I can't believe I'm entering the fourth year of my fast fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend. If you'd asked me if this was possible on August 1, 2013 when I started my first yearlong fast I would have told you, "No way". I started my fast tentatively. Hesitantly. Passionate about committing to sustainable fashion and gaining insight into my shopping habits but, truth be told, I was also worried I'd feel off-trend and that I'd miss those trips to the sales racks of my favorite boutiques or the impulse shopping of a really good deal on a really cute dress. It sounds shallow, I know, but it's true. I love fashion and I feared that a fashion fast would mean I'd be deprived of fashion. And who wants that?
But I don't miss those impulse buys. I don't feel deprived of fashion. I feel relieved to better understand my own definition of what's fashionable without following the season's quickening trends. I feel more connected to my wardrobe and to sustainable fashion now than ever before. I feel more mindful of my fashion choices, more insight to my favorite clothes, and more knowledgeable about making, mending, and caring for my garments.
I've built a select list of beloved ethical fashion brands that are on my wardrobe wish list for those special new purchases...when I actually need something new or when I find something that I will certainly wear 100 times and want to invest in ethically made. Otherwise, I buy very little new and still primarily shop secondhand or make simple garments myself though I'm buying less and less these days. Focusing on what I really want to wear meant stepping aside from trends and wearing my beloved garments over and over again.
But it's been a journey. A journey of researching, sewing, mending, teaching, reading, and getting really intimate with my shopping habits and my fashion habits too. Why did I start this fast? Why did I abstain from buying any new clothing for 365 days? Well, it was a handful of events that boiled up to one moment when I launched my fast. But I actually think that handful of moments was a few decades of work. I think we find our way by doing. I think we have to trust our journeys even when they don't make perfect sense. Maybe mostly then. So what's my story? Why did slow fashion become the sole focus of my art studio practice in 2013? Well that might be a novel. But let's just start with 2013 and the series of events that spring.
Three years ago on August 1, 2013 I started my fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend. I started this fast four months after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in April 2013 in Bangladesh resulting in nearly 1,200 deaths or what's now known as the largest garment factory disaster of all time. That's right, of all time. On the heels of this disaster I listened to Elizabeth Cline's informative and inspiring interview on NPR about her book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, and I read Natalie Chanin's blog posts about slow design and her intelligent and mindful call for slow design in fashion. Something clicked. Something shifted. I decided to make a change.
I wanted to focus on reclaiming my wardrobe from the fast fashion trendmill. That's right, trendmill. I wanted to take a break from consuming new clothing altogether. I felt exhausted by fashion trends. I wanted to know what it felt like to take a break. I wanted to be part of the solution for a more ethical and more environmentally-friendly wardrobe and I knew I just had to dive in. All at once. I decided to use my training in the arts to create a social practice project that would allow me to engage with sustainability, build self-sufficiency, improve my sewing skills, and engage my community. In short, I decided to start right where I was with what I already had and give myself a year to abstain from new clothing.
I wanted to make clothes again. I wanted to mend. And I wanted to stave off factory fashion in a big way. Somehow this moment in my creative life allowed my varied experiences to come together into one single project. But my journey didn't seem so straight-forward when I was living it and Make Thrift Mend was more intuitive and even impulsive than carefully calculated. Looking back I could have been more strategic but the strategy followed. At that moment it was all heart: Something has to change now. But our history aids us in creating our future and I have no doubt that all my years prior to my fast prepared me for the work I'm doing now.
The intersection of art and sustainability is what interests me the most. This isn't a new interest but a continued interest that started right around declaring myself a vegetarian at age seventeen. Sure, I declared myself many things at age seventeen but somehow being a writer, a vegetarian, and an environmentalist are the things that stuck. Thankfully, the taste in music and the haircuts did not. But that's another story. I was an environmental studies major in college but, mind you, this was 20 years ago before my college had a proper environmental studies program. This is the result of a sustained movement: 20 years and suddenly most colleges have environmental studies departments but in the mid 90s this was still activist territory.
I keep this in mind as we're on the front lines of sustainable fashion today. Change is possible. We just have to keep our hearts open and keep our minds focused and know that every effort makes a difference but systemic change takes sustained work. So instead of choosing an existing major I had to create my major as what was known as an independent study-- petitioning to the college that the major should exist and that I could take classes across disciplines to gather enough credits in my area of focus to warrant a college degree. In short, I had to convince the faculty an alternative approach was valid. As a side note, I made dresses for a local boutique for extra money while I was an undergrad student but never thought to combine my two interests: Art and sustainability felt separate.
So with a stack of paperwork and some persuasive argument the college agreed that my interests warranted an academic major in Environmental Studies. Working interdisciplinary across departments felt natural to me. It made sense. It gave me more options. It allowed me to work with professors with varied expertise and it allowed me to tailor my degree to my own suiting. While I felt comfortable looking at sustainability from various points of view I still didn't consider adding art to my cirriculum. I took art classes but they were separate from my major. I hope that college students might now have the option to assess sustainability from the stance of the art department but that might still be a decade away too. I didn't realize this would become a theme in my work and in my studio too: That an interdisciplinary approach would allow me to feel more comfortable straddling disciplines or interests than a singular or conventional approach. I try to maintain this position in my sustainable fashion work too.
I think we have to stay open to diverse solutions to ever achieve maximum impact. I also think we have to consider various cultures, economics, geographies, aesthetics, and lifestyles when considering sustainable fashion. What works for one individual or family might not work for another. The solutions are as varied as the humans living them so we have to resist our soap boxes and ultimatums. There are SO many ways to a more sustainable future. Embracing different voices and different points of view strengthens our movement and allows it to solve the question of ethical fashion for a larger group of people.
Back to my story. So I finished my degree and went directly into working for nonprofit theaters, galleries, and community arts organizations and never looked back. At the time I thought I had a made a switch from sustainability to the arts. I was in my early 20s and thought that sustainability was my personal passion but the arts would be my formal career. I insisted on office recycling and shopped at farmer's markets and tried my best to grow vegetables and herbs on the front steps of my urban apartments until I finally had a tiny yard for veggie beds. I didn't realize I was just gaining experience in another industry so I could ultimately combine the two: Sustainability and the arts.
Fast forward a decade later and I entered a Masters of Fine Arts program focusing on creative writing or more specifically on poetry and book arts. Using recycled fabric to print Gertrude Stein poems with a letterpress printer and turning the fabric prints into handmade dresses seemed natural. I didn't think of this as sustainable design. I didn't think of this as a precursor to my interest in slow fashion. I didn't know anything about the term "slow textiles". I just thought I was making the work I needed to make.
I was working on my master's thesis when my book arts professor pulled me aside and asked me about my work with textiles. She questioned the training I'd received from my mother and my mother's community of crafters. She asked about the dresses I made and sold in that local boutique for extra cash when I was in undergraduate school a decade prior. She pushed me to talk about my sewing skills. My measuring skills. My tendency to create patterns and make my own clothing. She questioned my mother's crafting tendencies. My exposure to women's traditional textiles and to a rural community of crafters that raised me alongside their handwork and their "hobbies".
After several conversations she convinced me to consider my informal training in textiles as part of my formal training as an artist. This was a huge shift for me in considering education. She pushed me to consider my work in bookbinding and letterpress printing and paper sculpture as part of a larger lexicon in fiber arts that included my handmade dresses and community made quilts.
She validated my informal education of textile arts learned through watching my mother and my grandmother and my mother's closest friends. She validated this training in what was typically women's traditional craft work. She thought it as interesting, if not more interesting, than my undergraduate degree. She also shifted my thinking about textile arts: Informal training is just as important as formal training and there isn't just one "right" way to learn about our materials.
Fast-forward another five years of working full time in nonprofit galleries as a program director and events manager and somehow figuring out how to oversee 120 artists at once; working steadily as a textile artist and writer by night; and then add my marriage, the birth of my first son, and signing my first book contract and right about then is when I started Make Thrift Mend.
It wasn't necessarily the perfect timing. I had a 21-month-old baby and a new book contract and small busy apartment in a busy fashionable city. But this was the moment that it needed to happen. I just needed something to change in my relationship to fashion. I knew too much to ignore the effects of shopping at big box fashion retailers. And I wanted to go deeper with my relationship to fashion.
All my training and experience came to one singular focus. I'm not sure it was an epiphany as it was just something that was compelled forward by utter passion. My undergraduate degree in environmental studies and my interdisciplinary approach to college; my graduate work in writing and fiber arts; and fifteen years of organizing programs and overseeing arts projects while exhibiting and publishing my own work; combined with my personal experience with making garments and witnessing the power of craft communities all came together: Sustainable fashion. The light bulb went off. Why didn't I think of this sooner? Because I wasn't thinking. I was feeling. I was doing. I was making my way along a life. And sometimes we just have to trust our process and begin.
I never imagined I'd spend the next three years teaching mending workshops, studying slow fashion theory, or conducting natural dye experiments from foraged weeds and wildflowers. I never imagined that mending would be my way to a more sustainable wardrobe or that I'd have the privilege of teaching hundreds of students how to mend their clothing and how to think more critically about their wardrobes and make their relationship to fashion more meaningful. I never imagined I'd be so energized by this work that somehow four years doesn't seem like nearly enough. Forty years doesn't seem like enough if I'm being totally honest. So let's hope I've got another forty to give to this movement. Yes, please.
As I continue with this work in slow textiles and slow fashion I am astounded by the community of artists, designers, makers, authors, teachers, and activists that I have found. I'm amazed at their formal and informal training in the arts, design, sustainability, systems, crafting, sewing, making, and their incredible ability to rethink their shopping habits and enhance their mending skills.
As I round the third year of my Make Thrift Mend project the parameters of my fast will shift yet again. Because each August I take a moment to reflect on the prior year's activities and how I can deepen my own relationship to sustainable fashion in the year to come. This isn't just an exercise for me now it's a lifestyle. And it's a passion. And it's role in the center of my studio work is more insistent than ever.
In the first year I didn't buy any new clothing but instead focused on making simple garments, buying secondhand, and mending. I also quickly focused on only buying biodegradable fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, and silk. In the second year I opened the parameters to include purchasing new garments if they were locally or handmade. In the third year I broadened the fast to include select newly purchased clothing from ethical brands. And in the fourth year of the fast I'm considering how best to move forward. I think focusing on how best to source ethical materials for handmade garments is my next focus.
How to sustainably source new fabric (organic cotton, ethical linen, secondhand silk, etc) for my art projects, classes, and the construction of new handmade garments. When you live in rural America without a handful of indie fabric shops at arm's length this is an even bigger challenge-- but I'm going to start researching my options now. I'm going to turn my attention to this challenge for the next 12 months. This doesn't mean I'll do it perfectly, of course, but that I'll be as sustainable as possible.
I'm in no hurry to rush back to fast fashion and the sales racks at trendy shops. Instead, I feel more compelled to forge ahead into more complicated territory and further deepen my commitment to slow fashion and slow textiles. I wouldn't be surprised if I convince my husband that alpaca are in our distant future! Well, maybe after my babies are school aged I'll be ready for a fiber farm. Right now I'm just gearing up for a barn cat or a few chickens. I digress.
As I begin this fourth year of my fast I'd also like to focus on the community engagement goals of my original Make Thrift Mend project. To achieve this I'll keep offering classes, engaging in community events, working to strengthen my (new) local textile community but I'd also like to use the powers of the Internet to highlight a handful of artists, designers, and makers who inspire me to delve deeper in my work. To this end I recently added a "muses" section to my newsletter to highlight the work of artists, authors, designers, and other inspiring folks forging the way in sustainability, art, lifestyle, and/or fashion. Coming from 15 years of work in nonprofit galleries and theaters there's a part of me that insists on linking to the greater community around me and so I'm hoping to continue fostering this mindset in my own studio work.
I think the role of social practice--or working outside of traditional gallery structures to consider social issues and/or participate in community engagement--suits my project perfectly. It allows me to continue my studio practice as an artist but it allows me to teach, organize, and write about my work all under the umbrella of a fine arts vocabulary. And sometimes we have to reach back when reaching forward. I had no idea that my undergraduate degree in environmental studies and my practical work in arts galleries and theaters would come together to create the biggest project of my creative career: sustainable fashion and my fashion fast. Sometimes we just have to trust our process and keep following our instincts and just commit to start right where we are. I believe life gives us numerous opportunities to realign. To recalculate. To redirect. To re-position. It's just our job to listen.
This umbrella of social practice also allows me to care less and less about the terminology of the work--that dreadful old debate between art, craft, and activism--and to simply keep pushing myself forward. Keep pushing outside of my comfort zones to increase my self-sufficiency and improve my technical skill while sharing my knowledge and techniques with a larger community. But I also think there's a correlation between textile artists and sustainable fashion leaders and I'm very interested in examining this connection. To that end, my next post will be a feature on one of my favorite contemporary fiber artists and her incredible thoughtfulness in considering her materials and the various forms of her work.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me, I'm incredibly honored to share this work with you. And humbled by the stories and questions and concerns you've shared with me online, at workshops, and over tea. This project wouldn't be what it is without you. That's right, you. So thank you for participating in this community and today, simply for reading this post and considering my journey to slow fashion. Start where you are, I promise you have what it takes to make your relationship to fashion more meaningful and more mindful and probably quite a bit more fun.
I'm honored to share this interview with artist, quilter, natural dyer, and friend, Jessica Lewis Stevens, of Sugarhouse Workshop. As you might know Jessica and I have been working on a three-part collaboration, Field Study, that will culminate in an opening exhibition at Hawkins NY in Hudson, NY on August 20; a daylong retreat at Whistle Down Farm with Drop, Forge, & Tool on Sunday, August 21; and an ongoing photo documentary sharing our work in-process on Instagram with the tag #fieldstudyfiber.
I wanted to share a conversation with Jessica in honor of the upcoming weekend and all of our work together. But also because Jessica is such an inspiring human and I wanted to highlight some of her creative practice, her studio work, and her seasonal approach to sustainable textiles. Not to mention, her heartbreakingly beautiful quilts made from naturally dyed fabrics and a few cameos of her home.
KR: Hello, Jessica! Thanks for joining me today. I thought it would be nice to share some insight into your work in honor of our upcoming collaboration, Field Study, and our pending exhibition, workshop, and process over on IG. Thank you for agreeing to join me here. I’ve loved your work online for many years and it’s such an honor to join forces for this collaboration. Can you tell us about your creative journey? And maybe share some of the highlights that led you to the work you’re making today?
JLS: Hi Katrina! Thank you so much for having me here. I’m so thrilled to be collaborating on our Field Study project, and to have a chance to share our work together later this month in Hudson.
I feel as though I’ve always been fascinated by artists, makers, and creative folks of all kinds, and I’ve always made room in my life for making. My mother ran a frame shop growing up, and I spent many of my teen years interacting with art and learning to make frames and stretch stitchery and match colors just so. I worked in framing to put myself through college and graduate school, after which I took a position as the Program Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center, a non-profit organization in Buffalo dedicated to the traditions of letterpress printing and making books by hand.
I fell in love with the processes of printing and bookbinding there, and beyond that it greatly inspired my continuing interest in reconnecting with the more analog craft traditions of the past. Once I had made these things the “hard” way and had a chance to see what a remarkable difference the human hand can make, it was hard to ignore the beauty and sense of pride and effort the more modern, automated processes lack. This eventually led me to explore beyond the paper arts to textiles, where I feel as though I found my home in making quilts and soft goods using traditional patterns and techniques.
KR: I love your use of natural dyes and sewing to make beautifully handcrafted objects. Your work ranges from quilts to buntings to project bags to baby goods to thoughtful children’s toys and beyond. Can you talk about your approach to making these objects? And your interest in creating objects with such attention to detail and craftsmanship—dyeing the fabrics by hand with plants from your yard before you begin any construction?
JLS: So many of the objects I create, and how I create them, are tethered to the idea of making a home a home. I have always really enjoyed seeing how others integrate good design and usefulness into their lives. I have shelves of books of interiors and antique quilts and boards and boards on pinterest of objects and homes I love to look at. But so often, these things are either out of reach, or manufactured without the human hand. Both out of necessity and a desire for well-made, thoughtful objects, I started making those things I wanted myself. And I think if you’re going to make something, you should make it well, give it a life beyond its utilitarian value.
For me, that means using the bedstraw root growing in our field to color a changing pad cover for our new baby, or making a bunting for my son’s play space with marigold flowers we grew together last year. It became obvious to me through conversations and feedback on these things I was making that a lot of people want that kind of connection to their objects. Not so much added preciousness or expense, but added care and consideration and authenticity. It’s those values that really drive my shop collections, and the things I make for our household.
KR: Your work is very tied to the land and to place. Perhaps it’s your gorgeously curated Instagram feed but I always see your work as inherent to your surrounding, to your home, to your garden, to your kitchen—can you talk about your relationship to place and how that might influence your projects?
JLS: We live in southern Vermont now, and the landscape here is out of a dream. Every season is so perfectly itself and so completely enchanting. Living in the country forces us to change our lives with the seasons, what we do, what we cook, what I make, and I really love that about making a life here. I can dye fabric all summer when the plants and fresh water and sunshine are abundant, and spend lots of time in winter putting hand stitches into quilts and knitting sweaters for my son when keeping warm becomes a priority. It allows me not to tire of a specific part of the process, and constantly be inspired by the new colors and moods of each season as they come and go.
KR: I love how you so seamlessly tie together your domestic life and your creative life. I love seeing images of your son, Henry, and your baking and glimpses of your home throughout the season next to your creative work in quilting, dyeing, and running your online shop. Your version of domesticity is definitely something I want for myself and my children. It feels chosen. It feels liberating. It feels thoughtful and intentional and meaningful. Can you talk about this overlap and how one might relate to the other? Again, the work seems inspired and tethered by this sense of place.
JLS: I feel like it all feeds into itself in a really fulfilling cycle. In order for me to be home with Henry and our little one on the way and focus on my creative work instead of being employed outside the home, we’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices and really intentional choices about where and how we live. I find often that it’s the stretching of what we have and the need to be creative with our resources that encourage creativity in every part of our lives. From using what we have in the garden to bake and cook, occupying the days with a small child in ways that are meaningful and fun, working slowly on projects that help us to live well, it all requires a great deal of creativity and thoughtfulness and it all feels very connected.
I’m so glad you use the word liberating – I feel sometimes like I never leave the house, but truthfully it’s deeply freeing to need less, to depend on ourselves, and to let each part of our day-to-day be a part of the creative work of building an intentional life.
KR: I noticed that on your website you talk about your work as a natural dyer and a quilter. Did the quilting come first or the dyeing? Or did they evolve alongside one another as your quilts allowed for a use of the naturally dyed fabric and vice versa?
JLS: Quilting came first for me, though dyeing didn’t follow far behind. When I began to learn to quilt, I was less concerned with materials than I was with design and construction. I had stashed fabric for years for various projects, and it was really useful to have those yards around for all the experimentation and mistakes that come with teaching yourself to quilt. Following the birth of my son, my perspective shifted in a major way. I began to really question my practice in terms of what I was buying, what I was wasting, how my fabrics were made and colored. It was no longer enough to make a beautiful-looking quilt, it became important to me to consider my sources.
I had for many years made it a priority to buy clothes second hand, to make what I could, to avoid big box store clothing racks because of the conditions in which these goods are produced (I spent my 16th birthday at a panel talk and protest with former sneaker company sweatshop workers, if it’s any indication of my future priorities) but I realized I hadn’t applied the same ethical standard to my raw materials. At the same time, we had recently moved to the upper Hudson Valley where I became endlessly inspired by the abundance of plants and flowers and produce growing around me.
I began exploring natural dyes as a way to further connect with this abundance and limit my own chemical footprint, experimenting with easy things to find like queen anne’s lace from the roadside and onion skins from my kitchen. Slowly I started integrating these colors into my work until I no longer felt like I needed to buy conventionally dyed fabrics. Because each of these lengths of color felt so precious to me, I saved every scrap, and they eventually became buntings when my son had a birthday coming up or a needlebook to hold my hand-sewing tools, or a bag for my next knitting project.
My own needs have always been a muse; trying to make what we need has a way of inspiring some of my favorite projects. When I launched my shop, I realized other folks might appreciate these slowly made goods and I integrated them into my collections. Your Make/Thrift/Mend project was a big inspiration to me as I was continually trying to make these shifts in my practice – it felt like I had found community in considering these issues and I’m still so inspired by what you do to inspire others to make thoughtful and sustainable choices as a consumer and as an artist.
KR: Back to this idea of place, you also live in rural Vermont, complete with four distinct seasons including a humid summer and very cold, sometimes snowy, winter. How do the seasons influence your work? Do you plan your dyes according to what’s available throughout the year or do you tend to quilt more in the winter when you’re naturally indoors?
JLS: Yes, absolutely. I love the changing of the seasons. I spend a lot of time in summer dyeing. There is an abundance of dye plants growing midsummer, and it feels like there is hardly time to capture them all. But it’s worth the days after days of stirring hot dye pots to have a quilt on your lap or mittens on your kids’ hands in winter that are made from fibers dyed with summer’s colors. It’s easy to forget how cold winter can get in Vermont, but when it does roll around it’s wonderful to have little reminders of summer imbued in the objects we use every day.
I love to change the colors of my shop collections with the seasons too. In summer, I dye a lot with indigo because my vat is healthy and vibrant, and I love to make things that are useful for that season- dyed linen totes for the beach, or bright rainbow buntings. In autumn I like to focus on more subtle shades, and in winter I’m always drawn to the darkest colors and the most pale, neutral ones.
KR: What’s your favorite dye material right now? Could you share one recipe for a dye, mordant, and fabric with our readers? Just one combination you particularly adore.
JLS: Lately I’ve really been enjoying using iron to add some quiet depth to brighter colors. I’ve been dyeing with marigolds from last year’s harvest, and the iron gives a beautiful rusty gold character to it. Like a bridge between summer’s bright color’s and autumn’s rich browns. It’s not too late even in the northeast to plant a patch of marigold seeds if you’ve got even a little space or a big pot, and they yield a lot of beautiful color.
KR: I’m thrilled about our collaboration! When we first began I imagined we’d offer a workshop on natural dyes and stitching; that we’d create an exhibition of 10 collaborative pieces; and that we’d somehow document this process online to include community that might not be able to join in person. But I never imagined the process would feel so intimate! And so vulnerable. We’ve both written in emails to the other about how sharing our work and our thoughts about the work have felt incredibly intimate. Do you think this intimacy is often overlooked online? Or do you think the work is somehow more intimate than our other work and it’s just close to the heart in someway?
JLS: I really couldn’t agree more. I think for me, I’m not often so explicit when talking about my inspirations, what drives my work, why I chose the colors I chose. I often let my small shop collections speak for themselves or hint at the seasonal touches inherent in each object. But with Field Study, we’re really baring those connections that are important to us, sharing more elaborately the ways we’re interacting with our art, and it’s a vulnerable place to be. And a beautiful one!
I do think there can be an intimacy that is often overlooked when we’re constantly sifting through new images online every day. Things can sometimes feel very surface-level. I love knowing more about what inspires a makers work, and I’ve really loved having the chance to do that myself through this project. It has evolved in a way that I think is not only exciting for this project, but will continue to impact my future work in a wonderful way.
KR: Who are some of your biggest inspirations? I know there are so many, but if you could just list 3-5 who would you include that’s particularly inspiring to you today?
JLS: As far as other dyers and quilters, I am always inspired by Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers. Her work is beautiful and intentional in a way I deeply admire. I tend to draw inspiration mostly from folks who work in a different medium than I do – I love to think about how my quilts might look with someone else’s weaving or pottery or print on the wall, or sometimes a person’s writing style really strikes a chord I keep coming back to.
Some of my favorites include author Ben Hewitt, The Letowskis of North Country Folkware who make beautiful kitchenware, the cooking videos of Aube Giroux. I’ve been collaborating with artist Emily Halbardier on a series of seasonal baking books, and her illustrations are always so inspiring. She captures a playful, folksy sort of feeling so very well.
KR: Lastly, for somebody who might just be starting out with natural dyes what would you recommend? Are there any techniques or approaches you find particularly forgiving? Or any books or websites you adore?
JLS: Work with what you have! If you want to try natural dyeing, don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, or become intimidated by all there is to learn. Start where you are, boil some onion skins or avocado pits, and dip an old t-shirt in the pot. Just go for it. A beautiful book came out last year called The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar from A Verb For Keeping Warm. It’s an amazing resource for the beginner or intermediate dyer, and it’s full of projects for any level of experience.
KR: Thank you so much, Jessica! I cannot wait to teach with you at Whistle Down Farm in August. It feels like something of a dream come true.
JLS: Thank you so much for having me, Katrina! I am so, so looking forward to it.
I've been quiet over here lately because I've been so very busy in the studio. Teaching, writing, mending, and making new textile work. But mostly, I'm thrilled to announce my upcoming two-person exhibition, Field Study, will open at Hawkins NY on Warren Street in Hudson, NY with a reception on Saturday, August 20 from 5-7pm. This is part of my three-part collaboration with natural dyer and quilter, Jessica Lewis Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop and we are so excited about this project! I want to shout it from the rooftops. Or the farmhouse tops. Or the Hudson Valley barns. Well, you know what I mean.
Our exhibit runs August 20- September 18 and will be on view during regular shop hours. (Thank you, Hawkins NY!) We've worked like crazy to make ten new, original, textile art pieces from naturally dyed fabrics, yarns, fibers, and hand stitching. Field Study is an exploration of the relationship between art, agriculture, traditional textile crafts like quilting and mending, and the underlying importance of place in sustainability. But it's all rolled up into one Instagram photo documentary; one daylong farm retreat; and one new exhibition. I am truly over-the-moon to debut this new work.
Also, because we want to break the rules of traditional exhibitions just a little bit, for my friends out-of-town we have arranged that you can contact Hawkins NY to purchase the work remotely while the exhibit is open. They'll even ship it to you. Hooray! All details will be on my website before Aug 20 but if you've been following on Instagram and want to purchase an original I just want you to have the details first: You'll call Sean at 1-844-HNY-3344 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org between Aug 20 and Sept 18 and he'll walk you through the process. For those of you nearby, please join us for the party on Saturday, August 20. We'd love to celebrate with you. Oh, yes, we are ready to celebrate this project.
Also, just a quick update that we only have a couple of spaces left in the Field Study: Natural Dye & Stitch Farm Retreat on Sunday, August 21 in Hudson, NY. This daylong retreat is hosted on my dear friends' organic farm and includes two textile workshops, an organic farm fresh lunch, and the most beautiful sweeping valley views. Plus, we're making sweet little gifts and Jessica's making berry pies. All workshop details are on the Drop Forge & Tool website. If you're already joining us for the retreat we hope you'll come to the party the night before too. Follow along on Instagram at #fieldstudyfiber
So. Very. Excited. To. Share. This. Project. With. You.
I'm thrilled to announce a new workshop offering this summer: Field Study Natural Dye & Stitch Farm Retreat is something of a dream come true. I'm collaborating with the ever-talented textile artist, natural dyer, and quilter Jessica Lewis Stevens of Sugarhouse Workshop to offer a three-part project this summer, Field Study. This project will result in an exhibition of 10 new works by Jessica and I; it will share an ongoing dialogue of our work-in-progress through a photo documentation with the tag #fieldstudyfiber over on Instagram; and it will offer this textile retreat on Sunday, August 21, 2016.
This daylong retreat will take place on my dear friends' working organic farm, Whistle Down Farm, just 10 minutes outside of Hudson, NY in the heart of the Hudson Valley. The retreat will include technical textile instruction in natural dyeing and hand-stitching from the cover of the beautiful barn on the farm and will include ample opportunity to explore the landscape and soak in the natural beauty of our surroundings. Jessica and I are preparing all sorts of special treats for the retreat participants in addition to the bounty of workshop supplies. Imagine special booklets, handmade gifts, and Jessica's berry pies! In addition to a vegetarian farm fresh lunch that will be provided.
As I continue down this path of sustainable fashion and the fusing of my art practice with slow fashion I am constantly brought back to the image of the farm. To our dependence on the farm. To the absolute need for our communities to support local farmers. To the beginnings of food and fiber in plants and animals that are raised on the farms. I keep considering how cotton, flax, hemp, wool, angora, mohair, and cashmere come from farms. And our dependence on these farms for textiles and fashion.
Slow Food has done for the food movement what I can only hope Slow Fashion will one day do for the fashion industry--it allows us to be mindful in our choices and to reconsider the true value of food or clothing and the many lives that touch that food or garment before it reaches our home. Enter into this conversation the idea of "slow textiles" or considering the materials, processes, and resources in textile work and engaging in handwork, honoring traditional practices, and considering ethical design.
This Field Study workshop will be firmly rooted in place. A very special place. A very important place. And a place that is very dear to my heart, Whistle Down Farm. This collaboration with Jessica is a multi-approach to exploring our thoughts on the intersection of fashion and farming; the crossing of fiber and farm; the importance of place and geography and localism; the dislodging of migration or relocation; and the pushing of traditional craft techniques like quilting and mending into a fine art medium.
In so many ways this collaboration with Jessica, this multi-faceted approach to collaboration, and this resulting workshop are the truest expression of my current work with sustainable fashion. The collaboration allows for dialogue and the sharing of ideas and the influence of form; the photo documentation on Instagram is a way for us to experiment with using social media as a core part of our collaborative project and sharing our processing with a larger community; and the daylong retreat allows us to come together in physical space to share our techniques, our muses, and our thinking about slow textiles from the location of a working organic farm.
Oh my gosh, I'm excited. Join us on Sunday, August 21 if you can. And for those of you coming from out-of-town feel free to ask any questions about lodging, food, shops, etc. and I'll be sure to answer in the comments. Hudson, NY is a magical small city fueled by arts and antiques and it has many wonderful accommodations, eateries, and special shops and spaces to crate a wonderful weekend getaway. I'm so honored to be offering this retreat to the world and I can't wait to meet the participants that will join us. I'm eager to hear your reactions so please feel free to leave any comments or questions below or over on Instagram.
Hooray for slow textiles and creative collaborations and organic farms!
Last week marked a very important event on social media. It marked the tremendous organizing efforts of the eco fashion advocacy group, Fashion Revolution. It marked the creation of a virtual sustainable fashion community consisting of designers, artists, makers, crafters, hobbyists, advocates, and otherwise concerned citizens looking to engage in the conversation regarding ethical fashion. These are the very best moments in social media. When online platforms are used as a tool for community organizing, public dialogue, and political advocacy. And the moments when this tool actually wants anyone and everyone to participate. People like me. And people like you.
This week marked the three-year-anniversary of the collapse of the garment factory known as the Savar building or the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013 the building collapsed killing over 1,100 people and injuring over 2,500. The building collapsed because of a structural failure that could have been avoided. It resulted in the deadliest garment factory accident in history.
From this tragedy grew an urgency in the grassroots Slow Fashion movement that was already gaining momentum with environmentalists, textile artists, and select fashion leaders worldwide. But the collapse created an urgency. An outrage. An international call for action. Slow Fashion called for a revolution in the fashion industry to better consider the welfare of people and the planet involved in the making of our clothing.
Fashion Revolution had a simple premise, to draw attention to the horrible conditions of garment factory workers by asking fashion labels one question: Who made my clothes? This question quickly inspired droves of concerned consumers to turn their clothing inside out, show their labels, and take a selfie on their cell phones that they'd post to social media outlets with the hashtag #whomademyclothes.
It was effective. It was instant. It was an inspired action to convince participants to share their labels and charge factories with a responsibility that was missing after Rana Plaza collapsed. It also humanized the movement by forcing us to consider the humans in the factories making our clothing. And remember the lives of the workers who were killed in the avoidable collapse. These images quickly flooded the Internet on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, April 24, 2014. And again on April 24, 2015.
Along the way designers and makers turned the phrase around to declare, "I made my clothes". And from this declaration other sustainable fashion advocates and artists added their own spin on how they were not only calling for a fashion revolution but participating in one. This year at the third anniversary Fashion Revolution organized worldwide events and increased the daylong memorial to a week long event.
This year the advocacy group took a longer approach and asked "makers" or designers, crafters, seamstresses, and other fashion enthusiasts to spend the week considering the potential of a fashion revolution from seven different angles. They invited followers to post on a different prompt each day for seven days. The topics included: 1. I make my clothes; 2. By hand; 3. I mend my clothes; 4. Upcycled; 5. Second hand first; 6. Skill up; and 7. Goals.
It's impossible for me to participate in this work for Fashion Revolution without considering my own fashion fast that started three years ago. One of the goals of my project was community engagement and sharing resources and techniques I learned through the project. So this organizing effort is close to my heart as I continue to focus on these interactions and conversations outside of making, mending and teaching. It's incredible, the momentum that the Slow Fashion community has gained in the past three years since I started my project. It's thrilling to witness.
As many of you know, on August 1, 2013 I started a clothing fast, Make Thrift Mend, with the intention of abstaining from purchasing any new clothing for one year while I focused instead on making simple garments, buying secondhand, and mending. My fast was also largely inspired by the Rana Plaza factory collapse. It was also influenced by Natalie Chanin's writings on slow design and the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. I wanted to DO something about fast fashion. I wanted to change my shopping habits. I wanted to challenge myself to go deeper in the name of eco fashion. I wanted to align my wardrobe with my values.
Through this journey I also discovered mending as a form of art. I studied Japanese Boro and Sashiko and developed my own techniques for mending clothing. I started teaching mending workshops because it was part of my Make Thrift Mend project goals. With a background as a textile artist and an arts organizer I wanted to push myself to focus on what's known as "social practice" or community engagement or finding a way to work outside the structure of galleries and shops to engage community. I hosted mending circles, I won a grant to offer a free mending workshop online, and later I organized textile artists on Market Street in San Francisco in lunchtime demonstrations.
The first year of my project turned into the second and I shifted the parameters to include the purchase of new clothing from local brands or independent makers. The third year suddenly appeared and I included the purchase of select new clothing from ethical brands. I taught more mending workshops.
I wrote about Slow Fashion. I published an article on what I like to call, Mendfulness, and I gathered in community with other artists, makers, designers, and authors working for eco fashion. My interest in the project only continued to grow as the years gathered--I can hardly believe I haven't purchased new clothing from a big box store in three years. If you had asked me if that was possible before I started my fashion fast I would have said, "No way. What would I wear? I don't have the money. I don't have the time".
Somewhere along the line I surrendered the rest of my studio practice to my Make Thrift Mend project. I had a second baby. I bought an ancient farmhouse 3,000 miles away from my apartment and studio in Oakland, CA. And I moved my growing family from that small apartment in a beautiful urban center to a sprawling old farmhouse in the beautiful rural community of the Hudson Valley.
But somehow mending and Slow Fashion and this combining of sustainability and fashion and textile arts centered my creative work in a time when my life was arguably busier and more demanding and more chaotic than ever before. The mending practice became metaphor for mending in general. For repairing. For focusing. For accepting imperfection. For experimenting. For embracing the natural process of breakdown and reinforcing what was torn with my stitches. It became a meditation, Mendfulness.
I taught more mending workshops. I bettered my techniques. I listened to my students about what they wanted and what was working and what wasn't. And I started teaching at new venues and considered multiple requests to travel to teach in locations across the US. I admitted to myself that this one-year-project had not just turned into a three-year-project but it had turned into the core my creative studio work. And it had altered my relationship with fashion so deeply that there was simply no turning back to the sales racks of my favorite boutiques of yesteryear. Thankfully.
But this week brings me back to the catalyst for this project that quite frankly changed my life. It brings me back to the people. To the humans. To the lives lost. To the photographs of the factory collapse that could have been avoided. And to the aftermath of various mega fashion brands refusing responsibility and refuting pressure to shift their manufacturing practices.
But it also brought me back to the makers. To the designers. To the advocates. To the activists. To the community of people around the world that are so dedicated to this cause that they cannot, not do something. They are motivated to create change. And they are inspiring. They are designing, making, selling, mending, altering, plant dyeing, and otherwise creating an alternative fashion industry that aligns with their values. They inspire me to keep moving my own project forward too.
They remind us that we do have options. We can buy less. We can support independent makers. We can consider the fibers in our clothing and educate our selves about the journey from farm to factory to retail. We can decide to take a break from the fashion "trendmill". We can say, enough is enough.
We can find other outlets besides impulse shopping. We can mend our clothing. We can buy secondhand. We can even consider the design elements in mending and making to create repairs that actually add value to our existing garments. And we can release our selves from the pressure to make perfect seams on handmade garments and instead just go ahead and begin. Where we are. With the skills we already have. We can say, "I'll start right here, right now."
The three-year-anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, the organizing efforts of Fashion Revolution, and rounding the third year of my own fashion fast offer an opportunity to reconsider choices. To confront the system I support in my garment purchases. To stop focusing on what I can't do to support sustainable fashion and instead decide what I can do to better align my values and my closet. At the end of the week of online activity the prompt was "Goals".
I took a few moments to jot down my goals and realized that advocacy is still my number one priority as I move ahead with this project. And by advocacy I mean social practice, community engagement, public dialogue, and reaching outside of my studio and classrooms to support change. I also want to continue to step outside my comfort zone in making garments--approach sleeves, pants, and other contours I've been avoiding. And to develop a handful of projects that use castoff fabrics because let's admit it, sometimes the garments are beyond repair but the fabric has so much potential.
This week, this anniversary, this tremendous organizing effort by Fashion Revolution allows us to pause and notice our habits. That's how my fashion fast began--I wanted to notice my shopping habits by abstaining. I wanted to create a break in the habitual and this came through fasting and ultimately re-approaching fashion through an intentional lens, Mendfulness. This week allows us to just decide on one thing we can shift to better align our wardrobe with our values. Just one thing. Anything. Just a specific place to continue. Or to begin.
I'm thrilled to announce that on Friday, March 11 at 7pm I'll be co-hosting a free, community-building, slow fashion event at A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland, CA. This event was recently added to my lineup of mending workshops and I've asked several of my favorite slow fashion/ sustainable fashion/ slow textile artists to join me in public conversation. This is something of my Bay Area Slow Fashion Dream Team and I couldn't be more excited to join forces with these amazing artists for an evening of community building, conversation, and sharing our projects with the public. Here's just a brief biography on each of the artist who will join me for the panel:
>>> Sasha Duerr <<<
I'm honored to be joined by friend and fine artist/ natural dyer/ expert colorist/ slow fashion advocate/ and kindred artist Sasha Duerr. Sasha approaches natural dyeing and natural color like nobody else I've ever known. She has a sensitivity and intuition and engagement with the natural world that is somewhat spellbinding. Truly. If you have the opportunity to take a workshop with her and the Permacouture Institute please do it! She's also an author, fine artist, teacher, mama, and community builder very active in the Bay Area creative community.
>>> Sonya Philip <<<
I'll be joined by my dear friend/ artist/ fashion designer/ maker Sonya Philip of 100 Acts of Sewing. If you're at all interested in making your own clothing and you don't know where to begin I highly recommend checking out Sonya's project, patterns, and her various social media feeds. She's taking the fear of "perfection" out of handmade clothing and providing simple, stylish patterns and so much information on fabrics, sewing, styling, knitting, and creating a handmade wardrobe. Sonya is also a writer, artist, teacher, mama, and all around dear creative.
>>> Kristine Vejar <<<
Next is the wonderful and inspiring Kristine Vejar artist, dyer, organizer, and owner of Oakland's finest A Verb for Keeping Warm. Kristine just published her first book, The Modern Natural Dyer, and it's a treasure trove of images, narratives, and DIY projects focused on natural dyes. This book is visually stunning. Kristine teaches workshops, hosts events, advocates for slow fashion and handmade textiles all while managing AVFKW--a yarn, fiber, and fabric shop complete with a classroom, dye studio, and beautiful outdoor dye garden. Kristine is a wonderful resource and also an inspiring entrepreneur, artist, author, and sustainable fashion advocate.
>>> Alice Wu <<<
Lastly, we'll be joined by the very talented designer, producer, curator, and artist Alice Wu. I met Alice many moons ago when we both lived in Brooklyn, NY and she was in the early days of her ethical fashion label, Feral Childe. She co-founded this fashion label with distribution in over 100 independent retail shops and some of the most creative, stylish, unique, and totally awesome clothing I've seen from a small label! The label has since come to a close but we are thrilled to have Alice's insight and her added perspective. She's now working as a curator, organizer, and fine artist and she's a wealth of knowledge regarding slow fashion.
I am so honored to share an evening of conversation with these talented women. When I launched my fast fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, nearly three years ago one of the priorities was to host community events and participate in social action and what's often known in the art world as "social practice". So organizing mending circles; writing grants to offer that free online slow fashion workshop; last summer's Social Textile Experiments in our tiny art studio on Market Street in San Francisco; and this upcoming Slow Fashion Forum all help to push realize this goal in my project. And it's an honor to share this work with the broader public.
Lastly, we've added one more workshop to my offerings at Handcraft Studio School on Tuesday, March 15 from 11-3pm. (Saturday's workshop is sold out and there are just a few spots left on Sunday, March 13.) It's wonderful to be returning to the Bay Area to engage in this work and to continue making connections with this incredible community. And for those of you outside of CA, stay tuned, there will be more offerings for you in 2016.
Happy New Year!
I'm thrilled to announce upcoming mending workshops in three different locations. In March I'll be back in California at the beloved Handcraft Studio School teaching my favorite Sashiko Mending workshop; in April I'll be offering this same Sashiko Mending workshop locally at Drop Forge & Tool in adorable Hudson, NY; and in May I'll be traveling to Portland, ME to offer a special daylong Mindful Mending workshop at A Gathering of Stitches.
If you've been curious about modern mending inspired by Japanese Sashiko and Boro; about sustainable fashion through creative and personal repairs; or about taking a workshop with me in-person... now is the time. These workshops often sell out so be sure to register quickly if you want to attend. In 2016 I'm also hoping to offer an online slow fashion workshop complete with mending tutorials so be sure to hop on over to my mailing list to be the first to know. For daily studio updates let's connect over on Instagram--my daily photo outlet to the big virtual world.
On Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13 I'll be back in my beautiful California teaching Sashiko Mending with my dear friends at Handcraft Studio School! Join me in the San Francisco Bay Area for this favorite workshop. These workshops will include a Sashiko embroidery project, sustainable fashion resources, and individual attention to mend your garments. If you're anywhere near Emeryville, CA come join me for an afternoon. This is a truly gorgeous space filled with wonderful students and it's always a lovely gathering. I can't wait to return.
Saturday April 9 I'll be offering my Sashiko Mending workshop back in the beautiful Hudson Valley in Hudson, NY at Drop Forge & Tool. The owner of DFT is a friend of mine from California and I love what she's creating to support the local arts community here in Upstate NY so this workshop feels extra special--California meets NY in the best possible sense. This is currently my only local workshop so be sure to sign-up soon if you are in the area and want to join me. I'd love to meet you! Hudson, NY is just about two hours north of Manhattan by car or train. And it's adorable.
On Memorial Day weekend I'm thrilled to be teaching at A Gathering of Stitches in Portland, ME on Saturday, May 28. This workshop has been developed specifically for the retreat sessions offered by this amazing venue. It will be a daylong workshop focused on Mindful Mending--diving deeper into sustainable fashion, mindfulness, and the creative opportunity in repair. It will also give participants a chance to spend more time considering the design aspects of repairs and the beauty of slow stitches.
I'm honored to join the line-up of *amazing* teachers working out of AGOS in 2016. Seriously, have you seen the offering of classes on their website? I want to take every single workshop. Portland is such a wonderful and vibrant city that I haven't visited in years so I'm thrilled to return. I hope you'll join me if you are anywhere nearby. Or it could be a great weekend destination too--hint, hint.
I'm thrilled to be partnering with these three amazing spaces, run by three amazingly inspiring women, to offer mending workshops in three beautiful states. I've selected these spaces very carefully as I feel they truly embody the philosophy, aesthetics, community, and professional practices of a leading contemporary craft school. They are working diligently to create beautiful spaces that not only offer craft workshops but build creative community, support artists & makers, and consider the inherent value and importance of handmade objects.
Join me for these workshops--it will be a honor to share my sustainable fashion resources, to help support you in your own slow fashion journey whether that's mending one garment or starting a fast fashion fast, and more practically to work with you to mend your clothes through beautiful and purposeful stitches.
Happy 2016. Happy mending. Happy making. Happy wintery days that sparkle and shine.
Today is a very special day. Today, I'm thrilled to host a book giveaway of my friend and fellow slow-fashion artist, Kristine Vejar's, gorgeous new dye book, The Modern Natural Dyer. Have you seen this beautiful book? It's been traveling through the Internet at rapid speed with guest appearances on beloved sites like Selvedge and Design Sponge and many other beautiful, virtual spaces. Each time I see this book featured in a new location I cheer a little bit, oftentimes aloud, I confess.
Kristine is a dear friend, a fellow fiber artist, a generous spirit, a thoughtful advocate, but also someone I respect SO much for the work she's done to build community and support slow fiber, slow fashion, and sustainable textiles throughout the Bay Area and beyond. She's the founder and owner of the ever-inspiring shop A Verb for Keeping Warm (AVFKW) in Oakland, CA where she sells yarn, fabric, sewing patterns, books, tools, offers workshops and special events, and where she conducted all the research for her gorgeous new book.
If you live anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area I highly recommend you sign-up for the AVFKW mailing list so you can attend the wonderful fiber events and workshops hosted in this magical space. Not to mention, you can purchase the book, the dye kits, a dye journal, and oodles of other wonderful crafty goods from the AVFKW website. (Hint, hint Christmas shoppers.)
The Modern Natural Dyer must be one of the most gorgeous craft books I've ever held in my hands. Is that an overstatement? Well, I don't think so. It's actually that pretty. I first got an early glimpse of this beautiful book this summer when Kristine joined me for my Social Textile Experiments on Market Street in our tiny art studio on wheels--Range Studio.
I saw the cover and I gasped. So pretty! Then I flipped through the photographs and I paused at each one to notice the dye projects, the raw materials, and the incredible composition and intention in every single photograph. The book exudes Kristine's refined sense of design, beautiful aesthetic, and also her incredible insight into the natural dye world. I want to make every project in this book!
The dye recipes are fantastic, the projects are inspiring and easy to follow, and the book leaves you feeling like you've just taken a course with Kristine without ever leaving your home. Gorgeous photography, stunning styling, thoughtful writing, inspired how-to projects, and brimming with in-depth information from the author's lifelong work with natural dyes. I actually have a pot of foraged walnuts soaking in my busted-up laundry room as I type--the beginnings of a natural dye project from this book.
Now, I have the very great honor of not just reviewing this book but offering one lucky reader one free copy. Hooray, a giveaway! And, if that wasn't enough, Kristine has also generously offered to send that one lucky winner a free dye kit of her/ his choice. (Choose from the four dye kits on the AVFKW site.) Yes, that's right. You can win a book AND a dye kit just because it could be your lucky natural dye day.
You just have to go over to the AVFKW website and decide which dye kit you'd like to call your own. Then come back to my blog (or my Instagram post, or both) and leave a comment with the dye kit you'd like to win. Maybe say something else about what you'd like to dye or why you think this work is completely and totally awesome and could quite possibly change the world! (Okay, that last part is just my personal pitch for slow fiber work. Eh hem.)
Next Monday I'll announce the winner in the comments section of this post. You can enter here on my blog or on my Instagram feed and I'll choose one winner at random. It's pretty much like your birthday and this blog post rolled up into one. Trust me, you want to win this book and this dye kit too. And if you don't win, or you can't wait to see if you might win, or you just know you need a second copy for a family member or friend, then head over to Kristine's website and purchase a copy for yourself. I bet you'll find something else over there you might want too.
I couldn't be happier for the author, the book, the contribution to the natural dye world, and this very important advocacy for sustainable fiber and slow textiles and more simply some encouragement for foraging for natural dye materials, raising dye plants in your garden, or even just purchasing the dye materials from AVFKW. Hooray for this work seeing its way into publishing and textile arts.
I'm convinced, the better we understand the process of growing, harvesting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, sewing, knitting, and otherwise making textiles the better our chances to do this work in a sustainable, thoughtful, ethical, beautiful, and FUN manner. This book is all that at once. Kristine, this book is a work of genius, my friend, 1000 congratulations.
Hope is my motto for November. It's the word I keep tacked in my brain as I slush through boxes and home renovations and stacks of laundry that might just swallow me if we don't get our formerly-split-pea-green-colored laundry room put back together soon. As I mentioned in the last post about moving to the Hudson Valley in October, I'm so very glad it's finally November. It means the boxes have all come inside and the first round of items on our to do lists have actually been achieved. But mostly, it means the shock of our move is subsiding.
People ask me if we're settling in and I have to pause a moment before I respond. Settling in? With two small children and a 200-year-old farmhouse to renovate and winter approaching (without appropriate winter clothing) and our dearest friends and all that's familiar some 3,000 miles away? No. No, we are not yet settling in. I do not imagine it will feel like we are settling in for many months to come. Though the boxes will be unpacked and the barn will be cleaned out and the rooms, one by one, will be repainted and re-patched and repaired. Instead I respond, "Day by day". My expectations have downshifted. Just put one foot in front of the other each day. And that seems to be working today so I'm going with it. I think of that Arthur Ashe quote:
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
But the thing I've identified as the most important in our journey from urban CA to rural NY is not the appropriate clothing for winter, the pacing of our newly painted rooms, the long list of things we will change in our old farmhouse as the years go by, or even the pacing of caring for small children, working, moving across the country and suddenly owning a home. It's not any one of these things that pushed our October into a state of overwhelm and sadness and ache. Instead, it was the culmination of all these things all at once. The pile up.
But October is over. Forever. That's the beautiful thing about the passing of time. And November is about hope. But I think that word is so overused that it's actually lost its meaning. Hope. Love. Dream. Believe. Joy. Trust. They all read like Hallmark greeting cards that I avoid at all costs though, admittedly, I see their necessity or their appeal in the hands and hearts of many. I get it. We want to access those feelings. We want to share that sentiment. We want to connect to those feelings in our selves and in the recipients. Yes, of course we do.
But those words are actually Big Huge Life words. Life changing words. Life affirming words. Life shifting words. And we've tried to boil them down to bite-sized chunks of feeling and meaning and connection. We're busy. We're tired. We need a quick emotional fix. Sure. But Big Huge Life words and feelings and needs and considerations are, of course, much bigger than bite-size and often quite messy. They are much more important than one mouthful and they require more attention and time and consideration. Hope: It's actually the stuff that life is built on. And it can be reductive, if not offensive, when these Big Huge Life shifting words get boiled down into bite-sized chunks. Maybe we need more than a nibble. At least I do.
When I think I can tap into these Big Huge Life feelings for bite-sized amounts of time and see any true redirection I'm always disappointed. Because, of course, I can't shift my life in one bite. I have to sit with all these feelings. I have to mull them over. I have to swim in them. I have to let them flood me from time to time and just sit there with all those feelings and notice. Sometimes I don't have to do anything at all but sit there and breathe deep and acknowledge. And from this place of noticing I can start to realign to the life I want to create instead. For me this often has everything to do with fear. But it also has everything to do with trust. That wonderful Georgia O'Keeffe quote keeps playing through my mind:
I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.
Yes! Thank you, Georgia. So, hope. Hope is what I've identified as the most important word for me right now. Hope that this house will eventually feel like my own. Hope that we will actually get all these old rooms patched and painted and ultimately repaired. Hope that we'll find meaning here. Hope that we'll find comfort and relief and a reflection of our selves here. Hope that we'll thrive. Hope that this place and this house and this transition will provide something we needed. Will provide the opportunity for something different. Something bigger. Something we could only imagine and now we're working to make come true. Something more closely aligned to where we see our selves headed. Something relevant and important and, ultimately, something good.
Or why else would we do it? Why would we change our locations, our relationships, our jobs, our homes, our havens, if we cannot see the shift lined with opportunity and meaning and importance? I don't think we would. I think we would just keep things very much the same. But sometimes we need to change our lives. Or our homes. Or our relationships. Or our work. Sometimes I don't just need a minor shift but an actual overhaul. Sometimes I need to take huge risks and have huge hope at the same time.
Because, I'm convinced, of the necessity of hope. Because we hope and we envision because we get down close to the roots of our lives and we see what's most needed there. We breathe slow. We get quiet. We look around with a flashlight and try not to freak out at what we find. We collect data. We gather information. We mine for details. And then we take all this important information and we try to find the direction forward. We try to see what needs to change and what doesn't need to change and we calculate and we consider and then eventually we act. I keep telling myself: Trust deep.
So with each painted room, with each patched hole, with each floor we sand or paint or oil I try to maintain hope. I try to keep my eye on that beacon of promise. I try to let all the fears and sadness and uncertainty flood me as it will. Let it come. Let it go. Let it wash in and out and in and out again. Mine it for data. Listen to the roots and try not to freak out at the findings. And then I try to keep moving onward.
Maybe because it's just my way through it. Maybe it's just the set of survival skills my particular constitution has gathered together over the decades to help me move my life forward. But maybe because it gives me hope. And maybe that's the flag I need to replace the little soft white flag of surrender I had to wave over my home in October. Maybe hope is the flag of November and maybe that's just where I need it to be. Not what I expected, but certainly, there is a life here for us waiting to be uncovered. Maybe it's just under the last room full of old linoleum, waiting patiently for its turn.