Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter: Toothpaste and Pearls

I posted my summer clothes earlier, but I've made a couple of small additions, plus I thrifted a pair of not-running-shoes which were on the top of my wish list. They're in very good shape, and seem (so far) to fit and not rub in the wrong places.
I also found a toothpaste-green tank top, shown alone and with a plaid shirt I already had.
I found a scarf that combines denim blue, teal, red, grey, and a few other colours. Any scarf maker who thinks blue and teal work together is okay by me.
And, finally, a jersey tank dress which looks like nothing at all in the photo, and which you might pass by on the hanger too. Which just proves...something. It was brand new with tags, in a light grey colour called "matte pearl," and it will probably get worn a lot this summer.
Two ways I might wear it:
So, sometimes when you think you're done--it's still worth keeping your eyes open.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

How green is green? (Product Review of Duffield Design)

Treehouse readers know a couple of things about me and my clothes-buying habits. First, I'm usually a thrifter, although I have gone out of my way, once or twice, to buy new dresses from Canadian makers promoting sustainability and made-right-here. But not often. Even my favourite purple dress from Miik was an accidental find at the Salvation Army.

The other thing you might remember is that I've been looking for a decent solid-coloured t-shirt-style dress for a very long time. One problem has been that they tend to be designed without much shape, and I would rather not spend a hundred-dollars-plus on a potato sack, no matter how low its carbon footprint. And the cheaper ones either don't last well, or haven't been popular, at least if you go by the low numbers that turn up at the thrift store. I've been searching almost weekly for over a year, and the closest I came was this long black dress. And that turned out to be, well, too black. I prefer something more cheerful.

Recently I was looking at the Spring/Summer collection on the website of Duffield Design, a small company that uses "green" fabrics and has its sewing done in Canada. I had liked a couple of their pieces last winter, although I didn't need them badly enough to buy anything. Most of their tops and dresses this season were in colours I didn't gravitate to (black, nude), but one dress stood out on the page: the Sphinx Tie Dress in Seafoam. I thought about it for awhile; had a few more tries at finding something comparable secondhand; and finally ordered one.

I'm glad I did. It's a dress I can wear for summer happenings, but it's not too fancy to wear for everyday things. (Maybe not dragging boxes at the thrift store, but other than that.)  The hip sash can be tied in front or behind, and it can even be worn tunic-length.The fabric (Bamboo-Cotton-Spandex Stretch French Terry) and the construction seem to be excellent. The fit, always a wild card when you order online, was fine, not a potato sack. (I got a Small.)

The hardest part of trying to post a review has been getting a picture of this quite intensely green dress that doesn't show up looking more teal or turquoise (my photo at the beginning reads a bit too blue). The photo below is the closest I was able to persuade the camera to come.
Think somewhere between the cactus and the handle of the teapot for a better take on "green."
Here's the dress with my "#AOCM2019 scarf":
And with another current favourite scarf:
So if you're thinking green (even if it's black or nude), and want to shop Canadian, check out Duffield Design.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Wendell Berry and Us (Fashion Revolution Week, Final Post)

"Care in small matters makes us trustworthy in greater. When we come to be trusted with the property of others, whether in money or material, we are on our guard against wastefulness, carelessness, extravagance, because integrity requires that we should take care of and make the most of whatever property is put into our hands..." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 177-178
"At present, too ignorant to know how ignorant we are, we believe that we are free to impose our will upon the land with the utmost power and speed to gain the largest profit in the shortest time...The woods is left a shambles, for nobody thought of the forest rather than the trees." ~~ Wendell Berry, "A Forest Conversation," in Our Only World 
For Christians, the idea of being entrusted with another's property is integral to our understanding of stewardship. God made it all. He gives it to us...trusts us to care for it, not (as Mason says elsewhere) to throw battery acid into the watch workings.

There's also the proverb about borrowing the earth from our grandchildren. Caring for what belongs to others also means honouring the past and thinking of the future. What do we want to hand down, and I don't mean just ecology-wise?
"Any conversation at home between grandparents and grandchildren is potentially the beginning of a local culture, even of a sustaining local culture, however it might be cut short and wasted." ~~ Wendell Berry
Do we want to pass down the values of big ideas and small things, and not just growth for its own sake? Then we have to live like that ourselves. To repeat something from a previous year's Fashion Revolution post: it's never too late to plant some pizza seeds.
"To learn to meet our needs without continuous violence against one another and our only world would require an immense intellectual and practical effort, requiring the help of every human being perhaps to the end of human time.
"This would be work worthy of the name 'human.' It would be fascinating and lovely." ~~ Wendell Berry
So what does this mean when we buy socks?
"The logger who is free of financial anxiety can stop and think." 
"We...must think of reverence, humility, affection, familiarity, neighborliness, cooperation, thrift, appropriateness, local loyalty. These terms return us to the best of our heritage. They bring us home." ~~ Wendell Berry

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Our Duty to Buy Stuff (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

"What we want is––not the best thing that can be had at the lowest possible price––but a thing suitable for our purpose, at a price which we can afford to pay and know to be just.
 "Looked at from this point of view, the whole matter is simplified; we are no longer perpetually running round, harassing ourselves and wearing out other people in the search after bargains. Every purchase becomes a simple, straightforward duty. We feel it to be a matter of integrity to deal with tradesmen of our own neighbourhood, so far as they can supply us. If they fail to do so, we are at liberty to go further afield; but in this case, we soon fix upon the distant tradesman who can supply our needs, and escape the snare of bargain-hunting." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 176-177
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. ~~ Proverbs 31:13-16, 18

Does Proverbs 31 prove that we have a justifiable need to buyeth things? The condition, though, seems to be "wisely."

In the previous passages from Charlotte Mason's Ourselves, she focused on the issue of debt; here she is concerned with wasted time and effort. You've done the dollar math, she says; now figure out your other costs. Even being disorganized in planning, not having bought what you should have realized you were going to need (or not being able to find it in a mess) costs something. Ordering a bargain item of poor quality (Proverbs 31:18) costs return postage, and delay while you search for something better, and even (as Mason says) creates hassle for other people.

In this age of technology, we have useful shopping tools at our disposal. We can not only locate a "distant tradesman" who has exactly what we need, but we can read customer reviews of those products. We can also, ironically, find out about and order from farmers and craftspeople who produce goods almost in our own backyards. Provided we use the tools wisely, shopping both "afield" and locally has never been easier. (As many have found, too easy.)

We're also encouraged to maximize what we do have (verse 16) and use it for God's glory. If we buy land, the goal is to plant on it, and share the harvest with others. If we buy craft supplies (verse 13), we don't let them gather dust.

How does that apply to the area of clothing and fast fashion? We choose carefully, think about how we'll wear the shoes or the pants, think about whether it's the right time to buy. We read the fine print in the description, study the size charts and the reviews, figure out our price point. But then we ask one more question about the item we're considering: "Who Made My Clothes?"

If we have a feeling that we wouldn't like the answer, we'd better say no. 

This series will continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Happy Integrity of Getting Dressed (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

Apologies: this is Wednesday's post, coming to you a little early.

"Honesty.––'My duty towards my neighbour is––to keep my hands from picking and stealing'; so says the Church Catechism, and this is the common acceptation of the word honesty. We should, of course, all scorn to take what belongs to another person, and feel ourselves safe so far, anyway, as this charge goes....[But] one caution we must bear in mind.––we may not spend what we have not got...The schoolboy who gets 'tick' [credit] or borrows from his schoolmates grows into the man who is behind-hand with his accounts, and that means, not only an injury to the persons who have supplied him with their goods, but a grave injury to himself. He becomes so harassed and worried with the pressure of debts here and debts there, that he has no room in his mind for thoughts that are worth while. His loss of integrity is a leak which sinks his whole character...That beautiful whole which we call integrity is marred by sins of negligence." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 174-176
There's no free lunch...or free t-shirt. The earth pays, in water consumption, factory pollution, and eventual disposal. Fabric makers and clothing sewists pay, especially if they are very young, in missed opportunities for education, and by entrapment in an economic system that does not pay them fairly or respect them as persons. Consumers pay, probably not the true cost, but just enough to keep them anxious about credit card bills and guilty about the mess in their closets. They pay by staying just as trapped by the same system of too much but never enough: as Charlotte Mason says, harassed, worried, and pressured. This is not a happy scenario.

But what is enough? As Cal Newport says in Digital Minimalism, it can be hard to get a clear picture of what you need (in any part of life) until you've tried living with only the essentials. Courtney Carver's Project 333 is one strategy for a clothing rethink, as is going on a buying fast like Lee Simpson. The point of both is not so much to save money as to increase gratitude, spur creativity, and bring us back to what used to be normal life. (Not shopping as entertainment, and not having a new outfit for every occasion.)

How can we keep from being, morally and literally, "behind-hand with our accounts?" How can we shop and dress in a way that creates more happiness? I don't think there is just one answer. The principle might be integrity, but the practice is going to look different for everybody.

For me this week, happy shopping looked like an off-white cotton-ramie sweater from the thrift store. The sweater appears to be hand-crocheted, but it has a commercial care label in it (the brand label has been cut out), which says Made in China. It seems unfathomable that a single crocheter would put that much time and skill into hand-making a sweater like this--and then, probably, another one, and another one. My hands would hurt after making just one sleeve (I hate crocheting with thread). If someone out there knows more about commercial needlework, please enlighten me. (Do robots crochet?) As it is, though, it makes me want to hold up a #FashionRevolution sign asking "Who Made My Clothes?" 

The sweater was not a bare necessity, but it was bought with a purpose: I needed a neutral top to go with a recently-thrifted summer skirt which appears to have been home-sewn. (The person either forgot to sew the skirt hem or it came out afterwards: I have to fix that before I can wear it.)

The bonus: it will go with a lot of other things, like this shirt jacket.
And scarves (of course).
I feel happy about giving a second life to what appears to be somebody's hard work. I'm happy that it fits in well with my other clothes. I'm happy that I could buy it at a thrift-store price and support M.C.C.  And I'm very happy that now I have more "room in my mind for thoughts that are worth while." I need all of that I can get.

This series will continue tomorrow.

Through Our Fingers, and Nothing Done (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

"It is astonishing how much time there is in a day, and how many things we can get in if we have a mind. It is also astonishing how a day, a week, or a year may slip through our fingers, and nothing done. We say we have done no harm, that we have not meant to do wrong. We have simply let ourselves drift." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 173
I first posted about Fashion Revolution Week in 2016, so this is my fourth attempt at making sense of what has happened and what is still happening. Have the problems of fast fashion changed at all in three or in the six years since the Rana Plaza factory collapse? Are working conditions better or worse? Are the rivers in Asia any less polluted? Has this winter's tidying-up fad made people any more thoughtful about how or where they find their clothes?

My take on the ethical wardrobe has been attempted (to use a current Charlotte Mason thought) "however imperfectly." Mall trips and visits to new clothing stores are pretty rare for me. The majority of my clothes were bought used, mostly from the thrift store where I volunteer, occasionally from a consignment store. I have a couple of pieces from sustainable clothing brands, and some fair-trade jewelry.  But the discount food-clothing-everything store beside our building is also a source of temptation, especially when you look past the blingy stuff and see that they do have decent-quality shirts, sneakers, socks, and even purses (one of my most-used favourites came from there, and you probably couldn't tell which one). And as I've posted before, both my pairs of comfortable but inexpensive ankle boots came from Walmart. The cliché of buying top quality keepers vs. low-cost junk has not always held true; sometimes discount-store sneakers and boots have been exactly what I needed and have held up surprisingly well.
I wish I had a satisfies-everything answer to all of this. As Charlotte Mason says, I don't mean to do wrong when I choose a shirt or a pair of shoes. She also said you should just figure out what you need, and then go and buy it (or have it made), as locally as possible and without undue fuss. Ruminating over where clothes come from should not become either narcissistic or masochistic.

But drift happens. Maybe I need to mean a little harder to do right. Especially when rivers still turn blue, and factories still fall down.

This series will continue tomorrow.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Curb that Filly, Inclination (Charlotte Mason and Fashion Revolution Week)

"The Habit of Finishing.––What is worth beginning is worth finishing, and what is worth doing is worth doing well. Do not let yourself begin to make a dozen things, all of them tumbling about unfinished in your box. Of course there are fifty reasons for doing the new thing; but here is another case where we must curb that filly, Inclination. It is worth while to make ourselves go on with the thing we are doing until it is finished. Even so, there is the temptation to scamp in order to get at the new thing; but let us do each bit of work as perfectly as we know how, remembering that each thing we turn out is a bit of ourselves, and we must leave it whole and complete; for this is Integrity." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 171-172
"Loved clothes last." ~~ 

Can we play MadLibs with Charlotte Mason here?
"Do not let yourself [buy] a dozen things [impulsively], all of them tumbling about in your [closet]. Of course there are fifty reasons for [buying] the new thing, is worth while to make ourselves go on with the thing we are [wearing] until it is finished...Let us use each piece of [clothing] as [creatively] as we know how, remember that each [piece of clothing] we [use 
well] is a bit of ourselves..."
Between three and four years ago, I got rid of most of my clothes. In my defense, most of them were well-worn already; many were rummage-saled and thrifted, and some had been handed to me by someone who bought multiples of anything (usually black) on sale. Disposing of them did not cause me a great deal of pain, except for the bepuzzlement of figuring out what I was going to replace them with. When I did start re-thrifting a wardrobe, it became, we'll say, very fluid: a lot came in, and a lot went out again. I'm working at curbing that filly, Inclination; I still bring home new clothes, but I'm choosing them more carefully and keeping them longer.
It's only this year that I've been able to look at what I have and realize that I've been wearing some of the same clothes for the past three years, with no plans yet to get rid of them. We're starting to have a history together. (Some of you can probably do way better than that, but I had to start somewhere.)
Fall, 2016

This series will continue tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Charlotte Mason was a minimalist decorator?

"It is worth while to remember that space is the most precious and also the most pleasing thing in a house or room; and that even a small room becomes spacious if it is not crowded with useless objects." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 177

(Guessing that she was not a fan of Victorian decorating!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter had a coupon

It was a good day to be back at the thrift store! It's Volunteer Appreciation Week, and each volunteer was given a discount coupon. Here's what I found:

A poetry book, with CD, for Lydia
A spring dress for me (better with a belt)
A shiny necklace
And a copy of Dorothy Wordsworth's journals. (Not sure what she would have made of the poetry book.)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter: More Cloud Colours (and a book)

Between the MCC store and a quick visit to one other thrift shop, I've found four pieces of clothing recently: two short dresses or tunics, a white t-shirt (needed!), and a raincloud-coloured scarf. Here they are, mixed with a jean jacket, a top from last summer, and assorted beads.  (The book is at the end.)
Think more green than blue for this tunic--the camera always leans to too much blue. Nice for skies, confusing for teal-green clothes.

Monday, March 11, 2019

New Project 333 page is up: Spring 2019, The Colours of Clouds

Spring is on the way! Time to phase out the turtlenecks, and rediscover short sleeves. 

Time: March through Victoria Day (the May weekend when we pretend summer's here.)
Number of items: I don't know, I haven't counted.

This painting is my inspiration for  the coming season:
Tom Thomson, Storm Clouds in Algonquin Park
Thrifted bag, upcycled from upholstery samples
Clouds, from our balcony


Jean jacket, grey cowlneck sweater, grey jeans, grey running shoes, blue backpack

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Quote for a Sunday: What breaks us apart

"At least for a moment we all saw, I think, that the danger of pluralism is that it becomes factionalism, and that if factions grind their separate axes too vociferously, something mutual, precious, and human is in danger of being drowned out and lost.” ~~ Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

From the archives: Herbartianism, Part Four

First posted February 2015
"On Froebelian principles it is certainly very irrational to hang a master because his pupil has committed a murder; but if Herbart is to be followed, the case for the master is not so clear....since the master can choose the ideas to be presented, and can modify and arrange them, there seems to be a prima facie case, for those who wish to hang the teachers of bad men." ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology
A Froebelian teacher is "but a benevolent superintendent of the process of development which he allows to follow its own course." But if you want to be a Herbartian, you have to consider the idea that doing nothing for a child may be as harmful as doing something wrong. Adams goes on in this vein, saying that a teacher could be held directly responsible for the character of the adult she turns out, for either his success or failure. That's an awful burden to put on one human being.  But in fact, he says, it's virtually impossible for any adult, whether teacher or parent, to dominate a child's mind to that extent; really, you would have to be breathing down his neck 24/7, from birth to maturity.
It reminds me of a Ruth Rendell novel, The Crocodile Bird, which spends the first few chapters telling about a mother who, for reasons of her own, raises her daughter in isolation, away from all contemporary influences and media. The books they read together are all pre-twentieth-century. You might think that, farfetched as the story is, it does give an example of what Adams says is impossible: one person as "sole influence." You could quibble even with that and say that Shakespeare and the other classic authors were actually outside influences, but it doesn't matter much because even this mother's best-laid plans get thwarted. Her daughter accidentally turns on a television set in their employer's house, and it's all downhill from there., according to Adams, Herbartian educators may not shrink from their perceived responsibility for being The Ones to develop children's minds, but at least they don't want to turn out machines or monsters. Still, says, Adams, even if teachers do not play Dr. Frankenstein but just work very hard at supplying the proper ideas at the proper times, why doesn't our advanced education turn out adults who are all "honest, true, happy and clever?"

Oh. Well, says Adams, teachers don't always know the proper ideas or the proper times. We can believe in the theory without being, as he puts it, omniscient. Besides (and this takes up a good part of the chapter), what about the problem that some students are just smarter than others? Or is that just a fallacy? And are they born with intelligence, or is it environment? You've heard it all before, but the Adams/Herbart answer may surprise you.
"Tastes, dispositions, and will being eliminated, it is clear that what is left may be called, in a popular sense at least, pure intellect. That this intellect, considered apart from all the other elements of the soul, is equal among all men can hardly be denied, is hardly worth denying. When the process of elimination has been completed, we find that the intellect we have left does not amount to very much; to no more, indeed, than the simple undifferentiated being which represents the soul of the Herbartian Psychology."
And again:
"The conclusion of the whole matter is that we do not know whether all souls are equal at birth, and that after all it does not matter; for by the time the pupil makes his appearance in school, his soul is different from the other souls in his class. On the other hand, there is a sort of common lowest level of thinking. So far as we can reduce thinking to what is described in the old-fashioned Formal Logic Books, our minds may be regarded as equal." 
The first quote may leave us thinking that Herbart, via Adams, really doesn't think much of children's innate abilities (the Froebelian educator quoted in Part One said that too). You might even read it to say that we're all rather stupid until the teacher gets her hands on us. But the second quote says that, first, we do all have something unique that we're born with or that develops in the first few years of life; but that our learning processes, fast or slow, all follow the same patterns, and it really doesn't matter if you read early or late, or whether you take a long time to learn the times tables. This supports the idea of mastery learning: you get an "A" when you've completed the work or learned the skill, no matter how many times you have to try or how long it takes. But here is the point: that the same actual experience of learning will apply to everyone, whether we're slow in one area or quick in another. Though we may disagree about how much influence and indoctrination is acceptable, we can at least see how the principles of teaching and learning are true for each child; and that education means working with the way humans are made, not against it.

And on that point, Johann Friedrich Herbart and Charlotte Mason agree.

Part Five is here.