Marettimo – an exercise in beauty

I am delighted that I have a beautiful knit top to add to my collection. The Marettimo Sweater is a perfect addition to my fall/winter/spring wardrobe. When Caitlin Hunter released this pattern during the summer, I fell in love with the bold lace stripes. I wasn’t necessarily planning to cast on another short sleeve top so soon after my Tegna, but after a wild summer I decided that a little deviation from my knitting plans would qualify as self-care rather than self-destruction.

I cast on Marretimo to celebrate my birthday in August and to eliminate any extra stressors, I used only yarn from my stash. The yarn – zen yarn garden in serenity silk + – was good enough for this project. While the fiber content was perfect, I did notice that the speckles in the yarn had greater contrast the the original design. The greater contrast in the main color meant that this sweater could easily become busier than I intended. So to mitigate that, I chose to work the lace and boarder in the same color (an idea first recommended by Kyle). This simplified the sweater and made the lace section truly pop, while also allowing the speckles their time in the spotlight.

Do I love speckled yarn? no, not really, and the more I knit with it the more I think, this looks so lovely in the skein and wound in a ball but when it’s knit up, it looks a lot like those printer ink test pages… maybe it’s just this particular yarn with the contrasting speckles. I’m not totally opposed to using speckled yarn again, but it seems less likely since lately I’ve been consumed by breed-specific yarns and local fibers.

Using stash yarn always comes with challenges – my contrast color is leftover from my Zweig sweater. I assumed I would have just enough to finish the sweater – and I cut it so close. Too close, really. My sleeve lace section is lacking in a coordinating bind-off. This is the only part of the sweater I’m questionable about – do I really like the contrasting hem? should it be longer? Should I try to find a similar blue singles yarn for the hem? For now, it’s okay – and since I rarely go back and fix my knitting, it will probably be okay for the rest of time.

I made quite a few modifications – first my gauge was tighter than the pattern. So I did some calculations and cast on for the medium size. After knitting the body, I realized that the neckline was far too open for my preference, and the sweater was much longer than I intended – so I ripped back and reknit from the armholes up – resulting in a more cropped sweater. From the separation for the arm holes – I knit the size small. I also raised the front neckline by binding off more stitches for my first bind off row and eliminating two short rows on both shoulders. This neckline is perfect for me! I felt so empowered to make an adjustment that was previously too complicated for me to complete. I think modifications might be my favorite thing about knitting at the moment.

I thought a lot about this project – why I wanted to knit it – and how it might affect me. I intended this project to be an exercise in beauty, where I would forgo my typical practical intentions and knit something I did not need. In the end, after thinking about beauty, realizing that maybe this yarn wasn’t my ideal of beauty, and reworking the shaping of the neckline, I’ve come to understand my own commitments to “the beautiful” in a new way. Somehow, I had come to associate “beautiful” with something I could not have. Maybe it was because I assumed beauty came with a heavy price tag, though I’m not ready to commit to this explanation. However, choosing to make a project that was primarily valuable for its appearance (secondarily for its function) placed the creation of beauty in my hands. No longer is beauty something outside me, now I know I can make something beautiful. And the way I can accomplish this is by thoughtfully planning out a project that is both visually enticing and environmentally considerate. The ethical deeply impacts the aesthetic – I can’t separate these two. Something cannot be beautiful unless it tells the story of concern for the environment and my neighbors well-being. When I look at my handmade wardrobe, pieced together from secondhand fabrics, unravelled yarns, and local or breed-specific fibers, I can see that these qualities contribute as much to beauty as the color, weight, or design.

My exercise in knitting a beautiful project was certainly thought-provoking (and it produced a new garment!). I might try this kind of experiment again, with a different virtue rather than beauty, maybe courage or honesty. But, for now, I’m still working out how beauty impacts my creativity and my craft. I have a lot to think about.

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Thrifting Tips and Tricks: Sweaters

It’s no secret, the majority of my materials come from thrifted items. The low prices and wide variety of materials make it possible for me to stock my obsessive craft hobby on a tight budget. I’ve spent a lot of time at thrift stores searching for sweaters: so here are my favorite tips and tricks for how to find quality thrifted sweaters.

  1. Season Matters (mostly). I’ve noticed that more thrift stores I encounter rotate clothes on a seasonal basis. Especially larger chain stores, like Goodwill and St Vincent de Paul, seem to only stock seasonally relevant clothes. I rarely find quality sweaters during the summer months. So I stick to cooler weather months for my sweater thrifting. However, I have found that smaller towns or locally owned thrift stores rarely have the staff to be selective about seasonal clothing – so if you are on the hunt for sweaters in the summertime, I recommend searching in a smaller/locally owned shop.
  2. Check the Tags. Very obvious tip, but checking tags for fiber content is the best way to determine if a sweater is worth it. I try to avoid those acrylic sweaters, but sometimes I’m desperate for a specific color so I’ll compromise by purchasing a fiber with some acrylic or nylon content. While that 100% wool sweater might be the prize find, don’t discount other natural fibers or blends. Some of my favorite projects are made from thrifted cotton and finding a silk or silk blend yarn always feels like finding a secret treasure. I like to keep track of the brands I find with quality materials. That way, if I’m drawn to a sweater and notice the brand is one I’ve unravelled before, its likely to be another quality sweater. This also goes the other way, I keep track of the brands whose sweaters are almost always acrylic and avoid them like the plague. Some of my most unravelled brands are LOFT (and Ann Taylor), J. Jill, and J Crew. I also jump on any Eileen Fisher sweater I can find. The one’s I avoid are typical fast fashion brands like Forever21, H&M, and Old Navy (unless I really want cotton).
  3. Explore your area. You might find that the thrift store closest to home rarely carries quality sweaters, so branch out – check out some shops in different areas. Check the next town over, the suburbs, the city center, the outskirts of town. If I’m on the hunt for a specific project, I like to devote a weekend morning or afternoon to my quest and hit up the various thrift stores in a certain area of the city. If you do take this approach I recommend bringing snacks – it can be a big day. It might be a good idea to keep a running list of shops that tend to carry quality sweaters. Keep a list on your phone or in a notebook, that way if you’re in need for a good sweater and don’t have hours of time, your list can guide you.
  4. Stick to your budget. While I’ve had the occasional failed thrift store run, more often than not I can find numerous sweaters with fibers that would love to knit with. But, even thrift stores sweaters can add up in price and could quickly get out of control. Before you even leave your house, acknowledge what you can spend on materials that day. Setting those limits will prevent you from experiencing sweater regret.

I hope these tips help you on your thrifted sweater adventures. Let me know if you have any favorite tips and tricks when you search for thrifted sweaters in the comments below. And thanks to Mia for suggesting this topic as a blog post. I hope this helps, Mia!

Happy Thrifting!

Mending: Flannel Cuff Repair

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My favorite cotton flannel shirt was in serious need of repair. The cuffs were fraying and so many edges were wearing through. The tag had been attached by a safety pin for about four years (though this isn’t an essential fix – more of a sentimental one).

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I love this flannel – it carries heaps of sentimentality. It originally belonged to my dad in his adventure days. As his dementia has progressed, those adventure days are mostly behind him – but he still exclusively wears flannel shirts (like a good Minnesotan). It’s a special piece, but that doesn’t stop me from wearing it. What was stopping me from donning this as a casual layer was the quickly disintegrating fabric around high wear areas.

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I applied my very basic mending skills to the cuffs, as this was the area in most need of repair. I used a blanket stitch, but stitched incredibly close together so there were no spaces in between each downward stitch. This also looks somewhat like a buttonhole stitch – but I don’t know enough about hand stitching to make a definitive statement about that.

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The stitching is a little wonky – I’m still getting the hang of the rhythm of precision hand sewing.

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A week after I finished my cuff repair, I noticed new spots on the cuff collar that are wearing thin. It seems like this flannel will forever been in need of mending. While I easily could feel despair over the never ending task of trying to preserve this item of clothing, I’ve decided that it’s perpetual need of repair shines a light onto how I feel about this shirts original owner – my dad – and his illness and aging. By spending some time attending to the weak spots in his shirt, I’m reminded to keep pressing into the weaker spots in his memory. If I wanted this shirt to last forever, I would put it away and never touch it. But what we’ve learned about people with dementia (and people in general) is that this breakable doll treatment hardly helps anyone. What we all need is love and care as we exercise our minds and bodies in community with one another. We need some mending for our thin spots, some reinforcements for our weaknesses. Revealing our vulnerabilities (visible mending) is not something to be ashamed of, but rather it is something that demonstrates our participation in the unpredictabilities of life – it shows that we are really living!

Reclaiming Femininity: how I respond when people call me a 1950’s housewife

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Pictured here (clockwise from top left): my bento bag (from making no. 4), a candle made by my friend Brie, my great aunt Joan’s thimble and sewing scissors, a necklace made by my friend Carly, my basic fingerless mitts, a pink skein of Manos del Urugray, and my Flora Mittens.

Domestic. Feminine. Girly. 1950’s Housewife. All “compliments” that require a huge amount of interpretation on my part to be received well. When I first picked up knitting I had no idea about its history or its current cultural connotations as a woman’s activity. As I began to knit around my family and friends, I heard comments using the adjectives above with greater frequency. Being called domestic or feminine felt more like an insult than a compliment. It has taken a lot of thought to reach the point where I say thank you when someone compares me to a 1950’s housewife rather than slam the door in their face.

If I’m being honest with myself, I am feminine. Identifying as feminine is difficult to do considering my strong identity as a tomboy and my rejection of anything girly as a child. This rejection was still present when I picked up knitting in 2011, completely unaware of its feminine connotations. I was also completely unaware how this new hobby would reveal years of internalized sexism. As I became more and more of a “knitter” I wrestled with what it meant for me to be feminine and my deeply held negativity about femininity.

Let’s return to my identity as a tom boy. This identity had a very clear origin: sometime in elementary school I chose to embrace all things “boyish” and reject anything “girly.” Previous to this point I was a huge fan of the characteristic girly stuff: dresses, pink, dancing, dolls, etc. I chose to push aside those interests and take on totally new interests like football, the color orange, and cargo pants. Now I find it absolutely hilarious that to my eight-year-old brain cargo pants and orange were the most boyish things I could imagine.

One of the reasons I rejected femininity as a child was because, in my community, feminine things were characterized as boring, frivolous, and limiting. If I was girly, I couldn’t enjoy playing outside or being loud and rambunctious – which I desperately wanted to do at all hours. Somehow I made the all-or-nothing calculation that if I were to be strong, athletic, and loud, I couldn’t be feminine. I identified with these traits that could be traditionally labeled masculine and gave up my feminine traits. While I am glad I embraced those parts of me that were loud and strong, I can identify that for most of my childhood I did not feel like I could be myself. My decision to reject the feminine had been detrimental to my sense of identity.

After years of schooling and some very helpful academic courses on feminism and theology, I realized that qualities labeled masculine and feminine could, in fact, be embodied in one individual. These traits that are labeled feminine or masculine aren’t actually inherently gendered. The color orange does not, at its core, belong more to men or women. The ability to follow a recipe for cupcakes does not inherently belong more to women than men. Gendered traits are formed by communities and cultures. I realized that in my community, those traditional feminine qualities get quite a bad reputation. Even though I was raised in the era of “girl power,” girly things weren’t considered powerful and girls could only feel powerful if they rejected femininity.

Because I believed words like domestic and feminine to be boring, I had a hard time imagining why someone would tell me, to my face, that I was so domestic or I reminded them of a 1950’s housewife. In my mind these phrases were akin to calling me boring, frivolous, or antiquated. However, now I understand that my association of femininity with frivolity was internalized sexism and revealed how my community valued (read: did not value) traditional feminine traits, qualities, and activities. After coming to terms with my community’s belittlement of the feminine, I began to explore the values of traditional femininity. I rediscovered my love of dresses, embraced my appreciation for the color pink, and owned my skills in baking, knitting, and sewing. Rather than hide my love for these things, I embrace these activities as equally valuable to my skills in more male dominated spheres like rock climbing, technology support, and building/fixing things.

My obsession with knitting, and perhaps my initial ignorance of its gendered history, was the spark that began my reunion with femininity. Now that I no longer view feminine qualities and activities as boring, I feel more connected to the strong, creative, and feminine women who have preceded me. Women like my great aunt Joan who was a master weaver, natural dyer, and spinner and my great grandmothers Eleanor and Mary Belle who could knit lace weight garments with their eyes closed. These women were previously just names on my family tree before I took up knitting. For them, traditional women’s crafts weren’t limiting, but provided necessities and freedom in the form of economic independence. When I think about them, being called a 1950’s housewife seems a bit more bad-ass than it did before.

Most of my Clothes Used to be Bedsheets

 

It’s true, most of my clothes were originally produced to cover mattresses. Other people’s mattresses. Now, those old sheets have become my arsenal of t-shirts and dresses. I love transforming bedsheets into everyday garments.

The Practical:

It’s already been established that I’m operating on a tight making budget. $40 a month doesn’t go very far for everything needed to make clothing. Plus, I’m a newbie. I’ve only been sewing regularly for nine months – and teaching myself no less. If I hope to get any better, I need to practice, which requires access to materials. Sheets have a ton of yardage. Thrifted bedsheets, which I can sometimes buy according to weight, are a perfect solution to a tight budget. Most of the time I can get a bedsheet for $1-3, and each bedsheet will make two items (50 cents a shirt! that’s even cheaper that fast fashion). But the practical is only one piece to this grand making adventure.

The Philosophical: Beyond the practical reasons for sewing with bedsheets.

When I use my hands to create a garment from a discarded textile, I give those materials new life. I honor the hands involved in producing those materials – from the farmer who grew the cotton, to the workers who processed the fiber, to the artists who compiled the pieces together. My transformed garment remembers all of their efforts. I’m remembering the nameless and faceless. I’m refusing to let their efforts be masked. I’m recognizing that behind every item is a collection of hands desperate to make a living because my community demands absurdly cheap materials. And by remembering them I can resist my own urge to demand the same. I consider making garments out of discarded items as a gentle but powerful act of resistance. I resist the structures of capitalism that equate human beings to energy – simply cheap resources to get the job done. I resist the culture of waste – that new is always better and the old is better off discarded. I resist the idea that making things by hand is useless and meaningless. I resist the concept that handwork is too costly and inefficient.

Each time I choose to transform a discarded item into an everyday basic, I am habituated to see the good in the unwanted and discarded. This act small act of resistance reminds me not to give in to the demanding voices of an economic system that feeds on cheap labor and easy access to anything I want.

Making from unwanted items satisfies more than just my small budget, it creates the space for thoughtful reflection and critical engagement with economics, culture, and capitalism. I’ve grown to love my practice of sewing from bedsheets. But it doesn’t end there, while the practical and philosophical reasons for sewing with bedsheets are necessarily entwined, I wonder what would happen if my craft budget increased? I’m committed to the philosophy behind making with used materials, but I don’t believe that used materials are the only answer to my environmental and ethical commitments. Used materials fit within my budget at the moment, but I’m confident that ethical options are available at any budget point. I know if I had the resources, I would gravitate towards newly produced materials that acknowledge and valued the work of farmers, producers, and makers.

I’m purely speculating. I don’t have the resources at the moment to buy new, and I don’t think I’m good enough at sewing to use new ethically produced materials without the fear of ruining them forever. So while I’m building my skills with needle and thread, I feel confident and comfortable with my choice to use discarded items.

All that from an old bedsheet!

Happy Making.

 

On Recycling (and a pair of socks)


The #slowfashionoctober Instagram prompts have me thinking about my craft as of late. I highly recommend checking out the feed here. The “what” prompt got me all excited about recycled materials. Even though the prompt was posted over a week ago, I’m still thinking about the meaning behind using recycled materials for my work. There are a lot of ways to be ethical/considerate in crafting. Sourcing locally, dyeing naturally, and organic wool are a couple that jump out at me. I love these options, but price wise they’re usually out of my reach. However, I don’t think cost has to be a barrier to conscious crafting. Recycling materials from items that already exist can really cut down on the overall costs of making. Buying a linen duvet cover from a thrift store is most likely going to be less expensive than new linen. And, with extra effort, quality materials can be found. But cost is only reason why recycled materials play such an important role in my life.

From the perspective of waste reduction, the best materials are the ones that already exist. According to this view, making my clothing from clothing that might end up in the landfill would minimize total waste. It’s a simple calculus that I find motivating and useful when I think about the impact of my hobbies on the earth. Of course, this is a very mathematical/economic way of thinking about making clothes.

Sometimes I like to be a bit more poetic. As I was knitting these socks I kept thinking about non-human recyclers. Just about every other creature on this earth might be better at recycling than us humans. Or at least every ecosystem has designated recycling systems built in. There are mammals, like raccoons and possums, who scavenge food waste. There are birds who build their homes from discarded items in the forest and the city. There are entire species whose job it is to break down plants and animals so they return to the earth. These decomposers perform essential roles by creating rich and fertile soil that is open and welcoming to new growth. Without these mammals, insects, and mushrooms, we would live in toxic environments.

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I wonder if there is a role for the scavenger and decomposer in the making community? We place much needed emphasis on sourcing thoughtful new materials, but do we pay enough attention to the back end of the process? What would it look like for makers to take note from the scavengers and decomposers of the world?

Just like every slow food devotee has a compost heap, would every slow fashion maker have a yarnpost heap?
Would we dumpster dive for materials that others have deemed irreparable?

Would we have competitions for most mended garment? Or item with the longest or most wears? Would we begin to keep note of these stats on our own clothing items?

Would we celebrate, rather than despair, when our friends frog a garment because it’s unworn and celebrate again when they knit it into something loved?

Would we start up new quilting bees for our fabric scraps?

As I think about the role recycling could have in maker communities I get excited. The ideas I mentioned above actually sound like a blast. I love making with other people, and all the more l reason to gather together in creativity!

I know that talking about material sourcing and waste can be a touchy issue. It’s so easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not following one of my slow fashion goals. But, it doesn’t have to be about strict adherence to moral-fashion guidelines. We are all creative people, and this isn’t a competition. The massive challenges facing our earth and communities won’t be solved through individualism. Working together to do our best which will almost certainly be imperfect is better than perfection alone. I think the best place to start is with a small idea and a forgiving heart.

Happy Making

Why Reclaimed Craft

Craft because I have to, reclaim because I can.

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I make things all the time. Sometimes I say it’s an obsession or an addiction. But actually, making is more like a passion and a devotion to a practice. I make because I feel most alive when my I’m pouring myself into a project. Most of the time it’s a garment, probably knit or sewn, but I make other things too.

 

Reclaimed Materials

Making things requires resources. Whether I’m making a new sweater or a quilt, I need stuff. I used reclaimed materials for most of my projects. Here are two reasons why.

  1. I’m a grad student. Grad student’s don’t have a ton of expendable resources. I have a small budget for crafts every month, but that’s not enough to satisfy my insatiable desire for sweaters or dresses.
  2. I care about my environment – and I try to reject consumerism whenever possible. I don’t buy the message that new things are better or will make me happy. I want to take what I have and transform it into something I am proud of.

So where do most of my materials come from? They’re recycled (hence reclaimed). I find some pride in taking items that are cast aside (used jeans, a sweater from 2002, an old bed sheet) and transforming them into something beautiful. I love this process more than using new materials because it adds depth to my projects. I find materials anywhere, from my local upcycled community workshop, a thrift store, the dumpster, friends, or even my own belongings.

Reclaimed Craft

I also mean reclaimed as in retrieving what was lost. I’m trying to rediscover the notion of a skilled and considerate craftsperson. Someone who cares about their work and environment, takes time with their projects, and aspires for balance between practicality and aesthetic. Overall I want craft in this space to point towards, and hopefully represent, skill in making things by hand, and less about popsicle sticks and chalkboards.

So I want to invite you on this journey with me. I hope Reclaimed Craft can be a place that inspires you to use what you have and see beauty in the rejects. The potential is out there, we just have to have the eyes to see.