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.

Here & there, vol 2.: checking in

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Here 

Tumult. Travel.

Reading & journaling feels good; sharing words feels harder.

The work: Resilience & Resistance.

How I’m starting (so far): continuing to build community around regional, regenerative fiber systems. Connecting with my loved ones, reaching out to friends who’ve fallen out of touch and have experienced first-hand the fallouts of this brutal vote. Creating things with my hands, nourishing my soul and digesting the waves of emotions and experience. Gathering in the streets in solidarity and in mourning, gathering in safe spaces in joy and in grief. Committing to financial donations and plans for volunteering, organizing, and showing up. Calling my representatives, voicing my concerns, and demanding accountability.

There

Now. is. the. time.

Songs for possibility; a reminder to bolster our courage, compassion, & creativity.

+ 10 ways to fight hate

Where to donate, to begin

And what if the sun doesn’t come out tomorrow? Contemplating darkness & finding the light

Connecting climate change & our closets

A holiday guide for showing up & talking about racism. (really, an anytime guide for dialogue)

Call your people (the elected ones) (here’s a script)

Call your girlfriend (the smart & compassionate ones)

Holding these words close in quiet times & busy hands:

“Quilts, clothing, furniture, sign painting, and the crafts of the building trades all cross political lines, much like food. They also connect deeply to a battered vision of American identity that is in desperate need of a better angel right now. If we’re looking for a way to reach our fellow Americans, to have honest conversations with them about equality and dignity, craft can be a place to begin.”

& now I’m probably off making feminist gingerbread people

A sea of fresh indigo

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Is it obvious around here that I’m enamored with indigo blue?

You’ll find it in my yarn stash, on my cutting table, in my closet of course, in a bucket in my “studio” and this year, in my garden.

Japanese indigo, polygonum tinctorium to be exact.

Tended from wee seedlings in my sunroom (slash home office) to a patch in my landlord’s flower garden, I’ve been caring for my own little plot of blue, biding my time until the shiny green leaves begin to bruise and hint at the pigment within.

But what to do with the leaves? I sowed, composted, weeded, watered, and looked on adoringly while not entirely sure what I would do when it came time to harvest. Mostly because I wasn’t sure how much would crop up, and what method would be feasible.

See, I’m trying to avoid synthetic chemical intervention. Indigo is a peculiar natural dye, requiring the removal of oxygen before the color can bind to any material. This makes it magical, in a way, because when you pull something from an indigo vat you witness the pigment’s reaction with oxygen, changing from green to blue in midair.

A lot of recipes take natural indigo and add a reducing agent, called Thiox or Spectralite or, in a pinch, Rit Color Run Remover. To avoid this additive, there are a host of more-involved processes that involve fermenting the fresh leaves and feeding the vat things that will give it sugar and things that will raise the pH.

But these things are at once precise and imperfect, never a guarantee that you’ll get color at the end of your days brewing and calibrating — best done with an experienced eye.

At least that’s my take. So while I’m figuring out if and how to go the fermentation route with my backyard harvest, I decided to try dyeing with just one simple ingredient: ice water.

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I’d heard a rumor about this method a few years ago, and mentally bookmarked The Dogwood Dyer’s tutorial when I later came across it. Indigo expert (in my opinion) Rowland Ricketts has a few notes on it, and plant palette artist Sash Duerr raves about the resulting colors.

I trust these incredible people, so I gave it a try. And it’s really very simple, but you need a stretch of uninterrupted time and, if you’re like me, you need to put out extra rags and buckets because it’s always going to get a little messier than anticipated.

Simply put: harvest your mature indigo, cutting off the stalks (leaving room for regrowth if your season allows), then remove the leaves, blend them with ice water, strain that and use it as your dye bath.

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Specifics from a Saturday afternoon:

  • Prepare material by submerging in room temperature water for at least an hour. I chose skeins of yarn including local wool, secondhand wool blend (I think), and secondhand silk, all of which had been scoured previously, and the secondhand materials had been mordanted with alum.
  • Weight of goods: 625 g all together
  • Weight of harvested leaves: 206 g
  • Ice water prepared by emptying all available ice cube trays into a bowl, allowing to melt at room temperature for half an hour, then filling the bowl with cold tap water.
  • Leaves were blended in batches with enough ice water to move freely.
  • Strained blended mix using a mesh sieve, but the mix was too finely blended, so switched to using cotton gauze and squeezing it through.
  • Mixture was neon green and very frothy, tiny leaf particles impossible to strain out.
  • First dip: local wool skein submerged approx. 5 min.
  • Second dip: silk skeins submerged approx. 10 min.
  • Third dip: mystery wool skeins submerged approx. 10 min.
  • Fourth dip: local wool skein again for approx. 10 min.

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Each skein of yarn came out of the bath a vibrant shade of neon green, like pure chlorophyll. When I’ve used powdered indigo vats (like so), I’ve noticed the oxidation process beginning almost immediately, transitioning to teal and then toward blue. With this process, I waited 10 minutes after the first skein and it was still a solid green, so I put it in the tub of water where the undyed skeins for soaking. By the time I finished a first dip of each yarn, the early skeins were starting to edge on turquoise, but still, it was the slowest oxidation I’ve ever seen.

Once I had cleaned up, I rinsed out excess dye and then hung the skeins on my portable drying rack, an ombre of jade and bright emerald. By mid-morning the next day, the outside of each skein was dry and aqua in color, but the interior strands were still damp and holding onto green. I found a two-part article that suggests the green continues to disappear as time goes on, but that the blue tones are fairly lightfast. You can see that even in this small series of photos, the color shifts easily with the quality of light.

At first I found the persistent green frustrating – I wanted blue! But the slow transition into turquoise is a magic all its own. And the most magnificent thing, for a Saturday afternoon in my makeshift setup, is the ease: no synthetic compounds meant I could splash with abandon (or at least, give in to accidental overflow), and compost the finished bath.

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Capturing summer

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The seasons are so dramatically different here, the changes are less like a marker of passing time, almost a sort of temporal amnesia.

I remember in spring — May, specifically — when the lilac that climbs the fence along our driveway began to bloom. The day we first looked at this apartment, the lilac was like a row of garlands below the windows as we walked through half-empty rooms, trying to picture ourselves here. By the time we moved, it had all but disappeared, the greenery no less spectacular than the abundant leaves and shrubs of the neighborhood. When it returned, I was giddy like it was our own private fireworks display, unfurling and completely unexpected.

Even in summer’s peak humidity (and this one, oh, it was humid) I would catch hints of our former, wintry life. Brushing up against my wool coat as I reached for the bucket of indigo vat below. An incessant bug bite on my hand nagging like dry knuckles.

This isn’t about lilacs, but about remembering — bringing a little bit of summer sunshine with us into the depths of winter.

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I didn’t get a chance to plant as much of a dye garden this year as I’d hoped. I started some indigo seeds in a tray, generously gifted by a friend from California, and some weld too, which didn’t take. I kept meaning to sprinkle a pack of marigolds and coreopsis in the front yard, but I couldn’t keep up with the weeds long enough to clear space.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to tend my indigo patch, which has been low maintenance thanks to well-timed rain showers, but found myself envious of the yellow and orange blooms all around, my eyes peeled to distinguish coreopsis from black eyed susans from the car window, spot tansy on my bike rides, or catalogue all the marigolds along my running route, mentally weighing the volume of goldenrod plumes.

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Picking a few here and there wouldn’t hurt, I told myself. But you can’t clear cut your neighbors’ wildflowers, even if they don’t love them like you love them. (I told myself.)

An ecoprint seemed like the perfect way to honor summer’s colors and my neighbor’s property lines.

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Several months ago I found a perfectly crisp and white cotton sheet at the thrift store, and though it’s not the drapiest fabric, I knew it would be a cost effective way to get the amount of yardage needed for the double window behind our bed.

I roughly followed the ecoprinting instructions for the Flowers at My Fingertips kit in The Modern Natural Dyer: I cut the sheet down to size, weighed it, scoured it in the washing machine, mordanted with alum acetate, and gave it a wheat bran bath dip. Then, I strolled through my neighborhood and picked a few flowers here and there in streetside planters and the edge of the community garden. I focused on plants I’d heard were good dyeing: cosmos, marigolds, goldenrod, black eyed susan, and a yellow flower that looks like a version of coreopsis.

My goal was to try to make a geometric print by plucking out petals and leaves and laying them out like mandalas. I knew the whole bundle had to fit into my dye pot, so I measured the full width of the pot and then used that to determine how to fold and layer the fabric — essentially I divided width into quarters and only placed flowers on the middle half, then folded the blank edges over to meet in the middle.

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Some tips: use freshly picked flowers, keep the material damp, and put down a tarp! It took me most of a day to lay out the flowers along the length of the fabric, since I had various errands and things to do periodically, so having the tarp underneath was important to protect the floor, and a spray bottle of water helped keep all the pieces in place.

The result is a bit of a kaleidoscope blur, swirls of yellow and orange, petals and leaves dancing across the surface. This was my first time attempting a pattern with bundle dyeing, and I love the result but I also had an ‘aha’ moment when unrolling it: to achieve a more defined pattern, you actually want to avoid repeating the same placement (for instance, the mirrored goldenrod blooms, above) and place the material in a staggered arrangement so that when you roll it up the elements will overlap very little or not at all.

Already I feel the days shortening and the quality of light shifting, but stitched into curtains and backlit by sunrise, this print lets me hold onto summer just a little bit longer.

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Project planning for fall

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Back to my point about project planning: whether or not you actually want to make/use/live with a capsule wardrobe, the free Capsule planner can be a helpful tool to plan wardrobe addition. I’m going with a fall capsule wardrobe, but I think the foundation of taking stock of what I have, identifying what’s working & what’s not, thinking about weather and lifestyle and any needs for the upcoming season allows me to easily identify and prioritize pieces I want to add to my wardrobe, capsuled or not.

From my wardrobe planning process, I have a clear color palette, an idea of my favorite silhouettes, and an inventory of what I have and what gaps exist in my wardrobe. I have a good number of boxy tops that I love, but am pretty low on pants and skirts to pair them with (especially pieces that are in good condition and can be dressed up a bit).

The Capsule planner also offered a nice time to reflect on my goals: moving slowly, keeping my closet pared down, and working with my stash. So now, the part I daydream about the most! What to make? How will the things I make pair with what I already have and love?

Since I generally enjoy making most of my wardrobe, I use the shopping list part of the Un-fancy Capsule planner to think about what projects to prioritize. But, considering my current need for pants and the learning curve to make a pair (which I don’t have time for just yet), I decided to invest in a pair of Clyde pants after many many months of contemplation and budgeting. I also need another pair of shoes, ideally boots, which is a bigger budget item, so I’m trying to keep my project budget lean and finish up a few WIPs.

Roughly in order of priority:

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Loose inspirations & interpretations: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

I wouldn’t say this planning method is totally foolproof — I could still end up with clothing that doesn’t quite fit or isn’t durable, or doesn’t ultimately move into regular wardrobe rotation. But I have a natural tendency (ok, borderline obsession) toward planning and I think laying it all out ahead of time is really helpful.

I also know that this fall — really, the rest of 2016 — will be very busy for me, and there’s a chance that I won’t get through even half of the items on my list. Through my summer capsule wardrobe experience, I learned that making one full garment per month is a reasonable pace, so with my fall planning I’m trying not to set my expectations too high, and by prioritizing, I can focus on each item in due course. Still, if I don’t get to making or finishing the items on my list, I know that I have plenty to wear and lots of great options in my fall capsule.

This is my current practice of balancing excitement, inspiration, and desire, with gratitude, responsibility, and time management. Do you have a fall list? I love learning about how others plan (or don’t!) their projects, and welcome your thoughts in the comments!