A year in garments, made & imagined

2017 Garment summary

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

I completed 9 garments for myself in 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Exeter cardigan, ode to sheep sylvia

Exeter Cardigan 1

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

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

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

Exeter Cardigan back

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

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

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

Exeter Cardigan front

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

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

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

Exeter Cardigan Side

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

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

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

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

Exeter Cardigan Pocket Detail

Small closet chronicles: lessons from donations

Donations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cautious spring color

spring color_darning

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

(It’s snowing again as I write this).

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

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

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

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

spring color_sock

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

A sea of fresh indigo

5-2016-09-19-11-14-45

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.

1-2016-09-19-11-01-30

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.

2-2016-09-19-11-01-55

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.

1-process.jpg

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.

4-2016-09-19-11-07-46

 

Capturing summer

1-2016-09-026

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.

1-2016-09-25-09-38-39-2

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.

1-ecoprint-curtains

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.

img_9216

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.

img_9202

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.

1-2016-09-25-09-37-07

Project planning for fall

10-2016-09-18-14-51-09

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:

1-fall-capsule

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!