Nature’s Neutrals

Nature’s Neutrals

Nature creates neutrals in the green grass, shrubs and trees that really allow fall colors to shine. At times it may seem like there is a riot of color, in reality there is just a touch here and there but against the changing clouds and constant green the reds and yellows of well placed fall color creates that attention getting emphasis.

You can do the same with your colors. Use them in small quantities against constant neutrals and it will really show up. 

This orange purse against the neutral blue background is an example of color in small doses really becoming the star attraction. What is your neutral? What color do you enjoy for that pop? I hope you will look at the beautiful fall colors (brief as they are) for style inspiration.

Muscatine Iowa – Pearl button capitol

Muscatine Iowa – Pearl button capitol

Who would have guessed that buttons were the cause of the decline of fresh water clams in the Mississippi River? Or that Muscatine Iowa was known as the pearl button capitol of the world? Not me. This is what I find fascinating about travel. The opportunity to learn.

From the 1890’s to the 1900’s pearl buttons were made by cutting blanks from freshwater clams. These blanks were polished, sanded, and then drilled to create buttons which adorned many types of clothing. Harvesting the clams with rakes from the bottom of the river provided an income for many during these times. Unfortunately the demand for buttons caused over harvesting of the clams and the industry began to decline in the 1920’s. Around this time other materials also became available. The last factory closed in 1967.

The clams were just beginning to recover when they became a source of freshwater pearls. According to the Wisconsin DNR site “In 1995, more than one million pounds of shell were removed from the river in Wisconsin and shipped to Japan for use in the cultured pearl industry.”

 It is hard to not keep seeing the problems of over consuming clothing. The costs to our environment whether your items are made naturally or artificially are huge. Buy quality and wear it forever! Easier to say than do. Be conscious of what you want the future to look like but don’t beat yourself up over past choices. Move forward in a thinking way.

Is Overconsumption serving me? (or you)

Is Overconsumption serving me? (or you)

I am moving. I have only lived in my current home for 7 years but seem to have acquired plenty of items in that time. I am not a huge shopper but somehow my count of jeans in my closet has upped to 6 pair of regular denim and 2 pair of other colored denim. I bought 3 of the 8 pair retail and the others are thrifted. They all fit me but I think the move is a good time to downsize to just 2 pair of denim and maybe the colored denim.

Now let’s move on to the cream colored shirts – sleeveless and sleeved and tanks- I’m embarrassed to say I have 13. I’m sure it would be safe to cut that back to 2 sleeveless, 2 short sleeve and 2 long sleeve without too much deprivation.
How does this happen? For me it happened by not having a plan. By letting my mind create the thought that I didn’t have the time and money to buy clothes, I created a result of not having a shopping plan for those times when I did find myself with extra time in a store that sells clothes. Thus 8 pair of jeans and lucky 13 cream colored shirts.

For some people pointless shopping and finding a “bargain” fills a hole that could be filled by more mind invigorating and emotional pursuits. Clothes and shopping are not my crutch but food is. For years I have relied on food (and drink) whenever I didn’t want to feel discomfort. This over consumption has created excess pounds and wasted time as well as lost opportunity.

Not having a plan and letting my thoughts rule me instead of me ruling my thoughts has created an uncomfortable abundance of things I don’t need and a body that is a little more than I need. It was an uncomfortable but exhilarating realization that I was not in control of my thoughts and they were creating my results. Uncomfortable because I didn’t see how I lived this long without knowing but exhilarating because I am now aware of my thoughts and can consciously change them to be supportive instead of harmful. I am working to create a conscious life with purposeful instead of thoughtless actions.

Your thoughts create your feelings -create your actions -create your results. Time for me to have a mind shift about my own closet. Instead of the scarcity thought that I can’t get rid of something that fits and the fear that I will regret getting rid of it (maybe destined to have the one I keep get a red wine spill?), I am going to look at the abundant thought that I am creating much more room in my life and closet for other things and ideas. I know I won’t be bringing those extra jeans to my new home. Now I just hae to decide which ones to keep. Hmmm. Once I tackle that hurdle what’s next? Maybe my computer folders then on to the garage…….

Overconsumption and holding on to excess is not serving me. Is it serving you? What is your experience with excess? Please share!
If you need help creating a more minimalist life I can help. We will begin by evaluating your activities and clothing needs and then looking at how much is enough. It helps to have a guide when letting go.

Fall dyeing in Northern Michigan

Fall dyeing in Northern Michigan

This the season for fall colors. As I spent two weeks recently in Northern Michigan with time on my hands I pondered what new activity to try. Every ditch was overflowing with purple and yellow flowers.

Photo to show Joe Pye weed

A flower from the abundant Joe Pye weed near my father’s house

There were fall leaves starting to turn and red sumac berries and purple wild grapes everywhere. Maybe this was the time to try dying with natural materials.There are many good websites to research this subject and I browsed them all.I knew I didn’t want to use any mordants (the material that binds color to fabric) that were harmful to the environment or me since that is exactly what I was experimenting to avoid. I discovered that alum and cream of tartar (sold at the grocery store and used as a food ingredient) would work for my experiment and it wouldn’t take much.
I found two large pans and filled them with enough water to cover the fabric in one and to cover smashed down plant material in the other.

Shows the plant being boiled to produce dye

Plant material is steaming away

Fabric in water with mordant

Fabric in mordant

I bought a couple yards of 100 percent cotton muslin and split it into three pieces. In one I put a teaspoon of alum, 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar and one of the fabric pieces.In the other pot I put my gathered plant material. My first experiment used Joe pye weed. I had read this lovely purple flower would actually make green dye but I went ahead anyway. I gently boiled the fabric and the plant material in their separate pots for about 90 minutes. Then I turned everything off and went to bed. In the morning I ran the water wit the plant material through a cheesecloth covered sieve (actually in tis case my sieve was an old curtain I found in a cupboard). I put the fabric in this water which was now green and boiled gently for another hour. I stirred occasionally and then let it sit for several more hours. I poured off the water and rinsed the fabric with more water until the water didn’t have color in it. I had a nice light green fabric color. I hung it to dry and then repeated the process with the goldenrod and was delighted with the pale yellow result.At that point I thought I was done but then discovered two quart jars of dried sour cherries that were way past the period of safe eating so I poured those in and started the same process again. The result was a subtle red brown.

Bucket of Natural Dye

Bucket of Natural Dye

Not what I was hoping for but the drying process and age may have removed some color.I will try it again because it was an interesting process. When you go through this exercise you can see how dyeing fabric has he potential to be a toxic and water intensive process.Some companies in the industry use dyes and mordants which are toxic. There is a history of leftover dye water being dumped straight back into the environment without treatment.Thoughtful companies today are making an effort to use less toxic chemicals and reuse water and dyes. The way our clothes and home goods get their color is yet another elephant in the room that needs to be considered and addressed for the textile industry to be sustainable.As consumers we can do our part by buying only what we need, seeking out responsible color production and keeping our clothes in good shape for as long as possible.

Color and Sustainability

Color and Sustainability

How can finding your color help you with a sustainable wardrobe?

  • It will be easier to avoid impulse shopping by not buying colors that are not good for you
  • It will help you edit your closet by only keeping those things you love in colors that look great
  • You will have more free time because your colors will mix and match. A sustainable life also means having time to enjoy life.

The history of the fashion industry and color has not always been pretty and it is still complicated. In Victorian times Paris green was created using arsenic. Paris green was a lovely color used in garments, paint and wallpaper. If you haven’t already figured this out, arsenic is toxic. Not only were wearers at risk but the workers and artists who needed to work closely with these materials were poisoned as well. Buzzfeed wrote a short article on Paris Green that you can read here .

That is not to say that there is not still trouble in the fashion industry with color. It is cheaper and easier for fashion companies to farm out production of textiles and dying to large dyehouses and unless you have an industry representative and chemical engineer there watching every step you can’t claim to be sustainable with color (or even no color – because bleaching is involved). To begin to be sustainable, dyes have to be non toxic to workers and the environment. Water used in the dying process should be recycled and it definitely needs to be purified before being discharged into the environment.

Clothing that is produced using environmental and worker friendly dye techniques will cost more. The cost is justified. Most of us (myself included) have enough in our closets to keep us clothed for many more years. As part of my quest to be a sustainable stylist I hope to learn more about companies that walk their talk and produce clothing made with sustainable technique that is designed to last for years.

Eileen Fisher has an eco certified line that is worth a look. This beautiful washable silk top is an example.

Think natural dyes are the answer? Maybe in some cases but the growing, harvesting and processing of plants uses water and arable land as well as mordants that are not scaleable for the current level of  fashion consumption.

If your budget is constrained don’t settle for fast fashion. Make carefully considered choices from consignment or thrift stores that will take items out of the waste chain. If you buy new, think carefully before picking up that $10 top made from polyester. We and the places we buy from should be considering our impact on people and places around the world. The easiest way to do that is reduce what you consume. Knowing your colors is a first step.