Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Simple Wardrobe, Part 4 - A Sort-of-Tutorial


Well, I didn't really think I'd be sharing my color palette photo when I made it, so it's a little less than stellar.  Sorry about that.  But, it serves it's purpose.

When it comes to simplifying my wardrobe (google things like: minimalist wardrobe), I've been researching other people's blog posts for quite some time now.  Almost all of them talk about choosing a cohesive color scheme.  That way, all of your clothes match so you're able to get the maximum amount of outfits from the minimum amount of clothing.  I'm not sure that my wardrobe will qualify as a minimalist wardrobe, even when I'm done with it, but it still seems like this color scheme idea could apply to me.

It was one of the hardest things for me to get on board with, but I kept reminding myself how difficult the 3 jumpers (sorry, everything goes back to that one experience, doesn't it?) experience was, because I didn't think it through very well and decided to do a black, a gray, and a brown jumper.  Well, lots of things might match with black and gray, but not all of those same things match with brown.  And while lots of things might match with brown, they don't all match with black (navy blue, anyone?).  Thankfully, I was a foreigner in Korea, so everything I did was inexplicable and it didn't particularly matter what I wore.

So, this time, I wanted to really bite the bullet and get a color scheme going.  Unfortunately, that is not as easy as it sounds!  You can't just pick your favorite color and go from there.  You also can't just pick a bunch of random colors.

I did know that I wanted to minimize black.  With the 3 jumpers, the black one faded enough that I didn't appreciate it, and it was also incredibly hot in the summer.  To the point that it wasn't worth wearing.  So, I may make a black dress, but it won't be one that I will wear every day.

No black then.

That left brown, white/cream, gray and navy blue as my neutrals.  And olive-ish green, too, I guess.

Then I thought: I'm choosing a color palette!  Why not pick an inspiration picture?

Nerdy, yes.  Effective?  Also yes.

I googled "art", went to "images", and selected the blue colored box as a filter because I knew I wanted at least one blue dress.

I came up with Van Gogh's A Starry Night.  It works for me for several reasons.  It's got a lot of neutrals with very little black if you look closely.  It also has yellow, which is my all-time favorite color and I wear it quite a bit in fact.  Both of my favorite sweaters are yellow.

So, I ended up with a color palette that works with what I already have.  And I think that's the hardest part.  Trying to figure out the essential pieces in your wardrobe that you most love, and how they might fit together into one cohesive color palette.

Once I'd done that, I bought the book I've been saving up all of SwagBucks for!  Simple Modern Sewing.  Yes, I paid for almost the whole thing (except for $1.47) with SwagBucks!

The book was originally in Japanese (Japanese fashion is just to die for, imo) and it's been translated, but it's still a little different than an American pattern/pattern book, from what I've read.  Apparently, it doesn't factor your seam allowances in, so you have to do that yourself.  But even more importantly, the patterns are very, very small.  As in, the largest size is comparable to a 4-6 American size. I'm going to figure it out and make it work for myself because I want this wrap dress!

I'm sure I could make it without this particular pattern, but why try?  I love this one so much.

For more pictures from this lovely book, go to the Interweave Press website.

I was going to share some fabric choices I've been looking at and discuss the benefits of prints vs. solids in clothing (when you're as clumsy and disastrous with food/drinks/paint/everything as I am!), but I think I'll save that for tomorrow!  For now, I leave you with this lovely dress and the admonition to go create a color palette for your closet!  It's not necessarily easy, but find an inspiration picture, either online or in a magazine, and then use some paints, or cut up some magazine pages to pull your favorite colors out of that picture.  It
actually helped me quite a bit when thinking about what I needed/wanted in a wardrobe.

Now, I need to go do some other decluttering.  Have a very pretty Wednesday!



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Simple Wardrobe, Part 3 - A Sort-of-Tutorial

On Thursday, I had some time and so I did a quick sweep through my closet and drawers, pulling out what I absolutely know I don't need.  Since I'd been thinking about it for a few days, I had a few pieces in mind and I tried to not look at or think about them much as I threw them in the bag for the goodwill.

When going through your wardrobe, a lot of people seem to use the "throw out what you haven't worn in the last 3-6 months" trick.  I love this and I would totally use it, except that I've always been someone who does wear all of her clothes.  That is not my problem.  I  naturally gravitate toward having a large wardrobe because I love having a wide selection of things to choose from.  I'm creative and putting together colorful and exciting outfits is really fun for me.  Sometimes I'm feeling vintage, sometimes I'm feeling bohemian, or modern.. sometimes my outfits end up looking a little like a hobo in a box of melting crayons...  but I have a lot of fun with it.

Because the problem isn't that I don't wear all my clothes, but that I don't need all the clothes that I wear, I have to weed out even some of the clothes I might wear on a semi-regular basis.  Does this feel wasteful?  Yes, but if you're giving them to charity, it isn't actually wasteful, it just feels that way.  And anyway, doesn't it make my life feel more manageable by cutting down on laundry, creating a cleaner closet, and freeing up drawer space?  Yes, it does, and that is the best thing in the world.

My other problem is: What to do with that creative streak?  One problem I had during the 3 jumpers experience was that sometimes I didn't feel like I had a wide enough selection to choose from (perhaps because I didn't!).  Sometimes I just wanted to wear something crazy and fun!  That's one reason I'm trying to come up with a wardrobe that has a little more variety than just 3 jumpers.  Because, while most of the time I just want to get up in the morning and not have to think about what to wear, for a small portion of the time, I really want something fun to wear.  And that small portion of the time is part of what drove me off the rails the last time.

I need variety, so with that in mind, I'm going to keep a few of my favorite fun and crazy outfits.  Complete with vintage suspenders and bobby socks.  I'm hoping that having a couple of my favorite
"fun" outfits will keep sane.

However, I really am happy to wear one of three or four dresses most days of the week.  Like with the 3 jumpers experience, I like dresses.  If they're long enough (and they are when I make them myself), I can move in them, I can get housework done, they don't cling and they're cool and airy in the summer.  I also found that, with jumpers, it was nice because the T-shirt underneath was the part that sat right against my body, so even if I was kind of sweaty and gross by the end of the day, I could usually still wear the jumper again without having to wash it, because it hadn't been up against my skin.

Is that gross?  Oh, well.

I also know that we don't attend church, as such, on a regular basis which means that I don't need a lot of dressy clothes.  For the most part, it's me and the mister at home, or I'm at school (did you know kids are going to school in their pajamas now?), or just hanging out with family.  None of these, for me, requires super fancy clothing.  That is not to say that I want to look grungy all the time, because I like to look clean and well kept, I just don't need fancy clothes to do that.

Anyway, with all of this in mind, I've come up with the following list:


Main Wardrobe:
  • wool coat
  • wool hat, scarf, mittens
  • wool cardigan
  • cotton cardigan
  • 3-4 short sleeved dresses
  • 1-2 dressy dresses (for special occasions, like weddings)
  • 1 pair of nice jeans
  • 1 pair of junk jeans + 1 junk T-shirt (for dirty around-the-house projects)
  • 1 blouse (to go with the nice jeans)
  • 1 black turtleneck
  • underwear (10-14 pairs)
  • 7 pairs wool socks
  • 2-3 pairs cotton ankle socks
  • 1 half slip
  • 2 pairs of leggings
  • 2 pairs of pajama pants
  • 2 pajama tops (T-shirts)
  • 1 pair of every day shoes
  • 1 pair of dressy shoes
  • 1 pair of slip-on sandals


Fun and crazy clothes:

  • 2 long skirts
  • 2 cotton cardigans
  • 2 blouses
  • suspenders
  • 1 leather belt
  • 1 pair tights


Possible additions:
  • 1 long sleeved dress in place of one of the short sleeved ones
  • another black turtleneck
  • 1 pair of every day jeans
  • summer pajama bottoms

I know, I know. It doesn't look like a very small wardrobe. But to me, it does! I'm going to keep my fun/crazy clothes in the spare room closet, along with anything from the "possible additions" list that I decide to keep around. This way, if I want or need something, it's still there, but I'm also getting used to working with a smaller selection again and, better yet, getting used to the feeling of owning less. Because that is a good feeling!

From those lists above, this is the list of things I need to make or buy:


  • 3-4 short sleeved wrap dresses
  • 3-5 tank tops/camisoles
  • underwear
  • 2 leggings
  • 3-4 wool socks


To me, that seems like a fairly small list of things to make and buy. I'll make the dresses, but in my experience, a simple dress doesn't take long: 3-4 hours at most.  I'm going to share with you some of the patterns I've been looking at tomorrow. I'm also going to experiment with making my own tank tops (I usually wear a camisole under any dress I wear) and see how that goes. Wool socks I make whenever I get around to them. And I'll probably buy the underwear and leggings, although I may try to make leggings as well.

Because I've carefully planned this out, none of these purchases or "to make" items are urgent, so I can take my time and build my wardrobe slowly, once I've cleaned out everything else that I don't need. For now, that's all. Tomorrow, I'm going to post the color scheme I've come up with, as well as some fabric choices and patterns I've been looking at for the dresses.

I hope your week is going very well!


Monday, March 19, 2012

The Simple Wardrobe, Part 2 - A Sort-of-Tutorial

I've spent the last few days thinking...

about how to execute this major closet overhaul.  During this time, I've made about a hundred lists (okay, maybe ten) and tried to take every possible variable into consideration.

I'm concerned because I've made these sorts of wardrobe changes before (like with the 3 jumpers, as well as other various, unnamed failures), and it always ends up falling apart.  Still, all those failures have given me some insight into what doesn't work for me.  And that's a place to start, isn't it?

You may want to start there, too.

What about your wardrobe doesn't work for you?

For me, it's all about comfort.  I don't do too-short sleeves, a too-tight bust or waist, a too-low neckline, too-short skirts or too-long skirts for that matter.  I try to steer clear of synthetic fabrics that make me too hot and too cold.  I don't like too-small shoes, shoes I need to extensively "break-in", or shoes that give me blisters.  I don't do shoes that won't (relatively) easily slip off and on.  Or, at least, I don't do very many pairs of them like I always try to.  Bras that dig into my underarms have to go, too, and so does silly underwear that I never wear because we've been married for a couple years now and, let's just be honest, the silly underwear isn't going to come out again this side of a mid-life crisis.  I also hate flannel pajama pants.  They're too thin to be warm and they ride up in bed.  Plus, they wear out super quick.

What are the pet peeves you have about your clothing?  Write them down if you need to.  I was surprised to find out that, although I already knew everything in that list above of what I do and don't like, I still had at least one piece in my wardrobe that committed each of these crimes.  When I wrote them down, I finally realized just how much some things bother me.  I also realized that it's all too easy to rationalize to myself that, "this waistline isn't that tight," and "I love these shoes, they really aren't too small," when I'm at the store and feeling adventurous and excitable, but I still won't wear those things more than once or twice when I get them home.  So, I've made a real commitment to be realistic with myself and to recognize that there are some things I am not willing to compromise on, because those things are costing me money that does not grow on trees, especially in this recession.

If you want to, make that list and then put it in your wallet where you can refer back to it when you go clothes shopping.  Maybe it will help you to better evaluate your future purchases.

All right.  Now that we know what we don't want, let's figure out what we do want.  For me this was...






Comfort

I am sensitive to fabrics.  The clothes I wear most are made of natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen because I simply like the way they feel against my skin.  Synthetics like polyester don't breathe.  They also conduct heat, which means that when it's hot outside, they bring the heat even closer to your skin and when it's cold outside, they conduct the heat away from your body.  I find I'm almost always either too hot or too cold when I'm wearing synthetics (which is too sad because so many of my favorite vintage clothes are made of that infamous 1960's polyester), so they have got to go.

I also want clothes that will breathe in the summer.  I tend to get pretty hot in the summer and the Mister and I try to keep the a/c to a minimum, so short sleeves are a must in order to keep cool.  As are either short pants or skirts.


Things to think about: Get into your closet and pull out a couple of your favorite outfits.  You know, the ones you go back to again and again and again.  The outfits that make you feel sexy and the ones that make you feel cute, even the ones that are most comfortable.  Pay attention to what these clothes are made of: cotton, rayon, polyester, wool?  Also, pay attention to the texture of the fabrics.  Do you prefer clothes to be soft and comfortable above all else?  Maybe you don't like slippery or slinky fabrics, or maybe you don't like stiff fabrics?


Now, consider the weather patterns where you live.  Do you need winter clothes as well as summer clothes?  Is there some way to bring into your wardrobe pieces that can move from summer to winter while still keeping you comfortable?  Be creative!  I'm thinking of incorporating dresses back into my wardrobe to mimic the 3 jumpers experience.  I actually really enjoyed having a set of clothing that could be worn in summer (with a T-shirt, bare legs and sandals) and also in winter (with a long sleeved shirt, wool sweater, leggings and wool socks).  It kept the core pieces of my wardrobe to a minimum, but still allowed me to be comfortable and have enough to wear.






Modesty

I'm not going to lie and tell you this is a huge motivating factor for me, but it is present in my mind as I think about my clothing.  For one, it has to do with comfort.  I, as an individual, am less comfortable when I feel like my shirt is too low cut, or my skirt is too short.  I spend so much time pulling my neckline up and my hemline down that I don't have time to enjoy what I'm doing.

I also feel like, somehow, making myself mindful of how I appear to those outside my home (and outside my husband), makes me more mindful of my actions as well.  If I'm paying attention, trying to look like the person I want to be (I don't mean this to say that people should somehow spend more time worrying about how they look -- women, especially, I'm just not sure how else to word it), then I might be more attentive to my actions as well.  For me, it's something that holds value and meaning.  I don't want to do it because I think it's what God wants, or because I think it's what my husband wants (I don't honestly think he has much to say one way or the other), or because I'm worried what others will think. I simply want to do it as a means of improving myself as a person.  That is not to say that it's something everyone will feel they need to do, it's just something I want to pay attention to in my own life.

Since we've been home from Korea, my necklines have slipped lower and lower and it's not that this bothers me on a moral level, and not even exactly on a spiritual level, as such.  But it does bother me on a personal level.  I want to be different than that.  It's not a wrong thing, or a bad thing, but it's not my thing.  It's not something I want.  Just like I want a simple life, and so I cut out the junk, I also want a modest life and so my seriously scooped necks need to go, too.

Things to Think About: What motivates your wardrobe choices?  Are you thinking about how you look because you're worried what others will think?  Try to point yourself in the right direction by thinking about where you want your life to go in the next year, in the next five years, even the next ten years.  Can you build a wardrobe that will get you there?


Think about your wardrobe choices, which are somewhat frivolous and not incredibly important in the grand scheme of things, I'll give you that.  But which also may have a greater impact on you, as a person, than you realize.  To expand upon my own example of modesty, when I dress more modestly, I feel better about myself.  I feel like I am somehow protecting, covering, my femininity (does that make any sense?) and that I am making a statement to myself, that this part of me -- this womanly part -- is worth the effort it takes to cover my body.  That, in a sense, I am worth the effort.  So, think about how your wardrobe makes you feel and then consider how you wish that it would make you feel because that is your goal.  Work toward that.






Practicality

The wardrobe I eventually end up with needs to be cohesive.  By that, I mean that most, if not all, of the pieces in it need to be interchangeable and within the same color scheme.  They also need to be easily washable, for the most part, especially those pieces which will sit right next to my body and therefore need washing most often.  I don't have all the time in the world to do laundry.

These are more reasons that I am sticking to natural fibers, specifically cotton and linen.  Both are washable and both only get softer with time.  Natural fibers do fade a little more readily, but I live the casual life of a student and wife, so that's okay with me.

In addition to those things, I want pieces that will be durable, pieces that will last me a while.  That means I'll probably try to stay away from the big box stores as much as possible because those clothes shrink and the seams tend to rip out more quickly.  It means that I'll make what I can, and thrift what I can't, looking for brands that I know might last me a while.

Things to Think About: For this, you need to take your life into account.  Do you work?  If so, what's the dress code?  Are you a stay-at-home mom?  If you have kids, then you're also going to need to take into account things like the wash-ablility of fabrics (stick to cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo), perhaps leaning more toward clothes with a busier print to disguise spills and stains and keep your garments serviceable for longer.  This is another place to take texture into account.  Babies and small children may prefer softer fabrics against their skin and since tiny people require a lot of holding and rocking, their sensitive skin may be in contact with your clothes on a regular basis.  So, take that into account.


Also consider how often you engage in things like: going to church, going out on the town, date nights with your significant other, work parties, travelling for business (or pleasure), camping, sports, rock climbing, bicycling, etc.  These sorts of activities may require certain clothing, so you will want to think about that and plan your wardrobe accordingly.




Cost

We are not a rich bunch over here, the Mister and I.  So, for me, this overhaul will not be happening all at once.  That means it's even more important for me to have a plan.  That way, I can sketch out what I want my wardrobe to look like as a "finished product" (if you will, although wardrobes are always changing, aren't they?), the pieces I already own that will help get me there, as well as what I need to acquire over time.  When I approach the planning in this way, it ensures that I don't end up going through my closet in a rabid donating spree, giving away clothes that I will need to hold me over in the interim while I build up a wardrobe that better suits the lifestyle I want to have.  I'm finding it helpful to literally make lists, deciding what I definitely want to keep, what I definitely need to make/buy, and what clothing I will keep to fill out my wardrobe while I am bringing in new pieces.

Things to Think About: The best ways that I know of to keep your clothing durable, of good quality, and also as inexpensive as possible are to shop at thrift stores, and make or sew anything that you can at home.  For me, this means that I don't always get the selection I was used to before, at Target or Old Navy.  I can't look in my closet, think, "I need a red sweater to match that dress," and then head on down to the store and pick it up.  I have to keep a sort of running list in my head, or sometimes I write it down and put it in my wallet.  That way, when we end up at a thrift store, I know what to keep my eye out for.  And, if they don't have what I need, then I leave empty handed.  It's that simple.


Aside from saving money, when you learn to shop this way, you're also ensuring that you support local charities (which receive funding from thrift stores), that you're not funding as much sweat shop labor, and that your money isn't going to big box stores, which run small businesses out of our towns and neighborhoods, hurting our friends and neighbors by putting them out of jobs.  So, if it seems like a pain, or like it's just too much work, think of those things.  You really are, "voting with your dollars."


If you do sew, there are a number of ways to obtain inexpensive fabric.  Personally, I look for quilting cotton (and occasionally cotton jersey) when making clothes.  Poly-cotton blends don't need ironing, but in my experience, they wear out faster and don't breathe as well in the heat, so they're not for me.  Some people really like them, however, so you may want to give them a try.


Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:



  • The clearance section of your local fabric store.
  • The linens section of your local thrift store, where you might find cuts of fabric, or (if you're like me), cute old sheets, table cloths and curtains that make terrific skirts and dresses, or nightgowns for little girls.
  • Search out a printable 50% coupon to Jo-Ann's Fabric Store and buy fabric at a steep discount.  This doesn't solve the, "no big box stores" problem, but it is cheap! (make sure to read the coupon for stipulations on what you can and cannot purchase)
  • If they ask, tell friends and family members you'd like gift cards to your favorite fabric shop for your birthday or Christmas.

Online fabric resources:




Color

I already mentioned that I want a wardrobe with a cohesive color scheme, but another important point about color (for me), is to leave out blacks and whites as much as possible.  The problem is that these are my favorite colors to wear!  BUT.. they are also the most difficult to care for.  Blacks fade and whites get dingy and stained.  I'm not leaving them out completely, but I am leaving them out as much as possible.


Things to Think About: This sort of goes under practicality as well, because color is really quite practical when you get down to it.  For example, how is it that a person may have a mountain of clothes, but still can't ever find anything to match that one, particular skirt?


Color is important.  Refer back to your favorite outfits, the ones you pulled out of your closet (or thought of in your head) and consider their colors.  They're probably colors that you feel you look really good in, colors that make you feel good when you wear them.  Start thinking about what your favorite colors are to wear.  Not your favorite colors in general.  Pay attention to this, because it may very well be that your favorite color is flamingo pink or chartreuse, but the truth is that not all of us (despite what we may think) actually gravitate toward wearing these colors.  Even if they have made a grand appearance in your wardrobe, that doesn't mean you actually wear them, or even want to wear them, much less return to them again and again as wardrobe staples.  Because that is what we're looking for here.  Clothes that you will be happy to wear again and again.


When considering color, also consider fading and staining.  For instance, black items may fade fairly quickly.  Are you going to want to commit to re-dying them?  Or replacing those items of clothing?  You might think about limiting the black in your wardrobe to pieces that you will only wear on special occasions, or pieces that don't matter as much (then, if they fade, it's no big deal).  Also, think about white and other light colors.  White stains, it turns dingy and yellows in the armpits if you wear antiperspirant (if you use deodorant without an antiperspirant, that doesn't happen!).  You may also consider limiting very light colors to a minimum.

In this grand journey, I've also considered...




My Quaker Roots

I grew up as an Evangelical Quaker.  Now that I'm older, I identify more closely with what are known as Liberal Quakers (or Liberal Friends, as Quakers are also called Friends).  It's an important part of my life, who I am, and it influences and shapes the way I think.

One of the more basic tenets of the Quaker faith is simplicity.  Traditionally, that meant that Quaker homes were usually kept free of many unnecessary possessions, furniture was often simple and unadorned, and that walls remained bare.

More famously, this "testimony of simplicity", applied to Quaker dress (think: Mr. Quaker Oats), also referred to as "plain dress".  Some modern Friends are taking up plain dress again, as it has died out substantially since around the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I don't feel like taking a more traditional Quaker approach (which might include ankle-length dresses, neckerchiefs and Amish-esque kapps) to my wardrobe is something I resonate with, but I do feel like I want to both calm my spirit as well as honor the Quaker tradition, by developing a form of plain dress for myself.


Things to Think About: Is simplicity as a way of life something that's important to you?  If you desire a simple lifestyle, consider making a simple wardrobe a priority in your life.


It's true that isn't always easy.  You have to stay out of the clothing section at the department stores.  I try to stay away from window shopping and keep out of thrift stores unless I'm looking for something in particular, and if it's not clothing-related, I steer completely clear of that section of the store.  But if you want a simple life, you can't continue to mindlessly consume, because each pair of shoes and each piece of clothing (or each kitchen tool or appliance, each new bathroom product, each piece of furniture or new DVD or electronic device) that comes into your home disrupts the lifestyle you want for yourself.


Consider what you truly desire for your life and make those things a priority.  You don't have to jump in headlong, but start inching in the direction you want your life to go.  Clean out your closet, empty your junk drawer, weed out those magazines on the coffee table.  Each step you take toward a simpler life brings you that much closer.  And each step reminds you how peaceful the journey can make your home, even though it may not always be easy.

-------------

I'm sure your wants and needs are different than mine as everyone's living situation requires special consideration, so take your own needs into consideration when planning your wardrobe.  I hope this list made sense and that, perhaps, you might feel inspired to also take the leap!  In tomorrow's post, I've come up with a color scheme for my new wardrobe, as well as a comprehensive list of the items I hope that it will eventually contain.

Thanks for stopping in and for putting up with my seriously long post. ;)





Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Simple Wardrobe, Part 1 - A Sort-of-Tutorial

I'm not really the go-to person when it comes to a simple wardrobe.

At least, not right now.

It's not that I don't know how, it's just that since we moved back to the US a year ago, my wardrobe has exploded.  I guess there are a few reasons for that, the main one being that, while I'm of an average size as far as an American woman is concerned, I was on the extra large side of huge in Korea.

When I was finally able to find jeans that fit my waist, they didn't fit my hips.

And if I was able to find T-shirts, they were so short that half of my torso was left bare.

And just forget about undergarments..  just forget.  I sure wish I could.  :P

Anyway, with all of that being the case, I wasn't able to purchase new clothes for no less than a year and a half.  So, when we got back home, picking out something new to wear was at the top of my list.  In hindsight, however, it may have gotten a little out of control.

Some back story:

First, I didn't plan very well when we moved, bringing with me a somewhat cheap wardrobe with lots of pieces that didn't work well together, and then.... there was the case of the CHAOS washing machine.

Lest I be thought of as a dreadful, ungrateful person, I need to say right here that it was really great to have a washing machine.  Both the Mister and I were so, so happy to be able to wash our clothes right there in our apartment.  Or.. out on the porch.  But you take what you can get, right?

There was a problem with the CHAOS, however (yes, it was named CHAOS).

Actually, there were a few problems.

First, we had to stop and google it because it can be a little difficult to work with a washing machine that's all in Korean and looks totally different than any household appliance you've ever seen before.   Then, we had to call in reinforcements because we could figure out how to turn it on, but from there it was like a hurricane in a box and we needed to know how to make it work not just shoot water around.  Then, we had to buy a new hose so that the water could drain all over the porch and into the floor drain, instead of... I'm actually not sure why we bought the new hose, since it was already doing that.

ANYWAY, all of this is terribly beside the point, isn't it?  Because the point is, that while the CHAOS was grand to have and we were grateful... and while the CHAOS did utilize chaos theory in it's agitation of our clothing.... and while we did finally learn how to turn it on and it did wash our clothes, albeit somewhat harshly...

Well, in short, it wrecked every last piece of clothing I owned.

Thankfully, my sister came to visit and brought some provisions that got me through the next 3 months.

Then, finally-finally, I was able to buy a sewing machine.  And from there, I made three jumpers out of the softest, most lovely Korean fabric that I wish I could find here in America but I doubt I ever will...  My three jumpers.  I still wear them when the clean laundry's running thin.

And, if you're wondering, yes.  I did wear those things for 9 months straight.  Just 3 jumpers, bolstered by long sleeves and leggings in the coldest cold of winter, and lots of handknit wool socks.  They served me very well and, honestly, I think that although my wardrobe at that point was the sparest it has ever been, I was also the happiest I have ever been as far as my clothes are concerned.

All of that to say... I am hoping to return to that idea.  A small wardrobe of pieces I can wear pretty much every day.  Only maybe not so extreme as to literally have only 3 jumpers.

Because of where I am right now with my own clothing situation, I don't intend for this to be a tutorial on how to simplify your wardrobe.  I'm not "there" enough yet to dole out that kind of awesome since I'm still in the process of figuring out for myself what works and what doesn't.  I'm just going to let you know what I'm doing, my process, what's working/not working for me and I'll give you some ideas for things to think about along the way.  Okay, this might be a sort-of-tutorial, but please don't take what I say as the gospel truth!  Wardrobes are so individual and everyone has to figure out what works for them individually.

In this spirit, I spent some time between classes today, outlining what a simple wardrobe might look like for me.  I tried to think of what I wanted from my clothing, the demands my life makes on my wardrobe, the sorts of activities I take part in, etc... and I started making some lists.  Those are a few of the things I want to share with you on Monday.


I'm really excited about it so drop back in to catch up with me!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cooking as part of a simple, healthful life

For us, the simple life has done even more than make our lives more peaceful, less cluttered, and more purposeful.


It’s also improved our health.

Learning to cook is one of many on the list of things to do when you decide to simplify your lifestyle.  Everyone has their own path and makes their own way to simplicity, and simplicity is different for each of us.  So, what works for the Mister and I may not be the same for you, and I know that what works for others doesn’t always work for us.  Still, I would be inclined to say that learning to cook might be at the top of the list for many.

Most of us know how to cook something, don’t we?  Whether it’s macaroni and cheese from a box, or boiling a hotdog.  Or, it might be more extravagant -- spaghetti, macaroni and cheese from scratch, shepherd’s pie -- but your repertoire is limited.  Wherever you’re at, I want to encourage you to take some new steps in your adventure.

I really believe that cooking is life changing.



It's such a seemingly simple thing that you do for yourself, your children, your friends and family.  But it’s a gift you give the people who eat from your table, and a gift you give yourself as well.  It will give you a sense of satisfaction that you can’t get from other areas of your life, because you will be able look at your table and think, I made that, from practically nothing, with my own two hands.  And you will be able to look at your once lanky, bony husband, who you’ve fattened to a healthy physique and think, I made a difference for the person I love.  It’s often the small things that make the biggest difference.  And a hot, home cooked meal is one of those, I think.

Because the journey is, and will be, different for each one of us, there are no real important points for where to start or what to do.  

This can make the job feel more overwhelming, can’t it?

If that’s the case for you, try making your own list of things you’d like to accomplish.    You might add to it, things like:

  • Figure out how to eliminate one store bought item from your pantry (i.e. cream of mushroom soup, canned chili, salsa, canned beans)
  • Learn to make your own meat bone stock (broth) from scratch
  • Learn to make a version of your favorite restaurant meal (a particular cheeseburger or pasta dish) - to do this, you can google, and use your own tastebuds to figure out what’s in the meal you love.  If you have the guts you can even call the restaurant and just ask them for their recipe!  I’ve seen people do it before and it worked for them.

Also, please don’t be fooled.  You will hear from everybody else that you need this, and you need that in order to cook.  But you don’t need a kitchen full of utensils to get your cooking life on the road.  In our case, we didn’t have much variety to start with, so I started with what I had: two peeling, non-stick skillets, a really old toaster oven, a leaky tea kettle, a pancake turner, a wooden spoon, a two burner gas stove top and more metal chopsticks than you could shake a stick at.  We didn’t have a cheese grater (at first, we didn’t even have cheese), a rubber spatula, a mixing bowl, a saucepan, or forks, although we had a couple Korean rice spoons.  We didn’t have a garlic press or whisk, or anything to cut with but one dull paring knife and a bent steak knife.  Even still, there was a lot I could do with just those few things in my kitchen (I didn’t even have a full size oven!), and so I encourage you to try it out at whatever place in life you are.  





Be creative!

Some of the first things I made were things I already knew how to make: spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and shepherd’s pie.  It was quickly discovered that the Mister hated shepherd’s pie, so that was nixed.  But spaghetti and macaroni and cheese remain favorites around here.

Once I’d made the things that I knew well several times, and had gotten a feel for our oddly arranged (and sparsely stocked) Korean kitchen, I started using other simple recipes, using simple ingredients we had on hand.  Pesto spaghetti with fresh vegetables and chicken, bread pudding, King Ranch Chicken (we love our Tex-Mex), and meatloaf.

One of our favorites (and a very easy meal) for a while, was roast chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions.



It was difficult to fit a chicken into our oven, even once we’d purchased a larger, more accommodating toaster oven, so we bought a crock-pot.  It wasn’t a big one, we couldn’t find one of those.  It was just a normal, maybe 4 quart, crock pot that cost an *arm and a leg*.  It was worth it for us, though, and we saved for it and gave up other things in order to get it.  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when we got that thing.  And with how much even a small toaster oven and two burner stop top can heat a small apartment in the summer, we were very grateful for the ability to cook without heating up the whole entire house.

I would go down to the open air market that was just down the street from our house and pick up a chicken from our favorite vender: a husband and wife duo, who were sometimes accompanied by their small children and parents.  I’d point to the chicken I wanted (a small fryer sort of thing), and right there in front of us, they would drag the plucked chicken by one leg, off the ice in the cold case, throw it down hard on the cutting board in front of them and ask us if we wanted it quartered.  Most often (unless I was going to use it for making stock), I would say no and then they’d just chop off the skin around the neck and the wing tips, throw in a handful of gizzards, and put the whole thing -- raw and uncovered -- into a plastic grocery sack, then another plastic grocery sack, tie it in a knot and hand it to me, a little sticky on the outside with chicken juice.  But Korean moms and grandmothers aren’t scared of a little chicken juice like we are here, in the US.

To an American, accustomed to being somewhat more detached from the butchering process than that, it was a little alarming at first.  Especially since the market didn’t seem particularly sanitary what with my chicken being chopped in the open air, on an old wooden table, with a giant cleaver that didn’t seem to have been washed well since the last chicken customer came by... but I got used to it and after a while, it became nice to be slightly more connected to my chicken dinner.  I saw, and communicated with, the people who butchered it.  I trusted them to take the precautions that were normal for Korea.  And we never got sick, not once.  Those chickens were good, too.

Anyway, long digressions aside...

Cooking is a very powerful tool in the arsenal of a simple life.  

When you can cook, you’re more inclined to have a garden, and with your own garden, you get your own organic produce, virtually for free!  You’re also not contributing to as many petrochemicals being used to produce and get your food to you.  Also, when you cook, you know what’s going into your food.  You know what you’re feeding that lanky, bony husband of yours, and what he thrives on, versus what tends to make his allergies worse.

At our house:
Just through cooking and learning more about food and nutrition, we have significantly reduced both or our incidences of allergies and asthma.  My acid reflux has completely gone away and we both sleep a lot better (not waking up as much throughout the night, sleeping more soundly, falling asleep more easily).  Oddly, we also get hungry less often, which means we are eating less food, which equals less money, less time, etc...  And best of all, guess what?  It is February and neither of has been sick this winter -- not once!

Cooking is powerful.  Real food is powerful.  And living a simple life is powerful.  

So, don’t underestimate yourself!  Be brave.  It’s so fun to branch out, get your hands dirty, and mess around with a whole, slimy chicken.

And it really is worth it.


Monday, January 30, 2012

DIY Monday - knitting a dishcloth, a beginner's project!

Those who know me will you tell you, I love to knit.

I knit at home, in the car, at the table after dinner, while talking, watching TV, waiting at the doctor's office, in the back of my big, auditorium classes, or (if I ask the prof. beforehand), right down in the front row.  I knit in the park, at the mall, and while we wait for our food at restaurants.  I am almost never without a knitting project in my purse or in my hands.

My mother first taught me when I was about nine.  I remember clumsily moving in the needles in my hands, and eventually abandoned my small project in frustration.  I learned again around age 17, when I really picked it up for good.

Since then, I've learned a few more complicated techniques, like cabling and lacework.  I've made a lot of things for relatives, and quite a few for the Mister and myself as well.


One of the first projects I really started on when we realized we wanted to move toward a simpler life, was knitting dishcloths.
I used the same pattern, over and over, to make over nine dishcloths in a  relatively short period of time.  Just a little square, knit on the bias (that basically means that you're knitting the square diagonally, from corner to corner, rather than side to side).  And then, because we were planning on the Mister going to law school in Washington, D.C. (that's right, my genius husband got accepted to Georgetown), they all got sent there.  And I'm pretty sure that it's there they remain, in a little Korean box with a few other treasures like a small, pink, melamine-handled vintage pancake turner that I so loved.

We need to get that box back, don't we?

So, I don't have any of those particular treasures to show you, only these couple that I found when I was going through my yarnage and then promptly finished in order to present to you here.


To make a long story short, our life plans completely changed one day, somewhat out of the blue, and now we're here in Idaho.  Quite possibly until the end of time.  So, I made another stock of knitted dishcloths (this time, I found a round dishcloth pattern that I love).  The square cloths we have now are for the bathroom, while the round ones reside in the kitchen.  I've heard that some people color coordinate in order to know which cloths belong where.  I, however, was working with yarn my mother had given me for free.  I didn't get to pick the colors, so I chose to work with shape instead.  Honestly, it's easier for the mister to remember, too, when he folds clothes.

This short, easy pattern is for the square.  It's actually the very first thing my mother taught me to knit at age 9, so you know it's easy!  Disregard the fact that I gave up in despair -- I was a fickle child. ;)

The dishcloth on top was knit with a lighter weight (thinner) yarn
from cupidstory's etsy shop (it's positively beautiful and ever so soft).
The dishcloth on the bottom was knit with unbleached Lion Brand cotton,
the kind you can pick up from any Michael's from Jo-Ann's in America.

If you are new to knitting, do not fear this pattern!  It has only 4 rows.  You simply repeat 1 of them, over and over for half of the cloth, and the second one over and over for the second half of the cloth.  Please refer to the key I've placed at the bottom of the pattern if you've never read a pattern or don't know what a certain abbreviation means.  I've also turned each part of the key into a link, so if you have anymore questions, either click the link, or email me, at catieneely@gmail.com.

It should also be noted for beginners that there are really only two stitches when knitting: the knit stitch, and the purl stitch.  For this pattern, you need only know the knit stitch.  It is generally considered the easiest of the two, so you shouldn't have much of a problem.  However, let me know if you need help!

You can really see here how I try to use up all my last bits of yarn!  You can't really tell, but the blue one has four colors in it: Green, light blue, dark blue, and at the very tip, white, because I ran out of light blue just at the end. 

My Favorite Dish Cloth Pattern

You will need:
Knitting needles - either straight needles or circulars (any length over 16" should do, I suppose), I like size 5 or 6 for mine, but that's because I like the cloth thick and sturdy.  If you want to use a larger needle, your cloth will be done faster, but it will have a looser texture with "holes".
100% cotton yarn - I am still knitting through the stash of cotton my mother gave me upon our arrival back in the states.  Most of it is peaches-n-cream or sugar-n-cream brand, but there's also some lion brand cotton.  When I was in Korea, I bought the loveliest, most scrumptious organic cotton yarn from cupidstory's etsy shop.  It is ever, ever so soft and comes in some fun colors.  This yarn is a little lighter than an American worsted weight, so I used size 3 and 4 needles for it.  Keep in mind, however, that cotton shrinks.  So, even if your cloths end up a little loosely textured, they might tighten up a bit in the wash.
A large-eyed tapestry/yarn needle or crochet hook for weaving in ends
Scissors for cutting yarn


-----------


Using the long tail cast on, CO 4 sts.

Row 1: Knit.
Row 2: K2, yo, k to end.

Repeat Row 2 until you have 50-55 sts for a worsted weight yarn, or 60-65 for a lighter/DK weight yarn.  You get to decide when to stop.  This pattern doesn't rely on accurate stitch counts (another reason it's a great beginner's project!).  Remember to take into account that a dish cloth, when wet, tends to stretch and spread, so often, less is more.  A dish cloth that's about the size of your hand or slightly larger will certainly suffice.

When you decide your dish cloth is large enough, begin to decrease:

Row 3: K1, K2tog, yo, K2tog, K to end.

Repeat row 3 until you have just 4 sts left on your needle.

Row 4: Knit.

Now, bind off all sts.

Weave in the ends and you're done!

*Wash before using, as it may not soak up water well if you don't.  In fact, I like to wash mine several times before using, as you might do with a brand new towel.

--------------

Key:

You should really try this easy pattern.  Knitting can seem complicated and confusing, but often, if you'll just pick up the needles and have a go at it, it can be quickly demystified.

If you're confused by all the linking in the pattern, here is a list of the links to all the videos I gathered:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's in My Basket? - Embroidery

I want to make "What's in My Basket?" a weekly feature, but we'll see how that goes...!  I also need to kind of immerse myself in this semester and get a feel for how the week is going to flow before I can set a day for it.  Until then, we're just going to go with the flow.

My basket sits at the side of my bed, and whatever's in it is what I work on during the evening hours, while the Mister and I are winding down, in bed, getting ready to go to sleep.  This is what's been in it lately, and, in fact, is still in it, because I have been ever so busy!  I'm honestly not sure I've touched it again since I took these photos.


This little treasure is going to be a "pajama pillow".  Kind of silly, right?  Well, I figure, once I make two of them, they will help keep our pajamas from laying all over the bedroom.  They'll have a specific, neat little place to go every morning.  And then we'll know where they are at night.


I first read about pajama pillows over at Down to Earth.  I've looked and looked for the post in which they were mentioned, but to no avail.  Oh, well.


This one is a men's bike for the Mister's side of the bed, and I'm going to do a lady's cruiser for my side.    The stitchwork looks black, but it's a really a quite nice shade of brown.


And these are some vintage transfers that have been hanging out in my basket, dreaming of becoming something great.  I love vintage transfers, don't you?  They're just sweet.

That's what's in my basket.  What's in yours?  Share it with us in the comments!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Color Story - Autumn Tractor

I love beautiful things.  Two of my favorite things are beautiful pictures and color combinations.  Simple color stories combine both of those into a happy -- perhaps somewhat useful -- tool.

In the past, I've looked up and used color stories for things like:

  • Our wedding
  • Parties
  • Blog and web design color schemes
  • Knitting
  • Sewing
  • Quilts
  • When needing general creative inspiration

Because I have used them for quite practical things indeed, well, that leads me to believe that, perhaps, color stories, too, are quite practical indeed.

Regardless, I've put a very simple one together, using a picture from my Color/Inspiration board on Pinterest.

Autumn Tractor


It's a humble photo, I'll admit, and perhaps not one you might normally associate with a color story, but it reminded me of the small town I grew up in, where my grandpa used to take us on tractor rides around the field behind our house.  His tractor was gray, not red, but it was old as heck, just like this one.

I love those colors together and, sometimes, I wish I could get married again just so I could choose different colors!  But, of course, that's silly. :D

Here is another color story from the blog Creature Comforts, that I also found on my Color/Inspiration board:



I love this one quite equally as much as I love my own.  Maybe because the picture is more striking.  Either way, I think color stories are such fun, don't you?  Maybe you can use the one I made, or go check out Creature Comforts and use Ez's.  The beautiful color and inspiration is so thick over there, you could cut it with a knife!

If you're not on Pinterest already, you should really check it out.  I'm not sure if you still need a friend to invite you, but if you so, I will certainly invite you!  Just let me know.