My latest score

Silk bias cut dress dyed with red and yellow onion skins.
Silk bias cut dress dyed with red and yellow onion skins.

One of my favorite materials to dye with onion skins. Red and yellow will both work. Sometimes I use them together. I use a fair amount of onions when cooking and I generally save the skins in a ziplock bag. If I save anything wet (like the ends) I will put them in the freezer. Depending on the amount of fabric you are dyeing you may need to save up quite a bit of dye material.

onion skins*Pro Tip* When I’m grocery shopping and I notice that they are restocking the onions I will usually ask if I can have all the extra skins. They are always happy to give them to me and I end up walking away with a big ‘ol bag of skins! Score! Bonus tip: you can also ask the deli counter if they have any skins to give you. Just please be respectful of the people around you, don’t bother them at the lunch rush and don’t cut in line.

Stay tuned for a lesson on how to use onion skins to beautifully (and permanently) color your textiles.

**UPDATE** Today at the grocery store, I saw that they were restocking the red cabbage, one of my favorite dyes. When they do so they remove all the loose outer leaves. I asked if I could have them for my dyes but after conferring with a colleague, the person I asked said no, they don’t give that away. I was a little taken aback. I’ve never been denied before (though this is the first time I have asked about cabbage.) I have a cold and so I wasn’t in the mood to find out why or to ask if I could buy the trimmings. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

My journey thus far…

Since deciding that I want to have children sometime in the near future, I am trying to remove all chemical products from my life. Call it a cleanse of sorts. I want to set up my hypothetical, future child to have the best chances possible (not to mention, create a healthier environment for Chris, myself and said child to live in).

My journey to clean up my life really officially started about three years ago when I took a class on sustainable design at UC Davis. I already was a big recycler and was already conscious of most of the things I put in my body. My mom and my aunt, Peggy inspired my interest in nutrition; I read nearly ALL ingredient labels before buying new foods. But not until taking this particular class did I realize just how pervasive chemicals are in our lives. It can be overwhelming to think about not to mention downright scary. My list of ingredients to avoid keeps on growing. I’ve found that the best strategy is to just do things the old fashioned way: at home, by hand, from scratch. This means more cooking, gardening, and sewing, which just so happen to be things I love to do.

Silk chiffon dyed with persimmon leaves and pennies.
Silk chiffon dyed with persimmon leaves and pennies.

UC Davis was also where I learned to dye with plants and minerals. We were so lucky to have Sasha Duerr from Permacouture Institute teach a guest lecture in my surface design class. From that moment I was sold; I “drank the Kool-Aid” as my professor put it. I had known for years that I wanted to be a clothing designer but that day helped to cement in my mind that I wanted to design clothing that was as good for the Earth as it was for the wearer.

I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and I have probably bought every book there is on natural dyeing and sustainable fashion. Learning to dye with plants has been one of the most exciting and rewarding things I have done in my life. It feels so good to make something beautiful that is inspired by and made from nature. I hope to be able to share some of that knowledge with you as well as my excitement for eco-fashion. Hopefully you’ll “drink the Kool-Aid” too.

What is Eco Fashion?

Ah! the six million dollar question. I get asked this all the time and it is somewhat hard to nail down. Sustainability means different things to different people and there are so many issues wrapped up in the production of a single piece of clothing. Chemicals used to make (or grow) the textiles and dyes, fair labor practices, shipping, textile waste, and supporting local economies and manufacturing are just a few of the topics I hope to explore going forward. I’ve found that it helps to think about which changes you can make to have the most impact. For example, small efforts, like mending your clothing instead of throwing it out and replacing it, can have a big impact on reducing textile waste in landfills.

People certainly have different priorities when it comes to the impact they have on the world, for example some choose not to wear any animal products. Opting for “vegan leather” (a term that makes me cringe) instead of the real deal. As a proud carnivore I know, for example, that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry and it would be wasteful to not use it. The fake stuff is made from plastic, not a good alternative in my book, and it falls apart much quicker than leather which can last a lifetime if cared for properly.  That being said, I recognize that there are a great deal of caustic chemicals used in traditional leather tanning and that the process could be improved greatly. There are greener alternatives out there.

My bottom line is that we should stop creating so much “stuff” and the stuff we do make should me made in a mindful way; fair labor, quality materials, no chemicals, and it should be made to last. There are certainly different approaches to making this happen.

One way to stop creating more stuff is to buy vintage or used clothes. I think it’s super fun to dig through racks at a local thrift store or go into a resale store to trade in a bag of clothes for something “new.” I have a friend who goes every week to buyselltrade, yes all one word, so she has tons of variety in her wardrobe.

Supporting local manufacturing is one more piece of the puzzle. I am fortunate to live in a city with a vibrant art and fashion scene so when I can I buy locally made clothing, jewelry and other gifts (not to mention food and booze). As a designer, I know the blood, sweat and tears (and love, laughs and wine) that go into making that dress or pair of earrings. Bonus points for not having to have it shipped from a sweatshop halfway around the world. Need somewhere to start? Hop over to Etsy and search for artists in your town.

Ideally I would wear all natural fibers, grown organically. But what about recycled polyester, you may ask? I have really mixed feelings about this. The fact that polyester is so prevalent in our wardrobes is a big problem. It’s made from toxic plastic which ends up in landfills and in our oceans. On the other hand recycling is GREAT! And polyester is a great example of UPcycling, turning a waste product (like plastic bottles) into something with greater value. Buying recycled products is an awesome way to show manufacturers that you believe in what they are doing and it encourages more recycling. It’s the the all important final step in that old saying we learned in elementary school: Recycle, Reduce and Close the Loop. In my dream world if we must continue to make polyester (which makes you sweat and stink) it should all be from recycled materials.

Please know that I have barely scratched the surface on this issue and I am by no means perfect in my purchasing habits, but each day I try to do more and more in my mission to eliminate the bad and increase the good. I’d love to hear what eco fashion means to you and what you are doing to green your wardrobe.