50-50 A-line Skirt

Aaages ago I went to a craft market a friend had a stall at, and bought a skirt that I really, really loved. It was a basic a-line shape, with a slightly higher front and lower back, denim at the back and Japanese print cotton at the front. I love it so much I tried to find the seller again, but there was no sign of her or her brand name on the internet.

So last year I traced a pattern from it, determined to make another myself. When I had a look in my tub of fabric I discovered I had just enough denim for the back, and had about the right amount of a patterned cotton of the same weight for the front. I bundled everything together in a zip-lock bag ready for when I got the time to do a bit of sewing.

Well, you know how with most things if you wait for the right time it never happens, so you have to just make the time? I did that last weekend. This is the result:

creativefidget707

creativefidget708

creativefidget709

I’m delighted with how it turned out. It’s a wee bit bigger than the original, but I was being generous with seam allowance because it’s easier to make a garment smaller than larger. And being frankly realistic, I’m currently on the lean and non-bloated side, but that won’t always be the case.

Is Ethical Fashion Expensive?

When I asked my friends on Facebook if anyone had bought something really cheap, despite knowing it had probably been made in dodgy factories, the main reason given was not having much money to spend. That made me more optimistic, because ethical fashion isn’t necessarily expensive.

It came as a huge surprise to me to discover that brands making efforts to source garments ethically include many that produce cheap clothing. Brands like Target, Kmart, Uniqlo and Zara have a good score on the 2016 Australian Fashion Report compiled by Baptist World Aid.

2016AustFashionReport

So how do these companies sell clothing cheap while still addressing ethical and environmental issues?

The first and most obvious answer is larger scales of production. Large orders require less staff training per garment, mean less time wasted between jobs, etc. Because of these economies of scale, when you produce garments in the millions it might only cost 10 cents per garment more to improve the social and environmental impact of that garment.

The next answer isn’t surprising: cheap means cheap. Cost cuts result in lower quality materials and sewing, and there has to be a consequence: and that is that the $5 t-shirt or $20 pair of jeans isn’t going to last long. Or even the $10 t-shirt and $40 pair of jeans.

I wouldn’t be surprised if workers being able to afford to eat enough calories to work their punishing 100 or so hour a week shifts, helps prevent construction errors, too.

But the most interesting reason that ethical brands can compete at the low end is that by taking control of supply lines, cutting out the middlemen and treating workers well may actually save them money.

A large part of the reason bad labour conditions for workers came about is that when, a decade or two ago, brands shifted garment manufacturing overseas factories they stopped taking responsibility for supply lines. They left it to subcontractors to employ factories or home-based workers, and those subcontractors were – and many still are – unscrupulous in lowering prices as far as possible so they get a better cut. The factory workers at the end of the line end up with what’s left over. The more subcontractors the less money the workers get. It’s also system that makes it hard for brands to control the conditions workers are enduring.

After Rana Plaza, the huge factory fire and building collapse in Bangladesh a few years back in which over a thousand garment workers died, the Bangladesh Accord was devised (http://bangladeshaccord.org/about/) and brands began to implement codes of practice. The factories they use are independently audited regularly to ensure they are sticking to a basic set of principles of safety and fair labour conditions, and deal with issues of environmental degradation and pollution. Of course, attempts are made to get around the restrictions. Some big brands have trusted subcontractors to choose factories with fair working practises only to find those factories secretly subcontracted to ones that don’t. As a result, they’re beginning to set up their own supply lines and factories.

But the main point of this post is: you don’t have to buy expensive clothing to make a difference, just be a bit more selective in your shopping. Brands with an ethical/sustainable fashion policy include it on their website. Independent organisations like http://www.baptistworldaid.org.au/assets/Be-Fair-Section/FashionReport.pdf and http://ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au, have lists of stores.

Also, be extra careful of online shopping. By bypassing local retailers completely you may be not only shopping direct from the countries with the worst social and environmental problems, but undermining efforts to improve them.

Finished Unfinished Cardy

And now for a break from ethical fashion posts…

Remember this cardigan?

creativefidget603

Late last year I bought it in pieces from an op shop and put it together. It was a bit boxy, so I set it aside with tweaking in mind. I considered many different way to close the fronts: buttons, toggles, a zipper, making my own press-stud tape, and even sewing them together to make it a jumper. To make it more shapely I contemplated cutting threads and using a crochet hook to add sections of ribbing to the waist, or gathering it within leather tabs at the side. Nothing quite took my fancy.

Putting it on the dress model again yesterday, I found myself eyeing the purl groove along the front edges. Could I continue the groove over the shoulder and down the back by laddering and then hooking the stitches from the inside? That would pull it in a little, though not a lot. I’d have to unstitch the shoulders, though.

It would be easier than all the other solutions, so I got to work while watching X-Files last night. It all came together:

creativefidget706

Next I tried sewing the fronts together, but all it did was turn the rolled edge into a double-wide flat panel, which I didn’t like. So I put it back on the dress form and found myself crossing over the fronts. It made it even more shapely, so I pinned it in place and this afternoon I made some loops and sewed on some toggles, and a press-stud to hold the overlapped part on the inside in place:

creativefidget705

I’m pleased with how it turned out – and it certainly is more flattering this way. And it’s one less project in the refashion pile.

Wardrobe Confessions

The three books on ethical fashion I’ve read:

creativefidget704

In To Die For, Lucy Siegle goes through her wardrobe in order to calculate how much clothing she has compared to the average woman, and how much clothing of different fibre types.

After a bit of digging one Saturday recently, my back was at that point of needed me to do something that wasn’t strenuous or involved sitting down too much either. So I took inspiration from Lucy and counted everything in my wardrobe.

Afterwards I tallied up the numbers. I have about 556 items of clothing (this includes counting every pair of stockings or underpants – and all those socks) 32 paris of shoes (including gumboots and thongs) and 16 bags (not including the accumulation of totes). I didn’t bother counting the scarf, glove and hat collection since I make those, so I have kept many favourites. 5% of my clothes are vintage or second hand, 15% are handmade, 7% have been refashioned.

Lucy told of how most women have garments in their wardrobe that they’d never worn. I’d thought ‘no way is that true for me’. I was convinced I knew every item of clothing intimately. Um… yeah. Ate a few slices of humble pie, first with the shower-proof jacket I got at a Snowgum sale, then the dress I haven’t found an occasion to wear it at yet, but the worse was the pair of pull-on jeans I can’t even remember buying.

I was expecting my big weakness for socks would stand out, but 120 pairs? Really? And only 39 of them are handknitted by me. And I culled them before moving a year and a half ago.

A quick google bring up estimate of the average number of shoes a woman in owns is 27 in the US and 21 in the UK. I have 30. Including slippers, thongs and gumboots. I can blame plantar faciitis for some of that. I bought 7 pairs of new shoes in the last two years, which is more than usual for me, in order to have pairs that cushion my feet properly. However, I culled waaaay more that between moving house and getting rid of pairs I couldn’t fit cushioning insoles into.

Having gone through my shoes, I decided to polish the leather ones. This meant I examined them closely and found two that need repairing – one old and one recently bought pair. Two other pairs looked fine until I turned them over. They were so old that the plastic soles were crumbling. That made me realise something about my wardrobe.

The contents aren’t a result of a shopping addiction, but a slow accumulation over many years and a determination to wear most things until they fall apart. When I cull, I rarely throw things out. They’re refashioned, sent to the op shop if they’re good enough, and at the worst, turned into rags (which may end up in a rag rug). Looking through everything reminded me of what I have (including those forgotten jeans) and of the story behinds some pieces. It was actually really nice to reconnect with everything.

I’ll save the stats on the ratio of different fibres, and their ethical and environmental impact, for the next post.

Scratching Beneath the (Textile) Surface

A few weeks ago I went shopping for leggings and some knitwear, and was shocked to find I couldn’t get anything that wasn’t mostly polyester. Then I noticed more people mentioning buying ultra cheap products online from China. Then I happened upon a show on iView about ethical textiles and, though it did not surprise me to find out about terrible working conditions of garment makers, I was excited to learn about the efforts going into tackling them. So I posted about it on Facebook. A friend commented that she’d just listened to a radio interview with a woman who’d written a book on the subject. I looked up the show, found a podcast, listened to it and was so impressed I immediately bought the book.

The book is called Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion by Clare Press. It was funny and tragic, shocking and inspiring, and I tore through it in a couple of days. Then I bought a book mentioned in it, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? by Lucy Siegle, and absorbed that in a few days, too.

I found it utterly fascinating, from how the fashion industry works now to learning about all the stages, post design, in the creation of a garment. While much of what I learned I already knew, since as a knitter I had made it my business to know all the ethical and environmental issues to do with fibre, but there were plenty of things I hadn’t known on the garment-making side. There’s a lot to be horrified by and yet I came away feeling far more hopeful than I expected.

Why? Because it seems like the garment industry is being taken, sometimes kicking and screaming, in the direction the food industry has gone, with greater awareness and value placed in environmental, social and health consequences of the way it runs. And I can see that the same interest and energy that drives the decluttering and clean living movements could be directed toward people buying, and therefore encouraging the making of, more ethical fashion.

I asked my friends on Facebook if they’ve ever bought really, really cheap stuff and what their reasoning was in order to gauge the sorts of reactions people have for and against ethical shopping. It’s been interesting to see how they regard it. This article investigates people’s attitudes toward ethical products. I was intrigued to see that the people who choose to ignore ethical issues tend to regard anyone who tries to shop ethically negatively – and I’m reminded again of the food movement, and how despite mockery of ‘organic’ products an appreciation for sustainable food practises has grown.

I dove into all this wanting specific questions answered. Why are some clothes now so ridiculously cheap? Is it better to buy direct from China, cutting out the middlemen, or worse? What are the ethical fashion brands and do they make anything that isn’t expensive and dead boring? Why is current ‘fast fashion’ full of dull, unflattering polyester jersey that falls to pieces after a few washes? How should I approach shopping in order to make a difference, even a tiny one?

Most of these questions were answered, and for a few it was easy to extrapolate an answer. But they’ll take more than a few blog post to cover, so watch this space.

On the Face of It

It’s been ages since I posted about the portraits I do. Well, it’s been ages since I finished one! Now I’ve finally got something to show off:

creativefidget703

I’ve really enjoyed this portrait, but it’s been a slow one. I started it in September. Art classes end at the start of November and resume in March, and though I did manage a few painting sessions during the break I didn’t like what I’d done and painted over it later.

My previous aims to speed up and get four portraits done a year are long abandoned. If a painting needs more time I have no choice but to give it more. And I’d rather take the time to do a good job.

Jean Jeany Rug

Back when I was on Pinterest I collected pins to tutorials on hand braiding strips of rag into floor rugs. The techniques used didn’t appeal, however, as they involved sewing, glue or making a wooden framework. I was sure there had to be a way to do it without sewing machine, glue, looms, needles – really, anything more than just the rags and my hands.

I now use Google Images to browse crafty ideas, and recently it led me to a YouTube vid on braiding rag rugs. The method wasn’t quite what I was after, as it still required using needles, but I could see that they were unnecessary. There was a bit of sewing at the start and end, but I could see a way around that, too. The teacher insisted that you could only do it with stretch fabric, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me trying it with the leftover strips of denim from my woven floor rugs.

So a few months ago I gave it a try. And it was so easy! And very, very addictive. This is how much I’ve done so far:

creativefidget702

It’s only the size of a small doormat so far. It’s slow work, but really satisfying. Good for when I want a creative but undemanding task, or something to do while listening to podcasts.

Undulating Twill

For a month or so now, the floor loom has had a project on it. My first one on this loom.

I considered carefully what to try first. Weaving with a yarn I was familiar with made sense, so I knew any idiosyncrasies I encountered were the loom not the yarn. A small project would be good, and one where I didn’t mind if I wasted the warp yarn.

I chose to use another twill project using the same yarns in the Glam Shawl. Yes, that project was a disaster, but it was the one that made me want a floor loom, so it was a good test to see if it did make all the problems go away.

I chose an undulating twill – something I’ve been wanting to try for while.

creativefidget700

The warp yarn is Bendigo Classic 2ply in a discontinued colour called ‘peacock’, which is the same yarn I used for the Glam Shawl just a ply thinner. The weft is – was – the same brand of metallic yarn in another colourway.

creativefidget699

It all seemed to be going well… until I realised I wouldn’t have enough to the metallic yarn. The fabric seemed a bit loose, too. I decided to try to dye some Bendy Classic 2ply to match the peacock colour.

I didn’t get even close. It was more of a Kelly green than a dark teal. I was going to try overdying it with blue, but something about the weaving I’d done so far made me hesitate.

Running my fingers over the fabric, I found it far too easy to distort. It also was a bit scratchy for my taste. Also, looking at my calculations, I realised that I’d sleyed the reed at 1/3 the wraps per inch instead of 2/3. It was way too loose.

I decided that, while it was pretty, I didn’t care for the metallic yarn, nor did I want to sit over a dye pot. I’d use the green yarn as it was. So I untied the warp and pulled simply slid the metallic yarn off the end. Yep, it was that loose!

Then I resleyed the reed and tied the warp back on. Of course, I managed to get two threads twisted to had to fix that. And then as I started weaving I found two threading errors and had to unweave twice – the green yarn showed the twill pattern better and the mistakes were obvious.

creativefidget701

Finally, it was good to go. I love the undulations, the colour combination, and yes, the loom is lovely to weave on.

Prime Failure

The table loom came with a rusty reed. Having spent a lot of time de-rusting the Dyer & Philips reed – and spent a lot of time renovating the table loom already – I didn’t hesitate to buy a new stainless steel reed. I didn’t want to wait!

What to do with the old reed, then? I asked on the Weaving Facebook group for alternative purposes for a reed… and straight away got lots of suggestions on how to de-rust it to use for weaving. Hmm, not what I was asking, but they were trying to be helpful.

Then I picked up a 12dpi free old reed at the guild that I could use on the Dyer & Philips – giving me more yarn options for that loom. I figured if I was going to de-rust that one I may as well do both.

Paul had suggested going to an auto shop and get a larger bottle of rust converter so I could soak the reeds rather than painting it on. They had a spray-on version that contained a primer. The idea of having a thin coat of primer to protect the reed sounded good, so I went for that.

I was SO wrong.

First, I had the reed lying on newspaper. The spray dried onto it, clogging the reed so badly I had to get Paul to use a rotary wire brush on a drill to get the paper off.

Then I reapplied the spray. The remnants of the first and the second coat didn’t go on thinly or consistently, instead leaving bare, rusty patches and globs of primer. I managed to scrape the bigger blobs off, but once I realised that there were bare patches I decided to strip it off and go back to using the old rust converter.

The paint stripper softened the primer, but didn’t dissolve it, so I just wound up with a reed covered in sticky, softened globs of primer. At this point I gave up.

A week or two later I decided to try one more experiment with the smaller reed. The spray advised using acetone to clean up, so I soaked the reed in that. It removed most of the primer… and the coating on the strings that hold the dents in place. The string didn’t come off, thankfully. Most of the primer was gone, but there was a residue left that I am now scraping off each dent with a knife.

So many, many hours labour later I have ruined the longer reed and, hopefully, saved the small one. Though it remains to be seen if the scraping will roughen the small reed so much it wears through a warp.

The old reed from the table loom will get used for something else – maybe a garden ornament. Something a climbing plant to run along, or for water to trickle down.

Lesson learned: never de-rust a reed with a rust converter containing a primer!

Plastic Not Fantastic

Recently I packed away my summer clothes and brought out the knitwear. Looking through the jumpers, cardigans, jackets and vests, I felt a mix of fondness and weariness. There’s a lot I love in there, but I found myself wishing I could pack it back away for a little longer.

I don’t think it has anything to do with dreading the cold months. I like winter. I’m just a little (dare I say it) bored with wearing the same old thing. Not just the knits, but the skivvies that allow me to wear wool without setting off my allergy to it.

Since I’m not constantly adding hand knits to my wardrobe through knitting any more I have to look for other ways to freshen things up a bit. Because I can’t wear wool against my skin I wear fleecy jackets over short-sleeved shirts on cooler summer days, but overall I prefer natural fibres. I have three cotton jackets, but they’re the same design in three different colours so if you didn’t register a change of colour you’d think I was wearing the same garment. Another kind of cotton jacket sounded like a good addition to my wardrobe.

I figured if I was going shopping I may as well tackle another item of clothing I needed. Too much feasting over the Easter weekend meant I wasn’t comfortable in my jeans and pants. I’d wear skirts instead, but because my cat occasionally swipes my ankles, I have to wear them with leggings instead of tights during cold weather. I have two pairs of leggings, and they’re starting to look a bit tired. Still, leggings shouldn’t be hard to find, right?

So I went shopping. And was aghast. I couldn’t find simple black cotton leggings. They were all made of polyester. And the jackets and knitwear – all acrylic. Even the long-sleeved t-shirts and polo-necks had high levels of plastic content. When did this happen?

Well, I dismissed it as bad luck – I just chose the wrong stores. However, when I went to Ishka a few days later, thinking their aesthetic is usually more ‘natural’, I found lots of 100% polyester fabric masquerading as cotton. Ugh!

A friend put me onto a shop that sells cotton leggings, so I mail-ordered four pairs. When it came to the knitwear and jackets, however, I decided to go second-hand and found a casual corduroy jacket and long cotton cardigan at a charity shop, the latter which I dyed. Problem solved.

However, I do wonder if I’m seeing a worrying trend. On a science program last year researches showed how when modern houses catch fire, the fires burn hotter and spread several times faster than they used to, because most house contents are now, essentially, petroleum products.

And in another program, researchers found that most of the plastic ingested by fish in Australian waterways was fibres from clothing.

Personally, I don’t mind polyester for evening wear and travel clothes. Otherwise, my wardrobe is mainly cotton based. I find polyester unpleasant to wear, even when it doesn’t give me a rash.

But I’m disturbed to see how much poly has crept into my daily wear. I’m not going to toss any of it out, but I am going to be more careful about what I’m buying from now on. I feel more justified in buying and refashioning vintage and second-hand clothing, too.

And I have a stronger urge to change my daily ‘look’ to incorporate much more hand woven and hand sewn clothing. My Saori garment design book is looking very interesting right now.