2017 FO-8: My first button-up shirt (SoB-1)

2017 FO-8: My first button-up shirt (SoB-1)

Once again, I haven’t had a chance to take modeled pictures of this, but I’m so desperate for my first Summer of Basics finish, and so eager to show you this, I’m going ahead and posting it! I’ll add pictures of it on me when I can, so for now you’ll have to take my word for the fact that it’s a perfect fit! I am so proud of it.

As you know, this is Grainline’s Archer Button-Up, and I get why the entire internet raves about this pattern all the time. It comes together so beautifully (all I did was follow the pattern instructions and Jen’s sewalong posts) and apart from the one confessed tantrum, I had fun sewing it. It made me realize the reason I don’t find sewing as thrilling as knitting is that I’ve never sewn anything as rewarding as this.

The fabric is also amazing, and I’m glad I snagged it before it sold out. It’s a Japanese cotton chambray that falls somewhere between dress shirt and work shirt. One of the reasons I was much more of a nervous nelly about this project than I usually am is that not only was the fabric sold out, but I had accidentally purchased half of what I thought I had. Like yarn, I try to always buy more fabric than I’m supposed to need, just in case. Well this time, I had too little. I had to find the closest possible match to cut the yoke facing out of, and couldn’t afford a single mistake since there was literally no more fabric to be had. So that was a little stressful! But thankfully it all turned out fine in the end.

. . .

I made only a few minor modications:

– It’s a straight size 14, except that the sleeve was shortened 2.5 inches and tapers to a size 6 in the lower arm and cuff. (The muslin sleeve went down to a size 10, but a cutting snafu led to the better decision to go even smaller at the cuff.) Next time I might add an inch or two to the body length.

– I made up my own pockets, and placed them a bit higher, too. The horizontal stitching line matches up to what would be the top edge of the original pocket placement. The top-stitching on my pockets is a bit dodgy, but y’know, presence of hand.

– Regarding my whole personal drama with the cuffs, I wound up assembling and then attaching them, a la the method described here. I basted the stitch line along the sleeve edge, and just had better luck easing the curve of the sleeve into the assembled cuff while keeping the placket and cuff edges in line.

– And I left off the collar, as I’m always lamenting the dearth of collarless shirts in the world, or cutting the collars off of things. I guess I was enamored with the idea of being able to say “look at this picture-perfect chambray shirt I made,” but when I stopped and asked myself what I actually wanted to wear and didn’t already have, it was collarless. That decision also led to my adding a second pocket, whereas I was originally going to do only one.

. . .

It was a great call to give myself the whole summer to do this, and to tackle it at a very leisurely pace — just sewing a little bit of it each weekend. But now that I’ve done one and know how it works, I expect to sew the next one in a week! And there definitely will be more. I’ve entered a whole new world where a shirt can fit my shoulders without being too huge everywhere else.

Pattern: Archer Button-Up by Grainline Studio
Fabric: Yarn-dyed chambray from Miss Matatabi
Cost: $18 pattern + $25 fabric + $11.25 buttons = $54.25

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Raising funds to combat hate

[UPDATE: YOU DID IT! In about 3 hours, wow. You’re all completely amazing and I can’t thank you enough.]

Tomorrow, I’ll show you my new shirt, but today is not the day for that. I’m too deeply troubled by yesterday, and by Saturday, and by everything that’s going on. If there’s a tiny silver thread clipping in the dark stormcloud of what we’ve all witnessed in the past few days, maybe it’s that there’s no more denying that the hate movement is on the rise in this country. They’ve rebranded and taken off their hoods, but they’re waving Nazi flags, chanting Nazi slogans, carrying torches like their Klan predecessors, and they feel their time has come — that it’s safe for them to march through the streets, armed and literally hoping for a fight, and showing their faces to the world. And I can’t think of anything quite so chilling as the fact that they’re very pleased — based on their own statements — with the response they got from the President of the United States of America. They are far from new, but they have never felt so emboldened, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.

There should be no confusion about this: People who put themselves at risk to confront neo-Nazis (no matter what they’re calling themselves) are not the same as or “as bad as” those neo-Nazis. There are no “very fine people” attending White Power rallies. Having a permit to display your hate doesn’t make it ok.

This is a humanitarian crisis, as I see it. Hate is a scourge — people die — and it’s up to every one of us to combat it however we can. For so many of us, the next thought, though, is but what can I do? The Southern Poverty Law Center posted a guide after Charlottesville called 10 Ways to Fight Hate that you might find helpful. But here’s something I can do: I can help raise money for the SPLC to help them in their daily, longstanding, ongoing efforts to combat hate and hate crimes in our country. After watching yesterday’s press conference last night, I talked it over with my small but mighty team of amazing humans and today we’re giving every dollar we make at Fringe Supply Co. to the Southern Poverty Law Center for exactly that purpose.

I don’t want any of my team or the small businesses we work with or the sewers who make our bags or anyone else to lose their jobs as a result of my giving away all of the goods we’ve invested in, so I do have to cap it to avoid bankrupting us — but at the lofty sum of $15,000. So every dollar you spend at Fringe today, we will turn around and give to SPLC up to $15,000, and I truly hope we get there! That’s my goal. But if we raise even $1500 for them, I’ll be happy to be able to give it. If you’d prefer to give directly to the SPLC (among others), I completely applaud that.

We can’t afford to do nothing.

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What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

Raise your hand if you’re crazy for indigo! Ok, what’s wrong with the rest of you? JUST KIDDING. But seriously, it’s been indigo-mania for a several years now (rightfully so), and the more I think about it, the more questions I have — some of which you guys have also asked me. So I asked natural dyer extraordinaire Kristine Vejar, owner of A Verb Keeping Warm and author of The Modern Natural Dyer, to set us straight on the difference between indigo and “indigo.” That is: natural (plant derived) indigo dye versus the synthetic lookalike more commonly used.

But first, a few answers to questions that are likely to come up in response to all of this:
– The gorgeous shawl above is Kristine’s Aranami (designed by Olga Buraya-Kefelian) knitted in Verb’s Flock yarn, dyed with natural indigo
– Verb sells a variety of natural indigo dyeing supplies, from dye stuffs to kits to classes
– We still have some of the gorgeous Verb kits for making an indigo-shibori and sashiko Stowe bag
– And yes, the indigo cowl kit we sell is dyed with natural indigo by Sincere Sheep

You can follow Kristine’s adventures on Instagram @avfkw, and take a peek into her crafting life here. Thanks so much for  this fantastic information, Kristine!

. . .

There’s so much interest in natural dyeing these days, thanks to you and many others, and I think a lot of us believe that indigo falls under the heading of Natural Dyes, but not all indigo is natural, right? For instance, commercial denim is no longer (or very rarely) dyed with plant-based indigo.

Indigo pigment can be found in 700-800 different plants, although there are only about 10 plants that have enough indigo pigment in the leaves to warrant the labor-intensive process of separating the pigment from the leaves, making it available as a dye. Today, indigo dye, extracted from plants, can still be found, obtained and used. This is referred to as natural indigo pigment.

Originally, all dyes came from plants, minerals and a few insects. In the 1850s, scientists successfully synthesized color. With this shift arose the idea — and then eventually the reality — that color could be created on demand, and no longer need to be coaxed from nature. This began a major shift in color, farming, trade, dyes and dyeing. It was only a matter of time before indigo underwent the same scrutiny. Scientists took examples of indigo-bearing plants, began to be able to identify the molecular structure of the indigo plants, zero in on indigotin, the essence of indigo pigment, and recreate it in a lab, which is called synthetic indigo. I personally don’t consider this indigo because I think of indigo as a product made by and derived from a plant. The same type of process occurs in food. Take for example artificial flavoring, like strawberry. Scientists take a strawberry, break down the molecules that make up its smell and flavor, and then create a few of these molecules in a lab to mimic a strawberry. I would never call call this flavor a strawberry. Or describe the experience of tasting this flavor as eating a strawberry. When I eat a strawberry, I can taste the sun. There is texture, nuance in flavor from one berry to the next, and indescribable joy when tasting a strawberry — especially if the berry has been picked right off the plant. The same principle applies to natural indigo pigment; there are many small nuances in color, texture, smell and experience when working with it when it comes from the plant.

True, commercial denim is rarely found dyed with natural indigo. Most of it is dyed with synthetic indigo.

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

I’ve taken classes that have used (and I’ve also used) those little boxed indigo kits you can buy online and craft stores, with the powdered dye and whatnot. Is that natural or synthetic? Can you talk about the difference between stirring up a bucket of that and what you do — creating and tending a natural indigo vat?

The boxes of indigo I believe you are referring to — typically made by Jacquard — is synthetic indigo. It is not natural/derived from a plant.

To examine the nuances of working with synthetic indigo versus natural indigo, let’s first discuss the basics of how an indigo vat is made. For indigo to attach to cloth, it must be transformed into a soluble material. To do this, the dyebath must be alkaline (pH of 10) and all of the oxygen in the dyebath must be taken out. This is called reduction. To raise the alkalinity, lye, soda ash and/or limestone is used. To take the oxygen out of the vat, reducing agents are used. Chemicals such as sodium hydrosulphite or thiourea dioxide may be used to reduce a vat, as well as natural materials such as henna, dates, fructose and/or bacteria.

The first indigo vat I learned how to make was a vat made with natural indigo pigment, lye to raise the pH, and thiourea dioxide as the reducing agent. This vat needs to be heated. In my search to use a cool vat — so I would not need a heating implement and could widen my choices of surface design — I learned to swap thiourea dioxide with sodium hydrosulphite. This is the fastest method to reduce an indigo vat (about 20 minutes) and to start the dyeing process. As the indigo vat reduces, the color of the water changes from blue to green. The vat is ready to use when the vat is green, and when white yarn or fabric is dipped into the vat, emerges green, and then turns blue as oxygen touches the yarn or fabric. To dye using an indigo vat, yarn or fabric is dipped into the vat, left under the surface for about 5 minutes, lifted out of the vat, and left to hang for about 5 minutes. This process is repeated to acquire darker shades of blue. Every time fabric or yarn is dipped into the indigo vat, oxygen is introduced to the vat, and the pH goes down. So part of the learning curve of being an indigo dyer is how to bring the vat back into balance — high pH and removal of oxygen.

Since dyeing with indigo has a learning curve, and countless questions are always in play, I like to teach beginners how to reduce the vat with sodium hydrosulphite (referred to as a hydro vat), as it is easy to see and to learn about the changes occurring in the indigo vat. From there, we can work our way out to using natural reducing agents, like henna or fructose, which take longer to reduce — anywhere from 4 hours to ideally 24 hours. Instructions for creating a hydro vat and a henna vat can be found in my book, The Modern Natural Dyer.

In my studio, there are many different types of vats going at once. All have their own specific applications dependent upon the type of fiber being dyed, the depth of color desired, and the price-point at which something is being sold. When hydro vats are used, most times, we continue to use them for months, adding new indigo. When fructose vats are used, we dye through the indigo in the vat until there isn’t any indigo left, and then start a new vat. Ok, so then, there are our very special vats. As you can probably tell, I am in love with indigo. It was only a matter of time before I began to dig deeper into this process, surpassing the natural indigo pigment to work with the plant.

About five years ago, we grew our first indigo plant — a variety called Indigofera tinctoria which is commonly grown in India. It stayed about 2 feet tall for 5 years until it finally died. The Bay Area was just too cold and foggy. Rebecca Burgess at Fibershed began to grow a variety of indigo, then called Polygonum tinctoria and now referred to as Persicaria tinctoria, which is commonly grown in Japan. This plant grows very well in this area. She called upon Rowland Ricketts, an artist and professor who studied indigo in Japan, to help transform the plant into dye. Following the traditional Japanese method, the plant, once harvested, is dried and then composted. Rowland came to the Bay Area. A group of us gathered to build a special floor — as similar as possible to the surface used in Japan — to compost the indigo. Its unique structure aids in air circulation and drainage of water so the indigo, while being composted, does not rot. The composting process takes about 3 months. Once the composting was completed, a batch of the composted indigo also known as sukumo, was delivered to Verb. Using ash, we created our own lye water to use as the base of the indigo vat. So this provides the high pH necessary when making an indigo vat. And then, slowly over 2-3 weeks, we combined the sukumo with the ash water and wheat bran, encouraging fermentation. In this vat, bacteria is the reducing agent. We have two of this type of indigo vat. Currently, we grow Persicaria tinctoria at Verb and we have spent the last couple of years experimenting with the leaves in a number of ways to extract indigo and to make vats from this indigo. I find working so closely with the plant the most rewarding. There are greater nuances in color and in shades of color. Less dye is released when washing the yarn and fabric. I find it fascinating to think about the Earth, nature, and the intricacies of how it works, and how nature, plants and dye can be applied to my own work — in terms of dyed yarn and fabric as well as when I teach others to work with natural indigo.

So back to synthetic indigo for a moment. Since synthetic indigo has the same molecular structure as natural indigo, you must still follow the same steps as when working with natural indigo to create the vat. Typically the instructions that accompany synthetic (pre-reduced indigo) use lye or soda ash and thiourea dioxide or sodium hydrosulphite. The same dye process would also be followed: dipping in and out of the vat multiple times to achieve multiple shades of blue.

What I Know About: Natural indigo (with Kristine Vejar)

So with synthetic indigo, there really isn’t anything about it that is genuinely indigo — it’s really just blue dye in a color that mimics indigo.

Synthetic indigo does mimic natural indigo in that the molecular structures are the same. Like I described above: making a vat is pretty much the same, the dyeing process is the same, and the way in which the indigo will wear is the same. For example, crocking. Indigo dye and the process of dyeing is the act of creating a physical bond between dye and fiber. There isn’t a chemical bond. Also, the indigotin molecule is larger than most (if not all) other dyes. So this means that indigo eventually works its way out of the cloth. Sometimes crocking occurs right when you get a garment that has been dyed with indigotin (natural or synthetic) because it can be difficult to remove the extra pigment — that which has not bonded — from the cloth. Many times, it takes actual physical pressure to remove the excess indigo. This is why you may see a tag that comes with your jeans that alerts you to the fact that your hands or legs may turn blue when first wearing your jeans. Then no matter what, with sustained pressure to areas in a garment, the indigo will work its way out of the cloth, which is why the fabric over the knee region of your jeans eventually becomes light blue or white. Historically, if a dark, uniform shade of indigo was desired, the cloth or garment would be re-dipped in the indigo vat over the course of its life. So it can be very hard to differentiate between synthetic indigo (some may refer to it as fake) and real indigo, unless you know the dye house and can see the nuances between the blue created by synthetic indigo and the blue created by natural indigo.

I place synthetic indigo in the same camp as other synthetic dyes — like acid and chemical dyes — which have a wide array of blues to choose from and are much easier to use. But why go through all the steps of reducing an indigo vat and the labor-intensive process of dyeing if the indigo is synthetic? If you are going to go through all the same steps, use natural indigo pigment, support an indigo farmer, and embrace the relationship with the plant, process, and depth and nuance of blues that can only be created using natural pigment.

And for those of us who might be using the boxed kit (or any other kind of indigo dyestuff) at home, what do we need to know about tending to and especially disposing of the dye bath when we’re done with it?

If you are using thiourea dioxide or sodium hydrosulphite to reduce an indigo vat, you can either mix oxygen — by taking a spoon or a stick and whisking air into the vat — or let the vat sit overnight and the vat will turn to blue, and can then be disposed of. The high pH is not a problem — if anything it will help clear your pipes. If you still feel worried, you can always neutralize the water by adding lemon juice (an acid). If you are on a septic system, call your local septic system company, let them know what type of alkaline and reduction agent you are using, and ask for their advice.

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It’s almost Summer of Basics prize time!

It's almost Summer of Basics prize time!

Somehow it’s already the middle of August — two-and-half weeks (or two weekends, as I think of it!) till the official end of the Summer of Basics Make-along. There are already more than 2000 posts on the #summerofbasics feed — y’all have been busy! — so I want to take a minute to zero in on how to submit for the chance to win a prize. (Last-minute pattern suggestions if you haven’t started yet.) The prizes themselves are recapped below, along with what hashtags to use, but since everyone’s been making multiple garments, posting multiple photos, over the course of multiple months, we’d really appreciate it if, whenever you’re finished, you made one final post summarizing what you did and using the appropriate hashtags.

You can do this any way you like, but here are some suggestions and examples taken from the feed:

1.) Take one photo that includes all three finished garments — they could be on hangers or a clothesline or in a “flat lay” on the bed or floor, whatever works. See @valendra25‘s post above as an example (she’s not finished yet but you get the idea) — and she’s used the multi-image function to include one pic of the fronts and one of the backs! Which is awesome.

2.) If they are able to be worn together in a visible way, take a pic of yourself wearing them all! I like the way @liwarlin did side-by-side images of herself with and without the sweater. You could also do that with the multi-image function, as well as actually pairing them up like she did.

3.) Take multiple photos and use the multi-image function to include them all in a single post like @toastedthread did here — go swipe through her images to see. I love that she included a flat lay (so we can see the bra from under that tank!) and also her original plan. We’ll be looking for your progress shots in your feed, but the notion of using multi-image to recap and tell the tale is really fun, so consider something like that!

Make sure you tag your finale post #sob17finisher, along with #summerofbasics and any other applicable prize tag below.

As an alternative to Instagram, you may do a blog post (or Ravelry, etc) about your three finishes and leave a link in the comments below, and just include the appropriate hashtags so our judges know which ones to consider for which prizes.

MOST IMPORTANT: If you’re submitting for the Best Mods prize or the Best First prize, please make sure to tell us the details of that! Especially the mods, since your cleverness and success in what you did will be the deciding factor and we won’t necessarily be able to discern that from the photos, so tell us about it in the caption!

Let me know if you have any questions — and thank you all for being such awesome companions in this little adventure!

. . .

PRIZES

To be eligible for any prize, you need to have completed 3 garments within the June 1-August 31 time frame. (Please do not enter garments you’ve previously finished.) To enter any of the categories below, use the appropriate pair of hashtags when posting your finished garments. Please only use the prize tags that your garments qualify for:

Best Modification/Alteration
PRIZE: 4 skeins of Fibre Co’s new yarn for Fall from Kelbourne Woolens
The winning garment might be either knitted or sewn, but the prize is yarn so only enter if you’re into that! Be sure to tell us what changes you made from the pattern(s) you started with.
HASHTAGS: #summerofbasics + #sob17bestmod

Best First-Timer
PRIZE: 4 sewing patterns + $50 gift certificate from Fancy Tiger Crafts
It’s cool if you’re a knitter entering your first sewn garment or sewer entering your first knitted garment, or it can be the first garment of any kind you’ve ever made!
HASHTAGS: #summerofbasics + #sob17bestfirst

Best Combination of Garments
PRIZE: $100 gift card from Grainline Studio
We’ll be looking for 2-3 pieces that work exceptionally well together. They might be sewn, knitted or a combination, but the prize is sewing patterns, so only enter if you’re into that!
HASHTAGS: #summerofbasics + #sob17bestcombo

Random drawing
PRIZE: $100 gift certificate from Fringe Supply Co.
I’ll draw a name at random from all qualifying posts!
HASHTAGS: #summerofbasics + #sob17finisher

Winners will be announced in early September.

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Q for You: What stitch are you?

Q for You: What stitch are you?

If you were a dog breed. If you were a wine varietal. If you were a color … what would you be? There was a Wool and the Gang newsletter recently with the subject line “What stitch are you?” and I thought it was that old parlor game we’ve all played how many times and ways, but that somehow it had never occurred to me to think or ask: If you were a stitch (knit, crochet, handwork, whatever), what would you be? (We did have that chat about “what gauge are you” once upon a time, but that’s a little different.)

The thing about this sort of game is you can be anything from really dismissive to super goofy to deeply philosophical with your answer, possibly depending on whether there’s alcohol involved … or you’re on the longest, most boring road trip of your life.

My immediate, flippant answer when I read that subject line was stockinette. Whether as in sartorially speaking, or in the sense of what a plain jane I’ve always thought myself to be. But I’m not stockinette! Like any human, I have my textures and complexities. (Was it Whitman who said, “I am large; I contain cables”?) My next thought was maybe I’m Ann Shayne’s rambling cable sweater of life, and certainly there have been phases of my life where that would be a fair statement. But I think I’m a bit like this fisherman sweater I’m knitting.

There are the swaths of nice, orderly broken-rib texture (or rice stitch?) at the edges; the rigid columns of meticulous, “tightly wound” raspberry stitch (which would be a teeth-clencher and overthinker if it were a person, right?); and then there are the two cable motifs. The single cables running up the sleeves and the sides of the sweater are wrong in some ways (the “ropes” bend without twisting and without reason), and yet they’re weirdly appealing. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, there were multiple instances of perfect strangers telling me I looked “very European.” I had brown hair and a stick figure and a face full of giant features at a time when everyone was expected to look like Christie Brinkley, and I came to understand (and even appreciate) that what they meant was “I don’t really understand your looks, but I don’t find them unappealing.” That’s what that cable reminds me of.

And then there’s the central cable panel. It’s a little like Ann’s planless cables, in that it’s puzzling and unpredictable at first, but it’s more like my resumé, actually — what seem like a lot of unrelated jobs have all crystallized in what I’m doing now. In the end (if this is the end for me — ha!) it makes its own kind of sense.

What drew me back to this sweater pattern over and over again for years is the fact that the two cable motifs really don’t go together — they don’t rightly belong on the same sweater. And where did the weird streak of garter-stitch raglans come from? On the whole, it’s a little warped — in a good way. So maybe that’s not a bad description of me.

And hey, getting this ridiculously philosophical about it didn’t even require alcohol! So that’s my Q for You today: If you were a stitch, what would it be? Have fun with it.

I look forward to your response, and wish you a happy weekend!

SHOP NOTE: The ever-popular indigo Double Basketweave Cowl Kit is back in stock!

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New Favorites: Angelina

New Favorites: Angelina Pullover pattern by Mary Anne Benedetto

The Fall issue of Interweave Knits looks like a good one overall, but I’m especially taken with this Angelina Pullover, designed by Mary Anne Benedetto. I love a good yoke with cables in place of colorwork, and these gradually widening wishbones are particularly appealing. Plus I’m thrilled they opted the knit the sample in black. (I believe in black cables.) I’m a little bit conflicted about the shirttail hem — it really shouldn’t work on a yoke sweater, and feels a little trendy, but it’s so beautifully executed I can’t argue with it. The shaping is perfection, and I can’t get enough of the way that I-cord edge hangs. It doesn’t hurt that it happens to be styled with black-and-white gingham, which has been a fixation of mine for months now. So I’d like this exact combo, please.

[EDIT: Apparently this color of Cumbria is Dodd Wood, an extremely dark brown. I forgot there’s no black in that yarn!]

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Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH // The deeper I move into this work with Slow Fashion, the more I admire designers making thoughtful choices at each turn — considering fiber sources, ethical labor, longterm wearablity, options for repair/ reuse, and also what might happen to the garment after it leaves our closets. But perhaps the most inspiring part is watching a designer make these choices on the scale of production and distribution, and seeing a designer embrace upcycling or redesign in her work. I think Adrienne Antonson’s design of the State Smock might just be the epitome of refashioning on a commercial scale: She’s taken something that’s readily available as a castoff garment with very little value as is — the ubiquitous men’s shirt — and has made it wildly useful, amazingly stylish, and ultimately a beloved garment that holds signifcant value. It’s brilliant. I own two State smocks and love them so much I sometimes have to force myself to wear anything else.

So I started this interview imagining I’d learn something about Adrienne’s genius tendencies for natural fibers and refashioning, and more about her swoon-worthy aesthetic. Instead, I learned she has this very inspiring and varied history — as a fiber artist making stunning bug sculptures out of human hair; a traveling spirit who has called North Carolina, Washington, Brooklyn and rural Georgia home; and an entrepreneur who launched her slow-fashion brand, State the Label, while inspired by the alpacas she was tending on an island in the Pacific Northwest. What’s not to love?

Through this lens of getting to know her history I could see the depth these experiences offered to her work, but I was also reminded how sometimes inspiration, life experience and imagination cannot be overlooked in aesthetics and work ethics. How we must honor these aspects of design as much as we honor materials, labor and craftsmanship. In a very digital and polished world, there is something so refreshing — maybe even shocking — about remembering that inspiration and mindset are perhaps the most important aspect of slow fashion and slow living. Without inspiration and awareness, we really can’t create momentum or sustain change. So thank you, Adrienne, for this insight into your incredibly inspiring and imaginative process.

. . .

It’s an honor to share your work and to feature State in this series. You have such a rich and inspiring history as a fine artist, urbanite, alpaca farmer and clothing designer, while holding deep ties to the Brooklyn arts community. Can you talk about the beginning of State and what inspired you to launch a clothing line?

I started State while I was living and working on an alpaca farm, on an island off the coast of Seattle. Looking back, it was like a dream. I would rake the farm’s fields during the day and look after the herd, and I would sew for hours at night. This was back in 2010, and the ideas of sustainability and local production were just starting to get a foothold in the fashion world. I was endlessly inspired by my access to raw fibers. (The barn was filled with 500+ lbs of raw alpaca fleece just sitting there!) I convinced the farmers to let me set up a felting studio in the barn, and I spent hours teaching myself how to felt. Once I got the basics, I immediately went big. I was felting rugs, wall pieces, etc. I was totally hooked. I remember telling my husband that deep-diving into felting — a totally tactile and intuitive process — felt like falling in love. It consumed me. I would work until bedtime and then wake up itching to get back to the barn. I felted through the winter, my fingers going totally numb in the water. Usually, all my creative endeavors eventually lead to fashion, making something wearable, so it wasn’t long before the felting turned into garments. I was making bonnets and elements that I would incorporate into one-of-a-kind clothing pieces. They involved a lot of hand sewing and reclaimed materials — deconstructed garments, parts of old shoe leather — and found a high-end audience in Seattle that really got it. That was truly the start of State. It’s grown and evolved a lot since then, but it all started in a barn.

You have a background in fine arts and studied art in college, but I believe you’re a self-taught designer. Do you think your background in fine arts allowed you to approach fashion, and in particular sustainable fashion, with a fresh, outside perspective? Your work feels so unique and alive.

I studied painting and sculpture at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. I did a high-school fashion program at SCAD one summer and never felt quite at home with the “fashion girls.” I don’t read fashion magazines or keep up with trends or brands, so I always felt like an outsider. Art was always where I felt truly myself, so majoring in Studio Art seemed wise. (Haha, NOT what my parents thought!) My sculptural work – mainly out of human hair – was based on garments. I made an entire collection of lingerie out of hair that set the stage for much more sculptural work post-graduation. (Random Fun Fact: My insects made from human hair are collected in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums all over the country!) CofC was a great school but did very little to prepare the art students for how to actually make a living after school. It was only a few weeks after graduating that I decided to start my first clothing company, Spinster. I had NO clue what I was doing but dove in head first. I read business books, talked to SBA advisors, hired help, and just went for it. And truly, I’m still that same girl just making it work every single day. I think being a fashion outsider is fitting for me because I like making up my own rules. Same goes for owning my own business. I don’t think there’s any other path for me.

On your website you say, “Sustainable, organic, and recycled fabrics, reclaimed materials, and hand painting techniques are used in all designs.” Given your early work with redesigned garments, I’m guessing this was always central. When you launched State did you have slow fashion and sustainable design as the primary focus of the work, or did that evolve as the clothing line developed?

When State launched, the mission was to use the best fabrics and processes I could find. And that’s still the case today. I think what’s changed is that seven years ago it was a big choice to work that way. Now I think it’s a standard. In the beginning we talked about being “green” and “sustainable” constantly. But, thankfully, that’s become more of what designers and customers expect so, to me at least, it’s less of a talking point now and more of a given. Currently, with that as the foundation of the brand and how we approach things, I’m able to focus more on the other elements that inspire me to move forward. In the past few years we’ve been working to create jobs in our small community (population less than 7,000!) and to move more of our production locally.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

Let’s talk about your smocks, because they blow my mind. They are such a perfect adaptation of secondhand clothing into something more stylish, more versatile, and ultimately holding greater value. I love how you created a pattern to use a men’s button down shirt for an artist smock so it can be replicated but each smock still has the unique properties of the original shirt. It’s magic. What inspired you to create this design?

I made my first smock to wear as part of my farm uniform! I needed something that could hold my farm tools and treats for the alpacas. I wore it daily and loved it. Eventually I put a few in the early State collections and they always sold out first. So it wasn’t long before that became a staple of the line and now it’s our biggest seller. [Editor’s note: The #smocktuesday feed is a favorite.]

Making an item from reclaimed materials isn’t the easiest or most scalable thing in the world. When I first started hiring outside help, I made a formula for how it’s sewn. Since each shirt is different and has different measurements, stitching, etc, each piece is unique. But once my seamstresses knew the steps, they were sewing circles around me!

Any chance there will be other patterns like the smock that redesign readily available secondhand garments? I see you’ve taught alteration classes at TAC in NY and you offer workshops in your Georgia studio—any chance you’ll offer patterns or classes on redesigned garments?

I’d love to add more reclaimed pieces to the line one day. It’s something we always toss around. After this next issue of the Secret Catalog releases, I’ll be able to turn my attention back to scheduling classes here in the studio. It’s something I’m very passionate about and know that it can impact our community and the region in a positive way. We have big plans for new classes this next year and hope to bring in a lot of visiting instructors.

I love when designers use upcycled garments in their work but I know it can be so impossible when considering sizing, scale and replication. Could you shed some light on this difficulty and maybe why it’s not more widely used in the sustainable-fashion community? Why, perhaps, organic cotton yardage might be more practical for a slow-fashion designer than thrift store finds?

Upcycling is challenging because there are so many variables. We have our smocks sewn cottage-industry style. Meaning: seamstresses sew each one from start to finish in their own sewing studios. This allows them to take on each smock as a new piece and sew it to completion. Factories and larger manufacturing solutions don’t have the infrastructure to think about each unique piece. Working with one large roll of cotton is much easier and is how factories are set up to function. For us, the best solution is a trained team of smock-sewers who know exactly where to cut each one, what steps are necessary, and how to troubleshoot if, say, a pocket is bar tacked or the sleeves are skinny. My ladies are rock stars!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Adrienne Antonson

Your work with The Secret Catalog is exciting. It feels like a celebration or a community art event or a party. Your role seems to be curator, shop owner and publisher, all combined through this one project. Can you briefly describe the project and your inspiration to cultivate this “catalog” community?

The Secret Catalog came about when I was living and working in Brooklyn. I was meeting so many incredible designers and makers and wanted a way to collaborate on a large scale. I’ve been a lifelong lover of mail order catalogs (Delia*s anyone?!) and the idea to make an alternative catalog with the work of small brands seemed like a great way to bring everyone together. We’ve since grown the concept a great deal and are currently working on our sixth issue. It’s the perfect mix of publishing, designing, curating and styling — all areas I’ve previously worked in and love having in my life. It’s truly a labor of love. It’s a TON of work, but totally worth it each issue. It’s a wonderful thing to work with brands of all sizes. In a past issue we had Ace+Jig and Alabama Chanin next to new designers who barely have websites. I think our audience loves being exposed to new and fresh work, and I love finding it for them.

We have big plans ahead for the catalog and see it shifting into a new model after the Kids issue. (Yes, a whole issue of Kids’ stuff!!!) So stay tuned for what we have up our sleeves.

On your website you wrote, “As an artist, I’ve continually struggled between my desire to create new, boundary-pushing work, while balancing customer expectation and demand. It can be a hard tightrope to walk, and so The Secret Catalog seemed like a project that could inspire everyone involved — me, the other designers, and our customers.” Is The Secret Catalog something of a respite from making clothing? Or does one ultimately inspire the other?

I’m an artist, first and foremost. So I get bored easily. I love new challenges and ideas, and the rush of excitement that comes when you try to creatively figure things out. So the catalog is the perfect project for me. Each part of it is a total variable from issue to issue. From the very start I made it clear: There are no rules when it comes to the catalog. We can do anything we want, take risks, think outside our box, and it usually works out in our favor. It’s a wild and free creative space for everyone who works on it, and I think you can feel that when you hold one.

Each issue, I’m inspired to make a collection for the catalog that is fresh, a little crazy, and that will really excite our customers. I also love the freedom to make whatever I damn well please! This last issue I made some weird latch hooked straw hats, collaborated with Turkish towel makers to make round beach towels, and had washcloths hand-crocheted here in town. My dream is to be able to have a brand where we can make anything we desire — not just clothing. And the catalog is a place where I can live that dream a little right now.

I loved the Bomb interview where you talked about the bug sculptures made of human hair. I actually see your work with fiber art and sculpture and then fiber farming as a natural progression into sustainable fashion, but I imagine some folks see them as separate. How do you see your trajectory from sculpture to alpacas to sustainable fashion — surprising, inevitable, or just pure circumstance?

This is the struggle/story of my life! I’ve always had a bit of an identity crisis when it came to what I am — designer, sculptor, curator, farmer?! If I had the money I probably would have spent my 20s in career therapy! And to be honest, I still have these debates within myself. Just the other day, I was telling my husband I wish I could be a fine art painter full time. (I don’t even paint anymore!) I just love making and creating, and it’s hard for me to stay in one lane. Some days this is a blessing and others a curse. I’m sure there are a lot of other artists who feel the same way. To me, all my various bodies of work somehow feed into each other. I remember there was a year when I did two large collections of clothing, and made two large shows of insect sculptures. To begin, I would transform my tiny studio into a sculpture studio — jars of hair, adhesives, source images on the walls, etc. — and work for months making insects. When that show finished, I’d totally rearrange the studio. I’d shelve all my sculpture tools, give it a deep clean, and pull out my sewing machines, fabric, dress form, etc. I’d then set about making a collection of clothing. Because I was balancing two very different creative modes, I needed to totally switch my brain (and space) from one process to the other. It was the only way I could truly focus. And I found that a pair of wings I had painted for a moth sculpture inspired the painted pattern I’d do on a dress. Alternately, the tiny hand stitches on a neckline would prepare my hands for the meticulous work of sculpting beetle antennae. So, yes, to me everything fed into each other. I just always fretted that I needed to choose.

You have such an inspiring vantage point of the contemporary art and design community, and your work with The Secret Catalog highlights the work of so many truly amazing artisans and makers. But if you had to choose just 3-5 artists or designers that are currently inspiring your work, who would you choose?

Oh man, this is a hard one.

First, my mom. She’s incredible. She and my stepdad just finished making the most incredible dollhouse (a replica of their own Art Deco house!) for me. It’s featured in the next Secret Catalog and is truly one of the most incredible things I’ve seen. She’s a self-taught woodworker and is constantly pushing her boundaries. Collaborating with her is my most favorite thing in this world.

Tara St James of Study NY is a brilliant designer, and I’m lucky to call her a friend and contemporary. On top of being an incredible designer, she’s also smack in the mix of the sustainable design, technology, production and sourcing worlds in NYC. She works at the BFDA in Brooklyn and is always working on the most inspiring projects. Conversations with her leave me so energized and motivated to change the world! When I first moved to NYC and had zero clue about how actual fashion stuff worked, I would bribe her with cookies and coffee in exchange for asking her a million questions about the industry. “What is a linesheet?” “Where do you get patterns graded?” She’s an endless source of wisdom and I often joke that WWTD is a frequently uttered phrase around my studio.

Hillery Sproatt is one of my favorite designers right now. She makes a range of work (blankets, illustrations, embroidered mobiles, etc.) and everything she touches is so fresh and special. She’s been in two of our catalogs, and I have loved everything she’s made. Her style is totally unique and that’s rare to see.

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Thank you, Adrienne! Such an honor to share your work in this series.

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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Photos © Adrienne Antonson, used with permission

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