When I was a new knitter, I would have gasped if you told me to cut apart my knitting. No way, no ma'am.
I distinctly remember a red Aran sweater my mother had - full of bobbles, cables, and knit at such a tight gauge it makes my fingers hurt just thinking about it. But she never wore it because it was too big on her. So she cut it apart and incorporated parts of the sweater into a lovely fitted jacket.
I was shocked. Won't it unravel? Who would cut into a knitted garment that someone had clearly spent so much time on?
The truth is, that while knitting does unravel, there are lots of ways to cut knitted fabric. Steeking is perhaps my favorite and most-used method, and this sweater does indeed have a steek running down the front.
Some design and fit issues left me less than thrilled with the finished product. That's the thing about experiments - they don't always work. My problems with this sweater were:
I'd already woven in lots of ends, which makes unraveling difficult. Plus, the yarns (mostly handspun Icelandic thel and Shetland Spindrift) don't unravel so easily. Which makes them great for steeking, but not for correcting my mistakes.
So I decided to try something I haven't tried before. I cut the yoke right off, and picked up the live stitches onto my knitting needles, and the sweater is ready for yoke attempt #2. It was easier than I could have imagined.
It's also possible to do it the other way - say I had knit the sweater top-down and wanted to replace only the yoke. I'd cut just like I did, but then I'd need to graft the new yoke to the old one. This sometimes leaves a bit of a line, but it's definitely doable.
I'd hoped that the end of January would mean that I have a new sweater to wear, but ultimately I want a sweater that is actually wearable, and that I like, so I'm willing to have it take more time.
This Slow Fashion October, I’ve made a commitment to a different kind of closet: instead of focusing on my clothes, this year I’m focusing on my linen closet. I realized that I’m not terribly interested in my clothes this year, but that I am intrigued by textiles, sustainability, and making the most of the textiles already on this earth, especially the ones under my own roof.
It’s slowly dawned on me that I’m not doing too much good when I donate my old clothes and worn out bath towels to secondhand stores. The first time I realized no one wanted my clothes was when I was (humiliatingly) turned down for selling my clothes and shoes to a consignment store. All the clothes were too “last season” or too worn for them to take, they said.
It’s true, I do often wear my clothes until they can’t be worn anymore, but these were nice clothes and shoes being turned down. If my best is still not good enough for someone else to buy, then what? The fantastic article “No One Wants Your Old Clothes” gives a more thorough explanation of why thrift stores aren’t the solution for our old clothes.
So what does this have to do with my linen closet?
Well, blankets and towels and curtains and sheets are textiles too. When they’re sent to thrift stores or landfills, the same economic and environmental issues apply.
Lately, I’ve felt the “holes” in my linen closet. My towels are starting to look shabby. I have exactly zero bath mats. The blankets for our guest bed clash with the paint scheme of our new rental house. Basically, I’m ready for a linen closet overhaul, and I want to do it as ethically and sustainably as I can.
Not too confident in my sewing skills or what to do with old duvet covers, I started with my yarn stash, weaving some dish towels for my kitchen. I have a stack of dish towels, but none of them match each other or anything else in my kitchen. And, since I’ve used them to wipe up spills of all kinds for the last six years, they’re stained and ratty.
I wove a test piece that I thought would make two dish towels, but it’s only enough for one with some waste. Plus, I didn’t make it easy for myself to hem the cloth. It’s a waffle weave that is quite thick and textured and will make a very bulky hem. So instead of making dish towels out of the test piece, I’ll make a reusable grocery bag.
Next up, I corrected my error with the first set of towels by weaving a plain weave hem for the next three towels. These are currently awaiting finishing, and I’m excited for fresh new dish towels that actually match my kitchen.
At the end of the warp, I wanted to try an experiment. For all you non-weavers, the end of the warp is where weavers try out new ideas and techniques. I took a bath towel we bought this summer, but that I never liked much. I cut it into 1-inch strips and wove it into the fluffiest rag rug ever.
So, from an 8-yard warp, yarn already in my stash, and an old, unwanted bath towel, I’m getting three new dish towels, a new reusable shopping tote, and a rug.
I have to say, I’m most excited about the rug. It turned a towel I didn’t much care for into an object I can use and that I actually like. I’m so excited about it that I’m dying to make more. After all, I still need bathmats for my new house.
But. Before I cut up all the old textiles I don’t like anymore, I’m testing out my new rug. Is it durable enough to withstand wear and tear in a high-traffic area of my home? Does it wash well? Are there any techniques I could use in the weaving next time to improve its durability?
This approach, this mindfulness, is what Slow Fashion October is all about. Getting caught up in excitement is, well, exciting. But it’s not always the most productive behavior for me. It’s easy to get off-track and create more waste than I intended, and I’m working to curb that.
By slowing down, I get a clearer picture of what it is that I really want. And since it’s so easy to end up with something that’s “just okay” when I hurry the decision, I’m enjoying this change, even if it means going without the things I want for just a little longer than I’m used to.
Things may have been quiet around here for a long while, but I've been keeping busy in the fiber realm. In case of future radio silence, you can pretty much always find me on Instagram, where I manage to be pretty involved. Somehow, I feel like posts on this platform need to say more, and it can be difficult to work up to more than a short blurb.
Life around here got pretty interesting, pretty fast. Mike (DH) has been trying to get me to quit my job for ages, so that we can both work full time on our business. But I've resisted for a long time because I like the routine of going to work, and the social interaction with my co-workers. I've worked from home before, and it hasn't always afforded me as much structure as I'd like.
Well, the structure these days is pretty different than anything I'd ever imagined. With the income from our business, we were able to pay off my student loans from law school, buy an RV, and we've both left our steady jobs in good industries. And now, we're on nothing less than a 3 month RV vacation through Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado.
We packed up our entire house, which was a reminder to me that I need to be ever more conscious of the things I buy - there was just an overwhelming amount of stuff. Most of it went into storage, and the essentials went into our RV. Remember Slow Fashion October? Well now my closet is literally what can fit on 20 hangers, four small drawers, and a couple of jackets. It will be interesting living with so much less stuff, particularly clothing.
Luckily, I was able to pack a good chunk of my stash and my spinning wheel. So the fibery goodness will certainly continue! (And as I type this, I'm sitting outside a yarn shop in eastern Oregon, waiting for it to open.)
Naturally, I had grand plans about all the different kinds of knitting projects I would do on this trip, but of course they've all been derailed - for now. I'm working on actually finishing a project that's been in progress for more than two years - a log-cabin style blanket made out of Noro's Silk Garden Sock yarn. (A good tutorial on how to do it can be found here.)
The original plan when I started the project was to make a king-sized blanket. But when I unearthed the squares while packing up the house, I realized I had almost enough to make a blanket for the double bed in our travel trailer.
These last few weeks, I've been joining together squares and creating borders to make the blanket a little bigger. Naturally, I'm getting to the stage where things get cumbersome, but hopefully we'll have a nice cozy blanket soon - sometimes the nights get chilly!
This week Slow Fashion October is all about small: the handmade, living with less, quality over quantity, capsule wardrobes, indie fashion, small-batch makers, and sustainability. Some of these things, like sustainability, are at the top of mind for me. Others, like the idea of a capsule wardrobe, are a struggle. But that’s what this is about – it’s a challenge to think differently about clothing.
I’ve thought (andwritten) a lot about living with less – about why I want a smaller yarn stash, about how it’s sometimes difficult to downsize.
Ultimately, I think it’s really about sustainability and wasting less.
It’s tempting to think of sustainability and wasting less as the same thing. Certainly, they are closely related but they have some subtle (and important) differences.
The word “sustainable” gets thrown around a lot these days as a marketing tool. Whether or not a product is totally sustainable, if even a part of the design, manufacturing, or shipping process is sustainable, the whole product gets the label. It’s definitely great to support small changes towards true sustainability, but it’s also easy to let marketers delude us into a false sense of what it is we are really consuming.
Wasting less seems to imply minimalist living, but again, this doesn’t tell the whole story. It can also be about choosing to purchase things that won’t be wasted or thrown away, about buying things with less packaging, about finding useful applications for the leftovers that might otherwise get thrown away.
I’ve managed to achieve a place in my life where I can make meaningful choices about both sustainability and wasting less. For me, sustainability is all about buying materials that were consciously produced – local or organic where possible, or at the very least by a company that is environmentally minded (and treats its employees well).
Wasting less is all about finding new ways to use things – unraveling a failed project instead of throwing it away, using up scraps, and finding new life for worn out rags.
There’s a great conversation over onBristol Ivy’s Instagram page (look for the post where she’s resting her hand on her chin) about sustainability and the economic disparities of slow fashion. Not everyone can afford small-batch, hand-dyed, ecologically sustainable materials. For much of my crafting career, I couldn’t afford those things. Only recently did I find out what a wonderful fiber community I have right in my backyard – where I can purchase good local wool to spin at a very good price.
I could spend hundreds of dollars on sustainable yarn to make a sweater, or I could do it the slow way and buy about $30-40 worth of roving, spin the yarn, and make the sweater.
It’s not as easy. It’s not as fast. But it gives me more time to enjoy my hobbies of spinning and knitting.
Not everything in my life is sustainable, and I’m not always good at wasting less. But they’re both at the top of my mind, and something I’m constantly working toward.
In many ways, wasting less is a great way to start towards sustainability, and for a fraction of the price. My stashbusting sweater was all about wasting less, and even though I ended up with as much yarn as I started with, it was a way to explore a new way to use leftovers. And my leftover yarn from the stashbusting sweater became a pair of striped knitted shorts. And when those didn’t fit, they got felted to make a bag. The scraps leftover from the bag will get put aside to make stuffing for a plushie or pincushion.
The part of sustainability and wasting less that I love is the challenge.
Doing something challenging instead of taking the easy way out is so satisfying. The challenge is where we grow.
And that’s what keeps me at it.
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I’ve written several posts on this blog about stash, and I’m sure I’ll write several more. As someone who is addicted to all things yarny, stash is just a given in my life.
Really, it’s all about being aware of what’s in my stash –and being comfortable with its size and composition.
I don’t mind having full skeins of yarn in my stash. It’s those little odds and ends that get to me. I hate throwing them away – it feels like such a waste.
So to use up those little odds and ends, here’s a fun littlestashbusting project. It works best with fingering- to worsted-weight yarn. Just click on the button below to get your free stashbuster sachets pattern!
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