Thursday, 29 December 2016

Self-care gift set

I have this thing about pattern and detail: I want everything that I use, every day, to be beautiful. My spaces are a lopsided assembly of the baroque and the functional; but never, ever bare. When we use things every day, we start to stop noticing them; and I want to work against this. Choosing and making useful objects which are aesthetically pleasing allows us to appreciate every time that we use our chosen tool.

A perfect example of this is a wash cloth, hand soap, and lunch bags; above, a set that I gave away for Christmas to a relative that I've fallen out of touch with somewhat ever since she has had two children. I bought a stack of fragranced soaps when I was in Bali, back in July, intending them as stocking-fillers. I crocheted this face cloth using mercerised cotton yarn that has been in my stash for 10 years, the project long-unrealised. I have enough for 3 more flannels. It was very quick to make, taking a few tube journeys one weekend as I attended several Christmas parties with my partner. The ripple pattern can be found on Attic 24. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for clear pattern instructions.)

The drawstring bag is the same pattern I made a few weeks ago. It uses a wild cotton print that I received in a fabric stash swap; it was surprisingly difficult to determine the pattern placement, but I think I succeeded. It's lined in raw calico and uses plain cotton tape as the drawstrings. A yellow vintage plastic button completes it.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Knitting on-trend: black cropped poloneck

2016 feels like the year that handknitting became more fashion-forward than ever, and I was helplessly swept along with the trends. I cast on this sweater at the end of October, and I can write a firm checklist of all the directional details that it features:
  • Dipped hem
  • Split ribbing
  • Chunky yarn
  • Long cuffs
  • Cropped length
  • Oversized poloneck
  • Basic black

 That's SEVEN points of trendiness! And I don't regret it one single bit: I love, love, absolutely love this sweater. I was rather sad to give it away - but alas, it was made as a Christmas present for my sister. I forced her to wear it on Christmas day even though she was sweating up from a viral infection, and in no way would have chosen to wear a woolly jumper in that condition. I think that she sensed she had no choice in the matter (or the jumper would have left the house on my back).

The pattern is Snug by Kim Hargreaves, a pattern from another back issue of Rowan magazine (no. 30) that I've had kicking around for years and never knit anything from. The yarn is R2 Fuzzi Felt, Rowan's short-lived, off-shoot "funky" yarn range aimed at teenagers. I fudged around with the gauge and the pattern sizing, eventually casting on adult size L which came out around adult size S. I did some arithmetic for the sleeve head, so that it came out the same size as the arm hole.

Ages ago, Rowan were selling off lucky-dip bundles of 4 magazines from their back catalogue for not much money, and as I was new to knitting and seeking to build up my pattern library, I ordered a set. I was somewhat disappointed by the selection that I received at the time: the magazines featured upteen stocking stitch sweaters using traditional bottom-up / in pieces construction. The internet knit blogging scene was going strong (this was just before Ravelry) and top-down raglans and in-the-round construction was all the rage. Rowan's offerings felt dull and out-of-date. Now, however, I have the opposite feeling about them. They offer a range of blank canvases, plain sweaters in a range of gauges that I can adapt to my own purposes as I wish, cutting out some of the mathematical jiggling. Lately, I find that I dip in and out of these magazines quite frequently.

I bought the yarn half price around 8 years ago and started knitting a jacket which never got off the ground. I recently frogged it during a de-cluttering frenzy that also led to the release of the red merino for my Christmas cardigan, and a jumper's worth of green Shetland wool that I'm turning into a better jumper. The yarn is a strange blend (58% nylon, 20% acrylic, 16% merino wool, 6% alpaca) that has very little elasticity, and is quite hard on the hands whilst knitting. However, the final jumper is incredibly soft, snuggly, and quite lovely to wear: cosy without being overly warm. I have another jumper's worth of it in a lovely forest green, as well as some stray balls in orange and blue. The green can be a Christmas jumper for someone else next year, and I might just donate the rest - unless any readers would like it? - let me know in the comments!

Poor sis has been too ill to let me photograph her wearing the sweater, so I'm wearing it here instead. Taking photographs of a black sweater in December is not an easy task at all; I ended up using a long exposure time, which resulted in some weirdly 'atmospheric' photographs.

Well, you get the idea! All in all, a successful stash-busting project using a pattern from my library; and if she never wears it, I shall be most happy to claim it back for myself!

Project Details
Pattern: Snug by Kim Hargreaves, Rowan 30
Yarn: Rowan R2 Fuzzi Felt, 9 balls
Cost: about £20 but 8 years ago, so really £0

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Christmas cardigan!

I'm so happy to have finished this cardigan! It's right on time for Christmas - and rather tasteful as far as seasonal knitwear goes, I must say. I couldn't resist posing by the Christmas tree, even though the light everywhere has been so terrible recently. I've never had a Christmas jumper (or the like) before, and this is as close as it gets: nice and festive in jolly red, but not a santa motif or an actual jingle bell in sight.

Aside from a couple of baby sweaters and a cardigan for my partner, I haven't done that much sweater-knitting over the past 3 years. Over 2016 I've focussed on socks, having completed 9 pairs thusfar and aiming to reach 10 pairs by the end of the year. I cast on this cardigan in October, after handing in my dissertation, when I wanted an activity completely different from academic writing. The pattern is called Georgia by Kim Hargreaves. It is a simple boxy cardigan with a crew neck and thin garter stitch edgings. It's from a back issue of Rowan Magazine that I acquired around 10 years ago, near the beginning of my knitting practice, and never actually knit anything from. I used a rather generic merino blend DK yarn that had been hanging around my stash, which I'd started knitting a cardigan from around 8 years ago - and never got anywhere with it! It felt great to finally let go of the incomplete project, unravel it, and turn it into something that I just love and am now wearing non-stop.

All Rowan Magazine patterns tend to be designed to be knit bottom-up in pieces, which is rather old-fashioned, but it works for me. I dabbled heavily in top-down, seamless sweater construction when I first started to knit, and none of those garments have had much longevity in my wardrobe. So it was nice to fall straight back into the rhythm of a seamed sweater, my preferred method of construction. DK-yarn is definitely my favourite yarn weight for sweaters: it's the right balance between texture, lightness, and timeliness of the project.

I'm particularly fond of knitting this simple horseshoe lace pattern; I find it so rhythmical and always memorise it so quickly. It grows very instinctively. It's often knit in white or neutral colours, which I feel makes it look slightly old-fashioned. I think that the pattern really shines in this bright, bright postbox red. It's also very snuggly in the merino blend wool (just a generic, mass-produced kind of yarn), and the laciness means that I don't overheat, which is great since this winter has been extremely mild so far.

The only slightly weird thing is that the sleeves have come out rather short! I followed the pattern exactly, and the body is the correct length and width - so I'm not really sure what happened there. I can style it out by pulling out the stripey cuffs of my t-shirt; but it's not really ideal, and in the future I'll have to work out an optimum sleeve length to aim for. Oh, and I did something weird when knitting the button bands and have thus double-button effect at the collar - which has turned into a happy mistake.

Overall, I'm super happy with this project, and have been wearing it nearly every day!

Project Details
Pattern: Georgia by Kim Hargreaves, Rowan 28, size XS
Needles: 3.75mm bamboo straight needles, with 3.25mm for edgings
Yarn: King Cole Merino Blend DK, red, 
Cost: pattern, yarn & needles from stash. It probably cost around £35 for yarn and pattern, but that was nearly 10 years ago!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Black linen forever.... | Clothing for Everyday Wear: L back wrap dress

A couple of years ago I did a very unusual thing in splurging on two books of sewing patterns. I've rarely bought any patterns in the last 5 years, but one afternoon I was feeling miserable and needed cheering up, and came across the full selection of Japanese sewing books published in translation at Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur. At the time, only a few Japanese titles were commonly available in the UK, and I'd only come across the books online. It was great to be able to browse the books in person, and I was taken by the quirky styling, pretty models, and the overall un-european aesthetic.

My favourite patterns of both books were the ones featured on the front covers. However I soon discovered that  after you're done with all the pretty pictures, the format of the books is not massively user-friendly. I learnt to sew using commercial paper patterns that you cut to size, and am not accustomed to having to trace patterns out myself. Initially I could only bear to trace out smaller separates, not all the pieces of a full dress. In July, over two years after I'd brought the books home to London, I was packing my suitcase for my return trip to Singapore and suddenly decided that then (a week before departing) was the time to make the wrap dress, just in time for my travels.

I spent a while trying to find other people's versions of this dress but only came across one; so I just had to leap in blindly. I had already purchased the fabric, a lightweight black Italian linen from Fabric House on Goldhawk Road, for about £8/m. As a sidenote, I highly recommend this smaller shop. Whilst the selection is not as vast as neighbouring Classic Textiles or A-One Fabrics, Rasheed has very interesting taste, and there is often something special to be found. He is quite game for bargaining, too!

I found the instructions difficult to follow, and ended up omitting the waist tie out of pure confusion. Instead, I sewed a simple tab and button hole, attaching a matching button on the opposite side. I made the inner ties from cotton tape. I like the simple collar band, cut on the straight; it is an extremely Japanese way of finishing a neckline. The three-quarter sleeves and the skirt are the perfect length, however, I did shorten the bodice by 1.5cm as it sat in a very bizarre place on my torso.

Here you can see the fabric a little better (turns out black is really hard to photograph, especially in the dim-but-bright winter sunlight - who knew?!). I'd bought this pretty, oversized daisy trim from Barnett Lawson, waiting alongside the black linen for over a year. But in the end, I left it off. At the ripe old age of 25, I've been finding myself loath to wear anything with a flower on it. It's not that I feel like my youth is over: women of all ages look great in flowers. But I've been feeling uncomfortable in anything too fussy or feminine recently. I hope that I'll get over this at some point, as it's slightly illogical, and renders half of my wardrobe unwearable. Meanwhile, flowers, bows, and most pretty things are out.

The verdict? Whilst arguably austere, this was been quite a successful dress to wear in 35°C heat. I love the look of the back wrap with its deep V, although it does have a tendency to slip off my shoulders. The dress was comfortable and light, perfect for the climates in Hong Kong and Singapore in July and August. Cons: I wouldn't actually recommend sewing a narrow three-quarter length sleeve in linen, as it creases horribly around the elbow. The only other slightly strange thing about this dress is the extremely boxy cut about the waist. Whilst this makes it very comfortable, I can't help suspecting that the waist tie that I omitted would have cinched in the waist and solved this problem. Had I been less rushed about making this dress, I would have altered the pattern for better waist shaping. The dress feels good to wear, but has the tendency to make me look like I've eaten too much nasi lemak.

Whilst it's not quite right for a night out, I'm happy to have made a piece of loungewear that looks better than an old T-shirt and boxer shorts. And it's also good to have made a pattern that's been on my to-sew list for so long - especially having bought the materials so long ago too! It's not quite stash busting, but it feels like it.

I'm not quite sure how we've got to December, and I returned from my trip 4 months ago - already! It's taken me that long to get round to photographing this dress, and it's not at all warm enough to wear as a winter dress, even with layering. But I'm happy that I finally got round to making this dress (and now blogging about it) - just one thing off the endless to-do list that seems to be accelerating towards the end of the year...

Project details:
Linen wrap dress
Pattern: L Back Wrap Dress from Clothing for Everyday Wear
Fabric: lightweight Italian linen from Fabric House on Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush
Haberdashery: upcycled mother of pearl buttons from my stash
Cost: £24 for fabric

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Small things: project bags

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts recently, both knitting-related ones on iTunes, and conceptual programmes via Radio 4. One of my favourites is The Gentle Knitter video podcast over on YouTube: Nicole has a charming aesthetic, and the whole podcast is both soothing and textural at once. I also enjoy Kammebornia, a vibrant Swedish video podcast; Pia's work is full of colour and patterns in the countryside - and very unlike my grey-black-white experience of Stockholm! I loved the fact that Pia and Nicole keep their knitting projects in baskets around their houses, including baskets inherited from their mothers and grandmothers. In the past, I've tended to keep my knitting projects in various plastic or calico shopping bags dotted around the place; but I decided that it was time for an upgrade.

My grandparents have severe hoarding tendencies, which occasionally proves useful: it didn't take very long to unearth this large wicker basket. After a bit of patching up with PVA wood glue, it was good to go; but I was worried about the rough canes inside snagging my yarn. I decided to sew up some azuma bukuro bags to sit inside. One soon followed another, and I now have three. 

I made the first bag (above centre, trimmed with navy) out of a scrap of heavy calico. The other two bags are sewn from normal calico used for toiles, and it's much softer: you really need the sizing (stiffening) left in the fabric to make this a successful bag. The pattern is a rectangle which can be divided into three equal squares, so it is rather long and narrow. I wanted to make the most of the scraps of fabric I had as possible, so I decided to forgo French seams and finish the raw edge with bias binding. I used remnants of commercial bias binding from my stash. This is the rather stiff stuff, uncomfortable on a garment but perfect for this use. I squared off the corners so that it sits open with a flat base.

I've always been drawn to calico as a material, enjoying the rawness of the cloth. These bags are the right blend of colourful and utilitarian, which is a needed contrast to the extreme colour and pattern elsewhere in my home.

The azuma bukuro bags are great for storage in the house, but I also made a more multi-functional project bag for when I'm out and about. I copied a small drawstring pouch that a friend had given me around 10 years ago after his trip to Japan. I use it all the time, especially for knitting on public transport, and it still looks pretty much as good as new. Here's a photo I took of it back in my Stockholm apartment in March:

Yes, the walls and surfaces really were all white; and all the furniture really was from Ikea. I'm so glad I'm back in colourful and chaotic London!

This is a simple drawstring pouch with a buttoned exterior pocket. I used scraps of this wonderful sketchy peacock feather cotton/viscose fabric from Goldhawk Road. Viscose is really too drapey for this kind of thing, so I lined it with robust brown silesia lining, leftover from a tailoring project. Finished with pretty grosgrain ribbon and a vintage button from my stash, this quick project allowed for just the right amount of thinking, as the lining is caught in to the seams (not bagged out). It is now stuffed full of sock yarn.

I'm happy to have spent the time pimping up my knitting: keeping works in progress stored in inviting and attractive bags makes me excited to get back into it. I try to stick to one project at a time, with the reasoning that I only have one pair of hands to use and I'd rather have more finished projects than incomplete ones. Having small incentives like using beautiful tools and equipment is a great way of keeping up motivation, especially when you're in the tricky stages of a project like knitting the second sock or final sleeve!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Quiet winter knitting & #knit1000g

There's been a lack of finished items posted around here lately. During Slow Fashion October, I waxed lyrical (and at length) about mending and anti-consumerism; but really, there's only so many photos of darning socks and patched holes in T-shirts that I feel I can bore you with! I'm now three-quarters of the way through my mending pile, and I'm finding it rather uninspiring. Coupled with the dim winter light, I haven't been doing much sewing lately.

Instead, I've turned to knitting as the perfect antidote. I'm continuing with my Year of Socks project, which I'll write about fully in December. I'm nearly at the end of the sock yarns that I bought in Stockholm, so I'm sitting somewhere in the middle of itching to buy more yarn and wondering what to make next. Regular readers will know that I have rather negative feelings regarding my stock of craft materials (or 'stash') that has amassed during periods of being time-poor. Whilst not exactly time rich at the moment, I am currently rather poor space-wise and monetarily, so it's good to have the reminder to use what I have.

I recently discovered the #knit1000g hashtag on Instagram. The idea is to knit up a kilo's weight in yarn before buying any more. I'm cheating slightly, and am including projects that were already started when I discovered it; but all in all, I've committed to 4 pairs of socks and 2 sweaters before buying anything else. I haven't weighed this, but I'm pretty sure that it'll be over 1000g. Two pairs of socks use purpose-bought yarn from Stockholm; the other two are based around using up leftovers. Both sweaters use yarn that I acquired  8 or 9 years ago; I began projects, but they were unsuccessful for various reasons, and I've recently unravelled them. All patterns used are from my library or free downloads; and any additional projects made from my stash will be bonus, not a substitute.

#Knit1000g is a rather quiet initiative: it is not a knitalong, there are no prizes, nor any Internet celebrities endorsing it. However, I think it's a really valuable way to remind ourselves of the beautiful materials we have at the ready, before just excitedly ordering more yarn for the next make. I'm still forcing myself to reach for my knitting when I find myself endlessly scrolling on social media; and I've really sped along on the socks since then! 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

5 tips for designing your first quilt

When I was planning my first quilt, I felt overwhelmed by the vast array of patterns, techniques, styles, blocks, and trends out there in the big world of quilting. I call myself a maker, not a quilter, so I've often felt like a bit of an outsider to this craft. But I'm a very creative person, so I've never felt the desire to use a quilting pattern or kit, or to copy a design exactly. I prefer to design my own. When sketching and pondering my second quilt, I realised that I had picked up a few tips that could be useful to other quilting beginners. I hope that this makes designing your quilt fun and inspiring!

First off, click here to see my Inspiring Quilts board on Pinterest, where you can get an idea of my design inspiration.

Here are 5 tips for designing your first quilt...

1.  Pick a simple, repetitive design
If it's your first time quilting, don't push yourself too hard at the first hurdle. Simple blocks like log cabin or half-square triangles invite endless options for designing.

2. Keep to a strict colour scheme
Using a limited colour scheme allows you to be bold with your shapes and lines. Many quilt patterns divide up fabrics into 'light' and 'dark' values, but I'd go further and consider colour very carefully. You don't want all the hard work of the quilt piecing to get lost amidst the excitement of too many different shades. 

3. Enjoy patterns - but choose plain fabrics too
Quilting has some of the most exciting fabrics around! It's so easy to get carried away with all the prints and patterns available; I know I did. But mixing in plain fabrics in the same hues, or contrasting ones, will give clarity to your design lines- and in fact will make the patterns pop.

4. Use natural fibres and fabrics
These will wash and wear better; are breathable and absorbent; and will age beautifully. Most quilting fabric is cotton, but I've successfully mixed in linen too. I also don't restrict myself to quilting fabric, and often use leftovers from dressmaking projects as well as a great array of second-hand textiles. Napkins, tablecloths, old bedsheets (cut from the edges) and men's fine cotton shirts are all good options.

5. Challenge yourself, and enjoy it!
Making a quilt is an involved project, requiring long-term commitment. I often feel that big projects are an exercise in patience and letting go: embracing any flaws that emerge, and moving forward in your practice. Your first quilt is probably not going to be perfect, since the first anything is rarely perfect. But you'll have lots of fun trying out this craft, and you'll probably be a better maker for it!

What's your favourite quilt block? What did you think about when you were designing your first quilt?

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Quilting from scraps

I've recently started making another quilt, this time a log cabin pattern. I've given myself the challenge of piecing both the top and the underside from scrap fabrics, using as much cotton and linen as I could find. I've surprised myself by the huge pile of scraps and unwanted textiles that I managed to gather just by rootling around in a few cupboards at my grandmother's place. Admittedly, her hoarding tendencies are infamous, and I unearthed all manner of things. As well as using leftovers from my own quilting and sewing projects, I'm mixing in many vintage textiles, cutting up handkerchiefs, napkins, old bedsheets and some clothing that I pulled out from a charity shop bag. I'm pleased with the surface texture gained by mixing cotton and linen fabrics.

I've given myself permission to purchase no more than 1m of fabric specifically for the quilt, which could be in fat quarters. I'm not sure if I will be able to stretch this out to make the binding and backing, nor am I sure if I will be able to piece my leftover remnants of quilt wadding. But I really want to push myself to make something that looks aesthetically interesting, with a considered design, from what essentially are waste materials and unwanted textiles.

Learning my lessons from my first quilt, I'm using a minimum of 50% plain, unpatterned fabrics in order to make a cleaner-looking design. I've used more solids (or semi-solids) within the coloured central diamond shapes in order to make it stronger. But the white backgrounds are actually a shifting mix of creams, ivories, and only a few bright whites. I think that this softens it slightly.

I haven't yet decided on how I'm going to piece the back. It might just end up being a haphazard collection of quadrilaterals. Whilst I'm enjoying sewing the log cabin blocks, I have a feeling that by the end of them I'll have run out of steam somewhat. I also haven't quite decided how large it will be! I was initially planning on a lap quilt, but then I found loads more fabric lurking at the bottom of cupboards, and realised I could go bigger.

This is definitely a long-term project: every few weeks, I spend a whole evening cutting out strips and sewing them up into blocks. Then I put it aside and forget about it while I do more important things. At this rate, it'll be another 2 years until it's made, just like my first quilt! I'm never going to be a quilt artisan or prize-winner, but it's an enjoyable process, and I'm really happy to be turning waste materials into something useful.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A recent stash sort-out...

I've recently been trying very hard to seriously re-organise my sewing and knitting supplies, as a large corner of my room currently looks like a landslide. It's a bit horrific. I started by pulling out cuts of cotton and viscose fabrics and storing them in this suitcase. I have a separate large storage box for wools, silks, linings and interlinings; all trimmings and haberdashery are separate too. In all seriousness, in an ideal world I would like my entire fabric stash to fit into this suitcase, with a separate bag for scratchy tailoring canvases and bulky wadding.

Having a stash makes me feel nervous because it is a whole world of unspent opportunities, pointing to wasted time. There's the monetary factor too, although I have very little disposable income and, believe it or not, purchase fabric very carefully. A fair amount of what I have was donated by de-cluttering family members or leftover from costume jobs that I've done. I've tried to put a check on that last one, but it's hard because you don't want to put large yet odd remnants of special and expensive fabrics into the bin. I currently have a piece of gorgeous silk chiffon 4m long by only 0.5m that I have no idea what to do with. Do you?

Acquiring a stash is easy, because it's really fun to go to wonderful shops and dream up the possibilities on offer. You can buy far quicker than you could ever make. The second problem is waste, because I don't think that many of us really like the idea of cloth sitting in the landfill for hundreds of years. I read through the entire Stash Less series on The Craft Sessions, and it gave me loads of food for thought. After an insomniac night of reading, I started unravelling old sweaters I don't wear because they didn't really work. I now have an additional 4 sweaters worth of yarn in my stash!

Having so much ends up being counter-productive, as I feel guilty every time I look at all the beautiful materials that I have done nothing with. Making becomes a chore, an act of de-cluttering, instead of a stimulating and enjoyable hobby. I don't want this to happen, but it's surprisingly difficult to lift this strong feeling of guilt and regret. One small change I've recently implemented was to pick up my knitting needles instead of my phone, and whilst Instagram has been neglected, I've made most of a cardigan. At the end of the day it seems like a pretty great trade-off.

What are your feelings on having a stash? Do you feel strange and sad about it like me, or is it something you take pleasure in?

Monday, 31 October 2016

12 months of textiles

Since I've been talking so much about mending and making recently, I thought I'd do another re-assessment of the textiles that I've bought over the last 12 months. I've just seen that I wrote this post in August last year so it's well overdue. But in fact, I didn't buy any clothes during September and October, so I think that the timing of the new academic year is still valid.

To re-cap...
  • This list is of the textiles I've bought from (approximately) September 2015 till September 2016. 
  • It's probably not a definitive list. 
  • Both new and second-hand pieces are included
  • All forms of acquisitions are included: buying outright, thrifting, inheriting and rescuing.
  • An estimated price is included, except for gifts
  • Gifted items which were not specifically requested are not included.  
  • Items that I've made myself are not included.
  • Fabric and yarn is currently not included. I know that these are definitely textiles, but I'm focussing on acquiring ready-to-wear items. 

Over the last 12 months, I have obtained...

1 down-filled snow-proof winter jacket (new, from outlet store) £100
1 pair of slippers for Stockholm apartment (new, from a chain store) £8
1 handbag (thrifted) £3
2 pairs mittens (new, from independent shops) £25
1 wool scarf (gift) £0
1 pair flip flops (new, from a chain store) £3
1 summer hat (thrifted) £5

6 pairs of cotton socks (new, a gift) £0
2 pairs of thick socks (new, from airline) £0
3 pairs of underwear (new, from a chain store) £8
1 thermal leggings (new, from a chain store) £8
2 thermal vests (new, from a chain store) £16
1 bikini (from a chain store) £6

1 T-shirt (new, from a chain store) £9
2 cotton tops (inherited) £0
2 summer vests (thrifted + inherited) £2
1 wool cardigan (inherited) £0
1 black trousers (vintage) £15
1 velvet leggings (new, from a chain store) £8
1 dress (vintage) £10

Total approximate cost of non-me-made wardrobe: £226

Straight away I can see that half of this list resulted from moving to Stockholm for half a year, where my English-climate wardrobe just didn't cut it. I feel that everything else is pretty minimal: there aren't really many acquisitions that weren't actually needed. Well, aside from multiple pairs of mittens, which I bought as souvenirs. I'm surprised that I only bought one vintage dress, and no new shoes apart from slippers/flip flops - both of which have worn out, which goes to show that I shouldn't have bought them from a budget mass retailer!

Mostly I've been trying to be happier with what I have: assessing what's already in my wardrobe, laundering it more carefully, and mending it when damaged. I needed a new pair of flats, but instead have spent a small fortune getting 5 pairs of shoes re-heeled. Ditto with mending a few of my coats. They should hold out for the next 12 months. 

Future plans...
This considered approach to my wardrobe is successfully extending into my sewing and knitting practice.  I've been upping my ability to sew knits, and whilst I don't need any more tops to get through the winter, when I do replace them I will choose either thrifted items, or organic cotton jersey and sew them myself. 

What do I need to take into my wardrobe next year?  The underwear I bought from a shop fit worse than my me-made scanties, which is due to a poor choice arising from being broke. And there's an ongoing bra debacle, which I know many women endure. I need a warmer winter dressing gown. I have a pair of self-made corduroy jeans that have worn out; two sweaters are being knitted; and several more pairs of woollen socks. Also, a new purse to replace one which was stolen (very sad about that); and a smaller rucksack for cycling.

Fairly minimal, and definitely achievable. We'll see how I get on with those plans in a year's time...

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Slow Fashion October 3: Handmade

I started making clothing over 10 years ago now and it's become such an ingrained part of my life that I don't even think about it, really. I've trained and worked professionally as a costume maker, and have drifted back and forth between making for myself only, for family only, or for clients only over the decade. At the moment I'm focussing on myself. 

I've had a lot of deadlines recently, first to finish off my Masters dissertation, and now a series of rolling targets as I prepare my PhD application. When I'm busy I often find myself, rather infuriatingly, picking up my phone like a reflex and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. A total time suck that doesn't achieve anything and just serves to make me feel more guilty. 

Then, I decided to participate in Slow Fashion October. Just a quick sweep across my and my partner's wardrobes amassed a towering pile of garments that we wished to be mended, rather than thrown away. Mending takes time, and isn't always pretty. That began to feel like another pressure, as the mending pile grew ever larger and threatened to take over my space.

So I decided to try something different. Each time I reached for my phone, I stopped myself mid-swipe and picked up my knitting instead. It's proved immensely fruitful and productive. I spent one insomniac night going through all my back copies of knitting magazines (more on which anon), and unearthed a half-knitted sweater and bag of leftover yarns at the bottom of my yarn storage. Over the last 5 weeks I have managed to knit 5 pieces of a cheerful lace cardigan.

I am pretty pleased with this progress. I'm also very happy to only have 1 ball of yarn leftover. Whilst I always keep aside a couple of metres for darning, I hate having remnants. The red is quite the perfect shade for me and matches lots of things that I have in my room, including the 1970s suitcase that I bought in a charity shop.

Making your own clothes falls obviously under the 'slow fashion' umbrella, as pieces fall into your wardrobe only at the rate of which you are sewing/knitting. And unless you are working 40 hours a week sewing your clothes, it's going to be rather slowly. But I've often been surprised by the impositions that we humans can put on ourselves. Recently, Morgan of Crab & Bee wrote about letting go of the compulsion to only sew all of her clothing herself. In the comments sections, many others agreed that they'd felt under huge pressure to do this, and applauded her decision to stop. I was really surprised, because as much as I enjoy making things (and I even specifically chose my Bachelors degree that taught pattern-cutting, draping and professional sewing techniques because I wanted to refine my skillset), I have never felt the need to say 'I must only have items in my wardrobe that I myself have made.' Instead, I chose to buy second-hand as much as possible, aside from difficult items such as outerwear, activewear, shoes, and lingerie. 

Over the last year, I began making my own lingerie; and whilst I have the technical ability to make outerwear (I specialised in tailoring in my Bachelors degree), I haven't really dedicated the time to making a coat for myself. I always remember that my tailoring teacher, who taught super old-fashioned bespoke hand-tailoring, told me that it takes 8-10 jackets before you make one that's considered decent. Not good - just decent. This is quite alarming. I've made 4. 

I don't particularly want to be going round in clothing that looks sloppy and does not fit well, just purely because I made it myself. Fabric availability is also a problem, as many technical fabrics are developed specifically for industry usage. The lightweight, waterproof cycling jacket I bought (secondhand on Ebay) that has multiple zip pockets and folds up tidily is way better than anything I could have made myself. Likewise the snow-proof down-filled winter jacket I bought (in an outlet store) for my winter living in Sweden. It's not necessary to go to the extreme of making things that will not realistically produce great results: too difficult for your level, too hard to find suitable materials, too challenging to properly fit. It's no point sewing your own wardrobe just for the sake of it, particularly if it's making you stressed, even unhappy. 

Overall, I'm trying to articulate that embracing a slow fashion wardrobe is simple, but it does often mean a shift in our lifestyle choices. Currently, I sit writing wearing an outfit that is entirely second-hand, and it's just normal. Whilst to some people, knitting your own socks and sewing your own knickers does seem rather extreme, I think it's possible to make this part of a routine that incorporates less consumerist approaches to clothing. Like everything, it just takes practice.


p.s. I've decided not to dedicate a whole post to the last week of Slow Fashion October's theme 'known origins'. But you know me, and you know how sustainability infuses itself in my lifestyle and making choices, so this post won't be the last word on 'slow fashion'. 

I am not convinced how much benefit that 'known origins' have on sustainability. Sweatshops exist in Europe and the USA as much as in Asia. If non-toxic, organic fibres and dyes are used, manufacturers generally highlight this as it makes their product so much more expensive. I think it's much better to make careful choices about where you buy, such as purchasing fabric second-hand (from de-cluttering friends or thrift shops) or from fabric shops that specialise in industry remnants or out-of-season designs. These choices will stop those rolls of fabric from being destroyed (by burning) or dumped in the landfill.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Slow Fashion October 2: Long-Worn

Frayed pleats on a self-made linen dress
A well-worn t-shirt in my repair pile

The prompt of this week's Slow Fashion October is long-worn, which got me thinking about how all the clothes stuffed into my wardrobe are actually pretty old. Up until only a few years ago, I frequently dressed in head-to-toe vintage, including bullet bras and suspender belts. But I didn't fit the typical mould of a 'vintage girl', with the heavily styled hair and feminine look. My style is far too eclectic for that - I'd be a bohemian in any era. At the time, I was studying my costume degree, then working in costume. For the best part of a decade, my summer job has been to alter, repair and refresh old costumes for a new cast of actors on a West End show. The constant mending and care that vintage clothing demands got too much for me in my personal life, and so I've turned away from it in the last couple of years in favour of clothing I can really move in. I've also moved away from physically working with costumes, to studying the historical development of clothing during my Masters degree in fashion history. It's clear that 'old clothes' have formed a large part of my life over the past 10 years.

19th century stockings from the archive of Nordiska Museet, Stockholm
When you're rooting through archives, trying to make sense of objects and find their place in social and cultural history, you look for clues about garments' uses. Whilst collectors often look for perfect, untarnished items, many historians delight in discovering the mended patch, the altered seam, the worn pocket. It reveals how the garment was worn. It suggests whether it was well-loved or kept for best, if it was significant or uncared for.  It's the element of care that slow fashion embraces, the notion of loving and looking after your garments even after they begin to unravel and fray. When we only acquire things slowly, and with much thought, we consider in great detail how they are going to fit into our everyday lives. If we are able to support small businesses and independent craftspeople with our purchasing power, then we need to match that significant financial investment with a longevity in our closets. Overall, I think that it's important to praise long-worn items, and prize the stories that they have brought us, the events in our lives to which they have been the background. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Slow Fashion October 1: Introductions

This year I'm participating in Slow Fashion October, a month-long investigation into making, clothing and sustainability for the online craft community hosted by Karen Templer of Fringe Association

What is Slow Fashion October? In the words of the host:
A celebration of the small-batch, handmade, second-hand, well-loved, long-worn, known-origins wardrobe.
This month-long conversation has been divided up into themed weeks, with discussions held on the Fringe Association blog as well as on Instagram with #slowfashionoctober - and elsewhere, such as here on Tailoring Tales!

Week 1's theme is Introductions. Karen asks:
Who are you, and what does slow fashion mean to you. What got you started thinking about it — people, books, films, etc. Are your concerns environmental, humanitarian, financial? Most important: How does your thinking factor into your life and closet. Also, any special plans or projects for Slotober, and what are you hoping to get out of it?
I'm Anushka, a 20-something writer and musician from London. I have long been a compulsive maker, but I first learnt to sew and knit around 12 years ago because I didn't want to support fashion brands who used unethical sweatshop labour. I was also worried by the notion pushed by the fashion industry that we should be discarding our old clothes every season in order to buy new fashionable ones. 'Slow fashion' is just the latest term for a non-consumerist approach to dress. In my opinion, it's not only possible but important to combine environmental humanitarian awareness alongside and financial concerns.  Saying this, making sustainable choices are rarely the easy option - nor are they necessarily thrifty! 

I'm planning on joining in with Slow Fashion October with blog posts responding to Karen's prompts throughout the month. I'll certainly be contributing some of my own thoughts along the way, too, including more reflections on mending like I wrote last month. 

Alongside the writing, I'll be mending a pile of my and my partner's clothes, as well as working on a cardigan using yarn that's been sitting in my stash getting attacked by moths (!). I started knitting it into a garment that didn't fit 8 years ago, and am now unravelling it.