Saturday Project Bags

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I finally had a sewing day – after a year and a half I finally had a full day to sew whatever I wanted. I woke up with high hopes, I wanted to make a muslin for my first pair of persephone pants. I bought the pattern last spring, and had absolutely no time to make them with all the moves, but this Saturday was the day I could start.

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And then… we had no printer paper, so I couldn’t print out the pattern. So I thought I could drop by the store to pick up some paper and a glue stick, but then I remembered I didn’t have a car! My husband was off working a climbing competition all day (which was the reason I could have the whole day to sew in the first place). So, car-less and paper-less, I abandoned my plans to start on my beloved pants.

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Thankfully, I had a back up project – the Japanese Style Linen Tote project bag from Makine Zine no. 6 Black and White. Usually I carry around my sweater projects in those larger reusable grocery bags (pressed plastic fabric, anyone?). These bags are functional, but they’re 100% ugly and rip easily. I wanted to house my beautiful knitting projects in something equally as beautiful – so these totes were a high priority. It’s almost like fate said “You don’t need new pants… you do need a project bag.” Thanks fate for setting my priorities straight.

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I found some beautiful larger pieces of upholstery wool at Nashville’s creative reuse shop called Turnip Greens. This place is packed with secondhand materials. They operate on a “pay what you think is fair” philosophy, So I bought two pieces of wool (and some other odds and ends) for $2 – which is the cash I had in my wallet.

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Just as I was ready to cut out my fabric, I realized I was missing something. My fabric scissors. I left them in St Louis in my sewing basket, which houses all my other sewing tools. All I had were old paper scissors. And a loop turner. No pins, no sharp scissors, no marking tools, no rotary cutter, no seam ripper (NO SEAM RIPPER).

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I was determined to finish at least one bag, so I set out with my baby paper scissors and cut out my pattern from my thick upholstery wool. I’m used to cutting corners – almost every sewing project is an exercise in “how can I not follow the pattern and just use what I have.” I was already doing a TON of improvising. First, I was using wool instead of linen for the main fabric. Second, I never use interfacing, so I sewed old reusable bags and old denim to the lining to stabilize the bag. Third, the handles call for webbing, but I used stabilized upholstery fabrics instead. So, adding my lack of tools to my already improvised day didn’t seem like quite a stretch. I managed, heck, I had fun! So much fun that I was able to make two bags.

The pattern includes a beautiful bit of sashiko embroidery – but seeing as I had no hand sewing needles, I left the decorative patches off and kept my bags simple. On the second bag, I added a little selvage fringe to one of the seams. I love this little detail! I also love that these two bags are fraternal twins – made from the same materials but with totally different looks.

These bags are perfect; made from secondhand materials that cost me probably $4 total. I am always surprised that I can make beautiful things from discarded items. Even though I’ve been on this reclaimed craft journey for over two years now, it still surprises me that I can do it and that these materials are just out there waiting to be used. I’m stoked about these bags – and I can’t wait for my next sewing day to see what secondhand things I’ll create next.

 

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The Saffran Cardigan: A story in ethical decision-making

My friend Ben asked me to knit a baby cardigan to surprise his wife (and presumably his 6-month old Phoebe, if she can be surprised) for Christmas. I have the special privilege of watching Phoebe one day every two weeks – which brings me so much joy! When he asked me to knit this surprise cardigan I was immediately on board. I’ve had a lot of people request hand knit objects before the holidays – usually they come at the beginning of December and involve large projects… but Ben was smart. He asked me to knit this sweater in September, he offered to pay for materials, and he let me pick the pattern. This is how you ask a friend for a handknitted object!

I was very excited to peruse the large selection of baby cardigans on Ravelry – there are so many and they are SO CUTE! I finally landed on the Saffran Cardigan by Docksjo, an adorable raglan with snowflake/star/flower motifs allover in stranded colorwork. This was an easy decision – I love colorwork and the motif fit the request for a Christmas sweater (though this figgy pudding one was a very close second).

The Yarn

The more difficult decision – the ethical one – was all about yarn choice. I care about where my yarn comes from and what it’s full life cycle will look like. I want my yarn sources to be sustainable, support the wool industry in my region, and be free from non-compostable materials (like nylon). I have my own yarn-buying hierarchy. It begins with thrifting for usable yarns. Most of my large projects come from this option – and it’s my favorite method as it fits my budget and allows me to save materials from the landfill. It’s not a perfect method… but it works well for now. Second, I try to buy directly from farmers and mills. This is option is very far outside of my budget… so I only get the chance to do this once or twice every year. If options one or two aren’t available, I try to buy 100% American wool (bonus if it was also milled and dyed in the U.S.) As a resident of the United States who was raised in a rural area, I want to support my farming neighbors as best I can, so when I can’t buy directly from them, I buy from sources that buy their fleeces. These three steps (thrifted, farm, american wool) make up my initial decision-making schema.

However, deciding which yarn to buy is always complicated by extra factors. The size of the project (and therefore the cost of the materials) will skew me towards one source or the other. If I’m knitting a blanket, I’ll lean towards thrifted yarns, but a pair of mittens will skew me towards farm yarn. When gift knitting, I always consider the lifestyle of the recipient – specifically their laundry habits. If they’re used to hand washing, and I believe they have sufficient yarn wherabouts to keep something out of the laundry machine, they get the prized 100% wool option (my mom is the only person who fits this category for me at the moment…). If they are likely to toss it in the laundry basket with their t-shirts and jeans, I’ll bend my no-superwash preference for them. Usually, I avoid superwash yarns as the ones available in the U.S. are treated with harmful chemicals that can end up in our waterways (leaks always happen). The reason I bend this rule when gift-knitting is because I value the longevity of the final product, that will hopefully become an heirloom piece. By knitting something out of superwash yarn, it stands the chance that it will last that much longer, even after accidental washes (but no dryer! Please no dryer!)

For my Saffran Cardigan, I chose to use Shepherds Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill. This is an affordable yarn that supports the American wool industry (milled in the US, from sheep in the US!) I wanted to keep the cost of this project relatively low while still knitting a quality piece from a yarn source on my ethical hierarchy. This merino wool is ultra-soft. It’s guaranteed to surprise any recipient with it’s handle. I’m not the biggest fan of ultra-soft yarns. I’m a bit too rough and tumble and need sturdy yarns myself, but I know that soft is all the rage, so soft yarns for gifts makes sense. With my soft yarn in hand, I set out to knit the cutest cardigan I ever did see.

The Pattern

Overall I enjoyed knitting the Saffran cardigan. The biggest “challenge” of this cardigan was the steek. I use the term challenge lightly. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of steeking, I just never found the need to cut open my knitting and prevent it from ever being unraveled in a usable way. But, as I was giving this sweater away, the chance it will need to be unraveled isn’t large, so I embraced the opportunity to steek and set out guns scissors a-blazing. The part I found to me mildly challenging was the section at the top of the cardigan where I was instructed to knit flat in colorwork. This was new for me and my tension was noticeably different in this section. I had to focus on this part. But I managed just fine and made no errors. I will most likely be making this sweater again – especially for all those babies that my friends are having at the moment!

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.

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

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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.