Sunday, January 26, 2014

Clothes and the dye pot

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I have so many clothes.  Way too many.  Almost all of them are thrifted, and what happens to me in the thrift store is that everything seems so affordable as to be practically free, so I buy at will and then the dresser drawers won’t close.  I cull the wardrobe twice a year, but it still gets so out of hand that I honestly forget what’s in there, and trying to figure out what to wear becomes an expedition into the unknown.  For so long, I’ve wanted one of those French wardrobes, where you have twelve wonderfully made pieces that fit and flatter and feel good, and all match each other, and that. Is. What. You. Wear.  I think what happens in the store is that I try, with each new thing, to inch closer to that ideal, and that I am trading up, but really, I just end up with too many black skirts, a lot of things that are close to just right but not quite, and a lot of stuff that doesn’t match anything else I have.  The other thing is that I have hit that age where the ol’ body is shaped differently than it used to be, and I figured out that the only person who might care about that at all is me.  I take myself by the hand, say, You’ve still got it, sister, to the me in the mirror, and learn how to dress again, because wearing what I always wore would be like expecting my mom to keep wearing her poodle skirts.  Inspired by the fabulous Jessica at scrumdillydilly and her Capsule Wardrobe adventure, I decided to tackle my clothes. 

The first thing I did was to put all of it on the bed.  It was sobering.  So much stuff.  I sorted it into two families—brown and black.  If I came across something that didn’t look good with either one—I’m wearing brown pants, will I put this with it?  How about black pants?  No?—then I ruthlessly donated it, and that included more than a few of my handknits.  They didn’t make me happy, so I let them go.  If something didn’t fit, flatter, or feel good, out it went.  There was still a lot left, the clothes I do like.  The next step was to bring some order to the situation, so I bought some RIT dye (black and pearl gray) and designated the most beat-up soup pan in the cupboard as the new dye pot. 

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There is so much information out there about how to do this, and I read most of it, and a lot of it contradicts itself, which can make this process seem dangerous, but I didn’t have much to lose here.  I had already weeded out six huge grocery bags of clothes to donate, and the clothes I decided to dye were going with them unless I could make them work for me somehow.  The shirt at the top of the pile fits beautifully and makes me feel good, but it had faded over time, becoming uneven and blotchy.  The linen skirt underneath was embroidered in peach and green flowers—interesting, but uninspired, and I had never worn it.  There was more—the same (comfy, flattering) shirt in both salmon and turquoise (so I never wore them).  Lots and lots of white things.  Things I wanted to rescue. 

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I put on an apron and rubber gloves, and boiled things one at a time in my pot (which will never again be used for food), stirring with a dye-pot dedicated spoon, mostly according to the package directions and using salt to help the dye penetrate the fibers and a pre-dunk in washing soda to help set the color, using black for some things and gray for others, depending on my whim.  Some pieces used a whole package of dye, some only half.  I was experimenting.  The results I got were sort of thrilling.  Stuff turned out anywhere from deeply, richly black (the favorite shirt, yay!) or pale lavender, probably depending on where it was in the order, how long I left it in the dye, the precise water temperature, and most likely a lot of other factors.  Dyeing is a chemical process, and I understand literally nothing about chemistry.  It looks like there’s a lot of disappointment out there with the occasional purple-ish results from RIT dye, but that purpley-gray is a color I like, so I am not unhappy.  Also, there was some variation in the evenness of the dye, resulting occasionally in something that looked, well, hand-dyed, which is beautifully interesting.  I think that happened because it was too big for the pot, or maybe I didn’t stir it enough, I don’t know.  But I sort of love it.

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Look at that skirt now.  Now, it is something I want to wear.  Huge success.  I hung it all to dry on a rack in front of the fire, and looking at it there, I thought That could be my capsule wardrobe.  Right there.  Score.

17 comments:

  1. Great post Kristen. Cleaning out the closet and dresser drawers is so daunting. I once read that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. So it makes sense to get rid of some of it. I used to do better at coordinating my wardrobe when I was younger. Now I'm just all over the place.
    I went to Scrumdillidilly's blog to check it out. I seriously want her red gingham smock. I'm obsessed with smock/aprons lately.
    Looks like your dye job was a success. That purple/gray color is pretty, kind of Alabama Chanin style.

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  2. Well done you for weeding things out that you don't want or need or use! I am sure that someone else will give them a home or repurpose them in some way!! xx

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  3. I do that when my jeans get faded and my white shirts are not longer white but I use a machine wash dye, I wouldn't trust myself not to drip that all over the floor!! Jo x

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  4. You're so brave I don't think I would have the courage to dye things on my own even if it seemed simple! Well done you!

    - J

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  5. I've got this comfortable, modest cotton blouse that I never wear because it is white. I look awful in white! I'm dyeing it pronto!

    Are you a minimalist at heart? I think I am. I dream of having the fewest possible things in the sparest possible living quarters. Hard to live that way when you have a family though. Everyone has their own particular stuff that they just can't part with.

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  6. Oh my goodness! This is the situation with my wardrobe. So many thrifty finds I have bought for pennies, but never worn.
    Might just have to tackle it this week...
    Sarah xx

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  7. I'd love one of those wonderful wardrobes too. Your declutter/re-invention sounds brilliant. So glad you have made some favourite things a colour that you love. I'm trying to think what I have that might stand some dyeing...

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  8. Last week I managed to give my clothing a reality check and dropped off a huge bag of clothes to the Salvation Army drop-off near us. My forays into dyeing have not been as satisfying to me, but I hope you continue to enjoy the results of your latest efforts, Kristen :)

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  9. My son is not what you would call an organized person but in high school when we went shopping and I would hold things up he often told me, 'nope.' 'Why?' 'Wrong color.' ???? He bought things that were black, white or olive green or a combination there of. He explained that in the morning it did not matter what he grabbed to wear it would co-ordinate. lol Didn't say he didn't have brains! Helen

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  10. Hahaaa! I've been in the dye pot myself, busy with navys and greens. And all the white fitted sheets is now a light shade-of-something.

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  11. Well done you!!! Inspirational! I'm definitely down-sizing my wardrobe now I wear a uniform to work but I know EXACTLY what you mean about the changing body shape ..... ho hum. x

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  12. Yes, I want scrumdd's gingham smock too. Very much. I also want an easy all co-ordinated wardrobe, but somehow it never works. I hate almost everything I have in my cupboard right now. It's cold and I just pile on stuff to keep warm, but I know I should look better even in the cold! I hope you find all treasures and work them together. Sue. xx

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  13. Bravol Kristen on the transformations and also on the wardrobe editing.

    I am fortunate that my job gives me very, very inexpensive access to some lovely clothes every month. These items accumulate easily as months and years go by, and I actually find it hard to hold on to many of them. Can you imagine such a strange problem as having too many stylish clothes!

    Anyhow, I constantly make donations to a neighborhood charity thrift shop, and try to keep just the items that I truly love to combine in lots of ways. Ages ago, I made all my own clothes, so this current ready-made bit is amazing. It's my knitting that keeps me creating clothing now.

    Oh...on the recycle front, I have ben known to cut up a particular piece and re-use the fabric ... and definitely save good buttons.

    xo

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  14. I have barely enough clothes to get through the week. I think about getting rid of some worn out clothes, and it makes me nervous that then I'll have ONLY enough clothes to get through the week. Congratulations for getting through a mountain of clothes and purging and fixing them up to wear. Wendy x

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  15. OOOh Frances you lucky lucky girl. As a pensioner I haven't had anything stylish in a long time. I scour the charity shops always in the hope.......!!!! Se.

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  17. aack! I'm embarrassed it has taken me so long to hop on over to see this post...i've been checking in with the blog but i missed this! love the skirt! and yes...that funky lavender grey is kinda fun...like a periwinkle almost. i have a few new (old) things to dye and I think this batch will be orange!

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