Indigo tamarack: part IV

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All the while making this jacket, I thought to myself: this will either look crazy, or crazy good.

As I rounded the home stretch of binding the jacket edges, I knew that the latter was confirmed. Introducing my indigo Tamarack jacket: hand-dyed, patchwork-pieced, hand-quilted, lined in upcycled flannel, filled with locally made wool batting, bound by hand, a supremely cozy feat of skill-building slow fashion.

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It just feels so good — crazy good — to finally wear something that has been growing and evolving, stretching and reflecting over a year of creativity. In a way, this jacket charts my trajectory in style and skill, explorations and impulses. In a way, it’s less a statement jacket and more a summary.

In nearly any incarnation, the Tamarack Jacket pattern by Grainline Studio seems like the perfect transition-season outerwear. For mine, I lengthened the body by 1″ and the sleeves by 2″, my standard adjustments, and the fit is perfect for lightweight layering. It’s a little crowded with my Exeter cardigan underneath, but just right over a fingering-weight sweater or simple sweatshirt (may I suggest: Liv light or Linden). It doesn’t yet have any form of closure, though I plan to add a few hooks & eyes, which I’m waiting to see if I can find at a textile recycling event later this month, and the updated version of the pattern includes a delightful looking snap option.

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Should you choose to make a Tamarack Jacket in pre-quilted fabric, or perhaps a vintage quilt (yes, please do that!), you could probably have one in a day. Should you go for custom machine-quilting, you can probably still finish it in a weekend. Should you wish to make an indigo vat, cut apart and patchwork together your pieces, source your batting locally, quilt it together with sashiko thread, bind all the interior seams, finish the exterior binding by hand, and embroider your heart into painstaking welt pockets — well, it might just take you a year and a half.

And it might be a crazy-neverending WIP, but the payoff might just match the persistence.

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Worn with: vintage silk tee & jeans, handmade shawl, favorite necklace & clogs.

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!

Indigo Tamarack: Part III

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Fear not, my tamarack jacket is alive!

Remember when I bought the pattern as soon as it came out, dyed the fabric with indigo, sourced locally made wool batting, and even tested my quilting methods, then tabled it for six months and then wrote about how I really ought to prioritize it my queue?

Well it’s been the slowest of slow fashion, but the thing is, I didn’t really like how the quilting was looking. I went so far as to start machine quilting the back piece of the jacket, and though the stitches were even and I basted it and used a walking foot, the batting was so lofty and my quilting so amateur that the edges of the piece no longer aligned. I knew that if I continued I would hardly have a jacket the same size as the one I cut out.

I put my tamarack jacket in time out.

In the intervening months I had so many ideas for how to shift directions — minimalist sashiko hand quilting that would match the color of the jacket for a subtle tone-on-tone look; maximalist sashiko hand quilting that would celebrate the dashing white stitches in geometric patterns; machine quilting with narrow stripes to tamp down the loftiness; hand quilting with wide stripes to embrace the puffiness, etc. etc. as the Pin-spiration grew.

Inspiration 1, 2, 3, 4

I settled on a plan to make the quilting easier by reducing the loft of the batting by carefully “peeling” half of each piece off. To compensate for the lost insulation, I decided to switch from the lining I had cut from scraps to a lining cut from a thrifted flannel sheet. But still, I was uncertain of how to quilt the jacket.

And then, the Secret Catalog arrived and Maria’s OKONION x Secret Catalog quilts gave me ALL the heart eyes. (I know, emoji-speak, but seriously, check the quilts):

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Suddenly, all I wanted to do was quilt and all those months of Tamarack indecision evaporated as I decided I would jump into some quilt piecing. Since I had decided to remove the indigo-dyed scrap lining, I now had a set of coordinating fabric I could cut up and piece together. The last time I tried to quilt was in middle school and I chose turquoise and bright purple fat quarter sets from the local big box fabric store, and I think it was just a simple square repeat but the process lasted longer than my love for the color palette so I never finished it. (sorry mom, I still so appreciate your help).

I’m a big fan of Purl Soho’s blog, so I figured their classic aesthetic and generous tutorials wouldn’t lead me astray. The denim pinwheels pattern caught my eye quickly and seemed like a perfect match, so I trusted my gut and started cutting some test squares.

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I followed the Purl Soho instructions but decided on 4″ pinwheels and adjusted the math accordingly (with 1/4″ seam allowances for the pinwheel piecing). Quilting the whole jacket seemed overly ambitious, and less wearable for my style, so I decided on quilted panels and calculated how many pinwheels I would need to fill the panels.

I think it took me about 2 evenings of chain piecing, cutting, pressing, and more piecing to assemble all the pinwheel blocks, and then another evening to arrange them into panels. I didn’t get too fussy with the arrangement, I want it to be random but avoid repeats next to one another (there are 4 fabric types and 6 pinwheel combinations).

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Attaching the panels to the (already cut out) Tamarack pieces was still a little nerve wracking since it felt like the point of no return, but I finally did that and am moving ahead with quilting! While sashiko quilting will make the jacket even more eclectic, I’ve decided I’d rather do that than stress about the misalignment misadventures with my novice machine quilting. Sometimes, hand stitching is just so much more soothing.

My partner has been out of town for the week and I’ve been filling my time with late nights of sewing and other creative entropy. It’s been really fun to satisfy my quilting lust and resuscitate this WIP, too. Hopefully, Part IV will be the finished jacket soon!

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Cue the queue check

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I went on a long weekend/short vacation trip this past weekend, and leading up to it I had every intention to create a new garment in time for the trip. I made a muslin, made some tweaks, and then… took an honest look at everything that I needed to do before traveling and realized that sewing would have to wait.

I’m giving myself a pat on the back for listening to that voice instead of slap-dash sewing, which stresses me out and leaves me unsatisfied with the quality, and you know what? I was perfectly happy with the clothes I already had in my closet to pack up and jet off.

But another funny thing happened when I started packing: I realized that I didn’t really have any knitting to bring. Knitting helps me relax, passes time while traveling, and is usually a big part of my time off activities — but it becomes sort of a Goldilocks process. My current project is too close to being finished and I couldn’t block all the pieces on the road, and my next projects are patiently waiting in my stash but not yet swatched.

So I went without anything to knit or sew. Shocking! And still quite relaxing. I read a lot; I watched political debates with my Dad; I went jogging in the sunshine. And I finally slowed down and thought through my project queue!

I’m usually a rather “monogamous” maker — one knitting and one sewing project at a time, please. Otherwise my creative time starts to feel daunting rather than exciting. But a few false sewing starts, and my goldilocks-esque knitting indecision, and it seems a queue check is in order.

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Knitting:

  1. Sawyer sweater for Jenn: I’ve been knitting a Brooklyn Tweed sweater for Jenn for what feels like forever. I know that’s dramatic, and I know I’ve taken many breaks to knit other small gifts and accessories, but I’m tired of dragging the project out (see above, back to monogamy) and so very close to finishing the second sleeve! Then it needs blocking, seaming, and a neckband – but I’m determined!
  2. Handspun mitts: I took a spinning class in January and made some bulky, quirky handspun yarn, then promptly started knitting some mittens to prepare for an impending snowstorm. The snow fell, and has since melted, and the mittens are on hold because I tried to adjust the pattern and they look really, oddly narrow.
  3. Lilian beanie: I test-knit the Lilian Beanie pattern for my insta-friend Ani (@Close_Knit). I love it! I’ve been wearing it lots… but still haven’t woven in the ends, and I want to add a little pom pom before calling it finished.

Sewing:

  1. Tamarack Jacket: I hit a road bump when it came to quilting my hand-dyed fabric and locally-sourced batting. The batting is really lofty, and just wasn’t looking great with my machine quilting skills. So in the depths of winter, when I knew it was too cold to wear a light jacket anyway, I tucked it all away until further notice. Now that spring is on the horizon, I’m itching to wear this jacket and inspired all over again to try some new quilting techniques.
  2. Almada Robe: I look forward to reading Seamwork Magazine every month, but I had a hard time picturing most of the patterns working with my stash or wardrobe. Until Alamada, the kimono-inspired robe from the February issue. I started making it right away, and am piecing it together out of some up-cycled washed silk crepe de chine. It’s slow going, but I know it will be so luxurious to wear.
  3. Long sleeve layers: my winter wardrobe was very much lacking in the long sleeves department, so I made plans for a Rise/Fall Turtleneck and a long-sleeved Lark tee. I made the turtleneck and am slightly embarrassed to admit how much I’ve worn it without actually finishing the sleeves or hem! The Lark tee is heading to the cutting table soon too.
  4. Jumpsuit: this was my plan for my getaway garment — an effortlessly chic, double gauze jumpsuit. As mentioned above, this got tabled due to limited time, and I think I will keep it on the back burner until the weather warms up more in the next few months.

SO, where does that leave me? Well, the knitting list is more straightforward to me, and I’m basically moving along in order. The sewing list is a bit trickier, but I’m starting with the winter tees since they can be finished and worn right away. After that, I’m looking forward to continuing with the robe and Tamarack, perhaps simultaneously. But of course, with the early spring weather around here, I’m day dreaming of warm weather wardrobe planning and new pieces with some of my favorite old (long stashed) fabrics.

Are you “monogamous” with your makes, or do you keep lots of looks in progress?

Indigo Tamarack: Part II

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

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

And then I waited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigo Tamarack: Part I

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

Tamarack Dreams

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

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

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

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

Indigo to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are some of my indigo dyeing takeaways:

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

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

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