Category Archives: Green

The Versalette

I was SUPER excited that my Versalette arrived the day before I left for my trip to Austin back in late August. It really is a great traveling piece, since it’s so versatile. I love packing light and am always looking for ways to pack lighter. You can wear this piece 20 different ways!

I’ve procrastinated posting this but no longer, since:

“The Versalette goes back on sale in charcoal, and a limited number of sage, on Wednesday at 8pm EST! You’ll be able to purchase yours here: http://revolutionapparel.is/pages/making-versatile-apparel

I really love my Versalette. It’s not only that it’s comfy and a lovely skirt that I wear all the time. It’s also given me a new view of my wardrobe. There’s something really fun and mind-opening about looking at a piece of clothing and EXPERIMENTING with it and thinking “how many different ways can I wear this?” And it makes me want to do that with the other pieces of my wardrobe — why can’t I wear this shirt as something other than a shirt? Why are my skinny jeans so determinedly single-purpose?

I imagine it’s what The Uniform Project’s Little Black Dress challenge did for many people. It’s how people feel when they post videos of different ways of wearing American Apparel’s American Apparel’s Le Sac Dress. I’ve always been drawn to purchasing a LBD of my own, but I’ve never really been a dress kind of girl, so the Versalette is perfect as the skirt variation!

It may seem impractical to have a whole wardrobe full of multi-purpose pieces (since having to be multi-purpose puts constraints into the design & wearability of certain variations), but how cool are these pieces from Les Metamorposes from French designer EKYOG??

As a slight tangent, this line of thinking has also given me a new urge to sew and make and create–especially after Mike unearthed some nice button-up shirts that don’t fit him anymore. Pinterest is a DIY upcyclist’s dream! Check it out.

[Dee*construction upcycles an oversized sweatshirt into a fitted cardigan]

[A cute shirt-turned-skirt with a lil bit o’ elbow grease]

I think that as the fashion industry evolves with sustainable-minded designers at the helm, more and more of our clothing will be created with multi-functionality and life-cycle-maximization in mind. It’s always fun to look at Study N.Y. collections because Tara St. James, who helped design the original Uniform Project LBD, always has some pieces in there that are multi-functional as par for the course.

And as the seasons change, I’m still experimenting with my Versalette!

An Indigo Story

Some processes–like developing photos in a dark room, brewing beer from hops, or making your own clothes–require commitment, care, knowledge, and equipment to master. How often do you get an opportunity to play and experiment with a full process in a weekend? I was lucky enough to be able to dye my own fabric with natural materials during my recent trip to Austin. Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers put out a call for volunteers to help tame her overgrown garden of indigo plants, and I volunteered moreso for the break from computer work than anything else. Since I wasn’t going to be in Austin for very long, I hadn’t planned on taking any of the indigo plants she offered to us after our work in the garden. But as she explained that the process could take as little as a few hours, I couldn’t resist the urge to try my hand at something new. With a little borrowing and scrounging (of jars, sewing machines, thermometers, unused fabric, and a piece of backyard space), I got to play with indigo dye and experience some more chemistry magic. (A new trend, perhaps?)

DAY 1 Harvest

Harvesting indigo from Folk Fiber’s secret garden.

Maura (right) explains the dyeing process to Cheyenne and Melba near a pile of harvested indigo.
Maura shows Ruby how to strip the indigo plant.
My personal bag of indigo leaves.
Maura let me borrow a 1-gallon jar to soak the indigo leaves in the Texas sun.

DAY 2-3 Ferment

The summer heat meant that in just a day or two, the leaves started to decompose and the water starts turning blue.

The mixture looks pretty and smells funky.

DAY 4 Dye

I cross-referenced many recipes that Maura generously shared with us to make sure the directions were clear in my mind.

Strained out the liquid into a container large enough for my fabric.
Added baking soda and aerated with a whisk.
Left it to sit. Then added Rit Color Remover to remove the oxygen from the mixture, removing the bubbles and turning the dye greenish. Fabric is soaked in warm water before soaking in the dye bath for 10-15 minutes.
The fabric is yellowish when it comes out of the dye bath but slowly turns blue as it oxidizes.
The oxidization process. AKA magic.
The exhausted dye bath.
Dyed fabric drying.

DAY 5 Sew

Here’s Kathryn wearing one of the shirts we dyed. The pattern on the shirt must have been made using synthetic thread, it didn’t take to the dye—a lovely surprise.

The dyed linen was washed with liquid detergent and some vinegar to remove the smell–and became really soft in the process! I brushed up on my sewing machine knowledge–relearning how to thread a bobbin and the machine properly–to sew down the hems of my fabric.
The final fabric. (Lighter than I had expected since I had tried re-dipping them to create gradient patterns, but still a lovely shade of indigo blue!)
And now my cloth napkins have a story I’m proud to share! :)

If you’d like to try your hand, here are some books and resources:

Many thanks to Maura & Kathryn for inspiration, tips, and helping hands along the way!

What big ag is trying to hide

People often ask me why I’m a vegetarian. It sort of just happened, but here are the reasons I often cite:

  • Turned off by what I had read about factory farming (Can’t remember which specific sources now. I think watching the documentary Food Inc. clinched it.)
  • Generally healthier
  • Better for the environment
  • Didn’t like cooking and dealing with clean-up of raw meat
  • Stopped craving meat

It just made sense to be at the time, so I sort of just went down that route. I’m not a hardcore vegetarian. Some might call me a pescatarian since I eat fish. Some might call me a flexitarian because I make exceptions for meat when it comes to really good Chinese or Vietnamese food (which is pretty rare in Austin and much less rare in Los Angeles). And while people in Austin know me as a vegetarian now, I get to choose again as a newcomer to LA. What are my new rules in LA—with its abundant foodie culture, food trucks, and diverse ethnic eats? (It’s not an on-off switch, as Jonathan Safran Foer says.)

I’ve been flirting with meat again—at dim sum, chicken wings at a new friend’s house, the bacon in the “Best Burrito in LA” around the corner from our new place.

But I still don’t crave it. And I’d rather eat vegetarian if I can. And at home, we’re definitely not buying or cooking any meat.

Then, today, I saw this article/graphic video of what happens in “factory” pig farms.Big agriculture is fighting for legislation that would ban any photography/video-filming at these agricultural facilities: ag-gag laws. (More details from Bittman.)

I know it’s hard to watch, but it’s important if we are to be conscientious citizens and responsible eaters.

And it strengthens my resolve to stop flirting with meat again. The greatest thing about eating is appreciating the diversity of tastes in our food, and I know vegetarianism has opened my world to all kinds of foods, grains, vegetables, restaurants, and farmer’s markets that I wouldn’t otherwise have explored if I was eating the same types of meat-heavy comfort meals that I had become accustomed to during college.

The biggest misconception about becoming vegetarian is that it’s about deprivation and finding replacements for meat; on the contrary, it’s about exploring the world of food!

For me, the most difficult thing about being a vegetarian is navigating the social terrain of eating with non-vegetarians. But most people are pretty accommodating when they know your preference, and being okay with fish helped a lot. I’m more committed now to making sure I can offer to bring a dish if we’re invited to dinner—and to make it super-yummy, vegetarian, and filling.

(The second hardest is traveling or road-tripping, but finding grocery stores along the way and packing meals with you when you can are key.)

I always feel heartened when I hear in the discourse that we shouldn’t worry about the labels of “vegetarian” or “vegan” or whatever. Unless you have strict food allergies, the labels are less important than the mindset. And it’s not a war of meat-eaters vs. vegetarians. If everyone ate less meat, it would still make a tremendous difference. And if everyone were conscious of the impact of their food choices and were aware of where their food came from, that would also go a long way.

Anyway, food for thought (har har). “Is it right to eat animals given the ways we are actually raising and killing them?”

Technology and Love

So I’m trying to figure out what I want to do next (which for me is tantamount to an existential crisis, for reasons I can elucidate in another post but not now). Anyway, Kat tweeted this opinion piece in the NYTimes by Jonathan Franzen about technology replacing love. And this part resonated with me:

When I was in college, and for many years after, I liked the natural world. Didn’t love it, but definitely liked it. It can be very pretty, nature. And since I was looking for things to find wrong with the world, I naturally gravitated to environmentalism, because there were certainly plenty of things wrong with the environment. And the more I looked at what was wrong — an exploding world population, exploding levels of resource consumption, rising global temperatures, the trashing of the oceans, the logging of our last old-growth forests — the angrier I became.

Finally, in the mid-1990s, I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about the environment. There was nothing meaningful that I personally could do to save the planet, and I wanted to get on with devoting myself to the things I loved. I still tried to keep my carbon footprint small, but that was as far as I could go without falling back into rage and despair.

BUT then a funny thing happened to me. It’s a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. I did this not without significant resistance, because it’s very uncool to be a birdwatcher, because anything that betrays real passion is by definition uncool. But little by little, in spite of myself, I developed this passion, and although one-half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love.

And so, yes, I kept a meticulous list of the birds I’d seen, and, yes, I went to inordinate lengths to see new species. But, no less important, whenever I looked at a bird, any bird, even a pigeon or a robin, I could feel my heart overflow with love. And love, as I’ve been trying to say today, is where our troubles begin.

Because now, not merely liking nature but loving a specific and vital part of it, I had no choice but to start worrying about the environment again. The news on that front was no better than when I’d decided to quit worrying about it — was considerably worse, in fact — but now those threatened forests and wetlands and oceans weren’t just pretty scenes for me to enjoy. They were the home of animals I loved.

And here’s where a curious paradox emerged. My anger and pain and despair about the planet were only increased by my concern for wild birds, and yet, as I began to get involved in bird conservation and learned more about the many threats that birds face, it became easier, not harder, to live with my anger and despair and pain.

How does this happen? I think, for one thing, that my love of birds became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of myself that I’d never even known existed. Instead of continuing to drift forward through my life as a global citizen, liking and disliking and withholding my commitment for some later date, I was forced to confront a self that I had to either straight-up accept or flat-out reject.

Which is what love will do to a person. Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.

And who knows what might happen to you then?

I definitely recognize myself in that because I think I’m in the denial stage, the numbness, the “let’s just stop worrying phase.” And I also find myself alternately scared of and annoyed by…teenagers and the public school system. And my inability to help anybody navigate that period of life that is fraught with so much…everything. (Oh I also recently watched Thirteen.)

That or the environment, but no anger close to the surface for that one lately. (Except for irrational things like when I try to ask for a real fork at a bakery and she says “oh, it’s okay you can just use that plastic one.”)

The Fourth ‘R’: Rethink

6. The Fourth “R.” The final point is an overarching one. As Mandzik explains, “For the system to work people will need to not only reduce, reuse, and recycle, but also to Rethink. It’s important, he urges, that we “rethink our behavior and lifestyle. This is not to say that one should make drastic lifestyle changes or live like an extremist. Rather it means questioning some basic habits.” Like not buying something because it has too much packaging. Or like remembering to keep a reusable shopping bag in your backseat, purse, or backpack.

YES!

[via Good, “How to Achieve Zero Waste at Home in Six Steps”]

Getting past the plateau

I’ve reached a Green-Girl Plateau of sorts. Up until now, the changes I’ve had to make to green my lifestyle have been fairly easy…or at least made sense within my lifestyle: reusable water bottle, reusable shopping bags, buying local produce, going to the farmer’s market, not eating meat, turning off the lights when I’m not in the room, refusing any plastic bag I can, avoiding excess packaging, consuming less.

Now my own personal “next steps” feel BIG.

  • Become a complete vegetarian. No fish.
  • No more plastic. For real. All reusable containers and bulk and better preparedness and turning down those little plastic spoons that come with free samples. (gradually making good progress on this front)
  • Lots less packaged snack and frozen foods. And no soy milk…? (packaging)
  • Lots more local foods and shopping at the farmer’s market. (Which has been a delight here in South Pasadena, since I can walk, and the produce is abundant, and it’s just worked out overall in our schedule.)
  • Turn off my laptop each and every night, so that I can unplug it. What this actually means is reigning in my computer usage and multi-windows/tabs craziness, so that I am able to turn off my laptop.
  • No car.

Say whaaaat? No car?! In Texas?? Try no car in Los Angeles. Which is what I’ve been doing, and it hasn’t been bad. True, I’m not getting to sight-see a lot of the city, but I don’t think I mind. This place is HUGE!

It’s interesting how I have created a mental map of our little South Pasadena neighborhood as a pedestrian and as a public transit user. If I had had a car, my experience here and my view of the area would be completely different. The places on my radar are those I can get to by foot or by train. I see more of the neighborhood because I have to walk to get to places. And since I can’t drive to any randomly Yelped or Googled destination, I haven’t been searching for things online, so I don’t really know what I’m missing.

It’s all about first impressions, how one starts, one’s initial ideas about a place, one’s anchors, so to speak. I started here without a car, I knew that coming in, and I was completely fine with it—I wasn’t viewing it as a void or a deficiency. I just knew I’d have to get around during the week without motorized transportation—by walking and by taking the Metro. (And when Mike’s around, we scoot, but that also limits our driving to local roads and shorter distances.)

Luckily, our location is prime. (Particularly for my needs as a vacationing creative who needs access to free books.)

South Pasadena neighborhood

As I walked to the laundromat the other day, I realized that if I had had a car, I probably would have just driven or made some excuse to drive (tired! ha) or at least had an internal debate/guilt sesh about driving vs. walking. On the map above, it’s right across the street from Trader Joe’s.

Here’s a map of our last Austin residence and surrounding businesses. Though we walked a fair amount to the Quack’s Bakery area, we drove there a fair amount, too. And we definitely drove to HEB and Freebird’s more than we walked or biked. Which seems quite shameful to me now. But it’s because we learned that neighborhood and how to get to our common haunts through the lens of drivers and not as pedestrians/bikers. (I think the ability to walk through neighborhood sidewalks makes a big difference. 45th to get to HEB never felt pedestrian-friendly to me, and here in South Pasadena I don’t go east to Fair Oaks much even though it is a pretty short walk to dessert goodness at Phoenix Bakery.)

Austin neighborhood

Even if it’s gratifying to never have to worry about traffic or parking or the price of gas (literally and figuratively), driving is a very hard HABIT (addiction?!) to shake. My starting point mentally is a childhood spent in Houston, Texas. In a neighborhood where walking didn’t get you any place interesting or fun/safe to hang out in. Where you drove to get somewhere, and where you had to have a destination before you left the house. You didn’t just “go for a walk”…unless you were Grandma.

…There’s an internal rant going on in my head right now about how cities and sprawl and poor city planning have made it so difficult and actually discourage the use of any means of transportation besides vehicles. But I don’t want to go there right now. I just know that it takes more time, planning, and effort—a lot more—to get around without a car. A 12 minute drive to the Indonesian Festival happening today near K-Town in Los Angeles would take me 45 minutes on the Metro, 30 minutes scooting. The 45-minute Metro ride actually didn’t sound too bad in my head because I usually just take a book, but my friend’s reaction made it sound exorbitant. It’s a cultural thing as much as it is a personal decision. Hollywood makes it seem like lack of car = loser. From a merely practical level, living without a car can also feel like cutting out part of your social life. I admit I myself am guilty of not telling a friend about some social function or other because I knew we’d have to give him/her a ride along with the invite.

That’s one of the main reasons I’ve always wanted to live in New York City. Yeah, the subway can take the same amount of time and energy, and yeah it’s a pain sometimes. But at least there, everyone’s doing it. So it’s the norm. And you end up walking more because you have to. Because everyone has to.

But I’m in Austin for the next year, so I’ll have to make due. Luckily (ha), my brother totaled his car (he’s totally fine) and is now driving mine. Now, because I can (?!), I am seriously considering the idea of not owning a car when I get back. In my head, I’d share the car with my brother on weekends or some such arrangement. Also need to do some Carshare/Zipcar/Car-2-Go research. Unfortunately, my next place of residence is a little inconvenient in terms of walking to grocery stores or bus-riding downtown. I honestly think if I could live in a good neighborhood off a UT shuttle route and/or the 1 bus that goes downtown, I would be fine in Austin.

It’s about mindset, commitment and flexibility, and how you learn a new place…and a little bit of luck, i.e. finding a job that is on a convenient bus route or, even better yet, bikeable!

And it’s about plunging ahead and forging on, past the plateaus of comfort and convenience and default mindsets, cultural “norms” be damned.

(Dammit, does this mean I have to seriously try the whole living-without-a-car thing instead of just toying with the idea in my head…?)