Raina Shawl

The story of a shawl that embodies my yarney commitments.

I’ve already determined that I am a shawl convert; once a disbeliever, Iam now a committed member of the handknitting shawl society. The Raina Shawl by Andrea Mowry from Making no. 4/Lines is an incredible shawl. I had high hopes of making this squishy piece when the magazine was first published – and finally found the perfect yarn match this fall.

I love the two yarns in this shawl. One is a breed-specific farm yarn: Round Barn Fiber Mill Esme – a pure Jacob yarn from a single sheep (named Esme) whose fleece produces this lofty, soft, and delightful natural brown yarn. I paired Esme with a white Shetland yarn that I reclaimed from a thrifted sweater. This reclaimed yarn is a little more robust than Esme, which is why the Shetland took the first color place and Esme plays a supporting role in the background of the brioche. The chance to hold a recycled yarn along with a breed-specific yarn is my ideal knitting project! I care so much about using yarn from these two sources: small farms and rescued sources – and the fact that I could use them together in one project where they work so well together was truly satisfying.

This project also brought a new technique: two-color brioche. I’ve done brioche before – usually one-color, with a lot of mistakes and confusion. I have heard from other knitters that two-color brioche can be frustrating and time consuming as it involves sliding a finished row of stitches to the beginning of a needle and following with the second color – so it takes two rows to finish one row. I had no interest in sliding my stitches to the beginning of the needle. So, before I started this project, I sat down with the Sockmatician one-pass brioche tutorial and focused. I learned the one-pass method in one night and cast on my shawl the next day. I will admit, the last time I had to focus like this in a knitting project was when I was learning to knit back in 2011… There was a lot of focus going on.

With one-pass brioche, my Raina Shawl was a very smooth and satisfying knit. I love the finished shawl and the way the two yarns play together. I finished this shawl the night before my second PhD qualifying exam. I wore it during my exam as a protective wooly layer to remind me that: yes – I am amazing! I can knit this shawl and I can pass this exam. I did pass, and I think the focus and clarity I found from knitting Raina helped immensely.

Raina was a delight to knit. Worth every bit of intense focus.

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The #yearlongmittalong

Colorwork mittens have become my knitting lifeline. They worked their way into my strict garment knitting diet. They’ve given me a chance to work with yarns that are out of my comfort zone and sweater quantity price range. Most of my knitting life life has been characterized by garment knitting and making sweaters for others is something I have absolutely no interest in. I’m surprised with my desire to knit these mittens for others. I want to share the glory of colorwork mittens with everyone!

MITTENS FOR EVERYONE

The mittens I’ve made so far are all from the first Selbu mitten collection from Eli of Skeindeer. I love watching her YouTube videos, and her colorwork mittens and are inspirational. So inspirational that they drew me right into the cult of colorwork.

I might be a mitten addict now, but it was a bit of a struggle finding my colorwork rhythm. While I planned on knitting along with the #yearlongmittalong since it’s introduction in January. I didn’t cast on until March and then I took a break until my second pair in August. These first two had an important deadline – wedding presents for my wonderful St Louis roommates, which I just barely made on time.

I knit the Mebonden and Selbu patterns first in this wonderful all American sport from swans island yarn co. I LOVE this yarn. It has the slightest variation in color which is perfect for these mittens. This yarn produces a lightweight mitten that’s perfect for transitional weather. That time of year when you can show off you knits instead of being bundled head to toe against the bitter cold.

The best part about all American sport (besides being a 100% American yarn!) is the fact that I can squeeze two pairs of mittens out of it! I managed two out of the navy and gray, and I did it again out of a purple combo. Love that yarn that keeps on giving.

My slow introduction into mitten knitting began to snowball as I received requests from friends to provide their seasonal hand warmers. Two of my mittens, the red and white Flora mittens and black and cream Selbu mittens, went straight to well-deserving friends across the country. I’m so glad to have these mittens out in the world. This is perhaps the first time I’ve felt excited about giving a knit away. I think that sums up the effect these mittens have on my knitting spirit – they make me want to share it with everyone I know.

I’m still waiting for homes to pop up for the two mittens knit in plum and lilac – I know someone will pop up and they’ll find their forever home (for now they’re shoved in a dresser drawer…)

I see more mittens in my future. Right now I’m enchanted with Dianna Walla’s new mitten collection and I’m really hoping an English version of Selbuvotter is released soon… though I might cave and buy the Norwegian version for the charts!!!

Naniboujou Swoncho: on doubt and colorwork

My Ninilchick Swoncho

Or:

The story of a sweater that you don’t particularly like whilst making but reminds you of home halfway through and then you love it.

I love the Ninilchick Swoncho pattern by Caitlin Hunter. I loved it when it first came out and I love it now. I longed to knit this pattern immediately after it’s release back in February of 2017. I was only able to cast it on with yarn support from my knitting patron (my generous mother-in-law), which she provided back in March. However, March is not the time to knit a swoncho, so I waited until September to cast on this woolly mammoth – and it was so so satisfying.

First about this yarn: Arranmore Light from The Fibre Company. It’s soft and beautifully dyed. The tweed flecks are out-of-this-world gorgeous. It has little memory, but it drapes beautifully (you win some you lose some…). I have admired the Fibre Co. for a while, however they yarns are definitely out of my usual price range (aka $6 sweaters from the thrift store). So, after my yarn patron ordered herself a batch, she kindly (oh so generously) offered to plop some skeins in her cart for me! The only stipulation, use the skeins she already had of Raspberry red. I knew I wanted to knit the Ninilchick Swoncho asap, and with Arranmore Light weighing in at a perfect DK, it was obvious that the other skeins I chose should round out my swoncho colorwork. So starting with the Raspberry as my main color, I perused the Fiber Co site to determine which trio I should order to make the perfect Swoncho. I was leaning towards a pink and purple vibe (I unashamedly love this color combo), however, something pulled me in the vibrant primary direction. I decided on a teal blue, sunflower yellow, and basic white would compliment my Raspberry red main color. The original swoncho pattern has two lighter and two darker colors. I knew my body color would count as a dark color, so I paired it with the blue to round out the dark camp. The white and yellow both cover the light requirements.

With my four bold colors, I set out deciding which would be contrast one, two, and three. I decided contrast one should be yellow, as a cheery grounding color next to the raspberry. Contrast one is the most used contrast color in the pattern and the yellow matches the red in vibrancy while being slightly lighter in weight, so it does well to introduce the colorwork in this sweater. White would be contrast two, which provided a true contrast with the red in those beautiful and central diamond patterns. Finally, blue would be my contrast color three, which is used the least but pops the most. Deciding which colors to put where was surprisingly challenging. I felt very unsure of myself, doubting if I chose the right color placement or even the right colors at all.

Doubt was the theme of this project. At first, I doubted I would ever be able to get the yarn to cast on in the first place. My wonderful knitting patron granted that wish. Second, I doubted my ability to choose colors that would be interesting yet wearable. Third, I doubted my tension throughout the whole thing – it seemed so loose especially after knitting so many pairs of colorwork mittens. Blocking works miracles, so I knew this doubt would ease once I submerged this babe in some water. So, while I could ease some of my worries, my concern about color kept coming back, creeping into my dreams, and making the knitting process altogether unpleasant.

Through expressing my doubts to friends and the knitting internet land, my fears slowly subsided. I’m grateful for those who took my concerns seriously. Many times, I am hesitant to share my concerns or misgivings about a project for fear that I’ll be perceived as fishing for a compliment. I see the use of complements to treat concerns frequently in the comment sections of instagram – someone says something isn’t quite right about a work in progress and commenters flood in with “you look great” or “Totally love it.” However, these compliments don’t actually get at the root of what created the doubt in that current project. That doubt could be rooted in an actual technical error, or lack of knowledge. It could be rooted in physical discomfort from poor technique or poorly functioning tools. And, frequent in my case, it could be from lack of confidence in my own opinions or decisions. Positive affirmations do not change the fact that many of my doubts are rooted in insecurities about my own decision-making. In order for this doubt to evaporate, I must feel confident in my decisions. However, the compliments of others don’t lead me to identify decisions I am happy with, they lead me to decisions that make other people happy. But only seemingly happy, because these compliments are, most likely, a cultural form of addressing discomfort (push it away and move on!). Addressing concerns or doubts with compliments does not actually get at the root of our concerns, it merely covers it up and prevents us from actually having a sense of agency in the world. As a woman, and a knitter, I am all about actively participating in my world – so how I see my own agency matters. If we want to inspire ourselves and others to be active and make change in the world, it has to start with our own doubts.

My doubts about the colors of this sweater were only put to rest when these colors finally had some meaning. That meaning came in the form of a quick reply on instagram stories from my friend Anna who mentioned that these colors reminded her of a lodge she visited during her trip to the Minnesota north shore this past summer. While she forgot the name of the lodge, I knew it right away – Naniboujou.

I visited this stunning building when I was 12. I don’t remember much, some wildflowers, agate hunting, and the ceiling of the Naniboujou lodge dining hall. This ceiling is absolutely stunning: vibrant, geometric, and bold. The colors of this sweater mirror the feeling of the dining hall at this Minnesotan historical site. While I don’t have any strong feelings of attachment to this lodge, I do have strong attachments to Minnesota and Minnesotan history. I am especially intrigued by the facts of this ceiling. It was painted in the 1920’s by a french artist who was inspired by Cree artwork. I would like to know where this artist saw Cree artwork, which pieces he saw, and if he studied them rigorously before using them as inspiration. The lodge is also known as the “Cree” lodge, but I’m doubtful there was any involvement from the Cree people in the creation or preservation of this lodge… If anyone knows differently please comment below. The use and celebration of Native American art in this building concerns me especially because there is no mention to the present day Cree people or their interests or art. This lodge is beautiful, and it’s history is complicated. It’s more of an hommage to the luxuries of the Jazz age and modernity than any traditional people groups. The story of this lodge, like Minnesota, and all European presence in the Americas is complicated – however the complicated social history of a place cannot deter me from loving its trees, rivers, lakes, birds, and even people, no matter how complex they are.

The instant Anna mentioned the lodge, my feelings towards my Ninilchick Swoncho changed. Suddenly, I was in love with this sweater that reminded me of home (and all the complexities that come from interpreting traditional art in a modern style). This sweater also represents a kind of liberation from my own indecision and insecurities. I made something bold AND I love to wear it. I can be bold while being myself. This is a true revelation, as events in the past years have made me shrink back and protect myself rather than walk with pride. I will always be surprised by how much meaning is knit into each handmade project – hours of self-love are working their way into my soul and making me feel confident in myself and my decisions. And they say clothes are frivolous…

Slow Fashion Ethics: Utilitarianism

Utilitarian ethical theory is the most recognized ethical theory among English speakers (and perhaps the French too…). It was first theorized by philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 1780’s and continued by many including the 18th century philosopher John Stuart Mill and contemporary scholar Peter Singer.

Utilitarians provide a calculation to determine the best action to take. They claim that the best action is the one which leads to the greatest good/pleasure/happiness for the greatest number. This is called the utilitarian calculus, which is often referred to simply as “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

The single thing that makes an action good or bad is our desire to pursue happiness. Utilitarians, based on a long tradition of Western philosophers, say that this desire is inherent to humanity – every human seeks actions that lead to happiness. The pursuit of happiness is central to modern life – especially for those who live in the United States where it’s included in our Declaration of Independence. This pursuit is very focused on the individual – whatever the individual determines will make them happy is a pursuit that is, in some sense, protected by the government. However, the pursuit of happiness has reached farther than the U.S. Declaration of Independence, mainly to global capitalist business enterprise.

In the case of utilitarianism, the greatest good, the pursuit of happiness, and the accumulation and protection of property are synonymous. And it is the pursuit of property (money) that drives industries like fast fashion. For the fashion industry, utilitarianism guides the typical fast fashion philosophy where the greatest good is usually the greatest profit. But there are a number of ways fast fashion companies use a utilitarian calculus to justify their business practices. Sometimes, it literally means that these businesses try to offer the most items to the greatest number of people. Other times it can operate in reverse, where the greatest good for the greatest number is the lowest production cost for the largest output of items.

Slow Fashion advocates also use a utilitarian calculus, however they use it very differently than the above mentioned businesses. Slow fashion questions how we currently define the greatest good. They seek to open the definition of greatest good for the greatest number to include the interests of both fashion labels, consumers, as well as garment workers and farmers. They critique fast fashion companies for their narrow interest in the bottom line. Using the same utilitarian calculus, slow fashion critiques fast fashion for miscalculating. According to genuine utilitarianism, the greatest number should mean the greatest number of humans. Thus, true utilitarian ethics requires that an action must consider the effects it has on all humans, not just consumers or corporate employees. According to slow fashion utilitarian reasoning, fast fashion companies are making the wrong calculation when they think only of the interests of the consumer or the bottom line.

Using utilitarian reasoning to advocate for slow fashion has some advantages – it follows the accepted logic of capitalist oriented businesses. By using utilitarian logic, slow fashion and fast fashion might be able to speak the same language. But only for a bit… because even though the two groups are using the same ethical calculus, their definition of the greatest good or greatest number wildly diverge. So while slow fashion advocates claim that the greatest number includes all humans, the earth, animals… all life – the fashion industry defines the greatest good in very narrow terms. And the greatest good is wildly divergent in these two groups as well, it could mean the greatest profit or the greatest output or the least harmful product. These divergent definitions can lead to confusing conversations where there can be little room to move to some sort of consensus about the greatest good in the industry.  However, the theory has such a stronghold over businesses and the English-speaking world that slow fashion advocates must understand it and use it to make their position heard in the modern world.

Slow Fashion Ethics: Ecofeminist Ethics

The Earth needs our attention, but so do the people sewing our clothes. They come hand in hand. All of the recycled textiles in the world couldn’t save the industry if people making less than a living wage were sewing them.

Adrienne Antonson, Sustainability and STATE pt. 1

Some feminist ethics are a reaction to the failures of Kantian ethics. They disagree with Kant (and Kantian’s) about many things, but the most important disagreement is the ability to approach ethics from universal principles. Feminists claim that when Kant formulated categorical imperatives, he did not have women in mind – in fact he was only thinking about people like himself (free, land owning, white men). Kant’s rules were never meant to apply to women or people of color or children; he failed to take them into consideration when thinking about who counts as a “human.” When Kant imagined these universal principles, he failed to really think universally.

I say “some feminists” because the range of feminist ethics is wide reaching and extensive. There are various streams of feminisms, but they are all united in one goal: the liberation of women from oppression based on gender and flourishing of all humans.

One stream of feminism is heavily present in slow fashion: ecofeminism.

Ecofeminism is the connection of concern for the well being of human beings with that of the environment. Ecofeminists claim that human flourishing depends on the well being of the earth – we cannot be separated from our environment. For ecofeminists, serious moral issues are directly connected to the way we treat the environment around us. This connection exists because people are part of the natural environment. Therefore, if you treat the environment a particular way you will also see human life in a similar way. If the environment is a resource that you use and can treat without certain limits, then people will also be seen in this way. So, for example, Delores Williams identifies that sexual violence towards black women is intimately connected to the practice of strip mining – while black women are seen as sexual objects, mountains will be seen only for their ability to give us coal and vise versa.

I love the quote from Adrienne Antonson included at the beginning of this post – it’s a clear example of how a slow fashion advocate connects her practice to the care of her environment. In this quote, she determines that efforts to recycle clothing fail to accomplish the goal of ethical fashion if they don’t take garments workers into consideration – the two are inseparable. Thus, an ethical approach to the fashion industry must be concerned with garment workers and materials, dyes, garment factories, and pollution.

Ecofeminists in slow fashion are concerned about the flourishing of garment workers and the environment which produces our garments. They start from the very beginning with interest in raw materials – they are concerned with the production of the cloth, how factories operate, what energy sources are drawn upon, and how clothing is transported to buyers. They are focused on livable wages for garment workers and also the cotton farmer. They are interested in reducing pollution in the dyeing cycle and when raw materials are grown. They are concerned about the end of the clothing life-cycle – they want to know what happens to a garment when it is no longer worn by it’s target audience. Is it recycled, can it decompose, will it remain on the earth for hundreds of thousands of years?

The concerns of ecofeminsts are wide reaching, as they extend beyond human wellfare to the flourishing of the earth. But, as ecofeminists claim (and I agree), our environment is inseparable from the people in it – so if we are so concerned about garment workers we must be equally concerned about the land where those garment workers call home, the farmers who grow the materials that garment workers use to make our clothes, and the place where that garment will be thrown away when it is no longer useful. Clothing has a life cycle – and ecofeminists care about every stage.

My New Moodboard

The first #slowfashionoctober prompt was to make a moodboard. Moodboards aren’t my forte. I like them for storing information, but I rarely find them useful as a whole. However, I took this week to try something different, to work out a moodboard of what feels like my style; what feels like me.

I learned that I love the look of vintage, or vintage inspired, clothing a LOT! woah, that was a surprise. Before, I probably would have called myself a casual minimalist, but after this exercise, I found myself slowly removing the minimalist street style pictures and filling my board with more wild landscapes and skirts. Now my mood board is filled with romantic images inspired by edwardian fashion combined with 1940’s tomboy’s.

I still don’t have a name for this style. North woods vintage? Off-duty museum docent? Time-travelling Laura Ingalls Wilder? I’m sure the name will come.

I found this exercise especially helpful because I just started a new era of my academic career – teaching. My graduate student style was very similar to my at-home outfits – very casual. However, I knew for my teaching role I would need to do something different for one reason: I still look like an undergraduate. If I was going to understand myself as an authoritative voice who administers grades that potentially determine student’s futures, I had to make sure I could feel authoritative standing in front of a class of student’s who look the same age as I do. This really isn’t that hard, most of them wear t-shirts and running shorts to class, but there are a few who have a bit more style. I have a few “professional” clothes in my closet, which have served me well for conferences and presentations over my time in grad school, but teaching requires a few more tops than the two I currently own.

While I could have two wardrobes: a work wardrobe and a casual one, I would rather my closet blend more between my weekdays and weekends. In the long term, this will hopefully mean I have less clothing overall and each item receives more wears.

This mood board is pointing me in a different direction than I thought I had to go, and this new direction feels more authentic. I think many of the looks on this board could still be professional enough for the classroom setting (which is much less “professional” than any corporate environment). I see white blouses, wide legged pants, and pleated/gathered skirts with waistbands – those are all teaching appropriate! I’m excited to work towards a teaching wardrobe that is both professional and cabin-appropriate.

This little board above was distilled from a larger board I’ve been creating all week. I tried to gather looks for every season, and organized it by grouping the spring and summer looks on the bottom with fall and winter looks towards the top of the board. You can see my original board below.

Portage Cardigan: Take Two

I did it, I finally re-made the Portage Cardigan by Melissa Sachschwary after my first failed attempt (seen here).

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I am so happy with this cardigan. This pattern was one of the first I truly fell in love with, right when I started knitting. I tried to make it in the worst yarn possible (black, tweedy, and no memory) and the first version failed. I decided to try again in the interest of using patterns I have and love – this time in the right kind of yarn.

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I found the perfect yarn at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival back in May 2018. After strolling through the fairgrounds filled with yarn booths, I happened across Madeline from Ballyhoo Fiber Emporium. Madeline had a delightful selection of yarns – and I almost bought some of her fingering weight Shetland, until I saw this Hampshire DK.

This 100% Hampshire is an undyed (she called it Naked Ewe for Naked You) two ply. There were a couple of spots in every skein where the yarn was “thick and thin” but overall the yarn was quite consistent. I was a little nervous at first that 100% Hampshire would be too rough for my skin – I’ve yet to see a Hampshire yarn marketed to the knitting masses. I decided to take the chance to knit a full sweater in this yarn, hoping that my the wool would soften with a wash and my body could adjust. I was also very excited to try out some wool exploration after catching up on some KnitBritish podcasts.

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Equally as enticing is the story behind this yarn. Madeline told me that this yarn comes from an eccentric art collector who lives in the hills of Kentucky. After visiting the U.K. he, apparently, was so captivated by the sheep grazing on the British hillsides, that he had to have the exact breed for his own land. So that’s how a flock of Hampshire’s ended up in Kentucky.

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Knitting this cardigan was relatively easy. I added a few modifications in the way of cables. I was inspired by Fee Donovan’s Portage – she continued the side cables through the hem of the cardigan. I followed her lead, and decided to add an underarm cable as well. This sleeve cable is my favorite thing about this cardigan – it’s shy but sassy  – like me.

I also eliminated the pockets – which I feel quite sad about. I tried very hard to make the pockets work, but somehow with my gauge and in this yarn, the pockets refused to lay flat against the body of the sweater. I had a huge gaping problem. Maybe one day I’ll add afterthought pockets, but for now it’s just fine.

I am so inspired to make another shawl collar cardigan – I think this cardigan style will get a substantial amount of wear in my academic wardrobe. They’re easy to layer, and I love the way they look. But, for now, I’ll relish in my newly completed Portage cardigan.