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.

Finished Unfinished Cardy

And now for a break from ethical fashion posts…

Remember this cardigan?


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:


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:


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.

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.


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:



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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.



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.


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.

Not Quite Finished

This cardigan caught my eye while I as fossicking in an op shop. It was in pieces, with an extra ball and a half of yarn. The yarn was familiar: Paton’s Inca 12ply. I like the colour, and it appeared to be my size, so I brought it home and got sewing.


I set about sewing in ends and hemming. There were a lot of knots and split stitches that I fixed by darning in a small length of yarn, but the pieces matched and were symmetrical so it all came together in the end.


After blocking, I considered whether it was supposed to have a button band or a zipper. The bottom edge and sleeves had no ribbing. I had a quick look online to see if there was a Patons pattern that matched, but couldn’t find one. Ravelry didn’t have anything that matched, and while the Patons Australia site has a whole lot of pattern books, they look recent and don’t specify which ones use Inca 12ply.

I’m thinking of adding toggles and leather loops. The cardigan has no waist shaping and it’s a bit boxy, so I’ve been considering ways to fix that, too.

Capucine Cowl

To make a cowl over the leftover yarn from Capucine, I cast on about 80 stitches, knit 10 rows of rib, a pile of garter stitch, and finished with about 8 rows of rib (because I underestimated the yarn I’d need to do a matching 10 row rib section, and I didn’t mind the variation enough to frog back and reknit it).


A toggle and loop mean I can adjust the fit on the inside by moving the knot on the loop.


So that’s another bit of stash used up. A bit of unravelled former project yarn stash used up. Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t get so attached to something I’ve knit that when I grow out of it (or it shrinks) I unravel and keep the yarn. It makes using up stash a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ process. But I guess I only do this with yarn I really like.




The pattern is Capucine. It was my first handknit project in… ages. I knit about six rows at a time, once every day or two days. My hands didn’t protest too much.

It’s a cosy hat, and the only one I have that truly covers my ears. Definitely a mid-winter hat.

I have this much Patons Inca left:


I’ve cast on for a cowl out of the bluey grey, and I’ll leave the grey for another project.

On the Go

I’m still weaving two-yarn squares while watching tv:


I have nearly 30. Though I only had one ball of black and three of the multi-coloured, the black ball weighed twice as much as one multi-coloured ball and is slightly thinner, so won’t have as much leftover multi as I’d expected. I’ll join the squares with it, and do a crochet border. While I intended to make a blanket, I like the fabric so much I’m tempted to try making a garment of some sort. There might be enough for a simple kimono style jacket.

One Scary Tea Towels has been woven:


Two more to go.

I’ve started two new projects. The first is to de-boringify a cashmere cardigan. I bought it for travel as it’s light and warm, and easily layered:


After trying several embroidery methods, I’ve settled on using a crochet hook to do chain stitch. It’s fiddly, and very slow. I’m hoping that using some tearaway stabiliser and putting it on hoop will make it easier and faster.

The other project is a hat knit from frogged Inca yarn:


Yes, that’s hand knitting. I’ll stick to a couple of rows a time, every couple of nights, it the hope of avoiding an RSI flare up. The thing is, weaving the yarn didn’t appeal, and it’s a bit thick for the knitting machine. I’ve got to use it somehow, so hand knitting it is.