Q for You: ARE you a holiday gift knitter?

Q for You: ARE you a holiday gift knitter?

I always feel like a bit of an oddball this time of year when everyone’s talking about their holiday gift knitting — and I’m blogging about what patterns you might choose — while I’m just not really a gift knitter. In my defense, we’re not a gifty family. Even in years when we’re together for Hannukah or Christmas (we have contingencies that are variously observant of both) we either don’t do gifts or we draw names and only have one person to find something for. And Bob and I established a tradition long ago of either buying something we both want/need for our home or taking a little trip or … nothing.

But even if we were a fervent gift-giving clan, I don’t think I’d be gift knitting. The pressure! I do sometimes knit for other people — like the hats I knitted my sister’s whole family for spring break, or the vest currently on my needles for my husband, above — but we’ve talked before about the fact that I’m what’s known as a “selfish knitter,” and I don’t apologize for it. For one thing, I’m attempting to make most of my own clothes, so my rate of production has mattered. For another, what motivates me to knit is wanting to possess the finished thing. Knitting something for someone without knowing if they even want it is hugely demotivating for me. And the minute I tell someone I’ll knit whatever for them, I no longer want to do it; once it becomes an obligation, the thrill is gone. I’ve happily and successfully knitted things for others, or given things away after the fact; and I’ve knitted things for other people that are languishing in a drawer somewhere. So I know both the joys and the disappointments. But it’s mostly just not what knitting is about, for me. I’m reluctant to use the buzzword “self-care,” but knitting is a thing I do for myself, on all the levels. I’ve had this idea for years that I could start a tradition of knitting one thing each year, one recipient, and cycle through my loved ones. Maybe I’ll try to think of Bob’s vest as the first of those! (To be clear, I have no regrets or complaints about this vest: I can’t wait to see it on him.)

As always, I ask these questions because I love nothing more than how different we all are, and love hearing all the differing perspectives and experiences. So that’s my Q for You today: Are you a gift knitter? And if so, what are you knitting?

Cheers and happy Friday, everyone!

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Winter ’18 wardrobe: Outfits!

Winter ’18 wardrobe: Outfits!

For this winter round of Closet Rummy™, I wanted to see if I could come up with 30 combinations I’ve never precisely put together before — always exploring just how endlessly recombinable things can be — and for my own ease of use, this time I organized them by weather. So they sort of go from outfits for really cold weather (with a light sweatshirt/sweater or other long-sleeve top layered under a cardigan, for instance) to moderately cold to not terribly cold, like those times it will be 78 degrees on a random December day. There are definitely some new ideas here — as well as several new or new-to-me garments — but seeing this has me feeling good about my shortlist of things I want to make, and what those will do to change things up a bit! For details on any of the garments pictured, see the closet inventory (not all of which got used here).

Winter ’18 wardrobe: Outfits!

Winter ’18 wardrobe: Outfits!

PREVIOUSLY in Winter 2018 Wardrobe: Winter closet inventory

 

Winter ’18 closet inventory

Winter ’18 closet inventory

I had this notion that I could get away with not doing a closet inventory for this winter (for myself or to share) — just to say “hey, I have a few new things; recently did a whole sweater inventory; will work off last year’s mostly unworn Deep Winter Outfits (not enough deep winter last year); and here are a few new outfit ideas.” But when I got up to my elbows in trying to do that (by which I mean, up to about 2000 words), I realized too much has changed. Between my Slotober-inspired closet cleanout, some new things I’ve made this year, some of last year’s key pieces being dyed or deaccessioned, my recent Everlane staples order (itemized below), and my not being the exact same person I was a year ago (or last week), it’s really a different ballgame. I needed to do the inventory to get my head around what I’m working with. So here it is! And I’m feeling pretty good about the resonance between this and my mood board. (All-new outfits tomorrow.)

TOPPERS

Toffee cable dickey
Plum Anna vest
Black Sloper sleeveless turtleneck
Navy mod-Clyde vest (Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Jacket 2017, refashioned)
Army shirtjacket (J.Crew 2014, refashioned)
– Denim shirtjacket (J.Crew c.2003)

TEES & TOPS

– White graphic sleeveless tee (Everlane 2018, printed by me)
Grey wool muscle tee
Black silk gauze shell
– Grey and black long-sleeve tees (Everlane, new)
– Black silk tie-neck blouse (Everlane, new)
Plaid top
– Black silk smock (Elizabeth Suzann 2017, made in Nashville, no longer available)
– Chambray work shirt (secondhand)
Chambray button-up

The new little black Everlane top doesn’t look like much on the hanger, but it is so pretty and versatile. I’m as excited to wear it with a cardigan and jeans as to a fancy holiday dinner out.

PULLOVERS

Grey wool knit pullover
Grey sweatshirt
– Black sweatshirt (Everlane, new)
– Blue cashmere pullover (Everlane, new)
Ivory aran-gansey
Striped raglan
Fisherman sweater
Grey cline sweater
Charcoal sorta swoncho
Black yoke sweater

I could have sewn the two long-sleeve tees above and the black sweatshirt here (I already have the Lark Tee and Linden Sweatshirt patterns in my possession) but am happy not to have had to. The blue sweater I could also theoretically have made, but it’s about a billion stitches and I would never knit such a thing. This may be the first sweater I’ve bought since learning to knit — certainly the only one in five years or more — and it does feel soulless, but it also feels easy and warm and comfortable and greatly needed, and I expect it to be with me for a good long time. Also worth noting: The sweatshirt and sweater are both thin enough to wear like t-shirts — under cardigans and jackets — during the coldest part of the year.

CARDIGANS

Vanilla cardigan
Camel cardigan
Purple cardigan
Black cardigan
Mushroom shawl-collar

PANTS & JEANS

Natural canvas wide-legs
– Clay wide-legs (Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Culotte, made in Nashville, sample sale 2017)
– Recycled denim wide-legs
– Denim wide-legs
– Natural denim jeans (Imogene+Willie, 2016, made in LA, no longer available)
– Threadbare jeans (Old Navy c. 2013)
– Cropped jeans (J.Crew Point Sur, 2016, made in LA, no longer available)
– Other dark denim jeans

SHOES

Not pictured, but basically all I’ll be wearing the next couple of months are my boots. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed — of if I’ve ever noted — but I rely heavily on tan footwear. I typically don’t wear any colors from the warm side of the color wheel; I only wear neutrals, blues, greens and bluer purples. (The red-purple Anna Vest is the warmest thing in my closet.) So my mostly unconscious way of balancing all the cool tones is to incorporate shades of tan and camel and caramel and such, often in the way of shoes. I have sandals and flats in lovely shades of tan (and last summer went so far as to buy those amazing orange sandals!) but somehow since moving to Nashville I have only bought black boots. As much as I miss the tan effect in winter, I haven’t found the dream pair, but I finally broke down and bought the Everlane Modern Chelsea Boots in cognac, just based on how much I love my black pair. They’re not actually in my hands yet, but I can’t imagine there being anything wrong with them when they arrive.

. . .

So this is 39 garments (26 of them handmade or modified!), but in reality there are maybe 20 that will be crucial and worn on repeat, and a few that will be worn only a couple of times, whether due to weather or favoritism. For instance, there are 8 pairs of pants here, but on any given day the real question is: Am I wearing my natural wide-legs or my Point Sur jeans. Maybe I’ll do a wear count this season.

(ICYMI: How to make a closet inventory)

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Winter Wardrobe problem solving

Winter Wardrobe problem solving

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking out loud here the past few weeks — have you noticed? — and think I’m very close to having a fully formed thought (lol) about how to solve the fundamental problem of my winter clothes being too warm, on the whole. Last week it felt like less of a problem: It was in the 30s and gloomy and rained like it might never stop. But this week we’re back in the 50s and 60s, the trouble zone for me. I’ve come to realize, though — in the midst of my closet cleanout — that it’s a classic case of missing connective tissue that’s fairly easily resolved. In addition to the sort of layering that the dickey has inspired, I’ve been thinking about what it means to have sweaters that are less hot, even if they are wool, which means finer gauge things, shapes that don’t hold in heat (such as the breezy Big Rubble I got from Meg), more abbreviated proportions (shorter, smaller, cropped, whatever), and — ta da — sleeveless! And we know I have plenty of sleeveless sweaters.

I wear those sleeveless things mostly when I can get away with being sleeveless, and what I’ve been missing to make them work in cooler weather is basically just long-sleeve tees, which I haven’t wanted to make — or had the time to. The other day it dawned on me there are these things called stores where you can buy clothes that are already made and ready to wear (seriously, it’s like I forgot!), so I went to Everlane and ordered a couple of skinny long-sleeve tees that will instantly change the equation considerably. But I’ve drawn up the sketches above to illustrate a few of the thoughts I’ve been having:

TOP LEFT: I made that wool knit muscle tee last year to wear under things and found it a tiny bit itchy for that purpose. I’ve since realized it’s fine with my linen sleeveless tee under it (which has become otherwise problematically thin), so it will work with cardigans and such as intended. But I also discovered it’s great over things — like the black jersey turtleneck in my closet that I never wear. It should be perfect with the long-sleeve tees en route, and an excellent opportunity to add a dickey!

TOP MIDDLE: Same goes for my two Anna Vests (black and plum), which somehow don’t feel quite like me over a button-down (although I love that on everyone else) but will be great over a long-sleeve tee. And then it’s easy to add a cardigan or shirt-jacket on top of that, weather permitting.

TOP RIGHT: Same goes for my Sloper — all it needs for extended life is the right tee! Although I do love Sloper over a button-down, and will wear it that way this year as well.

BOTTOM LEFT: This is the neck blankie situation I was postulating last week, along with a shrunken raglan sweatshirt or sweater. I have my grey sweatshirt and ordered two things from Everlane that also meet this definition, if I like them when they arrive. Otherwise (or maybe anyway) there’s another Linden sweatshirt in my future. I’m still debating the cowl but between this and yesterday’s mood board, I was inspired to pull out my eggplant State Street Cowl and take it for a spin.

BOTTOM MIDDLE: For a warmer version of the dickey situation, I was thinking about making something like a Top No. 2 in wool melton or somesuch, and realized I already have the wool knit sweatshirt thingy I made last year. I’d had that in my “maybe” pile from the cleanout and have just put it back in my closet! But still considering the other idea as well. I really like the idea of a couple of easy non-sweater pullover tops for layering with.

BOTTOM RIGHT: This is actually an outfit I wore in the cold snap last week that I want to remember: jeans, black muscle tee, dickey and cardigan. The dickey is so fantastic (obviously) under a cardigan or kimono jacket or shirt-jacket — a way to feel like I’m wearing much woolier, cozier clothes than I can actually get away with. More of that, for sure.

So those are some not-terribly-original thoughts that nevertheless lead me to a make list and some further outfit ideas, coming next week!

(Fashionary sketch templates from Fringe Supply Co.)

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Early Winter ’18 mood board

Early Winter ’18 mood board

It might be the result of having the Fringe Supply Co. Winter Lookbook palette spread out in my studio since July (all that plum and toffee and butterscotch and black), but my Winter ’18 Mood board is speaking to me the most clearly of any of them so far. It’s the mood and colors of a bright but cold early winter day — all the burnt caramel-camel-brown tones against blues and dusty lilac purples and the softest fading green. With plenty of black, white, navy and grey, of course. But it’s also more specifically a set of reminders to myself: that I need to think about some blouses with sleeves, about tees and turtlenecks to layer under things, about knitted neckwear layered on top of things that might not be sweaters, but pullovers or tops of other sorts. (Hence my including myself on my own mood board. In my dickey.) That a little touch of femininity with all the androgyny is important to me. And as usual, it’s about very easy shapes and a classic casualness that steers clear of being dull.

I think I’ve OD’d on my silhouette lately but my pants are my pants and we’re back into jeans-and-boots season, so I’m thinking hard about new ways to put things together, and which old friends to pull forward and let star this season. More on all of that to come, along with the very focused little make list it has inspired.

Oh, and that sweater in the top right is a thought I’m having about my steekalong Sólbein. Maybe.

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Q for You: What sells you on a pattern?

Q for You: What sells you on a pattern?

It’s one of those elusive things: You see a pattern and feel incontrovertibly drawn to it, and very often you can’t even really identify why. Does it look fun to knit? Look good on a friend? Is the sample in a color you find irresistible, maybe even to the point that the item itself is almost irrelevant? Is it a matter of shaping, or texture, or aesthetic? Is it the photos? (Were they shot in some dreamscape that tugs at your soul?) Does it remind you of a favorite garment you once had? Is it exactly the shape you’ve been looking for? Written for a yarn you’ve been wanting to use? Sister tells you to? Published by your favorite designer or pattern company? Was at the top of Hot Right Now?

There are a thousand reasons why we might be attracted to a pattern, and we all lament the common experience of choosing poorly — casting on for the wrong reason and winding up with an unworn handknit that gives us the guilty feels. And hopefully we get better over time, knitting things that will not only be worn but loved. But that’s my Q for You today: How do you choose? What is it about a pattern that makes you download it and cast on, and are you able to identify the good triggers versus the not-so-good ones?

I was thinking about this over the weekend when it occurred to me that many of my best decisions were the result of getting to try one on, from Trillium to Channel to Cline. After many months of obsessing about a Carbeth Cardigan, I got to try on Shannon Cook’s Carbeth on Friday night — we were housemates in Seattle. It was that thing where you put something on and instantly go I’m never taking it off. It just fits, in all the ways. I woke up Saturday morning wishing that’s what I was wearing that day. And the next and the next and the one after that, which is how I finally knew for sure that it’s the right thing for me to cast on. Just as soon as I stop arguing with myself about yarn …

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Top photo by Kate Davies; bottom photo by Shannon Cook, used with permission

Slow Fashion October wrap-up: What more can you do? [with Gina Stovall]

Slow Fashion October wrap-up: What more can you do? [with Gina Stovall]

Somehow October is already coming to a close, and we’re at the wind-down for Slow Fashion October. To close it out, I’ve interviewed Gina Stovall (@ginastovall) who is a climate scientist with a made-to-order clothing company called Two Days Off (@twodaysoffclothing). Naturally I wanted to get her dual perspective on the subject, but I also specifically wanted to end the month — to send us all off into the immediate future — with a focus on the environmental aspect of slow fashion. We’ve been looking inward this year/month, into our own closets and tendencies and preferences (always keeping a thought for the larger impact of our clothing), so I wanted to look upwards and outwards as we wrap it up.

The final pairing of Action Item and Discussion Prompts similarly is about giving thought to how we can each do better going forward, building on what we might have learned about ourselves, our habits and our closets this month. So check those out, and look for @ginastovall on Instagram!

. . .

I’ve been asking this of pretty much everyone this month, because the term “slow fashion” means so many different things to different people. What is your definition of slow fashion, and how did you first become aware of the concept and the underlying factors?

Slow fashion, to me, is clothing that is produced and consumed in a considered manner. Ideally it means clothing that does not exploit anyone in the process of making it, it is made to last, and its entire life cycle is considered so it’s not a burden on the environment. I also think slow fashion encompasses alternatives to traditional retail of today, like buying second-hand, making garments yourself, or simply creating a closet to last season after season and bucking our disposable, trend-driven culture.

I first became aware of the term “slow fashion” after the Rana Plaza catastrophe (like many others). But consciously shifted my buying habits about seven years ago when I started exploring minimalism.

Before the collapse of that factory where so many people lost their lives, I had never thought much about the person making my clothes. This is surprising looking back because I have been sewing as a hobby since I was a teenager. That was when I came to understand my privilege as a consumer in a western country and my ignorance of what impact my purchases have on the world in both a societal and environmental sense. Rana Plaza was the trigger for me to learn about slow fashion.

I can’t say I was completely ignorant of my impact though. I am a geologist and studied earth and climate sciences. I have been trained as a systems thinker, so the concept of “cradle to grave” isn’t new to me. In my early twenties many factors began to converge (i.e my environmental ethics and mental burden of my stuff) and I began living a more minimalist lifestyle. The first thing to tackle was my overflowing wardrobe (predominantly packed with “fast fashion”). I tinkered with capsule wardrobes and learned how to build a closet based on durable, classic pieces that I felt good in and wanted to wear over and over again. I became much more thoughtful in my consumption, went back to thrifting and buying vintage, high-quality pieces. I had finally started to make the parallels between my lifestyle and my profession.

Looking back now I realize that I had a winding road to get to a slower more mindful way of dressing myself, and somehow my hobby of sewing, my chosen career path, and my moral compass were pointing toward the slow fashion movement.

When you talk about clothing that is not a burden on the environment, that’s a giant subject in and of itself, and one I’m particularly keen to explore with you, as a geologist and climate scientist. First, there’s just the sheer volume of clothing that is being produced and discarded and shipped back and forth across the ocean. Can you talk a bit about the environmental implications of that glut of garments?

The environmental burden of garments lies in the way we both produce and consume. The clothes we wear are sewn together which has an associated energy intensity. They are made from fabric that had to be manufactured involving machinery, chemicals, water and other resources. The fabric is manufactured from fibers that had to be grown and harvested (in the case of natural fibers) or synthesized (in the case of synthetics). And all along the way there is that transportation cost to get these materials from one point to another which also requires energy and generates emissions. By the time a garment gets to the consumer it has already lived a long life of its own and that life may be a pretty dirty one when it comes to the environment. If the environmental cost of this garment was built into the price it would be much more expensive than what you find in fast fashion chains. It would also likely make most of us rethink the disposability of these items!

I don’t want to make it seem like mass manufacturing is all bad though. It can be much more efficient to produce and ship in bulk than one-off, small-scale making if it is done consciously and in a sustainable manner. The trend I am seeing these days are small makers and brands leading the charge and seeking out the sustainable options, and I truly hope that leadership will scale to the entire industry, and soon!

Slow Fashion October wrap-up: What more can you do? [with Gina Stovall]

And then there’s the question of fabrics and dyes and waste. This is the part that trips me up a lot, honestly, as a person trying to do her level best. I have always believed in natural fibers — it’s what I was taught to value as a kid, and what I prefer to wear (I can’t deal with fabric that doesn’t breathe), and natural fibers biodegrade. Whereas, in addition to the non-degradability of synthetic fabrics, there is increasing evidence of synthetic fibers (micro plastics) being washed into our rivers and oceans with every trip through the laundry. I’m happiest with a sweater when I not only made it myself but know exactly who raised the sheep and how they were treated and where the wool is spun and so on, but not every garment can be like that. Far from it! And there are downsides to my beloved cotton, as well. If we’re trying to do our best by the environment, what actually is the best we can do? And how do you approach fabrics for your Two Days Off goods?

I love that you bring up natural fibers, waste and other chemical processes associated with producing clothes because I think about this a lot for my brand Two Days Off. Because I am aware of the ethical and environmental ramifications in the industry I wanted to be as mindful in my decisions as possible. I decided from the outset that I would focus on natural fibers because they do biodegrade, and I try to stick to 100% of one fiber because they can be recycled. Natural fibers tend to have a lighter impact during production than synthetics, there are newer sustainable practices in the industry that can be leveraged, and like you mention they are breathable, comfortable and tend to wear longer. I also pay close attention to construction because if a garment is made of a nice material but falls apart then it again becomes a burden. So I use French seams, add pockets, reinforce areas that get a lot of stress because I want each piece to do the work over a long time. Finally, since I am small I can use deadstock fabrics. Deadstock is left over yardage from bigger brands that would otherwise go unused and end up in the landfill. This makes me feel better about using traditionally dyed fabrics because I know I am not adding to the demand for them.

You mentioned minimalism having played a key role in your evolution toward slow fashion, so I want to ask: Does minimalism for you mean simply living with less or are you also using it in an aesthetic sense? (For me, it’s both.) I ask because there’s been a lot of discussion (and I asked Martha about this earlier in the month) about whether “slow fashion” necessarily means austerity, or simplicity, or neutral colors. For me, like you, slow fashion primarily means clothing that is as responsible as possible and non-exploitative. It doesn’t mean a certain shape or style or color palette. Do you think a slow closet has to be a minimalist one, in either sense? Or do you think the one just naturally leads a lot of people toward the other? Does “less” have to also be colorless or shapeless?

It used to mean both for me, but since moving to California I feel my aesthetic sense shifting from a Scandinavian minimalism to something a little more wabi sabi. First and foremost, it is living with what I need and what adds value to my life and nothing more. (Which may be considered “less” by American standards!)

I definitely don’t think slow fashion has to be colorless and shapeless! Although admittedly my wardrobe is full of well-loved items that fit that bill. But I do think there may be something to a more austere approach to life and consumption leading to a simpler wardrobe. Or vice versa.

Slow Fashion October wrap-up: What more can you do? [with Gina Stovall]

So how did you decide to get into the clothing business, and what do you hope to accomplish with Two Days Off? How does it relate to your own attempts to dress yourself personally and thoughtfully? And are you making the clothes yourself or working with sewers in LA?

When I began to look at my wardrobe more thoughtfully and turned away from buying fast fashion, I went back to sewing more of my own pieces. A lot of the things I wanted to wear and sewed up weren’t available from ethical sellers and I starting getting interest from friends about what I was wearing. It took me a while to build up the confidence to start my own line and get over the “imposter syndrome” of not being educated in the fashion industry, but now that I am doing this and learning along the way I realize my naiveté about traditional fashion production puts me at an advantage to do things differently and think more sustainably. I personally make everything to-order, and since I am a one-woman show I am constantly experimenting and try new things. My aim is to make high-quality pieces people can love for a lifetime and help broaden the options for those who want to shop ethically.

I often am asked (or hear people musing about) whether a comparatively small community of people deciding to make changes in how they approach dressing themselves can ever have a meaningful impact, and I think it’s the same argument that comes up around meat (the climate impact of every household eating one less chicken a week, for instance) and the environment generally. Like it seems silly to pick on plastic straws when they’re just one of a million seemingly insurmountable contributors to the problems. Do you feel like it makes a difference if we choose to opt out of fast fashion, or to buy less, keep things longer, be more careful where and what we acquire? How do we gauge the impact, or can we even?

I absolutely believe it makes a difference. And after years of studying and working on climate change solutions I can say that these lifestyle changes are meaningful and measurable. Climate professionals aggregating data on our impact can correlate the amount of cattle slaughtered and sold or the number of t-shirts produced to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. When our demand goes down those emission go down — in part it’s overconsumption that has thrown our planet out of whack. When each of us is mindful about what and how much we consume (of anything) it adds up, not to mention it teaches future generations better habits of consumption. And finally, and possibly most importantly, when people (the market) demand more from businesses it will be supplied. I truly consider the slow fashion movement as a Movement. Small indie brands like mine are stepping up to fill the need for ethical options and slowly we are see bigger brands hopping on board. Pretty soon I hope slow fashion will be the norm. It is up to consumers to hold industry accountable and push them to represent our values.

Slow Fashion October wrap-up: What more can you do? [with Gina Stovall]

We’re coming to the end of a long month of a complicated, multi-faceted discussion of all the issues underlying and surrounding slow fashion. For people grappling with how to do better, make better choices — especially those just getting started — what do you think is the most important thing to concentrate on? What are one or two things you think everyone can do that will start to make a difference?

Start with what seems achievable to you and don’t compare your efforts to what anyone else is doing. Also, do your research. You can’t know if something aligns with your values if you don’t have the facts. So start by reading the labels of the clothes you own. What is it made of, where was it made, can you ascertain who made it and in what conditions based on the brand? The next time you go to spend you money after asking these questions I bet you will ask them again and again.

. . .

Thank you so much, Gina! And thanks to everyone for making this year’s Slow Fashion October such a great conversation. Of course, October is not over yet and the conversation will continue on the #slowfashionoctober feed, but I also want to note that all of this year’s content will be preserved on the Slow Fashion October directory page, on @slowfashionoctober, and in the saved highlights at the top of the Instagram profile page. (If you haven’t seen all of the great stuff shared in those Story highlights, please do take some time to scroll through them! Such treasure.) All of the actions and prompts will be there any time you want to work your way through the steps — any month, any year!

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