Indigo Tamarack: Part II

Part of the reason I was so suddenly smitten with Grainline Studio’s Tamarack Jacket pattern release was because I had recently attended a tour of local fiber farms through the Natural Fiber Alliance. If you’re in Minnesota or Wisconsin, I highly recommend the fiber tour that NFA puts together each fall. On the tour, I visited a local fiber mill and learned that in addition to spinning yarn, they produce roving, felt, and batting. So when the Tamarack pattern popped up in my Instagram feed I looked at it with new eyes: local wool quilted jacket.

Granted, I have never actually quilted anything before. But I need a mid-level jacket and want to support local farmers and mills as much as possible, so it seemed like the perfect project. I purchased the pattern, picked my fabric (and dyed it with indigo) and contacted the mill to order batting.

And then I waited.

It turns out that the mill I had visited mostly produces yarn and wool goods as a service — meaning they receive fiber from farmers, process it, and send it back — so they don’t have much retail or inventory available, and ultimately I needed to look elsewhere for batting. I really enjoyed doing a bit of research on quilt batting and thought I’d share a roundup of what I found:

Polyester:
When I called and visited local shops, or searched major online stores, I found that synthetic quilt batting dominates the market. I can understand why the low price point and washability would be desirable, but I really try to avoid plastic fibers both because I prefer the feel and benefits of natural fibers (and I wanted the warmth of wool for this jacket) and because synthetics are derived from fossil fuel and polluting the ocean.

Cotton:
Grainline Studio suggests cotton batting as an option for the Tamarack Jacket, and if you’re looking for a lighter weight jacket I’d recommend this Heirloom Cotton Batting from Organic Cotton Plus. It is organically grown and made in the USA, with no chemical additives to offgas in your quilt or jacket.

Wool:
Organic Cotton Plus also offers wool batting, and I kept it in mind as a backup (it is sourced internationally but describes the supply chain and processing with considerable transparency).

When I lived in the Bay Area I loved taking weekend trips north to camp in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa, and once visited Valley Ford Wool Mill. Nestled on a curve of road between rolling hills of pasture, Valley Ford is a working mill with a wonderful Mercantile that sells local wool bedding, yarn, garments, and felted goods. On my visit I bought a pillow, and I considered purchasing their wool batting for this project too.

Digging a little deeper into my local resources, I came across a broader list of Minnesota farms and wool mills, which led me to St. Peter Woolen Mill. This 4th generation family-owned mill is located about an hour from my house and specializes in wool bedding, including pillows, mattress toppers, and duvets, and I was elated to see that they offer quilt batting! Though the wool is not sourced within my immediate radius, I called to ask about their products and learned that they do source entirely from the U.S. (mostly the Western rangeland states).

Always looking for an adventure, I asked if I could pick up an order of quilt batting in person, and learn more about the mill, and mill owner Pat Johnson kindly obliged. The full tour included an interview for an upcoming research project, and provided an in-depth connection to the batting that I purchased. If you’re looking for wool batting or bedding, St. Peter Woolen Mill does an excellent job and sells online as well as wholesales to natural bedding stores around the country. They also offer a unique service: they will reconstitute your existing wool quilt or duvet. If you have a blanket that has gone lumpy or thinned out, St. Peter Woolen Mill can re-process it and send it back to you. The owner told me about family heirloom quilts that have been sent to the Mill multiple times to be re-made, and sent back to the family for continued use. I love this take on mending and making do, and it’s another great reason to invest in quality garments and goods that can last a lifetime (or longer). Batting in hand, I headed back to Minneapolis full of appreciation and excited to make a quilted jacket.

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Eager as I was (and am!) to make and wear my Tamarack Jacket, I put the project on pause while making holiday gifts for loved ones and finishing end-of-year work assignments. I’ve changed my mind a few times on the details for this project, and am glad to be taking it slow. Next on the blog, I plan to post a roundup of my One Year One Outfit makes, resources, and processes. 

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Indigo Tamarack: Part I

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A number of drafted blog posts have fallen by the wayside around here, and I hope to return to them in the early new year, but I’ve found that it’s easiest and most satisfying to post about my active projects, so I’m leaping out of chronology to talk about what’s on my work table now: a Tamarack Jacket.

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I’m a big fan of Grainline Studio, from the pattern designs to Jen’s blog styling. The contemporary aesthetic and thorough instructions have played a huge role in my re-discovery and enjoyment of sewing in the last few years. That said, when Jen started hinting on Instagram that a quilted jacket pattern was in the works, I thought it looked great but was not something I would make — it looked laborious and I wasn’t sure if it fit my style. Yet by the time Grainline Studio released the Tamarack Jacket, temps here in Minnesota had dropped to the mid-40s and I had realized that my outerwear options were severely limited.

On the spectrum of warmth, between my Uptown jacket and a very heavy wool coat (one of my favorite thrifting scores), I was left with a 3/4-sleeves jean jacket and a zip-up fleece jacket I’ve held onto since age 12 and usually reserve for sporty activities. Suddenly, a Tamarack Jacket seemed absolutely essential for my daily life and wardrobe. I bought the pattern immediately.

One of the outcomes of participating in Slow Fashion October has been a growing awareness that I have enough. In fact, I have plenty. I have an abundance of beautiful yarn, fabric, garments to upcycle, dye project materials, etc.  Since time is my limiting factor, I’ve gathered a plentiful stash which I am excited to work with, but very wary of growing.

Turning to my stash, I quickly decided that two yards of this Organic, U.S.A. grown and made chambray would be perfect for my Tamarack. Purchased back in the summer with an Archer in mind, the chambray is colorgrown cotton, which is bred to produce natural pigments instead of plain white boules. The green color is very faint, with a silvery tone to it,  and while it’s really lovely, it unfortunately looked terrible on my skin tone.

Indigo to the Rescue

Last year, my wonderfully thoughtful partner, Jenn, gifted me an indigo shibori kit from Botanical Colors. For nearly a year I have treasured this kit — so much so that no project seemed worthy of its use. With the end of fall fast approaching, I seized the opportunity to finally make the indigo vat, with visions of a rich blue Tamarack dancing in my head.

The kit includes everything needed to create an organic indigo vat, or fruit vat, as designed by French chemist Michel Garcia. I followed the instructions provided by the kit, and cross-referenced The Modern Natural Dyer and this guide from Maiwa.

Though I’ve dyed with indigo before, I had never created my own vat, and I have to say it’s truly a magical process. If you’re not familiar, natural indigo requires a reduction process to make the dye available to fibers, meaning you have to remove the oxygen from the vat. Though blue on the surface, a reduced indigo vat is yellow-green, and fabric pulled from the vat is green at first, then turns blue as it is exposed to oxygen. An organic vat can be made in several ways (see the Maiwa guide for more), but the fruit vat uses fructose to reduce the indigo, and slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) to raise the pH (i.e. make it basic).

I decided to dye on an unseasonably warm weekend, knowing it would be one my last chances to be outside in 60 degree weather for many months. I prepared the mother in a large glass jar (above photos), let it rest and reduce, then created the vat in a 5 gallon bucket. Outside, I set up a clothesline and brought out 2 extra buckets filled with some water for oxidizing and rinsing the fabric.

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While planning out the project, I was concerned that the kit would not be strong enough to get at least a medium shade of blue on all the fabric for my Tamarack. My 2 yards of colorgrown cotton were not quite enough to supply all the lining and exterior pieces, so I decided to use the largest scraps of similar-weight cotton from my stash for the remaining lining pieces. I didn’t want the jacket to look too hodge-podge, but I figured the indigo would be the great equalizer. So, after printing and assembling the pattern, I cut 2 of each piece from the various fabrics (back, fronts, sleeves, pocket).

All sources I’ve read say that you’ll get the strongest blues at the beginning of using your vat, so I started dyeing with my Tamarack Jacket pieces first to ensure a relative even color. I submerged each piece in the indigo for 4 minutes, moving the fabric through the vat gently to get an even color without adding oxygen to the vat. I hung each piece on the clothesline to oxidize (see below), and continued for additional dips to build the color gradually. Ultimately, I did two dips for the lining pieces and three dips for the exterior of the jacket. Once I felt satisfied with the shade of the Tamarack pieces, I continued dyeing other scraps and yardage from my stash; at the top of the post you can see the “before and after” piles and colors of fabric. After several hours playing the my indigo vat, the sun had set and I could tell the vat needed to be recalibrated (it had lost the bloom and coppery sheen on top, was cool in temperature, and producing very light colors).

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Here are some of my indigo dyeing takeaways:

  1. Indigo is very temperature sensitive, and I found that the indigo mother reduced very slowly until I put it in a hot water bath and closely monitored the temperature. Once the temperature was steadily kept between 110 and 120 degrees (F), the indigo sedimentation fell steadily to the bottom of the jar and the navy blue bloom with coppery scum grew at the mouth. This is what you need to look for to know that the mother is ready.
  2. You probably don’t need to use the whole kit in one go. The kit says it contains enough indigo to dye 6 T-shirts to a medium shade. It doesn’t provide the weight of 6 T-shirts but I figured between the Tamarack pieces and other items I wanted to dye in my stash, I would exhaust the whole kit. In hindsight, I would recommend starting with half the ingredients in the kit, that way you have some fructose and lime leftover to help recalibrate the vat, and some additional indigo to create a new mother and reinvigorate it.
  3. You can reuse an organic indigo vat! The instructions from Botanical Colors don’t seem to mention this, but both the Modern Natural Dyer and Maiwa suggest that the vat can be saved and brought back to life. After drying all of my dyed pieces, I realized that the front pieces of the Tamarack pattern had a streaky effect where the dye washed out unevenly. I was disappointed, but then realized I could bring the vat back to strength and overdye them to hide the mistake. I followed the helpful guidance from Catherine Ellis’ blog and simply added fructose and made sure that my vat stayed between 110 and 120 (on the stovetop). It smelled like maple syrup and though the vat didn’t last as long, I concealed the streaks with 2 more dips per piece of the jacket.

I’m quite excited to begin quilting my Tamarack Jacket, though I’m nervous because I’ve never really quilted anything. I’m also a little nervous that repeated dyeing and washing may have shrunk my pieces or caused too much fraying in the seam allowance. What if I make the whole jacket up and it’s too small? It may have been wiser to dye the fabric instead of the pre-cut pieces. But I’m forging ahead with test quilting and basting my “quilt sandwich.” On my next post, I’ll write about my thought process and research into sourcing quilt batting.

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alabama on my mind

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I’m not sure how to write about alabama chanin without gushing. I’m also really not sure how or why it took me so long to come around to alabma chanin style garments. But why spend time pondering the past when you could be hand-stitching the future?!

I think the turning point was when I saw Natalie Chanin’s newest book, Alabama Studio Style, at the Seam Allowance sewing group at A Verb for Keeping Warm. I think that was in March or April. Maybe I’m just a sucker for styling, but I feel like it clicked: I could see myself wearing so many of those garments, whole outfits, head-to-toe ornate, organic cotton jersey, and I was fascinated by the intricate patterning.

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I waited patiently, dropping not-so-subtle hints to my partner that this book would be a great birthday present, but ultimately I bought the book myself a few weeks ago (after receiving other, equally wonderful and thoughtful birthday gifts). While it’s a very technical book in many ways, providing straightforward overviews of previous books and techniques, it’s also a gorgeous, escapist dream of a book. I’ve read it through several times now, and have been picking out different portions to re-read before bed. Sometimes I just look at the pictures and hold the pages closer to my face, studying the details and letting the style wash over me. Am I gushing yet?

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Photo of the Alabama Chanin trunk show via A Verb for Keeping Warm twitter

Anyway, if you can even get past the skilled handiwork of alabama chanin embroidery, there is the matter of the material: alabama chanin produces their own line of organic, US-grown, milled, knit and dyed cotton. This no-small-feat of fabric is the foundation for the alabama chanin line and slow-fashion ethos. There is a beautiful post on their Journal about it, and I highly recommend listening to the Thread Cult interview with Natalie Chanin to learn more. Suffice to say it is a rare and courageous commitment to textiles.

I’m incorporating one or two alabama chanin pieces into my fall/winter wardrobe planning and I want to budget for buying their cotton jersey by the yard, but I wanted to experiment first so I could get the hang of the stenciling and hand stitching. I went to my local Goodwill and searched the racks for good quality cotton jersey tee shirts, as big as I could find, in the hopes of trying some of the double-layered fabric techniques. It took a surprisingly long time, and made me sad that yet another symptom of fast fashion is fabric of such poor quality that after a few wears it’s hardly worth buying. But I digress. I found 5 strong candidates and scooped them up.

The A-Line dress jumped out at me immediately as a garment I would wear all the time: a v-neck, lots of ease, and not too frilly. But I wanted to start with a baby step, a smaller garment to test the applique waters and work with one of the thrifted tees, so I’m making a slightly cropped, slightly off-grain A-Line top. The front and back are each cut out of two pieces, but with the swingy shape I couldn’t quite cut them out from my deconstructed tee, so I ended up adding side panels to create the pattern pieces.

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With the panels stitched up, I turned to the stenciling. I love the allover stenciling but knew that I had very limited fabric (just the tee scraps since I wanted to keep it monochromatic) and so I sought inspiration in the pieces where the flowers curl and cascade around the edges. With my printed Magdalena stencil on the floor I laid the tracing paper pattern pieces over different portions of the pattern to get a sense of composition (see photo above). (note that the patterns and stencils included with the book are formatted for copy-shop size printing; I used the “poster” setting in Adobe to tile them for printing at the library).

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Once that was set, I traced the stencil onto freezer paper and cut out the design with an exacto knife. The freezer paper trick was highly recommended to me by a classmate in a recent course at the Textile Center here in Minneapolis, and I’m so thankful she mentioned it! Freezer paper has a wax coating so you can just iron it onto your fabric and it adheres, making it really easy to brush on some fabric paint. I used cheap fabric paint from Michael’s (my nearest resource) and would like to find a more environmentally-friendly alternative, if anyone has suggestions, I’m all ears!

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I was really pleased that I could reuse the stencil by peeling off the freezer paper (once the paint was dry) and then placing it over my fabric scraps. I really had to squeeze the stencil pieces onto the scraps which turned out to be a fun puzzle. Now I’m in the process of stitching on the stencil pieces and it is absolutely addicting! I enjoy machine sewing but find it kind of stressful at times because I worry about breaking needles, steady topstitching, and even thread tension… but from the moment I cut out the pattern pieces and throughout the stenciling and applique, my alabama chanin DIY process has been refreshingly peaceful.

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And when I’m not stitching, I’m admiring the Alabama on Alabama show at Heath Ceramics’ Boiler Room in San Francisco, partly cursing myself that I moved before it went up, and partly soaking it all in through the internet (photo above by Leslie Santarina via SF Girl by Bay; photo below via The Merchant Home blog).

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Have you made any Alabama Chanin-style garments? Have you checked out #alabamachanin on instagram? Do it, and swoon with me!

khadi chronicles pt. 2

khadi prism_1Around the same time I bought the striped khadi, Verb received new stock of gorgeous, lightweight, colorful cloth which was also listed as khadi. Though both tags said khadi, these new bolts had a much finer hand. Not all of them were organic cotton or naturally dyed, but I believe they were still hand loomed, and I couldn’t resist this voile-like fabric so I picked up a fun take on navy & white gingham to make into Verb’s newest sewing pattern, the Prism dress. I love the way the checks came together on the diagonal because of the raglan sleeve, though my pattern matching was imperfect since the stripes and checks are irregular.

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The Prism dress has become one of my favorite pieces of my wardrobe — it’s easy to throw on and dress up or down (I’ve worn it to a fancy cocktail party for work, and on  bike rides around my new neighborhood), and the slim sleeves balance the shift shape. I know a lot of people love the Grainline Studio Linden pattern and use it for easy raglan tees and dresses, but I think Prism has subtle design differences that make it a worthwhile addition to your pattern library: the raglan sleeve is cut in two pieces which is really beginner-friendly, the split seam on the side is a nice construction twist, and both the body of the dress and the sleeves have slight shaping that I really enjoy. I already have another prism in mind, with short sleeves and pockets!

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I lengthened my Prism by 3″ (my standard for dresses), and added 2″ to the sleeves I think, while grading from a size 41 at the bust to a size 43 at the waist for a little extra room. I also stitched it up with french seams to reinforce the construction and prevent fraying. While living in Oakland I was able to visit the Verb store where you can try on the sample garments of their patterns — such a treat! The staff always choose excellent fabric and I would pretty much wear any of them straight out of the store… Anyway, that’s how I knew I wanted a little extra room around the waist and hips. Also note: Verb patterns are sized by finished garment measurements (i.e. size 41 is a 41″ bust, about 2.5″ of ease for me).

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One of the reasons that I think Verb is such a special shop is because Kristine Vejar, the owner, is very intentional about the inventory, from US-sourced yarns (both their own lines and companies like Brooklyn Tweed) to using natural dyes, and finding interesting and beautiful fabrics with a strong story. When I first learned about khadi I was coming to terms firsthand with the ramifications of global supply chains, from touring a sugar factory where workers where squatting in an unsafe campground nextdoor, to visiting villages reeling from farmer suicides due to the volatile commodification of seeds. I know it’s not always easy to find ethically sourced materials (let alone any supply chain information), but khadi cloth was and is a powerful lesson in the meaning and potential of material processes.

I’m thankful that Verb stocks khadi, which you can find in their online shop or order by calling their store — sometimes they are able to send photos of what is in stock, and sometimes it’s featured in their newsletter. I’ve also done a quick online search and found some khadi available by the yard on Etsy, and pinned a few swatches that caught my eye:

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p.s. One more way you can support khadi cloth is by contributing to the Indigo Handloom Kickstarter. Indigo Handloom is a small textiles company that began as a wholesale importer (I am fairly certain they supplied Verb with the khadi I used for this dress) and is working to create their own fashion line of finished goods, dubbed “the world’s greenest clothing” because the handloom process requires no electricity and much lower resource inputs. Healthier for us and the workers, and you can get a beautiful scarf, tunic, or dress in exchange for supporting their fundraising.

khadi chronicles pt. 1

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when I came across khadi by the yard for sale at A Verb for Keeping Warm I was enchanted. To me, khadi is powerful cloth. Incredibly alluring, especially if you like the feel of course linen and natural colors and small textural reminders that human hands made your cloth, but beyond that it is politically potent. Five years ago I had the opportunity to participate in an incredible study abroad program which traveled from the US to India, Tanzania, New Zealand and Mexico and explored the impacts of globalization and grassroots resistance — it was a pivotal journey for me intellectually and emotionally, one which I am grateful for every single day. I first learned about the history of khadi while in India, so seeing and touching it was a visceral reminder of that journey and the (positive and negative) transformative potential of textiles.

khadi chronicles_8Khadi is a term for handspun and handwoven cloth, but it is also emblematic of the movement for Indian self-reliance and freedom from British colonialism. Gandhi advocated for each person to spin their own cotton and each community to weave their own cloth so that the Indian people would create home-grown textiles rather than buying fabric back from the British who held tight control over the cotton markets. Gandhi encouraged a daily practice of spinning with a foldable spinning wheel or charkha and community-scale fiber farmning, weaving, dyeing, and block-printing; a true example that the revolution begins at home. (This cursory overview of the history of khadi was imparted by my teacher in India, Saatchi, and a brief stay in the village and ashram of Sevagram; this website is another resource). While I doubt all khadi cotton is still spun at home on a charkha, some of this cottage industry remains, both for educational purposes and cloth production.

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I bought a meager yard and a half, maybe even just a yard and a quarter, of organic cotton, naturally dyed khadi that day at Verb, and at the time I wasn’t really sewing clothing. I guess that khadi was the start of my stash, and I treasured it, saving it until I had dusted off my sewing skills. Even then, cutting into this plainweave, turquoise fabric made my heart jump! But this simple Wiksten tank has become a wardrobe staple for me.

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I chose the Wiksten tank pattern because I wanted a garment with a modern, simple design that would be straightforward for my beginner sewing skills and showcase the beauty of this cloth. The yardage had natural color variations including a large faded streak that I intentionally placed along the center back.

Nearly a year later I felt more confident in my sewing skills and I was fortunate to have a slightly larger fabric budget, so I returned to Verb to buy more khadi — this time gray and brown stripes of the same thick, organic, naturally dyed cloth. On the eve of Me Made May I sewed up a Scout Tee with added volume in the back (using Jen’s great tutorial for slashing & spreading the pattern) and lengthened sleeves (+2″ I think?). When I bought the fabric I had a Scout tee in mind because again I wanted a classic, modern wardrobe staple, but I definitely thought that the stripes went horizontally. Not so! The stripes run along the grainline and the cloth is pretty narrow, so I forged ahead with vertical stripes, and I’m very pleased with it.

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Both of these tops are now part of my core wardrobe, and I love that each time I wear one I’m reminded not only of my own travels but of the incredible journey from field to garment. With this narrative in mind, I made sure to wear my khadi Wiksten as part of my outfit for Fashion Revolution Day:

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Stay tuned ~ tomorrow I’ll be posting another khadi garment & a few more words about my love for this cloth!