Slow Fashion October: Handmade

It is no secret to anyone in my life that I love making myself handmade clothes. I love the process of production, I love putting on something I created, and I love when people tell me that they love something I’m wearing, and I get to tell them that I made it. There is no doubt that I absolutely adore making clothing for myself. What I am still struggling to fall in love with is producing handmade clothes for other people.

My slowest piece of fashion is, hands down, the sweater that I have been making for my boyfriend. At this point, I actually don’t really know how long I have been working on it. It was supposed to be a 21st birthday present for a man who is now 23 years old, so officially, I’ve only been working on it for about two-and-a-half years, but due to planning, pattern choosing, yarn selection, and general discussion, this sweater has been in production for far, far longer than I’ve been knitting on it.

My man and I started this project with a very specific vision in mind. We had particular ideas in regards to style, fashion, and fit. Due to this fastidiousness, I have changed yarn selection for this sweater twice, pattern three times, and started over at the beginning more times than I can count. It is only now, in this past month, that I am finally on the right track, and am geared up to finish the sweater by the end of the year. But I would be lying if I said that the procrastination is all down to a commitment to perfection. Mostly, the delay in finishing this sweater has been because of me!

You see, as much as I love knitting, and creating things for myself, I have essentially zero interest in making for anyone else. Every time I cast something on for someone else, I can feel all of the inspiration drain out of me, and an activity that I love suddenly becomes a chore. I don’t know if I could pinpoint exactly why this is, but I do have some theories. While it would be easy to write it off as simple selfishness, I think the reason why I shy away from creating for others is that it limits what I perceive as my freedom of artistic expression, and my freedom to fail. When I am making for myself, I don’t mind if there are a few mistakes, or if it takes a while to get a project to the finish line, or if the finish line is never reached at all. When I’m making for myself, I can improvise, embellish, add, or subtract anything that I see fit. I don’t have to check in with anybody to get approval of my decisions when I make for myself – rather, I am completely in charge of my own work. In a world in which I am rarely in charge of anything, this complete autonomy is a rare treat.

However, this lack of a drive to knit for others out of reluctance to limit myself is, in itself, a limitation. I remember, as a child, whenever my mother made me clothing, I felt so special wearing it. It was something that my mother had made just for me, something that no body else had, it was a gift of love from my mother that I could wear as armor against the world. I want to be able to give that same gift to the people that I love. I want my man to put on this sweater and feel how much I care for him. I want him to feel special knowing that no one else has this sweater, and that no one else ever will.

Handmades have the power to connect people to each other like no other thing has. I am determined to push past my own limitations, my false sense of lost freedoms, and tap into that power. I want to love my handmades for more than what they mean to me, I want to love my handmades for what they mean to others!

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Slow Fashion October: Long Worn

I have had this phrase, “long worn”, percolating in my head all week. Through lectures on torts and civil procedures, through contracts readings and memo writings, during lunch breaks, and coffee runs, while making dinner, and getting dressed, I have been turning over in the back of my mind what long worn means to me, and how it fits into my life. At this moment, there are two concrete ways I see this concept operating in my world: (1) the clothes that others have worn before me, and (2) the clothes I make to last.

I have been a life-long thrifter. My mother is a public school teacher, and with three kids, thrifting was an easy, and fun way to keep us on budget, and fashionable. As a child, and a teenager, I just thought of second hand clothes as a way to find interesting pieces that were different from what everyone else was wearing. I loved thrifted clothing for what it could do to set me apart. While I still value that particular aspect of buying second hand, I have lately come to realize the value of reuse of clothing. In a world where trash is produced at an alarming rate, and our society’s relationship with the wardrobe has changed so drastically, so quickly, thrifting can be a radical way to remove oneself from the cycle. To wear second hand clothes is to give a garment new life, spare it from the dumpsite, and release oneself from the hectic world of fast fashion.

At this point, I would say close to 80% of my wardrobe is thrifted, and nearly 100% of my hardest working garments come from my second hand selection. Pictured below are two of my most favorite, and longest kept thrifted finds.

The jeans are high-waisted Levi’s, found a few years ago, and they fit like a dream. I have a body that is often hard to fit, with short legs, and wide hips that make correctly fitted pants almost impossible. Those jeans are like the Holy Grail to me, and up until recently were the only pair of jeans I owned. The knees are starting to thin, but these babies are long from retirement. I’m looking forward to the future rips and mends that will continue to tell the story of this incredible pair of pants.

The sweater was a gift, purchased at a thrift store by a friend who saw it and instantly thought of me. It is 100% cashmere, soft, warm, and light as could be. It has served me well as a layering piece through several Northern California winters, and will doubtlessly continue to soldier on through many Portland winters. When this sweater came to me, it had a few small holes in the sleeves, which was doubtless the reason why it had found its way into Goodwill. It took me only 5 minutes to fix the holes up so that no one could ever tell they were there. After I had mended the holes, and was wearing the sweater, I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous owner. Did they know that the holes would have been so easy to fix? If they had known, would they still have donated this sweater? Were they sad to see it go, did they wish they could have kept it, but feared that the holes meant it had outworn its use? As a knitter, I obviously have a bit of an advantage when it comes to repairing knit fabrics, and yet I still feel (perhaps wrongly so?) that learning to mend is not so hard a thing to do. In an effort to truly value our clothing, knowing how to make our garments last, being able to fix them so that they continue to wear, is of the utmost importance. This is the first way that the concept of “long worn” fits into my life – preserving garments deemed useless by someone else, giving them new life, and new purpose.

The second way “long worn” factors into my life, and my wardrobe, is in my handmades. When I first started knitting garments, I, like so many others, was attracted to the soft, gushy yarns that feel incredible against your skin. I wanted super soft merino sweaters to cuddle with all winter long. The only problem with those snuggly, marshmallow yarns, is their lack of longevity. They pill, they shed, they lose their shape, and what began as an impeccable finished object quickly becomes a frustrating chore. I had made these sweaters in the hopes of placing them permanently in my wardrobe, and it was a defeating feeling to realize I wasn’t reaching for them for fear of wrecking them. That’s when I started turning away from merino wools, and looking for fabrics with a bit more tooth to them. Now, when I knit a handmade garment, I give careful thought to whether or not the fabric will stand up over time. Will the wool pill too quickly? Will it keep its shape? Will the color fade? I have come to discover that choosing a soft yarn in a pretty color isn’t enough. When knitting a garment that will remain in a wardrobe for years, thought has to be given to whether or not the material will last. This year, I focused on knitting sweaters out of sturdier yarns, like Brooklyn Tweed, Lettlopi, and Imperial Stock Ranch, and have been delighted with the result (the two pictures at the top of this post are a couple of this year’s successes). I have built sweaters that will last, sweaters that will tell stories, and I simply can’t think of anything better than that.

In all truth, considering this topic of “long worn” this past week, has got me thinking about so much more beyond this blog post. I am thinking about concepts that are hard to pin down (particularly when exam prep is vying for top billing in my brain space), like how the clothes I currently have will last, how the clothes I add to my wardrobe in the future will fit with what I already have, how to determine whether I actually need a particular piece, and so much more. But that’s the beauty of this slow fashion movement, it leaves you questioning what you thought you knew about clothing, fashion, and style, and pushes you to create something new.

#slowfashionoctober: Introductions

Its that time of year again! The weather is cooling (finally!), the leaves are changing (which is so weird, I’m from CA, y’all!), and Slow Fashion October is here again. This first week is about introductions, giving us all a chance to say who we are, and what slow fashion means to us. To be perfectly honest, I had a hard time getting going this week. And not because slow fashion isn’t important to me, and I don’t have a lot to say about it–because it is, and I do–but rather because I was so overcome by other Life Stuff, that it fell by the wayside. Which in some ways, was almost perfect (for the purposes of this blog post) because it got me thinking about how slow fashion fits into my life as it is right now, not the life I hope to someday have.

As some of you may know, I am currently in my first year of law school. This means that my time is limited. I spend a good chunk of my weekday on campus, in class, and doing homework. While I have a little more time to myself on the weekends, I still spend a good amount of it doing homework, doing chores, going to networking events, and sleeping. While I certainly do get knitting time, I don’t really have much wardrobe planning time, and I personally find those to be two different things.

Along with the lack of time to devote to slow fashion, I find that living on a student’s budget means that I have a distinct lack of funds to devote to slow fashion as well. I keep find holes in my wardrobe, particularly since my move to a cooler, damper climate, and though I would like to fill them, I simply do not have the money to make that happen. I need to knit some more pullovers (my closet is sorely lacking), and cardigans with full length sleeves (3/4 worked for CA, not so much for OR), and while my light sundresses worked just dandy in CA winters, I could use some heavier dresses for winters in Portland. And some lightweight layering tops to wear under all the pullovers I’m going to knit. And some swingy a-line dresses for when spring comes. And on, and on, and on. I really would like to make all these garments. In my goal to eventually have a mostly handmade wardrobe, I would like to be able to plan out what to make, purchase the fabrics and yarns necessary, and then get to work. But with my budget where it is, that just isn’t going to happen right now.

Which all brings me to, how does slow fashion fit into my life as it is right now? In my life of no time and no money, does slow fashion even have a place? Spoiler alert–it does!

In some ways, not having unlimited amounts of time and resources to devote to creating the perfect handmade wardrobe is actually really making me slow down and think. What pieces do I really need, what is absolute top priority among those pieces, what is the best way to get it done? All of that, and more, are things that I have been asking myself as I have been trying to figure out where slow fashion falls into my life. Can I find it at a thrift store? Will I be happy with finding it at a thrift store, or would I ultimately be better off waiting until I can make it myself? These are also questions I have been considering. For some things, like jeans, I am absolutely confident in my ability to find at thrift stores. Other things, like well-fitting sweaters, and dresses, I know I will have to make for myself.

I am still figuring it all out. I am still in the process of trying to piece together my new life, incorporating all these new, fearsome pieces in with the old, comforting pieces in an effort to put together a picture that I like. It is challenging. There are a lot of pieces that I have had to set aside for later or throw away entirely. But this piece, this slow fashion piece, is definitely a keeper. It is a way of life that is so near and dear to my heart, I can’t imagine ever throwing it away. I just have to find the right place to put it.

So that’s my introduction y’all. I’m Brigit, I’m a 1L law student living in Portland, OR, and I don’t have things any more figured out than anyone else. Happy Slow Fashion October!