Why I make my own clothes

Why I make my own clothes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I make my clothes for many reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Elsewhere

Elsewhere: Slow Fashion October edition 2

Elsewhere: Slotober edition 2

We’ve still got the weekend to talk about the Long-Worn theme for Slow Fashion October this week, which is a good thing because I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface! Hopefully everyone saw the two related posts here this week — 21st-century thrifting and My week in the Craftlands — and both have loads of great comments on them at this point, so click back and take a look at those, as well as the contributions I’ve featured on @slowfashionoctober so far this week, and my post about how to wear worn clothes without looking shabby.

More highlights from the great discussion—

– So many amazing heirlooms and hand-me-downs have been shared on the #slowfashionoctober feed throughout the week. I want to mention that the aran sweater Jess’s grandmother knitted is from a 1967 Bernat pattern book called The Bernat Book of Irish Knits and has made two separate appearances on this blog – here (top right in the bottom photo grouping) and here (no. 5). It’s always amazing how many people say “I had that book” or “I had that sweater.” I have the sense it was the Boxy of its time! And it’s fun to imagine a single pattern being such a huge hit in a pre-Ravelry world.

– I’ve been falling down on the job with the My First Sweater series, so I especially loved Dianna’s blog post about hers, in the Long-Worn context.

– “It’s amazing to put on a piece of clothing that was made decades ago, worn by a woman I love and respect so much, and passed on to me.”

– “My involvement with slow fashion is organic to the way I’m trying to live my life – in a way that reflects my values and ethics and is mindful.  It is also a way to assert individuality in an increasingly homogenized world.” (Don’t miss @proper_tension on IG — I love her style!)

– “I’m not sure how precisely I define ‘slow fashion,’ but for me a big part of it is about being thoughtful — thinking through what I need, being willing to wait for it (either because of the time it takes to make it or the time it takes to save for it), and then committing to keep it for a long time.

– “Last night I started Kate Fletcher’s new book Craft of Use, and I’m excited, amazed, emboldened, and more. …” — omg I’ve lost track of who posted this! Please raise your hand if it was you!

– “However, don’t wash your clothes unless they need it.”


– “I often hang on to quality pieces that still fit me well once I get tired of them. More often than not, I’ve found the item gets resurrected after a break in the back of the closet and becomes an oft-worn favourite all over again. … I’ve been thankful so many times that I didn’t pitch great clothes in a fit of closet purging.”

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about and would love to discuss is the question of whether SMALL matters. This was actually one of my themes last year, and I’ve said already I feel a bit repentant for having suggested — as is so often done — that a closet clean-out is an important starting point. I’ve long felt that, especially with anything that was potentially sweatshop goods, the best way to honor that sewers work is to not banish it but to put it to use. The more I think about it, and the more I know about what happens to donated clothes, the more I see the capsule concept conflated with slow fashion (there are lots of people making fast-fashion capsule wardrobes — they may overlap, but they’re not the same thing), the more I wonder about this. There’s no question that simply buying less — participating less in the fast-fashion marketplace — is a good thing. But what about our obligation to those clothes we already own? What if — IDEALISTIC RHETORICAL SCENARIO ALERT — all you buy is small-batch, locally woven, organically-grown fiber clothes made by lovely people whose small business you’re supporting with your purchase? What if — EXTREME EXAMPLE TO PROVE A POINT —  you’re stylist-designer Rachel Zoe out buying up and preserving decades of significant vintage garments and preserving them in your immense closets, thereby honoring them and keeping them from the landfill. What I’m saying is buying less is critical, absolutely, and what we buy is critical, but a smaller wardrobe isn’t automatically a more virtuous one, is it? Who was it that made the great point on IG about having more clothes to choose from meant each garment got worn less often and lasted longer. Fair point? Discuss!


– Knitting for victory (thx, Kelbournes)

– If you loved Jane Richmond’s sweater from the Cowichan Knitalong last year, it’s now a pattern!

Thanks for all the incredible input this week, everyone — have a fantastic weekend!


The images up top coincide with links above or posts I’ve regrammed this week; click through for the originals — top lefttop rightmiddle leftmiddle rightbottom leftbottom right.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: My week in the Craftlands

My week in the Craftlands

My week in the Craftlands

I got home from my weeklong, double-header trip Tuesday night, planning to write a bit about it for yesterday’s post. But in addition to being exhausted and wanting to hang out with my husband, my mind was just too full from the trip. I needed a minute.

I wrote a very short Craftlands post about Knitting With Company back in June, when I was first invited to be a featured guest at their October event in Minnesota. It overlapped with the Nordic Knitting Conference in Seattle — an every-other-year occurrence that I had planned on attending since missing the 2014 event — and I decided to do both, because I’m a crazy person. But sometimes crazy pays off, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss either of these events — especially because both wound up feeding my Slow Fashion October brain in various ways.

Knitting With Company is ostensibly just an opportunity to hang out in a lodge setting and knit with some well-known designers — and a bunch of other wonderful knitters — for a few days. While there are no classes, though, there are talks by each of the four headliners (for lack of a better word), which are always Julie Hoover and Catherine Lowe plus two special guests. At this one, that was me and Norah Gaughan, who is as delightful as can be. I absolutely loved hearing Julie, Catherine and Norah’s talks. Each discussed their path as a designer, showed examples of their work and talked about their motivation and their process — each of them so different as designers and presenters, but so exceptional when it comes to the thoughtfulness and knowledge and experience they pour into their patterns. For my part, this being October, I wanted to find a way to talk about slow fashion and Slotober without it being a “lecture” in any sense. So I decided to show slides of 12 garments from my wardrobe (knitted, sewn and mended) and talk about the lessons I’ve learned from them — skills, sentimental value, longevity — that variously highlighted slow fashion principles while also, hopefully, maybe, giving everyone something to think about with regard to choosing projects and yarns well. (Mostly a learning-from-my-mistakes scenario!) So for me, those few days were casual and relaxing yet thought-provoking and inspiring.

And of course, I like knitters and enjoy being surrounded by them — and especially enjoy being a curiosity to the other guests in an establishment. I witnessed one of my favorite knitterly moments ever, too. A woman named Tammi, who I was instantly fond of, had just finished Julie’s Ludlow scarf  pattern and wanted to know if Julie would be in a photo with her and her scarf. Julie hates being in pictures but is one of the best photographers around, and so she offered to take Tammi’s FO photos down by the water. Not only was it amazing — the very idea of the photgraphically gifted designer shooting a knitter’s FO photos — but Tammi owned that little impromptu photo shoot like nothing I’ve ever seen. She was striking poses and smiling radiantly and my heart fell out in a puddle as I watched from the balcony. And yes, Julie also submitted to the joint selfie. Everyone was just lovely, and if any of the attendees are reading this: I loved meeting you.

My week in the Craftlands

Nordic Knitting Conference was the opposite of Knitting With Company. Held at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, it’s a tightly packed schedule of classes and lectures, and I definitely nerded out on how focused and academic it was. Arriving late, I only got to take three classes: one on the Skolt Sami* people and their unique style of colorwork; one on a specific Sami woman named Skaite-Maria who was something of a minimalist going her own way; and a looser survey of Nordic styles and traditions and their influences. I ate up every minute of it and can’t wait to go again in 2018.

My week in the Craftlands

But here’s the thing — between the two events, I found myself in the midst of multiple tangential conversations about how, historically, much of one’s wealth was tied up (no pun intended) in the textiles one owned. Think of pirates stealing people’s chests of cloth and clothing, or of the traditions of trousseaus and hope chests. We talk a lot about how many fewer items of clothing people used to have in their closets (in, say, the first half of the 20th century), but long before that people spun and wove and tatted and knitted and crocheted. Farm folk pored over their lace borders and collars, tucking the finest of them away for their future lives, and rich people invested in brocades and tapestries and bespoke clothing. What we take for granted and amass thoughtlessly and toss off without a care, our ancestors placed incredible value on.

In the Nordic survey class, the teacher, Susan Strawn, talked a lot about museum collections — how they are built and cataloged and viewed. She mentioned that what gets donated tend to be special occasion clothes, worn once and not all that descriptive — wedding gowns, christening garments. What academics and researchers and curators long for are the everyday clothes that were worn and darned and have stories to tell. (I could talk about that green child’s sweater up there for hours.) Isn’t that what we keep saying in #slowfashionoctober? What I’ve learned from my clothes these past few years — what I was driving at in my talk and have written about so often — is I want every article of clothing in my closet to have a story to tell.

I also got to thinking, over the course of those three classes, about mending — and the fact that people not only made their clothes, historically, but that they were conceived with wear and mending in mind. The Sami mittens are one great example among many: The teacher of my two Sami classes, Laura Ricketts, was talking about the braided cord that hangs from each Sami mitten, which is used to secure them (to your waistband, your reindeer, whatever!) when you need to take them off for any reason. When she first began knitting replicas of mittens she’d seen in museums, for teaching purposes, she thought it would be clever to use her cast-on tail for the braid, to save time and yarn. No no, the locals told her — it’s attached separately, because if the braid gets damaged or worn, you want to be able to replace it without compromising the mitten itself.

There was an older Norwegian woman in the Nordic traditions class — a museum volunteer, who was dynamic and saucy and had the most awesome voice and accent. She was a child in Nazi-occupied Norway and had heart-wrenching stories to tell about life during the war, including the ways people had of removing the lower part of a sleeve to re-knit it when the cuffs wore bare, sewing clothes for the children from the worn or outgrown garments of the grown-ups, her father’s suit that was “so shiny and so thin” from wear. We, the general public, do not know how to darn our socks or elbows, or re-knit our cuffs. Store-bought clothes rarely even come with extra buttons stitched inconspicuously to the front placket or side seam anymore, because who ever replaces them? A shirt with a lost or broken button is one for the donation bin — where, ironically, the lost or broken button will likely get it sorted into the landfill pile rather than resold in the charity shop.

I feel this more intensely all the time: It’s not just knitting, what we’re doing. Not just sewing. Not just mending. It runs so much deeper than that.

Also: I got a lot of knitting done. ;)

My week in the Craftlands

*You may know the Sami as Laplanders, but that’s apparently considered a pejorative term. The things you learn!

PREVIOUSLY in Craftlands: Cordova, Alaska

New Favorites: Every stitch of the Tov collection

New Favorites: Every stitch of the Tov collection

I mentioned recently that I’d gotten a sneak peek from the set of the shoot for a new collection and that there was a cardigan I was losing sleep over. It turns out the entire collection — the Tov Collection from Woolfolk, for their latest yarn, Tov — is drop-dead ridiculously to-die-for gorgeous. For me, and what makes my heart race, it’s the single best pattern collection I’ve seen in the five years I’ve been doing this.

Here’s the thing: the day the lookbook first snuck into my inbox, I got the vapors. But before making a claim like “best I’ve seen in five years,” I have to stop and check myself. Let’s face it: the photography, the house, the ivory yarn and cables — it pushes every one of my buttons. Was I being swayed by all of that, or are these patterns as good as I initially thought they were? Having looked at it more times now than I care to admit, I can honestly say: Take away the house, make the garments colors I don’t like, whatever — they’re stupendous.

So here are my favorites: All of them! Starting, of course, with the sweaters:

Vidje by Kristin Ford, above, is the cardigan I was on about. This design is a tightrope walk; it could have so easily gone awry, but the bands of texture blocking are beautifully done. I mean, the shift in scale of the honeycomb is so gorgeous I’m hellbent on knitting this thing even though I hate knitting honeycomb! It might take me two years to finish it, but I ain’t lettin’ that stop me.

New Favorites: Every stitch of the Tov collection

Bue by (newcomer?) Nele Redweik might manage to distract me from Vidje for a minute. I’ve been planning to do a pattern for a sleeveless cabled tunic, but now I don’t have to! This is perfection.

New Favorites: Every stitch of the Tov collection

Gevir by Sarah Solomon represents that balance I think we’re always looking for, of a garment that’s striking — what I like to call a trophy knit — but also very practical and wearable. The combination of wide ribs and vertebrae-like cables, the way they’re deployed here, is slimming rather than adding bulk. And it feels extremely fashionable and classic at the same time. Absolutely gorgeous.

New Favorites: Every stitch of the Tov collection

And then there are the accessories:

TOP: Rille by Olga Buraya-Kefelian is just fantastic looking hat — must have

BOTTOM LEFT: Mont by Olga Buraya-Kefelian is a pair of long mitts that are just a good thing done well

BOTTOM RIGHT: Arkade by Antonia Shankland is the weirdest stitch pattern I’ve ever seen, makes no sense to my brain, but I find the dimensionality and pillowiness of it fascinating!


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Mitten mania

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten

Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner — the Mason-Dixon ladies — are two of my favorite people in the yarn world, and I’m really happy they now have a webshop and warehouse because it means Ann now works in the same building as me, which means I get to have lunch with her from time to time! A couple of weeks ago, she told me about her idiosyncratic take on thrifting, and I thought it was the perfect way to kick off Long-Worn Week of Slow Fashion October. So here’s Ann—

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten

I have a very specific way of approaching slow fashion: I buy old clothes on the Internet.

One very specific kind of old clothes: anything by Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer.

A decade ago, I discovered Dries Van Noten when I was lying flat on my back in bed with a cold. It was late, and the Nyquil was kicking in. The Style channel was on, and Elsa Klensch was recapping fashion shows. Willowy women floated into my bedroom, wearing Japanese-inspired fabrics and shapes, and Elsa talked about how this Dries Van Noten person was drawing on paintings by Whistler for inspiration.

Sublime. I thought I was hallucinating. I was a goner.

And I was really gone when I found that his clothes came with astronomical price tags.

That was in 2006. I began to follow Dries the way some people follow the Green Bay Packers. I await each new season, curious to see what will happen next. His fashion shows in Paris — here’s the most recent one — are ten-minute dream worlds where his explosions of color and pattern and texture and shape can bring me to tears.

I do not typically cry about a pair of pants, just saying.

I sense in him something rare: a combination of patience, curiosity, discipline and refinement that should be held up as an ideal for anybody who creates things. The energy necessary to create four collections of this quality each year — two for men, two for women, for 25 years — is hard to imagine.

This is my favorite Dries video because it shows him talking, filmed in his gorgeous Antwerp studio.

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten


Dries Van Noten runs his fashion empire in an unorthodox way. He owns his company, meaning that he answers only to himself, not to a corporation pushing him to improve profits, expand The Brand, or create bedsheets or beach towels or derivative crap. He preserves a pure vision this way.

The Independent writes:

Van Noten isn’t interested in keeping up with his competitors. In fact, he refers to them as “colleagues” – an indication, perhaps, of a magnanimous spirit that is rare in an industry transfixed as much with the bottom line as it is with hemlines. “Style-wise I do the things that I want to do,” he says. “But organisation-wise you have to run a company, you have responsibilities.”

Those responsibilities include to his stockists, his staff, and his suppliers. “I try to see that every season we have prints, so that we can work with our six printers. In India we have a cottage industry involving 3,000 people working on many techniques of embroidery, so for me it’s important that in every collection we have embroideries. Sometimes they’re very in-your-face and visible, sometimes they’re subtle. But they’re always there, so that I can give work to these people.”

The Financial Times writes:

Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer for whom embroidery is a part of his signature, has been working with the same family-owned business in Calcutta for the past 25 years. “A lot of people assume that if you are going to do embroidery in India, it’s ipso facto ethnic,” says Patrick Scallon, a spokesman for the designer. “But it’s a very respectful creative process. He has his designs, they have their views, and they both inform each other.”

Dries Van Noten’s relationship with the Indian embroiderers has been carefully nurtured, with one full-time member of his staff essentially splitting time between the workshop in India and the designer’s base in Antwerp, as choices are made about beads and fibres.

“It demands investment,” Mr Scallon said. “You can’t just phone it in. Maybe some companies send the work off through an agent but it is worth it to invest in this relationship.”

Most extraordinary: Dries buys no advertising. You will never see an ad in Vogue from Dries Van Noten. But you will see him in the editorial pages, because the editors can’t deny the quality of his work.

21st-Century Thrifting: On the Hunt for Dries Van Noten


My first piece of Dries was a skirt I found in London, 60% off. It was by far the most I’d ever paid for a skirt. Ten years later, it’s my favorite skirt, a dark jacquard with asymmetrical tucks that make no sense except that they shape the skirt in a fantastically tidy way.

I found a few pieces on sale here and there: A coat with a deep brocade border; a quilted skirt; a jacket with Japanese fabrics; a shirt with crewelwork all over it. For the most part, and for many years, my fascination was abstract. I couldn’t see how to justify spending so much on clothes, no matter how much I admired them.

Technology, as has so often happened in my life and work, changed the whole Dries situation.

Clever shoppers have shopped thrift stores for ages, but I never had the focus for them. Too much randomness for me. Now, the Internet has revolutionized the market for clothes sold by consignment. Sophisticated technology allows you to find exactly what you’re looking for. The online consignment business has exploded, and it’s possible to buy the most exquisite clothes in the world for a fraction of their original price.

The Dries I used to dream of is now something I can collect without any pain to my pocketbook. It is indulgent in its way, sartorial ice fishing. You never know what you’ll catch. And often, you come up empty. But I’m telling you about this because this new consignment technology means that beautiful, well-made, enduring clothes are available to us in a way they really weren’t, even a few years ago. Yes, eBay has been doing this for years. But eBay is the Model T of this technology.

If the goal is to find clothes that last, that are made by designers who care about the people making their clothing, that inspire you every time you wear them, then sites like The RealReal and Poshmark are doing something of real value.

And something that is a lot of fun, too.
Ann Shayne


Thank you, Ann! For my part, although I’m a devout garage saler and flea marketer when it comes to furniture and home goods, I’ve never been a clothes thrifter. But over the past couple of decades, I have managed to hold on to some things so long they’re actually vintage — it’s just they’ve been in my closet the whole time! That’s what I crave now, as I said last year: clothes with long lives and legacies. What about you — is thrifting part of your wardrobe, and how so?


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Elsewhere

Elsewhere: Slow Fashion October edition 1

Elsewhere: Slow Fashion October edition 1

Before we dive into this week’s links, I want to note that it was five years ago today, while we were visiting Nashville from Berkeley, that my friend Meg Strong cast on a hat, handed me the needles, and began to walk me through it, step by step. (A few mornings later, she and her mother, my friend Jo, taught me to purl — and then Jo did a little drill sergeant routine while we ate lunch that I credit for my never having had a problem with yarnovers in my work.) I could never have imagined the ways in which that small act could change my entire life, but here I am five years hence, spending my days — and nights! — engaged with this incredible community in so many ways. I recently wrote an essay for the BigCartel blog (that happened to post this week) about how your support of Fringe Supply Co. makes it possible for me to put food on my table, but that it’s the community that enriches my life. Corny maybe, but 100% true. I’ve never liked my life more than I do right now, and I owe it all to Meg and to Jo and to you. I can never say thank-you enough.

And also, before I forget once I dive in here, we’ve got two new pattern books in the shop this week: Within by Jane Richmond and Shannon Cook, and the first of the new Mason-Dixon Field Guides, Stripes, from Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner. And yes, we have Field Bags today!

. . . . .

SO! Slow Fashion October is off to an exceptional start. It pains me that there’s more conversation on the #slowfashionoctober feed than I can possibly keep up with, and also thrills me that you don’t really need me! You guys are knocking it out of the park, bringing up so many important points of discussion all over the spectrum. If you want  to get a sense of the remarks but can’t take it all in, I recommend these three tactics:

1) Read the comments on the Master Plan blog post, the kickoff post, and/or my blog post from Monday.

2) Check out my posts and the corresponding comments on the @slowfashionoctober account, where I’m highlighting a couple of things per day.

3) Read whatever is under Top Posts on the #slowfashionoctober feed at any given moment in time, along with the comments on those posts.


That’s already a lot to take in, so I’m keeping this to two SFO-ish links today, both relating to natural indigo, synthetic indigo and our jeans:

River Blue — a film about the destruction of rivers around the globe (and the people who depend on them) by the fashion industry, and specifically the blue-jeans industry. It’s not clear where/when we might be able to watch the full film, but the trailer is quite compelling (via @catherineruddell)

Tobacco farmers see green in indigo — a creative a effort to boost natural indigo farming, for the benefit of the farmers and our jeans  (thx, Bristol)

Plus an article that is simply one of the best pieces of writing I’ve come across in a long time, by novelist Michael Chabon:

My son, the prince of fashion

Thanks for being such amazing company this week, everyone — see you on the hashtag!

NOTE: The images above coincide with posts I’ve regrammed this week; click through for the originals — top left, top right, middle left, middle right, bottom left, bottom right.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: My Slotober project for 2016

Swatch of the Month: Life at Hinterland

It’s interview week here on Fringe! This one is by Jess with Hanahlie of Hinterland, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year — remember this? — along with another exquisite swatch by Jess. But I also want to mention Hinterland’s first pattern collection just came out, with the colorwork cardigan I’ve been waiting for a better look at! So, so good.

Swatch of the Month: Life at Hinterland

I’m not sure how I first heard of Hinterland – maybe it was through Instagram, or maybe it was an interview with Hinterland’s founder, Hanahlie Beise, on the Woolful podcast. Regardless, I’d heard only good things about their yarn and was stoked when Hanahlie reached out and offered to send me a couple skeins of their Canadian Rambouillet-alpaca blend, Range. Hinterland is a hyper-local labor of love based in Vancouver Island in Canada, and has only been around for about two years. But once I had the yarn in my hands, I knew it was something unique and quite special.

It sparked an idea to do something a little different for this edition of Swatch of the Month (or “swatchbuckling,” as Karen and I half-jokingly refer to it). I wanted to learn more about this yarn and how it came to life. I pitched the idea of doing an interview with Hanahlie, and she graciously accepted! So with this post, we’re getting a behind-the-scenes look at Hanahlie’s life on an alpaca farm and her vision for Hinterland and their line of yarns.

Swatch of the Month: Life at Hinterland

JS: Hey Hanahlie! As the owner of Hinterland Yarns, you now run an alpaca farm and produce an entire line of yarns. But that wasn’t always the case. Can you tell us about what you were doing before Hinterland, and what led you to wanting to build your work more around fiber?

HB: Before I started Hinterland I was working as a photographer and a graphic designer at Caste Projects, a design studio owned by my husband and me. It felt like I was in front of a computer every day, and that was the case most of the time. My heart wasn’t in it anymore, and I needed a change. I longed to be outside, working with animals, doing things with my hands.

I have always loved material, texture, pattern … textiles in general, so was trying to come up with ways on how I could incorporate those things into my new business. I was big into needle felting, and made this massive bear mostly for an experiment, but also for a design show that was happening in Vancouver at the time. I learned how to knit, and discovered this amazing fibre community. We moved from Vancouver to Victoria (on Vancouver Island), and my search for wooly beasts began.

Originally I was hand-spinning yarn and experimenting with blending alpaca with other fibres. But as my herd grew, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the hand spinning. I started buying more fibre from neighbouring farms who have animals but don’t use the fibre. I’d blend it with mine so I was able to meet the minimum requirements of the mill and away I went! I first experimented with blending with Corriedale wool, and other wools, but once I found Rambouillet merino, I knew I had it! I finally settled on 50/50% ratio, and I think it’s just perfect for garments now.

It sounds like your alpaca flock came together almost by accident or chance. How did you decide that you wanted to focus on alpacas, rather than sheep?

Alpacas were sort of a surprise. I was on the hunt for sheep — I still love sheep and hope to have some one day. There was an ad online for a farm retirement sale, and with that were about 20 yearling alpaca boys. So I thought, why not go out and look at them? I hadn’t really been around alpacas or llamas before, and when the owner took me into the field, all these yearlings came running, jumping, pronging toward me – it was the cutest thing ever. They were beautiful and somehow mystical … and totally stole my heart. After that day I went home and started doing as much research on alpacas as I could, and basically about four days later I bought my original six.

As a farmer and business owner, what does a day-in-the-life of Hanahlie look like?

Typically I get up and take my dogs for a hike or a run. I love that part of the day, being outside first thing with those two. Once they’re tuckered out, I usually head to the barn to do my regular alpaca clean up and feed. I try to get all of my chores done by around 11 or 12 so I can have the rest of the day for computer work. If I don’t have a lot of online orders or emails to respond to I get down to packaging finished yarn, or sorting raw fibre into my next yarn order. It seems like I always have plenty of packaging or sorting to do. Those jobs are never done.

Tell us more about your alpacas.

Over the years my husband and I have been taking on rescue alpacas, shearing for the animal shelters here. When we can, we’ll take them home — and for the ones we don’t have room for, we try to find them homes. I wish I could take them all. We are still pretty small, just 16 alpacas and one llama.

Alpacas and llamas are really interesting. They are very intelligent and have excellent memories. I have gotten to know all of their unique personalities over the years. We have one boy, Bronson, who’s a bit of a bully, but also just a goof. Nutmeg is always looking for treats, so will trot up close and give kisses. Then one of the new rescues, Arthur, who is a very sweet boy, likes to just follow me around wondering what I’m going to do next. They’re all different, so it’s just nice to be around them watching them interact and listen to them make their little hums and grunts.

Their fibre is really amazing too. It’s lightweight because the fibres themselves are hollow (similar to the structure of human hair), so they also retain heat very well. Because the fibres are fairly straight, it creates amazing drape in garments. I love that aspect of it too.


Hinterland yarns are blended with Canadian born and raised Rambouillet and Corriedale sheep, and you even carry a Washington-grown Navajo Churro lopi. Why did you choose to incorporate these specific breeds into your family of yarns?

The Navajo Churro came originally as a felting fibre, but because I had bought so much from that farm in Washington I ended up making some rug yarn and lopi with it. Navajo wool is somewhat similar to Icelandic wool in that it has a soft downy undercoat as well as a coarse guard layer so it is suitable for lopi. I’ve been learning how to weave, so have high hopes of making some hand-woven rugs with my Navajo yarn one day.

I was originally trying to blend my alpaca with Corriedale wool, before I got into the Rambouillet. I thought the alpaca could balance out a more rustic wool like Corriedale. It is a beautiful yarn on its own, still very soft, but didn’t quite have the loft I was looking for. The ladies at the mill convinced me to try out Rambouillet, so I did! The Rambouillet is a merino sheep, so it’s got a lot of lanolin (which I love), the wool is incredibly soft, with lots of bounce and loft. It ended up being the perfect blend with my alpaca.

Hinterland yarns are woollen spun and minimally processed. Can you tell us more about your vision for Hinterland and how that informed the development of your family of yarns?

I wanted a more rustic feeling yarn that was suitable for our climate up here on the coast. It’s generally pretty wet up here, so woollen-spun fabric is warmer and fluffier, so softer feeling against the skin. Canadian merino-type sheep (like the Rambouillet merino) have had to adjust to living in a harsher climate so the wool ends up being more dense and wild. It’s still amazing and soft wool, but not as consistent to something like New Zealand merino for instance. I also wanted to make a garment yarn, so needed something that would balance the alpaca out and create a yarn with memory and bounce.

The wool and fibre is washed just with organic and biodegradable soaps by hand, then picked, carded and spun with old machinery. It’s not perfect, but I kind of love that aspect of it. It’s a very old, mom- and daughter-owned mill, so I am happy to support them too.

Sounds like supporting Canadian wool farms and mills is very important to you. What are the biggest benefits and challenges of staying committed to a locally-sourced and produced yarn?

I am constantly learning about the wool industry here — what it was, and what it has become. Canada was once a big wool producing country with many mills and wool-producing farms. A lot of the machinery that is still here is very old, very few people know how to do repairs, so a lot of the time they are working with equipment that has been on its last leg for a while. Many wool-producing farms have also bred meat stock into their herd to create a more dual-purpose farm, but which often lowers the quality of the wool. That’s not always the case, for sure, but it is something I have come across.

Plus, it has been challenging to find consistent farms to work with, but I think that’s because so many farmers here are getting to a retirement age and are not as interested anymore. I am getting there, but I definitely have to work with many farms in order to make a viable production. I am sure that is the case for most yarn producers, but it is a learning curve for me!

Regardless of the ‘what it was’ though, I am very excited about the future of farming in Canada. I feel like I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to the yarn I am making, and it has allowed me to reach out to other wool- and fibre-producing farms to help support them by purchasing wool they have otherwise been unable to sell. That part feels really great too.

Another benefit to this for me is that as my yarn business grows, it will allow for us to take more rescue alpacas and llamas into our herd and grow in that way too. That part makes me feel really good, because there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t get an email about some animals needing to be re-homed.

What’s next for Hinterland?

Along with continuing to make my yarn — eventually coming out with few new weights — I do have a few other plans for Hinterland and how to grow the business in another way. I’ve been conceptualizing a new project that is called Colour in the Cauldron, which is a natural dye research and residency programme that takes place in Oaxaca, Mexico. In Oaxaca we will be visiting the five main valleys around the centre of Oaxaca to visit and learn from various master weavers and dyers. Alongside these tours will be an intensive natural dye course where we learn about the natural plants and insects in the area traditionally used to create vibrant colours.

My long-term plan for Colour in the Cauldron is to open up the residency to various parts of the world that have an ingrained textile history. Places like Peru, Guatemala and Iceland are currently top of mind for various reasons, but there are just so many amazing places in the world where textiles are an enormous part of cultural identity and storytelling. This could be a lifelong journey of exploration and learning.

Swatch of the Month: Life at Hinterland


Once the yarn arrived in the mail, I couldn’t wait to swatch with it. The last time I knit with alpaca was years ago for an ill-fated hat with a 100% alpaca yarn that felt very dense and heavy. So I loved that Hinterland’s yarn was blended 50/50 with Rambouillet to give it some lightness and loft from the wool, while still retaining the softness from the alpaca.

Range has a rustic, nubby look and the strands oscillate between thick and thin. With the Maple colorway, you can even discern fine red fibers twisted around the center core of the yarn, with flecks of cream and tan. It’s incredibly soft, and I can easily see this yarn become a slouchy, simple ribbed hat or a stockinette cardigan that would allow the yarn to speak for itself.

However, I was itching to see how this yarn worked up in cables, and I couldn’t get the cables from Michele Wang’s newest design for Brooklyn Tweed, Auster, out of my mind. I’m happy to report that the cables look simply stunning in this yarn, and I’m already plotting to make a wide, cabled scarf in this stuff.
Jess Schreibstein

Swatch of the Month: Life at Hinterland

Yarn: Hinterland Range in Maple colorway (gift from Hinterland)
Needles: US7/4.5mm wood needles
Gauge: 21.5 stitches / 25 rows = 4 inches in cabled pattern, below


For the cable chart, please see the Auster pattern by Michele Wang in Brooklyn Tweed’s Fall 2016 Collection


PREVIOUSLY in Swatch of the Month: On the lopapyesa trail

Yarn and swatch photos by Jess Schreibstein; farm photos © Brian Van Wyk, courtesy of Hinterland