Handspun Vest

Aaaaages ago I spun some wool. Getting it ready to weave was not without trials.

craftyblog297

I wove it into what was a bit of a disaster – meant to be a jacket but waaay too stiff. So I sewed the pieces together and called it a rug. The Dud Rug.

craftyblog333

craftyblog335

But it was a pretty ugly rug, so I put it away for a while. A year or so ago I got the idea of turning it to a vest, and ran it through a hot wash to full it a bit to lessen the chance of unravelling when cut. Then it was just a matter of finding a vest pattern. I never seemed to remember to look at patterns in fabric stores while was there, and I found nothing on the internet until a few weeks ago.

I bought a pattern, printed it out, taped all the sheets together, cut them out, joined the body and fronts to make one piece and traced a copy off that.

creativefidget714

I cut out the cloth and sewed the pieces together, then put it on the dress model.

creativefidget715

It was enormous. Clearly there was something wrong with the pattern. I suspect it had printed out too big. So I pinched and pinned and chopped it down until it fit the model. Then when I was satisfied that it was the right size, I used brown cotton fabric for lining and bias tape to finish the edges. Some sewing later I had this:

creativefidget716

creativefidget717

It fits perfectly and is very cosy. Unfortunately it’s a bit cold now for vests, but Spring will come along soon enough. All in all, I’m very chuffed to have turned a dud into something wearable.

To Donate, or Not to Donate

Vintage and second hand clothing has been very popular for a while now. More and more savvy shoppers have realised that the duds of the past were often better quality and made so that they could be taken in or let out. Retro became trendy. So has refashioning.

The authors of the three books I read visited charities to investigate what happens to donated clothing. Though they were based in Australia, the US and the UK respectively, they reported the same findings. The amount of good quality clothing has diminished as the good stuff has been snatched up or sold on to vintage retailers, and incoming low quality clothing has swamped stores with clothes only fit for landfill.

We’ve all heard how charity stores struggle to deal with people ‘donating’ actual rubbish, including soiled nappies and underwear among bags of clothing. Of people using the front of charity stores as a free rubbish skip. Thoughtless stupidity aside, people make a lot of assumptions about what happens to the clothes they give to op shops.

Of what charity shops receive, only a small portion is sold in their shops. The rest goes to rag-suppliers, fibre recyclers, the second hand market in Africa, or landfill.

The clothes that go to Africa are compressed into cubes wrapped in plastic. At their destination buyers have to choose based on only what they can see. African customers have their own clothing preferences (flares are hugely popular, apparently) and the best charity sorters keep this in mind when choosing garments. The unscrupulous use the system to dump unwearable rubbish in Africa, so there’s a risk for the buyers in every cube. One bad cube can put them out of business.

While it’s great that some of this clothing finds a home, the massive influx of cheap cast-offs has meant the local garment-making industry in Africa has been badly affected, and traditional methods of construction are in danger of being lost.

I’m not saying don’t give clothing to charity shops. It’s better that what you donate has a goes to a rag suppliers than landfill if it doesn’t make the cut for resale. But bear in mind when you shop that the low quality fast fashion pieces are probably going to end up in landfill, and if it’s polyester it’ll never break down.

Give the good stuff to charity shops. Wash it first. Iron it, too. And if you replace that button or broken zip, give the shoes a quick polish or clean, and even save shop labels until you wear an item the first time, because if you’ve never worn there’s a better chance of it getting on a rack.

Better still, if it’s in really good nick, consider refashioning, dyeing, repairing, giving or swapping clothes with friends.

Inkle Band Top

Earlier this year I made this top:

creativefidget656

Which I decided needed some embellishment. While it was tempting to do some embroidery, I’ve been wanting to use some of the inkle I’ve woven on a garment. I chose one of the wider bands for the centre front, then wove a matching narrower band for the edge of the bib-style facing.

A bit of stitching later, and it was done:

creativefidget718

Of course, I dawdled so long with this project that it’s now winter, and too cold to wear the top. But it’ll be in my wardrobe ready for when the weather is warm again.

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.

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.

Is Ethical Fashion Expensive?

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

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

2016AustFashionReport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finished Unfinished Cardy

And now for a break from ethical fashion posts…

Remember this cardigan?

creativefidget603

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

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

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

creativefidget706

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

creativefidget705

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

Wardrobe Confessions

The three books on ethical fashion I’ve read:

creativefidget704

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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