Slow fashion is… really slow

 

We arrived in San Antonio in the summer of 2013 so that V could attend graduate school. I was excited to get away from Portland and from the stresses of work. Though we were only going to be there for a year, we sold a lot of furniture on craigslist, down-sized from a three-bedroom house and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. I was at a crossroads about work and life, and San Antonio offered the chance to get away from the physical and emotional clutter that I felt buried under. I knew no one, and there was something exhilarating that. Just shortly after we arrived, however, Little A had a severe allergic reaction to something she ate. I also found out that someone I had once worked with, a most lovely, kind and good-hearted person, had suddenly died of an undiagnosed brain tumor at the age of 35. Suddenly, the freedom that I had craved made me fearful, exposing a fragility that stress and routine had dulled, and so I turned inward, finding comfort in the tangibility of handwork.

It was there that I started spinning for this sweater, almost three years in the making, spanning time spent in San Antonio, Portland and Washington, DC. I had only just learned to spin the year before and didn’t have any idea of where to buy fiber and what kinds of independent dyers were out there. I was still finding my way through Ravelry and learning the ropes about destashes, fiber clubs and the like. I bought two bags of Portuguese Merino dyed by Hello Yarn through a bulk destash.

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I split each bump into thin strips, and I worked on spinning this, on and off. After a bit, I saw someone destashing another bump of “Silt” and the idea that I might possibly have enough for a sweater began to emerge.

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Fractally spun, I made sure that I did pair the first spin with my last one so that the unevenness of my spinning would somehow even or cancel each other out.  Portuguese merino staples are short, and that made for an uneven rustic yarn with a bouncy crispness.

I finally finished spinning 12 oz this spring. By then, we had already returned to Portland and had also moved twice! All that chaos made it hard to see the project through, and I also found myself with less time for knitting and spinning now that I had returned to full-time work.

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That year in San Antonio had been clarifying. I realized I love my job. I am incredibly lucky I am to be able to do something that is intellectually satisfying and always unpredictable. I’ve also come to grips with aspects of the job that I’m not so good at, and being honest about my limitations and being willing to say “no” has helped scale down the stress tremendously and enabled me to focus more on my writing and research.

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I didn’t know what to knit and I had forgotten to record the yardage. I was going to Washington, DC this summer for work, and I wanted to make sure I had a knitting project to bring along. This cardigan, Praline, by Gudrun Johnston was a last minute impulsive decision. I got gauge and threw the skeins into my suitcase and hoped for the best. I began knitting on the flight to DC, and I worked on it during the evenings, after a long and satisfying day spent at the Library of Congress. I worked on it during the train rides to New York City and Philadelphia, and I finally finished it back at home in Portland.

img_7677So much has happened between when I first started spinning and when I finally sewed those little buttons on.

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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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