” section — and making my full capsule list showed me exactly what needs mending (2 sweaters and 2 pairs of jeans).

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My budget is probably going to be a little tighter in 2017, so ending the worksheet on that note was helpful. The boots will be my big purchase (thanks to some holiday gift help!), and then I hope to finally repair a new-to-me vintage sewing machine, and later, rent a loom (at the local guild) to dust off my beginner weaving skills. I think by spreading those out over the next few months I can manage them all.

In terms of winter style, I’m loving all the layering possibilities and playing with proportion, inspired by some of my favorite designers and bloggers. To sum it up, I’d say: turtlenecks under everything; front-tuck a big cozy sweater; boxy mock-neck pullovers are winning; top it off with a beanie and booties.

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So far I’ve been working most of this inspiration into my daily outfits and am pretty pleased with how versatile my small closet is. I have my eye on a few new shapes to make from my stash, but they fall squarely in the want not need category, so I’m trying to balance lust with discipline. I’m also trying to avoid buying any more materials (the organic cotton terry for the winter Hudson pants was a small but necessarily slip-up in my de-stash efforts), but something inside me keeps whispering raw silk.

A little bit of thrift store browsing might be in order.

And how about you — are you seasonally planning, capsule creating, or just freewheeling these days?

I really enjoyed Karen’s wardrobe planning series on Fringe Association, which follows the same general framework as the capsule planner, I think. I’m also intrigued by the SewMyStyle capsule challenge that popped up on Instagram — from what I gather, it’s a guided process of sewing one pattern per month, which results in a little capsule wardrobe of its own. I’m not really interested in the patterns they selected, but I like the concept and I basically sew one thing per month anyway. I like how Sienna is modifying it to her own goals and existing stash of patterns, and am looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

An A-frame skirt, at long last

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Good things take time

is that an overused adage?

(You may remember, this skirt was first up to bat in my fall queue; it is also, apparently, the snail-paced slowest of slow fashion garments I think I’ve ever made — partially cut in May, tabled until September, resumed, dropped, and a grand finale in the final days of my ‘fall capsule’ – but who’s counting?)

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I honestly thought I would finish it by early October at the latest, but that didn’t happen, and then time seemed to hop skip & jump until late November. Post-election, hands-to-work-and-hearts-to-heaven & all, it brought me strength and comfort to work on this garment, which I came to view as a cumulative, collaborative effort of creative businesswomen who inspire me.

The fabric: grown by Sally Fox, an organic cotton in natural brown, raised in Northern California; made in Japan when the textile industry all but collapsed around her; imported many years later by Kristine Vejar and purchased by me from her shop, A Verb for Keeping Warm (available online here).

The pattern: designed by Taylor McVay of Blueprints for Sewing, who draws on architectural details for thematic, visionary patterns (and whose creative space in Western MA I am secretly incredibly envious of); available online here.

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Finally, in my own drafty little hall closet sewing space, I pieced together these amazing, origami-like pockets, emphasizing the “wrong side” of the fabric which shows a bit more of the natural brown hue of the cotton, then slowly the panels of the skirt. I finished all of the interior seams with bias tape made from scraps, and dutifully pressed and pinned it all to lay flat. I installed a lapped zipper, first by hand and then by machine, it’s not quite hidden but I don’t really care. (it’s this one, in glorious brass and organic cotton which has ruined me to all other zips). I basted the side seams and tweaked the fit twice (thrice? maybe.). Finally the waistband, a vintage button from my stash, and a hand-bound buttonhole as the sun set on holiday cookie baking.

It truly would have been a perfect piece for my fall capsule, when the weather allowed for bare legs but long sleeves; I even remember wishing it was just done already so I could wear it. But actually, it’s perfect for winter too. Maybe not negative-thirty-plus-wind-chill Minnesota polar vortex winter, but on your average frosty winter day, it’s sleek over a pair of tights and a perfect complement to slouchy sweater and pile of knitted accessories.

Exhibit A:

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Pattern notes: I did make a muslin, in a comparable-weight fabric (some sort of cotton canvas that came from a free bin), and I highly recommend that. I chose View A, the more “pencil skirt” shape, and I knew I wanted it to be a little more ‘penciled’ than the original. I marked that on my muslin and took a bit of width out by narrowing the side panels at the bottom. I also graded from a larger to a smaller size at the waist and hip, per my measurements, and in fitting the final skirt I let out the hip just a little bit more. I used a 6″ zipper instead of the recommended 9″ but have no problem getting the skirt up (I did the same on the muslin to test it), and I lengthened the skirt by following the lines all the way down to the largest size, but not beyond that. It falls just above the knee on me, instead of below, and I considered drafting a facing instead of folding up the hem to keep the length, but I actually think this is a touch more modern and better for bike riding.

It feels so good to finally have this skirt completed and in my closet rotation, a mark of the time spent to make it, by me and all the people in the supply chain prior.

 

Just enough (plenty)

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Over the holidays I spent a restorative week with friends & family, partaking in traditions that were new to me, and new twists on the old familiar. In an effort to share the meaning of Hanukkah, we read some much-loved children’s books, including a very sweet story called Just Enough is Plenty. 

Lessons about latkes and generosity toward strangers and finding joy in relative abundance warmed my heart, and I can’t help but translate that message into this rambling reflection of my fall capsule, a balancing act of seasonal change & wardrobe paucity

Sometimes it’s really nice not to have a lot. Like, all my clothes in this capsule fit on a dozen hangers and into one large dresser drawer, the out of season-ers up above in two bins and another handful of hangers. And I rarely ever struggle with getting dressed in the morning, nearly everything is a favorite or at least a faithful piece that plays well with others and holds a certain amount of meaning to me. (like the outfit below, which I posted for my Slow Fashion October intro)

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But then:

your go-to jeans rip.

your boots fall apart.

your most functional cardigan is embarrassingly pilled.

your one mid-weight jacket doesn’t quite cover the climate.

So: the perks of selection, of alternate options to lessen the all-around wear & tear, the gratitude of being able to sub into rotation while the mending pile awaits.

it seems like the age-old time vs. money quandary to bring in reinforcements, and this season I seem to have skirted the two with happenstance.

The week after my jeans ripped (in the crotch area, again) while riding my bike (to work, for a meeting), my friend Lydia generously gave me a pair of sturdy Levi’s 501s that no longer worked for her. They’re just what I needed, and just in time.

The week after I received the pair of pants I pined for and planned and purchased, I realized I couldn’t quite budget for the boots I had my eye on too. Just then, a pair of Nisolo boots popped up on a resale site, gently worn and half the price. A sturdy substitute, ideal for the season.

And the Clyde pants? I hesitated at first, treating them with kid gloves and wrestling internally with the price. But then life sped up, pants ripped, and there they were: stylish, comfortable, wonderful, and much much appreciated. Truly, they’re worth more than the sticker price anyway.

And all of that queue? It largely remains in list form – on the internet, and on my studio wall.

Which is not to say out with the queue! Because if anything, getting by with a sparse capsule affirmed my plans — a limited addition of a few strategic items would certainly help my wardrobe function a little smoother and rest a little easier. And an addendum: for next year, I would add a jumpsuit to the mix, because the warm weather lingered and I really missed my blue linen jumpsuit but I knew it just wasn’t warm enough. I’m eyeing the new Mitchell Jumpsuit pattern from Hannah Garr, maybe in a heavy linen or light denim.

But in going without, in letting go of the pressure to finish it and make my pinterest dreams come true, I got by just fine. Maybe even turned the corner from fine to great, from overly focused to going with the flow. And in these past few months, the ‘capsule’ season has been dwarfed by the political season; the weather shift outweighed by the climatic shift in American identity; the wardrobe needs cast aside for community needs of time, money, presence, and pressure.

It turned out: just enough was plenty.

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I did finish the sweater (v.2) for Jenn (notes on Ravelry here), and moved on to a few warm accessories for me: a Roku hat, Aspen legwarmers, and Fibershed Knitalong shawl. I hope they’ll bring some coziness & security in this coming season of cold weather and chilling politics. In the very last days of fall I also finished my long-planned A-Frame skirt and will be back soon with details on that and with thoughts on a deep winter capsule.