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.

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 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

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 has just released Coronation Knits - a lovely collection of 14 designs inspired by the late 1940s and early 1950s. I was given a copy some time ago (such a huge treat!) and absolutely loved what I saw. The book plays right into that young girl who subsisted on Nancy Mitford novels and David Niven films when growing up in Nowheresville, Denmark. Susan's book makes me yearn to be impossibly elegant and witty with a rich, plummy accent. Maybe if I knitted that twinset jumper..?

.. well, I would look absolutely ravishing, of course, but there is no disguising those Scandinavian vowels of mine. Alas.

Then Susan sat down for a conversation with me. As you do.

To me, your work is always unmistakably British - and Coronation Knits is, of course, as British as you can get. Could you say a few words about what you think British style is and, if you think it exists, how it informs your work?

"I too look at my work and can see something ‘distinct’ about it, and I guess that distinction is as you say, unmistakably British. I think British style does exist but it is not just one style or a particular look. I think it comes from an absorption of (..) the landscape, heritage, textile traditions and history, dressmaking and tailoring aesthetics along with design, art, interiors, fashion history and much more. Added to that our 'interesting' weather, drafty old houses, being outdoors in all climates, even frugality and you begin to create a combination that seems to evolve into a British style.

I don't think any design is done in a bubble, we are all influenced either consciously or unconsciously by things we have seen, read, touched but I think those listed above with a good helping of film and social history thrown in are the primary influences on my work. I love how fashion is linked to social changes happening at any given time and I try to explore the connections between the two in my work."

How did you approach Coronation Knits? Did you have set ideas in your head or were you surprised by the direction CK took you?

"I didn't have any designs in my head when I first started thinking about Coronation Knits. More an abstract concept about connecting my interest in this particular period of British history with a very themed collection of patterns. From that point of view the direction the book took has remained very true to that original concept but how the designs developed into such a real 'collection' has surprised me, especially considering the short time frame the book was created in.

I was nervous before commencing the project as to how quickly I would get back in the designing 'groove' after spending over two years working almost exclusively on A Stitch in Time Volume 2, which doesn't allow room for personal design ideas. However as soon as I began designing the ideas flowed and this was most definitely helped by having already created a specific theme to work to. I enjoyed the process so much I would really like to work this way again."

When I think of your work, I always think of it as being soft and feminine. I was intrigued when I saw your mens' sleeveless pullover - it is very much recognisable as your work, yet it is obviously very wearable for any gentleman of discerning taste. Was it a challenge to design a menswear item?

"I've designed menswear before and often get asked by men to do more menswear but its just one of those things that is on the list to do when time allows. However I really wanted to include some menswear in this book. I deal a lot in shape and fit and using the body to create that shape which is very different to how most men think of their clothing I would imagine. I used to make men's tailored suits and learnt a lot about the fit of men's clothing through that so hopefully that translates into my knitting patterns. I also know a fair number of male knitters and wanted to design something which would be interesting to knit if you were knitting for a man or are a man who knits. Having knitted the sample garment myself I found the pattern moved along nicely and helped me feel that I was covering big chunks of length each time a pattern repeat was completed. I know the Coronation Sleeveless Pullover is quite a statement but I think the muted colour palette really turns it into a very wearable garment."

(This sleeveless pullover is one of my favourite pieces from Coronation Knits, actually. Far too often designs for men equal baggy, dull jumpers in safe, dark colours. No man of my acquaintance would ever wear such shapeless things and it was so wonderful to find a fitted and quirky menswear piece in Susan's book! Huzzah!)


Finally, the book looks absolutely gorgeous. It is an absolute joy to look at. How did you go about styling it?

"As a vintage clothing collector I do have a lot of bits that I have collected over the years – hats, scarves, bags and jewellery in particular, but clothes, shoes etc as well. The main difficulty this time was having chosen the red, white and blue theme all the props had to fit in with that theme too so it did involve quite a bit of searching. Fortunately I have some great contacts who work with vintage fashion who help me out when I get stuck and who came up with some key pieces on this occasion.

I had decided from the very beginning of the project to use the 'Royal Route' background that you see in every image. This original illustration from 1953 was the perfect backdrop for the designs and made it much easier to theme. I also have hundreds of magazines and books from this period and both my models, my daughter Charlie, and her boyfriend Denis, spent a lot of time studying the magazines to identify poses that were appropriate to the time frame. They really worked it and brought the images alive.

Gavin, my husband, is the Graphic Artist on all our projects and he has an amazing eye for detail and can make any page look better just by minutely adjusting something. It really is a team effort and I hope it shows in the finished results."

It does indeed look gorgeous - as I am sure you can tell from the photos. Isn't that Diamonds Is Forever jumper just lovely? I can just imagine myself wearing it with a little pencil skirt to a certain little retro tea shop in my neighbourhood. And, you know, I bet my 16-year-old Mitford-reading, Niven-watching self would say I was the height of glamour.

You can purchase Susan's book here but Susan Crawford has generously offered me an extra copy to give away to a reader.

Thank you, Susan!

In order to win this, I would love to know which piece from the book you would knit and where would you wear it? Giveaway runs from Saturday July 7, 2012 until Saturday July 14, 2012 8am GMT.

This blog post forms part of the Coronation Knits blog tour - please go visit all the blogs on this tour - they are all great reads.

12th June 2012 - More Yarn Will Do The Trick - Jean Moss 16th June 2012 - JenACKnitwear  - Jen Arnall Culliford 18th June 2012 - The Icelandic Knitter - Helene Magnusson 20th June 2012 -Knitting Institute - Knitting Magazine 24th June 2012 - Ingrid Murnane Investigates - Ingrid Murnane 28th June 2012 - Domestic Soundscape -Felicity Ford 29th June 2012 - Sheep To Shawl - Donna Druchunas 2nd July 2012  - The Making Spot - Simply Knitting 6th July 2012   - rock+purl - Ruth Garcia-Alcantud

-- 10th July 2012 - By gum, by golly! - Tasha 14th July 2012 - tomofholland - Tom Van Deijnen 18th July 2012 - Woolly Wormhead - Woolly 22nd July 2012 - Crinoline Robot - Mim 25 July 2012     - - Sarah Wilson

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.


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).


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.