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Experiments with Painting Fabric

Lately I’ve been intrigued by the idea of painting with natural dyes. My hope and vision is to use natural color to create unique painted fabric using upcycled cloth. I’ve tried working with iron water as color modifier to paint patterns on naturally dyed fabric, but I have not been very successful. The patterns and colors tend to bleed together too much when washed.

After some initial research in Natural Color by Sasha Duerr, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Promagrenate skin dye was up first. I simmered the skins on and off for a day. After straining the liquid from the pulp, I reduced the liquid dye by simmering it again for about an hour. Then I added guar gum to thicken up the paint. I also wanted to change up the color so I added iron to half of the paint.

My pomegranate paint was much more orangey, coral color then I thought it would be. I was expecting it to be much more yellow. Once I started painting, I was pleasantly surprised by how the paint turned bright yellow on the fabric. The fabric was mordanted in aluminum acetate. Watching the color change as a reaction to the mordanted fabric gave me a first hand look at how the mordant effects the dye.

Once washed, the iron paint bleed slightly into the original yellow paint, but the integrity of the design stayed. I also splattered lemon juice on some the fabric. The lemon juice acted as bleach on the natural dye so I was left with an interesting effect on the fabric.

To continue with my experiments, I made paint with avocado pits and tea bags. I used the same technique to make the paint as I did with the pomegranate paint. The avocado dye turned out a very pale coral, pink. In the past I have gotten much deeper pinks from avocado pits so I was surprised by the lack of depth to this dye.

Once washed, the color was altered by the iron. I was pleased by the outcome because it darkened the avocado paint.

As I continue to explore this type of textile art, I have been thinking about other effects the dye could have on the fabric. I wonder if different watercolor techniques that work on paper would work on fabric? What about color mixing? Or combining different dying techniques like shibori and painting? Using different color modifiers besides iron? The possibilities do seem endless as there are lots of questions and ways to play with natural color.

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Textile Abundance

It has been said that the textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to the oil industry. Fast fashion and the desire for “on trend” clothing has doubled the production of clothing over that last 20 years. Many times an article of clothing is worn only 3 or 4 times before it is discarded. The average American consumes 82 pounds of textiles per year and the EPA estimates that textile waste takes up approximately 5% of landfill space. This is discouraging when 95% of textiles can be recycled for other uses; either through second-hand stores or in some new form (pillow stuffing, rags, carpet padding, etc)

There is a huge environmental impact for a single t-shirt. The amount of water used to produce one t-shirt is equivalent to filling 22 bathtubs. That’s a whole lot of water when you realize how much clothing goes unused. Above, you can see just a few of the statistics associated with textile waste. This is only the tip of the iceberg when looking at the problems with the fashion and textile industry.

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Thrifted shirts, cut into pieces to be used for future projects

I have thought a lot about this over the last few months as I have begun trying to create a small business of handmade goods. My focus is to be very intentional about the materials that I use and the products that I make. Through the use of reclaimed materials, I am able to focus on the handmade craft and not the fact that I’m adding one more thing to the over-saturated textile market. With a little bit of creativity and time so much can be found at the thrift store. My goal is to create things that don’t look as if they have been made out of used clothes; transforming the materials into something new and different. My hope is that the end product will be used more and have a longer life than the original piece.

Zippers from thrifted pants

I will not be able to source everything I want to make with materials from the thrift store. When I buy something new I want to try and be responsible about knowing as much as I can about the materials I am purchasing. Is it a 100% natural fiber? Where was it produced and/or grown? How do they treat/pay their employees? I won’t be able to answer all of those questions every time, but making informed choices is a step in the right direction. There are many small companies with a mission to provide quality materials that need support. Through the use of reclaimed materials and responsible brands, I hope to have a small, positive impact on the textile industry and the environment.

Zipper pouches made from upcycled cotton shirts and zippers
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DIY Backpack: A Lesson in Upcycled and Reclaimed Materials

I decided I “needed” a retro style, drawstring backpack. I’m 38 weeks pregnant and I felt that it was the only kind of bag that was going to be useful for quick trips out and about. I love my over the should bags and larger totes, but the straps tend to get in the way when you are babywearing.

I have seen more and more of the retro style backpack bags with modern updates lately. Some are beautifully crafted from leather and others from fabric. I thought I could scour the thrift shops to see what I could find, but that was quickly ruled out when I realized how much walking could be involved (although I will still keep my eyes open for one every time I go to the thrift store).

 

I began to research what I knew I could do…sew.  I searched for different DIY backpack sewing patterns to see if there was anything that would work. I came across many different patterns (I really liked this one  and this one) and I decided I could use the concepts from a variety of styles to come up with a simple pattern for myself.

The next part was more exciting and eye opening. Materials! What did I have on hand to make this bag. Could I make it completely from materials I had in my stash? I’m not talking about pretty fabric I have collected over the years with the intent of someday making something out of it; I’m talking about scraps that I have laying around from previous projects. I also have a stash of old clothes that could have gone to the thrift store, but I kept because I either liked the fabric or some component of the item seemed like it could be useful in the future.  These reclaimed materials would be the base of my DIY backpack.

 

I know this sounds like I’ve got this huge hoarding problem, but really all this fits in one big plastic tub so its not that bad! I love that I can go to this stash and find bits and pieces that can be used to create something new, useful and beautiful.

With my backpack ideas swirling through my head, I went to my stash to see what I had. I knew I had some thicker fabric that I could use for the outer shell and I had a lots of pretty bits that I could create a lining. I was surprised when I found a pair of my husband’s cargo shorts. One of the pockets had a zipper pouch and a snapped pocket. Perfect for the front pocket of the backpack. (Although, now I owe my husband another pair of cargo shorts because apparently they were only in my stash pile because they needed a new button…oops!!)

Once I sorted out which materials could be used, I began to take measurements and think about construction. Once I figured out what needed to be sewn together when, the process went pretty quickly. The one thing that I still need to figure out is how to make the straps adjustable. I could buy a backpack hardware kit or the likes or I could see what I have laying around that might work. Currently a safety pin is doing the job.

What really inspires me about this project are the endless possibilities of upcycled and reclaimed materials. Giving new life to something that people don’t want anymore. Going to the thrift store and looking at clothes, not just for what they are, but what they can become is a very exciting. It really keeps your creative juices flowing.

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Time and Comparison

Time is an interesting thing when you are working in a product based business. People want things now. Instant gratification! I understand; you see something beautiful and the desire to hold it, touch it, use it is immediate. But, how does it look from the makers perspective? Coming up with original, creative ideas takes time. Making the first, second and maybe third prototype takes time. Once you are happy with the final product you need to photograph it and market it…more time.

It’s hard to be on the maker end. The one man factory as such.  People are starting to see the value of handmade goods, but you can still feel like you need to be working faster to keep up with all the beautiful things you see on Instagram or Etsy. How is it that everyone else’s hands seem to work so much faster than yours?

(The start of a little something using upcycled cotton yarn that will be naturally dyed once finished)

How do you keep your focus and not compare yourself to others? This is not a new dilemma. It’s something that others have talked about at length. It comes back to the idea that I want to look at others work and feel inspired, not the overwhelmed. The maker community is so supportive, but sometimes the first thought is to compare yourself. It’s hard to remember that through the lens of a camera people can make their lives seem completely different.  You don’t know what’s going on in the background, just as they don’t know what’s going on in the background of yours.

As more and more people begin to talk about this balance of work and home life, it becomes a little easier to give yourself the time and space to figure out how it works in your own individual life. Giving yourself grace. What gets done, gets done. Being able to focus on the “why” and not the “should” or the “have to”. So, I’m going to make myself some more tea and a few lists of all the ideas in my brain and attempt to give myself some space to focus. And remember, one step at a time!

How do you manage balancing work, time and comparison?

 

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Shop Update

I’m slowly, but surely getting around to updating my shop with new things that I have been working on over the last couple of months. It’s taken me longer then I had wanted it to, but sometimes that’s how things go. I’ve been working on a couple different things, including upcycled wool diaper cover/soakers and hand knit baby bonnets, along with hand dyed pot holders.

Check it out www.goldfinchlimited.etsy.com

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Monday Mornings

We had a beautiful Sunday, filled with knitting, napping, BBQing, fishing, bike riding, and lots and lots of family time. I woke up this morning ready to work on all my current works-in-progress. Trying to decide where to start can always be a little bit of a challenge for me when I’m really enjoying working on each of them.


I am currently working on a few prototypes for hand dyed baby knits and hand dyed/stitched quilts. I’m very excited about the direction these projects are going, but one can only work so fast. I only have two hands. The slow and meditative work allows for love and intention to be worked into each item. It makes me think about my children and how they will use a particular piece. I also think about how other people will care for the pieces that I make and how they will contribute to their family; keeping a little ones head and back warm or creating a comfy nest in the grass on a warm quilt.

I hoping to have a few new pieces done shortly to add to my shop. I’m also looking into other outlets to share my work besides my Etsy shop. We’ll see where that takes me. I’ll keep everyone updated. Enjoy your Monday!!

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Ideas and where to go with them

I have been feeling like I have a million ideas in my head lately. There are so many things I want to make; either original work, trying out a new knitting or sewing pattern, or hacking one of my already owned patterns to make it new and different. I’m trying to balance this with thinking of ways to get my business and my work more visibility (oh, and take care of my family). All of these ideas and thoughts have made it hard to focus. Where do I start? What do I want and/or need the most? Does someone in my family need/or want something? What would customers be interested in? What can I do to get my name out there in a world that is so bombarded with info everyday? I could go on and on.

I want to create useful, beautiful things for myself, my family and others. I would love to be able to help provide for my family through my work. My making provides me with an outlet, both creative and physical. If I’m not doing something with my hands when I’m still, I can feel out-of-place. This is difficult when my mind has so many ideas swirling though it and I have a hard time focusing on my work. Recently, I have finished a few works in progress and it feels nice to have those completed and ready to be listed on Etsy. Clearing my mind and hands of these couple of projects has left some space for my other goals.

I have also started work on a small quilt using hand dyed fabric. It is going to be hand quilted and I’m really looking forward to the slow, meditative work of stitching. I would love for this quilt to be the basis for future work that I could sell. I have been greatly inspired by the work of sugarhouseworkshop.com, folkfibers.com, and saltandstill.com. The work of these women has left me wanting to learn so many new skills to further the depth of my work.




For my making, it is a work in progress, everyday. Making a decision and focusing, knowing that there is no wrong decision. I want to be intentional about my making choices and not just jump into something because I think I have to. I want to make things that will bring myself and others joy.

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Beginnings of Slow Fashion

A few years ago when I started sewing for myself, the motivation was based on the enjoyment of the making process and the speed at which I could have a completed project. I was a knitter and at the time very slow, but I knew the joy of wearing something that you have made for yourself with your own two hands. With sewing, I could create something much quicker, almost instant gratification. It was a magical discovery!

At the time, I knew nothing of the slow fashion movement. I did know that I didn’t like to shop because I was not happy with the ever changing styles and lack of good fit. I hated spending a lot of money on something I could tell was going to fall apart after a couple of wears and I couldn’t afford the really good stuff.

Once I began to sew and knit in much more earnest, I began to follow along with the conversation of slow fashion. I began to understand why I had such a dislike for fast fashion. There was a reason the clothing would fall apart so fast and why it seemed like I could never keep up with the latest and greatest. I began to see that I wanted to know more about where my clothing came from and that I wanted to hold on to what I already had longer.  Thrifting and mending took on a whole new meaning, not just that I couldn’t spend the money on new clothes, but that I wanted things to last and to give a  new home to items that had a lot of life left in them.

I started looking at my crafting practices and the materials that I was using.  I was really thinking about how I would use a garment once it was made and how does fit into my lifestyle. What was I most comfortable in and how I do I like to wear clothes? When I really started to think about this and pay attention to what I already had, it helped to reduce the desire to just cast on the next cute sweater or cut out a cute top. The question was will I wear this regularly? Do I have something similar? Would my time be better spent thrifting or fixing something to fit that hole in my wardrobe?

All of this also began to form other desires for my making. I wanted to participate in the slow fashion movement beyond just for myself. Could I take my skills and create things others could wear and love too? This is something that I have been contemplating over the last few months.

Recently, I was able to finish up two pieces that are the beginning of this undertaking. A simple tunic dress made from linen that I dyed myself. This tunic dress is flattering for a variety of body styles and can be worn on a variety of occasions.

The second piece is a cotton scarf/wrap that is a perfect transition piece for the spring. I dyed the cotton and used Shibori resist techniques to create  the pattern on the fabric. This piece also has a variety of uses, from scarf to wrap to swaddle blanket and nursing cover, etc. Creating things that have multiple uses means that our resources go further.


You can check out both of these items in my shop. Custom orders are always welcome, just let me know.