Two years ago, I wrote a short essay about the moment I realized I’d lost all interest in storebought clothes, which was published last year in Hannah Thiessen’s book Slow Knitting. It’s still one of my favorite bits I’ve written about how transformative slow fashion has been for me, so I reached out to the publisher and got permission to republish it here in honor of Slow Fashion October—
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I’VE BEEN a clothes horse and fashion junkie my entire life, and have always understood fashion as an art form, style as an act of creative expression. I was the typical kid who never properly appreciated all the beautiful clothes my mom made me, and the atypical kid who lived for the Saturday morning runway news on CNN. (Google “Elsa Klensch,” seriously.) I’ve also always understood that clothes could become special to you, souvenirs of a place or time in your life — the outfit you picked out to boost your confidence upon arrival at sleepaway camp for the first time, or the dress you were wearing the night your husband proposed. But I had no idea how many levels of meaning a garment can hold until I began to make my own in earnest.
As every knitter knows, we stitch our lives into our projects. A sweater can take weeks or months to complete, and when you put it on, you’ll always be aware of the trips, waiting rooms, or cross-country moves the sweater accompanied you through. Learning to knit a few years ago led me back to sewing (after years of gradually forgetting most of what my mother had taught me), but before I really dusted off my machine, I enlisted a talented friend to make me two garments that were beyond my skills — a dress for my brother’s wedding and a tunic with a faced yoke and hand-stitched finish, both of them beautiful. And both complete with memories of working with Alyssa on them — going to her house to try on muslins and all of it. Not fancy clothes, but genuinely one-of-a kind. At the same time, I was filling my closet with sweaters made with my own two hands and their respective sets of memories, and slowly falling out of love with storebought.
The more you think about this stuff, the more you tune in to — and it turns out there’s a whole other level beyond the making itself, such as where the yarn and fabric come from, and how they came into your possession. I have a vest, for example, knitted of Hole & Sons wool, from British sheep I followed on Instagram for years before the farmer decided to make yarn from their fleece and I got to have some! Direct from that beautiful farm. I have multiple yarns produced by friends who worked directly with the farmers and mills to make something meaningful and unique for their shops, despite making no profit on it, and those stories and friendships will be part of whatever the yarns become. I have a top sewn from fabric a friend back in California sent me after I’d moved away to Tennessee, that she dyed in the natural indigo vat she worked so long and hard to bring to life. It’s some of the best sewing I’ve ever done, and so represents both of our triumphs. The list goes on. And on.
I remember the moment I realized that my lifelong relationship with clothes had changed irrevocably. My husband and I were in a J.Crew store (long one of my most reliable sources) and I was standing in the sale area, sliding hanger after hanger along the racks, unmoved. Even the lilac cardigan I’d coveted in photos — now more than half off! — stirred not an ounce of want, and not just out of concerns about what sort of faraway factory it might have been made in, and whether the workers were paid a living wage. (Although of course there’s always that.) I just remember feeling so intensely, these are just clothes. I have the power to make treasures.
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On a similar note, I posted on Instagram the other day about how the simple outfit pictured above is actually a walking scrapbook, a post that began with the words “My clothes tell stories, even if only I can hear them… .” I plan to tell these stories more often and would love to hear yours, too — both during and beyond Slotober. Let’s use hashtag #myclothestellstories, shall we?
PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Style Crush x 3
© Karen Templer for Abrams Books/Hannah Thiessen; reprinted with the publisher’s permission