Finished Object: Flora Mittens

I’ve been excited about colorwork mittens for a while now – and the design of the Flora Mittens stood out miles from other colorwork mittens I’ve seen. This pattern is available in a bundle – five patterns in all (for about $25). The designer recommends that new-to-colorwork knitters start with the first pattern in the bundle and work their way to pattern number 5. Flora is third pattern, not the easiest but also not the most technical. I would consider myself a colorwork newbie, but I decided to jump straight to the pattern that stood out the most. I’m happy to report that it turned out just fine.

img_7782-1

I have been knitting for six years and these are my first proper pair of mittens. Sure, I made the obligatory newby mitten trial pair with acrylic yarn and poorly shaped thumb gusset (that was also back when I was unaware about weaving in ends… I tied everything in knots). I spent two of my winters in St Louis – which has a mild winter according to my Minnesotan climate gauge – in bulky scrappy mittens made from acrylic scraps found in a dumpster. Last Christmas I made my mom a pair of double layer mittens for her winter walks to work. It was this pair of insulated northern style mitten that made me realize I was lacking proper mittens.

Of all the knit items, I think mittens are the best way to show off knitting skill – yes, that’s right, mittens. While sweaters, scarves, and hats are amazing, a beautiful pair of mittens will add color to the dullest of dark winter days. Waving hello to someone with a stunning mitten shocks them out of their winter hibernation coma.

For these mittens I chose to purchase yarn. In my stash of thrifted sweaters waiting for unravelling I have yet to pick up some good wooly options. Trying to find two sweaters in the same weight yarn with colors that would work together was a challenge I was unwilling to take on at the moment. However, after completing these mittens I can say this challenge seems less overwhelming. My curiosity for rustic wools has been growing – and I wanted to see for myself how knitting with and wearing wool compares with my usual knitting projects (which are dominated by merino and alternative fibers).

The yarn I ultimately chose (though it’s lacking in true rustic-ness but the colors are on point) is Blue Sky Fibers Woolstok in October Sky (blue) and Quartz Crystal (pink). The wool is sourced from Peru. I was glad to find that the yarn company has documented the source of their wool in a blog post (you can read it here). The yarn is sold in 50 gram skeins which is the perfect amount for one pair of mittens for about $8. One pair of mittens for $16? I can justify that as a luxury project. Would I use this yarn again? Perhaps, I appreciate that the source of the wool is documented, but it does have to travel quite a distance to reach me. I’d like to explore the colorwork potential of American produced wools in my next pair of mittens. For my usual knitting projects (sweaters and larger items) locally produced ethical yarn are usually out of my budget – but a small project like 100 gram colorwork mittens might be the perfect way to support local yarn producers without breaking the bank.

img_7786

I’ve done colorwork before – but the last major colorwork project was this cardigan back in 2015. So deciding to jump into an intermediate colorwork pattern was definitely a risk. On my first mitten I had a couple of blunders – there’s some misplaced stitches that I chose to keep rather than rip back and replace. The second mitten, however, I would describe as perfect. I was expecting this pattern to be difficult and overwhelming, but I was pleasantly surprised how fun it was to knit these mittens. Deciphering the colorwork chart was like solving a scavenger hunt – following clues which create a magical result.

Colorwork involves the new and added difficulty of holding two strands of yarn but only knitting one at a time. I’ve experimented with different techniques including holding one strand in my left hand and the other in my right, wrapping one over my first finger and one over my second, and dropping the strand of yarn I wasn’t using. I finally settled on the Norwegian style of tensioning colorwork – holding both strands on the same finger. As a continental knitter, this method requires more dexterity in my right hand as I pick the correct strand of yarn – but I found it created the most even tension of the four methods.

I now recognize my new love for mittens. These also only took me three days to make. I have four other patterns in the Selbu Mitten Club bundle – and you can bet I will be making more colorwork mittens this year.

 

Advertisements

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.

img_5466-1
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

Clothing Swaps are Magic

I’ve been a swapper since birth. My twin sister and I had one closet until we were in grade school. Then, when that vast resource was halved, we would walk the entire 20 feet of the hallway to build outfits. Though, her outfits were always more put together. My friends would always swap clothes, and our church had a great culture of swapping hand-me-downs. I loved it.

img_3990-1Sporting some hand-me-downs

Swapping, not donating, is my favorite way to let go of used clothing.

  • Swaps reduce waste by providing a venue for used items to be reworn
  • Swaps are more personal
  • By swapping with a small group, there’s a greater chance clothes will be used and cared for
  • Every swap I’ve been to has unique and interesting items
  • Swaps have a minimal door fee, by the pound fee, or could be free!

In my last post I wrote about my handmade wardrobe goals. Well, every season my replacement plan leaves me with a few items that I no longer wear. They’re still usable, so I shuffle them off to my local swap.

My favorite swap in St. Louis happens at PerennialSTL – a creative reuse studio. Besides generally being my favorite place in the world, Perennail hosts well organized swaps that draw in people from all walks of life. After the swap is over, any leftover items that can be used for classes and workshops are set aside and unusable items are sent to the local textile recycling plant (I think to be made into airplane upholstery or carpets?)

img_4985Setting up at Perennial
I’ve volunteered at the past few swaps – it’s amazing how much is donated, how much people take, and the amount left behind. Watching the vast quantity of clothing pile up is almost overwhelming. Because of the piles of cute and trendy pieces, I am so tempted to grab whatever fits, but this doesn’t actually address my overall goal of reducing waste. If I continue to grab whatever I like, I’m still participating in the endless cycle of consuming textiles rather than wearing fewer pieces for longer periods. I also don’t need seven variations of a button down – I just don’t.

Now that I’ve committed to making my clothes from used materials, I try to see the swap as a materials resource and keep my eye out for quality fabrics. Before I go I write down the items I’m potentially interested in to guide my browsing. Before I leave the swap I scrutinize everything for repurpose-ability. I try to have very high standards at this point in the process. I only take home that which can and will be used.

Clothing swaps have been a huge resource in my slow fashion journey. But, if you don’t live close to St. Louis, don’t fret. If you live in a city, there is probably a swap close by – it might even pop up in Google. If you live remotely, why not try organizing a swap for your community? All you need is a designated space and time. I organized a few swaps in college where we laid clothes out on dorm beds and couches – it was amazing.

I would love to hear your stories about clothing swaps! Let me know in the comments below.

Until then, happy making (or swapping)

My Handmade Wardrobe

One of my long terms goals is to have an entirely handmade capsule wardrobe.
A capsule wardrobe is a small wardrobe of limited items that receive a lot of wear and generally all coordinate together. The exact number is up to individual preference, 33 is a really common item count. There are some great resources about capsule wardrobes out there: I personally recommend watching videos by My Green Closet, she focuses on ethical fashion and minimalism, plus her videos are kind of relaxing.

I have 100% met my goal in terms of sweaters. Unfortunately, I can’t wear sweaters everyday, this would be ridiculous. But it’s okay, I have a plan. Every season, I catalogue each item of clothing in my wardrobe, log which pieces are handmade, then consider which pieces I can make myself.

Cataloging my wardrobe in my recycled craft journal

I’ve broken down my wardrobe into three categories: casual, school/professional, and activewear/workshop-wear. I apply the capsule concept to each of these categories and try to keep my numbers around 20-25 for each group

My revisions and updates to my handmade wardrobe additions

Eventually, I will be able to replace every item I wear with something handmade. I’ve chosen to take on this massive goal because it structures my constant projects. I now have a list of items I can make and choose between many options. It also prevents me from making too many of one thing (like sweaters or party dresses). I see this as an ongoing and everlasting project. Items I make now will eventually break down or my lack of skills will become so obvious that I will need to make a replacement. It will also be a great way to push my skills further: one day I’ll need to make jeans.

As if this weren’t enough, I’ve added a preferred goal on top of this handmade capsule wardrobe: use reclaimed materials. So, when I am about to make something new, I want to try my best to use recycled/reclaimed materials. By doing so, I do not add to the overabundance of textiles that inhabit our planet and I can make a small (perhaps unnoticeable) dent in the amount of materials that already exist. I also want to cultivate this habit to curb my own desire for the new. I believe that used materials can provide all my needs. I’m fully aware that this is a very lofty goal, so I give myself some grace. Some of my projects are made with new materials: most often for practical reasons. Sometimes I need a large quantity or specific weight of yarn for a knitting project, sometimes I need specific tools that can’t easily be reclaimed, thread for example. Making things solely from reclaimed items could easily become a barrier to my making process; I don’t want this to happen. Garment making is fun, but too many rules makes it difficult and unenjoyable. So, I try to be gracious with myself.

I’ll be back with updates about how my summer capsule replacement procedure worked out as well as what I have planned for autumn.

Until then, happy making!