Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | It’s a true honor to share this interview with today’s Slow Fashion Citizen, Tom Van Deijnen otherwise known as Tom of Holland (and @tomofholland). Tom is a crafter, knitter and teacher based in Brighton, England, and he is also one of my Slow Fashion heroes for his work founding The Visible Mending Programme. (That’s right, heroes — and I don’t use that word lightly.) Soon after I started my slow fashion project, Make Thrift Mend, in 2013 I stumbled upon Tom’s images of high-contrasted handknit sweaters and my heart ached with how much I loved them.

You know that feeling? You ache a little. You might stumble. You might lose your breath. You might have to sit on that impossibly small bench in the center of the gallery and stare a little bit longer at what just leapt off the wall and tried to crawl under your coat. Because now it’s burrowing under your skin and it’s heading for your heart folds and suddenly you gasp at the sensation of this thing crawling into your heart but also at this incredible experience of seeing something so beautiful and necessary and relevant and absolutely new. There’s just one word for it and that word is YES.

This was my reaction in stumbling over Tom’s work with the Visible Mending Programme. I had to sit down on that figurative tiny bench and catch my breath. The colorful darning filling in the missing sections of yarn brought visual interest to an otherwise beautiful garment but the repairs were also arresting, defiant, edgy and demanding all at once. “Look at me, there was a hole here and now it’s even more beautiful.” I was instantly drawn to the interplay of craftsmanship and color — the required knitting skills and knowledge of darning necessary to technically repair the garment, but Tom’s artful approach to celebrating the repair and adding visual interest through high-contrast stitches. YES. And thank you. And swoon.

Tom’s work with the Visible Mending Programme has absolutely influenced my work in sashiko mending and I’m confident saying he’s influenced the work of many contemporary repairs around the globe. Tom’s work lends a rich voice to the conversation about Slow Fashion, textile arts, homemade wardrobes, knitting and repairing garments because of the invention of the Visible Mending Programme. It’s as if there is an international conversation about mending through images and repaired articles of clothing and imperfect stitches meant to celebrate the most beloved garments that naturally breakdown, but through our mending we can make them even more meaningful. And certainly Tom is one of the most distinctive voices in this ongoing conversation. Let’s welcome this month’s friend from the UK, Tom of Holland.

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Tom, thank you so much for joining us today. I adore your work and you’ve been such a huge inspiration for me in my own mending, repairing, and rejuvenating garments. Can you start by telling us about the Visible Mending Programme? How did it begin and how has it evolved?

Hi Katrina, many thanks for having me! I’m so pleased to hear that you find my work inspirational, as that’s exactly why I share my work. The Visible Mending Programme seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the Programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

By writing my blog, running darning workshops and taking repair work commissions I provide mending inspiration, skills and services to people and hopefully persuade them that shop-bought clothes deserve care and attention too, just like a precious handknit. Even as a teenager I was always interested in buying clothes with the aim to wear them for a long time, even if they were cheap. As I’ve always enjoyed needlecrafts, I naturally started embellishing and repairing them when I felt the need. This has grown very slowly and organically into the Visible Mending Programme as it stands today.

I always credit you as the founder of the term (and the hashtag) “visible mending” — it’s really the perfect phrase. How did you invent the term? Why did that phrase feel so important when you started this work?

The term Visible Mending has very simple roots: when I first started repairing, I attempted to make my repairs invisible. As this requires a lot of skill to achieve, I never quite managed it, and over time I have come to accept that my repairs can be visible, and now I positively celebrate a visible repair and have started to use the term Visible Mending. By repairing in a visible way, I can add to the story of the garment, and show it has a history. I like things that look used, as it gives them character and makes them more individual. And when it comes to shop-bought clothes, adding a Visible Mend is also a chance to add some of your own creativity.

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

One of the things I absolutely adore about your work is that you have this very developed craftsmanship through knitting that you apply in this completely original and inspired way through high contrast darning and mending. It’s as if you are honoring the tradition of the craft while simultaneously pushing it forward into a contemporary and more innovative space. I know this an impossible question but I’m going to ask it anyway: Do you think a crafter needs to first learn the rules before he/ she breaks them?

This is indeed a difficult question! My initial reaction was: Absolutely! Learning the rules allows you to understand how things fit together, but it will also allow you to start questioning tradition and see whether you can push yourself in new directions. However, it can be very liberating to start playing with a craft without knowing anything about the baggage that may come with it. It is a completely different way of pushing boundaries, and you’d soon learn whether certain things work or not. For me personally though, I enjoy researching how things are done traditionally, and compare and contrast techniques. It’s like having a discussion with the past, and on some things we’d agree, and others we wouldn’t.

I see your work as central to the Slow Fashion movement because it forces us to reconsider usage. But then it goes beyond usage and basic repair to embrace the creative opportunities in darning through basic design elements like color, scale, texture and composition. I find this really pushes the work to the intersection of fine art and craft. You not only repair the garment but you celebrate the usage and the opportunity for design. Can you talk about this embrace and the importance of this angle in Slow Fashion?

As my practice has grown so organically, I have developed my creative language at an equally slow pace. I’ve always been drawn to the used and imperfect, as opposed to the new and perfect. Clothes that you like wearing rarely stay looking new and perfect for long, so it makes sense to me to embrace and celebrate the fact that garments have a history, and to use a repair opportunity as a way to be creative. If we can make a change in what people find acceptable to wear, and are happy to wear something that no longer looks pristine, then that removes a reason why some people feel they need to replace their clothes so frequently.

When did you learn how to knit? Was it love at first stitch or did your knitting evolve more slowly or labored over time?

I was originally taught to knit at primary school, and also by my mum, although I remember not enjoying it much when I first started out. I made a little scarf for a teddy bear. It had brown and cream stripes and a cable. The tension was way too tight, so every stitch was a struggle. I then didn’t knit until I was an adult, and things went surprisingly easy for the beginning. I never looked back since!

Slow Fashion Citizen: Tom Van Deijnen

Who do you consider to be the most exciting makers in the Slow Fashion movement today? Why?

There are a few exciting makers I’d like to mention, although some of them you may not consider a maker as such, but each and every one of them provides me with lots of inspiration and food for thought, hoping to be able to implement some of their practices into my own:

Manonik (Yoshiyuki Minami): Manonik makes amazing clothes, the cloth for which he weaves himself, and sometimes also spins the threads. His weaving is shaped according to the pattern pieces required, which reduces waste considerably. All materials seem to be sourced from small, independent producers such as Sally Fox’s beautiful cotton, or made especially by or for him.

Gridjunky (Jerome Sevilla): Jerome recycles a lot of old clothes, and documents his processes meticulously. Sweaters are unraveled and the yarn reknit into new garments; jeans are carefully picked apart, and every bit, including the sewing thread, will be used again. I like his considered and mathematical approach to creating new items from the old and undervalued. [ED NOTE: More on Jerome here]

Logo Removal Services (Miriam Dym): I first met Miriam at the first MENDERS symposium in 2012, and we got on really well. She does a variety of slow textile related things, but I picked Logo Removal Services because I love the subtle subversive message of excising unwanted brand names, logos, tags, stains and marks, and replacing them with new shapes in fresh colours and contrasting threads. It makes a mass-produced item completely individual.

Bridget Harvey: Bridget is another person I first met at the MENDERS symposium, and we’ve worked on a few things together since. Bridget makes me think about the interventional act of repairing, and what that means for the object repaired: by repairing similar objects in many different ways (for instance, a series of broken plates are repaired by using glue, plasters, wire, tape, etc) the use and function of the object is questioned and re-contextualised.

Craftivist Collective (Sarah Corbett): Sarah might not be considered a maker as such, although she’s definitely making waves as the founder of the Craftivist Collective. Through this collective, Sarah shows people how they can use craft as a tool for gentle activism aimed at influencing long-term change.

I’ve noticed that lately you seem to be collaborating with larger brands, institutions, or shops. Was this an intentional step for you to move into darning in a more public space or was this just a natural extension of your work teaching, exhibiting, and knitting? I love that you’re taking the work to a larger audience through your collaborations, particularly the work with The New Craftsmen.

Although not an intentional next step, in the back of my mind it’s something I have dreamt about doing for a while. By being able to work at “the next level” I hope I can share my way of looking at the world with a wider audience, and make repaired clothes and other items something acceptable and normal. Working with, for example, The New Craftsmen, let’s me lure people into my world, which allows me to show them that repairs can be beautiful, thoughtful, and made with great skill and integrity.

If you could identify one most important aspect about Visible Mending what would it be? What’s the most single most important aspect of this work for you personally?

I think the most important aspect about Visible Mending is to inspire others, and be inspired by others. This is why I write blog posts, run workshops and take repair commissions. In this way it’s possible to strike up a conversation, and explain to people why I want to repair things, and at the same time I can learn from others, hear their stories and concerns around slow and fast fashion. I love it when people share their visibly mended items on social media, and I would encourage everybody to do so, and use the hashtag #visiblemending. This way you can inspire others, and be inspired by others.

What’s your advice for folks who are just starting to darn or mend? Any tips or encouragement you’d offer?

I think you need to give yourself some time to learn the skills needed to darn, and don’t be too critical of your own work. Start with something manageable, and if you’re not sure, do a little practice run on a scrap of fabric. Look at other visible mending examples. See if there’s a Repair Café or other communal mending groups and join in, either as a volunteer, or to learn how to repair.

Three favorite tools for knitting or darning that you cannot live without?

Apart from the obvious such as the tools needed to do the job: My notebook to write down how I’ve done something, makes notes and sketches and keep track of things (I’ve started using the Bullet Journal method); my library of mending and knitting books, which are mostly about techniques. I have relatively few books with actual knitting patterns in them. A large stash of wool yarns and threads for making and mending!

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Thank you SO MUCH, Tom. I have this daydream that we’ll get to teach together someday so I’m going to cross my fingers that will actually happen. Until then, I’ll keep applauding your work from across the Atlantic.

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 © Tom Van Deijnen, used with permission

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

QUICK NOTE: I’ll be on a plane to France this afternoon, but never fear — I’ve got blog posts queued up in my absence and DG is manning the Fringe Supply Co. shipping department as usual, so order all you want! Please forgive any delay in comment moderation (new commenters) though, and I expect to be sharing liberally on Instagram while I’m away, so follow me @karentempler. Now here’s Jess!
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

BY JESS SCHREIBSTEIN | Back in November, I wrote about my trip to Rhinebeck and the gorgeous Hudson Valley Fibers yarn I brought home with me. I also wrote about how I wanted to “get back to basics,” knit that cream-colored “throw-over-anything, cropped and boxy cardigan” that is somehow a deficit in my handmade (or store-bought) wardrobe.

And that got me thinking about the rest of my wardrobe, the things I desire most, the things that I feel are missing, the things that are hardest to find – pre-made or otherwise. I really want a few pairs of high-waisted pants, some classic trim trousers in a structured wool for winter, or wide-leg sailor pants for spring and summer. (Psst … Emily Wallace sewed up her own Kamm pant lookalike in a must-see sherbet pink, for a fraction of the store price. Adding that to my “someday” to-do list!) I’d also love to have a select few boxy, seamed, set-in-sleeve pullovers knit up in a DK or worsted weight, with a snug, foldover neckband. I could imagine those sweaters being just as dreamy and necessary in a tweedy toffee brown or a bright, speckled colorway. And of course, I long for that basic cream cardigan. You can check out my Pinterest “Spring” board to get a better picture of what I’m envisioning in my head.

I list all of this out because I’m seeing a discernable pattern here. I’m thirsty for well-constructed, timeless but modern basics. I love juicy cables and an Icelandic yoked sweater as much as the next knitter, but those sweaters ultimately aren’t the ones I usually reach for when I’m getting ready in the morning.

There’s something about “basics” that sounds dull and ho-hum to a knitter looking for a challenge, but I think there’s a way to bridge that gap between “I want this thing” and the perceived snoozefest factor. Knitting in straight stockinette or rib can be dull knitting, sure, but it can also zip up pretty fast and be meditative and gratifying in its own way, especially if the yarn is a dream and you’re designing or modifying your own pattern to make it really yours. I’m also finding that it pushes me to be more attentive to shaping and finishing details that set a handmade garment apart from my earlier work.

So, back to that cream dream cardigan – I put it on my 2017 to-do list, and here we are, five months later and at the start of spring. I’ve swatched and cast on my second top-down sweater using Karen’s tutorial, and quite frankly, I’m in love. I carry this project with me everywhere and the knitting has been addictive.

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

MY PLAN

I’m knitting a slightly oversized, boxy, cropped cardigan. I want to keep the lines and visual interest minimal, having this sweater be a truly throw-over-anything kind of piece. I cast on a total 56 stitches for the neck to start, breaking up the stitches as follows: 2 | 1 | 9 | 1 | 30 | 1 | 9 | 1 | 2. That means 1 stitch for each side of the front of the sweater with 1 selvedge stitch each, 30 stitches for the back, and 9 stitches each for the sleeves. I’ll use a basting stitch to seam up that 1-stitch raglan across the yoke. I’m working the entire sweater in stockinette, with the exception of some ribbing for the sleeve cuffs, bottom hem and a neckband.

To work my increases, I increased on either side of the raglans every other row a total of 23 times for the sleeves, and 25 times for the body. I also increased a stitch on either side of the front of the cardigan every 8 rows to give a steep sloped “V” in the front. Since this is such a simple pattern, I wanted to be extra mindful of my choice of increases, so I opted for the following method that I picked up from Julie Hoover’s Cline pattern:

Inc-R (Increase – Right Leaning): Lift right leg of the stitch below the first stitch on the left needle onto left needle and knit it, then slip the first stitch on left needle purlwise

Inc-L (Increase – Left Leaning): Slip next stitch from left needle purlwise, then lift the left leg of the stitch below the slipped stitch onto left needle and knit it though the back loop

Once my increases were complete, I cast on 15 stitches for the underarm on each side, and will continue working the rest of the sweater flat, without shaping, to achieve that boxy look.

Sizing: With the increases I just laid out, the cardigan should be around 38″ at the bust with some generous sleeves, a 14″ diameter around the top of the sleeve with an 8″ armhole depth. After I made it through about 1″ of the body, I put my live body stitches on some waste yarn and blocked the whole thing, to really make sure that the fit was what I wanted. So far, so good!

Yarn: Oh, let me tell you about this yarn. I picked up a few skeins of Blue Sky Fibers’ new Woolstok in Highland Fleece (undyed) colorway over the winter, and it has a really unique balance of softness and tooth. It’s a worsted weight, 2-ply yarn produced out of Arequipa, Peru. You can read more about the origins of Woolstok (and see lots of stunning photos of Peru and the production process) on Blue Sky Fibers’ blog. It’s bouncy, bright and blocks beautifully.

Curious about those other swatches in my photos? I’ve been knitting up a lot of stockinette swatches lately with pullovers and baby sweaters in mind (for lots of friends and my new niece — don’t get any ideas). The speckled yarn is Madelinetosh’s Tosh DK in Filtered Light, and that gold swatch is Plymouth Yarn Company’s Merino Superwash in 0061 Gold colorway.

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

THE SWATCH

This swatch is as simple as they come. It’s a basic stockinette stitch pattern (knit on the right side, purl the wrong side) with a garter stitch border.

Yarn: Blue Sky Fibers Woolstok in Highland Fleece (undyed)
Needles: US 6 / 4 mm metal needles
Gauge: 20 stitches / 32.5 rows = 4″ in stockinette stitch

Swatch of the Month: Fun with stockinette

M E T H O D

Cast on 40 stitches. Work six rows in garter stitch (knit both sides of work). Begin stockinette pattern as follows:

Row 1: Knit

Row 2: Knit 3, purl until 3 stitches remain, knit 3.

Work until desired length, then repeat six rows of garter stitch to finish border. Bind off loosely.

Jess Schreibstein is a digital strategist, knitter and painter living in Baltimore, MD. Learn more about her work at jess-schreibstein.com or follow her on Instagram at @thekitchenwitch.

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Origin Stories: Starcroft Fiber Mill

EDITOR’S NOTE: Happy Friday! Today I’m pleased to launch another new regular column, this one by Hannah Thiessen (whose book Slow Knitting is due out this Fall) on the subject of yarns with great origin stories! I hope this will be a great resource for all of us who want to know more about where our materials come from, representing a wide range of sources, fibers and price points. I also want to say a special thank-you to photographer-knitter Gale Zucker (follow @galezucker on Instagram) for providing the shearing-day photos for this piece! For more of Gale’s photos of Nash Island, see her blog.
—Karen

Origin Stories: Starcroft Fiber Mill

BY HANNAH THIESSEN // The first time I encountered Jani Estell’s yarn from the Starcroft Fiber Mill, it felt a lot like being let in on a well-kept secret. I was in New York, attending a fiber show, and some friends of mine mentioned that there would be a yarn-related pop-up show the same day in Greenwich Village. Having never been to Greenwich Village before, and always enticed by the idea of undiscovered yarns, I hailed a cab and headed out for adventure.

The weather was chilly (perfect for those having wooly thoughts), and the rotating art-space venue was just the right amount of cozy, rustic, and full. The glowing warmth of incandescent light and fading sunshine lit up several large farm tables and rustic benches, laden with Starcroft Fiber Mill’s Nash Island wools. Jani Estell wove her way through those purchasing single skeins and sweater lots, while some knitters settled in on skinny, wiggling benches and pulled out their projects to chat. I couldn’t resist the pull of this perfect moment and purchased seven skeins of Nash Island Light, a soft and shiny worsted (almost aran) weight yarn. The color I chose was the palest, faintest collection of cloudy blue: what I dreamt as a reflection of the story of this wool.

The story, really, is simply the best part of this yarn. Yes, the hand is lovely, the colors are beautifully applied, the finished knit has character in abundance — but so many yarns can lay claim to these attributes. It is after the true “yarn” untangles, after I discover the story of a wool, that I truly fall in love.

100 years ago, in 1916, a woman named Jenny Cirone’s father became the lighthouse keeper of a small island off the coast of Downeast Maine. Jenny started a flock of sheep that she tended on Little Nash Island. Over time, her family purchased the land of the small island and its neighboring, larger one, Big Nash Island. When the lighthouse was decommissioned, she moved to the mainland, but continued tending her flock until she was 92 years old. In her will, she entrusted the flock (now wild, with free reign of the island) to her neighbors, the Wakemans, with whom she had a deep friendship (and had taught to lobster-fish!). They continue to care for the flock today in the same way, leaving the sheep free to roam, and rounding them up for shearing. The wool from each shearing was partially sold at wool markets and also combined with a local wool pool, until Jani began working with them around 2005.

Jani Estell started up a small spinning mill just a few miles inland from the Nash Islands in 2000. She began processing fibers for small customers and eventually came into contact with the Wakemans and Jenny (who passed in 2004.) As a local purveyor of yarns, Jani got to know a shearer who worked with the Nash Island flock and was asked along to complete the circle — help out with the shearing. She felt immediate kinship with the Wakemans and with Jenny, whose passion and love for the sheep on her islands was contagious. After working with the sheep, Jenny, and the Wakemans, she fell in love with the story behind the wool and felt a desire to create yarns that could fully celebrate the uniqueness of the island’s fleece. Jani shifted the focus of her mill to producing only her own Starcroft-branded yarns, and providing the Wakeman family with the viable income needed to support the continuation of the Island flock. She is now involved full-time as the wool manager for the flock and purchases all the wool from the islands at fair-market price.

Origin Stories: Starcroft Fiber Mill

After 100 years on the island, the sheep are truly their own landrace breed, with Coopworth and Romney wool introduced through breeding for continued genetic diversity. They produce heavy fleeces with a 6-8″ staple fiber: a medium wool that is surprisingly soft, airy and shiny, with a glowing halo. She sees the wool as akin to a fine wine: Changes in weather and diet for the sheep can yield small changes, giving each shearing a unique vintage. Unlike hay-raised wools or other rustic wools, Nash Island wools are almost completely free of chaff, due to the diet and habitat of the sheep, making them easy to work with and requiring minimal processing. Jani dyes them in a range of “fog-washed” colors, similar to watercolor washes on wet paper.

The sheep are absolutely wild by nature, and do not interact with humans regularly. They have formed a dynamic community and Jani says that they tend to stay together in family groups: Grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and a matriarch ewe might be seen ‘standing vigil’ in lambing season. Their caregivers do their best to minimize contact and observe from a distance. For now, the future of the sheep is clear: It is the desire of Jani and the Wakemans to continue to care for the sheep in just the way that Jenny did. The island is privately owned and cared for with the same level of respect and dedication, and the Wakemans’ three daughters have grown up with the islands and sheep as part of their lives. The eldest Wakeman daughter and her mother have even learned to shear, allowing the mantle to be passed down from Donna Kausen and Geri Valentine, friends of Jenny’s who have been shearing the flock for 35+ years. Shearing is a community effort, with Jani, the Wakemans, and friends from near and far joining to ‘complete the circle’ and bring the wool to the mainland.

Jani has now fully dedicated her time and the mill to solely producing yarns made from the wools of the island flock. Currently, there are three yarns available from Starcroft Fiber Mill: Nash Island Light, a light worsted-weight 2-ply from ewe wool; Nash Island Tide, a DK-weight 2-ply from ewe wool; and Nash Island Fog, a special fingering-weight 2-ply made exclusively from the flock’s lambs’ wool, with an added touch of Maine-grown angora. This Spring, she’ll introduce a new yarn, which I will await with eager anticipation and ready needles. In some small way, by buying the yarn, it’s almost as if I’m getting to complete the larger circle: the story of lives entwined with wool.

Hannah Thiessen is a freelance creative & social media strategist who specializes in yarn and fiber. She knits and dabbles in other crafty pursuits on her blog, www.handmadebyhannahbelle.com, and you can follow her on Instagram as @hannahbelleknits

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Photos of Jani Estell, husband Grant and sheep © Gale Zucker and yarn photo © Holly McBride for Starcroft; used with permission

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | It is such an honor to bring you today’s interview with India Flint, aka @prophet_of_bloom. India is an Australian-based natural dyer, fiber artist, visual artist, costumer, teacher and author, best known for creating the “ecoprint” dye technique. Her natural-dye methods lead to eco-friendly, plant-based, biodegradable and locally foraged color for cloth and yarn, allowing the maker or designer to reduce the toxic impact of synthetic dyes while also gaining traditional skills and connecting with the land through foraging, gardening, or even using food scraps like onion skins or carrot tops before they head to the compost.

I first came across India’s work when I started my fashion fast in 2013 — her books Second Skin and Eco Colour were instrumental in my natural dye experiments. Second Skin is also a great book for considering how to thoughtfully care for our clothes, including some thoughts on mending, repairing, enlivening and ultimately honoring our wardrobe. When I started focusing on using quality secondhand fibers like denim, linen, silk and wool in my wardrobe, natural dyeing and mending became instrumental ways of repairing, rejuvenating and otherwise adding meaning or connection to clothing I purchased secondhand.

But more than her natural dye recipes or techniques was the visceral impact of India’ work and her ethos — this hard to describe, palpable modification of the cloth and wool as if to receive not only the imprint of the dye object but also the imprint of her passion for the environment. There’s a confidence and complexity to her work that I find to be the mark of a lifelong process — the journey to the core of one’s individual aesthetic that can only really be defined as self-recognition and confidence. It’s as if the journey of experimentation and surrender to the process is as much about gaining intimacy with her materials and with the immediate environment as the resulting finished object.

Technically her work might best fall into categories of fiber art and natural dye, but her dye method results in printmaking and surface design while her work with choreographers, galleries, and publishers pushes it further into an interdisciplinary practice that defies genre. I categorize India as a leader in the Slow Fashion movement as much for her dedication to natural fibers and natural dyes—more specifically local Australian wool and native eucalyptus — as for her ongoing experimentation with eco-friendly processes, slow fashion community-building through teaching and writing, and her attempts at harmoniously living with her environment. I love the term “regenerative design” in sustainable fashion and I see India’s work as regenerative and rejuvenating—to the actual cloth but also to the approach of adding color to our fiber.

India regularly travels to teach workshops around the world. If she’s coming to a workshop near you please attend one for me.

. . .

Your book Second Skin is something of a revelation for me. I think it really embodies the ethos of the contemporary Slow Fashion movement — the way you gracefully move between origins of fiber, caring for our clothing, and sharing your own intimate connection with your wardrobe through natural dyes. Do you consider this work part of the Slow Fashion movement? It seems so intuitive to you, but how would you encourage readers to make this connection in their own wardrobes?

It’s the way I was raised, really, and just makes sense to me. I develop warm relationships with my clothes (no pun intended) and like to have them last as long as possible. So I wash gently, air and mend as required. Sometimes I re-dye. I don’t follow fashion trends and couldn’t give a hoot what people might think of the way I dress. My family practiced slow gardening and slow cooking well before such terms were used. As a child I stitched tablecloths while my mother knitted our sweaters. I’ve always chosen to wear natural fibres (synthetic ones itch, I find) and I’d rather wear things that are naturally dyed than have my skin come in contact with synthetic dyes.

Tell us about your journey to natural dyes. I know you’ve done extensive research on eucalyptus — the variations between species and the resulting variations in natural dyes — and that you’ve collaborated with choreographers and shown work in various visual arts contexts, but I’d love to know how natural dyes became the center of your work.

Not only did I grow up in a family of dedicated gardeners, I also spent many hours with my maternal grandmother, a thrifty woman who from time to time refreshed faded garments in naturally prepared dyebaths. As I was finding my path in my work I was for a time seduced by synthetic colour, but I returned to natural dyes when it became clear to me just how dangerous these products were. Research into various means of ‘natural dyeing’ led me to the conclusion that the traditional metal salt mordants used in natural dye work should also be avoided, and so I began to investigate less toxic means of coaxing colour into cloth.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

You’re the founder of the ecoprint dye method — using steam dyeing and bundle dyeing to wrap the leaf or plant material inside the fabric and gain the actual print of the leaf on the finished dyed cloth. I’ve tried my hand at this method a number of times and I’ve yet to yield results anywhere near as distinct as yours. Can you talk about your work with this particular method? How you were interested in conserving water? And how you developed this method as something of a form of printmaking or surface design on the fabric?

For most of my life I have lived in places where water was a precious commodity that we actively harvested from the environment. Traditional dyemaking with eucalypts (as explored by Jean Carman in her book of the same title) uses large quantities of water and leaves. When I first discovered the ecoprint I thought it a useful technique that would allow dyers to easily assess individual eucalypt species for their colour potential, as the print showed what the dye outcome would be if pure water were used to make the substrate. It did not take me long to realise that quite beautiful patterns could be made by combining different species of eucalypt. And then venturing into other genera, I found that the eucalyptus frequently had a contribution to make as a co-mordant.

The simple trick to making distinct prints on both cloth and paper is to remember that the key word is “contact.” Tight bundling to ensure contact is the answer.

Your books and your Instagram feed have this connection to the land — this interweaving of land, art, plant and fiber that feels holistic and profound. How do you communicate your connection to the natural world in your work? Or is it just so inherent for you at this point that you just continue that dialogue in your images?

It’s simply such a deep part of my makeup as a human being that I cannot imagine working in any other way. My love of the land feeds my work, and the work itself (in whatever form) becomes in turn an ode to the whirled/world.

Your books are gorgeous. I use them often in my studio and in my workshops. I love Eco Colour for the way you explore mordants and dye techniques from so many angles. You don’t just offer one-step solutions but various techniques. Do you still experiment with multiple techniques in your own dye work? Or have you found what works for you and you stick with it?

I am always playing and experimenting. In recent years this play has led to new book folds, new patterns for garments and to the discovery of more techniques for dyeing (many of which have not yet been published yet). I’m particularly pleased with one of my mordant ideas for cellulose fibres, shared with a couple of workshops so far but yet to go into a book. And I’m working on making naturally derived paints (for paper). Of course when I am dyeing cloth that needs to be resilient I stick with eucalyptus, but it doesn’t mean I cannot play with other things.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

As I mentioned above, you work across arts platforms in collaboration with performing artists and choreographers, visual arts institutions, and you also work as an author and teacher. How do these various aspects of your work inform each other? I find that leading workshops actually strengthens my creative practice because students ask difficult questions or share their challenges and I have to respond to their needs. Do you find this to also be true? Is there a synergy between your work for stage, exhibition, books and the classroom?

Absolutely. I love creating exhibitions because installing them allows me to manipulate space as much as simply showing my work. I teach and write primarily because I need to earn a living. I’ve been a sole parent for over a quarter of a century and though my children are all independent now, I still need to earn my living. There is no safety net. Travelling and teaching allows me to work with a broader spectrum of flora and to experience the influences of different water qualities as well as new environments. Making things that dancers are able to leap about in requires a different kind of thinking to making things that will hang on walls. I delight in taking up residencies from time to time, as they allow me to gain a deeper experience of place. And frankly, maintaining a diverse work practice offers the safety of not having all of one’s eggs in the same basket.

Who are three of the biggest influences or mentors on your creative work?

It’s hard to limit the answer to three. My late great-aunt, master bookbinder Ilse Schwerdtfeger continues to be a huge influence on my work. I think she would be quite proud of some of the folded books I have invented in recent years. American architect Roger Buckhout has been both friend and mentor to me since I was ten years old, and continues to be a light in the darkness. And lastly I must pay tribute to my late father, climate scientist, writer, musician, adventurer and consummate polymath Prof Emeritus Peter Schwerdtfeger who passed on to me an indefatigable curiosity about the whirled and a deep appreciation for nature.

Favorite dye tools or materials you can’t live without?

I have a couple of large cauldrons that have done sterling service over the years, and my favourite materials would have to be wool and eucalyptus. That’s a match made in Heaven.

Your work, your wardrobe, your surroundings and your photographs have this continuity and strength. When you post on Instagram your images are instantly recognizable. When do you feel like you hit your stride, so to speak, with this consistency in your work? Was there a surrender or “Ah-ha” moment when you felt aligned and had an added or increased momentum?

I cannot really put a finger on it. I decided to reject synthetic dyes completely in 1998 (the year I turned forty), was grateful for the development of digital photography because it allowed so much freedom compared to film (though I do miss those long nights in the darkroom) and will confess I love the magic of the iPhone as recording device. I think I am still learning, though, and I have a lot yet to learn — the vocabulary is growing and at the same time consolidating into a language that’s beginning to make sense to me.

Slow Fashion Citizen: India Flint

Advice for the novice natural dyer just starting out? In my experience you just have to begin and be willing to experiment but it can seem so intimidating at first. Any suggestions to quell the fears?

‘Do not be afraid.’ Play, it’s how I learned most of the things I know — at the same time, read. Inform yourself about the properties of the plants you choose to work with. When interesting results happen, consider all the elements that have played a role and try and repeat the process while they are fresh in your mind. Keep notes. And have fun.

. . .

Thank you SO much, India. It’s really a pleasure to share this space with you. Your work has been so instrumental in my own slow fashion journey and I applaud you for all your efforts to lead the rest of us towards a more meaningful relationship to our wardrobes and to our textile arts practice.

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 © India Flint, used with permission

Swatch of the Month: The politics of knitting

Swatch of the Month: The politics of knitting

BY JESS SCHREIBSTEIN | The day after the 2017 presidential inauguration, as I joined many of you in the streets in protest, it struck me: I was maybe one of the few knitters at the Women’s March on Washington who hadn’t knitted a Pussyhat.

As a long-time knitter, it was both a little startling and thrilling to see nearly everyone rocking a handknit hat. The closest I’ve ever come to seeing handknits worn on that scale was at Rhinebeck, which really says something. The now-iconic pink hat with pointy ears, a project started by Kat Coyle, became a powerful visual sign of solidarity at the marches – splashed across all of the day’s news coverage and even making its way to the covers of both Time and The New Yorker.

I have my own reasons for not knitting a pussyhat (some good critiques of the project can be found here, here and here, but regardless of your politics, it feels safe to say that we may be at the cusp of a new wave of knitting activism.

KNITTING AND POLITICS

Knitting as political commentary or protest is nothing new. Like all art, knitting can serve as a platform for political and social critique. But unlike painting, music, writing or other male-dominated mediums, knitting serves, at its core, a functional purpose: making clothes that keep us warm.

For years, knitting was unpaid labor produced in the private home, not something that would be sold in a public market or valued beyond its functional purpose. Its historic ties to domestic labor and women’s work serve to undervalue its role as a creative art form, to a degree where we don’t even refer to it as art – we call it “craft.” Because of this, any use of knitting outside of its primary role could be perceived as inherently subversive and political.

Of course, all of us knitters know that art and functionality are not mutually exclusive. Like all artists, knitters are creative problem-solvers. We negotiate space, color, organic material, texture and tension in our work. We also know that clothing is a powerful symbol of both status and identity, a fact that many knitters have leveraged to create subtle, but impactful, statements through their designs. Consider the political origins of the Icelandic lopapeysa, or how the Aran Islands have seized upon the fishermen’s sweater as a marker of their local identity and heritage.

One of my favorite recent books about clothing and identity is the hefty compilation, Women in Clothes, which came out in 2014. Through a series of surveys, essays, interviews and photographs, over 600 women discuss why and how they present themselves through their clothes. In its early pages, Heidi Julavits writes:

“I don’t check out men on the street. I check out women. I am always checking out women because I love stories, and women in clothes tell stories. For years I watched other women to learn how I might someday be a woman with a story.”

I love that statement, and I love the idea that everything I wear has a story. But beyond that, I think about how my choice of clothing has its own narrative and can make its own statement in the world, particularly regarding my own commitment to slow fashion. For me, that means increasingly making my own clothes, either through knitting or sewing (I’m slowly learning), and supporting small, women-owned labels with ethical and safe labor and animal welfare practices. It means trying to know more about the origins of my clothing and the fibers I knit with, and the willingness to pay a pretty penny for fewer garments that will last.

There’s a lot to unpack here because “slow fashion” means a lot of things to a lot of different people, and thankfully Slow Fashion October and Slow Fashion Citizen dig into a lot of those conversations. But from my vantage point, the personal is political and our actions – however small – are a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.

Swatch of the Month: The politics of knitting

“CRAFTIVISM”

The word “craftivism” – an amalgamation of the words “craft” and “activism” – was coined by Betsy Greer in her book, Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch. The term has been thrown around a lot lately, especially regarding the ubiquitous pussyhat. Greer defines it this way:

“Craftivism to me is way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper and your quest for justice more infinite.”

Her definition is pretty broad (perhaps intentionally so), but because of that remains squishy and, in some cases, problematic. Is this a term that can only be used to define politically liberal or progressive actions, and does that exclude other voices that fall outside that spectrum? How do we define “craft,” or “activism” for that matter?

Beyond questions of semantics, the creation of a word to talk about something that has been happening for generations – leveraging a traditionally domestic art form towards an overt political purpose – seems redundant and a little cute. Regardless of your feelings about the term, we can likely expect to see it a lot more craftivism in the future as more and more knitters explore using the medium to make their own political statements.

One of my favorite artists working in this way is Lisa Anne Auerbach, an L.A.-based knitter, photographer and cycling advocate. I first heard about Lisa from a friend who took her photography course at my alma mater, USC, although I’ve never met Lisa myself. She creates bold, irreverent sweaters (they’re machine-knit, not handknit) with political statements splashed across an otherwise traditional motif. During the final days of the 2016 presidential election, she also participated in the I-71 project, a billboard exhibition curated by the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. As part of that project, details of her sweaters that she created in 2008 were featured on billboards across Cincinnati.

I’ve always been especially taken by Lisa’s work, and not necessarily because of her political statements. (To be clear, my sharing of her work is not an endorsement of her politics.) I appreciate her work because she does what all effective artists do – she makes us think. We’re free to agree or disagree with her, but her work forces us to ask tough questions and start a conversation, and I think that’s a good thing. The bigger questions – Does art make a difference? Does it change anything? – are open for debate, but taking a hard look at the challenges we face as a society is a place to start.

Swatch of the Month: The politics of knitting

THE SWATCH

With Lisa’s work in mind, I wanted to create something with a clear and simple statement that could be adopted and worn by many. Enter, the RESIST hat. I’m not really a fan of swatching in the round or swatching for a hat, so I skipped over the swatching part of this Swatch of the Month post (oops) and just went straight for the full design.

After sketching out the chart and playing with the math, I picked out a couple colors from my stash of Quince and Co Finch and started knitting. I’m a big fan of Finch (I wrote about it previously here), and it provided a crisp read of the lettering (important) and a light, smooth halo when blocked. And while I chose the colors Clay (main color) and Canvas (contrasting color) as a nod to the pussyhat (and also because I’m a sucker for that earthy pink color), one of my favorite things about Finch is that it comes in dozens of colors that let the knitter choose the mood and tone of his or her own RESIST hat.

Swatch of the Month: The politics of knitting

Yarn: Quince and Co. Finch in Clay and Canvas colorways
Needles: US2 / 2.75mm metal needles
Gauge: 33 stitches and 38 rows = 4″ in stranded colorwork pattern

M E T H O D

The pattern is my own and is currently in testing! Keep an eye on my Instagram for a release date this April.

Jess Schreibstein is a digital strategist, knitter and painter living in Baltimore, MD. Learn more about her work at jess-schreibstein.com or follow her on Instagram at @thekitchenwitch.

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Introducing “Slow Fashion Citizen”

Introducing "Slow Fashion Citizen"

At the turn of the year, I asked what you guys had enjoyed most last year or want to see more of this year, and what I heard loudest from you was more content relating to slow fashion. There were several requests for me to spread the subject out more, with comments that Slow Fashion October can be overwhelming and that obviously it’s a subject that’s of interest and relevance year-round. I couldn’t agree more! I’m definitely not saying Slotober is going away or anything, and obviously there’s a slow fashion aspect to every post I do about what I’m making (or even that I’m making my clothes in the first place), but I do want to address the subject in various and direct ways throughout the year. I was particularly happy to hear that feedback because I already had an idea for a series of interviews — discussions with slow fashion proponents and role models of all kinds, from sewers and knitters to thrifters, designers, manufacturers — and had that on my editorial calendar beginning in January.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the series launch: while falling immediately behind schedule, I also found out author/slow fashion advocate/mending teacher Katrina Rodabaugh had the exact same plan! I’m a fan of Katrina — we met in an “embroidermending” workshop in Oakland in 2014 (a workshop that had a major impact on me) and we’ve been social media friends ever since. (We also bonded at Rhinebeck ’15 over the difficulty of adjusting to life outside the Bay Area, both of us having moved away.) So when I heard what she had in mind, I got in touch. And I’m happy to report that instead of the two of us hoeing the same row, Katrina will be conducting the interviews and they’ll be published here on Fringe Association! We’re calling it “Slow Fashion Citizen” and it starts tomorrow. So welcome aboard, Katrina! I’m really looking forward to this.

I’ll have more to say about other slow fashion content coming up soon. Meanwhile, if you’re not familiar with Katrina — or even if you are — I hope you’ll go read her recent post where she talks about her background and what she hopes to accomplish with this interview series. Definitely check out her Instagram feed. And if you have kids, take a look at her book The Paper Playhouse.

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Swatch of the Month: Norah’s cables

EDITOR’S NOTE: For her column this month, Jess got to dig into the book I’ve been dying to spend more time with …
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Norah's cables

The first knitting book I ever bought was Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson, around a dozen years ago. (Years later, still a reliably solid and inspirational compilation of designs.) But the second knitting book I bought was Norah Gaughan’s Knitting Nature, a striking collection of over 35 knitwear designs and patterns inspired by geometry found in nature. More than any other knitting book I own, this is the one I come back to again and again.

Knitting Nature is one of those books that grows with you as a knitter and, amazingly, years after its publication doesn’t feel stale or outdated. I bought the book when I was knitting nothing more than accessories – the idea of, or even the desire to knit an intricately cabled sweater had never occurred to me. I enjoyed the book in a way that you might enjoy a stroll through an art gallery, with awe and admiration of creative work that feels simultaneously accessible and completely above your abilities as a maker.

But now, I look at some of the patterns that I glossed over when I was younger – like the Pentagon Aran Pullover or the Asymmetrical Cardigan — which both now seem so fresh and contemporary. I could easily imagine the hexagonal cable in the Asymmetrical cardigan being adapted to a top-down symmetrical cardigan (using Karen’s top-down recipe) with a cozy shawl collar in a neutral, worsted weight yarn. Maybe Blue Sky Fibers’ new Woolstok in Grey Harbor colorway? (I got a few skeins recently at my LYS and I’m obsessed.)

Swatch of the Month: Norah's cables

Norah has certainly been busy in the past ten or so years since Knitting Nature’s publication. She served as design director for Berroco Yarns and is now a member of the Brooklyn Tweed design team. All of this to say – when I found out (via Squam’s Morning on the Dock podcast interview with Norah) that she would be releasing a new book dedicated entirely to cables, I knew I needed to nab a copy.

KNITTED CABLE SOURCEBOOK

Norah’s latest book, Knitted Cable Sourcebook, is a collection of 152 stitch patterns and over a dozen garment and accessory patterns. A cable dictionary it is not – nor is it intended to be. The patterns and techniques are decidedly Norah’s, many appearing in print for the first time. As Norah writes in the Introduction:

“To my mind there can be no such thing as an all-encompassing encyclopedia of cables (as much as my publisher would have loved for this book to have been called an encyclopedia) because one volume can’t begin to contain all the cables in use already and all of the cables yet to be revealed by our imaginations. This book is intended to be both a resource for existing cable patterns and a jumping-off point for making new cable discoveries.”

The book is simultaneously accessible to newbies and challenging to advanced knitters – quintessential Norah. It starts off with the basics, including an overview of cable terminology, instructions on how to read and follow a cable chart, and troubleshooting tips (one of which Karen described here). This upfront section is worth the price of the book alone, as it so succinctly describes, in less than 20 pages, everything you really need to know to knit cables well.

The rest of the book is broken up into sections defined by complexity and motifs, starting with basic ropes, braids and horseshoes and eventually working towards the final chapter on “drawing” abstract or representational shapes with cables. At the end of each chapter are two or more garment patterns that incorporate cables and techniques covered in the preceding chapter.

But the most exciting part? Each garment pattern is accompanied with recommendations for cable substitutions using Norah’s SSE (Stockinette Stitch Equivalent) method. Each stitch pattern throughout the book is assigned an SSE number – basically, how many stockinette stitches are needed to achieve the same width as the cable. This system allows you to substitute any cable you like for other cables shown in Norah’s patterns – or heck, any pattern with cables in it. This is where this resource book really shines, as it enables any knitter to customize and design her own garment based on her own personal preferences.

Swatch of the Month: Norah's cables

THE SWATCH

While there are many, many stitch patterns in this book that pluck at my heartstrings, the one I was most eager to cast on was Fave, introduced in Chapter 5. The pattern is a distinctive grouping of four 2/2 crosses, which Norah writes is her go-to motif. And it’s easy to see why. It feels both classic and modern, basic and also totally unexpected. A panel of Fave could be easily extended into a scarf and be striking on its own, but any of these variations could be incorporated into a chunky cardigan with a shawl collar (like this one) and be the show-stopper winter cardigan of my dreams.

Since this was my first time playing with the motif, I started off with the first stitch pattern in the the chapter, “To & Fro Fave” (no. 110 on page 169). In this motif, alternating left and right crosses grow out of 2 x 2 ribbing and the column of cables is repeated four times to complete the panel. Every stitch pattern in Norah’s book includes both a cable chart and written description of the pattern. Even though I’m pretty comfortable reading a chart, having the written description was helpful as I knit the first couple of inches and became familiar with the pattern.

For the yarn, I chose Madelinetosh’s DK Twist in “Never” colorway. Amy sent me a couple skeins to try out (thanks, Amy!) and I’m really digging the yarn’s bounce and stitch definition, as well as this soft gray/green color. Reminds me of faded moss or lichen in the middle of winter.
Jess Schreibstein

Swatch of the Month: Norah's cables

Yarn: Madelinetosh DK Twist in Never colorway
Needles: US 6 / 4mm metal needles
Gauge: 22.5 stitches / 31 rows = 4 inches in Fave cable chart

M E T H O D

For the Fave “To & Fro” cable chart, see page 169 in Norah Gaughan’s Knitted Cable Sourcebook

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