Rezippered

Waaay back in my 20s when I sewed a LOT and make my own patterns, I made this skirt:

creativefidget710

For me it’s one of those garments that has survived time and fashion. I love it. Even when long, gored denim skirts aren’t trendy I wear it. I just don’t care if it’s cool or not. It’s not that it was one of the few garments I made at the time that worked, either. It’s so comfortable and, worn with or without tights, suited to all seasons of the year.

But its days are numbered. A few years ago when I had a bit of weight on I replaced the waistband so I could still wear it, and the fix wasn’t the most attractive. The fabric is getting really thin and lank and very faded. The 50-50 a-line skirt was made of the leftover denim, so you can see how much colour it has lost.

Knowing that it’s on its last legs, I’ve intended to make another. I still have the pattern. But when I spotted a gored denim skirt at Savers, well-made of a sturdier denim but too big for me, I hit upon an alternative plan: refashion it into a near-idential skirt. My intention was to remove the button closure at the front, open up the front seam, hem it and put metal buttons all down the front.

creativefidget711

However, it resisted me on one front. When I’d unpicked the front seam I noted that the label wasn’t at what I thought was the back, but what I thought was the side. Which was supposed to be the back. Turns out the closure was supposed to be on the left side! Which would have been unflatteringly ugly – not that the bulky button fly looked good at the front, either.

So I decided to go along with this. I replaced the button fly with a zipper, which allowed me to cinch in the waist a little, tapering the side seam back to the original width. No more bulky side-fly. (That sounds so wrong.)

creativefidget712

The denim is very stretchy, so the zip is a bit wavy, but not so wonky that I can be bothered sewing it again.

creativefidget713

Overall, I’m really happy with the result. I won’t be throwing away my favourite old denim skirt until it truly dies, but this replacement is good enough to wear out of the house and destined to be a wardrobe staple.

Moral Fibre

When I counted the contents of my wardrobe, I took note of what everything was made of. This is what I found:

59% cotton
22% polyester, nylon or acrylic
15% wool, alpaca or camel
3% cashmere
2% rayon, viscose or bamboo
1% leather or silk

Having an interest in textiles for a long time, I already know most of the issues with different fibres, and that there are none that don’t come with baggage. The above proportions are the product of many year’s accumulation and culling – older clothes that stood the test of time mixed with newer clothes. Fibre-wise it’s a good representation of my current approach to shopping.

So what would I change?

The greatest percentage of fibre in my wardrobe is cotton. It’s my fibre of preference because I have no allergy to it. I always knew there were issues with cotton growing like water-consumption, but I didn’t know how bad it was. The cotton growing industry is rife with water, pesticide, and pollution problems, GM scams and worker abuses. Producing cotton uses more energy than any other fibre, including polyester.

Many of these problems are dealt with or lessened in the production of organic cotton. Usually – though not always – when a brand goes organic they’re cleaning up other aspects of production too. Since I’m a cotton-preferring buyer, I’ll make a big difference by shopping for organic cotton whenever possible.

I’ve already blogged about my shock at how much polyester had crept into my wardrobe, and my determination to not buy any more. While the way polyester fibre is produced, with the fibre being extruded in the colour required, means the potentially polluting and water wasting dye process can be eliminated, many brands are now having basic garments made in the standard ‘greige’, shipped closer to home, then dyed and embellished as required so they can respond faster to trend shifts and meet those “new designs twice a week” aims. Polyester also produces toxic gasses during production, and, of course, uses oil reserves. It takes hundreds of years to decompose. Adding to that, learning that when there’s a house fire these days it turns into an inferno within a few minutes thanks to so much inside being made of petrochemicals has made me even more wary of polyester and it’s kin.

So polyester is out. What to buy instead will depend on the garment. I was disappointed to learn that while Bamboo is a great crop because you just chop off what you need and it grows more, the process of making the fibre is the same as rayon and viscose (which use wood pulp): water-hungry, polluting and toxin producing – and that’s before the dyeing. In the book Overdressed Tencel and Modal were said to be okay, because they’re made in a ‘closed loop’ where the chemicals and water are retained and reused. The trouble with all these ‘cellulosic’ fibres is that it’s hard to remember which are good or bad. To be sure, I’ll buy them through ethical brands.

I have no silk, linen or hemp garments in my wardrobe, but I do have hemp bed linen – a big investment that is paying off as they’ve done exactly as was promise: become softer in time and yet are wearing really well, are warm in winter and cool in summer. None of the books I read touched on the ethics or sustainability of linen, but hemp gets a thumbs up and silk is fine if you’re not a vegan. I’ll be keeping all three in mind as options for fancier clothes.

Merino keeps coming up as a relatively benign fibre, though there are environmental issues with fleece preparation and dyeing if either aren’t done properly. The most famous issue is mulesing, which isn’t fun for the sheep, but necessary to prevent flystrike. Other, less savage methods to combat flystrike are being developed and adopted, however, so if I was going to buy more woollies I might look for producers that are using them in order to support the effort.

Some of the garments in my wardrobe come with particularly gnarly issues:

Jeans
If the cotton growing issues weren’t enough, jeans production is loaded with environmental and worker conditions issues. Whole river systems have turned the wrong kind of blue from dyeing, and the methods used to create wear effects gobble up water and energy, in particular sandblasting, which clogs up the lungs of workers with silica. I’ve always thought pre-distressed jeans were a bit wanky and look for the darkest, un-treated pair I can find, so now I have another justification for doing so. Or maybe wear some other kind of pants.

Cashmere cardigans
I had no idea that bargain cashmere was a thing, but it turns out it is in the UK – where I bought two of my cardigans. However, it has led to overgrazing in Mongolia, destroying what is a unique and very fragile ecosystem. Ironically, this has also led to a degradation of the quality of cashmere. The micron count of cashmere is now so bad you may as well buy merino.

Leather jackets
“The World Bank identifies leather as among the three most polluting industries on the planet” (Wardrobe Refashion, by Claire Press). Tanning produces toxic vapours. Most is chromium tanned. That’s the poison of issue in the film Erin Brockovich. Fifty million litres of it end up in the Ganges every day. And the idea that that leather is a by-product of the meat industry is just that, a nice idea. All but one of my leather coats is second hand. You can get vegetable dyed leather, or products from factories that capture and recycle water and chemicals, so I’m ever tempted to buy leather in future I’ll make sure I buy second hand or from ethical brands.

Fur and skins
There’s no real fur in my wardrobe… as far as I know. My fur-like shrug is supposed to be fake. However, since real fur is cheaper than fake fur thanks to the growth of farmed fur, sometimes garment manufacturers lie about the source. Often the animal isn’t what the label says either, especially if it was produced in a country where cat and dog fur is already produced in the millions. In some places they practise live skinning to avoid cutting the pelt, and you don’t want to know what they do to snakes. If this isn’t enough to put you off, the processing of fur is as polluting as leather.

Well, while counting the item in my wardrobe seemed bit over the top, I did discover a lot about my clothes. I know what to look for when I want to replace something. Not just seeking out ethical brands, but checking out organic cotton, linen, hemp and silk. Avoiding distressed jeans, seeking out alternatives to jeans. Buying merino (preferably non-mulsed) instead of cashmere. Avoiding polyester and leather. Continuing to be repelled by fur.

Most of all, I’ll try even harder to not buy much at all, because so much of the evils of garment production stems from fast fashion – cheap, disposable clothing sold for ridiculously low prices, pretending to be trendy but really just the same old thing embellished and recoloured in order that stores appear to have ‘new’ styles in their stores every few days.

That issue will have a whole post of its own.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Final Weaving Class

Sunday before last the third and final Intermediate Weaving Sessions was run at the Guild. I’d woven my overshot project until I ran run out of the orange yarn, played a bit with substituted yarns, decided I preferred the orange, dyed more and wove to what seemed like closer to the end of the warp.

I wasn’t sure I should finish it for the class or not, since that could leave me with five hours of nothing to do. I asked Ilka, and she suggested I start another project. I decided to leave myself an hour or so of weaving to do in the class.

After we all went around the room to see how everyone’s projects were turning out, I had lunch then started weaving. It didn’t last as long as I’d hoped, as I ran out of orange yarn again. Here it is after I dyed yet more yarn and finished weaving:

creativefidget695

I was surprised and pleased to find the two lengths of orange pattern were exactly the same length. I must have been beating consistently this time!

With no weaving to continue with in the class, I helped a few fellow weavers, and when I got to chat to the teacher it turned out the project I had in mind wasn’t likely to work. So I switched to my back-up project. Since I’d bought the Katie because it’s an 8 shaft loom, I want to do a project that utilised all shafts. I’ve also wanted to try using doubleweave to make a cloth with solid coloured squares inside squares.

Ilka ran through a method of working out the draft using blocks, which I only just comprehended – and felt like my brain was being stretched into a new shape.

creativefidget696

I took this home, thought about it for a day, then the next night used it to map out a draft on graph paper. A few days later I recreated the draft in Illustrator.

Print

Like with overshot, it’s like doing two things at the same time. Unlike overshot, which is something very simple (tabby) alternating with something more complex (the overshot pattern), it’s a complicated interaction of two moderately simple tabby patterns.

Print

It is, however, perversely enjoyable. I’m keen to get a warp wound and onto the loom.