Friday, 28 October 2011


So yeah, what would the world look like if everything got used and re-used and mended until it had totally exhausted its usefulness?

I can begin to see what this would look like for consumption because this is what I am already trying to do myself: it looks like a t-shirt that gets a patch on it, rather than being thrown away; knitwear made from other knitwear; clothes made from other clothes; recycled buttons and zippers; and last but not least, an extra $56.00 to spend on ... um, groceries? And to me, that looks great. How far can it go though? Is there a future where there is more respect for the eco-consciousness of a patched business suit, for instance, than for brand new attire?

And what would it look like for production? If demand for newly manufactured items decreases, what sort of shift will there be in the labour market? I recently attempted to sew myself a t-shirt because I'm not entirely comfortable with the cheap made-in-Sri Lanka ones that I'm currently wearing. I don't know what sort of working conditions they were manufactured under, what sort of emissions the factory made, what carbon cost there was in transporting them to the US; and I care about these things. I also care about the welfare of women in Sri Lanka: one less t-shirt purchased by me may not make a huge difference but if everyone stopped buying them ...

I'm also aware that in order for me to re-use something it has to be manufactured and bought new by someone else in the first place. But what is the tipping point? If everything that already existed were to be re-used to the end of its usefulness, how much would need to be manufactured anew? I have no idea but I find it fascinating to consider.

Anyway, to get around to the point - I made an attempt to tidy up my craft space recently. Tim always gets so frustrated with my efforts at tidying because I micro-tidy, I look at each thing, consider it and deal with it. His version of tidying is to put all the offending mess and paperwork in a drawer (and then wonder why the electricity bill didn't get paid). The other day I got no further in my efforts than some sweater pieces that I cut out goodness knows how long ago (I truly don't remember) that have been sitting there on the table ever since, waiting to be tidied up. So tidy them up I did by sewing the actual sweater.

It's for baby b, recycled from a men's sweater that I bought at the thrift store, 100 per cent wool. I had to cut the front out in two pieces because the sweater had holes in it, so I put on some decorative red stitching; it's never a mistake, it's a design feature. I also cut the pieces to take advantage of the existing hems and cuffs so the only binding that was needed was around the neck. This is a great fit for him right now, a perfect transitional layer, but I can't for the life of me remember what pattern I cut it out from (it's been that long). And one of the great things about upcycling clothing is that you get children's clothes in colours and textures that you just can't find otherwise.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

thriftonomics (still rambling)

So back to those snipped-off buttons: why the (perceived) disdain from an older generation that I am doing by choice something that they perhaps once had to do by necessity? It seems that at one point brand new and shiny became cheap and accessible and also preferable.

I had never much thought about economics as anything much beyond "the economy" until I did that Health Economics subjects. And “the economy” has always been something monolithic that I am all too aware that I don't understand well and am therefore hesitant to write much about. But with wikipedia everyone's an expert so here goes: economics is "the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services." I like to think of it in terms of flow, the flow of money in and out, the flow of goods production and disposal. I also like to think of it as a closed system, to recognise the finite nature of our resources.

And I do think that there is a finite number of zippers in our world and in our future; to throw away a worn out garment with a perfectly serviceable zipper still attached, to let it rot and rust, is unconscionable.

I’m sure that I have written before about the amazing mother lode of goods that are available at thrift stores here in the US (well, here in the Seattle area certainly but I’ve visited some pretty huge ones in San Francisco, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Georgia now too). I often wonder when I am there, what if everything here in this store were utilised straight away, if everything reusable were indeed reused, instead of something new being manufactured and purchased?

Please consider the Primigi girls shoes above. One pair was purchased online for $60.00 and has been worn for a couple of weeks. The other pair is the next size up and was purchased at Value Village for $3.99. They are in roughly equivalent condition. That's $56.00 to spend on ... ah, groceries?

Friday, 14 October 2011

off the hook

I have completed all of the squares for my Babette Blanket. It was quite a slog but enjoyable, especially seeing how all of the different colours turn out in combination with each other. While I so hoped that this project would use up lots of stashed yarn I actually only used up, in the sense of have nothing left of, a couple of the yarns. So I now still have less of lots of yarns.

I have also woven in the ends on most of the squares and steam blocked them using my iron. The next task will of course be to start seaming them together. This is a big project but indeed one that can be worked on nicely bit by bit. A few quick notes about the colour schematic
  • each square consists of at least two colours;
  • the same colour combination square only happens once or twice;
  • yarns A and B feature strongly in all the ten- and twelve- round squares, and;
  • there are no squares where the same colour is repeated (as in, you may have two or three rows of the same colour but once you've done those rows, the colour will not be repeated again in that square).
I've made a photo set of them over at flickr if you'd like to take a look: Babette's feast [of colour] - it's giving me a tummy ache.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Finally ...

The Vital Statistics
Pattern: Bergamot by Marie Wallin from Rowan Purelife - The Organic Wool Collection.
Size: medium for the body and small for the sleeve.
Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool (100 per cent wool) in Mulberry; 18.5 skeins.
Start to finish:
26 May 2010 to 28 September 2011. Stash/recycle content: No, I purchased this wool new at Little Knits in Seattle specifically for this project.
Comments: Oh the hubris! This is the first project where I have really made my own alterations for better fit. I chose to do it on a crochet garment because crochet is so much faster than knitting and so much easier to rip out. Well, rip out I did, over and over again. I swear that I have crocheted this garment three or four times over in the 16 months that it took me to get this thing done. Sixteen months!

I worked waist shaping, decreasing by one bobble on both the second and fifth rows, increasing by one bobble on both the seventh and ninth rows. I also worked the body in size medium and the sleeve in size small so that necessitated changes to the stitch count for the upper back and fronts

Verdict: I have been wearing this and it's working for me. I was initially apprehensive about wearing so much crochet but I think that it suits in this garment. Despite being so open it also keeps me reasonably warm so it's great over a t-shirt for when that chill is just starting to set in.

A note on the wonderful antler toggles: they were sent to me from Melbourne by the equally wonderful Di of Clementine's Shoes. I just hadn't been able to find the right thing here in Seattle, or online and the Rowan toggles used in the book are no longer available. Di went to The Button Shop and selected some possibilities for me, then bought and posted them to me. Thank you so much Di! They really are perfect for the jacket and I'm so happy with them, not to mention thinking about their provenance every time I wear this.

Friday, 7 October 2011


We interrupt this ramble for a quick assurance that home-grown, grass-roots crafting is still taking place.

The Vital Statistics
Pattern: Vintage Beret by Sarah Hatton from Rowan 44.
Size: Just the one size and it turned out small. I didn't, ahem, check my gauge so am unsure whether it is supposed to be this size.
Yarn: Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool in Mulberry; 1.2 skeins.
Needles: 3.25 and 4mm (I think, I didn't make a note but that's what I usually use with dk wool).
Start to finish: 29th of September to 3rd of October 2011. Quick knit!
Stash/recycle content: Well, the yarn is leftover from my Bergamot jacket (which means yes, I have also finished the Bergamot jacket!) so I guess that it could be called stash.
Comments: I was utterly confounded by this pattern. It is written to be knit flat and seamed but I really cannot see the point of doing that so knit it in the round instead (as many others have done). Except I had so much trouble adapting the written instructions to knitting in the round; I actually ended up charting it myself from others' examples on ravelry (thank you ravelry!)
Verdict: It came out nicely and is a great fit for miss bear who is very happy to have a new hat. And this colour is quite sophisticated for a child, she looks adorable.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

ramble continued

So, on the topic of returning to roots - where did it all go astray in the first place? I was certainly born in a time when handmade was already a faint(ish) memory. My grandmother knit sweaters (by hand and by machine) for us but already that was an anachronism. And here I am now, knitting sweaters by hand for my own family.

Roy's Jeans - Video by Self Edge from Self Edge on Vimeo.

Reading United States of Americana has got me thinking about so much, about what was once, and could again, be handmade; about the loss of skills to indeed make things yourself (and their blessed revival); about the greater quality but also cost of things like handmade shoes (for example). A weakness of Reighley's book is that it doesn't consider the greater context of people's lives back in 'better times' when they wore handmade shoes. I suspect that if you were wearing a pair of handmade shoes that they were just that one pair that you owned and wore every single day, for every occasion until they were worn into the ground. Yes, it's nice today to eulogise a return to that sort of quality but I doubt that many now would be happy with a single pair of shoes for every single day.

I was often slightly bemused reading Wardrobe Refashion (now sadly defunct but which I absolutely loved and loved the principle behind) when participants were alarmed about whether they could buy new socks and underwear. This concern seemed to belie the fact that socks and underwear are indeed made, somewhere, by someone. They can also be made by you or me, perhaps not to the manufacturing standards that we are accustomed to, but made nevertheless. Fine gauge dress socks, yes, you would have trouble producing those at home, but socks can be knit, undies can be sewn. (Says she, who has been knitting the same pair of socks for some two-and-a-half years now; yes, I concede that time is also a huge cost to be factored in here.)

I remember the first time a friend made tira misu for me (thanks Tamar!), I was devastated. Tira misu was food from the gods, it just miraculously existed; I didn’t want it to be demystified and revealed as the work of human hands. Sometimes it seems that socks and undies are the tira misu of self-sufficient crafting.

Lastly, please do enjoy the wonderful video above about how Roy makes jeans that reminds and inspires me that everything is made, somewhere, by someone, and (given the chance) that someone could be me.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

september reading (and a ramble)

United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties, and Handmade Bitters: A Field Guide to the New American Roots Movement by Kurt Reighley - This is an interesting book that covers a number of aspects of current American life and culture that are harkening back to 'roots', things like home canning, straight razor shaving, bluegrass, knitting, taxidermy and speakeasies. Reighley is Seattle based so I enjoyed it that there was a lot in here that is local to me.

I enjoyed this book and it really got me thinking about 'old times' and the return to doing things in a deliberate, hands-on, 'old-fashioned' way. Back in 2oo8 when I attended the Stitches and Craft Show in Melbourne, I was actually a little disconcerted by some of the older women who looked at my recycled yarns and garments and, umm, scoffed (no, that's too harsh but a lighter shade thereof) that they used to do the same "way back when".

Yes, I save buttons and zippers off worn-out garments, in fact I save worn-out garments, with the hope that I will one day get around to using them to make something else. And yes, I do realise that I am not the first to be doing so, but I do feel that I am part of doing things that way again.
And whereas this sort of thrift in the past was probably a necessity (Tim suggests also a manifestation of Protestant values) today for me it is about an ethical choice for sustainability (and yes also for saving money but I just seem to spend that on more craft supplies!).

Further, recently the Modern Quilt Guild called for submissions of 'modern quilts' to be part of an online exhibition. I had hoped to submit something - maybe the turbulent river baby quilt or the Franco-Australian wagga - but I found myself a bit stuck on the prompt "what, in your opinion, makes it modern." What is modern about my quilting? Certainly not the colours that I use, not the shapes, not the techniques - just that I do it in a really old-fashioned way. Which seems to be new all over again.