Recycling Project

This post is from the Blogs previous owner, which I decided to leave in case any of the old visitors are coming back to the blog!This page is no longer associated with little brown dress blog!

recycling project
100% recycled wardrobe

This journal reports on the development of my Recycled Intentional Wardrobe project, held July 7, 2006 through July 7, 2007.

I am recycling, re-mixing, re-fabbing . . . spinning straw into gold as one friend puts it. . . I am wearing only things I have made myself (clothes, jewelry, shoes, underwear, bags, everything) and my source materials are things that were already in my possession – a completely closed loop, 100% recycled from my own closet.

A “fashion detox”. A “slow fashion movement” (parallel to the slow food phenomenon). I’m setting a new course from the direction of my Brown Dress project, but I feel like I’m sailing on the same ship.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Wow, I just opened this document up and was amazed that it has been almost six months since I wrote. Shocking and delightful! I guess I really made good on my New Year’s resolution to be less of a slave to this thing.

There has been much less slaving, but there has been some brown dress-related work, most notably several very interesting radio interviews in Australia (climate change is hitting them really hard, so there is a huge interest in stories about down-shifting down under). Brown dress and I also recently had a surreal mention in a UK glamour magazine called “Eve,” which was alarming because it was the first time someone really fabricated an article about my project. They wrote it as if it was first-person, but all this British slang that I don’t even know . . . it was very(!!) unsettling to read. Oh well.

Anyway, in only one week this year-long experiment with the reduced/reused/recycled wardrobe will come to a close.

And am I continuing the project or starting a new one? I think I’m ready to relax a little bit, maybe spice up the wardrobe by grabbing a few things from the back of the closet that have been in storage all year, maybe find a new pair of shoes (locally-made if I can locate some in my price range). Maybe stitch up a new jacket for fall. I don’t mean to go on a berserk shopping spree, but just gently ease into some fresh things. I have a fantasy of staying with a very limited and intentional wardrobe for the next several years, it is so easy to live with so little to manage!

And do I have the brown dress back yet? No. Maybe it will be coming back to me soon. My partner Freya believes the pranksters lost it somewhere in its travels, which would make me sad only because I still, sentimentally, would like to see it again.

What did I wear this year?

Bottom: Two pairs of pants worked well (I had a light cotton cropped pair and a pair of medium/heavy full-length jeans). Two knee-length skirts were very useful, all year round. A very short skirt and a pair of short-shorts for the hot summer days. One long skirt. Some underwear.

Top: One tank top, one t-shirt, one long-sleeved knit shirt, one blouse, two sweaters, one fleece (sorry, here in the NW we are a little bit fleece-dependant, and I recognize that!), one light/medium jacket, and one very warm winter coat.

Accessories & other: I have had three pairs of shoes (two pairs of sturdy flats, one pair of clogs for the garden and around the neighborhood, and a pair of flip-flops for hot summer days) in rotation all year, since the pair I made crashed and burned last fall. Two pairs of legwarmers for the cold cold days, two warm wool scarves, a wool hat. In the very cold weather I did break down and put on a pair of thick tights under my jeans. One shoulder bag and one backpack. A bathrobe. I have always held that a person only needs one swimming suit, and my one fancy outfit has served me very well for all my special occasions!

Strangely enough, and without any forethought on this, I realize I have worn exactly NO DRESSES all year. Was that unconscious rebellion, or a result of the sad and simple fact that no dress will ever compare, in utility, style, and personality, to the “real brown dress”? Now, the following may be a red herring: I do, strangely enough, have the brown dress’s twin sister in my possession. Careful readers of the brown dress project journal have noted that I did make a second dress very early in the project, which actually never got worn because I realized I didn’t need to rotate to make it through the laundry cycle. It is still hanging, fresh and new, in the back of my closet. So I may just live dangerously and slip that “secondary” brown dress on from time to time, but it really will feel strange . . .

In massive contrast to last year’s huge media exposure, the “spinning straw into gold” project is slipping by relatively unrecognized — which is really good for my humility, and also serves my purposes just fine because it has actually allowed for a more accurate experiment! Can a person wear, in heavy rotation, the equivalent of one suitcase worth of clothing for an entire year and survive and be “normal” in modern America? Yes, definitely. Can a person hand-make all (shoes and eyeglass not included) those items herself and enjoy them and not feel short-changed or bored? Well . . . yes . . . and at the same time I do now feel ready for a few new things. New shoes (shoes really start to SMELL when you wear them in heavy rotation for a whole year, I am forced to report!) are high on the list for sure. The only thing I know for sure is that I want the wardrobe to stay as tight as possible, and I want to spend almost no money and very little time on it.

Anyway, I have enjoyed an amazing year. Lots of (day-job) work planning amazing events with some fabulous new clients – I have been learning so much! Lots of time with family and in my garden – but since this is not a gardening journal I will spare you the photo of my gorgeous raspberries and bountiful kale. And in the world of my creative life, I am stretching a bit, ready to move away from studio and stage work to more site-specific or experimental venues for performance. I have been invited to make visual art (paintings and little sculptures) for the Garde Rail Gallery in Pioneer Square. Look for my first gallery show opening at First Thursday in September!

OK, I think I will sign off with some pictures that my friend Libby took of me this Tuesday, June 26th. I am preparing for a site-specific performance at the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks by Herbert Bayer in Kent, WA (the show will be September 8th), and these are some photos Libby took for publicity for the show. What am I wearing? A pair of black shorts that I made from some nice canvas in the scrap pile, that I have been wearing in the hot weather recently. Also the purple tank-top made from two old t-shirts (which is holding up amazingly well, I have worn it at least three times per week all year long, in the summer as a shirt and all winter as an undershirt).

Anyway, at this date there have been almost 180,000 hits on the website, and I just feel honored to have been a part of so many interesting conversations. May the conversations continue!!!

Wishing you well from sunny Seattle,


Photos copyright Libby Lewis 2007

Sunday, January 7, 2007


Important day today. Ari (my son’s) 2nd birthday. 18 months since the start of the brown dress project. 6 months since the start of the recycled wardrobe project.

So, enough procrastination and inertia – it is time for an update! How is it going? Just fine. No shopping or thrifting, and I haven’t even incorporated gifts from friends into the mix (I’m thinking of saving the gifts to wrap into next year’s project).

I have not been *making* very much – which I sense is a disappointment to those who are reading this journal from the perspective of “what cool things will Alex make next?”. But less is more. I am pleased with my one pair of jeans, a couple of sweaters for the cold weather, my nice warm coat, and just continuing to wear most of the original summer pieces in layers. Mostly I’m just getting very, very good use out of what is lurking in my drawer. And what a joy, it really all fits in one drawer!

If I had started this project BEFORE I learned the lessons of the brown dress, I would have been one frenzied ball of design and reconstruction these last six months. I do waffle back and forth, feeling complete satisfaction with the limits of the recycled wardrobe and alternately feeling that I am *so lame* for not firing up my sewing machine and whipping up a sassy, perfectly coordinated unlimited cadre of “outfits” to zip around town in . . . all with nice recycled shoes to go with . . . I blame the brown dress, I guess, for slowing me down before I even got started!

Any more Brown Dress excitement, you ask? Some nice media mentions (Seattle Magazine and Seattle Weekly both toasted the Brown Dress in year-end “Best of 2006” issues), and many folks each week seem to stumble spontaneously onto the site in their web surfing and send me gorgeous, interesting email messages (see the comments page to read ’em yourself)!

I hereby issue a formal apology to all who have written me these amazing emails – I do appreciate hearing from you, and I have given myself permission not to write back. I do realize that choosing not to reply to email is a massive blogger faux pas, but I have also given myself permission not to be a blogger . . .

So, here’s my New Year’s gift to you (if you feel you can use it) – May you spend less time doing and more time being.

With enormous love,


My warmest wool sweater and my jeans – two winter favorites!

That’s my long-long-long sleeved shirt.

My winter coat! And if you look at the Brown Dress photos from last winter you’ll recognize my old hat and scarf (its been a full nine years since I made that hat, I am alarmed but proud to announce). Yes, I knit the hat and scarf that Ari is wearing.

This purple shirt is polar fleece (I made it four years ago), I’ve been wearing it a lot in the cold weather.

Here’s a photo from summertime, at the start of the project. I’m still wearing that t-shirt several times a week, it is holding up very well!

Isn’t that a nifty sweater with the black stripe down the back? Tragedy – I shrunk it in the laundry after only a couple of weeks of wear, and I miss it very much. You win some, you lose some . . .

The shoes, early October, after 3 months of daily wear . . .

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hello –

Here’s my quick report. In general, all is well and I’m enjoying my extra time in the sewing studio. Creating from recycled wardrobe pieces is much more time-consuming than I anticipated (sewing from fresh yardage you just cut and go, and with this process there’s the element of planning exactly how to use each element of the original garment, deconstructing, and then you can start cutting . . .) So the going is slow, but I plan to have my winter coat finished by Thanksgiving! New additions for the cold weather so far: a pair of jeans and two sweaters.

I must reveal that the project has been in a technical state of failure since the second week of October. The weak link? As many of you guessed ahead of time, the weak link was the shoes. I did wear the little shoes, daily, for all occasions, for exactly three months. Then the winter rain started around October 7, and those little darlings had a perfectly sponge-like reaction to water – even a light morning dew on the grass resulted in me walking in cold sopping wet shoes for the remainder of the day. Contending with the first wave of the winter cold season, I just decided it wasn’t worth my health . . . so I am back in civilian footwear (don’t worry, not buying anything new, just dipping into the back of the closet). I’m still totally interested in designing & building shoes, but until I get some actual shoe-making skills & materials it will just have to wait.

Anyway, its been a busy and very fun fall – lots of work, good family times, a little bit of dancing . . . in September I performed for Velocity’s Fall Kick-Off, a new solo idea where I created a costume on-site (in the lobby) from scratch out of donated cast-offs, and then danced a short solo and read a collection of my favorite writings from this website’s “comments” page to the audience. The results were pretty delightful, feels like the start of a next chapter for the performance element of this project.

Hope all is well with you. Happy Halloween, and Happy Election Week!


Sunday, September 10, 2006

What’s new?

I’m working on building some warm things – legwarmers (brown dress fans already know I have a fondness for legwarmers!), long skirt, sweater. The blessing of having just completed the Brown Dress project is that I feel content with so very little. As you know from reading my previous post, I am staying focused on sustainability — and that includes my mental and emotional keel as well as everything else. So yes, after eight weeks in the same shoes it would be fun to make a second pair, but I’m going to wait until the time feels right.

In Brown Dress news — a great television piece just out. Watch it streaming at — it’s snappy, not too long, and you can see me talking and dancing and jumping into my birthday cake!

Thinking about the recycling project, I realize how much my parents have influenced this line of work. Bear with me for this little story — in 1975, my folks loaded a pickup truck and moved to a slice of mountaintop in North Central Washington state, very near the Canadian border and many miles from an electric pole, phone line, hospital, or any other creature comforts. They had largely abandoned their back-to-the-land lifestyle by the time I was three — they returned to the bourgeois economy and got day-jobs down in town. And I completely sympathize, because it’s just plain hard to get enough to eat when you grow all your own food, especially at 4,000-foot elevation where the growing season is alarmingly short! But their bookshelf is still stocked with dusty old paperback ‘Foxfire’ manuals from the era — which I found hilarious and addictive when I discovered them in high school! Crusty advice from ancient Appalachian settlers on how to build an outhouse, diagrams of the correct angle to siphon a well, how to thatch a roof, etc.

So my generation has the *crafting renaissance* of the ’90s and ’00s, which promotes (mostly) decorative accessories for the body and the home. Of course, always with a kicky “alternative” slant! If I see one more how-to article that suggests I can join the revolution if I stencil a feminist or anti-imperialist cartoon onto my clutch-purse, throw pillow, or cocktail shaker . . . oh, and it will be only $75 in materials that I can easily find at my nearby corporate-owned craft store(!) . . . grrr. Let me tell you, when the revolution starts we will have NO TIME to carry clutch-purses, relax on pillows, or mix cocktails — let alone time to stencil! This may sound a little at-odds, coming from someone who does sewing projects, but I feel a constant pull to keep my sewing functional, sustainable, practical . . . just what I need and not more, and always built to last as long as possible.

My parents’ back-to-the-landism I count as a huge success, though its purest form was short-lived. It resulted in the building of a still fully-livable house, a still-functioning well, and indeed a still-functioning outhouse too. Not to mention their lifelong relationship with and tender stewardship of the piece of land that they have worked on for over 30 years now. And often when I am stumped and irritated by my own artistic process, I remember a day long ago when I had my first lesson in improvisation — the day I watched my dad puzzle his way through his frustration to build an invented staircase.

We went shopping downtown last week . . . for a special outfit for Ari to wear to our friends Kate & Rob’s wedding (I know, I know! Don’t hit me, I really was ready to sew, had made the patterns already! But then Freya and I decided to just bust out and buy him some new duds.) For some reason we thought it would be an enjoyable outing . . . but! The choices — so generic. The salespeople — so snippy and bored. The quality — so low. The veneer on the whole transaction — so thin and so shabby! Anyway the experience just reminded me how lucky I am that it’s been about two years since I set foot in that world of mainstream retail, I had actually forgotten how it feels.

And I am completely dreading tomorrow’s obnoxious September 11th memorial hoo-ha — its been ramping up for a week already. This nation’s stock has fallen so far in such an unbelievably short time — just listening to an NPR report on how vehemently we (Americans as a generic group, and our leadership in particular) are hated by citizens in diverse nations all across the globe put me in the most foul and anxious mood the other day. Freya tells me just to not turn on the radio tomorrow or look at the headlines in the newspaper box tomorrow, but I know I won’t be able to resist.

Anyway, happy day to you!


And here’s a photo of me living it up in my swimming suit (it used to be a long-sleeved tee shirt) with Ari in the Yellowstone River. More photos to come at the next update.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

So, the recycling project is going fine (I’ve been a bit slow to make new stuff, but since the weather hasn’t changed yet I’m still OK for now . . . am I the only one who can see a tragic repeat of last year’s autumn panic already on the horizon? Darn it, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes, aren’t we?). But I did make a swimming suit — what a treat, to build your own swimming suit, why did I never do that before? I look forward to some hiking this weekend, and my feet are looking forward to a little time off the sidewalk!

A brown dress newspaper article hit in Australia, and there was a flurry of emails and radio interviews . . . perhaps it was the final flash in the pan for me as international Brown Dress spokesperson?

We had a block party out in the street tonight . . . it was so fun to block off the traffic and play and eat a potluck in the street. Very sadly, “that family” didn’t come out to join us (the one with the daughter on and off welfare, the son in and out of jail, the group of young men involved in neighborhood gunfire, dealing drugs and drinking out of paper bags down on the corner by the school . . .) you can imagine they just didn’t feel comfortable at the party, on this sweet and rapidly gentrifying street amongst the queer (hello!) white (hello!) artists (hello!) with young children (hello!) . . .

I must say that my brother Owen was so right. Over a year ago when I told him about my (then brand-new) Brown Dress, he was completely with me until I said I was planning to launch a website about the project.

“Ha!” he said, “You’re doing a project about sustainability and you think you need a website? That’s the opposite!”

And I didn’t hear him at all.

This site and the reactions and connections from it have been a MASSIVE engine for this project, and for that I’ll continue to give thanks. And, obviously, it’s delightful to hear from folks all over the world, whether they are filled with joy from encountering my project or are offering critiques or jabs, it’s cool to know that folks are hearing me — we are truly living in a time when connections and dialogue are easy.

But on the other side of the coin, on the level of creating sustainability in my life and in this world, my brother was absolutely right. What good does it do me, for my life, health, relationships, family, etc to spend hours each week updating this little beast? If I have come to the belief that recreational shopping is dangerous, how is recreational web-surfing any better? For those who can’t find community in their own neighborhoods, I understand that a web-based community can feel like a life-saver, but right now I feel driven to connect even more to the human beings who actually surround me day after day. Even if I don’t agree with them. Even if I don’t understand them. Even if it’s challenging.

Right now I’m burning electricity here in my house and also supporting the huge bunker server hubs — why bother turning off a light-bulb here and there when I’m fueling that suck of megawatts? And what do I really know about this computer here, built in who-knows-what conditions in international factories, of toxic components, heavy metals and plastics . . . blah blah blah.

I feel like it’s time to be less plugged-in for a while. Maybe all the skepticism and justifications above are a complete crock, and I’m just worn out and ready for a break. Perhaps it’s just a case of “be careful what you wish for” . . .

So anyway, if this is your first visit to the Little Brown Dress project, please enjoy the site. And if you write, I’ll still be checking the email. But next time you are thinking of clicking back here for my update, please consider knocking on your neighbor’s door instead. Yes, that neighbor who is a challenge to you, a little scary, the who you don’t agree with or understand. And I’ll try to do the same over here.



Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hi there,

The media swirl is finally settling down. And not a moment too soon, my sweetheart Freya was completely fed up of me being stressed out and on interviews all the time — it has been a really draining few weeks for our little family! People are randomly recognizing me in parking lots and waiting rooms around town after the little bit of TV stuff about the brown dress last week, which is fun. But now it’s really time to take a deep breath, enjoy my family, and get back to work with my business clients (, fun new outdoor dance project for this weekend (, and the NEW clothing project (new photos are below). No rest for the wicked.

And yes, the little brown dress is still on the lam. Last I heard, the dress was visiting a new friend in Oklahoma. (The dress “walked out” of my final performance at the end of the project year and somebody else — I don’t yet know who! — has appropriated/recycled my project and launched a new narrative for the dress). See the links page if you want to make contact with the brown dress on it’s journey — pretty entertaining so far!

And here is a quick update on the new intentional wardrobe project (now that the brown dress year is over).

Scroll down this page to the July 9 journal entry to read the rationale behind the new project. The eventual idea is to build my own 100% post-consumer recycled extremely pared-down wardrobe (and it’s actually too vast already, I think).

Pictured below is the full collection of what I’m wearing now — all designed (or re-designed) and built by me:

cotton skirt, I made it years ago shirt (back shown) made from 2 old stretchy shirts
t-shirt re-fabbed, fancy stitching short pants re-fabbed, patches & script stitching
linen skirt, I made it years ago wrap skirt, I made it years ago
shorts (back shown) — because it’s summer! scrap material and recycled pockets from my old favorite corduroys jacket (back shown) re-fabbed, fancy stitching
the fancy outfit, I made it years ago shoes made from my old leather pants, I needed to add ankle straps and now they’re so sassy
undies are made from T-shirts bathrobe, I made it years ago
bag made from scraps, and the lining was a pretty pink sheet I’m especially proud of my latest invention! soft & stretchy backpack made from my old sweatshirt
So that’s it, that’s all I have to wear right now. What’s next to build? More undies (two is just not enough!), a swimming suit, a warm sweater, and full-length pants (we’re heading for a Montana camping trip in August). Maybe some jewelry.

I’m trying to go slow & thoughtfully in making additions. I’ll start removing items as I replace them with better, 100% recycled versions. You will recognize some of these things in their former versions if you’ve been watching the brown dress photos. Currently everything is re-fabbed or built from source materials out of my existing wardrobe and fabric scrap piles. Once I have my bearings, I’ll put out a call for new materials (thanks to everyone who has been offering gifts already, just give me a few weeks to get organized . . .)!

I have no snappy name yet for the new project, got any suggestions for me?

This is turning out to be so much more work than just making one little brown dress . . . is it all worthwhile? It’s too early to say after only 11 days, so I’ll just keep stubbornly pressing forward — and I guess everyone can tell by now that sticking-to-it is a strong trait of mine. Ha!

Happy day to you!


Sunday, July 9, 2006

Hi! Thanks for thinking of me.

My brown dress year is officially *over*. On July 7th, 300 friends (old friends, plus many, many brand new friends) joined me at Consolidated Works in Seattle for the “Un-dressing” Party. It was a blast! See the brown dress journal for a full report.

So, I don’t wear the brown dress anymore. In fact, I don’t even own the brown dress anymore, somebody *took it* from the party after I took it off. More on that in the journal.

I’ve launched my new project for this year, and I’m wearing only things I have made myself head to toe (including shoes, bag, jewelry, underwear, socks, you name it). Since I have for many years been a maker of things, I do have a handful of things that I’ve made over the years that will serve as a starter kit. The NEW things that I make will be from recycled materials sourced completely outside the marketplace (ie, no big thrift store binges in my future).
The new project, though not as graphic as the “brown dress” idea, could actually be more pure in it’s execution because as you have seen from the brown dress photos, I was always cluttering up the brown dress with factory-produced layers.

Why do another project? Quite honestly, I’m hooked on this new way of living in an intentional wardrobe. I don’t have a name for this whole way of thinking yet, although others have suggested some. A “fashion de-tox”. A “slow fashion movement” (paralleling the slow food phenomenon).

Why make it all? Well . . . there’s a simmering debate that I occasionally encounter in the contemporary visual art world, a debate about whether it matters who “actually makes” the art pieces (often a big-name artist creates designs and concepts, and the actual forms are fabricated by assistants and contractors who are experts in their craft – Dale Chihuly being our local Northwest mega-lord of this business model). I think it’s an interesting and timely debate, because as a society we always try to be as disconnected as possible from the hands that actually do our work, stitch the elastic into our underwear, trim the thorns from our rose stems, shine our restroom countertops, wrap the rubber bands around our asparagus. All these things are done by somebody’s anonymous hands, like it or not. So your cleverness in purchasing a fine jacket “on sale” in a store does make you the owner of that material item, but your ignorance of the person who’s hands turned the collar and stitched the pocket lining together makes your ownership incomplete – you can’t really take credit for that jacket’s existence. The designer of that jacket can’t really take complete credit for it either. There’s a magic in building/making, if you’ve ever done it you know what I mean. By designing and building all the pieces of my own wardrobe for a year, can I claim some sort of complete ownership over an aspect of my life?

How this might play into future performances or other things, it’s impossible to say, but I’m taking my brown dress lesson to heart: if you just start doing something that seems like it will be a bit of challenge, and you just keep doing it, there will probably be a story in there somewhere.

This might sound funny to those who’ve been following the brown dress project, but I actually had kept a LOT of my old wardrobe in the back of the closet thinking I might transition back into ‘civvies’ at the end of the 365 brown dress days. Now that I’m launching the new project, everything that I don’t plan to recycle we took to Goodwill.

These are some of the things from the closet that I’m keeping for recycling – separated into categories like heavier knit sweaters, woven fabrics, and cotton knit fabrics.

At this point, two days into the project, I’m slowly but steadily re-fabbing old items from my own wardrobe and using up the scraps and yardage from old projects in my studio (since it would be rather against the ethic to toss out all the good raw materials I already have stacked around here, non?). As soon as I get my bearings in the project and have a better idea what I need, I’ll also begin accepting gifts of materials to recycle.

And yes, for those of you who want to split hairs, I am going to wear two manufactured items — my wedding ring and my eyeglasses (the first because my relationship has nine years seniority over this new project and thus it pulls rank, and the second as a courtesy to those with whom I occasionally share the freeway).

Currently this is my only pair of shoes – I used to have this pair of leather pants — they were awesome, but since I didn’t make them, hasta la vista! And now I have the softest shoes in the world. I don’t think they’ll last very long, the leather is so soft, but I’m pretty pleased with my invention.

I do feel some pride in reducing my own eco “footprint” through this art and performances, but I know it’s mostly superficial. All I can hope is that it sparks some interest in somebody else, somewhere, to question the unquestionable and refuse convenience.

I’ll post a thorough update on the new project once I have a chance to pull everything together — but don’t expect daily photos, I need a break from that particular discipline. I think I’ll stay with this URL but I’ll need to redesign the site to hold both projects, so it may take me some time.

Stay tuned!


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