Karie Bookish Dot Net

F-f-fashion: Some Thoughts on Clothes & Knitting

Fashion. I was one of those people who always said I didn’t care about fashion because fashion didn’t care about me, but in the last decade or so, I changed my mind. Maybe it was my move from Copenhagen to Glasgow that prompted my change of heart? The two cities have radically different approaches to fashion. Maybe it was because I began making clothes? I started thinking about necklines and silhouettes in another way. Whatever the reason I began thinking about fashion as both visual communication and social history.

November 2015 189

I spent last week doing jury duty. I was never picked to sit on a jury but I spent several hours every day sitting in a crowd of around 100 strangers. It was so interesting to observe what people were wearing. It was a sea of black trousers, various blouses, and suits but people still looked so different depending upon the cut of their trousers or how their jacket sat. One guy stood out for a slim-cut navy suit with brown brogues – I imagined him working in media or the trendy part of IT. Another man wore a loose, baggy suit that screamed 1990s to me – I guessed that maybe he didn’t wear suits to work and only owned this one suit? What people wear say a lot about them – just as much as body and verbal language do.

What has this to do with me working as a designer?fashion

I don’t live and work in a context-less world. I am influenced by what I see around me as much as anybody else. I have my own specific aesthetic which is tied to my body, my colouring and my love of vintage shopping. I design things that I want to wear myself (unless it is a very, very, very specific brief which rarely happens). I have pinterest boards that I edit frequently to help me hone my aesthetic (How to Wear Clothes is my imaginary wardrobe, for instance; Knitting Inspiration does what it says on the tin). I keep an eye on people like Shirley Kurata whose stylistic instincts I admire. I also spend a working day each season going through catwalk shows on style.com thinking about things like necklines, colour combinations, sleeve caps, tailoring etc. You may not be able to see all this work in my design, but it is there. When someone commented on the Lindgren mittens saying “they look like the most amazing vintage find!” I had a quiet, internal fistbump of yay, yay, yay, that is what I wanted to say!



I think talking about hand-knitting in a fashion context is always likely to be fraught with danger. I know many Ravelry people have the same ‘I don’t care about fashion because fashion don’t care about me’ stance that I used to have (which in its own way is a reaction to fashion – or at least the fast fashion of the retail world). But what we choose to make speaks its own language and forms part of social history (increased leisure time; rejection of consumerism; ethical consumerism; concerns about sustainability; the rise of nostalgia industry etc). Clothes are never ‘just’ clothes. I’d argue we even see micro-trends within hand-knitting that are as much about fashion as we’d like to pretend they are not.

What are your thoughts on the act of making and fashion? Do you try to imitate current high street trends? Do you have a specific style you try to make? Do you follow making trends and like making ‘the in-thing’? Do you follow fashion? How do you think about the clothes you wear & make?

16 Thoughts on “F-f-fashion: Some Thoughts on Clothes & Knitting

  1. I think the anti-Fashion aspect of handknitting can be one of it’s appeals, or was historically. “I can create something useful even if the stupid stores want me to buy something ridiculous that I can only wear one season.” I know when I learned to knit, my aunt wondered if I would get a book of sample patterns and work from that always, or “waste money on knitting shop patterns.” I took her to mean getting an Elizabeth Zimmerman book, but she was actually referring to something like a predecessor to Ann Budd’s Handy series, my mother owns my grandmother’s copy now.

    To put my particular family into context, my grandfather was a preacher in rural Pennsylvania, sometimes the congregation gave food instead of tithes, and if it snowed on a Sunday so that people stayed home from church, he did not get paid. My Grandma cooked as if the Great Depression had never ended. My other grandmother always sewed with gabardine if she could; because it was reversible fabric, you could “turn” the suit inside out and get another few years wearing from it, after picking out every single seam and sewing it back together again.

    So the fact that I write knitting patterns has its ironies.

    • I’m so glad you started this topic! And the thread has been most excellent & thought-provoking!

      I think we come from similar backgrounds & I definitely know that the anti-fashion stance was one of the appealing things for me at first. If you had told me fifteen years ago what I’d be doing for a living now, I would have been incredulous (I am all mind! Clothes are just to cover up my cumbersome body!) but I have come to realise that fashion is just another language and once I have the power to speak because the big money retail shops are just one dialect. Terrible metaphor but I hope you know what I mean!

      On the other hand, I have always loved costume history and that also plays a huge part for me even if nobody notices but me.

  2. Freyalyn on January 20, 2016 at 3:01 pm said:

    Excellent article. Not really up to replying in depth at the mo.

  3. Interesting to think about. I glance at the odd fashion trends online and in magazines, but tend not to follow them, opting instead for basic, classic pieces in my wardrobe that mix and match well and won’t look out of place over the years. Occasionally I’ll buy something simple in a trendy colour. If I splurge on a trendy piece, it will most likely be on a pair of interesting shoes. But I do think there are definitely fashion trends in knitting – yarn companies often keep an eye on the trendy colours out there and try and replicate them. Which reminds me, I have some neon yellow yarn in my stash that I have NO idea what to use for! And certain patterns can go viral and everyone seems to be knitting them. I remember when the Colour Affection shawl was all the rage and I went into my local LYS and there were five knitters who were all strangers to each other, all looking ( as I was) for the best three colours to knit that pattern. And I think there are often knitting techniques that start trending, for example brioche seems to be really popular now. KALs have a lot to do with this, I think.

    What would be interesting to examine, with the rise of ravelry, is how much indie handknit designers are influencing the greater fashion world. There was the story a couple of years ago of a high street chain copying Kate Davies’ Owls design and there seems to be a lot of really bad, acrylic “fair isle” jumpers out there.

    • Agreed about the ‘Fair Isle ‘ copies……we should really start a campaign to have Fair Isle designated as an ‘appelation controllee ‘ ( sorry, I don’t know the term in English ).

  4. Cookie on January 20, 2016 at 6:13 pm said:

    I’m in the “I don’t care about fashion, because fashion doesn’t care about me” faction. Because I think of fashion as “fashion industry” and “trends”, which tie into things like consumerism, socially acceptable body types, expectations of gender performance, and a whole bunch of other things that to me, as a non-conformist in a whole array of contexts, are negative.

    Being attentive to the details of design in itself, to me, is not about fashion. E.g. I’m very interested in things like how the shape of the sleeve cap corresponds to fit – I don’t care one bit if the style I find works best is actually in fashion at the moment or not, I’m only interested in making a garment that fits. To me, fashion has little to do with what suits me and everything to do with what a few select individuals think is “interesting” at the moment. Every day I see knitting patterns for garments that look amazing – but I will never knit them, because the style just wouldn’t fit me.

    To me, the distinction between fashion and style is important: the former connects more to things like economics and social and cultural zeitgeist than to human beings and their bodies, while the latter is centered on true aesthetics and the individual.

  5. Kirsten on January 20, 2016 at 7:14 pm said:

    At 55, I’ve gone through the gambit of style, What’s In and What’s Out ! I’ve lived through some of the most interesting fashion trends in the History of Fashion. In General, looking back, I tend to shutter every time someone tries to bring back just about anything from the 1970″s. Most people, especially women, hope they never see any of the Fashion that came through at that time and we shudder when someone tries to revive what should remain “Dead and Buried”. Most of us have gone through being very hard on our selves that we never fit into Twiggy’s Clothes. We seem to feel that the smaller the better. Friends that were born a bit earlier, seem to have a much better relationship with their bodies. By the time we all reached 50 and had kids, you are much easier on yourself and understand, or start to that those who love you, love you no matter what, baby belly and all. Now I struggle with just trying to find my style! My kids are grown now and I have Grandkids, but none that live close at this time. I have a casual life, but I hate looking sloppy. I still care how my hair looks and though I wear less make-up I still like to feel put together. I find myself, and when the gals I know talk, we are envious of the 1950’s. The 1960’s weren’t to bad but the popular colours made us gag. So the big question is, how do you pull things from one era, make them fit somewhat to the latest styles with out looking like you’ve been wearing the same style for 50 to 60 years? I’ve found clothes that I adore, but are outrageously expensive or the lengths are just not right. Length is easy to fix in most cases, but for my, I’m 5’2″ and still living in a world that thinks that unless your 5’10”, your a throw back to the Hobbits. Petties are usually the right length, but they are made for women who live in the Far East, not a size 8-10, even if that is the size on the tag. I cam sew, but have never made my own patterns and really don’t want to at this point. Heck, last time I bought a pattern, it cost $10, now they are $20+. I have a hard time spending that kind of money for a bunch of tissue paper. The Biggest Question, one that rolls around in my mind day and night…How Do I Find MY Style? Please let me know if you have the answer. I’d rather give you $20 that to waste it on tissue paper that still doesn’t give me the question I want answered!

    • Stay tuned. I have a couple of links up my sleeve I couldn’t work into this blog entry!

    • Meredith MC on January 24, 2016 at 6:37 pm said:

      Remember that buying a sewing pattern is buying the time and work of its creator, not just the paper, which is your means of translating the designer’s idea into a wearable object. It might make you feel better about spending money on the pattern to think of it as supporting the work of people who are innovating garment designs instead of an envelope of tissue paper.

  6. Peeriemoot/Ginny on January 20, 2016 at 11:26 pm said:

    My thoughts are that there’s a distinction between style and fashion. Most people have their own style, what they feel comfortable in, and to some extent that’s affected by what is ‘on-trend’ (my most-hated phrase – presumably ‘trendy’ sounds too shallow and 80s), because what’s fashionable dictates what’s available. By making your own or choosing vintage you can circumvent that to an extent.

    I think my problem with ‘fashion’ is the near instant redundancy. Next were selling jumpers with ‘Christmas 2015’ on them last month *facepalm*. That’s an extreme example but I’m also remembering maybe seven or eight years back when cobalt blue tops and blouses were fashionable. Loads of people bought and wore them, regardless of whether it suited them (it’s a hard colour to wear I think), and then they promptly went out of fashion again and nobody could wear them for fear of looking ‘last season’. Presumably they’re all in landfill now. Well sod that, I want my clothes to wear out after much use!

    I do notice people’s clothes when I head into Glasgow for the day – it’s distinctly different from what people tend wear in East Kilbride (or seems so, perhaps it’s just the sheer number of people) and I always feel like a hick. But I am a hick, so that’s ok.

    • I suppose it’s not impossible to recycle them……people do seem to be doing this more now.

    • Peeriemoot/Ginny, I make a distinction between style and fashion too.

      I don’t think I’m fashionable in the least, but I do feel that I have a distinct style. I don’t know anything that is going on in the fashion world FROM the fashion world directly (I don’t look at magazines or collections or anything) but I of course see the trickle down in the world around me. I do wear clothing produced at least semi-recently so fashion is somehow involved, even if it isn’t a conscious choice.

      I do have style icons, though :) It’s just most of them are not currently alive — or never were (fictional characters and works of art make amazing style icons!).

  7. I don’t think I follow fashion – inasmuch as definitely am not slavishly buying the ‘latest’ thing and I really hate the disposable aspect of fashion – wear cheap, or expensive, clothes for one season then chuck ’em! However, there’s no doubt that, to a much much lesser extent than when I was a teenager, I do notice certain trends – eventually – and some filter through in to my wardrobe but mostly I ignore them and loathe many – eg ridiculously high platform shoes – gah!
    I started sewing in my teens and continued, also for my daughters till I was about 32 ish, then didn’t really sew anything till last year when I made a few Merchant and Mills dresses and tops for summer which I love as they’re so comfy and I do feel good in them! Knitting really took hold about ten years ago, though I had knit quite a few jumpers in the eighties/nineties and even had a small stash as I always loved wool! I absolutely love making things for me (mostly!) and my family and much prefer shopping for wool to shopping for clothes, when I usually tend to look mostly at knitwear anyway – and tut at the price if it’s good quality and nice fibre or tut at the bad quality and go away feeling very smug! My ‘style’ is mostly casual, but not scruffy usually (!), and I don’t enjoy dressing up at all so avoid it whenever possible – really I should be living on a farm, preferably a sheep farm!
    Good topic Karie, made me think!

  8. I’m so glad you wrote this post. I have chosen to ignore fashion in the past for probably the same reasons you have (I don’t have a body that fashion is targeted at). I’ve been getting into knitwear design more seriously over the past year (meaning I’m consistently trying to write down what I’m designing and ease of explanation has become a major factor in design choice) and have been hit more and more frequently with the realization that I’m working in fashion design. The result is that I’m thinking so much more about fashion: how to style the garments I knit, what other garments I own that I can wear with what I’m considering knitting, and whether I should sew something new to go with what I’m knitting (I’m not much of a seamstress, the purchase of a sewing machine was part of this whole journey). I don’t think I’m looking more fashionable yet, but at least I’m thinking more about how my clothes need to fit, and fit together.

  9. Food for thought, this one. I don’t follow fashion, and I think the main reason is that I don’t know what to do with it. This makes me a bit of the ‘ I don’t care about fashion’ but not because ‘fashion doesn’t care about me’ . I think I lack the feeling for style, so if I buy a fashionable item, I likely screw it up with how I combine it with other items. Another thing is, that I have a little trouble imagining how certain things would look on me. I mean, there are a lot of patterns on Ravelry that I really like, and most are beautifully styled and photographed, but once knit up and combined with my own garments, it looks very different…
    ( maybe you would want to spend a post on how you found out what your own style is and what does and does not look good togehter ? )

  10. I’ve had to learn about fashion through my knitting. I didn’t care about it until I started knitting – then I started wanting make myself a perfect model for the knitting, so I could show off my work. Of course, I can’t change my body (within reason) so I had to learn to choose what to knit to compliment me so I could do the same for the knitting. That has informed my buying choices. I still have a long, long, long way to go, but I guess we are all learning all the time, and maybe we should look at talking about fashion in a way that doesn’t cause that knee-jerk reaction of ‘I don’t do fashion’. You’ve made a wonderful start! Please keep looking at this, if you are so inclined!

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