Sunday, 31 January 2016

A sustainable wardrobe – Part 4, Opting out for a while

This past month has seen me return to work, albeit in a part-time contract capacity. Boy, was it a shock to the system in my first week. My shoulders hurt from sitting at a computer all day, my feet hurt from wearing grown-up shoes and I was exhausted by Friday afternoon after a week of early (relatively-speaking) mornings.

There have been lots of clothes in my wardrobe that haven't seen the light of day since I stopped work, so it's been interesting to get them out again and to notice the difference in wear between these and the clothes I've had on every day. This month has seen the end of a full year without purchasing clothes for myself. I don't want to say that I'm proud, because, in truth, it's been fairly easy. I had a pretty large base to start. And in the interests of full disclosure, I haven't stopped buying fabric or yarn, although I'm buying a lot more consciously when I do.
Originally this post was going to be about the sustainability issues in turning fibre into fabric, followed by a post on the social sustainability of the fashion industry – that is, the working conditions under which our clothes are produced – but right now, I feel the need to opt out of the system altogether for a while.

For starters, the industry is still very opaque and it's almost impossible to follow the supply chain. Often a company's head office has no idea where their fibres come from, so there's no way the customer can find out. And don't think high-end brand names are immune. Just because an item of clothing is expensive, doesn't mean it's ethically made. I'll still be active in contacting my once-favourite brands to see if they're making progress, but I'm not holding my breath.

Second, as a rich (again, relatively-speaking), white woman, there's not a lot I can add to the horror-story that is the conditions under which our clothing is made – beyond urging you to look into it, be aware, and make some changes in your own wardrobe.

Anyway, my current situation... Now that I'm into my second year without clothing purchases, I've noticed that some items are starting to become a little worn. I probably haven't let that happen much over the past ten years, as corporate jobs come with certain expectations about acceptable dress. What's particularly frustrating are the items containing elastane – and that's quite a few these days. I've got a fitted, black, knit top, that's in perfect condition everywhere except the neckline. The elasticity is completely gone and, because it's part of the fibre make-up, I can't see any way to restore it. Another thing to add to the list of no-no's when I do need wardrobe replacements.

Right now though, I'm still aiming to decrease my wardrobe to the point of not having to move a season's-worth of clothes out to fit the alternative season in. It'll still be some time before that happens, as I'm not one for purging perfectly good clothes just to go all minimalist. If you remember back to Part 1, I did a wardrobe audit, and there were 167 items were on my clothing list. I've decided I want to get that down to below 100 and then re-assess. I know there are some items that will need replacing as soon as they go – my gym pants for example – but there'll then be a long list of items that don't need replacing at all.

So, that's where I'm up to. Below, I've listed some links about the subjects I was originally going to write about so you can still look into them if you like. I have to warn you it makes pretty depressing reading and watching.

Turning fibre into fabric

  • Greenpeace's 'Detox my Fashion' campaign
  • Newsweek article on the shocking consequences of toxic chemicals used in the fashion industry and the conditions people using them work under.
  • The downside of waterproofing outdoor clothing.

Fashion factory working conditions 

  • China Blue – the story of jean manufacturing in China.
  • Sweatshop – Deadly Fashion – the story of three Norwegian fashion bloggers sent to work in Cambodian sweatshops. Five, ten minute episodes.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 in textiles

This time last year I was quite disappointed that I hadn't finished many textile projects in 2014. What a difference not having a day job has made in 2015. There's been knitting, stitching, dyeing, weaving, surface design, sewing and quilting. And I guess that's what I wanted this past year to be about... Experimenting, learning and improving my skills.

So here's a visual journey through the projects I completed this year.
This is one of my most recent finishes. Right now, Miriam, the woman who taught me how to make these blouses, and I are working on some blouse patterns to release in 2016.
Birthday present for a friend in April.
My nieces crayon drawings turned into Crayon Crazy fabric on Spoonflower and then sewn into skirts. 
Inspired by my trip to India – above and below.

Baby boy quilt with my new Stitch & Yarn tags.
My first quilt pattern was released in 2015. I'm working on a follow-up for 2016.
Patchwork cushions made from my Blomma fabric.
This was my first finish for 2015. I wasn't sure about it at first and there are a few things I'd do differently next time, but I really like it now.
Mother's Day socks. Mum dancing a jig in them can be seen on my Instagram feed!
Knitted necklaces for an assignment.
Juliet's cardigan was knitted in 2014, but the two on the right, Phoebe's and Olivia's were finished this year.
And my final item for the year – Dad's 70th birthday present. A Brooklyn Tweed Sawyer sweater. I'm super-chuffed with this one and it fits him perfectly.
Details for all the knitted pieces can be found on my Ravelry projects page.

2016 is going to bring more changes. First off, I'm heading back to work next week. I still have my list of projects on the fridge for completion during the coming year, but I re-did it after accepting the contract role. It's not quite so ambitious any more, but it still has its challenges.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, creative and handmade 2016 – I'm off to start on that list.
Happy New Year!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The need for speed – upping the knitting stakes

It's been such a long time since we talked yarn on here, and even though it's not the woolly season in Australia, I've been planning for cold days ahead – I am in Melbourne after all. Lately, I've been busy swatching for various projects – some to figure out the weight of various untagged balls of yarn, one to test out a pattern I'm designing and one to try out a stranded colourwork chart.

It's been ages – maybe even decades – since I did any real colourwork. So long in fact, it was before the days of learning on YouTube. I'd been planning to take a continental knitting class over the summer break, but last week I decided to throw caution to the wind and look it up on online. Honestly I don't know how we survived before YouTube… A few minutes of video watching and suddenly I was knitting stranded colourwork with both hands and mourning the hours I've wasted over a lifetime of English-only knitting.

But I didn't stop there. What if I could increase the speed of my everyday knitting too? How much faster could I get through projects? Now, as I've said already, I'm an English- or throwing-style knitter, and I've got a pretty good speed going after many years of practice, but I know it's not the most efficient way to go.

I don't know about you, but I follow Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's blog – the Yarn Harlot – and given the way she gets through those pairs of socks, I knew some kind of knitting magic must be going on there. And I was right…

But I'd also heard whispers online that the real black magic was happening over the water, in the lands where knitting began, and so after following a few links and trying various searches, I struck gold. Meet Hazel Tindall…

You know, I think you'd have a jumper (sweater) done in a day or two with that kind of speed. Imagine it? Here she is slowing down so you can see her technique.

I know this going to play all kinds of havoc with my tension and gauge, but I'm fascinated to see if it's something I can learn – old dog/new tricks and all that. Anyway, wish me luck, and I'll keep you posted with progress.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Stitch upon stitch – the embroidery of India

My recent trip to India was mostly to learn about block printing, but I couldn't travel there without taking a peek at a centuries-old tradition that India has probably been even more well-known for – its embroidery.

I was fortunate to be able to visit a modern workshop in Noida, about an hour from Delhi, that embroiders for large international clothing chains. I wasn't quite sure what type of place I was going to before my visit, but it was fascinating to see all these old techniques still being used in service of brands we'd wear today. Samples are produced in the workshop from designs provided by the fashion houses. It's then a matter of getting a similar outcome in the most cost-effective way. Once the fashion house signs off on the sample, the work goes to a production house further out of Delhi in the countryside.
All the embroidery was done with an aari needle, pictured above and below. As far as I can tell it's very similar to a tambour needle, but doesn't have a detachable needle section. You can see in the pic below that it's loaded up with beads ready to go.
Coincidentally the V&A are currently showing an extensive exhibition of Indian textiles (jealous!) so I was pootling around their website and came across this short clip of Indian fashion designer Manish Arora's studio, which also happens to be in Noida. Not only that, the studio set-up is very similar and it shows the aari needle in action, as well as being a complete feast for the eyes – enjoy!

On my last day in Delhi I went to the National Museum to see their small collection of textiles. The pieces are all behind glass, so my photography isn't great, but at least photos were allowed here, unlike the National Crafts Museum. The collection at the craft museum is simply mind-blowing. They have a huge range of textiles from all over the country. I couldn't help myself and went back for a second visit. It's a shame however, that the textile gallery has almost no lighting – I'm sure it's to protect the pieces and they don't have the money to do it any other way – and very little in the way of labelling to describe what you're looking at. Despite this, if you can find a guide who knows what they're talking about and can take you there, it's so worth seeing. Actually even if you don't have a guide it's still worth seeing!

Anyway, let's get on to what I can show you. The first, is an example of phulkari embroidery. It's from the Punjab region, and literally means 'flower work'. Most of the examples I saw were in orange and hot pink, sometimes with white included. I've added other pictures of all the types of work I'm showing you to my 'Textile Travels – India' Pinterest page if you want to check out more examples.
Next, is embroidery from the Kutch region of Gujarat. This example is made up of tiny chain stitches, so I'd imagine it was produced with the aari needle again. Lots of bright colours are the norm and it's also the type of embroidery where you'd expect to see the small shisha mirrors sewn in. Apparently before the use of mirrors, they often used beetle wings, and I saw a few examples of this in museums in both Delhi and Jaipur. They were a shiny green-ish black.
The photo below was taken at the Anokhi Museum of Handprinting in Jaipur. At first I thought it was an example of appliqu̩ Рwhich I did see quite a bit of in India Рbut on closer inspection, it's resist-dyed fabric with kantha quilting. Kantha is the quilted embroidery of Bengal and north-east India and in sanskrit the word means 'rags'. Similar to the 'boro' textiles of Japan. These examples were a modern take on traditional techniques.
Last, but not least are the textiles of Kashmir. There are two types of shawls the Kashmiris are famous for. The first is the kani, or loom-woven shawl. Pictured below is a dorukha, (double-sided) example, where the front is almost indistinguishable from the reverse. If you look really closely you can see there is a stitched layer over the entire shawl (the red outlining the green leaves near the bottom right corner, for example). It takes years to complete a piece such as this, and I just can't get my head around how complex it must be to weave.
The second type of shawl is a sozni. These are hand-embroidered on a plain base, and this beauty came home with me. The ones with the all-over embroidery, while completely stunning, were the price of a small car, so I obviously went for something less detailed.

While the kani are usually the more highly prized shawls, it's the embroidery, rather than the weaving, that I really love.
Such a tiny taste of Indian embroidery… I think all it's done is made me want to do another trip so I can learn more!

So many textile traditions, so little time.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

India, indigo, inspiration

I'm still thinking about ways to tell you about India. It was so intense in such a short time. I look back at the pictures, and sometimes I can't understand why I didn't capture certain things to show you. And then I remember the heat, and that my brain was always a little fuzzy and it was probably enough for me just to look and listen and do nothing more. So, until I find a way in, I'm going to tell you about what I've done since. A project inspired by indigo. 

In Jaipur, we saw handmade indigo-dyed paper.
We watched as the dabu master dipped piece after piece of our attempts at mud-resist into the indigo vat.
And, of course, I came home with mud-resist and block printed pieces, all with their own nod to indigo.
Right from the start, I had in mind what I wanted to make. I did a patternmaking course just before I went to India, so I wanted to experiment with that too. First I needed a bunch of indigo-dyed fabrics all with different patterns.
Indigo dye shibori techniques tie-dye
I had ideas of trying out bandhani, the tiny little knots Indians use to create the most intricate patterns with their tye-dye, but after a day of gathering fabric – the stitching above ended up as the piece on the left below – I knew I didn't have time for that kind of detail.

All in all I probably ended up with a more Japanese shibori approach to my dyeing, but effective nonetheless.
Indigo dye shibori techniques tie-dye folding and clamping
While the dye ended up a lot lighter than it first appeared coming out of the bath, I forged ahead anyway. The piece on the left below was created by pleating the fabric and then securing it on alternate sides with bull-dog clips. The one on the right was scrunched into a ball and secured with thread. After the first dip in the dye bath I undid the bundle and then
re-tied it for a second dip.
Indigo dye shibori techniques tie-dye folding and clamping
My two favourites are the ones below. This one was created using stones secured into the fabric with rubber bands.
Indigo dye shibori techniques tie-dye folding and clamping
And my very favourite is this one – all that gathering was worth it in the end.
Indigo dye stitched shibori techniques tie-dye folding and clamping
Next – the embroidery. I had seen a piece in India that was indigo-dyed then trimmed with a pop of contrasting colour and it really appealed to me, so I went with orange. The shapes left by the stones looked like a constellation of stars, so I continued the theme with my stitching.
Indigo dye shibori techniques embroidery kantha
I then took the piece made by the scrunched up dye and covered it with kantha stitching. As my sister pointed out, the dye on this piece was the most reminiscent of 70's tie-dye, so it really did need to be the one to be covered in embroidery.

I went cross-cultural again, using shibori thread to stitch my kantha.
Indigo dye shibori techniques embroidery kantha sashiko
With the dark shibori thread and touches of dark blue where I'd double-dipped pieces, or kept them in the bath longer, I decided I still wanted to add a bit of really dark indigo into the mix. With a piece of mud-resist fabric I bought in India, I found what I was looking for.

And now for the great unveil – ta-dah, the finished skirt! I'm really happy with how it turned out. I wouldn't even change the intensity of the dye now, as I like the contrast between it and the yoke.
Shibori indigo dyed kantha embroidered skirt front
And the back…
Shibori indigo dyed kantha embroidered skirt back
Then what did I do? Well, I turned around and made another one of course! The second one was mostly made with fabrics I bought in India, although there is a mud-resist one I did in there too. It's also a little more subdued in its colourway which suits the person I made it for.
And there you have it… Over the coming weeks I'm sure I'll be telling you about the block printing and the mud-resist and the most exquisite embroidery, but for now thanks for letting me share my first India-inspired pieces with you.

Happy week everyone!