Knitting: The Ultimate Slow Fashion

There is the slow food movement, coined by Carlo Petrini, which emphasizes the return to fresh, locally sourced and unprocessed food. Slow food focuses on the simple pleasures of a home-cooked meal and the sense of community that is cultivated when we sit down together to share a meal. It is not a coincidence that since the coining of the term, “slow food,” we now see a number of similar terms such as “slow parenting” and “slow travel.” The slow movement speaks to a desire to forge connections that have been severed by the rapidity of the internet age, and it reflects the impulse to find sustainable ways to live in the face of consumerism, globalization and environmental degradation.

Recently, I recently picked up Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap FashionReading it was like being handed a history of my personal consumption habits set against the rise of branded clothing chains, such as Gap, H & M, Forever 21 and Zara. Hey, I am that girl with a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear! For years, I shopped at these places and never gave much thought to how my shopping habits were not simply “my choices” but shaped by market forces that emphasized trendy but poorly made clothes with built-in obsolescence. They were cheaply made because they were supposed to be discarded or fall apart after a season. What was cheap for me to purchase–and in large quantities–came at the expense of fair working conditions and living-wages for overseas garment workers whose wages were depressed by the insistent demand for cheap clothing abroad. Then there is the carbon footprint of all this over-production of cheap, disposable clothing. The textile industry is incredibly toxic, with its use of pesticides, dyes and bleaches, and it is a major source of water pollution. And where does all this clothing go after it is no longer in fashion? Thrift stores, Cline writes, are up to their eyeballs in used clothing, and the majority of this stuff that is not sold is dumped in landfills.

Cline then goes on to discuss the slow fashion movement, drawn from the principles of the slow food movement, which also emphasizes a return to the hand- or locally-made. A well-crafted piece of clothing  admittedly may cost the equivalent of  five H & M dresses, but a “good buy” should not be synonymous with quantity even if we are inundated with messages like “two-for-one” or “all you can eat,” that insist that “more” is a value in and of itself. What about defining a “good buy” in terms of something that creates the greatest good for the most people and is good for the environment?

Rebecca Burgess, author of one my favorite natural dyeing books, Harvesting Color, is also the founder of Fibershed, a visionary non-profit organization that shows that–like the slow food movement’s emphasis on eating locally sourced food within a 150 mile radius–it is also possible to do that with clothing. According to her site, fibershed is a

“geographical landscape that defines and give boundaries to a natural textile resource. An awareness of this biogregional designation endgenders appreciation, connectivity and sensitivity for the life-giving resources within our homelands.”

The materials for the clothes on Fibershed are sourced, milled, dyed, spun, knitted, woven and sewn all within a 150 mile-radius. The resulting clothes are inseparable from the colors and textures of the Northern Californian landscape but with simple lines and an easy grace that transcend geography.

While I am pretty sure that I would not be able to completely sources my clothing from a 150-mile radius, my brain is totally in over-drive, thinking about all the possibilities. I want every piece of clothing that I own to be something I love, something that has a history, and something that lasts. These are the sentiments that inspire me to knit for myself and for others. I cannot help but think that every knitter out there is a part of this slow fashion movement, each affirming through one stitch at a time that there is value and connection through working with our hands.

And sometimes, as I’m knitting an interminable stretch of stockinette, I think, it can’t get more “slow fashion” than this.

In the spirit of slow, here are a couple of snapshots of my glacially slow projects:  a handspun sweater that has taken almost a year to make. This is for Little A. Thankfully, I decided to make it a little on the “big” side. It should fit her snuggly by the time I’m actually done. (I’ve made a mistake and I need to take out a few rows. Ugh. So close!)

IMG_5097

A sweater knitted in fingering wool. Now when I grunt and say, what was I thinking?! I will remind myself that, Hey, I’m a part of a movement!

I will also remind myself to vary the angle of my shots as well.

IMG_5100

Being a good listener

IMG_4689

Sometimes I just have to listen to what the fiber tells me to do. I unfurl the braid, loosen the fibers and gently pull a bit from the end. I play with it and twist it this way and that. Then I wait.

This is Wooly Wonka’s “Walden” in mixed BFL and silk, a 60/40 combination, and it told me that it wanted to be spun as finely as possible.

IMG_5411     IMG_5409     IMG_5400

I’m glad I listened. Of all the yarns I’ve spun so far, I’m proudest of this. Part of that has to do with the yardage (2-ply 600 yards!) and the other part has to do with the fact that I actually learned from my past mistakes. Ever since I spun what was essentially twine, I’ve become more aware of making sure that the twist and diameter of yarn are appropriate for the fiber used. Though BFL is a long wool and shouldn’t be over-twisted, silk can take more twist. I tried to balance the two by using the smallest whorl for the singles to spin as finely as possible, and then I plied using the largest whorl. I wanted the yarn to be thin yet lofty.

IMG_5401

I haven’t decided what project I will be using this for, but for now, I love it as it is.

I am a Spinner

IMG_4562

IMG_4552     IMG_4566     IMG_4536

(Nest Fiber Studio, “Sera” in BFL, 2-ply)

I am paid for my writing, but I would not call myself a writer.  I am an academic, but I don’t identify as one. I am a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, but I am not only these things. My reluctance to take on titles, however, does not extend to spinning. Even though I have only been spinning for a little over a year, and my spinning range is stuck between fine and a little less fine, I am a spinner.

It’s strange to think that spinning has only been a part of my life for such a short time. Even V was surprised that it was only last November that I got my first spinning wheel. I spin virtually every day, and I can feel my fingers becoming restless if I don’t spin.

I can’t fully explain the joy of the filaments between my fingers but I love how the slightest pressure can change the thickness of the yarn.  Judith Mackenzie McCuin has described spinning as letting water flow through your fingers, and there is something about letting go and giving in that her description captures. You can’t work the fiber too hard and control does not come from force.

There is still so much to learn, but I am at home in being a spinner. There is magic in treadling, attenuation and setting twist.

IMG_4639

(Nest Fiber Studio, “Freedom Child” in Superwash Merino, 2-ply)

IMG_4663

(Lone Star Arts, “Cheshire Cat” in BFL, 2-ply)