Fast & Not So Fabulous

What was new and very fascinating to learn from the books and articles I read was this idea of ‘fast fashion’. It shocked me that I hadn’t noticed the huge shift in how garment retailers operate, though on reflection I had picked up on most of the signs. What I’d noticed was this:

Clothing is the same price, if not cheaper, than it was in the 80s.
Quality is more uneven and more often worse than better.
T-shirt material keeps getting thinner. Sometimes practically see-through.
Shops are having sales more often than not having sales.
Designs don’t stick around for a whole season, so if you go back for something chances are it isn’t available any more.
More clothing is made from polyester.

It turns out brands don’t release new clothes in seasons anymore. Instead they’ve shortened the time between new styles arriving in stores to weeks, even days. All three books pointed to Zara, a Spanish company, for introducing this system. They have basic full or partial garments made up in ‘greige’ somewhere like Bangladesh and air freighted closer to their distribution centre in Europe, so they can be dyed, finished and embellished according to phoned-in observations of on-the-ground trend reporters, and delivered in store in as short a time as possible.

Of course, that means that the foundation garments are essentially the same. What changes is the easy stuff like colour and embellishment. What doesn’t change that much is fabric and more dramatic cut and shape. Clothes are only in stores for a month or so before they’re removed, so it encourages shoppers to drop in regularly. And they do – two to three times more often.

Though it doesn’t seem like it would, this system reduces the amount of stock that doesn’t sell. For a fast rotation of styles to work means the clothes must be incredibly cheap. With or without it, clothing prices have been on a race to the bottom for a few decades now, and that means a generation has grown up thinking unsustainably low prices are normal, and the rest of us have assumed the old ‘high’ prices were due to brands taking a huge profit.

Interestingly, high-end fashion prices have been rising as dramatically as cheap ones have dropped. What has suffered is mid-priced, good quality fashion. Part of the reason for that is that garment manufacturers in developed countries survive by specialising in high-end product, while those in developing countries aren’t interested in the smaller order sizes that mid-priced brand require. This also means that new designers find it very hard to get a foothold in the industry.

And then there’s the fact that most shoppers can’t see the value in the more expensive garment and are confused by the fact that the same garment can cost more in a middle-sized chain simple because of the economies of scale – smaller garment manufacturing orders cost more per piece than big ones. Shoppers have lost the ability to identify quality, let alone value it. Even judging the quality of cloth by thickness is no guarantee, because additives can add a quarter of the thickness to it, only to be removed on the first wash. Most of all, having never made a garment or watched a parent or grandparent make one, young buyers don’t see the work that goes into making clothes or recognise the details that indicate good workmanship.

While fabric production and cutting can be done by machine, the making up of garments still relies on people. Large-scale production favours a system where each worker does one small task, so the training they get is only good for them getting the same king of job. Fancy design requires training or more skilled and expensive workers, so garments are designed with simple construction. This system has put countless skilled tailors out of work, in both the developed and developing world, and led to the dumbing down of fashion styling.

It raises the question: what price do you put on innovation and skill?

That’s the irony in the current way we buy clothes. It’s called ‘fast fashion’ to imply you are keeping up with on the minute trends, but it has made this era’s mainstream clothing more homogeneous and less adventurous.

Little wonder, then, that vintage and charity shopping has become so popular. Though that is facing it’s own problems… but I think that’ll have to be another post.

Dyeing To Fix Them

Ah, those fibre craft puns…

What with all the culling I did before and after moving house, I’ve been accumulating things to over-dye for over a year now. Last Saturday I woke in the mood to do a one-off, cook-something-in-a-pot kind of craft. I wanted to try using up the candle-making supplies, but I want to try wet sand casting and I have no sand, so that’d have to wait.

So instead I cooked up some dye pots:


First I had the Bison Scarf, which I didn’t wear because of the colour:


I like this dusky burgundy-purple much better!


Then there was the more recent Two Heddle Leno Scarf which was too pink for me (in the photo it is a bit less pink than in real life):


Now a deeeeeep blue:


Lastly I had made the mistake of spinning the water out of the Gift Yarn Jacket at the same time as something I’d dyed, leaving faint pinky-red patches:


Overdyed with a diluted brown dye:


I like it, but am considering refashioning it as well because the sleeves have been fulling and shrinking. (That’s why there’s a cuff missing).

With each dye bath, once the main item was out I threw in a silk scarf or scrap. They’d been solar dyed with leaves ages ago, but came out a dirty, unappealing yellow-brown. The result was surprisingly nice:

The blue one’s a keeper, I think:


The pink one is destined for a friend who it will suit perfectly:


I’ll need to seam the scrap of brown, but I think it’ll make a nice short scarf:


Scarf Distraction

The last two weekends didn’t exactly follow my plans for crafty category domination. Aside from trying (and failing) the Cook Islands t-shirt printing, I wasn’t feeling well the weekend before last, and we spent most of Sunday relaxing at a BBQ birthday party. After some physio during the week I felt better and was keen to make some progress this last weekend, but the need to make more solar dyed scarves as gifts for my trip took precedence over other crafts. It took up two mornings, and the afternoons disappeared in domestic tasks like baking a birthday cake and gardening chores.

Well, at least I have some scarves to show you.

During the week, with the forecast predicting overcast skies and rain for ever and a day, I started to get worried I’d not get a chance to do solar dyeing again before the trip. So I tried using fabric pens on some of the silk scarves I’d bought through an online site. The pens bleed a little, so I went for a hand drawn look. The resulting scarves are very different to the others. I’m taking the cloud one, but maybe not the tape one as I made a small mistake.

Fortunately the sun did come out on the weekend. I asked Paul to pick up some paper doilies and place mats for me when he went shopping and he found quite a range.

Between them and the plastic lace, I added four more scarves to the range, with three being successful. The pattern on the burgundy one is faint because it was the last one I did, and the sky turned cloudy while it was fixing.

The fourth, a green and blue one printed using doilies, came out a little too green. My experience at silk painting back in the 90s taught me that it’s hard to sell green scarves. You have to find that one person who loves green (though when they do, they really do – hi 2paw!). Since I couldn’t guess what the colour preferences of the recipients would be, I decided to stick to more popular colours. So on the Sunday I over-dyed the back of the green-blue scarf with grey dye. It came out grey on the back and grey-green on the front.

I’d also ordered three cotton scarves along with the silk ones. They were a bit too wide for my foam mat, so I dyed the ends of this one first, then did the centre the next day. I had to apply the dye to both sides, so this one had four sessions under the sun. I’m not 100% happy with it – the middle came out too dark – so I wont be taking it with me.

The last scarf I made was an experiment, as I already had plenty of scarves to use as gifts. I used a dropper to drip dye onto the ends of a scarf.

This one is mine.

By then the sky was getting cloudy again so I packed up for the day. I have one blank silk and one blank cotton scarf left. I might try some more fabric pen ideas, but since I have plenty of scarves to use as gifts now it can wait.

While I have female recipients covered, there are the male ones to consider too. I mail ordered some pens made of Australian timbers, but for the one male recipient who ought to receive something a bit fancier and hand made I decided to weave a scarf out of this:

Except when I went to warp up the loom, I discovered I still had this on it from the convention back in early June:

There’s a bit of weaving to do before I can get back into my crafty categories challenge.

Printing Day

Saturday before last was Printing Day. The projects on my to-do list weren’t the usual stamp carving, wrapping paper making kind, but the fabric printing kind, and there were just two:

Cook Islands T-shirt replica
Try solar dyeing

I decided I liked these small to-do lists that allow me to defeat a category in one day. Well, if all goes to plan…

I didn’t have a particular solar dyeing project in mind at first, but ideas soon came to me. One was to make gifts to take os. At first I wanted to print on thin cotton shawls, but I didn’t want to get stuck with lots of time-consuming hemming to do. Shawls would be bulky, too, taking up space in my suitcase. But what if I printed on silk? Silk painting was an obsession of mine back in my 20s. I knew you could buy pre-hemmed scarves. I still have some scraps of silk, so I decided to test the solar dye on one. I used a scrap of plastic lace for the stencil:

After iron to set the dye and a wash to test the colourfastness and I had this:

The lace pattern wasn’t as distinct as I’d like, but that wasn’t unexpected as the silk didn’t want to sit flat and there was a bit of a breeze stirring things. The lace pattern was rather fine, too. I figured I’d iron the scarves, pin them to rubber foam interlocking squares to stretch the fabric out a little, and cover and weigh down the stencils with a sheet of clear plastic on top.

A trip to Zart later and I had more solar dye and some pre-hemmed silk scarves. I gathered together some possible stencils and did test prints on more scraps. I tried feathers, punched out paper shapes, string, white board markers scribbled on the plastic sheet and a fan. Unfortunately, where the wet cloth touched the plastic strong blotches resulted and most of the stencils didn’t work:

I decided to try another plastic lace piece with larger holes. I was all out of scraps, so I tried a scarf:

It looked great, but the dye was shiny and sticky and even after ironing and washing it the scarf kept sticking to itself. I put it through a hot wash cycle but that didn’t fix it.

So I looked at the instruction sheet I’d picked up when I bought the first bottle of dye. It says ink is meant to be diluted 50/50 with water. But I’d read the instructions on the bottle and was sure it said the dye ‘may be diluted up to’ 50/50, so I had figured no dilution would mean a strong colour. Turns out I was right:

The next scarf I dyed I wanted a paler blue so I had diluted it anyway. I used lots of metal rings to make pale circles. By then there was enough wind that, despite weighing things down, the rings moved. I tried spritzing the scarf with more diluted dye and got more rings but less contrast.

I didn’t love with the result so I decided I’d overdye it.

By then the sun was getting too low in the sky so I packed up. I was pretty disappointed that I hadn’t finished one project on my to-do lists that weekend (the flanelette blanket fix wasn’t on any). But I figured I’d started my weekend halfway through Friday, so I could spend the next morning doing more solar dyeing… if it was sunny enough.

As it turned out, it was. I started early and I put what I’d learned to good use, deciding to stick to the lace as my stencil. I did a red scarf, another blue one, a grey one and I overdyed the rings scarf from the previous day. I had quite the process line going, ironing, washing and hanging the previous scarf while the next one ‘developed’. Here are some photos of them on the line:

Yeah, I was pretty pleased with the result. Here’s a close up of the overdyed scarf:

You can still see the rings, but the way the blue and black interacted looks fabulous. I put a lot of effort into smoothing the first three scarves when painting the dye on, but I let the grey one stay wrinkly.

However, the red dye, though diluted at 1:1, is still a teensy bit sticky. A little of the silkiness of the scarves has been lost at that ratio. The grey scarf, dyed at 1:4 dye to water has come out the softest.

So it seems that if I want to dye silk, the stronger the colour the more detrimental it is to the fibre. I should aim for a diluted effect. I don’t mind this too much – I like how the blue scarf almost looks like denim that’s had a pattern bleached into it. I’m going to get a few more silk scarves and make a few more lace print scarves. Perhaps in purple, green and brown – and see how pale a blue I can get, too.

As for the Cook Islands tshirt? Well, that turned out to be a fizzer. I tackled it the following weekend, but found the fabric ink just didn’t coat the stamps thickly enough to make a good print.

I figure it would be easier to take a photo and have it printed at Cafe Press or some similar site.

So with that project abandoned and solar dying well and truly tried out, I could declare the Printing category defeated.

Short & Sweet

Over January I did slip in a couple of very quick crafty projects. The sort that take less than an hour. So quick I forgot to blog about them.

These bracelets, following the little tutorial over on Honestly WTF:

Then another inspired by a different tutorial at the same blog:

And then I dug out these shoes, which I vaguely remember buying while on holiday after getting blisters on my heels from the shoes I took with me. I always found them rather boring and ‘beige’.

Some acrylic paint, a leaf-shaped cutter and some address labels later, they weren’t so boring any more.

I also tried solar dyeing with flowers from our flame tree, but all they did was make the cloth slightly pinker.

I’m Dyeing Here

Trying not to use my hands is driving me a little batty here, and it’s about to get worse. I’ve finally received the first round of editing to do on the book. There isn’t much to do and it has a deadline of the 31st January, so I’ve been able to plan 3-4 weeks of rest. It’s a minor miracle that I have the opportunity at all, so I really need to make sure I don’t spoil it, and not use my hands any more than strictly necessary.

I may go completely bonkers.

While the “Knitwear Alteration and Repair” item on my projects list is going to have to wait until February, last week I was able to fit in the “Dyeing Day”. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the crock pot working. It appears to have the wrong plug/cord, which is strange. Perhaps it got swapped accidentally on the last dyeing day organised by the knitting group I used to hang out with, but that happened years ago and I’m amazed I didn’t notice earlier.

I started with the “Circular Vest With Sleeves” from 2009:

The colour was always a problem, since I look terrible in and avoid anything too yellowy. So I overdyed with red:

I wove “The Drapey Scarf” back in 2008 out of some $1 balls of yarn I bought at Dimmeys that has a percentage of cashmere in it so small that it only counts on a psychological level. I knit a top out of it that, despite being knit very loosely, shrank to about 3/4 it’s original size and I recently felted it to make a vest. But it does weave up beautifully.

I dyed it purple, with a dip-dye method to get an ‘ombre’ effect:

Finally, I dyed a scarf woven from undyed handspun leftover from a big charity scarf weaving binge in 2009.

It went straight into the purple dye bath and came out much improved, and still gloriously soft.

A few nights ago I tried weaving on the knitters loom while watching tv. It only gave me a little flash of heat in my wrist – much less than typing this blog post does. Perhaps if I start to go a little mad from lack of creative activity, I’ll do just a little bit of weaving. While wearing my wrist brace, to make sure.

Braided Scarf

Another WIP done:

Pattern: Made it up as I went, inspired by ‘Lane’ from Vogue Knitting Holiday 2006
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Pure silk, purple overdyed with navy silk painting yarn

The pattern this was based on was on the front cover of that issue of VK, but I got rid of my collection of VK a while ago because I found I didn’t tend to knit much from them, and the few patterns I’d used were often badly written and full of errors. But I didn’t really need a pattern. The idea is very simple: knit tubes, braid them.

I had only two skeins of the yarn so I aimed to knit a smaller scarf anyway. I knit them into a 10 stitch tube then divided it into five lengths, leaving a little extra for the end sections. I put the stitches of one end of each tube onto needles and knit the end section, using kitchener to bind off. Then I braided the tubes before finishing the other end in the same way.

I’d read the comments on the pattern from other knitters who’d made this project, so I was pre-warned about how boring it was to knit. It is mostly a lot of i-cord knitting. I probably spent six or seven nights just knitting i-cord – 3 to 4 hours a night. But by the time it started to get tedious I had a head cold and wasn’t capable of anything more complicated. I don’t think I could have endured much more i-cord knitting by the time it was done, however, so I’m glad I only had the two skeins of the yarn.

Braiding shortens the tubes considerably. I wound up with a fairly short scarf, but long enough to go around the neck and cross ends. But that’s made up for by it being thick and cushy. Being 100% silk, it’s soft and feels lovely on the skin.

It’s a pity the pattern is so boring to knit, really. I like how it looks and would like to make a wider, longer one out of wool or alpaca. Or attach a lot of tubes without braiding, then make another long one and weave it. But you’d want to have an i-cord maker so you could churn out the tubes quickly.

Sketch Sunday 62

I’m deliberately late posting this, because it really needed to come after the silk dyeing and scarf tying posts. I was inspired by the brochures to sketch my favourite way to wear a scarf – The Noose. There was also a variation of it in one of the brochures which involved twisting the scarf rather like making a skein, so I called it The Skein.

Year in Craft – 2010

This blog’s former incarnation was a knitting blog, and at this time of year I used to do a bit of an overview of the projects I’d finished the previous year. I thought it might be interesting to do an overview of everything I completed last year, not just the knitwear.

First, for old times sake, the knitting (and crochet):

Knitting & Crochet:
Josh Socks (gift)
Cherie Amour (op shopped)
Bean’s Monkeys (gift)
Pussy Cat
Origami Bolero
Beky’s Socks (gift)
Argyle Vest (winner)
Bramblewood (op shop)
Emma’s Socks (gift)
Mossy Mobius Scarf (winner)
Donna’s Socks (gift)
Possum Mobius Scarf (winner)
Lion Jacket (winner)
Alison’s Socks (gift)
Piper Hat
Dad’s Socks (gift)
Purple Jumper
Glitzy Mobius Scarf
Toast Wristwarmers
Leafy Wristwarmers
Slinky Ribs
Argyle Vest #2 (winner)
Touch Yarn Socks
Sideways Stripe Vest (op shop)
Loom ends scarf (gift)
Dad’s brown socks (gift)
Owls Hat (gift)
Navy Crochet Hat (gift)

I did a second Socks For Others Club last year. That, for new visitors, was a sock ‘club’ in which I knit socks for other people rather than myself, because I now have not just an overflowing sock drawer but a growing stockpile. It was great fun and by having people put their hands up for socks I ensured my knitting had an appreciative recipient. A win for everyone!

The other challenge I set myself was the Bernardathon. I love the designs of Wendy Bernard, but though I’d had her first book, Custom Knits, for a while, I hadn’t knit anything from it. So I picked three projects and spent the winter knitting them. The Lion Jacket was a real winner – I wore it many, many times.

It was also a year of unintended stash reduction. I hadn’t put myself on a stash diet, but found I didn’t want to buy more. At first I just wanted to reduce the yarn so it all fit in the storage I have for it. And then I just kept going, only buying yarn late in the year when I had to buy some for a gift. I also culled the stash a few times, giving kilos of it away. The stash is now about 2/3 the size it was at the start of the year, and though I do now feel the occasional twinge of yarn acquisition temptation, I still want to continue using up what I’ve got.

Mt Pisa woven scarf (gift)
Red & White hand towels (winner)
Black & Grey ruffle scarf (gift)
Bamboo Scarf #1 (gift)
Twill Blanket #1 (gift) (winner)
Bamboo Scarf #2 (gift)
Twill Blanket #2
Denim Floor Rug #2 (winner)

I hadn’t noticed how much of my weaving I’ve given away this year. I don’t mind the giving, but I am noticing that a lot of my weaving is done to use up leftover yarn, in particular because I found it unsuitable to knit or crochet. The weaving yarn stash is growing, mainly because of this occasional overflow from the yarn stash. I don’t mind this too much, except that I’d like to be weaving yarn I selected for a weaving project more often. Or, in the case of rag rugs, weaving with something other than yarn.

Book Binding & Paper Craft:
Concertina Badge Booklet (winner)
Chain Stitch Sketch Book
Panorama Sketch Book
Bookbinding Class Book
Matchbook Notebooks (winner)
Doodle Book #1
Birthday Album (winner)
Test Book (now diary)
Fused Plastic Book
Palm Leaf Holiday Memory Book (winner)
Coptic Bound Travel Journal (gift) (winner)
Podcast Journal (art journal)
Denim Notebook (winner)
NZ Photo Album (winner)
Apple & Pear Book Sculptures (winner)
Dimensional Circle Ornaments (winner)
Mini Book
Smartie Book
Underground Book (winner)
Knitter’s Journal
Doodle Book #2
Book Pages Paper Jewellery (winner)
Security Envelope Paper Jewellery
Masquerade Book Mask
Brown Paper Sketchbook
Map Cards & Envelopes
Concertina Sketchbooks
Shopping Bag Booklet
Marbled Paper book
Discovery Channel Book

Oh, I had so much fun with book binding, paper craft and repurposing books this year! I particularly had fun using recycled materials in these projects. However, I’ve been doing less of it lately, mainly because I got all inspired by refashioning clothes.

Russian Book Bags (winner)
Mannequin Legs plant stand (winner)
Solar Dyed singlet top
Rusty Nail Dyed T-shirt (winner)
Mirror Frames from Junk (winner)
Portable Oil Painting Kit
Instant Scarf
Homemade Paint Box (winner)
London Tea Towel Pillows (winner)
Impromptu Skirt (op shop)
Blue Motto Top
Gauzy Motto Top
Doodle Shoes #1 (winner)
Not-Boring iPhone Cover
Motto dress to a top (winner)
Red skirt to a top
Cheesecloth top
Black & grey skivvies to tops
Black skirt slim down
Black skirt to a top (winner)
Fob Watch Necklace
Doodle Shoes #2
Foam Stamps
Denim shorts into skirt
Striped shorts into miniskirt
Oversized Shirt into Sleeveless Top (winner)
T-shirt into skirt (winner)
T-shirts into tube headscarves
Man’s shirt into a dress (winner)
Painted iPhone cover
Dress Form (winner)

2010 was a year of recycling and refashioning for me. Many of the projects I finished used recycled materials, or supplies I already had, or involved sprucing up something new. Even the duct tape dress form was stuffed with bubble wrap left over from mail-order parcels. I became addicted to New Dress A Day and went from tweaking a few garments I already had to buying them from the op shop or giving new life to Paul’s culled shirts.

Another challenge was Projects for 2010, which I’ve covered in a recent post.

It was also a year for sketching. I tried to do a sketch a week and succeeded (with a few catch-ups), posting them under the Sketch Sunday category. Looking over the year’s sketches, I’ve moved from pencil and charcoal to pen and watercolour as my preferred medium.

I finished the year with a growing interest in simple printing methods and painting. This year I have plans to return to art classes. Looking back on last year, I’m pretty chuffed at how much I made and all the new paths of creativity I discovered and explored. Who knows what other creative inspirations will come my way this year!

Secret Crafting & T-shirt Refashioning

There’s been a bit of crafting going on this last week, but most of it I can’t show because I’m making presents. There’s been some knitting. There’s been some weaving:

There was some dyeing, too. I over-dyed an olive green skirt black (sorry, no pics) and this yarn:

Over-dyed blue:

There was also some more wardrobe culling. When the weather warms up I switch the position of my skivvies and long sleeve cotton knits with my t-shirts for better accessibility, and I finally got around to this last week. I seemed to have an awful lot of t-shirsts, so I sorted and counted them. I was a bit shocked. Somehow I’d managed to end up with 51 – not counting sleeveless ones and singlet tops.

I say ‘somehow’, but I know the source of my t-shirt excesses: conventions and holidays. I always pick up a couple in either situation. I’ve learned to be fussy about holiday t-shirts. I won’t buy them unless I really like them. I’m learning to be picky with con t-shirts, but the pile of ugly, oversized con shirts I don’t wear is evidence that I was once an easy victim to the ‘had a good time so must buy the shirt’ compulsion.

Most of the con t-shirts ended up in the gym/painting pile. Of the holiday shirts culled, this one had potential. I’m a sucker for anything chocolate themed. I’d bought a 1XL size because it was the smallest they had, but though I didn’t mind the bagginess, the material was surprisingly thick, which made it a bit hot for summer.

After searching the internet for ideas, I realised that the thicker material made it good skirt material. So I got chopping:

Side seams done, I considered how to do the waist. Unfortunately, my overlocker doesn’t do hems and my sewing machine’s stretch stitch makes horribly puckered seams. I usually get around this by overlocking on a tubular waistband of ribbing. But I didn’t have any ribbing. Looking around at the other culled clothes, I spotted the solution: a too-small-over-the-boobs sleeveless top I was going to cut up for rags:

Waistband added, and I haz new skirtz.

Since I had the overlocker out, I decided to attack another stretchy fabric project. I had one of Paul’s old t-shirts:

I’d put it aside thinking I’d make it into one of those tube head band thingys you get at camping/adventuring stores. Nothing fancy here, I just cut a rectangle of cloth from the shirt’s back, overlocked the top and bottom edges and then seamed up the sides. You can wear it scrunched together as a headband:

Or stretch it out over your head like a sock hat.

I do this to protect my hair when painting, or make sure none of my hair gets into the food when cooking. Not flattering, but practical. Having succeeded at that, I realised there was something I could do with old con t-shirts:

This one yielded two tube head bands. I nearly chopped up another t-shirt, but decided not to when I realised it involved changing the overlocker thread to white. It takes a much more important project to motivate me to tackle re-threading an overlocker!