Tag Archives: Slow Fashion October

When in Iceland

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You dress in layers. If you go during the shoulder season (essentially equivalent to fall and spring in terms of timing, but not in terms of weather, which can be very unpredictable), you wear several layers, at least a few of which are wool. L and I both have a few of those thin, fine merino wool base layers, but what we lacked before this trip was heavier, more rugged wool sweaters. So, I spent the summer changing that.

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I thought a lot about what I wanted to knit myself for the wedding (a wedding shawl seemed like the obvious thing until I realized that I really didn’t want to cover the top of my dress at all) before deciding that knitting something for our honeymoon would be just as special. Plus, as I mentioned previously, I ended up knitting L a pair of wedding socks, so we still had a little hand knit element.

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You can see the extra fabric around the tops of the arms/shoulders, but the colourwork part of the yoke is perfect.

My sweater flew off the needles. I had heard that Stopover, by Mary Jane Mucklestone, was a speedy knit, but whoa. I am quite pleased with the finished sweater, though there’s a bit too much fabric around the shoulders I think. I debated ripping back and changing the pace of the decreases, but the extra fabric didn’t bother me when I was wearing it, just in photos. This sweater was used as a pillow, shoved into bags, worn under a backpack, worn to restaurants and while hiking, and it came through pretty much unscathed (just a little fuzz on the forearms, which can be easily dealt with).

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I’m quite pleased with how this turned out. I’ll need to work on improving the neckline for the next sweater (this one stretched out quite a bit). Maybe I’ll try casting off and then picking up the stitches for the rib, for some extra structure.

L’s sweater isn’t really Icelandic in any way except that I used lopi. The pattern — Galdhöpiggen, by Erika Guselius — was only available in Swedish when I knit this (there’s an English version now), so I spend a fair bit of time with Google Translate and, in the end, mostly winged it. I knit L’s sweater as a looser gauge than the pattern was written for, both because it was faster and because he really didn’t need a dense wool sweater to stay warm. I made sure my stitch counts lined up with the charts and then knit to his measurements, with about zero ease before blocking. It blocked out to a couple of inches of positive ease, and grew a bit more as he wore it and pulled it on and off throughout the day. He wore it every day we were there (every. single. day.)

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Handknit hat, cowl and sweater. Pretty good look, I’d say.

I haven’t quite gotten around to washing and re-blocking these sweaters since we got back (and they do need it), so I’m not sure if they’ll shrink back at all, but let me just say: lopi stretches. It doesn’t have any of the bounce of merino or even BFL, so when it stretches it just stays stretched. I’m hoping a slightly warm soak will help get things back in place, but that is definitely something I’ll be keeping in mind when I knit our next round of sweaters (of course we bought wool for one more each while we were there).

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L’s eventual sweater is on the left, mine is on the right. I thought I’d go for colours too, but I couldn’t decide, and in the end decided I couldn’t go wrong with neutrals.

L’s sweater actually took a lot less time to knit than I anticipated, so I had time to knit a few other things in addition to his socks. He is actually quite well equipped in terms of cold weather hand knits, so I did a quick survey of what I needed and in the three weeks before our wedding knit myself a headband, a cowl and a pair of fingerless mitts. Of the three, the mitts were the most successful and have taken up residence in my purse because they are perfect for the rapidly warming and cooling temperatures of this time of year. The headband is great too, though I find it a little itchy across my forehead. I’m going to try soaking it with a little conditioner to see if that helps. The cowl I knit three times and I’m still not quite happy with it. It’s just a bit too loose to really keep me warm, so I think I might rip it out one last time and knit it up with 10 to 12 fewer stitches. It’s a quick knit (I knit it twice in one day), so I’m not too worried about that being a major undertaking.

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Kind of a ridiculous picture, but the only one in which headband, cowl and mitts are all on display. (I meant to get some proper pictures of each, and then forgot.)

Of course, not everything we took to Iceland was new. L wore his cowl, gloves and this hat regularly. I stuck my Norby hat in my bag at the last minute was so glad I did, since I actually wore it quite a bit. My Epistrophy sweater was in regular rotation with my Stopover, and on a couple of the warmer days I wore my Stasis sweater. Plus, we both wore hand knit socks every day.

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Epistrophy was a perfect mid-weight sweater to bring. I actually layered it under my Stopover a couple of times!

The Slow Fashion October theme for this week is “Long Worn,” with the idea being a celebration of garments long loved — hand-me-downs, thrift-store finds, pieces you’ve refashioned, etc. — and I really had planned to write about a couple of my oldies-but-goodies, but as I was writing this I realized that in some cases, long worn starts with the making. Barring some very unfortunate accident (looking at you, washing machine), we’ll be wearing these sweaters for decades. They are well made, using good quality wool, and they’re not really tied to any particular trend. They aren’t long worn yet, but they will be, and knowing that is part of what made the knitting so rewarding.

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An introduction

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I knit this cowl to completion nearly three times before finally deciding it was done and binding off. After wearing it a few times, I think it needs to be smaller, so I think one more rip is in its future.*

I’ve been thinking about Slow Fashion October for the last year — every since Karen hosted the first one last year — and have been really looking forward to this month and all the discussion it is already generating.

I am such a big fan of the idea, but wow is it hard to write about/articulate. Despite a year of thinking about this in a fairly focused way, I have started this blog post multiple times and ended up deleting everything and trying again. A quick look in my WordPress drafts turns up multiple abandoned posts from this time last year, so clearly lots of thinking hasn’t helped me clarify my thoughts. Strangely, what actually helped was this short magazine piece about why we love Ikea furniture.

The story looks at how the rise in Ikea furniture (and furniture like it) has essentially created a class of disposable furniture. Pieces we buy because they serve an immediate need, look good, or are the right price, but are ultimately also pieces we don’t plan to keep, whether because we know our tastes will change or because we plan to upgrade in the future, or whatever. We don’t get attached to it, we’re annoyed but not surprised when it falls apart, and, in the end, we’re kind of excited about the excuse to replace it with something new.

Last weekend (before the above-linked article was published, let me add), after we got back from our honeymoon, L and I went furniture shopping. We were looking for a couple of specific items, and instead of going to Ikea, we drove out into the country to an antique store. We didn’t find quite what we wanted, but that’s fine, we’ll go back in a couple of weeks — nothing we need is desperate, and although we could go to a store and probably find it pretty fast, we prefer to wait, and we have the luxury to do so.

In a nutshell, that pretty much sums up my evolving slow fashion philosophy. I try really hard to invest in quality pieces whose provenance can be traced — my wedding dress was designed and sewn in Toronto, for example — but I do still sometimes just need a black t-shirt, which brings me to the mall. I am trying to make more of my own clothing, and where possible I try to use materials with ethical/traceable sources, but particularly with sewing (and as a fairly beginner sewer), there is a lot of waste. And, of course, there are financial implications to all of this, because I have the luxury of both time and money to be choosy about what I buy and how long it takes me to get things done.

As I’ve thought about it this more and more over the last year, I have definitely noticed my habits changing. I was never a big shopper, but I shop for clothes even less now, and when I do buy things I tend to spend a bit more for items that are locally made and that I know I’ll wear for years. I’m also much more particular about my stash, both of fabric and yarn. I have a lot of materials on hand, and I have been working really had to prioritize using what I have over buying new things.

And I’m a lot more comfortable with being slow. There’s very little I really need, so what’s the big deal if it takes me a couple of weeks to sew a new shirt, or a a month to knit a sweater? Being aware of that time commitment is actually really gratifying (though it used to be frustrating) because it tells me pretty fast how much I want something: Is it something I’m willing to wait for, or something I just want right now but will likely tire of later? If my excitement can sustain me through a project, that’s a pretty good sign.

Anyway. I’m not sure how precisely I define “slow fashion,” but for me a big part of it is about being thoughtful — thinking through what I need, being willing to wait for it (either because of the time it takes to make it or the time it takes to save for it), and then committing to keep it for a long time.

Have you been following Slow Fashion October? How do you define it (or do you even care?)

*I have been sitting on this post for a week now waiting to get a couple of pictures to post with it. But, that is not happening, and we’re away this weekend, so lest it end up just another draft, I’m posting it with just the one. More pictures next time, I promise.

Loved + Worn

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These two ideas, the Slow Fashion October prompts for this and last week, fit so perfectly together that I’m just going to pretend I planned it this way. I am very much a creature of habit. I like new things and change, but I also like what I like, whether that’s a certain item on a brunch menu, a cocktail or an item (or style) of clothing.

As a result, when I like something a lot, I will purchase — or, increasingly, make, it — in multiples. For me, this is beauty of being able to make my own clothes: I can find what I like, and then make it over and over again, with simple changes, like different colours or patterns. The garments I love most see weekly wear and, I’m almost embarrassed to say, I sometimes regret wearing them because that takes them out of rotation for the rest of the week (working in an office, even a casual one, means I try not to repeat too much Monday-Friday).

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But, more than any other garment (or category of garments) in my hand-made wardrobe, the ones that are, for me, totally irreplaceable — the things that will keep me knitting for the rest of my life, because truly, there is no store-bought equivalent — is socks. I am almost self-conscious about bringing this up, since I have written quite a lot about socks, but the more I think about it (and I wrote a whole other draft of this post before I realized it), the more I think hand-knit socks are my ultimate symbol of slow fashion.

Socks are disposable items of clothing. Yes, you can spend quite a bit of money on fancy ones, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who didn’t wear their socks into the ground and then toss them without a second glance. But, at the same time, a great pair of socks is so, so great. I actually hated socks before I started knitting my own. I didn’t like that they required readjusting and that no matter what brand I bought, my feet were always cold, and I really didn’t like that when I finally did find a pair of socks I liked, they’d wear out within a year. Useless.

Socks were the second thing I learned to knit and in that first year I knit two pairs of worsted weight socks (I still have them both). I still remember the shock of switching to fingering-weight yarn and teeny tiny needles. It took me so long to knit that first lighter-weight pair, and then the next, and then the next. By the time I had a few pairs, almost without realizing it I stopped even looking at my drawer of store-bought socks. I was so proud of what I was making, and, almost more than that, I was proud of how useful they were!

For the last three or so years, I’ve worn hand-knit socks every day for about eight and a half months of the year. Although I now have more than a dozen pairs of hand-knit socks in regular rotation (that rotation doesn’t include lace socks or worsted-weight socks, which are worn as called upon by weather, etc.) three years ago, I only had about eight pairs of hand-knit socks, so there was a lot of washing (and, sometimes, multiple wears between washings) going on, and all those pairs saw a lot of wear. The thing about this kind of heavy rotation is that it means things wear out. This is especially true when you’re just getting started and your rotation is small.

I used the knitted-on patch technique for this pair and it is holding up admirably.

Faded and worn. I used the knitted-on patch technique for this pair and it is holding up admirably.

Just as socks were the first garment that really showed me in a practical way the value of handmade (emotionally and philosophically, I understood it already), they were also my first foray into making a real effort to make my clothes last. I’m not wasteful, but I will admit a certain temptation to let a worn-out something go as a way to justify getting something new. This t-shirt is stained? Oh darn, guess I’ll just buy that new one I’ve been eyeing. I don’t (usually) shop for the sake of shopping, but the allure of something new when what you have is old is real.

I do mend my socks, and I take care with how I wash them to ensure they last. I have noticed, though, that my older pairs — faded, mended, maybe starting to felt and/or lose their shape a little — have been pushed to the edges of my rotation. I wear them around the house, or sometimes to bed, but they are dropping out of regular use, and I’m not sure what to do with them. Part of this dilemma, I will admit, is entirely selfish: I really enjoy knitting socks, but how many pairs does one person need? If I let some pairs drift out of use, that gives me an excuse to replace them, but is that just cheating? (Yes, I knit them for others too, but still).

I can’t be the only person who produces hand-made items faster than they wear out, but this is a side of the hand-made wardrobe we rarely talk about. I love my hand made items; I wear them daily; and even though I’m not producing at a frantic rate, I still outpace myself (and not just with socks — how many sweaters do I really need? How many pairs of mitts? Etc.). The next months of making are dedicated to holiday gifts, so I have some time to think about all of this, but still — do you notice this same dilemma in your own making? How to do you deal with it?

Slow Fashion October

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Oh man, I had such big plans for this month. When Karen announced Slow Fashion October in mid-September I was so excited: What a great opportunity to write about all the things that have been jumbling around in my head since the spring; what a great excuse to really focus on what I am making and what I want to make; what a great way to push me into more regular blogging! But, alas, so far October hasn’t been any less busy than any other month, and I’m now three weeks behind and I’ve given up on the dream of catching up to Karen’s prompts.

Instead, here’s a rapid-fire version (I live in hope that next week I’ll have time to focus on this properly).

My first finished knit! It's a scarf/cowl, knit in 100% acrylic, and all the purls at twisted. I don't wear it anymore, but we do use it as a very effective tea cozy!

My first finished knit! It’s a scarf/cowl, knit in 100% acrylic, and all the purls at twisted. I don’t wear it anymore, but we do use it as a very effective tea cozy!

Week 1: You — I was very, very into crafts as a kid — beading, friendship bracelets, rug hooking (for a while), art, etc. — and did learn to knit then. But, it was slow, the needles were unwieldy and I put it aside without much thought. I came back to knitting when I was doing my masters. My sister had recently started knitting and I was was really inspired by what she was making, so when a couple of friends mentioned they’d be interested in learning, I was thrilled. From that initial scarf/cowl (knit flat and seamed) I immediately cast on for another cowl, and then took a sock class. I truly haven’t looked back since.

My progress with sewing has been slower, but overall I think my output has been better. I sewed off and on as a kid, using my mum’s ancient (but gorgeous) Singer. I made a lot of bags entirely from my own patterns (read: my coming up with an idea and cutting fabric without so much as sketching it first). I got a sewing machine for Christmas a couple of years ago, and that has really opened me up to making more of my own clothes. I still find sewing more of a hassle than knitting (it’s the set up mostly — I don’t have anywhere I can leave my machine out), but I’m enjoying it and can see myself improving, which is very encouraging.

Week 2: Small — This describes my overall handmade wardrobe, I’d say! That’s not a complaint, though. Having a small rotation of handmade garments to wear means that I really do wear them all (or, almost all) on a regular basis. My Scout Tees (most of which haven’t been blogged aside from Me Made May) get worn weekly, when it’s sweater season, it’s my handknit ones that I reach for, and the only time I wear store-bought socks is for sports (and only summer sports at that — for skiing, hiking, etc. I wear handknits).

Part of the reason for this smallness is because I’m slow. My work-life balance has been tipped in a decidedly “work” direction for a while now, and I don’t have the free time I used to. That means each thing I choose to spend time on takes more time, but also (in theory) ends up being a better piece. When you spend months knitting a sweater, you have way more time to think about fit, try it on, see how it’s working out, etc. Likewise, I spend a lot more time thinking about what I’m going to make, so when I’m free to start something new, I’ve really thought about all the ways I’ll wear or use that garment, which results in it getting lots of use once it’s done.

Epistrophy! I cast this on in March, and even though I haven't been knitting on it continuously for the last six months, that is rather a long time to have something on the needles. I'm so happy with it and the way it's turning out, and I can already tell it will be in regular rotation all winter.

Epistrophy! I cast this on in March, and even though I haven’t been knitting on it continuously for the last six months, that is rather a long time to have something on the needles. I’m so happy with it and the way it’s turning out, and I can already tell it will be in regular rotation all winter.

One of the other benefits to this slowness is that it means I make less in a year (this is not something I usually see as a positive, to be honest). I was thinking about this in relation to Karen’s prompts, and less output means I have more money to put toward each item, which allows me to pick and choose yarns and fabrics that I really like.

For example, knowing it would probably take three months to knit Sibella (no, I have not yet cast on. Soon though!), and that I would wear it for years, meant I could justify (to myself — I don’t think yarn purchases need to be justified in general) spending a little more to buy a sweater’s worth of Jill Draper Makes Stuff Esopus, a yarn I have loved from afar for a long time. I really love what Jill is doing with her yarns (local sourcing, environmentally friendly milling, hand dyeing), and I understand why they cost more because of that. Being slow let’s me support that, which is pretty great.

I thought I would be able to get to Week 3 here too, but honestly, if I don’t post this now, I might not (I already have a much longer version of Week 1 saved as a draft). Weeks 3 and 4 coming up!