Finished Unfinished Cardy

And now for a break from ethical fashion posts…

Remember this cardigan?

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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:

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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.

Cheesecloth Top

This top began life like this:

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At the time I was hand sewing clothing, as I hadn’t got over the aversion to sewing I’d had since my mid 20s. I never wore the top. Earlier this year I made a few adjustments to make this:

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Better, but a little plain. I needed something simple to do while watching tv. Inspired by Rebecca Ringquist’s book and kantha embroidery, I stitched lines of running stitch, using up lots of leftover floss.

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Simple. Fun. Flattering. Only problem is, now I need another easy project to do while watching tv.

Old Timers

In some felt baskets in the craft room I keep ‘lingerers’ – materials that never became what they were meant to, unfinished projects and items too good to throw away that I’ve not had an idea how to repurpose yet. From time to time I rifle through, consider again what I could make with them, then put them back again if no inspiration strikes.

When I was rifling through them recently I picked out a ball of icord I made ages ago on the EmbellishKnit.

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I’d started crocheting it with my giant wooden hook at some point, and I liked the result and thought it would make a great hat, but I didn’t have enough for one. This time I had the idea to make a headband instead:

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I’m happy with how it turned out. It did hurt my hands a little to crochet it, though, so it’s just as well it was a small project.

A top made of two squares of cheesecloth also caught my eye. I made it back when I hadn’t got over my dislike of sewing with a machine, so it was all hand sewed. There are no pics of the original. It was a bit of a dud, and I don’t think it even made it onto this blog. A bit more hand stitching turned it into a boat neck top. I’m planning to embroider all over the front. Not sure what yet. An idea will come eventually.

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Next I picked out this houndstooth wool fabric I made in 2012.

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I’d never blogged about the finished piece because the I’d intended to sew it into something. But I do like it as a scarf. Later wove a small rectangle of log cabin out of the same yarn, which I was going to make into a clutch, but this time I hit upon the idea of adding pockets to the scarf.

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There’s something very gratifying about finding a use for odd bits and pieces too good to throw away, or an old failed project. There’s a hoarder in me that gets to say ‘I told you it was worth keeping’. Fortunately I also gain satisfaction from the occasional cull, or I really would be drowning in craft materials!

Giotto Scarf

Working out what to do with odd balls of yarn in my stash can be either an enjoyable challenge or a source of frustration. Years ago I bought a ball of Colinette Giotto – a hand-dyed cotton tape yarn. After some false starts I combined it with some plain navy tape yarn to knit an off-the-shoulder top.

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I wore it once, and found it a bit scratchy. After removing the body, the band around the shoulders – the bit made from the Giotto – became an infinity scarf.

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I never wore that. So some time in the last year I frogged it. Because I’d cut the band to make it into a scarf, I wound up with lots of long pieces of yarn. I just tied them together and wound it into a ball.

Needing a rigid heddle project recently, I looked at my stash spreadsheet for inspiration, noticed the Giotto and did a quick google for what to weave with tape yarn. I found this blog post.

The Giotto isn’t a railroad yarn, but I could certainly use it as an interesting warp yarn. And the yarn was already cut into scarf-length-ish pieces. What was a little revelation to me was that the weaver used 16/2 cotton as the weft. I have plenty of that, in blue and aqua. So I dove into the stash and the blue turned out to be the nicest match.

So it wouldn’t take forever to weave, I did bands of closely beaten picks followed by spacing them out.

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It still took longer to weave than I expected, but I figured that was because the weft was so fine. Only when I got it off the loom did I realise the scarf was long enough to touch the floor!

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I could cut it in half and make two perfectly reasonable length scarves, but I won’t do that unless I decide not to keep it, as I rather like it as it is.

Pattern Recognition

Since I bought the little Jenome (Lil’ Jen?) I’ve had the itch to sew, not helped by thinking a lot about what to embroider. So I went looking in my box of fabric and refashioning project baskets for inspiration.

Early last year I went through my fabric stash and culled it, mostly removing offcuts of fabric from past projects. Out of what I kept, if I had an idea for what it could become, I put a post-it note on it. So I now looked at the post-it notes and selected two projects that appealed: a white cheesecloth tunic that I’ll embroider, and straight grey denim skirt.

I also did a bit of a ‘mix and match’ with some of the smaller pieces of fabric, and hit on the idea of replicating a skirt I have, which is denim at the back and a cotton print at the front.

After that I went through my refashioning baskets. Plenty of projects waiting there, but I was most attracted to a sarong-into-shorts project and, in complete contrast, some thick pieces of woven, felted wool that I might be able to sew into a vest.

But for all but the shorts, which I have made before , I didn’t have any suitable patterns. The half-denim, half-print skirt is very simple, so I’ll just trace a pattern from it. I wasn’t game to try to invent the vest, straight denim skirt and tunic pattern. Fortunately, a while back I bookmarked a few that I liked and found a pattern for a tunic. I couldn’t find any classic straight denim skirt patterns, but I found a vest one that I could adapt for the woven fabric.

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So I bought and downloaded the tunic and vest patterns, then spent most of a morning printing, taping together and cutting them out. The tunic is going to need some careful cutting, as I don’t have a lot of fabric. This is it with the back and front shortened and full length sleeves. I’m thinking now that I’d rather have short sleeves and a longer body.

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Of course, then I had to dig through my sewing notions. I found everything but a skirt zipper and some bias binding. The first I got in my local habby store, and the second I found today, when I went to grab some calico from the stash and found a great big coil of calico binding, the copious leftovers from a quilt I made a few years back.

So with four projects ready to go, I may just need to put aside a whole weekend for sewing. Or two.

Papery

Without really thinking much about it, when I started tinkering with making jewellery again a few weeks back I set myself a challenge to finish or abandon most of the pieces I’d left incomplete last time I had a bout of diy-jewellery-itis along with refashioning and exploring new ideas.

I had these paper beads made from the pages of a book. I tried stringing them, knotting the string between each bead, but the result left me feeling ho-hum. As I cut the threads I lined the freed beads up in a row, and that’s when inspiration struck.

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I used a beading technique from The New Beader’s Companion called ‘square stitch’. The result has drape, and a pleasing nubbly texture.

The other batch of paper beads I’d made were from Japanese paper. I tried joining them in a hexagon pattern to make a triangle, bib-style necklace, but they wouldn’t sit flat. So, once again, I separated them. I started playing with them on my beading mat. They put me in mind of beaded curtains, so I lined them up in a triangle that way instead, and I liked the effect.

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(Necklace stand bought from Waverley Antiques Bazaar. It’s a bit small, but works okay for my shorter necklaces.)

Permitted

We finally got approval of the planning permit amendments for our garage last Monday, and I got straight onto the landscapers to book the tidy up of the embankment garden. They’ll be here in two weeks. In the interim the old tennis court needs to be demolished.

I’d like to recycle as much of the court as possible. Many of the fence posts will become a shorter fence, a pergola and a cat run frame. Some of the mesh will be reused on the new fence if my idea for recycling it works, and a friend of a friend is interested in taking some for her property. I wanted to put the fake turf on the embankment gardens to suppress weeds until next autumn, when conditions are better for planting, but by the end of the weekend I had to abandon that idea.

Two much-needed helpers provided invaluable extra hands:

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While Paul tackled the fence:

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He made better progress on the fence and posts than I expected – they’re almost all down and stacked away. The turf was my target. However, lifting one big piece to use on the garden turned out to be impossible, as the stuff is very, very heavy. It’s embedded with sand, and though a good blast with a high pressure hose gets most of it out, to have any chance of moving it it had to be cut into 30-50cm wide strips.

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We’ve done maybe 10% of it and spent at least 12 hours on it now. When we stopped yesterday, and considered the size of the garden beds it’s meant to cover, we realised we’d need almost all of what’s on the court. That’s just not going to happen before next Monday.

Once autumn arrives and it’s taken off the garden beds, we’re going to face the same problem all over again. And next autumn we won’t have landscapers here with excavators to make light work of moving it.

So we’re going to keep what we’ve lifted, and the rest will go to the tip. We have kept a square of it under what will be the pergola, too:

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It’d make great door mats, too. But we don’t need THAT many door mats!

And, of course, I’ll have to find other ways to suppress weeds in the garden until autumn. Black builder’s plastic is recommended for this. It isn’t too expensive, and I have an idea for what I can do with it afterwards.

So while I’m sad that we can’t reuse everything from the court, I’m happy that we’re going to be making something out of most of the non-turf parts.