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.


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

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Tour de Sweater: The Fearless Pullover

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My Smokey Green Tea pullover was my first intentional wardrobe replacement sweater. Back in 2015, I was wearing this oversized cotton pullover from a thrift store for a few months, when the idea hit me that I could make this sweater. It was my first aha moment in my now typical approach to garment making. Basically it goes like this: something in my closet I didn’t make? Can I make a me made version? Time to replace it.

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While this sweater is not an exact replacement, but I think I love it even more. I experimented with stitch patterns on my own and chose a textured purl stripe patter. I also successfully modified the width of the pattern (first time!). This piece really represents my growing confidence as a knitter, I was beginning to understand pattern basics and felt more comfortable adding my own ideas into a pattern.

I found the yarn for this sweater at the Goodwill Outlet (the crazy, bin version of the Goodwill Retail Store). It was a machine knit sweater with lots of cables – my guess was from sometime in the mid 2000’s. It was covered with cables, and the sage green color didn’t exactly help it stand out, but the yarn blend really caught my eye. This sweater is a mix of wool, mohair, and nylon. Based on that alone, I decided that this sweater was worth my time. So I brought it home (paid by the pound so it was like $1) and started to deconstruct. The color itself its hard to capture, I think the picture below is most true.

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The deconstruction process for this yarn was a bit messy. As I unravelled the yarn, mohair went everywhere. I often would pause for sneezing breaks. Fluffy fibers… not the easiest to harvest. But I was determined that this yarn was worth it. And, looking back, I think it was.

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I would count this sweater in the loungewear category of my wardrobe. It’s soft, very warm, constantly shedding, and easy to pull on because of all the positive ease. There are a few hiccups – like my signature tight sleeves (too tight!). The bottom hem band flips up, and I find myself constantly tugging at it in hope of a miracle. The positive ease has found me in a few tight spots, like when I lean over the stovetop to turn on the timer and singe little spots in this sweater… Don’t ask me how this has happened multiple times. All of those factors combine to make this the perfect house sweater that’s not afraid of bread baking, gardening, or other messy activities I find myself doing. Knowing that this was made from recycled yarn makes it a bit easier to be my true/messy self while wearing this. This sweater is fearless. Fearless when it comes to hard work, fearless in knitting skills, and fearless in being an awkward color that doesn’t photograph well. We all need fearless pullovers.

Finished Object: Circlet Shrug

Today felt like the first real day of autumn. It was the perfect day to break out my newest finished object: my Circlet shrug. which I have named Goblin Made because the cables and lace remind me of the sword of Gryffindor, plus Goblin’s make beautiful and amazing things – this shrug deserves to be one of them.


I spotted this pattern in making no.3. Its a beautifully complex cable pattern by the queen of cables -Norah Gaughn. At first glance I placed this pattern on the back burner. In my mind I wanted to make it out of reclaimed yarn and I knew finding a suitable yarn substitute from thrifted sweaters would be a challenge.  Such a challenge that I threw out the idea all together when my mother in law said she wanted to buy me a sweaters quantity of yarn for my birthday. Um, enough of this perfect yarn to make a perfect shrug??? YES PLEASE


Let’s take a break to talk about my amazing mother in law, Barb. Barb is an incredible knitter. She also is on a mission to keep all local yarn shops in business. For her, helping the local community is her main hobby. Her mission is an honerable one. I hope I can be as generous as Barb one day.

Barb’s generosity meant I could buy enough of the recommended yarn to create this beautiful shrug.


the yarn: So about this yarn… Brooklyn Tweed Arbor in the potion colorway. I have been longing to knit with Brooklyn Tweed since I became a yarn snob (three years and counting). They’re American made – American wool, milled in the USA, and dyed here too. Yay! This yarn is difficult to describe. It’s DK weight, but it produces a very stiff fabric. So for this garment the stiffness and memory of the wool make the cables and lace stand out quite clearly.


the pattern: Now it’s time to talk about constructing the garment. This pattern was a bit tricky for me. Basically it’s knit as a long rectangle and the long sides are seamed. But there are gradually sloping rib sections on the front sections that add complexity. After reading through the pattern carefully two or three times, I was able to press onward in my knitting (though still a little timid).

The cable section is based on a 20 row repeat. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a memorizable pattern, but I would say I tentatively remembered it by the time I reached halfway through the back section. So that did mean I spent a lot of time with the pattern in front of me. I also spent a lot of time tinking back rows where I forgot to add the lace eyelets which are added on the wrong side – easy mistake.

The pattern left the side seaming up to the knitter. I used mattress stitch and seamed about 3/4 up the side. The arm hole is loose enough for my preference. Considering my history with tight armholes and sleeves I consider this a massive success!


reflections: I saw this pattern as a contemplative exercise. While most of my knitting is like a race to the end, this one was a slow practice in taking things easy – not rushing. This is something I am very bad at. I am a very rushed human being. When I played cello in school I most certainly was the culprit behind our orchestra wide rushing problem. I think the rush is in the very fiber of my being, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take some time to call it to the foreground, examine it, and maybe question it a bit. So, as I knit this shrug, every time I felt like rushing to the end of a row or section, I reminded myself that with this pattern I could just put it down right there. If I wanted to rush I could pick up a sock. But this project was all about slow.

I think the slow really benefited this pattern. There is only one mistake, a miss-cross of a cable, that I caught after completing two of the chart repeats. Considering I would have had to rip out 40 rows, I decided to keep the mistake and embrace it as a design element. After all, contemplation isn’t really about the best, rather it’s about building new habits and reflection and that miss-crossed cable dropped me straight into reflection mode.

I love this shrug, I think it’s a great piece for layering in fall/winter. The color is perfect for my palate. The yarn is amazing. The details are delightful. It’s the perfect statement piece for me (low on the statement but high on the detail). 100% recommend to anyone interested.

 

Tour de Sweater: Porter Cardigan

Sweater number five is this all over cabley squishy number. But I’m going to be honest upfront – this sweater has lost its luster. Which is why the beady eyed amongst you will realize these photos are different than the rest of the tour de sweater photos. That’s because I totally forgot about this sweater while we were taking pictures. So I did it myself and they look a little silly. Which is how I basically feel about this cardigan.

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Pattern: Porter by Beatrice Perron Dahlen. I love the intricacies of this pattern. I think the cabling is beautiful, especially the honeycomb back panel and the stag horn cables.

Yarn: Recycled yarn from a handknit sweater. Origin unknown, but my best guess is Lion Brand Wool Ease? It seems to me to be a wool/acrylic blend. When I first picked it up I thought it was all wool, but now that I’ve actually worked with more wool there is definitely some acrylic content in this fiber. This is my first truly recycled garment. As always, I learned some important lessons and I’ll make sure to list them below.

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Lessons Learned

  1. Recycle your yarn carefully. I did a wrap test to determine the weight of my recycled yarn. Everything appeared to be aran weight (which is what the pattern called for). As I knit this it was clear to me that the fabric was very open. My yarn was not thick enough to produce a densely cabled fabric like I’d hoped. So what happened? After unraveling the sweater, I am 99% sure I wound my yarn too tightly. This stretched out the yarn and reduced the loft, making the yarn move down a category in weight. Now I know: always wind yarn loosely (or use a nifty ball winder).
  2. Anything can be a cable needle, really. I used a pen, the needle section of a broken circular needle, and even a bobby pin for the cables on this project. All worked fine… though the broken circular needle was best.
  3. Check the Sleeves. These sleeves are knit in the round, which is a handy modern construct that eliminates seaming. However, for some reason, the pattern of my sleeves both twist around my arms. The stag horn cable is supposed to follow the length of the arm, but mine snakes around like it’s trying to hide from the light.
  4. Crew Neck Cardigans… I doubt I could foresee this lesson, but it was an important one still. I do not like crew neck cardigans. They’re just not my style. Crew neck pullovers – love, but slice it down the middle and put some buttons on it – gives me ambiguous feelings with small levels of discomfort. So, a crewneck cardigan is not my style, which is why this beautiful cardigan most likely will be gifted to someone who likes it.

img_5704I still love this pattern, which is why I’m considering knitting it up as a pullover instead. I think it would make an amazing vintage style, high neck addition to my large pullover collection. The instructions are phenomenal and the pattern is well written. If you want to try your hand at an allover cable pattern I would highly recommend this one.

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Tour de Sweater: Birkin

 

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Item number four in Tour de Sweater is one of my absolute favorites. So let’s dive in

The pattern: Birkin by Amy Miller. I was drawn to the lace in this pattern. The pattern is inspired by a sweater worn by Jane Birkin with the same lace sections. That sweater is amazing, and this version feels like an everyday contemporary of the original. I love the construction of this sweater. It’s knit in the round with a faux side seam (making it easier to block). The sleeves are knit by picking up the arm hole edge and using short rows to make the sleeve cap. I love short rows so this was right up my alley, but they can be tricky to get your head around so I found that a practice run on a pair of socks was helpful.

The Yarn: Malabrigo Arroyo in Regatta Blue. I would call this a blue/green tonal yarn. This yarn has depth, color variation, and class. The 100% merino fibers do tend to pill after a couple of wears, but that’s merino…

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As always, I began with checking my measurements and how they fit with the pattern’s measurements. Because the fabric produced by knitting is stretchy, getting an exact fit is not necessary, and can be a waste of time and energy. So I decided to follow the pattern exactly as my measurements fell basically within one single size.

I am still extremely pleased with this sweater, and because of that I only have a few lessons learned.

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Lessons Learned

  1. If you think it’s too long, it’s probably too long. I was far too committed to following the pattern exactly – which meant when I tried this sweater on before adding the sleeves and thought “maybe the body is a little too long” – I didn’t do anything about it.  At this point in my knitting journey I had no idea that sweater length mattered. My preference for sweater length is somewhere just below the hip. For me, this sweater needed to be shortened. But I didn’t do that…
  2. Yarn Chicken. I did not think I would have enough yarn to finish this project… scary moment if you’re on a tight budget. I did knit a swatch for this project (hooray!) and by the time I reached the last sleeve, it had to break into that swatch to reach the end. I did two things when things started getting sticky. First, I decided to knit the sleeves two at a time, so I could make sure they were both the exact same length while also using as much yarn as possible. I didn’t want to short change one sleeve and then realize I had more yarn than I thought while knitting the second sleeve. Second, rather than change the length of the ribbing, I shortened the length of the last lace repeat (the diamond lace section). Choosing to shorten the lace section allowed the ribbing to have continuity throughout the sweater.
  3. Sleeves. I finally made some progress in the sleeve department. These sleeves work. I like them. That, my friends, is a huge success. These sleeves have 2.25″ of ease when compared to my bicep measurement.

 

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Even though this sweater is a tad too long, I consider it a huge success. I love the color, the fit, the shape, and the wearability. It stands out as a staple garment in my wardrobe. The lace pattern is also wonderfully simple. I easily memorized the pattern which helped make this a dream to knit.

If you’re searching for a classy lace pullover that’s not too feminine or girly, this is definitely a great choice.

Summer Wardrobe Round-up

 

Fall classes started last week. I’m already mourning the loss of so much making time. I’ve turned a corner this summer in my wardrobe philosophy. I’m making things that replace ready to wear items, I’m planning my projects, and I’m fixing mistakes rather than rushing to finish.
So, in honor of the end of a season, here’s a round-up of garments I’ve made. I have some thoughts about each item, some were great choices, some weren’t. By cataloging those thoughts hopefully I can learn from my mistakes each season and discover what works!

Total items made: 15

  • Shorts: 2
  • Skirts: 1
  • Dresses: 5
  • Tops: 3
  • Outerwear: 2
  • Sweaters: 1

Shorts

 

 


My first shorts ever (left) might not last into next summer. These were basically my “I know these will be awful but you have to start somewhere” shorts. Pattern is a vintage 1970’s that was two sizes too big. I took in the waist, but the legs are still kind of roomy. The zipper is sort of a fly construction… without the back? There are no back pockets. The waistband is weird. All signs point to “let this pair go.”

Second pair of shorts = 100% success. I love these shorts. They’re perfect. These are the spring shorts pattern from peppermint magazine (free!!) and I used an old linen tablecloth. All good things to say about this pattern.

Skirts

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This has been a great casual skirt. The high slit is a fun detail. However… there are a few mistakes… the hem is super botched, the waistband was cut against the stretch, and there are a few holes growing in the fabric. So I might remake it and turn this one into a cleaning tool…

Dresses

 

 

Takeaway from the summer: I love sewing dresses.

My first Cleo (purple corduroy) was a bit premature – definitely more of fall outfit. So I’m looking forward to wearing it this fall.

My every other day dress is holding its title… every other day. Love it. I haven’t machine washed it, I just rinse with cold water and lay in the sun for less than two hours. It’s stayed nice and bright.

My denim Cleo has also seen a lot of wear. It already has a few dye spots and stains from teaching workshops! I consider that a success since it was an intentional work dress.

My Orla also hasn’t had much wear this summer, it’s kind of a warm fabric. So I’m waiting to see if fall will be its time to shine

The Laneway Dress is so new! It’s perfect for school and I feel super classy.

Tops

 

 

Two Megan Nielsen Rowan Tees. Both huge successes, though the white one almost gave me a run for my money. These are two basic tee’s that will see heavy rotation in my wardrobe. The navy is perfect for all seasons. The turtle neck is a bit warm for summer, but I plan to love it for fall and winter. These are both made from thrift shop bedsheets. The sheets had less stretch than the pattern called for, so I went up a size and they fit perfectly!

Outerwear

 

 

The Mountain Gods vest has really been a dream. All good things so far.

I made the SOI Kimono out of a thrifted silk wrap skirt (the kind with two layers). I need to revisit this – perhaps fix some of the seams that look a little sketchy.

Sweaters

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This sweater has not really seen much action this summer. A little very early on in June, but I was unsure if I really liked it. The sleeves are tiny bit too tight. And I don’t know if I want to lengthen the crop top by an inch or so. Only time will tell if this will survive. I think it’s super cute though, and it’s just calling to be styled with some high waisted black jeans… that I hope to make… someday.

Summer was so productive. I am so happy with all that I made. My biggest lesson learned: I can tell when I’ve rushed through something. If I want my pieces to last and experience wear, I have to make them well and attend to the details. As a big picture person, sometimes I focus too much on my overall goal of a handmade wardrobe and forget that each piece has its own complexities. So, with my autumn wardrobe in mind, I want to work on taking each piece slowly and carefully.

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!