A New Dress: Improvisation and Indigo

I'm excited to share my new indigo shibori handmade dress! I started working on this little frock before I left for summer vacation and I was so excited to finish it when I returned. Nothing like a few weeks away from the studio to light a fire when I return. (A proverbial fire, of course. Don't worry nothing has completely burned down in my studio as of yet. Knock on wood.) I didn't use a pattern for this dress and I have mixed feelings about that but overall I love the way it turned out.

Mixed feelings because I ended up spending quite a bit of time altering the top to make it more fitted. (Notice the hand-stitched darts and the triangle cut into the straps? These were my creative fixes to a top that was too big). I also made the skirt too small the first time but I couldn't bring myself to rip out all those beautiful French seams so I decided to cut the skirt up the center and add another panel in the front and back.

The hand-stitched details made the top fit perfectly and the skirt panels are less noticeable with the pleats. Win win. But it would have been SO much faster if I'd used a pattern. In time, I hope to have a handful of go-to patterns but also embrace improvisation as a creative guide. Is that possible? I'd like to think so.

I made this dress from two yards of fabric I hand-dyed with indigo last summer. I used several different shibori techniques to make the prints (in the dye) but then I cut the prints where I thought they were best highlighted on the dress. I used nearly every last scrap of fabric in this dress. The pockets were happily just big enough to fit my hands as that was all the fabric that remained aside from one small panel.

There are so many hidden details in this dress. There's a poem tucked into one of the pockets and then there's my horoscope constellation embroidered in French knots on the other. That's right, the tiny French knot configuration is actually the constellation for Capricorn. And then the tag was a tiny project all its own--patchworked together and hand-stitched into place.

I wanted this dress to straddle the line between art project and wearable garment and these details helped push it into the art category in my book. (What do you think? I'm experimenting with this idea of attachment in fashion. That if we are more emotionally attached to our garments we will keep them longer. Makes sense, right?)

I'm realizing how much improvisation plays a part in my artwork. And my sewing work is no different. Some of the dresses I've made in the last year feel more like art projects than fashion designs. And I like this space of the hybrid. I like imagining that some of the dresses are evolving from my art practice and some are more straight-forward sewing techniques--teaching myself to follow various patterns and bettering my sewing skills as I go. Goodness sake, I still have so much to learn about sewing.

If I had to give this dress a name I'd call it Cosmic Blue Bodies. That's right, sky inspired. In looking back on my travel photos from our summer vacation I see how many times the skyscapes played into my viewfinder--blue backgrounds with various white clouds slipping past. The patterns and colors of this dress look like those cloudscapes. And something about the various hidden details makes it come to life. Like these details give it breath and maybe a pulse that it might not have had otherwise.

Forgive my awkward modeling in these photos--I still cringe every time I get in front of the lens. If I could afford to hire a model or find a friend with my exact measurements and work schedule I would happily slip back behind the lens and let somebody else model these garments for you. What a dream! For now, me trying to hide behind the camera while appearing in front. There you have it.

I'm already scheming my next creation. I feel compelled to make a few more garments before the summer's end. On August 1st I will have completed 365 days of my fast fashion fast. Meaning that in just two weeks the first year of Make Thrift Mend will be completed. I'm deadline inspired. I admit it.

(Hi friends. I hope your summer is smashing! I missed you while I was away.)



My Summer Vacation


I'm stepping away from my studio to spend some of these glorious summer weeks with my family and friends. I'll be back here with a new blog post on Monday, July 21 likely with thoughts and images from my travels. Then I'll resume my weekly Monday posts once I've returned. In the meantime, you can follow my daily adventures on Instagram or join me on Pinterest. Thank you for joining me in this space, friends. Thank you for reading, commenting, and supporting my creative journey. I'm grateful that you're here.

See you soon!



10 Ways to Green Your Wardrobe


It's been almost a year since I started my fast fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, and I'm still so passionate about this project. Today I want to offer you 10 ways to deepen your connection to sustainable fashion. 10 ways to slow down your buying habits and consider slow fashion. I've created a list of 10 Ways to Green Your Wardrobe, but of course there are many more than 10 ways to embrace sustainability in our wardrobes. This is just my own personal list right here, right now. I'm sure in another few months this list could be revised. But here are 10 ways you can help right now:

1. Mend your clothes. Instead of buying anything new mend the clothes you already own. Keep them in good repair. Fix buttons. Mend hems. Patch or darn holes before they get worse. Maintaining your clothing is important for their longevity. Using what you have right now is better than buying something new. You reduce your need for new resources and extend the life of your garments. Gather your friends and host a mending circle too. That makes it even more fun.

2. Host a clothing swap. Invite friends to join you. Only bring clothes that are in good condition, quality buys, and would really serve someone's wardrobe. Bring the clothing you'd feel really good about passing on to a friend. Then provide simple refreshments, arrange clothes by type (pants in one pile, sweaters in another) and play some good music for you and your friends. Anything that doesn't find a new home can be donated to Goodwill.

3. Buy used clothing. It's the simple law of supply and demand--if we are donating clothing to our local charity shops but not buying clothing from our charity shops there is simply too much supply and not enough demand. Sadly, most of what we donate will not find a new home and instead it will be shipped overseas, bailed and stored in a warehouse, or added to the landfill. Buy used clothing. You'll be amazed at what you might find. Think of it as treasure hunting.

4. Make your own clothes. Choose simple patterns and commit to making more of your own clothing. Choose materials that are sustainable, wearable, and that fit into your everyday attire. You'll learn so much about garment construction, you'll reduce so many steps in the fast fashion cycle, and you'll be more likely to keep that garment for a very long time. If you're intimidated, grab a friend and sign-up for a sewing class online or in-person. You can do it!

5. Buy less, buy better. Okay, if we have to talk about buying new clothing let's talk about what clothing. It's true--if we buy quality clothing upfront we'll be less likely to toss it aside when the season's trend changes, we'll be more likely to care for it while it ages, and we'll be more likely to wear it longer. No fast fashion trend is sustainable. It's designed to be replaced next season (sometimes the exact same garment will just be offered in different colors). Buy something you really need and buy higher quality. Less is more.

6. Buy organic cotton. The amount of water and pesticides used in most conventional cotton farms is truly horrific. Support organic cotton farmers and use your dollars to tell the industry that you are willing to pay more money to reduce pesticides, reduce water usage, and provide farmers with better health conditions. Not to mention, do you really want all those pesticides in your closet? Organic does make a difference.

7. Buy natural materials. It takes far less water and pesticides to raise flax (for linen) and sheep (for wool) than it does to raise conventional cottons. There are many companies using recycled synthetics in their new clothing and it's important to support their efforts too. The journey from farm to closet is a very long journey for most of our wardrobes--complete with inhumane working conditions along the way. So consider the resources needed to grow the fibers. We don't need to overwhelm our closets with petrochemicals that don't biodegrade. Buy natural materials instead--read those labels.

8. Support sustainable fashion designers. Research makers, designers, crafters, and any independent fashion label working towards sustainability. Search Etsy. Ask your local fabric shop. Ask your local boutiques. Search online. There are more options to buy directly from the designer, to work with a local seamstress, or to find something handmade online now than ever before. Utilize these resources. Support the community of independent makers trying to forge a more sustainable future. Also, support fair trade clothing too.

9. Consider your laundry. Can you do fewer loads of laundry? Wash more garments with cold water? Wear your jeans a few more times before they end up in the hamper? Do you have space for a drying rack or a clothesline to reduce the energy needed for your dryer? Think about how we wear our winter coats--we wear them all winter long and might just wash them once a season. There might be other opportunities to reduce our clothing resources at homes too. 

10. Educate yourself. There are so many amazing artists, authors, designers, organizations and publications sharing information about sustainable fashion and alternatives to the fast fashion industry. I've amassed quite a resource list over on my Make Thrift Mend website. But if you are only going to read one book, I'd suggest you read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Or do you have 38 minutes to listen to her amazing interview on Fresh Air? Click the "listen" button here. And if you want a few more ideas check out this list or this one too.

As one of my environmental studies professors in college told me, "Focus on what you can do to make a difference, not on what you can't." Imagine what an impact we could have on fast fashion if we each just focused on what we could do to make a difference. It gives me goosebumps it's so exciting.

Thanks for following my journey, friends.



Visible Mending and the Opportunity in Repair

I've been thinking quite a bit about the term, "visible mending". I came across the work of Tom of Holland and the The Visible Mending Programme and was instantly drawn to the ideas and concepts. Then a friend sent me a link to the work of Darn and Dusted and I audibly gasped when I looked through his mending gallery--such beautiful work.

All of this has made me increasingly interested in Japanese boro and sashiko. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of the aesthetic possibilities of mending. The concept of mending deeply appeals to me but seeing the creative opportunities has really been inspiring. There are so many ways to make beautiful mending!

I recently took a  "Boro and Embroidermending" workshop at Ogaard Textile in Oakland and it solidified my interest. I think mending is really at the heart of slow fashion. Obviously we need to alter our buying habits to better support fair trade, organic, and sustainably made garments but the whole idea of "buying a better future" might not be the answer after all. I think we first need to take the advice of our grandparents and "make do and mend". We need to prolong the life of our garments, learn to repair, and slow down our buying cycle altogether, right?

So I'm having something of a love affair with mending this pair of beloved jeans. The sashiko stitch lends itself so beautifully to mending denim. I love the idea of visible mending for so many reasons--embracing imperfection, embracing what's been loved and worn, embracing the inevitable impression of time, embracing handiwork, embracing repair, and the list continues.

As you can see, the mending work on these jeans just continues to increase. I fix one tear and then soon need to fix another. I imagine that in a few more months I will have replaced both knees and the back pockets and then I can move on to another pair of jeans that need mending.

But I think the thing I find the most exciting about visible mending is the opportunity to embrace aesthetic choices. We can be bold and boisterous with contrasting thread, patches, or creating irregular shapes or we can practice subtlety, restraint, and simplicity in selecting thread, fabric, and designs that mimic existing lines and hues in our original garment.

That we really can apply our creative skills in strengthening and repairing our wardrobe. That these repairs can embrace both function and fashion. That the opportunity is really in the constraint. And that the possibilities are truly endless.



Natural Dye Devotion: Flowers, Cabbage, and Color on Silk

Let's talk about Easter. I know, Easter was about 7 weeks ago but I'm talking Easter here for a crafty reason, I promise! Easter egg dyeing this year resulted in one of my favorite new passions: Shibori dyeing with natural dyes on silk. After I assembled the bowls of Easter egg dye from avocado skins, onion skins, red cabbage, and sour grass flowers I turned to my thrifted silk stash to try my colors on fabric.

My toddler was happy to dip the hard boiled eggs in small bowls of dye but he was, admittedly, much happier to peel the shells from the hard boiled eggs and put the eggs into his mouth. Fair enough. So after we dyed a dozen or so eggs I let him have his eggs and eat them too, so to speak, while I turned my attention to the silk blouse I found at the thrift store.

In maintaining my yearlong fast fashion fast I have acquired a handful of new skills. Mending, of course, has risen to the forefront as a need and then as a creative opportunity. Natural dye has become a new passion. And the opportunities to identify, create, and strengthen community has also been a huge benefit that I didn't predict when I started the project last August. Researching, sourcing, and identifying slow fashion books, websites, organizations, and advocates has also been a huge gift.

But another skill? I'm now much more adept at identifying fibers used in garments. This was merely a byproduct of examining content labels in thrift stores. When I decided I'd only buy used clothing made from natural fibers that meant I had to seriously slow down my shopping experience. I had to read each label before I even entered the dressing room. Now? I'm beginning to recognize silk by the touch, synthetics by the sheen, and the quality of denim by the texture.You can learn this too. It's amazing how quickly you'll become familiar with garment contents when you start reading labels. Crazy quick.

So, this is to say that I am collecting light colored and white silks at every thriftstore turn because I am getting better and better at identifying them. And you can too! It's hard to describe without actually touching the textures but 100% silk garments typically have a subtle, tacky, almost sticky texture atop the usual softness whereas synthetics are uniformly "slippery". That's right, uniformly slippery. You can quote me on that!

It's like water would bead up and roll right off of synthetics whereas silk is not so slick. You can almost feel the animal (silkworm) texture to the silk like you can feel the animal texture to wools. I know, this is hardly scientific, but they are amazing in the natural dye pots so I am refining my ability to find them used.

This tank top was my first foray in using more than one color per garment. I've dyed in my home studio with onion skins, coffee grounds, and eucalyptus leaves with fairly happy result. I've also used blackberries, blackberry leaves, plum leaves, loquat leaves, fennel, indigo, and a long list of other botanical dyes in workshops and at community gatherings. I love the use of shibori to create patterns through the dye--to use folds, tucks, ties, sticks, and dips to varying results. But I hadn't yet used various dye pots to color one singular garment. Not until Easter.

I've been inspired by Shabd Simon-Alexander's technique of direct dye application. She uses synthetic and natural dyes to stunning results. So I decided to try my hand at using three different dye pots to create three different colors on one silk blouse--the rust color is sour grass flowers w/ baking soda, the purple color is red cabbage leaves with vinegar, and the bright yellow was sour grass without baking soda or vinegar but when the other colors leaked onto the otherwise bright (nearly florescent) yellow it created that earthy olive green.

Side note: Green is actually one of the hardest colors to attain through natural dyes but yellow is one of the easiest. So this green was purely a happy accident. It confirms my love affair with natural dyes--they are endless inspiration because they change with the seasons, soils, fabrics, and even with the combination with other colors. So good.

In preparing photographs for the Make Thrift Mend website I realized that I never shared this Easter Shibori silk experiment here on my blog. So I wanted to remedy that ASAP. I think this dye process was the first time I realized that I can really combine different techniques and expertise with natural dyes. Meaning I can really pull information and advice from a variety of dye experts to create my own techniques. I think this might be the ah-ha moment in any artistic adventure--the moment when you say to yourself, "Oh! I can do it like this? Oh, okay then. I think I'm getting it".

I am really loving Shabd Simon-Alexander's dye techniques alongside the natural dye wisdom from Sasha Duerr of Permacouture Institute, India Flint of Prophet of Bloom, and Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed. (These links all point to their amazing books that I've been enjoying so much in my own dye adventures.) These ladies are magic. In my dream world, I might just dye, mend, and garden my way through the entire summer. Read poems. Drink lemonade. Build a tree fort with my son.



Exciting News--New Grant & Free Online Workshop!


I have some very exciting news! I just found out that the Puffin Foundation will be supporting a FREE online workshop for my Make Thrift Mend project. I am over-the-moon happy with this news and couldn't wait to share it with you.

As many of you know, the Make Thrift Mend project is a yearlong fast fashion fast complete with DIY tutorials, a slow fashion resource list, and a documentation of my process in making, thrifting, and mending my wardrobe. (And the gallery section of the website will be updated in the next few weeks with a bunch of new projects--stay tuned!)

I wanted to point you to the Make Thrift Mend website and encourage you to join the mailing list to be the first to know about this exciting free workshop. I'm imagining the workshop will launch this fall, but I'll be sure to give subscribers several weeks notice. (Please note: I'm having some technical difficulties with my mailing list sign-up form on the Make Thrift Mend website, please use the sign-up form on my personal website for now. The link is below. Thank you!)

Once all the details have been set I'll be forwarding the information to the Make Thrift Mend mailing list first, then to my personal studio mailing list, and then to all my social media sites including this beloved blog, Instagram, Facebook, and the news section of my own websites. Space will be limited and the workshop will be offered on a first come, first serve basis. So I'm giving you the heads-up on how to be first in line. Because I adore you readers!

I feel such a tremendous amount of gratitude for the readers of this blog. You have encouraged me to keep doing what I do for the past seven years. Yes, this fall marks the seven year anniversary of this blog. I firmly believe that my creative practice would not be what it is today without this blog. Without you. All of you!

And so I want to be sure to give you priority in attending a free online workshop. A new workshop. A very exciting workshop. A workshop that I've been dreaming about since I started the Make Thrift Mend project last August.

So, be sure to head over to the mailing list and sign up. And don't worry, I've only sent one newsletter in my entire life and I will not ever turn into an email spammer. I pinkie swear. I hate email spam. I plan to use the Make Thrift Mend mailing list to spread important project news regarding workshops, major news, and opportunities to get involved. More so, I plan to let the subscribers have first dibs on this free workshop. At most, I will send this newsletter a few times each year, probably just once or twice.

You might also want to join my personal mailing list while you're at it as I just sent my first newsletter this spring. (Again, pinkie swear not to spam. I'm hoping this newsletter will be quarterly, but it will probably be even less frequent.) My personal mailing list includes news about exhibitions, publications, special shop offerings, or any other major studio news. You can sign up over here.

Some of you might remember this post I wrote a few months ago asking for your workshop ideas. I'm going to use this information in developing this new free workshop. But I would also be THRILLED (sorry, that needed all capital letters) if you could tell me what you would most like to learn about slow fashion. Just dash your thoughts off in the comment section and I will be so grateful.

Would you like to learn mending, darning, applique, elbow patches, hemming, or anything else about "visible mending"? Or maybe you'd prefer natural dyeing, simple sewing, or more information about resourcing sustainable fashion? Tell me your desires. I will collect all of this information and compile it into one new offering. Hooray!


PS--While the new online workshop will be free it will not stay open to the public. Meaning, you will have to pre-register to join. There will be a limited number of spaces for participants so be sure to sign up on one of my mailing lists if you want to be first in line. Thank you, friends!


Strawberry Fields, Parenting, and Focusing on the Berry

Oh my gosh, it's Tuesday! And I post here every Monday. And you know what? This Monday I totally forgot. Yesterday was Memorial Day here in the US and this long weekend swept us away. And then this morning when I woke up I wholeheartedly believed it was Monday.

But it's Tuesday. Good grief. It only seemed right to share my Monday adventures with you here on this Tuesday afternoon. (And for the record, I'm planning to stick to my usual Monday blog posts in the future. Seems the holidays have a way of spinning my brain around. Sorry about that, my friends.)

Each year we make our pilgrimage to the Swanton Strawberry Farm in Davenport, CA to pick pounds upon pounds of strawberries. We jam them. We freeze them. We make various compotes and sauces. And we eat them by the hardy handful. This year we were particularly excited to take our two-year-old on the trip. We took him last year but he wasn't yet fully aware of the relationship between food and the soil. Or between the things he loves most to eat and where they originate.

So we drove about 90 minutes south of Oakland to Swanton Farms. The weather was perfect: blue skies, light wind, mild coastal temperatures. We left soon after breakfast and made it to the farm before 10am. But when we arrived at the farm and the farmer politely told us that they were not letting customers pick any berries because they had been over picked on Sunday--well, we tried not to cry over sized tears.

And we tried to fend off our disappoint quickly to keep things on track for avoiding a two-year-old meltdown. "What do you mean we can't pick the berries, Mama?" Becomes a trickier question if Mama, herself, is pouting on the bench next to the smorgasbord of delectable strawberry goods.

But my husband asked a few more questions and the kind farmer agreed to let the children walk through the strawberry fields if they pinkie-swear promised to only pick a handful of berries. We crossed our hearts and eagerly agreed. We could manage.

So fast-forward past a very long sugary snack of strawberry brownies and strawberry cheesecake (Yes, I let my toddler eat sugar and yes, he also eats an array of vegetables and whole grains and dairy and a long list of other foods too) and then we headed towards the fields. And as we arrived to the berries and carefully turned over the many overripe or under-ripe fruits that remained from the busy weekend I was reminded about one of the many things I love about parenting. The opportunity to be fully and completely engrossed in a visceral experience.

Yes, visceral. You cannot eat food around a toddler without being reminded of the very physical experience of eating: preparing food, handling food, chewing food, swallowing food, and tasting food are very dramatic toddler events. And eating strawberries from the vine in an organic strawberry field overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a mild and sunny Monday afternoon? My idea of bliss.

I watched him evaluate each berry on the very technical criteria we had established: Not too mushy and no white parts. And then the predictable squeal of accomplishment when he found the rare red berry that was ready for picking. And then the brief moment of struggle as he twisted the berry from its stem. And then the complete and utter focus as he lifted the warm berry from the plant to his mouth and sank his small milk teeth into the ripe fruit. And then the bliss. His bliss from eating the rare ripe berry, sure, but my bliss in witnessing his experience.

Parenting a toddler is hard. Parenting a toddler is tiring. There are meltdowns. There are tantrums. There are moments when he moves slower than humanly possible when we need to hurry and moments when he moves quicker than comfortable when I want him to slow down.

But it's also so rich. It's so full. It's so completely and utterly touching. Deepening. Expanding. Connecting. Humbling. Playful. Rewarding. And also visceral. He is in his body and his body is his tool to experience the world. And that tool is rapidly gaining technique and precision. It's amazing to watch.

In those moments when something so simple as a ripe strawberry in an over-picked field brings total satisfaction. It's those moments that fill me. That raise my confidence. Not because I'm taking my toddler on excursions to coastal strawberry fields but because I'm being present. Because I'm working on his timeline. Because I'm literally down on his level. I'm helping. I'm noticing. I'm witnessing. And I'm cheering for him. And I'm cheering for me too. Because I know that he sees me seeing him.

And I know this will get more difficult as he gets older. As I get older. As we all get older together. But I also have to genuflect to that over picked strawberry field for all it still had to offer. For the moment to slow down. To be present. To watch him wonder. To adventure together. And for the memory it imprints on my new mother brain. The impression that remains in the midst of all that swiftly changes.

The new voice that says, "Hey, look here, in all this chaotic movement you are somehow totally and completely alive. Now, eat another strawberry before it's too late." And while we didn't get to pick our usual bushels and baskets of berries we did come home with a 1/2 flat of berries picked by the farmers. And we had our fill of strawberry brownies and strawberry cheesecake. And the warm strawberry apple cider was a visceral experience all its own. Yum.

Dear friends, I hope you had a lovely weekend.