I've always had a complicated relationship with shopping for clothes. There's the whole body image thing, for one, and then there's the fact that I rarely fall in love with clothes designed by other people. The print is perfect but the cut is awful. Or vice versa. Or my favorite colors aren't "in fashion" for the season.
Then there's the whole issue of quality - my mother, the sewist, taught me to look at the construction of a garment before even trying it on. In the last twenty years, clothes have gotten a lot more affordable - at the expense of quality. And then there's the fact that I feel a real sense of distress when I see so many clothes lining the racks of a store. Who made them? What conditions were they subjected to? Taking a step back from that, how did the fabric get produced? What is the environmental and human impact of this shirt I'm about to buy?
Most people would just shrug it off - working and environmental conditions are worrying, but we all need clothes, right? Sure, they don't make 'em like they used to, but this is reality, sister. Get over it.
Only, instead of "getting over it," I've been getting more and more concerned about it. In 2015, I was totally on the bandwagon with Slow Fashion October. Since then, I haven't shared quite as much as I did that first year - instead, I've been taking a hard look at my wardrobe. As a knitter and spinner, my knits are in a pretty happy place - I have a pretty solid collection of sweaters to get me through the winter.
As a less intrepid sewer, though, my shirts/tops collection has been looking a little sad. I don't have much in my closet after several moves helped me winnow my wardrobe down to (mostly) only things that I actually wear or really really love. It's amazing how long clothes can actually last - there are a couple of garments in my closet that are starting to show their age.
And since making the transition to self-employment, I'm not needing to dress up every day to look like the boss lady. A special privilege, I know, but more than anything, it's meant a delay in me actually figuring out how to solve this problem. I buy most of my ultra-basics (tank tops, leggings, and a couple of tees, as old things wear out) from Pact Organic Clothing. Beyond that, I've bought a grand total of three shirts, one pair of jeans, and one pair of walking shoes in the last year.
Enter the Willow Tank. I purchased the pattern on a recent trip to Fancy Tiger Crafts. I'd seen the pattern online before, but balked at the price. I didn't want to wait for it to be mailed to me, and no way was I going to print out a pattern to have to tape it all together. No way, no ma'am. I've tried other tank patterns in the past from Simplicity and others, and been terribly unsatisfied with them, but everyone online seems to love Grainline patterns, so I wanted to give it a shot.
The fabric, by the way, isn't from Fancy Tiger, but an old old purchase from Organic Cotton Plus. It's a double gauze in a dark navy.
I made the size 10, even though according to the pattern I probably should give the 12 a go. The 10 fits, but with zero ease at the bust. It's not uncomfortable, and it doesn't have those telltale puckers across the bust that say it's too small, but for my next iteration I might just give the 12 a try after all. I do like how there's not a ton of positive ease in the 10 at the hips, so in the future I might do the 10 at the hips and the 12 at the bust.
I loved Grainline's tutorial on how to do the bias facings - it's something I've done before, but with varying levels of success. I still have room for improvement, and after doing it on this top I feel a lot more confident. The only thing that puzzles me is the dart placement. It seems a little low, but I like the overall fit and shape of the shirt. Does this mean I should keep the dart as it is, or move it about?
On this top, I fudged the length of the hem a bit, and am very pleased that I did. I didn't do any shortening/lengthening in the pattern, but when I got to the hem, I realized that doing it according to the pattern would make the top about an inch shorter than I'd like. Next time, I'll lengthen the pattern by an inch and do the hem the way the pattern calls for, with one exception - I did an extra row of topstitching at the very bottom of the hem. I like the way this looks, and will most likely do it again.
Now the only quandary is this: how do I keep myself from ordering too much fabric and making a dozen of these?
There's a pattern I've noticed in my creative life. It goes like this:
I notice someone doing an odd project, something I've never even heard of before. I think to myself, that's silly. It's so time consuming and what do you even get out of it? Something to put on the wall? Something to put on the floor? Clothes? I have enough of those, thankyouverymuch.
Time passes. I notice more people doing that project, whether it’s spinning yarn, weaving, or rug hooking. I keep thinking to myself, I have enough hobbies, and not enough time. No way will I ever do that other craft. Besides, it’s silly.
More time passes, and before I know it, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of the craft I said I’d never try.
This pattern has happened with such regularity that I’ve learned that I should never say never.
I used to think spinning yarn was silly. Why spend all that time spinning yarn when you could just buy it? Now I’m a spinner.
I used to think weaving was silly. Why spend all that time (and money on expensive equipment) to make fabric? Now I’m a weaver.
I used to think rug hooking was silly. Why spend all that time and effort to make another pillow? Now I’m a rug hooker.
In all fairness, it’s been a while since I’ve tried something really new. And trying new things is a great way to expand creativity, so I’ve learned to embrace it.
It all started years ago – I blame Kay for picking it up at Rhinebeck or somewhere and blogging about it. This stuff is catching, I tell you. Then this little kit went on sale at the Woolery, and I added it to an order for some other things.
When it came in the mail, I quite literally dropped everything and worked on it until it was finished. The yarn was a little bit splitty, there wasn’t quite enough of the white yarn, but I was hooked.
For months, I’ve been contemplating how to use scraps, rags, and worn out clothes in a way that works for me. I’ve tried weaving rag rugs and have had some successes (and spectacular failures). Now I’m trying rug hooking on for size.
I’ve got a pile of wool scraps that came with my loom. I’m suddenly hooked on rug hooking. And my front hall needs a rug. Seems like fate, don’t you think?
Though I’ve always had a basic understanding of sewing, mending has never been something I did much of. I remember that my mother had a mending basket, but the joke in our house was that the mending basket was where clothes went to die of neglect. It wasn’t that mending wasn’t a priority so much as there were so many other priorities that were more important. And I suspect that Mom didn’t want to spend her precious sewing time on what felt like drudgery. She’d rather sew something new and fun for herself.
I don’t particularly like shopping for clothes, so the Slow Fashion concept of “long worn” feels particularly relevant to me. I typically buy items that feel like “classics,’ and then proceed to wear the heck out of them. But when a shirt gets a hole or cloth wears too thin, I’ve had a tendency to give up on the garment. I’ve written before about giving my clothes new life as rag rugs, but I feel like I’ve had less success with mending.
The thing with clothes, though, is there's always another chance to improve your skills. If your mending job goes terribly awry and results in an unwearable garment, just wait a while and you'll eventually wind up with another worn out garment to practice on.
That's what happened to me, anyway.
Ironically, on the same day I intentionally cut a hole in my sweater to make a pocket, I ripped a 2-inch hole in a shirt. It's not an absolute favorite, but one that I wear frequently since it's so comfortable.
I put the shirt in my queue of things to do, and let it sit there for a week, not exactly sure how I would mend it. My last couple of mending projects had gone wrong in all sorts of different ways, I and wasn't feeling too confident about my skills.
Eventually, I turned to YouTube and found a few videos that were helpful, but not exactly enlightening. But they made me feel like the repair was something I could do, at least.
One of the hurdles I think we need to jump in mending our clothes is an idea of perfection, the idea that our clothes should always be fresh and new and perfect. When we mend our clothes, there are new stitches where before there were none. A shirt gains a ridge, a pucker, or texture that wasn't there before. No matter how we try to hide it, there's a scar.
I'm not advocating that we all become slobs or wear tattered clothing. My point is merely that mending clothes will never be brand new again, and they may no longer qualify as "Sunday best." But most of us have a place in our lives where mended clothes can - and should - serve a purpose.
I've long adored sashiko, boro, and other visible mending techniques, and yet I struggle to incorporate them into my life. So I knew that my mending job needed to be as invisible as possible. I sewed up the hole, being careful to pick up all the loops left open by the tear. The fabric was too fine to do a real Kitchener stitch, but that was what I attempted in order to make the repair less visible and to give the mend more structural integrity.
When I finished mending the hole, I ironed a piece of lightweight fusible interfacing over the repair, which will hopefully strengthen the area where the hole was. Though the tear was two inches long, it was near the armpit and not very visible. In fact, I had a hard time finding it when I went to do the repair. And of course, using thread that matched the print makes the repair itself less visible.
Hopefully as I continue to wear the shirt, the repair will hold up. But what I've really learned is the importance of practicing a new skill, and trying again and again until I get it right. And that the changing character of a worn and mended garment isn't a bad thing - just something different.
Since it's Halloween, I thought I'd share something lots of knitters find scary - cutting a hole in your knitting. On purpose.
It doesn't have to be scary, though, and that's why I created a video to walk you through the whole process. Enjoy!
So I know I said No New Clothes for this Slow Fashion October, but I wrote into my own personal manifesto an exception for this sweater, which I started around this time last year. I worked on it steadily throughout the winter until last January, when it went into hibernation.
The problem was the sleeves. They made the weirdest shape on my shoulders, and were just a little bit too long. And I didn't quite have the heart to take them out. I made a couple of attempts, but always got distracted by something else. I even took the project along on my RV trip this summer, hoping the road would be the perfect place to re-motivate myself. But it wasn't until now that I've really started to work on it again in earnest.
Re-knitting the sleeves wasn't so bad once I got going, and while I was at it, I shortened the sleeves just a bit. They still make a pucker at the top of the shoulder, but it's not as bad as it was. I'm thinking there might be just a tad too much fabric in the armhole itself, and I've decided it's a flaw I can live with. (It's the kind of thing only I will ever notice, anyways.)
Next, I picked up stitches for the neck/buttonband. The plan is to make a shawl collar. Since the sweater has v-neck shaping, the buttons will only go down the bottom 2/3 of the sweater.
I love both these sets of buttons, but ultimately I decided to go with the darker ones. Unfortunately, I'd knit a little too far on the band when I picked out the buttons, and had to rip back. Which is okay, because I also realized that I'd picked up too many stitches for the band and it was looking ruffly.
What can I say? One of the drawbacks of seat-of-your-pants sweater design is that things don't always work perfectly the first time around.
A note on the yarn: The yarn is corriedale, handspun by me in to a woolen-type yarn. I spun about a pound of wool for this sweater, and it looks like I'll use most of it. More details on the yarn here.
A note on the sweater pattern: I designed the pattern using a combination of Elizabeth Zimmerman's percentage system (aka EPS), measurements from other garments I liked, and Knitting Pattern Essentials. The original inspiration was a grandpa sweater worn by one of my old coworkers.
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