My Garden: a Work in Progress

gardeningLike many, I grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie series and it made a real impression on me. I still find it astounding that in our county’s infancy, under the homestead act, you could just go and build a house somewhere and that land became yours. The notion of self sufficiency, living off the land and growing your own food has always enchanted me. After years of living in apartments, I have finally moved into a place with some dirt of my own. One of my goals is to grow a significant portion of the produce my family needs and to do it consistently. I hope to share what I learn along the way so that we can all lead more self sufficient lives, free from chemical pesticides and mad scientist genetic engineering.

Garden BeforeSo without further ado, here it is, my garden this year. Let’s call this the “before” picture. I have kale left over from last year (score!) and some thyme. Oh! and weeds! yay! I’ll deal with them soon, I promise. My major accomplishment so far: I’ve torn out a bunch of mint. Don’t get me wrong, I love mint but it is super invasive. Seriously, this plant does not mess around. My dad warned me about this some time ago and like everything he tells me, I had to experience it for myself before just taking his word for it. This time however, I wasn’t the one who planted it. The mint came with the garden. When we moved in just about exactly two years ago the garden consisted of mint. period. I ripped out a bunch of it to make room for all the vegetables I wanted to plant. Fortunately it hasn’t strangled out anything yet, but I can’t get rid of it. Every time I pull weeds there are new little mint sprouts, super far away from the mother ship. I pull them out along with their roots leading back to from whence they came. Devil plants! (sort of) but boy, do they smell good when you yank them out. Heed my warning: only plant mint in containers!

Beds being prepped for asparagus etc.

Chris and I moved to Portland two years ago to a place with the first thing we could call a “real” garden since moving in together. The first spring we were here I bought some asparagus to plant. Asparagus is another one of those “where has this been all my life?!” vegetables. After reading about growing asparagus on Pinterest I learned that it takes a whole year to establish itself so you can’t harvest it until the second year. Two years ago I didn’t know whether or not we’d be living in the same house in a year so I didn’t plant it. (the “crowns” I bought died by the time I tried to plant them the next year) Two years later, it looks like we’ll be her for a while. We seriously lucked out on this house. The location is incredible.

asparagus startsI bought asparagus starts again this year and have one of my beds all ready for them. Stay tuned (as in a year from now) to see how they turn out. Seriously, can you stand the suspense?

This year I also plan to plant snow peas, which did well for me last year, and brussels sprouts (another of my new-found favorites.)  I love being able to wander out my back door and grab a handful of herbs or veggies to go in whatever dish I am cooking. I’d really like to grow a substantial ammount of all the produce we eat. A double whammy carbon reduction if I eliminate having ship food from who-knows-where and having to drive to the store.

I am also going to plant a dye garden. There are so many beautiful colors you can get from plants and I’m hoping to get as much mileage as possible out of the limited space I have in my yard.

[Just checked the seeds I still have left over from last year, there are more than I thought. I’ll let you know how it goes]

These are a few of my favorite things:

I love all kinds of stuff. Plain and simple. Music, wildflowers, spring blossoming trees. Part of my game plan for more intentional living is to deeply appreciate the small things, dwell on the day to day, wallow in the wonderful. Dirt under your fingernails, innocuous spiders scurrying around in the garden. Blackberry picking, hot tea, the smell of an old book. And to go out searching for more beautiful experiences. Cool breezes, sunshine, campfires. I just want to feel good all the time and I believe that comes from connecting with nature and the people and things around you. Disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with what is real, tangible, touchable, smellable. Each week I will share a few of my favorite things with you (Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music being among them) in an effort to take a moment to reflect and revel in the things that make me feel truely happy.

You know that thing where you’re just going about your life and you come across something that makes you say, “Man, I LOVE grapefruit!” or “OMG, where has arugula been all my life” (or whatever it might be?) I’m gonna write about it, dwell on it. I want to make that moment last as long as I can.

To tell you the truth, I am a rather cynical person most of the time. It’s not something I am particularly proud of and I would love nothing more than to try to increase the positivity in my life. My paternal grandfather (who passed away the day after my birthday this year, at the age of 89) was part of the Optimist International club. As a teenager I remember receiving a plaque of the “Optimist Creed” on my 18th birthday, just like all my older cousins had before me, and thinking it was “nice” and “cute” while rolling my eyes. I read it once an stuffed it in a drawer. Now, at the ripe old age of 31, I have learned the value of slowing down and being thankful for things, of looking for the good in life, focusing on the positive, the little things. Though I viewed it as cheesy in my youth I now see appreciate its wisdom.

The Optimist Creed

Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

I love fresh air. Walking along a creek in the woods and smelling the pine, the dirt. Dirt smells SO good. Seriously, so good. Have you smelled dirt lately? Do it! It’s so good. I’m telling you, little things like that are where. it’s. at.

Tune in each week for the little things that I am groovin’ on at any given moment. And don’t forget to stay tuned in to the insignificant pleasures in your life. Like listening to “Such Great Heights” with headphones. Yeah, the percussive feeling right at the beginning when it alternates ears. That.

 

A trip to SCRAP

a look at SCRAP in Portland, OR
SCRAP – It’s like a thrift store for crafts!

The first step in starting my clothing line is cleaning out my sewing room so that I have a functional space to work. Going through boxes of old fabric acquisitions, scraps, and unfinished projects was really difficult process at first. I didn’t know where to start and I have a hard time throwing things away so I tend to just move things from pile to pile. I feel bad being wasteful and contributing further to our landfills. I keep bits of things, thinking someday I will turn them into something – a quilt, a bag, stuffed animal. All the ideas I had when I first obtained said random piece of fabric rush back to me. The thing is: I am in all likelihood NOT going to turn all this random fabric into some great work of art. But someone might.

Here in Portland there is a magical place where I can donate my odds and ends so that they can make their way to some crafter that will actually put them to use.

SCRAP is nonprofit organization whose mission is “to inspire creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior by providing educational programs and affordable materials to the community.”

And it’s a wonderland of goodies and craft supplies, all donated, all diverted from the garbage. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend stopping in (also go to the ReBuilding Center, it’s the same kind of thing but for building supplies)

So I loaded up my trunk and headed to SCRAP. When I arrived, much to my chagrin, I saw that they were not accepting donations because they are moving! All the way across the river (it’s not really that far, I’m just complaining) Looks like I will have to haul around my donation for a few weeks.

I did however find some fun stuff. I wound up with a super retro 1977 book on Tatting, in all its earth-toned glory and a calendar from the Union of Concerned Scientist featuring entertaining cartoons about science deniers. Score!

Look for an update about SCRAP’s new location, later this month.

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.