From 2015 to 2016

Happy new year to all my blog readers! Now that it is 2016, I would like to reflect on what 2015 brought me, and my thoughts about the year ahead.

Tea Hat with toast, marmalade and Wood's Ware in Beryl

A knitted ‘tea hat’, made from my handspun yarn, was the start to 2015

The year just gone has been really rather busy for me, despite wanting to take it a bit slower. But then there were so many exciting places to go, amazing people to see, and creative projects to make! Here are some recurring themes in my year:


pitt rivers class picture

Darning Master Class at the Pitt Rivers Museum

First and foremost I feel part of a textile community, and 2015 really reinforced this belonging. Attending events and venues such as Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Shetland Wool Week, Pitt Rivers Museum, and In the Loop 4, where I managed to meet up with friends old and new played a big part in this.  They all provided fertile ground for discussions about knitting, fibre, and wool. But it wasn’t all serious, it was a good way to catch up with old friends, and meet others for the first time, even if I knew their work well, or knew them through social media. It always feels good to meet like-minded people, discuss shared interests, and continue the conversations afterwards. It was nice to see friends taking on new projects and run away with them, and being able to help them out.

Creativity in Technique

Heraldic Sweater Front View 2

Creativity in technique: my Heraldic Sweater, combining sequence knitting and patching

In 2015 I learnt a lot of new things and many of these revolve around technique. Some bigger than others, ranging from a new-to-me superstretchy cast-on (double needle cast on, see June Hemmons Hiatt’s Principles of Knitting) to a whole new way of creating complicated textured fabrics using simple techniques, called Sequence Knitting. My interest in 1980s knitwear has blossomed last year: once you can see past the boxy shapes, a heady mix of technique, colour, and texture is revealed, and nothing was deemed too complicated. A collaboration with Wolf & Gypsy Vintage allowed me to explore the repair of woven textiles.

Wolf and Gypsy Trousers VMP Detail

hand-stitched patches, and a tailored buttonhole in this piece for Wolf & Gypsy Vintage


Handspun from Shetland Wool Week 2015

Handspun yarns from a workshop I attended at Shetland Wool Week, with apologies for the poor picture quality

Last year I’ve been thinking a lot about taking time in my creative practice. In a shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet.

Slowtober‘ has given me a lot of thought about the materials I use, whether these are secondhand or new, and as I explained in the linked post, there is lots of food for thought. One material that made me really happy, though, is Louise Spong’s South Down Yarns. The sheep that provide the wool roam the South Downs near where I live, and if you read my interview with her and Jenny Dean over on the Wovember blog, you will learn about the provenance of the yarn, and the sensitive way how it is dyed.

And this leads me neatly to the year ahead.

And for 2016…

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn back

Frozen in time: a mend on an antique darning sampler that will never be completed

In 2016 I will continue walking down the slow path I’ve turned onto, taking step after thoughtful step. Some of the plans I had made for last year didn’t come to fruition, so this year I’m going to be even more careful with the time I have for being creative. As I want to take things slow, it doesn’t bother me unduly that I didn’t start certain things, and it’s always good to have plenty of ideas. Here are some of them:

I would like to spend more time spinning; I have plenty of fleece to keep me busy, and I’d love to spin a sweater’s worth of yarn.

The Wolf & Gypsy Vintage collaboration, my interest in antique darning samplers, and my old books on clothes repair mean I would like to spend more time teaching myself more sewing skills, and I’d love to make a modern version of a ‘plain sewing’ sampler.

I also have more ideas for creative knitting, and like the Heraldic Sweater pictured above, they combine technique with elements left to chance. As always, I look forward to sharing my pursuits here on my blog, and I hope you will enjoy strolling along in the most leisurely fashion. Happy new year!

Three years ago I met Anna Maltz at my first In The Loop conference. As I remember it, she was wearing some dazzling knitwear: a matching skirt and top in many colours. We clicked and stayed in touch, and soon a beautiful friendship blossomed. I have seen Anna taking her tentative first steps as a knitwear designer, and now she has released her first collection of knitting patterns: Penguin, A Knit Collection.

Every time over the last year or so that I visited Anna, she had yet another intriguing looking project on the needles; always inspired by penguins, and we discussed the ins and outs of the patterns, technical details, and how it might become a collection. So here it is!

Penguin A Knit Collection by Anna Maltz

Penguin, A Knit Collection, by Anna Maltz

As a friend, I’m proud of her for making this amazing book; and as a knitter, I think this book is full of great projects and a Q&A with Anna seemed to me the best way to finish 2015 on my blog.

Tom: hi Anna, for those blog readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you fell into knitting?

Anna: I got told off recently for someone not realising that I, as one and the same person, had done all of the following – being sweaterspotter on instagram, writing a quarterly column in PomPom Magazine, starting Ricefeld Collective with friends and knitting those nude suits. My grandfather was fond of saying, “call me anything you want, except late for dinner” and I’m happy to go with that too.

As for how knitting and me happened, ‘fell’ might be the wrong term. It’s always felt quite intentional and has always been present in my life. My mother and other family and friends taught me when I was 5, knowing it was an interesting and productive thing to do that I would enjoy, while helping me develop patience and the über important skill of being able to entertain myself.

I started knitting regularly a good 20 years ago, at a time when people would marvel about how long it had been since they saw someone knitting or that they were surprised to see someone of my tender age engaged in an old lady pursuit. It’s thrilling that in our current climate, I’m just as likely to spy a fellow knitter on the tube as provide the trigger for someone’s reminiscences about bygone family members. And to anyone inclined to make the old lady comment, I now have the wherewithal to patiently explain that it’s because society went through a moment of stupidity where it seemed like equality meant ‘letting’ women to do things considered ‘man things’ while continuing to belittle ‘woman things’, rather than saying, let’s teach and encourage everyone to do it all, because it’s all useful stuff. We’ve also gone through high-speed industrial and urbanisation that makes it appear more economical to buy things rather than make them. It may be in the short term, but looking at a bigger picture, it really isn’t. That’s why I make things and do my best to inspire others to do so too.


Penguin A Knit Collection, Pinglette Hat and Cowl by Anna Maltz

The Pinglette Hat and Cowl set, taking linen stitch into new territory

Tom: Penguin, A Knit Collection, is your first book, and leafing through it, I get a real sense of fun. The book design has fresh colours, there are penguin photographs and watercolours, and a photo essay. As a result it draws me in and makes me feel I’m part of a community. Why is community, in the widest sense of the word, so important to you?

Anna: I know a lot of amazing people and it seems like a waste to not involve them. It’s so much more interesting to not have to do everything myself. It’s amazing to work with other people and witness first hand what they do best. I have learnt so much through the process. Even before the wool reached the friends I worked with, it has been on sheep and through the hands of shepherds, shearers, washers, carders, spinners, dyers, winders and distributers. It seems inconceivable to me that community might not be important. Knitting is intrinsically about community. As I say that I’m not sure whether I’m drawn to knitting because of its community-ness or whether I see it as a community thing, because of how important I think community is. Knitting allows my work to occur for a large part in my community, for my community and as the result of that community – I wanted my book to reflect that.

For me, knitting transitioned from being a hobby when I made it part of my work at art school. I did that because I felt frustrated by the lack of making skills being taught and what that meant for the strength, diversity and options within my creative community. Also I was troubled by the stereotype of the artist, usually a male ego maniac loner starving (or otherwise suffering) in an attic, strapped to their easel or else womanising their way round town. Knitting you can do anywhere and it’s history is not with the elite: it’s about warmth, care, sharing, skill, resourcefulness, generosity and conversation, in other words, community.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Adelie Hat by Anna Maltz

Goofing around with fish – the Adelie hat in two different colourways

Tom: another thing that makes the book so welcoming, is the informal way you introduce the patterns, the helpful hints and tips scattered throughout, and not least the words of encouragement. We have talked about this in the past when we worked on some patterns for the Ricefield Collective together. How did you manage to get the right balance between making the patterns legible, yet putting in those additional bits?

Anna: I find that there is something quite powerful in being able to reimagine the skills you have at hand, rather than believe you have to make a huge leap into taking on a whole new set. As with the rest of life, often we feel like giant changes have to happen, when actually making small adjustments and reconfiguring what we already know can provide the interest and change needed. We can do a lot with the knitting skills we already have, by combining them in unexpected ways.

Deciding what information to put in the book and what to leave out was a hard balance to strike, but I didn’t need to work all that out myself, I had a bevvy of test knitters, editors and tech editors helping me. I wanted to be generous with the tips I gave while also being aware there is now so much info readily available online. That really freed me up to feel like it didn’t all need to be in the book. I very much wanted it to be a book of patterns that would convey and inspire you to try new things or combos of things, rather than be a dictionary or beginners guide. I wanted to do something that while being accessible was inspiring in suggesting what you can do with the regular skills you’ve already picked up or know where to find the answers. A book that celebrated where we’re at and the confidence we have or should have, in our own making.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Rockhopper Shawl by Anna Maltz

The Rockhopper shawl combines clever shaping techniques that are within every knitter’s reach, to create this visually stunning shawl

Tom: what I love about your patterns is that you often combine colourwork with texture or lace, in unexpected ways, and keep the construction easy. Penguins, however, only have a very limited palette, and seem so smooth. How did you get on with such restrictions as an inspiration?

Anna: funny, I really don’t think of penguins as smooth – they are underwater, but on land they are also fluffy, spiky, sleek, dense and shaggy. There is also so much variety between the markings on the different breeds. They do have a fairly limited palette of fairly safe colours, which I like because I think they provide a good jumping off point. Like a black and white film, they encourage you to see the colours yourself, not have them feel prescribed. Hopefully it will help people not to get too hung up on their knit needing to be exactly the same as the ones in the book. I can’t wait to see the other colour combinations that people decide to knit these patterns in. In the book I’ve suggested hashtags for people to use on social media, so we can all share and see and be inspired by each other. And of course there is always Ravelry.

As I see it, handknitting is pretty much divorced from the necessity of keeping us warm – it’s no longer part of limited options for survival. We can (in a blinkered way) more cheaply and efficiently buy what we need to keep us warm. This means handknitting is all about the entertainment. I like my patterns to acknowledge and embrace that. The journey of making should be equally as fun as wearing the result. As the fun of wearing can’t be guaranteed, you should really make sure you enjoy the making! That’s why I try to work in various elements to keep the journey of making engaging and interesting: a comfortable challenge.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Teenguin Cardigan by Anna Maltz

Anna proves me wrong about “smooth” penguins with the Teenguin cardigan

Tom: if I’m not mistaken, the Humboldt sweater is the first pattern in which you introduce Marlisle formally. Can you explain a bit more about this knitting technique?

Anna: the Humboldt sweater did get me to cook up Marlisle. It’s one of those things that when you do it, it seems odd it isn’t widely used, but so far, I haven’t managed to track down other examples of it. I would be so curious to see them. They must be out there.

The term is a mash-up of “marl” – two noticeably different shades of yarn plied or in this case, held together – and the “isle” from Fair Isle. Regardless of geographic origin, Fair Isle 
is often used as a catch-all for stranded colourwork. (And what an honour, that such a tiny place gets to lend its name to a whole technique that has its origins spread all over the place.) Marlisle allows this circular knitted sweater to have small patches of pure white on the front, but not the back without working intarsia, yet spread over distances that would be unworkable using regular stranded colourwork, because the floats would be epic. This was inspired by the fact that the humboldt penguin has a solid back, but speckled front and I wanted to find a way to knit that in one piece.

To achieve this, a strand each of charcoal and white yarn are held double and worked in garter stitch for the majority of this bottom-up sweater. The white yarn is separated out where required and worked akin to stranded colourwork in stocking stitch to produce that pop of single colour. Because you are always carrying both colours around, you have both colours available to use individually at all times. The density of the fabric changes little, as the yarn is always double thickness thanks to the floats behind the colourwork section.

Penguin A Knit Collection, Humboldt sweater by Anna Maltz

The Humboldt sweater, using Anna’s Marlisle technique. Incidentally, this picture also shows one of Anna’s other Instagram interests: matching yarns to old cars

Tom: last but not least, where can people buy the book, and find out more about what you are up to?

Anna: it’s really lovely that a growing number of yarn shops around the world are stocking my book. When you get a copy of the book, it comes with a special single use download code, so that you can keep a PDF copy on your computer or other electronic gadget – or print out certain pages, if you want to scribble on them like mad or crumple them in your project bag. For now the PDF is only available when you purchase the book, not as download only. I’m too excited about the fact that it’s a real live beautifully printed book to not want everyone to experience it that way.

If you want to keep abreast of what I’m up to, my website is a good place to start and links out to my instagram and sweaterspotter blog, which I use for outpourings that need to be covered in greater length and permanency than makes sense on instagram. You can of course also order the book, straight from me, through my website here.

Tom: thank you Anna, for a lovely chat!

And to show that Penguin, A Knit Collection, really has something for everybody, I’ll finish with a picture of Pinglewin, a cuddly toy penguin that can take its tuxedo off!

Penguin A Knit Collection, Pinglewin Toy by Anna Maltz

Pinglewin is the cutest penguin, and he can take off his tux!

Currently on at the Pitt Rivers Museum is the “Preserving What Is Valued” case display and museum trail. It demonstrates how people from all parts of the world repair their material culture. Conservators study objects in great detail and part of their role is to determine at what stage a repair has been made. If the repair was made by the originating community while it was still in use this provides an additional level of information and can give the object a deeper resonance. Identifying an original repair can raise questions that make us think about the object’s history differently.

gourd vessel with visible mending using beads

Gourd vessel, decoratively repaired using beads, collection Pitt Rivers Museum

I was invited to run two darning classes as part of the events around this display. My name is Tom and I’m a self-taught textile practitioner, and one of the things I do is run the Visible Mending Programme. Through this programme I seek to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

The Visible Mending Programme - repaired jumper

“A mother’s Work…” repair commission for private client. You can read more about it here.

The darning classes were well attended and the participants were taught two classic knitwear repair techniques: firstly Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching, which is a good way to reinforce thinning fabrics such as elbows on sleeves, or to cover up stains.

pitt rivers class swiss darning swatch

Swiss darning in action by one of the participants

The second technique taught was the classic stocking darn, using a darning mushroom. It creates a woven patch that is integrated with the knit fabric, and is a good way to repair holes. Of course this is best known for sock repairs.

pitt rivers class completed swatch swiss and stocking darn

A completed practice swatch, showing a stocking darn and rows of Swiss darning in bold colours

Throughout the class, I shared many hints and tips on repairing, such as what tools and materials to use for best results, examples of my work, and how to look after your woollens. Half-way through the class we had a break, and everybody was encouraged to see the display cabinet and follow the museum trail to find original repairs.

muslin handkerchief repair close-up

tortoise shell comb repaired with metal strip

The Pitt Rivers holds many repaired objects in its collection, from all over the world. Here shown a delicate muslin handkerchief with some rather crude darns, and a tortoise shell comb repaired with a riveted metal strip

I found the repairs very inspiring: an inventive use of locally available materials such as baste fibres, small decorative additions such as beads, or the neat way stitching cracks, the use of staples, or even items made in such a way that they could be easily repaired in the future. I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s fun to go and see it all for yourself!

The Preserving What is Valued case display and museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 29 June 2015 – 3 January 2016. More information here.

pitt rivers class picture

At the end of the workshop, all participants proudly show off their new skills!


This blog post was originally published on the Education Pitt, Learning for Schools, Families, Communities and Adults blog.

I’m very excited to announce a extraordinary Visible Mending Programme collaboration with one of Brighton’s finest vintage clothes shops: Wolf & Gypsy Vintage. I have been shopping at Wolf & Gypsy since they first opened their doors many a moon ago, so it was only a matter of time I’d walk in with some visibly mended clothes. Laura, the owner of Wolf & Gypsy, loved the look of my repaired French workwear so much, that she asked me to create a micro-collection for her. And that’s exactly what I did.

Wolf and Gypsy Window Display

May All Your Dreams Be Indigo, at Wolf & Gypsy Vintage Boutique, Brighton

All four pieces I repaired are of an indigo blue, and I think they were all dyed with a chemical dye rather than actual plant-based indigo. I decided to provide a contrast by using vintage Japanese natural indigo-dyed fabrics; by only using yellow sewing and embroidery threads I highlighted all the hand stitching.

Wolf and Gypsy Trousers VMP Detail

All garments have been repaired visibly, and the Visible Mending Programme logo is handstitched into each garment

Laura carefully hand picks all the garments for her shop, and I have used the same attention to detail in making the repairs. Although the fabric I used for patching is Japanese, I steered clear of employing Japanese embroidery techniques, such as sashiko and boro. Instead, I found my inspiration from my old, and very Western, needlework books.

I’d love to share some before-and-after pictures:

KLM Overalls

Being from The Netherlands, I could only ever repair some overalls originating from my home country. KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij) is the Royal Dutch Airlines.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Overalls Before

A crumpled KLM overalls in dire need of some TLC

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Overalls After

Rejuvinated overalls: new button, fraying cuffs dealt with, small holes turned into eyelets

Overalls repairs: fraying cuffs rebound with fabric, small holes highlighted with eyelet embroidery.

Friendship Sweatshirt

Although there wasn’t any actual damage on this sweatshirt, it did look a bit dull. To remedy this, I added a colourful darn to be worn as a badge of honour. “Friendship” is the unknown-to-me label of this sweatshirt

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Sweatshirt Before

The Friendship sweatshirt is looking for some pizzazz

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Sweatshirt After

A beautiful darn to be worn as a badge of honour

Sweatshirt repair: darn in multiple colours, created with my Speedweve.

French Workwear Trousers

These are very similar to the trousers I walked into the shop with and which led to this gig to start with. I’m happy with the look of the binding around the pockets (see picture above), and a fabric patch which shows fading. Most of all though, I love the tailor’s buttonholes, handstitched in a perlé cotton to make them stand out.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers Before

These French workwear trousers needed a fair bit of attention

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers After Patch Detail

I love the fading on the patch, which I’ve sewn in using the flannel patch method, more commonly used for, you guessed it, flannel!

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Trousers After Buttonhole Detail

I love working proper tailored buttonholes, and this commission was a good excuse to really make ’em stand out!

Trousers repairs: fraying pockets rebound with fabric, fraying buttonholes restitched, hems re-sewn, patches, waistband cord ends replaced.

French Workwear Jacket

Possibly my favourite of the series: the pockets had a lot of tiny holes in them, so these got covered up by pocket-sized patches. One sleeve had a very ugly and stiff iron-on patch. This peeled off easily, and I replaced it with a classic felled patch.

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket Before

The jacket sported a really rather ugly iron-on patch and some holes were crudely sewn together

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket After

Luckily the patch came off easily, and a new patch was inserted with felled seams

Wolf and Gypsy Visible Mending Programme Jacket After Detail

Patches on the pockets, and the patches behind holes, which have been delicately outlined with a half-back stitch

Jacket repairs: buttons replaced, various patches, fraying cuffs rebound.

If you find yourself in Brighton during the month of November, then you can avail yourself of one of these fine Visible Mending Programme garments. Each one comes with a special card that details the repair materials and techniques used. I hope four lucky people will enjoy wearing these as much as I enjoyed repairing them!

Wolf and Gypsy May All Your Dreams Be Indigo Banner

Previously I spoke about the concept of a Slow Wardrobe, and how I’m changing the way I’m looking at the boundaries of where clothes begin and end. I was pretty confident that I knew where I was going, and what I would write in this follow-up post. However, at that time I wasn’t aware of Karen Templer’s Slow Fashion October initiative. She really opened up the topic of Slow Fashion. Some aspects I hadn’t really given a lot of thought before, while other aspects have been shown in a different light. This has left me not quite knowing how to give shape to my Slow Wardrobe — however, that’s something I embrace: I deliberately chose the title Slow Thinking as I’m still shaping my thoughts and I’m in no rush to come up with “the answer” any time soon; in fact, there is no one right answer.

Hand-spun Jacob yarn

Hand-spun yarn from Jacob fleece, acquired through Ravelry

Some of the most pertinent discussions for me revolve around a number of topics, and as I’m still working out where I stand on them, I just list them here (I feel Karen captured some important discussions in the this round-up post. Warning, following this link will send you right down a Slowtober rabbit hole with many avenues to explore):

  1. The “privilege” of repair and wearing repaired clothes, or wearing the same outfit frequently; and what is acceptable where (eg office vs home, uniforms (workman clothes, but also high earners, such as Steve Jobs and many a fashion designer who always wear the same outfit), suits/office wear and gender differences therein)
  2. The notion that one should buy less, but spend more on individual items: does a higher price tag always equate to better quality? But also: not everybody can afford the initial lay-out
  3. The all-or-nothing way of thinking. Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything at all. There are many entry points to make a difference to suit different budgets (read this post about knitting yarns by Karen to see what I mean, even if most of her examples are US based)
  4. Making your own clothes is another thing that gets mentioned a lot. Again, it is not a solution that can work for everybody: nowadays, making your own clothes comes at a high cost, which you could express in money and time. Some people have neither, others have one but not the other

So with that in mind, I would like to share what certain aspects of a Slow Wardrobe mean to me at the moment. This is mostly about when I want to make something new, but I’m conscious that there’s another side of my wardrobe, which is all the clothes I already have. I tend to wear clothes for many seasons, and they are important, too.


When I make my own clothes, I have more control over the materials I use for the garments. I can choose to use mill ends, secondhand, repurpose, or buy fully traceable materials. Obviously this depends on what I want to make. For example, when it comes to wool yarn for knitting, I can take it as far back as buying a raw fleece and do ALL the processing myself. Money-wise this is a very cheap option, but it is extremely time consuming. This would be a very different story for eg cotton fabrics; I would not be spinning and weaving cotton to make, for instance, boxershorts, so then I can look around for another solution.

boxershorts from old sheets

Boxershorts made from old sheets


When I make my own clothes, I know there’s only one person involved in the making of it: me. However, I do realise that any materials I use will have been made by somebody, quite possibly not me. So I can do my best to make sure to use “labour-friendly” materials. In addition, I can take my time, which will allow me to get things just as I want them to be.

hand-made clothes

In a completely natural and unstudied pose, I show off some items that each took me a long time to make: socks, trousers, jumper, and gloves were all time-consuming projects


I will need to have a long-term view when it comes to the style of the garments I’m making. I’m no longer a skinny teenager, and if I want to make clothes to last, then I will need to take into account that my body shape might well change over the years. I can make sure that making size alterations in the future will be easy, and keep styles easy and perhaps a bit on the roomy side. I’d like to make clothes with long-term style in mind, not short-term fashion. Obviously, visibly mended clothes will play a big role in my wardrobe.



Looking after my clothes is important. Make sure they are washed and stored appropriately and they can last a long time indeed. There is a lot of information available on how to take of your clothes, and the Love Your Clothes initiative is a good place to start. In my practice, creating and mending textiles are in constant conversation with each other; if my clothes acquire a darn or a patch along the way, then that can only be welcomed!

I’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic, and I hope that you, like me, are planning to join Karen Templer in Slow Fashion October next year. It will be interesting to see how my thinking will have evolved between now and then.

Edited to add: although this post puts the emphasis on adding new clothes to my wardrobe, I feel it’s important that I believe my existing clothes are the starting point of my Slow Wardrobe. Using what I already have is, from a pure sustainability point of view, probably preferable over adding new things, however “slowly” made. What that means for me as a creative person with (wearable) textiles as my main practice I’m not sure yet. 

During a paper I gave at In the Loop 4, I mentioned a blurring of boundaries: when does a garment start, and when does it end? Musings about Taking time, Woolly Comrade Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford’s Slow Wardrobe project, and having conversations with other friends who make clothes to last, have culminated into my own thoughts about a Slow Wardrobe.

Brioche Sweater and grafitti

My Brioche Sweater: a recently completed garment. Or is it?

Since I started repairing with purpose, I’m slowly but surely drifting away from the idea that once the last loose end has been woven in, a garment is finished. Over time, clothes start to develop signs of wear, of having been washed, of having been used. Inevitably, an edge starts to fray, a seat wears thin, or a hole appears, and the time comes I’ll be getting out my darning needle. By making my mends visible, I continue adding to the garment. A beautiful mend can be worn as a badge of honour, and in my view, augments and alters the garment repaired.

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Darning the threadbare yoke seam of a flannelette shirt

A shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet. This idea is perhaps easier to embrace where it concerns clothes I made myself, but I now extend it to the clothes I buy. I frequently purchase secondhand clothes, and they already show signs of wear, and the time to repair something usually comes along sooner.

Tom spinning a yarn

Spinning a yarn

Conversely, making my own clothes has made me question at what point a garment starts. When you buy something, you could be led to believe that your garment’s life starts when you’ve handed over your cash. But this, of course, isn’t true. Somebody somewhere has laid out cloth, cut it up, seamed it, pressed it. Most likely different people were involved in different stages and many things are now mechanised.

When making your own clothes, you get to choose the fabric or yarn, the pattern, the buttons, and put it all together into a garment. You could argue that the item starts its life when you clapped your eyes on that beautiful tweed, or when you dreamt up that Christmas jumper and you started looking for the right yarn. Now that I also spin, even if as yet I haven’t spun enough of one yarn to make a whole jumper, my boundary has shifted even further back: it is possible to make a garment-specific fibre, so really, its life starts there. In fact, we can take it back right to the beginning: wool, linen, silk, and cotton are all fibres that theoretically I could grow or farm myself.

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill spinning a yarn or two

So even if I’m not personally involved in all the process steps from farming to harvesting to processing of fibres, and subsequently turning the resulting cloth or yarn into a garment, I’m aware that all these steps are part of the story. If you want to get an understanding of some of the issues around the fashion industry, then there’s no better way than trying to make something yourself. When you wash your raw fleece, you’ll notice how much water you use. When you spin a yarn, you understand how difficult it can be to get something just right. When you sew a shirt, you get a feel for how complicated sewing can be. Try and imagine any of these processes on an industrial scale, and soon all sorts of questions pop up: how can we grow/farm fibres in huge quantities? What happens with waste water from processing fibres and dyeing it? What happens to by-products and waste from the spinning process? How can somebody sew 50 shirts a day? How are prices of clothing set on the High Street?

These are just a few questions, and answering them is difficult, and fixing things that appear to be a problem is also very complicated. So what can I do about it myself? Talking to people such as Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, or reading John-Paul Flintoff’s book Sew Your Own, made me realise that there will be things I personally cannot influence, but there are other things I can do something about. I can run workshops, I can volunteer, I can decide what goes into my wardrobe, and I can share my experiences in this blog.

A follow-up post is in the making, in which I want to share with you my thoughts about my Slow Wardrobe: what does it mean to me? Sewing and knitting my own clothes, making things that last, repairing things, and thinking about long-term style, not short-term fashion.

I made a sweater. And for a humble sweater, it brings together a lot of ideas and people, hence my conundrum on the title of this blog post.

Heraldic Sweater Front View 2

A Heraldic Sweater made from Clara Yarn Shetland 1.0

When I got my lucky hands on some Shetland 1.0 by Clara Yarn – an occasional, exclusive, and always interesting yarn range from my dear friend and fellow Comrade in Wool, Clara Parkes – I wanted to play with colour, but I also wanted to eek out the yardage as much as I could. So the most obvious approach, stranded colour work, was out of the question: I wanted every inch of yarn to be knitted into a visible stitch. The second option was intarsia, and for a long time, I thought that this would be the solution.

Suddenly, a lot of things came together: I remembered my swatch of “tweed knitting”, a method of creating a tweedy fabric using a mistake rib, which I had found in a 1950s Dutch knitting book.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

“Tweed knitting” from A Better Course in Knitting, a 1950s Dutch knitting book

My interest in knitting patterns from the 1980s:

A Jumper by Jane Wheeler

A cozy cardigan by Jane Wheeler, shown in Rowan’s Design Collection; Summer & Winter Knitting, edited by Stephen Sheard

Tapestry Sweater, designed by Susan Duckworth

Tapestry Sweater, designed by Susan Duckworth, from her book Floral Knitting

I implore anybody who shudders by the thought of 1980s knitwear to take a closer look. If you can see past the oversized boxy shapes, a rich world opens up. I don’t see a nadir in knitwear design, but an exciting and heady mix of texture, colour, and technique. Young knitwear designers and labels such as Artwork, Kaffe Fassett, Annabel Fox, Bodymap, and Patricia Roberts, to name just a few, explored exciting new things. Rowan yarns started to make a lot of new yarns in a variety of fibres, texture, and colour. No technique was considered too complicated. It’s full of inspiration for me. I particularly like the colourwork designs where the different areas of colours are accentuated by the use of a different stitch, or a yarn with a different texture, such as the Tapestry Sweater by Susan Duckworth. In my sweater, though, I wanted to stick to using the Shetland 1.0 only, so I started playing around with texture and colour.

Clara Yarn Swatch

An early swatch combining blocks of colour with contrast in texture – with apologies for the poor quality of my phone picture

As I now knew where I wanted to go, I made a start with knitting, even if I hadn’t worked out the detail yet, hoping that I would find a solution along the way. I had finished the back and one sleeve when I found out about Sequence Knitting, a knitting method explored and documented by Cecelia Campochiaro in her book. I had a flash of inspiration! Why not try out some sequence knitting by knitting swatches, which I could then incorporate into the front piece? To knit this unhampered by attempting to match stitch and row gauge, I would block the swatches and the back piece, and that way I could work out how to knit the front piece with matching holes, into which I could then sew the swatches. And that’s just what I did:

Heraldic Sweater Front Piece Puzzle

The front piece puzzle, using a wide range of knitting sequences

As you can see, the front piece blocked out a bit larger than planned, so sewing together was a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated. Huzzah for my endless stash of coil-less safety pins.

Sewing Up of the Heraldic Sweater

Sewing the swatches into the front

When I had completed the sewing up, the front looked less than presentable. Lots of puckers along seam lines, and fabric pulling into all sorts of directions. But such is the power of The Second Blocking (after sewing up and adding button bands or collars, I always block again) that all puckers and warping disappeared, as I knew would happen; I had, after all, used the largest gauge swatch I could make: the whole back piece.

When I showed my nearly finished jumper to Anna Maltz, she declared it looked “very heraldic.” It all made sense:

Shield Sweater and Cardigan by Sandy Black

Shield Sweater and Cardigan, from Sandy Black’s Original Knitting, knitted in stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch. The shield is on the front of the sweater, and the back of the cardigan

A bold design, and a contrast in texture by using different stitches: I believe I have managed to take what I like in 1980s knitwear, and make it into something new.

Heraldic Sweater Shoulder

A well-shaped sleeve cap, and a mock-turtle neck

There’s also a lot of shaping hidden in this sweater. The sleeve cap has a “proper” bell shape, like for a sewn shirt, and of course making the holes on the front meant using lots of different rates of increasing and decreasing: I learnt a lot about that, too! The mock turtle neck was knitted by graduating the needle size: at the picked up edge I used 3.5mm needles, and every few rows I went one size smaller until I reached 2.75mm. The part that’s folded to the inside is knitted on one needle size smaller throughout, from 2.5mm through to 3.25mm.

Heraldic Sweater Front View

Me looking a bit smug in my Heraldic Sweater

I thoroughly enjoyed bringing all these disparate things together in one sweater, and the Clara Yarn Shetland 1.0 was a dream to knit with. I hope to wear this sweater with much pleasure for years to come!

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