the great closet cleanout

For the past decade or so I have been an avid thrifter, buying clothes mostly based on textiles that I loved (gaudy silk prints? Yes. Wool paisley? Yes! 75% ramie? Oh yes). Many of these became as-is wardrobe staples, but much of my shopping was also fueled by a lofty sense of the potential held by each garment. In the sewing & knitting world, people often talk about their stash — yarn & fabric awaiting a project, sometimes bought with a purpose, sometimes grabbed just because. I had a serious thrifted stash, which resulted in a wardrobe chock full of half-wearable treasures awaiting their day in the refashion sun.

And yet, as I worked my way through¬† the wardrobe architect month 1 worksheets, I felt at first overwhelmed and disheartened — so much of what filled my closet did not, and unless I quit my job to hack everything up, probably would not, fit my core style. This was puzzling at first, wondering how I got so distanced from my personal style, until I realized it was because I’d been holding onto so many “treasures” from past style phases that they were obscuring my core wardrobe, which I knew existed in there somewhere…

Then, a coworker tipped me off that the Oakland White Elephant Sale, a massive annual tag sale that takes over an enormous warehouse, to benefit the Oakland Museum, accepted donations throughout the month before the sale, and would reward donators by letting them shop on “drop off days.” Maybe this isn’t a big secret, but to me it was incredible, and I knew what I had to do. Suddenly, I felt liberated! I knew that I could go through my closet and weed out all the items cluttering my core style, and rest assured that those “treasures” would find their way to someone who also feels the thrill of thrifting, because the WES attracts vintage lovers and avid secondhand shoppers.

the great closet cleanout

Everything from my closet, piled onto my bed in a somewhat organized fashion. To the right are all the “core” pieces I kept, in the middle are activewear and some “maybes,” and pretty much everything on the left went to a new home.

Resting assured that I could send things on to a good home, I did some additional ‘net surfing to help guide my closet cleaning. The Wardrobe Architect series served as my foundation, but through that I found Into Mind and have found their guide to a minimalist wardrobe super helpful (I didn’t buy the official workbook, just clicked around a bunch and ruminated on the tips and activities). I’ve also been following the capsule-wardrobe-focused blog Unfancy, and her tips and capsule strategizing are useful.

When I got down to business, the whole ordeal was a lot quicker than expected. The resources above, combined with keeping my silhouettes in mind, created a ruthless purge. It was awesome. Here’s what I kept:

closet cleanout collage

From the top!

4 “day dresses” (i.e. casual): Wiksten tank dress, vintage denim dress, Alder shirtdress, vintage ’50s collared dress

3 party dresses: thrifted velour minidress (two-toned, stretchy, and amaaazing), Urban Outfitters tank/shift dress (worn to my college graduation! love the color), vintage paisley maxi dress (worn to my cousin’s wedding; needs mending)

4 sleeveless tops + 1 beautiful blouse: Osei-Duro x Hemlock shell, khadi Wiksten, thrifted knit tank top (made of ramie blend, which is a bast fiber I’ve rarely seen – weird & cool), H&M tank top from a really long time ago (I’d like to copy the pattern and make a new one), hand-embroidered tunic purchased from an artisan in Oaxaca, MX (I cherish it).

6 tees: top 3 are everlane tees purchased recently (they’re good basics, but I wish I known about Be Good Clothing before I bought them, because Be Good makes great basics too but is all organic & fair labor certified! on my wish list), thrifted stripey tee, 2 thrifted silk tees

4 long(er) sleeve tees: yellow hemlock (an early make, it’s getting kind of ratty), stripey hemlock hack (will blog soon!), Linden swap from Charnelle of Call me Chartreuse, black tee (anyone else buy C&C tees in the early 2000s? it was a thing, but hey, it still fits)

Edited to Add: 3 long sleeve blouses (2 thrifted collared shirts; 1 thrifted silk tunic) Рnot pictured because somehow I forgot about them when making the collage?

2 shorts, 2 overalls: denim, black denim, thrifted velvet short overalls (I mean, why not?), denim short-alls (not pictured)

4 pairs of pants: black Madewell jeans, gray H&M jeans (from the men’s section because I got tired of tiny inseams), Madewell lightwash blue jeans, Gap jeans

3 skirts: vintage fancy black skirt (a good work staple), linen wrap skirt, thrifted mini

4 sweaters: colorblocked handknit Hayward (will blog soon!), cropped bulky cardigan from a clothing swap, thrifted shawl collar cardigan, drapey cardigan from Anthropologie many moons ago

3 jackets: thrifted denim jacket, vegan “leather” (really it’s just pleather??!) jacket from free people a few years ago, wool Uptown jacket

1 flannel shirt, 1 vintage dolman cardigan/jacket thing

1 raincoat, 1 heavy wool coat (thrifted for a steal & I had it tailored but would still like a slightly better fit)

2 hats (everlane beanie, handknit hand-me-down beanie), 2 scarves (gifted silk scarf, handknit bulky cowl)

5 pairs of shoes: Sven clogs, free people booties, thrifted loafers, Urban Outfitters flats (need to be replaced), birkenstocks

Backpack (everlane), handbag (thrifted & desperately needs to be replaced)

slippers (hand-me-downs), running shoes (Brooks), rain/garden boots (bogs)

>>> GRAND TOTAL: 46 pieces of clothing + shoes & accessories


I sorted through all my socks, underwear & bras, and activewear, but did not include them in my photographed catalog. I also kept a group of things that I haven’t worn recently but can’t quite part with (top, including a few dresses, sentimental sweater, crazy floral pants, go-to costume aka sailor suit), and a group of things I will be using as fabric for new pieces (bottom, mostly silks and denim):

closet cleanout 2

After donating my goods, I shopped at the WES with newfound clarity and came home with just 2 new items: vintage high-waisted lightwash jeans (on my wishlist for some time) and a black silk skirt with really interesting pleating/draping.

Not only did this major closet cleanout provide me with insight on what I¬†really wear regularly, but it highlighted gaps in my wardrobe and some areas that need to be replaced. I’ve been dreaming of springtime sewing (though I’m not totally finished with my winter wardrobe plans), and some new investment pieces, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

What about you, have you been bitten by the spring cleaning bug/capsule wardrobe bug?


uptown grl

uptown jacket backFinally, photos! As mentioned before, photographing my makes is proving to be a struggle. Last week I woke Jenn up from a nap (she is a baker and works very¬†early hours) to catch the last of the California golden sunshine¬†and snap a few photos¬†of my¬†new jacket, which I love to pieces — it’s architectural & textural¬†but goes with everything, warm but not heavy, perfect for the weather here, I could go on and on!

The uptown jacket is my most advanced project yet, and I’m so grateful to Tasa Gleason at AVFKW for (1) making this awesome pattern and (2) hosting a fantastic pattern-hack class to turn the top into a jacket!

I was stalking the AVFKW calendar online, as I often do, and was intrigued when I saw this 3-part class listed. It seemed like a perfect way to build my sewing skills, and then their blog posted a sneak peek of the finished jacket and I was sold. Yet, I waffled back and forth for several weeks trying to determine if I could carve the time out of my work schedule to make it to class on Wednesday evenings. The tipping point was when I just happened to google vintage Pendleton yardage on my lunch break, and found the steal of the season: 2 and some yards virgin wool Pendleton for $35 on eBay, and the seller was based in Northern California, so it didn’t even travel too far! Win.¬†eBay?! An interested idea for dead stock/remnant fabrics (which I would love to work with more often) but I haven’t found much else of interest. The fabric had no proof of being true Pendleton, but I did find some finished garments online with what appears to be the same fabric…

pendleton tag
pendleton jacket 2

worn with: Madewell jeans; Sven clogs; thrifted knit tank top; Marisa Mason necklace

Pendleton is dreamy from a fashion perspective (their Portland collection is swoonworthy), but also from an economic perspective. They’re a successful example of domestic textile production, sourcing much of their wool from here too. Seamwork Mag has a quick overview of Pendleton that past & present that is worth a read. Growing up in New England — near the birthplace of the industrial revolution (!) which began with textiles, duh — ¬†I¬†was intrigued by old textile mills, and today my nostalgia for that industrial brick & forested landscape¬†meshes with my¬†ideas of revitalized¬†domestic textile production, so Pendleton is inspiring in many ways!
pendleton uptown jacket sleeve

Check that plaid matching!

Pendleton in hand, I bit the bullet and registered for class, unsure whether a work deadline would keep me from attending the 3rd session. I am SO GLAD I did this, y’all. It was a very small class (just 3 students) and Tasa shared terrific tips for how to hack a pattern, draft new pieces, and her help with the plaid matching was invaluable.

The basic overview is that we took the uptown top pattern and drafted new front pieces. We drew a line down the middle of the front and added a 1″ seam allowance to create the new piece. We extended the existing neckline facing to create front facings for the inside, split the hip band into 3 parts (two front, 1 back), and drafted patch pockets. From there you basically just make 2 tops, one in the lining and one in the shell, and then bag the lining.
pendleton uptown jacket 3
I was especially glad to have help with cutting my shell pieces because the houndstooth repeat made my eyes a little dizzy after too much staring. And bagging the lining was a first for me, so it was super helpful to walk through it in class (I’m a visual learner). Unfortunately we ran out of time in the last class so no one was able to finish their jacket – we all had to install our zippers on our own, but Tasa gave us detailed instructions and showed her preferred way of basting it in before machine sewing:pendleton jacket installing zipper

After I finished the jacket, I literally wore it every single day for several weeks. I love the fabric, the silhouette is a perfect complement to my wardrobe architect core style, and the weight of the wool + elbow length sleeves is perfect for the Bay Area “winter.” Lately I’ve swapped in my (p)leather moto jacket, especially if I’m wearing a fuller skirt, but my love for the uptown jacket is still going strong, and I have plans to make several Uptown tops. As an aside, I’d venture a guess that the pattern is named after the Oakland neighborhood or maybe even the Uptown venue (which sadly just closed), and I fully intended to photograph the Uptown jacket in the Uptown neighborhood, but we were running errands elsewhere so this is actually a wall in Berkeley, for all you bay area locals out there ūüėČ
pendleton jacket close up
In addition to the Pendleton wool, I used 2 yards of organic cotton for lining, purchased at Verb, a spool of polyester thread (also from Verb), and a metal zipper graciously gifted to me from a classmate who bought several options at Stonemountain Fabrics in Berkeley. I spent quite a while pondering lining fabrics because I knew I didn’t want a solid, even though the houndstooth is so busy. I fell in love with the idea of unzipping the jacket as if flocks of birds were flying out, and ended up spending more on the lining fabric than the shell! I have a good amount of scraps leftover so expect to see more birds flying round here soon.
pendleton jacket 4
Working with dead stock/remnant/leftover fabrics is something I want to explore more (you know, reduce, reuse, recycle) — do you have a favorite source for secondhand fabric?

wardrobe architect: core style


Fresh into February, I wanted to take a few minutes to distill my thoughts on the first month of the Wardrobe Architect series. Weeks 1-4 focus on identifying core style in terms of shape & vibe. I’ll go through a rundown of my worksheets, then talk silhouettes, sewing patterns, and finally my big takeaway:

  • the series really starts off with a bang! Worksheet 1 was surprisingly challenging for me, covering some pretty majorly reflective territory on personal history/philosophy/culture/community/activities/location/body. Phew! It was fun to think back on the all the fashion/personal style phases I’ve gone through, from a very LL Bean upbringing, to discovering Teen Vogue and Nylon magazines & being an avid thrifter in high school, then going kind of indie/grunge in college, spending 9 months living out of one suitcase (… not my most stylish time), exploring queer community/style, and most recently moving to the Bay Area, a land without seasons.
    • ¬†on style realms: worksheet 1 helped me conceptualize what I wear in terms of the worlds I move through — professional, albeit casual, office attire, free time full of making things & adventuring, dressing up on occasion for dance parties or dinner, and exercise. There’s certainly an undercurrent of my style throughout, and a shared core wardrobe, but I’d like to work on greater continuity and feeling like myself (style wise) no matter the activity, and feeling like I can move effortlessly between these realms.
    • on body image: worksheet 1 also helped me realize that I’m much less restricted by my height than I used to be. For a long time¬†being tall made me¬†self conscious of trying certain styles and not wanting to be too bold because I already stand out (literally). To point: after obsessing over clogs for nearly six months, I bought a pair despite the 2.5″ heel, literally thinking “YOLO”(you only live once)¬†while purchasing and you know what? I adore them, and when I notice the added height it makes me feel powerful, like I’m¬†owning it.
  • the second worksheet focused on all of the feelings. I thought about my discomfort with feeling/dressing¬†too feminine or sexy and how my admiration of ultra-minimalist style uniforms just isn’t realistic for my love of textiles & activity needs. I couldn’t think of a single style icon off the top of my head, which I think points to the fact that I haven’t put a lot of thought into my overall style lately, but after mulling it over, I focused less on finding¬†someone who captures my daily style/silhouette, and was more drawn to each person’s¬†attitude:
style icons collage
Jenna (also 6 feet tall! & wearing heels!) // Frida (an artful dresser) // Solange (bold) // Patti (revolutionary)
  • 5 words to describe my style:
5 words for core style
intentional // tomboy-femme // creative // ease // limitless!
  • the next two weeks focused on shapes & silhouettes, which¬†I think is how I was intuitively styling my wardrobe already. I’m very drawn to certain shapes and I¬†think I have a pretty strong sense of what’s flattering for my body, which I would classify as “apple shaped” if you go by the fashion magazine fruit metric system: boxy/architectural tops with a lot of ease, mid- and high-waisted skinny jeans & pencil skirts, shirt dresses, dolman sleeves, v and boat necks, sack & shift dresses.¬†I drew up a few of my go-to silhouettes on polyvore, which I ‘d never used before so you’ll have to bear with me.
  • sketching out silhouettes got me thinking about how to build on my core shapes (some of which is already in progress with my winter wardrobe plans) and also about how to explore new shapes, like a midi pencil skirt, scoop necklines, a bodysuit, “boyfriend jeans,” a wrap dress, and a loose peplum top.
  • most of these new (and old fave!) silhouettes are already stacking up on my sewing inspiration pinterest board, but specific patterns that fit my core style¬†include:
    • go-to’s: ginger jeans, hemlock tee, archer button up, alder shirtdress, Uptown top, Nell blouse, wiksten tank & dress, scout, ondawa, escher
    • new takes on my core silhouette: vena cava wrap dress, nettie bodysuit, marthe blouse, mabel, Named boyfriend jeans, ’70s wrap skirt

sewing patterns - wardrobe architect

  • are you ready for my big takeaway? when I started the first worksheet I was thinking about the philosophy and ethos of my style, and the¬†wardrobe ecology¬†framework that I’m trying to cultivate. With environmental considerations in mind, I was about to write down “low impact” (like nontoxic, water efficient, light on human & natural resources) when I realized that doesn’t capture my core style at all — what I’m aiming for is a HIGH IMPACT wardrobe: clothing that can most positively effect my community and those involved in the supply chain. I want to cultivate a wardrobe with a high impact by supporting local farmers, small and independent shops and designers, organic, sustainable, and innovative systems wherever possible. High impact also resonates with my personal style, because I realized that my style icons aren’t those whose closets I want to copy, they’re women whose wardrobes express their strength and creativity. Yes, I strive for a light ecological footprint, but I can’t truly minimize my wardrobe because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so instead I’ll aim to maximize the positive potential.

Grainline studio Hemlock hack

grainline studio x osei-duro hemlock hack

so, blogging. I love making things — dreaming of new projects, making modifications, choosing textiles of course, cutting, sewing, and all the way through a finished garment. but photographing a new piece? Apparently not my strong suit, and definitely my biggest hurdle to having an active blog. I asked Jenn to take some photos of my new shirt several months ago but never got around to posting it because I didn’t really like most of the photos. but this simple top has been in heavy rotation in my wardrobe and I had several lovely conversations about it at the latest Bay Area Sewists meetup, so I think it’s time to get over my self consciousness and on to sharing this quick pattern hack with the world! (which is a rather bold statement considering I have 6 blog followers)

I’ve been admiring the indie line Osei-duro ever since I saw someone wearing a pair of pants in their signature wax print¬†style — graphic, bold, but still very wearable. I love the modern shape of their designs and the emphasis on traditional artisan textiles and ethical production, and would absolutely support the brand if it was in my budget. When I found an Osei-duro-esque lightweight cotton at my local fabric shop (/happy place) A Verb for Keeping Warm, I had to have it. I didn’t have a pattern in mind and it was a little pricey so I think I bought 1.25 yards or so.

I started to see similar tops appearing all over instagram and pinterest — boxy, sleeveless shell tops with interesting prints or luxurious fabrics. Longing for the silhouette, I tried on several tops like this at local boutique Ali Golden:

osei-duro shellali_golden_drawstringtop_black

Top: Osei-duro Black Lightning Shell; Bottom: Ali Golden Black Drawstring Hem shirt

Though I was tempted by the Ali Golden sale rack, I realized in the dressing room that the shape was simple enough to recreate & all I needed was a basic top to provide the neckline curve and proportional guidance: enter Grainline Studio’s Hemlock tee. Though it’s drafted for knits,¬†I knew from previous experiments that the shape would translate well to woven (and recently Jen of Grainline Studio did a post about woven Hemlocks!).

I remember making this in one afternoon, on an unseasonably warm day that I had off from work — I think it was Labor Day. Four months later, here’s a basic outline of what I did (+ funny illustrations/midnight doodles):

hemlock hack instructions

In my eagerness, I actually mis-cut the front so that the pattern was slightly off center. I wanted to create the “V” shape in the middle, as opposed to just the diagonal repeat, so I decided to cut the front piece in half, discard one half, and cut a new piece with the mirrored pattern. Thus the center front seam. I think the flat felled seam is a nice touch, but if you were working with a less obvious pattern, you could easily omit this and just cut the front as one piece. Because I was working with limited yardage and I had to re-cut the front, I ended up taking the sides in a bit — I think less than an inch per side. I would recommend pinning the sides together to determine your desired proportions — for the width, for the armholes, and for the hem (I think I cropped mine about 2″).


p.s. on the ecology of this fabric — I fell for the print, and didn’t take any notes (mental or written) about the fabric otherwise. I think it’s plain old cotton (not organic) and feels like voile. The print looks like a true wax print, not an imitation silkscreen, since there are variations in the pattern. Does this mean it was made at a smaller scale? Perhaps a lower impact? Hard to say. Sometimes I think smaller-scale industries can actually be¬†less efficient and¬†more¬†wasteful/resource-intensive than larger scale operations, but having no real information about this fabric, I can’t even make an educated guess. Which brings me to my greater quandary about handmade wardrobes: are we really lessening our impact/divorcing ourselves from an oppressive system (“sweatshop”-manufactured clothes) if we’re still buying fast-fashion-type fabrics? I just finished reading¬†Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline and I want to recommend it to everyone I know so that we can all talk and keep talking about these issues. Overdressed focuses mainly on fashion consumption & the cut-and-sew end of garment manufacturing, which while certainly highly problematic, is only part of the supply chain. Raw materials and everything that is required to get them to the cut and sew stage have an enormous impact — on the environment (especially cotton farming, and plastic microfibers polluting the ocean), and on the workers in the field and in the processing factories, and on the communities nearby every step of the way. I think many people, myself including, are drawn to handmade projects for the economics of it — clothes for a fraction of the cost of ready to wear! But as sewists and makers, how can we avoid those same fast-fashion, destructive systems?¬†So far I’ve got¬†two main (and rather unoriginal) ideas: transparency in the textile industry, and re-use/recycling. Neither of these are approachable alone, so I’m grateful to be able to join in the “sewcialist” community to keep questioning, and keep making, together.

new year new skills

Lots of things in progress right now and even though it’s hard to be patient because I’m eager to have lovely new pieces to wear, I’m also really enjoying tackling items on my list of things to learn someday. Like:

Wet blocking my knitting! Water + wool makes me anxious, especially after months of knitting my first sweater, but this week it went into the suds…

Visible mending! I’ve been really drawn to boro and sashiko and wanted to try it out. So I just decided to dig in & experiment on this delicate ripped silk…

I think I psych myself out sometimes when I want to take on a new skill, and end up spending too much time researching the “right” methods. Wet blocking and visible mending were two things stuck in that limbo for a while. Another big skill I’d like to tackle is garment fitting. At this point most of my wardrobe is from the thrift store and slightly ill-fitting (in a vintage way?) or is RTW which is always a bit too short for my frame. I recently realized that I don’t necessarily know what a proper fit is for me, so that’s my next major new skill//new adventure.

The thing is I like slightly oversize and boxy shapes, but I need to learn the difference between architectural shapes and just, well, baggy. Thinking more artful, less sloppy. More to come as I work on the beginning of the Wardrobe Architect series!

winter wardrobe planning

winter wardrobe plans

so, in the Bay Area¬†“winter” is pretty mild. I grew up in New England where winter meant a heavy parka and mittens knit by my grandma, and ice skating on the pond near my house. But my partner Jenn is from Berkeley and reminisces about going “to the snow” (a.k.a. Tahoe) which always makes me laugh. It’s cold here at night, but during the day you can get away with a sweater, light jacket, and scarf, so my “winter wardrobe” plans are staples I can probably keep in rotation year round. I’ve been keeping a running list of things to make on Pinterest but for winter, here’s what I’m dreaming of:

// tops

1. long sleeve stripey tee inspired by First Rite Clothing. I saw this shirt at West Coast Craft in December and needed to save my money for holiday shopping, but I think I found the exact fabric online at Fancy Tiger Crafts and plan to modify the Hemlock tee pattern to create the shape.

2. a sutton blouse in luxurious printed cupro that I got at the Feral Childe sample sale. I’ve been checking out #suttonblouse on instagram to see how the pattern looks on different bodies and in different fabrics and I think I’ll probably lower the v-neck and lengthen the body so it’s almost a tunic.

// dresses

3. an alder shirtdress in a cotton woven print from Feral Childe, probably view A plain & simple as directed. I’ve actually already made a view A and it’s a really satisfying garment to make because Jen’s sew-a-long is so thorough that you learn great tips for all the new skills (making a collar, button & button bands, etc.). I also have plans to make a view B shirt in a silk/linen blend but that may not appear until spring.

// bottoms

4. a classic pair of black leggings with a little bit of personality from the saucy seam lines in the Ooh La Leggings. It’s kind of silly but I had a lightbulb moment when I was making my list and realized I could make a pair of high-waisted leggings with extra long legs … it might be hard to tell in photos but I’m very tall (just over 6 feet!) and have perpetually bare ankles due to short inseams.

5. a pair of ginger jeans! this seems really ambitious to me right now, so this may be a winter/spring/summer plan … I want to make view B with the high waist, inspired by Imogene & Willie Elizabeth jeans, and am excited to be able to make a super long inseam and possibly raise the waist as well (another peril of being tall — “high” waisted often is more of a mid-rise on me). I jumped at the chance to get my hands on Cone Mills denim and bought a ginger jeans kit, so I’ll definitely be making a muslin before cutting into that.

// layers

6. a “winter” (see above ;)) jacket with A Verb for Keeping Warm’s Uptown Top pattern and some vintage Pendleton Wool. I actually took a class to make this jacket and it was amazing and all that’s left is to set the zipper and then I’ll post all about it.

7. my first hand-knit sweater! I’m almost done with this too… It’s the Hayward pattern by Julie Hoover for Brooklyn Tweed, and I’ve been knitting it in Twirl Petals which is an incredible local northern California yarn.

// extras

8. cozy hand warmers in this sophisticated seed stitch pattern. I know I said it’s not that cold here but my hands are getting chapped by the wind on my bike commute and I swooned when I¬†saw these mitts on a friend’s instagram. I have some hand-spun local alpaca that will be sumptuous.

9. a slouchy knit hat with Purl Soho’s boyfriend hat pattern and local pure black alpaca. This has been on my “to knit” list for some time and got sidelined by my holiday knitting, and then I kept seeing versions popping up on instagram and I’m itching to make this!

10. a watson bra — I love this pattern! Well, the look of it, at least. I’d love to make both versions but will start with the longline. I’ve been mulling over what might be an eco-friendly option to the synthetics that dominate the 4-way-stretch market, and then I realized I could repurpose an old American Apparel dress that I never wear. Not sure what to do for notions, though.

OK so that’s my big list of selfish sewing, but I have some un-selfish plans too. Jenn’s birthday is in late January so I’m hoping to bust out a few makes for her. In the same way that I’m excited to custom-make super-long pants for me, I’m excited about all the possibilities to custom-make clothes for J¬†because masculine styles that fit her slim build can be hard to find in stores.

A. a strathcona henley from Thread Theory in a stripey hemp-cotton knit. I’m hoping to have this completed in time to outfit the rustic birthday getaway I’m planning for J.

B. a zippered dopp kit with this simple Purl Bee pattern. I’m hoping to scrap J’s old canvas backpack for fabric and zippers and make this as a repurposed gift.

C. a pair of Hearth Slippers¬†in AVFKW Pioneer. It might be sort of cheating to put these on my “winter plans” list because I actually already knit them and gave them to J for christmas, but they’re not completely done because I’m going to add the leather soles.

Beyond all these sewing/knitting plans, I’d like to work on wardrobe planning using Wardrobe Architect or maybe following the capsule wardrobe model. And, since I’m on a roll with plans and dreams and 2015, I definitely want to challenge myself to make one outfit this year that is sourced from my fibershed, as proposed by this is moonlight. My sweater (#7) will contribute to that, but I’ll have to figure out a dress or skirt and top or something.

one year one outfit

What do you think, will I finish my winter wardrobe by summer? Anyone have a good way to assess how much is reasonable to make in a given season?

only a madder of time

This post is a celebration of finally doing some dyeing on my own. I’ve taken a few classes on fiber properties and different types of dyes, and have experimented with natural dyes in a classroom setting, but only really enough to make sample swatches or yarn, and I think for some reason my brain was stuck thinking that dyeing had to be relegated to a formal studio. Stuck no more!

Madder Dye on Merino, Silk, Cotton Muslin
sneak peek: madder-dyed fibers

This dye project came out of¬†necessity–¬†in the sense that I¬†needed a specific color and yarn to complete a holiday knitting project. A relative need, but I had a vision! I wanted to make a pair of Hearth Slipper socks for my partner and wanted them to be in lush, cozy Pioneer, the California merino collaboration between my local yarn/fiber shop A Verb for Keeping Warm and eco-textiles legend Sally Fox. AVFKW had a limited number of skeins and by the time I went to stock up for the socks, the red color was gone! I considered my options. A lovely pea green, rich mauve, heathered grayish brown, dark brown, natural white, but I couldn’t get the red out of my head. AVFKW sells packets of natural dyes and mordants, so in a moment of stubborn determination (and forgetting the already limited time I had to complete the socks by the holidays), I picked up a packet of madder and some alum.

Over the course of the next week I consulted Harvesting Color, plotted out the steps and set up involved, made a list of tools I needed, and decided to dye some more fiber to make good use of a whole vat. I chose to add some silk salvaged from a vintage dress that was damaged, and unbleached cotton muslin that was half-sewn into test garment.

Pioneer yarn and vintage silk before dyeing
vintage silk pieces & Pioneer yarn before dyeing

My steps for dyeing were roughly as follows:

1. gather tools and fiber
2. mordant and prepare fiber
3. create dye vat
4. dye fiber
5. wash and dry fiber

*safety note: aluminum acetate can irritate your lungs and nose, and even though natural dyes are plant derived they can be harmful when boiled and inhaled. I wore a bandana over my nose and mouth while working with any of the powdered materials, kept windows open for ventilation at all times, wore gloves, and marked all my instruments with tape so that I’ll never confuse them with kitchen gear.

To make all this possible, I needed a vessel. I headed to Goodwill hoping to find a large, clean pot. Jackpot: an unused and enormous canning pot, complete with jar rack. It was $20 and a little bigger than I had bargained for, but it seemed like the best option, and fellow shoppers had high praise (compliments, canning envy, and a vision to use it for making tamales). Back at home I filled the pot with enough water to submerge the protein fibers (silk and wool):

canning pot as dye vat

I decided to mordant the protein fibers first (wool and silk), because they needed the same mordant, alum, which required a hot bath. I did some quick math and referenced the recipe in Harvesting Color which recommended 10% of mordant per fiber weight. I had 2 oz of wool and 4 oz of silk = 6 oz of fiber, so I needed .6 oz alum, or about 3.6 tsp. Bring the vat of water to a boil, add the mordant and stir to dissolve it, then add the fiber and simmer for about an hour, stirring periodically to make sure everything is submerged:

wool and silk in mordant bath
steamy alum mordant bath

After an hour, you can remove your fibers from the mordant and rinse them. Here is one place I can do this better next time — when you rinse the fibers, you should try to recapture the water because it will have unbonded mordant which can be reused. Unfortunately I don’t have a good bucket or anything to hold extra mordant solution, so I just let it go down the drain. When you rinse you need to be careful not to “shock” the wool because a sharp change in temperature will cause it to felt. I let my fibers sit in the (empty) bath tub to cool down a bit, then when they had cooled enough to handle, I rinsed them in water that matched the fiber temperature. I hung them up to dry, and prepared a cold water mordant bath for the cotton.

Since cotton is a cellulosic fiber, not a protein fiber, it probably take much dye with alum as the mordant, so I got a packet of alum acetate, and referenced this website¬†(see “aluminum acetate” section)¬†as a guide. I seem to have lost the scrap of paper with my weight to mordant ratio calculations, but I do remember that filled an old salsa jar with hot tap water, stirred to dissolve the mordant, and then added that to the pot which was sitting in my bathtub filled with enough hot tap¬†water to submerge the cotton. I stirred it around, put the lid over the pot, and let it sit overnight.

The next day, I prepared the dye vat. I wasn’t sure exactly how to work with the powdered madder because Harvesting Color has recipes and instructions for using fresh madder root, and a lot the websites I found talked about dried madder that still had chunks of root, for which they recommended you basically make a big tea bag and steep the dried root to release the¬†dye. The madder I purchased (I think it may be¬†this one)¬†was ground finely and was a bright red color, so my instincts told me that it was already fairly processed and would release the dye readily. The dye packet said it contained 1 oz. madder which would dye 2 lbs. of fiber, and I had just under 1 lb. of fiber total, so I used a little less than half the packet (I had exact calculations on the lost scrap of paper…). I roughly followed these instructions though as I mentioned I skipped the “tea bag” method, so I basically just put the powdered madder into the pot of water and boiled it until the color had deepened (about an hour), then I let the dye rest for about 4 hours.

While the dye was resting I decided to try some shibori on the cotton to achieve some pattern on part of the muslin garment. I found a scrap of wood in my backyard and tightly wrapped the cotton with some scrap yarn (acrylic, a hand-me-down) and scrunched it down. The idea is to create stripes by exposing part of the fabric to the dye while part is covered by the yarn. Tension is key. Since this was a last-minute decision it could definitely have been planned better — in the past I’ve used wide pieces of PVC pipe to wrap the fabric around, and thin rope, and I think that yields better results. Please excuse the poor quality of this dimly-lit photo to illustrate the wrap-and-scrunch:

shibori tying process

Nearly 1200 words into this post and we are READY TO DYE! With the dye vat on the stovetop, I added the mordanted fiber:

adding fiber to the madder dye vat

The yarn kind of looks like spaghetti in the dye:

wool in madder dye vat

I got the silk and wool situated and submerged in the bath, then added the cotton, and then added the shibori experiment which was scrunched down on the wooden board as much as I could get it to scrunch. With¬†the board leaning against the edge of the pot the dye vat wasn’t quite deep enough to cover the all of the cotton, so I raised the water level by filling two old spaghetti sauce jars with water, screwing on the lids, and placing them in the dye vat. I simmered the dye vat for about an hour, stirring and checking the color regularly, and then i decided to cut open the shibori piece so that the stripes would be a variation in dye shades rather than undyed/dyed:

shibori in the dye bath

I simmered the dye for another 15 minutes or so and then turned off the heat. I removed the fibers individually and rinsed in my laundry room sink. Again you have to be careful not to felt the wool with a drastic temperature. It takes what seems like a LOT of water to rinse the fiber because you want the water to run clear, and you should use a bit of neutral soap at the end to make sure all the dye is out (in dye studios I’ve used synthrapol¬†and I’d like to get some for home use, but I just used some delicate, natural laundry detergent that I had on hand). I hung my fibers up to dry in my bathtub and then my kitchen window the next day (very hard to find cat-proof, ventilated drying spots!):

Madder-dyed yarn hanging to dry

And voila, the dried fibers are ready for their projects! From left to right: Pioneer wool, vintage silk, cotton muslin (the shibori markings are subtle):

wool, silk, cotton dyed with madder

It was so great to get over my mental obstacle that was holding me back¬†from experimenting with dyeing at home. Thanks to¬†a bit of setup, some book and internet research, and plenty of planning, I was able to get vibrant results that I’m very pleased with. The process reminded me of how much water dyeing utilizes, so I’m definitely curious if there are more efficient processes. I want to look into that for next time, and have a few more suggestions for improvement as well:

Tips for next time (notes to self)!

  • Use a fan in the¬†kitchen (facing outward) to improve ventilation
  • Save & reuse the mordant solution
  • Decide on shibori beforehand and set up a small (catproof) workstation
  • Research water-conserving ways of rinsing the fibers; wash fibers with synthrapol
  • Dye fibers in the morning and hang outside to dry
  • Have more PFD (prepared for dyeing, i.e. mordanted) fiber available to use the dye vat to exhaustion

Have you done any dyeing at home? Are they any projects you’ve been waiting to try // what’s stopping you?