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Thinking Slow Fashion on a Budget – Building a Handmade Wardrobe Pt. 4

This is the last entry in my series on how to make things you love to wear. We’ve looked at how to examine your wardrobe, how to identify what you need to make, and how to approach this.

But I will be the first to admit that building a handmade everyday wardrobe takes time and money – so I thought I’d devote a post to how to ‘do’ slow and sustainable fashion on an everyday budget and with an everyday lifestyle. For me slow fashion and handmade go hand-in-hand.

1. The Keyword is Slow

I am not going to wake up tomorrow with a 100% handmade everyday wardrobe nor are you? Things take time – especially if you are knitting a 4ply fair isle cardigan by hand.

But slow fashion is its own reward – you get to imbue your finished cardigan with a lot of meaning which you wouldn’t get from buying it in a shop. One of my favourite cardigans was nearly completed during a relaxing knitting retreat with a stunning view. Whenever I wear it (and I do so often), I think back upon the snow-capped mountains, the open fire crackling in the living room and the fine company I was in. Another favourite cardigan was partially worked whilst sitting on the beach. Whenever I wear it, I think back upon a fantastic weekend I spent with far-flung friends drinking exquisite coffee and looking at insane Regency architecture.

I am a big believer in things taking time. If you take a long time to make something, chances are you will also be wearing it a long time.

December 2013 1122-horz

2. Choose Carefully, My Friend

In the not-so-distant past I worked for a big yarn company and I got to knit four garments of my choice every year. I started out by knitting statement pieces – things that used a gazillion balls of yarn and an equal amount of techniques. I never really wore the finished items and now I no longer work for the yarn company, I have given them away. So much wasted making time!

If you only have time to finish one or two big projects ever year, make them count. Choose your projects with care: don’t work with a colour you’ll never wear and don’t make something in a style you’d never wear. It’s easy to get tempted to get sucked into making things you see other people making, but be mindful of your crafting time.

If you have limited making time and budget, you need to think about your colours, materials and wardrobe style. Look back at the previous instalments in this series (1, 2 and 3).

3. Recognise Privilege When You See It

It’s so easy to feel disheartened when you are still on the first sleeve of your wool-blend cardigan six months down the line, and you see someone looking swanky in their 134th unicorn yarn project of the year.

But a handmade wardrobe can so very easily slip into privilege: some people don’t have to work; they can pay other people to mind their children, clean the house and make dinner; or they may even pay others to make their things for them (true story). Or maybe they’ve saved for several years to afford to make that expensive Alice Starmore kit.

You are still on your first sleeve of your cardigan but I bet you have been busy with other things. Own your achievements rather than compare yourself to other people whose lives may be heavily edited. You just never know. ‘Handmade’ should never be a competition about who is most worthy. Handmade should always be about your own wardrobe needs.

January 2013 168-horz

 4. Think Sustainable When You Shop

Very few of my non-knitted clothes are handmade – but most of them are things I have either upcycled, found in second-hand shops (my favourite winter coat is 1960s 100% wool which cost me £12 in a second-hand shop. It had been labelled with the wrong size and never worn); or thrifted from friends.  I cannot always afford to buy things from an ethical retailer, so while I cannot check the provenance of things nor guarantee that the original seamtress was paid a fair wage, I know my money goes towards a good cause if I buy second-hand from a reputable charity shop. I also know some of my money goes back into the local economy which is important to me.

And I think about how much I actually need. When I started doing my wardrobe assessments, I was surprised by how much I didn’t actually wear. Rather than throwing things out (hello landfill) I decided to donate a lot of things so other people could benefit from me no longer having to wear business casual.

I still buy underwear, socks and tights from regular stores (I am no saint!) but I try to think about what I actually need. This also frees up extra pennies to spend on nice fabric or yarn.

5. Be Kind to Yourself

Think of your handmade wardrobe as a journey or an ongoing adventure. Remind yourself why you are doing this: you are being kind to yourself, you are making things that will get worn again and again, and you are doing it because you love making things. If you find yourself sewing an intricate organza gown on no sleep and a deadline three hours ago, then it is probably time to reassess your commitment to a handmade wardrobe (unless you wear organza gowns every day and, if you do, I admire that level of commitment).

Also consider your time investment to be a kindness to yourself. It is a powerful statement: “I choose to spend this amount of time on myself making things that will make me feel good, that will remind me of beautiful moments, and that works with my lifestyle.” You may not get a handmade wardrobe overnight, but the journey there is part of the pleasure.

Now go forth and make beautiful things that you will keep wearing. Have fun.

December 2013 007-horz

Save the Date: Knit Works

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Keep an eye on  the National Museum of Scotland, The Danish Cultural Institute and the Edinburgh Fashion Festival websites for more information. Yes, I am involved and, yes, it has an incredible line-up, and, no, I am not allowed to tell you more right now.

Coronation Knits by Susan Crawford

Go make yourself a cup of tea, butter your scone and get comfy. This is going to be a dose of loveliness. (And there is a giveaway at the end! Giveaway now closed!)

There are some designers whose works are so distinctive that you don’t need to look at a label or a tag to know who made a particular item. This is true for catwalk fashion design, of course, but also true for the very best of knitting design.

To my mind, Susan Crawford‘s work is instantly recognisable as hers. Her designs are informed by fashion history, always impeccably finished and oh so very British. Her work is nostalgic, but in a very wearable, contemporary way: these are designs to knit while you are watching Brief Encounter or A Matter of Life & Death in your 21st century flat.

© Susan Crawford 2012

Read more →

Lightbulb Moment

The past few days have been quite a blur. My quasi-flu turned into proper flu and I have been cooped up in bed too tired to do anything except doze, occasionally read, and knit a tiny bit.

I have been working on swatches (which I cannot show you) and my Kastanie sweater. I think it’s fair to say that I’ll end up running out of yarn before I can knit two long sleeves. I never get any use out of the short-sleeved sweaters I own, so I am considering ripping Kastanie out.

And I have another reason for considering it. I am tired of the silhouette. I want different pieces in my wardrobe – I want interesting pieces. Granted I have a body shape that lends itself to fitted clothes (think Christina Hendricks rather than Nicole Kidman) but I still want to make things that have a purpose beyond warming me and not adding fifty pounds in the process.

Recently I have subscribed to a great deal of fashion blogs – the kind where ordinary people blog about what they wear. Girl With Curves has a completely different style to me but I find inspiration in how she layers and combines pieces. What Would A Nerd Wear is often too casual for me, but is great for accessorizing ideas. Blue Collar Catwalk has yet another style – again, different from mine – but I love the way she combines prints.

What I am taking from these blogs is something different than what I take from Ravelry (and I think to some degree there is a very distinct Ravelry style too – if you disagree, look around next time you are at a fiber-related event). Suddenly I’m less hung up on knitting the right designers in the must-have yarn – suddenly I am thinking about my knitting in a wardrobe context.

Lightbulb!

And I think also the death knell for Kastanie.

Well Still Pretty Good Year

First task of the year: sort out the wardrobe.

I should probably not use the word ‘wardrobe’ as that word implies system, thoughtfulness, and coherence. Most of my clothes stem from the frantic days of arriving in the UK with a suitcase of clothes and needing workplace-suitable attire. As a consequence, most of my wardrobe consists of cheap clothes bought in a state of panic.

Nowadays I lead the charmed life of a freelancer working within a creative industry with ties to fashion. Interestingly this means two things: 1) I have a great collection of pyjamas because I spend a lot of time working in my jammies, and 2) I have discovered that while I do not care much for fashion I do care a lot about style.

So I went through my wardrobe and threw out everything that did not fit, that needed a degree of mending that was at great odds with the intrinsic value of the item itself, or which had been too fashionable when I bought it and thus no longer stylish (I think of style as something which cannot pinned down to a particular time nor place – rather it transcends time and place).

Verdict: I need tops and trousers somewhat badly. I need basic cardigans. And I am not allowed to knit myself any scarves or shawls because I have a lot (note the phrasing: ..knit myself.. which means I can knit for others or for design purposes). I can sew some of the things myself, but what I really need is a focused shopping spree.

I hate clothes shopping.

My neighbourhood made national news yesterday after the recent hurricane felled a few trees, made several chimney pots collapse, and ripped roof tiles off. The police have closed off one street due to unstable masonry. I was safely ensconced at work but was troubled by the amounts of roof tiles I encountered on the way from work. One of the big trees in our back garden has fallen too. It is still blustery out there, but the worst has passed. In case you are curious, I live very close to where the fourth photo in this series was taken.

Knitting-wise: I’m swatching for a few designs. Reading-wise: I have finished two books so far this year, although the less said about the second book the better (it was not my idea).

Kaffeslabbaras

Ah, everything Danish is super-hip in Britain right now thanks to The Killing/Forbrydelsen and mid-century modern design yadda yadda yadda. Did you know that I am Danish? I don’t consider myself super-hip, though, and I had my reasons for leaving Denmark.

But it is lovely to see Denmark + fashion + knitting. It makes me feel proud (and very homesick) to see this video:

KAFFESLABBERAS // MADS AND ERNA (SUBTITLED) from Kaffeslabberas on Vimeo.

‘Kaffeslabberas’ is a knitting club in the Copenhagen neighbourhood of Amager. Its members are female pensioners, whose rich history and zest for life overshadows their advanced age. This project partners up these ladies with Danish artists and designers, with the intent of creating a connection across generations, through the strengths of craftmanship, diversity and experience.

I wish the subtitles were grammatically correct and the spelling was better, but we can’t have everything.

Thank you to Angela for pointing out the article and video.

On Fashion & Making

This BBC article, Why are Women Finally Designing Women’s Clothes, makes me so damn angry. I will give you a few choice quotes.

“Of course there are many more gay male designers,” [designer Tom Ford] said. “I think we are more objective. We don’t come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies.”

“Designers are normally men. I don’t know of an eminent motorcar or motorbike designer who was a woman. Or many female architects.” It’s not because of any lack of ability but because women aren’t as “pushy” – designer Jeff Banks

Men like Lagerfeld, McQueen and Galliano were defined by the need to be spectacular, unlike the “self-effacing” [Sarah] Burton, who has won great acclaim since replacing McQueen (..)  “Men put on great shows. Women design clothes that people want to wear” – fashion editor Lisa Armstrong

Mmm, makes you wonder why they want to make us clothes in the first place, doesn’t it? Or maybe that explains the clothes we get? Don’t you just love the implied sneer at the idea of ‘wearable clothes’?

I believe the handmade movement can offer a useful counterpoint to the fashion world’s often misogynistic view of women. Handmade clothes can be stunningly beautiful, full of showmanship, flattering to the female form, and within reach.

Female entrepreneurs like Sarai of Colette Patterns and Ysolda Teague are not just examples of young women setting up their own businesses, but also of women giving other women the chance to reject token notions of female beauty and the confinements of the high street/runway by making our own clothes. Locally I see the Glasgow Craft Mafia leading with a strong, clear voice that makes my heart sing: independent small shops abound where you can buy handmade clothes designed and stitched by female designers.  Craft Mafias exist throughout the globe and I recommend you seeking them out if you want to get involved or are simply interested in learning more.

I find that the more interested I become in fashion, the more I find it imperative to question it. Making parts of my own wardrobe (and hoping to create larger and larger chunks of it as I improve as a sewer) continues to be an important part of this questioning.

FO: Klimt Skirt

Klimt SkirtI could get addicted to making my own clothes.

This green corduroy skirt is ridiculously Just What I Like & Cannot Find in Stores, that I cannot believe I did not do this dress-making lark years ago.

One pattern from a Danish sewing magazine
One and a half yards of green corduroy
One yard of green poly lining
One invisible zip
One spool of green poly thread
Selection of Liberty fabric scraps & vintage buttons

One happy seamstress & wearer.

I altered the pattern (of course I did). The appliqué was done different to the pattern suggestion, I added lining and did away with the slightly clumsy bias binding around the waist.

Klimt? Why not. In fact, look at Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” and tell me that you cannot see it. Just me? Okay then..

And I’m wearing my own handmade St. James sweater with this skirt. Oh, wardrobe love.

In other crafty news, I spent the morning trying to decipher a crochet pattern written in Afrikaans using a Dutch crochet glossary, Google Translate and reverse engineering from photo. Adventurous! After an hour and six rounds, friends kindly pointed me to an online English translation of the pattern.. and I felt a bit silly.

Finally, a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of the loveliest people I have ever met, Paula. This little video is for you..

Knitterly Musings & Some Links

I have spending considerable time trying to figure out what to knit for the forthcoming winter. The last two winters have been terribly cold and I want to make things that’ll keep me both cosy and relatively stylish. A bit of a tall order as I tend towards wearing five layers in the midst of winter!

Pinterest has been a huge help in figuring out what to knit. I have a board called Oh, You Pretty Things! (guess why) where I pin clothes and jewellery that catch my eye. I have been fairly ruthless, so while it is not a huge selection what I have pinned really captures my taste. And so I measure all my thoughts and ideas about winter knits against that board.

Having the board helps when I fall in love with knitting patterns that are really outwith the rest of my wardrobe (or what I’m trying to steer my wardrobe towards). I am hugely in love with Wilhelmina, for instance. I love the colours, the shape, and the reindeers. And it goes with absolutely nothing I own.

Would you still knit a cardigan even if it didn’t go with anything in your own wardrobe? Or am I missing a fashion trick and Wilhemina does actually work with what I perceive as my style? Yes, I need your honest opinion.

I’ll return to my winter knit search, so here are some random linkage for you to ponder:

    Quoted For Truth

    “The idea is to say that curvy is not a problem it’s very sexy. I think, when I see women like Nigella with shoulders, boobs and hips, they are beautiful. Stunning. They are sexy. To put that on the runway is very healthy.
    This is our moment, it means we have to push people to understand that a body with shape is better than tiny, skinny girls. Who dreams of being like a teenager? The model is not the only prototype for women. To have freedom to be as you are, to use your body as it is, it’s very positive.” – Franca Sozzani, editor of Italian Vogue.

    My emphasis.