Slow Fashion October, week 4: What needs fixing? [with Katrina Rodabaugh]

Slow Fashion October, week 4: What needs fixing? [with Katrina Rodabaugh]

For this last full week of Slow Fashion October, I want to focus on that “maybe” pile you pulled from your closet during the cleanout, or the stack you likely already have sitting around somewhere — the near-misses, worn out favorites or should’ve-beens that you’re having trouble letting go of, either out of regret or sentimentality or maybe, just maybe, because there’s a way to turn them a pile of “yes.” (And by the way, we’re having the critically important conversation about how to responsibly re-home the “no” pile right here.) So this week’s interview is with our ol’ friend Katrina Rodabaugh (of the Slow Fashion Citizen interview series), whose new book Mending Matters has also just published! Katrina is such a great advocate for starting with secondhand and handmade, and then dyeing and mending as well as altering and refashioning, all ways to take something that’s not at its best for you, for whatever reason, and transform it into something you’ll genuinely love.

This week’s Action Item and Discussion Prompts revolve around this same topic, of course. And if you’re not already following @katrinarodabaugh on Instagram, mend that asap!

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During the initial Slow Fashion October, one of the first things I asked people to share was the oldest/dearest thing in their closet. It was really striking how many posted a pair of shoes, and could say exactly where they got them, how long they’d had them, how many times they’d had them repaired to try to keep them going. I say striking because given the state of most shoe-repair shops these days, it seems to be a dying industry, and because I don’t think we generally take the same approach to our clothes. It seems like when something develops a hole or a stain or didn’t work out for whatever reason, our thought is simply to let it go. Why do you think that is?

I think there are two parts — I think the first part is emotional attachment and I think the second is value. Sometimes we keep garments in our closets simply because we have a sentimental or emotional connection and don’t want to let them go. The wedding dress is the classic example. But, also maybe a grandmother’s coat, a favorite sweater from college, or an outfit that a child wore repeatedly. Handmade garments fall easily into this area too because we feel invested in making them so we’re less likely to discard them.

But I think the second area is value. We keep things we value. Sometimes this means financial worth — we pay more money than usual for a garment, say a great pair of leather boots, and we’re willing to keep investing in them because of the initial financial cost of the boots. But, also value can mean how hard they were to acquire — we value them because they were hard to find or we value them because they fit perfectly. And, of course, value can mean craftsmanship or aesthetic beauty too.

There are all kind of ways to modify or update garments to breathe new life into them or make them work better for us. You’ve been posting recently about making even minor alterations to things that turned duds into wardrobe heroes. Can you give a few examples for those who maybe don’t follow your Instagram account (yet)?

I think natural dyes are a great way to reinvigorate garments. Color is amazing at transformation. So, if I purchase clothes that are biodegradable and made from cellulose (plant) or animal fibers then I can toss them into a natural dye pot when they get stained, discolored from laundering, or I just want to shift the color. Indigo dye is a great solution for cotton, linen and hemp clothing that needs a boost. Of course, mending, patching and altering clothing is a great way to reinvigorate too.

Slow Fashion October, week 4: What needs fixing? [with Katrina Rodabaugh]

Things like shortening a top or taking in a skirt or pair of pants are really easy to have done at a tailor or dry cleaner, for those who don’t have the time or skills to do it themselves. Dyeing is another possibility for transforming a tired or unloved garment, but that one’s not quite so simple or so easy to outsource. (Teenage me who had no qualms about dumping Rit dye into the bathtub is laughing at homeowner me right now.) I often wish dyers — especially natural dyers — did offer this as a service! I have at least three things right now that could use a dye job, but gathering the tools and supplies and setting it all up is something I find daunting. What are your thoughts and advice on that?

I think my role in slow fashion is really that of a teacher, writer and activist. While my tools are that of a fiber artist my passion is in helping folks to reconsider their wardrobes from a sustainable standpoint. I have a background in art and writing but I’m not a trained fashion designer. So, I’m thrilled to show someone how to dye, mend, stitch or rethink their clothing but it’s not currently my interest to take custom orders or start a clothing production line. Maybe someday, but not right now. I think it’s just about different strengths and focuses.

Some dyers might be willing to take custom work but there’s consumer education that has to happen too. Natural dyes express differently than synthetic dyes and predicting the exact outcome is often imprecise. It’s more like cooking — the ingredients vary depending on season, location, weather, water, fiber and the experience of the dyer. If the customer was willing to accept their clothing back in a range of color — not a specific shade of yellow but a yellow within a range — then I think more dyers might be interested in custom work. But we have to allow for some uncertainty and imperfection as dyers and makers — that’s the beauty and practice of the work is that it evolves and shifts.

Slow Fashion October, week 4: What needs fixing? [with Katrina Rodabaugh]

Some of my favorite projects — my own or things I’ve seen others do — are refashioning projects. Taking a garment that’s wrong in whatever way and making something else out of it. That could be a garment already in your closet (like the way-too-big Clyde dress I bought for a song at last year’s Elizabeth Suzann sample sale and haven’t yet figured out what else it might become) or a lot of clever people will hit the thrift store not just looking for great garments but for garments that have the potential to become something else. Do you think that takes a special eye, or just practice and a new way of thinking?

I love redesign. I think it’s really untapped in the fashion world — there are so many beautiful clothes to be found secondhand or even in our closets that could benefit tremendously from great redesign. I think it’s about practice and a willingness to experiment as a maker. But I really hope to see more fashion designers moving in this direction too. Especially with secondhand clothes because there is such a need to keep them from the landfills.

And then of course there’s the matter of mending, the subject of your new book. Mending is another of the lost arts, and part of why I think we dispose of even our most-loved clothes without considering if they could be saved. Most people have no idea how to “properly” darn a sock or fix a tear in a shirt. But the rise of “visible mending” has said, in effect, “you don’t have to be good at this or able to make it invisible.” It’s become cool to let your inexpert mend show and treat it as art and personalization and expression. But of course, even then, you do have to get a few basic things right for it to do the job. All of which you address in your book. Do you think visible mending is a trend or a movement?

I hope it’s a movement. When I turned my fiber arts studio towards sustainable fashion five years ago there were only a handful of menders online. And now there are hundreds of menders and so many folks integrating mending into their craft work. I hope that mending is finding its place in the craft and maker movement. It’s a great way to use hand-stitching, basic design, and a visual approach to repair. Yes, the repair needs to be sturdy — and I share all my techniques in my new book, Mending Matters — but once you have the basics you can progress quickly, like any craft.

Do you think visible mending leads people to also want to learn more about the “proper” ways (for lack of a better way of saying that!) and hone their skills? Is it a gateway hobby?

I think it’s like any other craft. I’m a beginner knitter so I’m only looking at basic knitting patterns right now but I hope to advance to more intermediate patterns and someday advanced patterns too. But first I have to learn the basics, exercise patience and just keep practicing. When I first started mending I wasn’t using the same techniques I use now. Through so much trial and error, student feedback, teaching, researching and writing I’ve developed techniques I feel really good about. But it took five years to get to this point in my mending work. If folks keep mending, they’ll make beautiful repairs with enough time.

Slow Fashion October, week 4: What needs fixing? [with Katrina Rodabaugh]

What do you think is the best, most rewarding aspect of altering/refashioning/dyeing/mending or otherwise exerting influence over your clothes?

Creative expression. Making the garments truly my own. Using the basic elements of design to repair jeans and knowing that I leave my imprint as a fiber artist on the garment. But, also being able to infuse my wardrobe with an aesthetic that feels like my art. And it’s a political statement too — better for the planet and the people.

And what’s your best advice for someone who is interested in some or all of this but has no idea how to start?

I always refer to that beautiful Arthur Ashe quote, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”. I came across that quote years ago and I’ve been using it ever since — it’s the best metaphor for sustainable fashion. Just one garment at a time.

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Thank you, Katrina — I hope everyone is feeling inspired to get into fix-it mode!

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Weekend Reads

Weaving Within Reach: Or, what to do with your yarn leftovers

Weaving Within Reach: Or, what to do with your yarn leftovers

I recently did a blog post pointing to the tiniest possible use for yarn leftovers, designed by my friend Anne Weil. Since then, Anne’s new book Weaving Within Reach has published, and I now have it in my hot little hands. (Thanks, Anne!) And I think it’s fair for me to describe it as a whole book of projects for using up yarn leftovers, from a little to a lot.

As weaving projects go, these are perfect for people like me who love the idea of weaving, but only for like an afternoon. I like a little weaving project, which is exactly what these are. But they also make use of more yarn than the earrings! I’m especially into the throw pillow and the storage bin, pictured here, both of which are designed for superchunky yarn but which would be magnificent (if possibly more fiddly) done with a bunch of strands of lighter yarns held together. Think of the possibilities of that.

The book is organized into three types of projects: those that require no loom (including the throw pillow); those using an improvised loom (the storage bin uses a cardboard box for a loom); and those that use a frame loom. So this is all beginner-level weaving — every project with full step-by-step instructions — but with lots of interesting and polished results. It’s beautifully photographed and quite inspiring. So you may see me dabbling soon!

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PREVIOUSLY in Books: Must-have books lately

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Books lately

Books lately

I know I normally let books stack up for six months or a year before I tell you about them, but there are two new releases that are too good to let sit!

Above is Slow Knitting: A journey from sheep to skein to stitch by Hannah Thiessen, who defines “slow knitting” as “a conscientious choice to respect our materials and the people who make them, but also to respect ourselves and time we devote to the hobby we adore.” Hannah asked me two years ago if I’d be willing to write a little essay for this book, and I was inspired by the way she framed the question she wanted me to answer. I think it’s been about a year and a half since I actually wrote it, and I’m happy that it’s finally out in the world, because it’s my favorite thing I’ve written about what handmade clothes mean to me. But that’s just one page of the meaty book Hannah has put together! It’s broken down into five chapters: Source carefully, Produce thoughtfully, Think environmentally, Experiment fearlessly and Explore openly. Each chapter expounds on what that means, and each includes two patterns plus the stories of the yarns used. The 10 patterns are designed by Pam Allen, Veronik Avery, Julia Farwell-Clay, Carol Feller, Meghan Ferdandes, Norah Gaughan, Bristol Ivy, Kirsten Kapur, Michele Wang and Jennifer Wood. And it’s a gorgeously designed hardcover with lush photos by Katie Meek. I look forward to reading it!

Books lately

Also, my friend Andrea Rangel’s second book just hit the shelves and it’s a doozy. Alterknit Stitch Dictionary contains 200 punchy, graphic colorwork motifs, along with guidance on how to use them in projects and/or designs, followed by a handful of fun patterns by Andrea. It’s given me itch to do some colorwork, quick!

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PREVIOUSLY in Books lately

Books lately

Books lately

In addition to the two gems that went into the shop recently (ALJ and The Artisan), there have been a lot of beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking books piling up on my table over the last … uhhh .. nine months or so that I’ve been wanting to tell you about. Here they are all at once!

The New Garconne: How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman by Navaz Batliwalla has no DIY angle and isn’t even specific to slow fashion, per se, but the women featured are the sort who take their wardrobes seriously — in the sense that they add pieces with thought and intention and expect to wear them for years, whether they’re bought new or vintage. I.e., the normal attitude from the days when we didn’t need a special term for it! It’s a collection of interviews with a variety of women — artist, fashion editor, perfumer, etc. — about their clothes and their lives (peppered with informal shots of their homes and workspaces), followed by a one-page tribute to each of the key wardrobe elements and a bunch of great street-style shots of additional women of great style. It’s beautifully designed, fun to flip through, definitely on the aspirational side, and I’m rationing the 14 interviews for myself to make it last a while. (Hardcover)

The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees grew out of the wardrobe-planning blog Into Mind, which you may remember me raving about here. It’s an encyclopedic guide to re/building a wardrobe, with guidance on everything from choosing a color palette to understanding what works for you to being a more conscious consumer. It’s quite dense and I haven’t gotten to read any of it yet but have seen lots of raves, and would love to hear below from anyone who’s spent real time with it. (Paperback with French flaps)

In Search of the World’s Finest Wools by Dominic Dormeuil and Jean-Baptiste Rabouan is a big, gorgeous glossy coffee-table book — a tribute to the farmers and herdsmen around the globe (from Australia to Central Asia to South America and beyond) who are literally preserving ancient traditions on which we all depend but who are under increasing global pressures. From the intro: “We must never forget that a splendid cashmere garment worn by a model in a Paris fashion show only exists thanks to a Mongolian nomad … . [Rabouan’s] photographs capture the beauty of traditional methods of animal husbandry, amplified by the magnificence of diverse natural environments. However, this beauty must not blind us to the difficulties facing wool growers everywhere. … [C]an we do enough to ensure the survival of the last guardians of these beautiful and rare fibers? Their disappearance would take with them part of the history of human civilization.” It’s stunning from cover to cover. (Hardcover, sent to me by the publisher)

Color Confident Stitching: How to Create Beautiful Color Palettes by Karen Barbé (I love her) is the perfect intro to color for those who didn’t go to art school and study color theory (as I tend to forget not everyone did). It’s not a textbook — it’s slender and beautiful and accessible — but it’s a fantastic overview of how color works and how you can make it work for you, from how to use and think about the color wheel, to how color affects us and our moods, to how to create a palette for your next project, whatever it may be — colorwork yoke, cross-stitch sampler or living-room decor. In the back of the book are a handful of lovely stitching projects, incorporating embroidery, cross stitch and duplicate stitch on knits. (Paperback with French flaps, sent to me by the publisher)

Cocoknits Sweater Workshop by Julie Weisenberger is one I’ve mentioned before but wanted to include here anyway. This is Julie’s master explanation of her modified top-down methodology which leads to sweaters with English-tailored shoulders and set-in sleeves rather than the common top-down raglan method. She describes the process in the front of the book, explains how to calculate and track the numbers you’ll need, and all of that is followed by eight (highly adaptable) sweater patterns and a detailed run-through of the abbreviations and techniques they employ. Another gorgeous book, and I’m dying to try out her method!

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PREVIOUSLY in Books: A Year Between Friends

 

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A Year Between Friends

A Year Between Friends

It’s been a while since I saw a book I felt compelled to feature here, but then a copy of A Year Between Friends landed on my desk the other day. Do you remember 3191 Miles Apart? (If not, that link won’t help!) It was the blog of two friends — Maria Alexandra Vettese (“MAV”) and Stephanie Congdon Barnes (“SCB”) — that took the form of missives between them about their lives in Portland ME and Portland OR, 3191 miles from each other. They stopped blogging a couple of years ago to concentrate on this book, and while I haven’t exactly read it cover to cover, it appears to have been well worth it.

Just like the blog, the book is a combination of short letters, casual photos, craft projects and recipes, but in this case, it’s organized by month. January, for example, contains a letter from each of the friends; a few pages of scene-setting photos; recipes for buttermilk scones, a Good Luck Frittata and Warming Up Tea; musings on a winter home; a tutorial for making and using beeswax spoon oil; another for felted patches for mending socks; and a winter day trip from each of the Portlands. Whereas June contains the letters and photos, recipes for Summer Strawberry Pie and Raspberry Ripple Yogurt Pops, an essay about solstice in Maine and a tutorial for sun-printed napkins. There’s a lot of natural dyeing, some hand-stitching, even thoughts on cleaning out closets and cabinets. Perhaps the most valuable tutorial of all, though, will be the pinecones. Do you remember when I posted about their leather pinecone keychain way back when? I still get inquiries about how to make it, four years later. While the version in the book (complete with templates) is written for silk-backed wool with a ribbon instead of a lobster clasp, I feel like it could be easily adapted for leather (and might have to give it a try).

There have been a lot of very formulaic craft books lately — a series of project tutorials in a nearly identical presentation, some better than others. This book is much more intimate: smaller and thicker, paperback, filled with the personal photos and personalities of these women, and I look forward to spending more time with it.

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Hot Tip: Count your cable crosses correctly

Hot Tip: Count your cables correctly

I’ve written before about my aversion to being on publishers’ review-copy lists, but when I heard Norah Gaughan had a book about cables coming out — with photos by Jared Flood, including the one glimpsed above — you know I signed right up for an advance peek! The mailman dropped it off yesterday and I would like to curl up with it for a few days, please. Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook (currently available for preorder) is an incredible compendium of over 150 cable motifs, along with a dozen garment and accessory patterns and all sorts of Norah wisdom, like the little nugget she kindly allowed me to share below.

You know how I love knitting cables, but one thing I struggle with sometimes is counting the rows between them, given that by their very nature they distort the fabric. I’ve taken to pinning a marker in an adjacent plain stitch in the same row, and counting from there. But Norah has a much simpler and more foolproof tactic, which I will quote verbatim rather than paraphrasing:

“At the point where your cable crosses, there is always a small hole. For some reason the hole tends to be larger on the left side of the cable for most people, so that’s the hole I use in my counting technique. I put a finger into the opening from the back of my knitting, then use the same finger to open up the ladders above the hole so I can more easily count the ladders. When counting ladders, the first one is the cable crossing. So, if you count 7 rows above the hole as in the photo above, you’ve worked the cable + 6 more rows.”

Brilliant! By the way, it’s just a month until I get to meet Norah in person at the Knitting With Company retreat and I’ve heard there are still some spots available. So if you’d like to spend a few days knitting with Norah and me — plus Julie Hoover and Catherine Lowe — in a cozy lodge by a scenic lake, get your registration in!

ALSO — SPEAKING OF GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN OCTOBER, if you’re wondering whether Slow Fashion October is happening again this year, the answer is YES ABSOLUTELY YES. I’m just still pinning down the details yet — so watch for more on that very soon!

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Abuse your swatch

Elsewhere: Cowichan edition

Elsewhere: Cowichan links edition

Although I picked it simply because I loved it and wanted to knit it, I had hoped the pattern pick for the Fringe and Friends Knitalong this year (Pierrot’s Cowichan-style Geometric Vest) would stir up some interest in Cowichan sweaters — despite the fact that it’s Cowichan-style and not an authentic Cowichan. Happily, there’s been even more questioning and discussion than I had imagined. I have a Q&A coming up with panelist Andrea Rangel about Cowichan Valley and the people and their sweaters, which has always been part of the plan, but I thought I’d preface that today with a special edition of the usual Elsewhere links list: a Cowichan edition. These links should offer some background as well as some specific guidance for those planning to knit along.

Note, too, that I have a conversation coming up on Monday with panelist Meri Tanaka in which we talk about Japanese patterns, how to read them, and specifically how to read this one. So if you’re nervous or having any difficulty interpreting the chart, look for that on Monday. For now, some links—

HISTORY

Cowichan knitting history at Wikipedia (somewhat flawed, as all Wikipedia entries are) which also talks a lot about the wool

The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters
PLEASE READ BEFORE CLICKING: Panelist Kathy Cadigan told me about this documentary before the knitalong kickoff, and it’s been mentioned both in the comments here and on Instagram. This is a pirated film — it was based on knitting designer Sylvia Olsen’s thesis and is on YouTube without the filmmaker’s permission, so it is a copyright violation. Sylvia herself is conflicted about this, as discussed in this blog post of hers, because it’s apparently the only way to see it. Follow your own conscience.

The Cowichan Sweater of Vancouver Island, a great piece on how things went terribly awry when the Vancouver Olympics committee tried to make a Cowichan the official sweater of their Olympics, shared by Alina in the comments

BOOKS TO CHECK OUT

I am not in possession of any of these, but plan to rectify that asap! Some are out of print, but used copies can be found—

Salish Indian Sweaters: A Pacific Northwest Tradition by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts

Knitting in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts (pictured above, photo courtesy of Jess Schreibstein)

Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater by Sylvia Olsen

Knitting Stories: Personal Essays and Seven Coast Salish-inspired Knitting Patterns by Sylvia Olsen

Thanks to @kathycad and @thekitchenwitch for the recs.

HOW TO TRAP FLOATS

Several of you have seized on Kathy’s comment in Meet the Panel about trapping the floats on every other stitch, which is how true Cowichan sweaters are knitted. We don’t know of a tutorial online that’s specific to Cowichan, but this technique is also called the woven method of stranded knitting, and Kathy sent me two fantastic links:

The first — the two-handed Fair Isle technique by Philosopher’s Wool — is a great intro to the two-handed method of stranded knitting, in which she also demonstrates trapping floats every other stitch when working from the knit side of the fabric.

The second — Weaving two-handed Fair Isle in purl and knit by Jodie Gordon Lucas — shows how to work the same technique from the purl side, which you’ll do if you’re knitting colorwork flat.

RESOURCES

A few people have asked where they can buy authentic Cowichan sweaters — i.e., from the Coast Salish tribespeople — or how to make a donation. I have googled but don’t feel good about linking to anyone selling Cowichans online without having a way to say for sure that they’re dealing fairly with the Coast Salish knitters. If anyone reading this does know of a sure, reliable resource that sells online, please let me know or leave a link in the comments below. And that goes for any links you think are worth sharing! This list is certainly far from comprehensive, so bring it on!

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Wabi Mitts kits are back in stock at Fringe Supply Co

IN SHOP NEWS: The time is right for my Wabi Mitts, and the kits are now back in stock in all 8 gorgeous colors of Habu’s incredible linen-wool roving. And if you’ve been looking for any of the sold-out sizes or colors of bone and horn buttons — either the narrow-rim or concave styles — look again! We got a bunch in this week. Get those and more at Fringe Supply Co.

Thanks for a great week, and please have an amazing weekend!

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PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: Meet the Panel! (full series here)