Top-Down Knitalong FO No. 1: Jess Schreibstein

Top-Down Knitalong FO No. 1: Jess Schreibstein

Hey, guess what — there’s a member of the panel for the Top-Down Knitalong who finished her sweater! Brandi is either also there or on the brink, and Jen and I are still plugging away at it, but today I am pleased to show you the finished object of the lovely Jess Schreibstein. In case there’s anyone who doesn’t know her, Jess writes the Swatch of the Month column for Fringe Association, charms Instagram as @thekitchenwitch and just launched her new website. So let’s hear about this sweater—

. . .

You’re the only panelist who will have completed the same sweater you started — yours is true to your original plan. Be honest: Feeling at all smug about that? ;)

You know, I didn’t even realize that I was the first person on the panel to finish her sweater until I wore it the first time. Then it just dawned on me – like, WOW, how did that even happen?! But all along, my primary goal was to stay dedicated to getting the sweater exactly how I wanted it, and I took it as a given that that process would take time and trial and error. But once I made it through yoke and neck shaping, the rest of the sweater came together easily, and I set myself a deadline of finishing by the Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck. Which I did, but barely, in true Rhinebeck fashion. The sweater finished drying the morning I left!

You wound up admirably spending a lot of time and revision on your neck, in an effort to get it just how you wanted it. To recap, you cast on your neck stitches and worked the funnel neck in the round, and initially weren’t going to do any neck shaping. But then you decided to add short rows, which took a few tries. Can you talk about why you didn’t want to shape the neck the traditional way — I know some people were curious why you chose the route you did — and how you feel about the short rows in the end? Do you feel you solved all the problems you were trying to solve?

You’re right – instead of casting on stitches and working the neck shaping back and forth before joining in the round, per the method you describe, I worked the neck in the round and then used short rows to get the neck shaping I was after. To get a turtleneck or mock neck with the traditional method, I would have to pick up the cast-on neck stitches, which wouldn’t really be an issue except that the simple lines of knit and purl are so important to getting my particular design to look right. I wanted those lines from the neck to move seamlessly into the yoke and body, without any funky jogs or noticeable seams around the neck.

I ran into setbacks on the short rows because I really just hadn’t had to use them much before, so didn’t know about some pitfalls in particular methods that make them unattractively visible. The knit/purl rib can also be less forgiving for short rows. On the recommendation of my friend Olga Buraya-Kefelian, I used the German Short Rows method, and spaced the turns 2 stitches apart from each other to lend a gradual grade to the shaping. It definitely worked, and I’m pleased with the result!

It seems like once you got over that hump, it was smooth sailing for you. Were there any other setbacks or revisions along the way?

The biggest revision was on the sleeves. I originally intended to knit them flat, as you’ve recommended for multiple reasons, but found after working half a sleeve that the seam would look sloppy with the decreases and the K1P1 rib. Instead, I worked them in the round, working in a knit seam down the center of the sleeve with a purl stitch on either side – which were later seamed up with a basting stitch. I was worried that a basting stitch on either side of this center “knit” seam, effectively creating two seams on the inside of the sleeve, might look bulky or feel stiff, but after blocking they melted into the sleeve and they look great.

You chose YOTH’s Father in Olive for your sweater (which they generously provided, I should note — thank you, YOTH!) How do you feel about your yarn selection for this sweater — are you into the Rambouillet, happy with how it’s performing this particular job? Anything you might have done differently there?

I loved working with YOTH’s Father and am so grateful to them for providing the yarn! The color is so rich and the stitch definition is stunning. Thankfully, Veronika at YOTH reached out to me before I started knitting to let me know that she recommends alternating skeins, since there is slight color variation from skein to skein. This definitely helped blend any slight light and dark differences in the yarn.

How did you wind up treating the lower edges — the cuffs and hem? And did you include other basting stitches anywhere or knit anything flat?

The edges of the neck, sleeves and hem were all worked in a size or two smaller needle than the body of the sweater to create some subtle shaping and a snug fit on the wrists. I bound off all edges with a tubular bind off, which looks great with the rib. I also added a few rows of decreases on each side of the hem of the body for the same reason – some subtle shaping and a snug fit. No parts of the sweater were knit flat, but I added basting stitches on either side of the wide raglans and to the inside of the sleeves, as I mentioned. They added so much great structure to the sweater and look great.

This was your first time knitting a sweater top-down — and apart from the neck shaping, you mostly followed the process described in my tutorial, right? What do you feel you got out of the process, if anything, and would you do it again?

That’s right, no other major changes from your outlined process besides the neck shaping. I have to say that I learn a lot each time I knit a new sweater, but this one was different. Thanks to this process, I now have a much deeper understanding of sweater construction than when I started. But even more importantly, I was part of a larger community of knitters trying, failing, and trying again to design their own sweaters, which helped me stay positive and focused on the ultimate goal – learning how to make a killer sweater for myself! I definitely plan to use this method again, specifically for some basic cream and black cardigans I’d love to have in my closet.

Thank you, Karen, for organizing and hosting this KAL and inspiring so many of us to create our own improvised sweaters! So grateful to you.


(Where’s my blush face emoji?) Thanks so much for playing, Jess!

I’ll have the rest of the panelists’ sweaters to show you as they/we finish up! Meanwhile, there’s still action on the #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 hashtag and the Improv top-down tutorial is here (or on Ravelry) for you anytime.


PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: WIPs of the Week No.7

How much can we know about where clothes come from?

How much can we know about where clothes come from?

So far with the Slow Fashion October conversation (here and on the #slowfashionoctober feed), we’ve been sticking mostly to the pleasant parts — talking about the ways and means by which we can and do opt out of Fast Fashion (see Long-Worn and Handmade) and feel good about those choices. That’s all a lot easier to talk about than this week’s subject, Known Origins, which is sticky on multiple levels. I finally watched The True Cost Saturday night and was reminded in technicolor that the more you know about the actual global humanitarian and environmental crisis that is our clothing industry, the more hopeless it can seem. There was not much in there I didn’t already know, and yet it kept me awake that night — and honestly, just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

Can I describe the problem of fast fashion in a paragraph? I can try. Major corporations in the western world want to sell us as much clothing as possible, and to reap the highest profits possible. They’ve decided the best way to do that is to sell things at impossibly cheap prices. While the prices have plummeted in the last couple of decades, the cost of making clothing has not gone down — someone has to grow (or manufacture) the fiber, weave it into cloth, cut and sew the cloth into clothing, ship it across the ocean, distribute it to stores, advertise it, and still put half of the purchase price into the brand’s bank account (with a good chunk of that, in turn, going directly to the CEO). And yet, they’ve decided even a complicated garment like a pair of jeans should cost less than $20. (I’m suddenly being followed around the internet by an ad for Walmart jeans for $6. Think about that!) That means they need a factory to sell them the jeans for a few dollars, including the cost of the fabric and the hardware — and the labor. That mathematically can’t be done in America, where we have minimum-wage and other labor laws, so they do it in countries where there are no such laws. People in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia are working in garment factories for a few dollars a month (and we’re not talking about a 40-hour workweek), being poisoned by the toxic waste that’s continuously dumped into rivers (because there are no regulations, either) or worse: dying in unsafe buildings when they collapse or burn down. They are literally giving their lives so our clothes can be as cheap as they are. And they are cheap in other ways, too: If the corporation is only going to make a few dollars per garment, they better also make sure we buy new ones every week. So they’re literally clogging the planet with shipload after shipload after shipload of badly made, largely synthetic (read: non-biodegradable), sweatshop-labor clothing. We, on the whole, buy them up as quickly as they crank them out, in record numbers of garments-per-person, and dispose of them just as quickly. And of course, there’s nowhere for them to go.

Those are the known origins of most chain-store clothes. So what about the opposite? There are people in the US and elsewhere trying to bring back garment jobs and industry — people like Elizabeth Suzann, for example, who I know a little bit socially and admire tremendously. I don’t know of a better example in this regard. Liz has insisted on in-house production since the moment her company grew beyond just her sewing alone in her spare room for her Etsy shop. Every garment is sewn in her Nashville studio, where you can walk right in and see the cutters and the sewers and the big bright space they work in. All along, many of the garments have been sewn from cloth woven for her here in Nashville by my friend Allison Volek-Shelton of TN Textile Mill (formerly Shutters and Shuttles). And for her latest collection, she’s gone so far as to source the wool from Imperial Stock Ranch (makers of Imperial Yarn) in Oregon. If she could, I believe Liz would raise and shear sheep on her property and grow cotton out back. She wants to know that every laborer, every bit of waste, every detail all along the way is handled with care and respect for the humans and the planet. The “problem,” such as it is, is that making clothes in the US is unusual and thus difficult and thus costly. Even though they cost a fraction of factory-made (often synthetic) designer goods, not everyone can afford her clothes — and decisions like known-origins wool only drive the prices higher. But for those who can afford them, it’s critical to support her efforts and those of anyone like her, because it’s the only way any version of a garment industry will become viable in this country again. Others will see that they’re doing it successfully, and they’ll do it too, and as it becomes less rare and less difficult — as resources return to support these businesses — prices will come down.

Likewise the farmers. Imperial is a great example of a yarn where you can know exactly where it came from and what sort of people and practices you’re supporting by buying it. In Texas and California, there are cotton farmers who want to grow cotton without poisoning the land and themselves with pesticides. There are people spinning that organic cotton into yarn and weaving it into cloth, and again, because these things are rare, they are difficult and comparatively costly. But if enough people buy the cotton and the yarn and the cloth, then they’ll be able to keep doing it, and hopefully more farmers will follow suit. The only way it can happen is through consumer demand.

As garment makers, if we care about these issues, we want to know more about where our yarn and fabric come from. As I’ve said before, yarn is increasingly easy. Just a few years ago, when I was first knitting, there weren’t that many yarns in the world that were transparent about their supply chains, making public efforts to support what’s left of yarn infrastructure in this country and encouraging its regrowth. But these last few years have seen a huge surge in small-batch yarns and mini-mills. Knitters have begun paying attention and supporting small yarn producers with their purchases, and creating a market so that more and more people have jumped in. It’s still the case that the people selling the yarn often aren’t able to make any money on it — even at $24/skein. The costs are still too high. But the more people keep making it, the more business the supporting businesses (scourers and dyers and mills) do, the more things will change.

The same can’t be said for fabric, unfortunately. Whether in finished garments or as bolts in the fabric store, fabric is much harder to trace. There’s a rise in blue-jeans manufacturing in LA these days — more and more brands supporting the factories there, and consumers supporting them in turn, which is a fantastic step in the right direction. But in most cases, there’s still no way of knowing where the cotton came form or how it was dyed. If you ask a big bolt fabric company about the overseas factories they work with, you’ll get a boilerplate response about how they abide by all the labor laws. But the point is: there aren’t any; that’s why they manufacture where they do. It’s the same as the big clothing companies.

So what’s a concerned consumer who can’t make 100% of their clothes (from traceable materials) to do? That’s what I’d like us to talk about this week — the small steps we can take with regard to our consumption. What are the better-if-not-perfect sources for store-bought clothes and shoes? What clothing and shoe brands are doing production responsibly — at home and overseas? Where can we find fabric we can feel good about? How do we continue to support and grow the known-origins yarn market? And how do we convince the mega-corporations that our clothes don’t need to be dangerously cheap — that there are some of us who’d rather pay a fair price and know the workers were fairly paid, too.

PHOTOS: (Top) a mountain of discarded clothes and (middle) Texas cotton farmer LaRhea Pepper, both from The True Cost; (bottom) a model in Elizabeth Suzann’s 2016 Cold Weather Collection shot with the Imperial Ranch sheep that provided the wool


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Elsewhere 3

Elsewhere: Slow Fashion October edition 3

Elsewhere: Slow Fashion October edition 3

So I have some terrific links for you guys this week, but what I also would really like to do is hear from YOU! There’s been so much shared all over the web throughout Slow Fashion October — in comments on the posts here and on the @slowfashionoctober highlights at IG, on blogs all over, and of course the entirety of the #slowfashionoctober feed. What have been your favorite posts and moments and ideas so far? Please link to your favorites in the comments below!

– I’ve read this post three times it’s so good: “This is what I’ll carry with me when I wear my sweater in the wide world. Secret, humming power.” (photo above, left)

– Felicia Semple on trying to define Slow Fashion from the consumers’ point of view: “All we can do is our best; to be informed and make choices that make the most sense on any given day. We need to accept that often we will make those choices in uncertainty, but strive to take responsibility for them regardless.”

– “I want to talk about what I sometimes feel is the elephant in the room when it comes to Slow Fashion. Not the longevity of the garments but the longevity of Slow Fashion as a movement.”

– “Apparently I paid a lot for marketing

– “Every day I do just one thing before bed — press a seam, sew a block, mend. I make tiny progress and I end my day with what I love.”

– “To others it’s just a white shirt but to me it represents what can be achieved in small steps and finding focus in a chaotic season.”

– “A thing I know is that making for my favorite people is a way to take care of them.”

– “Sewing has given me a lot: a mental capacity for new skills … an appreciation of quality work … and a moral sense of responsibility for all people the world over who make clothes — because some of us do it in our homes for ourselves and some of us do it in unsafe factories for other people. Sewing taught me to care about that as more than just an idle worry.” (photo above, right)

– “Hoard your clothes, kids!!!

– “Even if you only make one garment in one year, that’s something. And even if you knit one scarf, that’s something too. No shame if you cannot make your entire wardrobe; you still have a place in slow fashion.”


Hey, if you’re in Middle Tennessee, I hope we’ll see you at Fiber in the ‘Boro tomorrow. And I hope you have a marvelous weekend no matter where you are!


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Walking a mile in self-made shoes


New Favorites: Hoods

New Favorites: Hoods

Eventually it will cool off, right? I’m not actually complaining — don’t get me wrong — this Indian Summer suits me just fine. It looks like Fall but feels like the sort of summer weather I can get behind, and because it’s October I can get away with boots if I feel like it. But it does feel very faraway to think about needing a hat. Here’s the thing: As much as I love to knit hats, I have trouble wearing them. I’ve only ever had one that didn’t leave my hair destroyed, so once I put on a hat, there’s no taking it off. Which is why I’ve always wondered if I wouldn’t prefer a hood, which has the added benefit of protecting your neck at the same time! Norah Gaughan’s pattern from her new book (Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook, which is now out, by the way) got me mulling it again, and brought me to the others I’ve saved in the past:

TOP: Sourcebook Balaclava by Norah Gaughan is the coolest dickey in history

MIDDLE: Icicle Hood by Kari-Helene Rane has an Amelia Earhart vibe about it and I especially like it worn unbuttoned

BOTTOM: F627 Hooded Neckwarmer by Vanessa Ewing (free pattern) is a little more Hunger Games


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Every stitch of the Tov collection

Walking a mile in self-made shoes

EDITOR’S NOTE: Back in June, I posted a link to an interview on the Big Cartel blog with a staffer, Mollie Silva, who was using her art grant to learn shoemaking. It’s a subject many, many slow fashion advocates and Slow Fashion October participants have expressed interest in, so I asked Mollie if she would write a bit for us about her experience learning the craft. I hope to score a pair of Mollie’s turquoise oxfords one of these days, and to someday follow in her footsteps. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Meanwhile, here’s Mollie—

Walking a mile in self-made shoes

Ten months ago I walked in to a handmade boot shop in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, and asked a seventy-seven-year-old bootmaker if he’d be willing to take an apprentice under his wings. Ten months and one cross-country flight later, I walked in to Brooklyn Shoe Space in New York for a shoe patternmaking class with some of the most talented young handmade shoemakers in the country. But this time I walked in wearing my own handmade shoes.

By day I work for a scrappy independent ecommerce company called Big Cartel. And for almost a year now my nights and weekends have been spent learning the craft of handmade shoes. A year ago, I could have told you I loved shoes and that I’d always had an interest in learning to design and make them. I couldn’t have told you that I’d now have made ten pairs for myself and am on my way to making them for others too. Growing up on a farm, I learned at an early age the importance of knowing where and how the things you consume in your life are made. I’ve always had a respect and awareness around that, and as a result, a love for handmade and as often as possible locally sourced goods. It’s what fuels my passion for my work at Big Cartel, supporting artists and independent makers, and what led to my seeking out a better way to shop for shoes.

For years I had looked for a way to learn the craft of shoemaking. There are traditional routes like fashion-focused design schools and footwear schools. But they’re expensive, a huge time commitment, and just never felt like quite the right fit for me. I learn best by doing. So when I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my employee art grant, a perk all employees at Big Cartel get, I started to rethink about my path to shoemaking. I searched for a local cobbler on Yelp that might be able to get me started and found Stewart Boot, a handmade western boot shop just a couple miles from me in South Tucson. Victor Borg, the owner, and all the other talented craftsmen at Stewart know boots. It’s what they’ve spent the majority of their lives doing, as it takes a lifetime to do the work they’re able to do. They are truly artisans.

I felt way in over my head on day one. And honestly, I still feel that way often. But along the way I’ve learned an enormous respect for having a craft, the patience it takes to learn it, and the humbling experience of undertaking learning a trade that takes a lifetime. I have questions every day and I expect to for as long as I continue to make shoes. And from the people I’ve met along the way I’ve learned that everyone else always has those questions too. The important part is to start, and once you start, to keep going.

The challenges to learning shoemaking are many. First, there is no easy way to learn. The information you need to know isn’t widely available online or even in traditional learning environments. The old way of apprenticeship has slowly died off and along with it people that are able to teach. It’s why I’m in Brooklyn this week learning patternmaking. It won’t be the last time I have to seek out resources beyond my hometown either. Second, components are hard to find. Manufacturing is still shrouded in a cloud of mystery and secrecy that makes it tough for a newcomer to know where to go to get the materials they need. Luckily, there are people working to change that. More and more resources are becoming available almost every day and veteran shoemakers and young shoemakers passionate about the craft are working to share knowledge, make it accessible, and ultimately share the love of handmade shoes with as many people as possible.

There’s a new garnered interest in shoppers as well around knowing where their things come from and an even greater appreciation for knowing the maker. It’s a personal connection that makes having or wearing that item that much more special. And that’s what keeps us, as makers, not only in business but passionate about what we do. The feeling of wearing my own handmade shoes and being asked where I got them never gets old. Nor does the feeling of making something that is so treasured for someone else. There’s a personal story in every pair — even if that story was having to pick stitching out by hand and start over because you forgot to rethread your machine with the right color before starting.

Despite the challenges, I can tell you it’s worth it. I am just as passionate about making shoes today as I was on day one. More passionate. If you really love something, you will find people willing to help you along the way. Just start somewhere, anywhere. In ten months you might find yourself flying across the country with wonderful people, sharing, learning, and being just as excited as you are about what started as your weekend handmade hobby.
Mollie Silva

Shoes and Craft — a shoemaker’s blog about shoemaking
Shoemaking Tutorials — video channel
Brooklyn Shoe Space — in-person classes and co-working space + blog
Bespoke Shoemaking — a comprehensive guidebook


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Why I make my own clothes

Make Your Own Basics: The shawl-collar cardigan

Make Your Own Basics: The shawl-collar cardigan

In all honesty, Make Your Own Basics is my favorite series I’ve done so far on the blog. (Scroll through the whole collection here.) I have a deep and abiding love of basics, but I also increasingly find basics to be the most rewarding things to make. As proud as I am of my trophy sweaters, it makes me really happy to wear clothes so classic and hardworking that nobody would ever think to ask me if I made them. (The new black cardigan is the epitome.) My number one goal in life is to someday be wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt and have made them both.

I just wanted to say all of that at the outset of this installment because we’re in the midst of Slow Fashion October and I think it’s an important point! So with that said …

I’m of the mind that every good wardrobe requires a good shawl-collar cardigan, the coziest of garments and useful even for warm-climate people who find themselves at a beach bonfire on occasion. It’s just a thing you have to have! My love for big slouchy cable cardigans is well documented — my beloved Bellows, which I wear multiple times a week in my studio; the incomparable Channel Cardigan, which I’m currently knitting after more than two years of yarn deliberations for what I expect to be a lifelong companion; in fact, a whole raft of shawl-collar standouts from BT. But this is Basics, and so while I think you could argue that any of those would actually qualify, let’s talk about these simple stockinette gems today:

TOP: Georgetown by Hannah Fettig is equally appropriate at work or with pj’s in front of the fire

BOTTOM: Fredericton by Kiyomi Burgin, with it’s two-strand marl and contrast edge, has that classic professorial flair; leather buttons recommended!

See also the previously noted Fable and Killybegs.


PREVIOUSLY in Make Your Own Basics: The sweater vest

Why I make my own clothes

Why I make my own clothes

To kick off Handmade week of Slow Fashion October — being as we’re nearing the five-year anniversary of this blog and with so many new people reading all the time — I thought it might be good to take a step back, reintroduce myself, and talk about why I make my own clothes. Or why I make as many of my own clothes as I do, and why I care where the rest of them come from. It’s a subject I’ve talked about in a lot of essays and interviews and podcasts elsewhere, and that I write about as a gradual and omnipresent matter-of-course on this blog, but I don’t know if I’ve ever tried to put it into a single blog post before. It’s really, really long but I hope you’ll find it worth your time, and I look forward to your thoughts! So here goes—

I come to this naturally — you’ll see it’s been an evolutionary process for me, but one that has everything to do with how I’ve lived my whole life, and that I trace back to my roots. My parents both grew up on the farm. My mom and her sisters made their own clothes, and she made ours when we were little. She raised me the way she was raised, passing along all of the domestic skills she had learned and used in her daily life on the farm — from hand-stitching to canning to whatever. But as I was a child of the suburbs, I didn’t use it much. Other than sewing. I was obsessed with clothes from the time I was a toddler (I still remember the day I told her that after careful consideration I had decided I no longer wanted to wear patent-leather maryjanes) and in the ’80s, we were all about tampering with our clothing. Between “Pretty in Pink” and Madonna, cutting, recombining, embellishing and otherwise personalizing one’s clothes was all the rage. I’ll spare you the tales of the pegged men’s 501s and hospital scrubs turned into Hammer pants, but I also had proper sewing skills, and wowed my 8th-grade sewing teacher by showing up with a pattern and fabric to make a popover anorak with a front placket and hood. (It was navy blue duck, well-made, as I remember it, and I wore it so proudly!)

But before that, I was a little kid in and of the ’70s — when Earth Day was invented and community recycling began with newspaper drives at the elementary schools. Watching Saturday morning television meant being treated not just to Schoolhouse Rock, but the crying Indian and “give a hoot, don’t pollute.” We were raised to be environmentalists, and that has never felt like a passing fad to me. A constant uphill battle, yes, with some eras more in tune than others, but not something anyone who believes in it ever stops believing or caring about.

There are countless ways in which this informs my life. As a print designer in my first years out of school, I would never have considered using anything other than recycled papers. At Fringe Supply Co., we almost never use paper bags — 95% of orders are packaged in muslin bags which I count on you to reuse, and you won’t find any promotional trash in there either. I’m not perfect, by any stretch — and I never mean to preach when talking about these things. I’m just offering a few small examples in an attempt to describe who I am.

Interior design is another lifelong fascination, and for a time I was editing and writing books on the subject, but I’ve never liked store-bought furniture. Every home of mine has been chiefly furnished from garage sales, flea markets and hand-me-downs (or pass-arounds between my sister and me and some of our friends), with just a little bit of Ikea thrown in here and there. I buy couches and mattresses new, and have recently bought two small pieces directly from local makers, but just about everything else comes with its own past life and stories to tell.

And yet until a few years ago, I hadn’t found a way to approach my closet with the same mindset as the rest of my life. I’ve never had the patience for thrifting — although Ann has me thinking — and my love of fashion made me gluttonous for store-bought clothes … as it does. (The very opposite of how I feel about furniture.) When I learned to knit, it made me want to sew again, and I also started following or hanging around with some extremely thoughtful makers for whom making their clothes was about more than just the clothes. I’ve written an ode to some of them here, and I am so indebted to them and the rest of this community that opened my eyes to the rewards of the effort. It’s been a slow and gradual evolution in my brain and in my closet these last five years, but at this point there’s rarely a day where I’m not wearing at least one item I made — something that seemed inconceivable to me only a couple of years ago — and I’m working on the “directly from local makers” part, as well.

It might have taken me a lot longer to get here, but for me, there’s no going back.

I make my clothes for many reasons:

1) It’s fun. I love the entire process: hunting for inspiration and/or patterns, choosing yarn or fabric, plotting out my garment … and I love the time spent doing the actual sewing or knitting. I work very long hours, usually seven days a week, and have very little free time — so that time is precious. I snatch an hour to knit before bed when I can, or a few hours to sew on a Saturday once in awhile, and it’s that time that feeds my soul — and where I feel the most like myself.

2) It fills me with pride and satisfaction. I love learning, and love being capable of things. Knitting and sewing provide endless opportunities to expand and explore new skills, and the feeling of finishing a garment and putting it on defies description. It’s an awesome experience — and one no purchased garment can ever hold a candle to.

3) I’m a control freak. I’ve spent my whole life with ideas in my head about how I want to dress, and an inability to match it with what’s available in stores. I’m also, like pretty much every human alive, not a perfect match for the standardized measurements that mass-market clothes are made to. I have broad shoulders and a small chest, a long torso and arms for my height. It was great in the ’80s when everything was giant on top anyway, but otherwise challenging. And I loathe plastics and synthetics, which are taking over the world. Literally. By making my own clothes, I have control not only over the color and fiber content of my clothes, but the fit as well. It takes time to develop the skills to modify things to one’s liking, to understand how a yarn will behave, and so on, but exploring all of that is part of the joy — and again, the payoff is beyond worth it.

4) I know who made my clothes. When I was first hoarding store-bought clothes as a teenager, they were at least made in the USA. My mother taught me to look for that on labels when I was a child, and in those days 80% or 90% of the clothes sold in the US were made here, so it wasn’t that difficult. But as the entire garment industry moved offshore in recent decades, it became nearly impossible. The best of the big brands who have overseas factories cranking out crappy clothes at earth-damaging rates of production might insist on working only with factories that abide by local labor laws, but the whole point of manufacturing in those countries is they don’t really have much in the way of labor laws. And they also can’t know if the factory is subcontracting behind their back. The fact is, when you buy a garment in a chain store, you don’t have any way of knowing where it was really made, by whom, in what kind of conditions, and how poorly they may have been paid. When I’ve made something myself, I know nobody was harmed in its making. (We’ll talk a lot more about all of this next week, as well as the challenge of knowing where your fabric and yarn come from.)

5) I value every garment. It’s not just about pride — although, again, there is that. When you’re making clothes yourself, you (learn to) take your time in deciding what to make and with what fabric or yarn, and consider how it will fit into your wardrobe and your life. You may spend hours or months in the process of making a single garment, and you don’t think of it as disposable. Each garment is a treasure and a time capsule — a record of where you were literally/physically and skill-wise as you were making it. Just like growing your own food changes your feelings about what you eat, making your own clothes changes your relationship to getting dressed.

6) I no longer have a taste for store-bought clothes. The end result of all of the above — of having a closet full of clothes that each have a story to tell — is that what I once spent so much time and money pursuing, I no longer have any interest in. Store-bought clothes feel as soulless to me as store-bought furniture always has. For that — and for the fact that I no longer ever set foot in a mall — I am so grateful.

A few years in, my closet is not 100% handmade or known-origins — maybe more like 50%. I have clothes left over from my shopping days that I will wear as long as they last, and then find ways to repurpose. There are still times at present (although rarer all the time) where I buy a garment that’s the equivalent of an Ikea piece in my house. But it’s called Slow Fashion for a reason. Nobody’s closet was built in a day, and rebuilding takes years. Fortunately, it’s a ton of fun getting there.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Elsewhere