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!)

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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.

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Disposable

When we got ready to move from our three-bedroom house in Portland to our one-bedroom apartment in San Antonio, we must have donated about ten heavy duty garbage bags worth of clothing. Much of the stuff we never even wore. They were mainly mine–clothing that offered versions of me that I wanted to be:  clingy dresses I would wear if I had a ton of cocktail party invitations and were 20 lbs lighter; “adult” outfits so that I could appear more professional; and shirts and pants with funky prints that were more playful than I actually was. I rationalized these purchases because they were cheap even if they weren’t entirely me. But the real me won out and I wore the same things day in and day out while these more exciting possibilities got jammed in a plastic bag then left in the basement.

While we stuffed the garbage bags full of clothing, readying them for donation, news broke of the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, killing over 1000 people.

As I write this, I think about my daughter sleeping in her bed, and about how soon I will be joining her, snuggling beside her sweet sleeping form. For the hundreds of garment workers who were crushed in the collapse, they did not get to return home to their children. I can’t seem to stop thinking about how the huge pile of clothing that we donated is connected to the pile of rubble and concrete that crushed the workers. Their lives were deemed disposable too. Working for $38 a month barely kept food on the table, and they worked despite the warnings about the unsafe building for the fear of losing their jobs or a day’s wages.

I’m still trying to figure out how this culture of disposability translates into disposable lives. “Disposable” has become normalized in our lives–even a selling point. Disposable diapers, disposable mops, disposable razors, etc. Trendy clothing are meant to be worn for a few short seasons. The convenience of disposability means that we don’t have to wonder where the things we dispose of go nor do we have to wonder about the people who make these disposable items.

Today is the third day of a massive protest outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh against low garment factory wages. It has shut down over 100 factories. And it has also become violent. The collapse of the Rana Plaza made headlines, but the conditions for many remain the same: low wages and long hours making clothing that will then be shipped to enormous chain stores that offer them for a steal. Recently in Geneva, there was a meeting of the various retailers supplied by the workers of Rana Plaza to discuss how to compensate the victims of the building collapse. Only nine out of the 29 brands supplied showed up, and to this date, only one company has compensated the victims.

To suggest that knitting may be a kind of intervention seems somehow disrespectful and grandiose. If anything, knitting can be a “pause” button on over-consumption, a reminder that plentiful cheap, disposable clothing comes at someone else’s expense. Every knitter knows the time and effort that goes into knitting a project. It is usually cheaper to buy a sweater than to knit a sweater, and it is certainly more convenient and faster. I don’t really have an answer or a neat and tidy point here. All I know is that cheap, fast and disposable seem to be the antithesis of knitting, and there is oppositional value in that.

Fiber Stalker

I’ve become a stalker.

Ever since I discovered indie dyers such as Hello Yarn and Southern Cross Fibre, I’ve been lamenting the fact that I came upon spinning too late when these dyers’ fiber clubs are already maxed out and their waiting lists impossible to even get on. The only way to sample their amazing fibers and colors has been to hope for a destash posted on ravelry.

Then, I discovered that Hello Yarn, Southern Cross Fibre and Spunky Eclectic were joining forces for a special event. They were going to draw from the same inspiration photo and then dye their version of it. These bumps will then go on sale at staggered times on their respective sites.

Here is the inspiration photo followed by the different interpretations:

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SCF_medium  Southern Cross, “Sirens”

HY_medium  Hello Yarn, “Oxygen Deprived”

SE  Spunky Eclectic, “Mermaids Wear Lipstick Too!”

Southern Cross went on sale yesterday afternoon and Hello Yarn went on sale this morning. Spunky Eclectic is coming up, but I don’t think my nervous system can take it!

I have been on pins and needles the past two days, agitated and anxious. I played out various strategies and scenarios in my head as to what to do when the sale began.  I paced and watched the clock counting down. I put Little A in front of the TV so she wouldn’t disturb me. Then I waited at my computer and practiced my “refreshing” technique and refreshed and refreshed and refreshed and refreshed right up until the “Add to Cart” button popped up and the sale officially began. I managed to get 8 oz of Southern Cross but only 4 oz of Hello Yarn.

Did I say only 4oz of Hello Yarn? I should be grateful that I even got one. Everything went in less than a minute, and I’ve become an official fiber stalking freak. I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to get more, and I am still jittery from all that adrenaline.

There are many who wear their fiber obsession with pride. And I wish I could do the same and not feel this guilt and ickiness. I am definitely obsessed as V and even Little A will attest. But, since one of the reasons I wanted to start knitting and spinning was that I wanted to have some distance from consumerism and materialism and to focus on the process of making as opposed to buying, all this stalking and stashing is making me feel uneasy. I’m just redirecting my materialism and dressing it up as “homemade.”

Of course, there are infinitely more pluses to buying from independent artists and supporting them as opposed to buying from chain stores and multinational corporations. And I respect the work that these artists do. But, I’m not liking my own feelings of “needing” more and more fiber, especially fiber from specific dyers that are hard to come by. And I don’t like the fiber frenzy and fetishization that I am both participating in and also perpetuating.

There has got to be a saner and more moderate way.

Less is More

This is what I see as I sit at the dining table knitting:

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And I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that this is my life.

Ever since we moved from our three-bedroom house in Portland to our one-bedroom apartment in San Antonio, we have been marveling at how relaxed we feel. Free of the clutter of knick-knacks and house maintenance, we have time and space for playing, exploring and creating.

There are still a lot of things we can get rid of if we want to continue to simplify our lives, and that is something that I will be working on this year. But this forced down-sizing has given us the chance to experience first-hand what so many have already said–that de-cluttering is liberating and that we don’t need all the space we think we do. The richness of our daily lives prove thats that bigger is definitely not better. We can clean the apartment in about an hour, which leaves us time for moments like this.

I won’t lie and say that I don’t miss some of the things that we had before, namely our garden and home-grown vegetables and a basement where V can make music with his friends. But, these are not insurmountable things. If we were staying here longer than a year, I would be looking for a community garden and V could probably play in someone else’s basement. And, frankly, that could be a plus.