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Posts Tagged ‘slow fashion’

I’m not entirely sure when I started my obsession with denim yarn, but what I do know, is that the first time I read about it, was on the ever entertaining Mason-Dixon Knitting blog. Knitting with cotton is quite a departure for somebody who is totally committed to wool, but knitting something with the intent of shrinking it took it immediately to a whole new level I had never entered before!

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, pre-wash

My Whitby Sweater before the nerve-wracking boil wash: hem to shoulder measures 30in (76cm)

The yarn I used is a denim yarn: it is rope-dyed with indigo (rope-dyed means it is dyed after the yarn is spun, just like the threads used for making denim fabric) and this means the yarn is not dyed through to the core. Over time it will fade, just like love-worn jeans. When I posted an knitting-in-progress picture on Instagram late last year, a student brought along her 20 year old denim sweater to a darning workshop.

Old Denim Yarn Sweater with fading

An old denim knit: 20 years old, and still going strong

The colour fades over the years due to wash and wear, but only where it’s exposed. So in all the nooks and crannies of each stitch, the darker colour remains, and it makes the cables really pop. The effect is so beautiful, and this made me realise that my sweater is not just slow fashion, but Extreme Slow Fashion: in 20 years time, mine will look as beautiful as this one, and be incredibly soft.

The other thing that makes for such a beautiful knit, is the super-tight gauge for the yarn weight. Unlike my Cornish Knit-frock, which was wrested from 5-ply Guernsey yarn on fine needles, the denim yarn knit gets its tight gauge from something else altogether: a boil wash. Yes, you throw your jumper fresh from the needles into a hot wash and wait for it to shrink!

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, post-wash

After a boil wash, my sweater shrunk a whole 4in (10cm) and now hem-to-shoulder measures 26in

Denim yarn patterns take this shrinkage into account, and nobody has written better patterns for denim yarn than Jane Gottelier, who founded the Artwork knitwear label in 1977, together with her husband Patrick. In 2007 they released a knitting pattern book called “Indigo Knits” and it’s this book the Whitby Sweater pattern comes from. The book is full of hints and tips on how to get the best out of your denim yarn, from that all-important first wash, to fake fading with bleach.

It’s a good thing I’m a very patient person, as I don’t like pre-distressed clothes. It never looks quite right in my eyes. Nothing beats authentic ageing, particularly when it comes to denim. So no bleach to highlight cables for me, just years of wash and wear ahead of me.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, cable eleganza

Cables that pop, thanks to the shrinking process

Most denim yarn knitting patterns advise you to knit a garment in pieces, and throw them in a hot wash, together with some extra yarn, so that everything shrinks before you sew it up with the shrunk extra yarn. However, I found out through Kay from Mason-Dixon Knitting that Artwork tended to sew up their garments before the hot wash. So if it’s good enough for a luxury fashion label, it is good enough for me! I’ve grown really fond of the exposed three-needle bind-off as a way of seaming sweaters, so I used this method on all the seams here, too.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, 3-needle bind-off shoulder seam

Three-needle bind-off for the shoulder seam…

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, 3-needle bind-off side seam

…And for the side and underarm seams

Another finishing touch I really like, is the transition of the main fabric to the collar, by way of some crochet.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, crochet chain collar transition

My favourite neckline finish with a crochet chain

I bind off all sweater pieces, seam the shoulders, and I then crochet a chain all around the neckline. I like this because it makes for a stable opening that doesn’t stretch out of shape; something that is particularly important for this heavy cotton cable knit. I then pick up a stitch through each chain to knit the collar. I used another little trick here: the first few rows were knitted on the same needle size as elsewhere for the ribbing, but after five rows I used a needle one size smaller, and after another five rows, I went down yet another needle size to complete the funnel neck.

One thing I was a bit nervous about, was sewing in ends. Although this denim yarn isn’t as slippery as a mercerised cotton, I did notice that during knitting it, knots from knotting together the end of one ball to the beginning of the next, easily came undone. So I left very long tails, and all wove them in in the same direction in the seams, so that they would be able to shrink, without puckering up the seams.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, tail ends inside

Erm, yes, that is a tail (and knot!) NOT at the end of a row…

I really enjoyed knitting this sweater. It was a slow knit, but compared to how long I’m planning to wear it, it was done in a flash, and I’m dreaming about designing my own sweater in denim yarn. So I’ll share the only picture I have so far of me wearing it. You can see me in conversation with Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective. We had a really lovely afternoon together, and I can’t wait to share with you what we have been up to, so keep an eye for a new blog post soon!

Whitby Sweater, Tom and Sarah Corbett Craftivists Collective

Sarah Corbett, me, and That Sweater

 

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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.

Materials

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

Labour

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

Style

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.

Longevity

 

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. 

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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.

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