Where I ask the question – Am I crazy for spending 20+ hours making a shower curtain?
As I’ve said before, I live in a 700 square foot apartment and my bathroom is right off my bedroom. It’s a great space as it has a nice walk in closet, a washer and dryer and plenty of cabinet/storage space. What it doesn’t have is a lot of wall space. And the way it’s laid out, when you look into the bathroom, the shower (curtain) is the most noticeable feature so it’s the biggest opportunity to bring in color.
The shower curtain was white (which I made from gifted fabric), so there were plenty of ways I could spruce it up from adding a colorful header to creating a garden of applique flowers. Still in a sewing mood and with more than enough scraps, I decided on patchwork. Eventually I hit on the idea to do a star.
I used graph paper to map out my idea and figure out out how much fabric I would need for each color (a standard shower curtain is 72″ x 72″). As an fyi, my design required 576 squares. Even though I have a lot of fabric, figuring out the color combination took some time because I didn’t have enough of some fabrics. The tip of the star required 8 squares – 3 7/8 inches each – and the outer colors (the purples on the chart) required 48 squares. I ended up going with a blue palette and used whites and creams for the background.
I chose to use half triangles. For non-quilters, this entails taking two squares, putting them right sides together, drawing a diagonal line from one corner to the other, sewing on each side of the line and then cutting them apart on the diagonal line so you have one square of fabric with two different triangles of fabric. The graph will give you an idea of how that works.
I set about cutting out and sewing my 576 squares, matching up the different fabrics so they’d create the star pattern.
Once I had the patchwork completed, there was the question of how to finish it off. It had a lot of raw edges on the back and I wanted a lining. I used my previous shower curtain for the liner. I laid them wrong sides together, giving the top an extra bit to accommodate the buttonholes needed to attach it to the curtain rings and then sewed it using a quarter inch seam allowance.
After I turned it right side out, I gave it a good iron and topstitched around the 3 sides (closing up the opening I left on the bottom to turn it). Then I marked out the 12 buttonholes and made those.
Not including all the time I spent going back and forth on fabrics, I spend about 2.5 weeks on this project.
For a shower curtain.
Some of you are going to point out I can buy one for about $30 (shower curtains can get pretty pricey though). And to those people I say this: It wasn’t so much about money. While there was a financial incentive to use materials I had on hand to justify their cost (I may not have spent any money now on the project but a stash has sunk costs) and to be eco-friendly, it wasn’t the main reason.
Making things is more about a sense of purpose, accomplishment and personal expression.
I love the design process – looking for inspiration and playing around with ideas. I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when something is complete. Especially when I am able to use supplies I already have on hand (letting me classify them as an “investment” instead of a folly). Look at how the average person uses their free time – surfing the internet, shopping, binge watching Netflix, sitting in a bar (well, maybe not so much of that right now…). I’m not judging people as I’m guilty of doing all of these at some point in my life. The thing is, none of those have ever given me as much satisfaction as working and finishing a project.
Most of all I love having something that expresses my own taste that no one else is going to have. Cookie cutter tchotchkes and mass produced art no longer appeals to me.
You may think I am crazy for spending all that time making a shower curtain, but for me, it was totally worth it.
In my previous post I mentioned a pillow I made from a pieced flower quilt block using Ruth B. McDowell’s design techniques from her books Ruth B. McDowell’s Design Workshop and Piecing Workshop. It’s a fiddly process but I fell in love with it. This is how I did it.
Step 1: Draw out your design
Decide on the size and design of your piece. I intended to make this to fit a 14″ pillow form I had so I made it 15 inches (giving me a half inch seam allowance on the ends). With graph paper (that I pieced together to give me the desired size), I sketched out a basic flower. Then, I turned all the curves into straight lines. While I added a seam allowance to the outer edge, I did NOT add any seam allowances anywhere else. That will come later.
I offset the lines rather than tried to have them meet up for several reasons. First, the precision needed to match seams is not always my strong point. Second, seams can get bulky. Third, it’s just more visually interesting (at least to me).
Then I identified the colors of fabrics I wanted to use for each part of the flower. The next step is to mark each piece. I used the alphabet for the flower and numbers for the background, but it’s not important as long as each piece has a separate mark. Don’t skip this step!
Step 2: Transfer your design
Next I transferred my design onto the dull side of the freezer paper by laying it over my graph paper and tracing it. I also noted the number/letter of each piece. Don’t skip this step as these will help you know which piece goes where.
Step 3: Cut, iron and Cut
After everything is transferred over to the freezer paper, I cut it out. It might be easier to work it sections, especially if you have a lot of pieces. You’ll be able to keep better track of everything that way. Next, I picked out the fabrics for each piece and ironed on the freezer paper pattern pieces. The shiny side/waxy side is away from the iron/next to the fabric. I made sure I had an extra 1/4″ around the piece for the seam allowance. Then I cut the pieces out of fabric, making sure to include the seam allowance.
Step 4 – Sew
I finally made it to the sewing part (see what I mean about it being fiddly?) Using my drawing as a guide, I started sewing the pieces together. Not in numerical order (unless you intentionally planned it that way, which I didn’t) but in logical order. What I mean by that is you’ll need to look at your drawing and see which pieces need to be sewn first in order to be matched up with other pieces.
For instance, based on my drawing below, I would treat A, J, K, 1, E1, F1, 2 and 3 as one block. First I’d sew J and K (ironing each seam afterwards), then I’d attach A. Next I’d sew 1 and E1, then I’d add F1. I would sew 2 and 3 and then add them to F1. Then I’d take the whole 1, E1, F1, 2 & 3 block and sew it to the J, K, A pieces and this would create one complete petal block.
Seeing the design unfold as I sewed it together was fun and gave me the motivation to keep going.
In the end, I decided to use a standard bedroom pillow instead of the 14″ pillow form. This meant I needed to make it bigger. I could have opted to just add some borders but I wanted to extend the neutral background to the entire pillow. I created some strips to add on. It would have been better integrated into the design if I started out with the larger design but I’m still happy with the way it all turned out.
To finish off the pillow, I quilted it, using some decorative stitching to bring out the flower. I used the “pocket” method instead of attaching a zipper or sewing it closed so I can remove the pillow to either wash it or replace it in the future.
Overall a very satisfying project and a great way to use up smaller pieces of fabric.
I love watching home renovation shows. They jive with my love of taking something other people see as garbage/useless/ugly and finding the magic in it. Once you watch enough of these shows, though, they all begin to look the same. I mean, you can see Joanna Gaines’ influence all over the place. And while I have no problem with her aesthetic, it kind of loses it’s appeal when you see it everywhere.
Amazing Interiors (Netflix) brought this home (pun intended) for me. Instead of showing perfectly staged, formulaic, cookie cutter, copycat interiors, they feature imaginative, charming, eccentric and sometimes jarring design that doesn’t hold back. It’s not all my taste but these rooms/homes clearly reflect the owners’ rather than some designer’s, aesthetic. They exude charm, wit, whimsy and imagination. You’re not going to see them anywhere else and that’s what makes them special and interesting.
This got me thinking about what “home” really means. Is it an actual place or is it a feeling? Is it where you are or who you’re with? I’d argue it can be all of those things as “home” is highly subjective. All I knew was my apartment, while unoffensive and functional, wasn’t giving me a homey vibe. And I want it to feel like home – my home.
After my divorce, I got rid of most of my furniture. We had a 3000 square foot house with big rooms which required big furniture. Too big for apartment life.
I also saw it as a fresh start. I loved how my home was decorated but after 13 years, I was ready for a change. Most of my post divorce years have been spent living with someone who already had furniture so there was no need for me to get any. When I finally got my own apartment and living on my own for the first time in decades, just having my own space was refreshing. The novelty has worn off though (aided by a pandemic) and my attention has turned to decorating.
The catalyst was the crazy quilt I posted about back in March. I finally got a second wind for the project when some friends asked if I could dog sit for them before Thanksgiving. They had enough floor space to stretch out the backing, batting and top, which I can’t do in my apartment. This gave me the incentive to finish piecing it together so I could take advantage of the opportunity. I did it in two sections because trying to stitch a 96″x104″ quilt with a regular sewing machine would be cumbersome. It was the right move.
There was no pattern for this quilt – it was totally freeform. I cut 9.5″ squares from muslin as a base. Then I started with small scraps, placed off-center and just added more in a crazy log cabin pattern and cut them down to nine inches. Every block is different. The beauty of this design (other than the glorious profusion of color) is I used up small scraps of fabric as well as uglier fabrics (which weren’t so ugly in small doses). The backing was also another chance to use up less favorable fabrics. As far as stash busting goes, this project made a dent.
I’ll admit when I first put it on the bed I was disappointed. This wonderful quilt needed to be dressed up properly, which meant upping my pillow game. I found some blue fabric in my stash to ground all those colors and made two pillow shams. Then I knit up the turquoise accent pillow. In the spirit of using what I had on hand, I made the pillow form for it and I was quite please with the results. Most tutorials will recommend Polyfil, but it’s too lumpy for my taste. Combining the fabric scraps and quilt batting was a clever combination to create a smooth, solid form.
Other than the pillow and some gloves, I didn’t do much knitting but I still found a way to use up some yarn. I have several different pieces of rug canvas and had an idea brewing for some rug art. I finally put together a color palette and started hooking my rug. Getting started was a bit fiddly but once I had a couple of rows done, like knitting, it became a bit of active meditation. I finished the first one in a week. However, my shoulder has not been happy with me ever since. While relaxing, it can create repetitive motion injuries so be careful.
With one rug under my belt I was itching to start another one. However, it took me awhile to settle on a design. I wanted it to be floral but other than that, didn’t have a clue what to do. I searched for inspiration and finally decided on an allover design on a black background (I had a HUGE skein of black yarn). I had templates for several flowers and added a couple of new ones for visual interest. While I had the basic design down, the colors evolved a bit once I started and got worried if I’d have enough of certain colors. I solved the problem by using a lot of different colors. This is the beauty of creative constraints, they challenge our imagination and often improve our designs. This one is definitely my favorite (and as it was smaller took me less than a week).
The finishing touch is the handmade frames. They weren’t an original part of the plan but I felt the rugs would benefit from being attached to something a bit more stable. My friend Dale graciously “helped” me make them (i.e. he basically did everything but I did get to cut the miters) and now they really do look like art.
I was really on a roll now and decided to make a pillow out of a pieced flower I did ages ago, inspired by Ruth B. McDowell’s art quilts using freezer paper. I had an old bed pillow I wanted to use which was a bit bigger than the original block. I could have made life very easy on myself and just put in some borders and called it done, but I wanted to keep the pieced look going so 229 little pieces later, I had a front the dimensions I needed. It was a time consuming process but the results were worth it. I decided to quilt it to give it some extra padding and texture. I love the mosaic/broken glass look that this type of piecing creates and will be trying it out on other projects.
These little projects have already made a big difference, not only to the look of my apartment, but also the feel. Right now I’m focusing on either finishing things I’ve already started or can make with materials I have on hand. However, there is a bigger plan in place and more changes to come. I’ll be sharing those with you in future posts and videos.
I’ve challenged myself to knit a sweater a month this year and so far I’ve knit fourteen. While some have exercised my creative muscle, most of them have been just a way to fill time and keep my hands busy. Unfortunately my boredom with the project had spilled into my posts, especially my last one.The photos were awful and I droned on. What I presented was embarrassing.
Shame on me.
Let’s try it again, shall we?
We’re seven months into a worldwide pandemic and I’m nine months into my Sweater-a-Month challenge. Technically I’ve fulfilled the challenge as I’ve completed 14 sweaters so far.
I’ve found myself in a bit of a wasteland this quarter. I’ve settled into a monotonous routine, which has seriously stifled my creativity. I feel like I’m living in a real life version of Groundhog’s Day. But then again, with all that is going on in this country, our collective emotional well-being has been tested.
Even as an introvert who has more than enough interests to fill her time, looking at the same four walls is taking it’s toll. I know change (which we desperately need) doesn’t happen without disruption. Living in the middle of it though is mighty uncomfortable.
Fortunately I have my knitting. Knitting is like meditation. It keeps my hands moving, the steady rhythm of the clicking needles acting like a metronome which lulls the constant chatter of my mind, allowing me to drift off into dreams of when we can enjoy the mundane pleasures of life – like going to a coffee shop to write.
This cardigan, knit with a bulky weight weight yarn, is comfort personified. It’s a warm, squishy yarn and I knit it extra long so I would feel like I was in a cocoon. The perfect antidote to a cold, rainy day when all you feel like doing is sitting by a fire, wrapped up in a blanket drinking hot chocolate and reading a good book.
Color is another way to chase away the melancholy of these days. I happen to have a lot of turquoise-y colored yarns in my stash and had enough of this boucle to knit up a sweater.
Boucle yarns have a loopy or curly ply, giving them a bit of texture. It’s a yarn best used plain because that curl would make lace or cable stitches less distinctive than if you use a smooth yarn. Another concern I had was running out of yarn. I knew I had enough to make a sweater but fancy stitches usually eat up more yarn than a plain stockinette. I chose a top down design because the sleeves are knit last. How much yarn I had leftover would determine the length of my sleeves.
Picking which project I do next is based on a feeling. I have to be inspired. I have to love everything about it so much that I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I had my eye on two yarns – a variegated blue yarn (which was lovely to knit) and self-striping yarn I bought in Ireland. As with the boucle, it’s hard to do pattern work with multi-colored yarn because it gets lost, so, again, I choose a simple top down style for both but I changed up the neckline.
And maybe I wasn’t ready to tackle anything more complicated. I described being in a “wasteland” but maybe that’s the wrong word. I think I just needed a break from the chaos of this world. I needed something quick and easy – that I didn’t have to put much thought into. Instant gratification in a time when so much is at stake and the outcome is unclear.
With some much needed mental rest, I felt ready to take on something a bit more complicated. Still top down but I added a lace panel to it. It’s based off of a Sweater Babe pattern that I own.
The piece de resistance was this lace sweater. I made two previous attempts with this yarn only to rip them out. I finally paired it up with another yarn (this is called marling in the knitting world). Neither yarn would have been fun to knit on their own because they’re too thin but together they are perfect.
I had to knit the sleeves THREE times to get them right. The pattern is from Rebecca (“The young knitting magazine with the big pattern section”) No. 29 January-September. This is #13 “Yellow Sweater”. I’m not going to lie, I don’t know what I would have done if the third set of sleeves didn’t work because by that time I was OVER this sweater. In the end it did win me over because it is so beautiful.
This sweater helped me get out of my rut (or whatever stage of grief/change/pandemic I was in). Down time, rest and familiar routines are all comforting when everything around you feels like it’s spinning out of control. I feel recharged now and ready to take on new challenges. My output for the rest of the year may not be as much but I bet I end up growing more.
For most of my life I have been a self-help addict. I read every popular (and even not-so-popular) self-help tome. For the last three years, I dove deep into my personal development by expanding from just reading books to hiring a coach and joining a mastermind group.
And now I want nothing to do with it.
Let me explain. I don’t regret any of it. I made more progress in the last three years because of the support of my mastermind group and coach. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the drive to find answers. And it’s because of my perseverance and commitment I have come to the point of saturation. I finally get that there was nothing to improve in the first place.
If I sound cocky, it’s not my intent. I don’t think I’m perfect. I’m flawed but our flaws are part of the journey. Life isn’t about showing up perfect. Life is about learning and growing into our purpose (that’s my opinion at least). It’s two very different mindsets.
For a long time my mindset was of the former. At the heart of my insecurities was this idea that I was broken and needed to be fixed. It was ingrained in me at a young age. That is what started me down the whole “self-improvement” road to begin with. I felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, thinking that there was “one way” and I didn’t get the memo. It’s outer driven as I was constantly trying to please other people and live up to their opinions and expectations. I was trying to be everything to everyone. And it was a recipe for misery.
In the last three years I finally found myself. For most of my life I had adopted all these beliefs about what a woman was supposed to be, what she should do that I was living life off-kilter. I saw the world in “right vs. wrong”. I didn’t realize that there were many different paths and ways to live. Somehow I always managed to choose people who I was not aligned with and their confidence triggered my insecurities making me always feel “wrong”.
Now I realize my journey wasn’t about improving myself, it was about coming home, leaning into my authentic true self. It’s less about “improving” and more about shedding the bullshit society throws on us. When you know, at the very core of your being, who you are and what makes you tick, you see yourself and life very differently. Relationships are one example. I worked so hard to be interesting and what I thought my partner wanted that I never even asked if I found them interesting. It’s no wonder none of them lasted.
Another example is my career. I’ve learned having your own business is like sex. You can do it alone but it’s much more fun if you have a partner. I wasn’t cut out to be on my own. When I started looking for a job, I thought “Who’s going to hire me? What have I accomplished?” And sure enough, no one did. (Imagine that!) Then one day I decided to see exactly what I did do the last three years of trying to build a business. When I looked at the list I saw just how much I had accomplished. It was almost a college degree’s worth of stuff – creating presentations and workshops, sharpening my public speaking skills, running my own website, writing two books, learning new software, honing my communication skills, just to name a few. I had actually grown – emotionally, mentally and intellectually. Most people stop growing after gaining 3-5 years of experience and coast on it for the next 30 years of their careers. I saw just how valuable my three years of experience had been. My attitude (and my LinkedIn profile) changed. And I found a job, in the middle of a pandemic, within a month.
The past six months in isolation have revealed even more. I have no interest in self-help books anymore. There’s a few I’ll always cherish (Wayne Dyer) but there is a sleazy side to the industry as we see popular so-called gurus causing more harm than good, building careers by plagarizing others or being accused of sexual assault.
My search for self-improvement did improve me in that I became myself instead of some second-rate version of someone else. I’m less judgmental and way more easy-going than I was when I was younger. I am more outer focused now – trying to make sure what I do doesn’t (intentionally or unintentionally) bring harm to someone else. I have more of a servant’s heart.
When you like yourself and are aligned with your true nature, you have nothing to prove anymore. I know there are people who will never get me and that’s okay. I’m done trying to fit into their model.
I’m not looking to “improve” myself anymore. I am seeking growth, which may just be semantics, but for me, words matter. “Improve” has an air of needing to be fixed. It triggers the old “right” vs. “wrong” mindset. Growth is just something that all living things do naturally. For me, growth means pursuing my interests: creativity, art, design, cooking, sustainability, craft/making things and home (our physical home as well as the meaning of home). My bookshelf looks a lot different these days.
The pandemic has been beneficial, it’s helped me fine-tune areas of my life – things I’m interested in making, materials I want to work with, what travel looks like for me (I have a whole list of workshops and festivals I’d like to attend when we are free to roam again), how I really want to dress and ideas I want to explore further.
I’ve thrown away the self-help road map and I’m writing my own.
It’s amazing how productive you can be when you don’t have to spend two hours everyday in traffic. I’ll miss being able to clock out and walk 10 feet to the kitchen to make dinner.
My goal is to make a sweater a month. That means I should have six sweaters completed. And I have…drumroll please...eight sweaters completed!
Sweater #4 is an adaptation of a Phildar pattern. The pattern magazine is just called Patterns 25 Phildar Mix Adult. The pattern was No. 20 – Cardigan. Obviously they spent a lot of time coming up with clever names.
I want to make a note here about patterns. I rarely ever follow a written pattern and I rarely use the suggested yarn. I usually have to recalculate everything in order to achieve the fit I want. Granted, my finished product usually looks like the one in the pattern but it’s not as simple as just following directions.
This is a crochet cardigan and is noteworthy because it is my first crochet garment. I’m not a novice, I’ve crocheted my fair share of afghans, dishcloths and ornaments. One of the reasons I’ve avoided crochet clothing is the finishing seemed fiddly. But I solved that problem by making this in the round so there were no seams to sew together.
Another issue with crochet is most of the clothing patterns are ugly. Crochet is thicker and denser than knitting, which is why it’s so perfect for blankets but not so much for clothes, unless you like the Michelin Man look. But I used a relatively thin and drapey yarn which worked up nicely in crochet. And it was a quick project.
Sweater #5 is another cardigan made from the same yarn, different color (Red Hearts’ Luster Sheen). This is The Pink Cabled Cardigan from Handknit Style ll – More Contemporary Sweaters from Tricoter by Linden Ward and Beryl Hiatt. I’ve made this sweater before out of an angora yarn. The angora was a poor choice. It didn’t stretch much and was itchy. I ended up giving it away but I’ve always liked the design. I decided to give it another try and the Luster Sheen was a perfect choice. It’s a much stretchier yarn so the cables gently hug my body. Plus it doesn’t itch.
Sweater #6 is also a cardigan (I was on a roll). This is a pattern I’ve had for a long time. It is from a Family Circle Easy Knitting magazine. I don’t know the issue or year. I haven’t knit it because sizing started at 43″ bust (if you ever met me, you know I am nowhere near a 43″ bust). I decided to give it a go and picked out some gray (to match a dress I have) repurposed yarn (meaning I unravelled a man’s sweater to get the yarn). I knit it on size 4 needles and worked it in one piece until I got to the armholes.
It was slow in the beginning. I wasn’t used to knitting with such small needles but once I got past the finicky part, it was a fun knit. The lace pattern intimidated me but I got the hang of it, using markers to denote repeats. I have another idea for the lace design (a little teaser there). Finishing the neck and button bands has always been problematic for me but I used my inner Zen master and hit it out of the park! I love the band detailing, the sweater fits perfect, drapes beautifully and completes the outfit I intended it for. I chose not to do buttons on this one.
Sweater #7 was an attempt to use up leftover yarn. It’s an Adrienne Vittadini pattern from Vol. 0000-24. The yarn is Berroco’s Soft Twist. Her version has long sleeves but I ran out of yarn.
It was weird switching from a size 4 to a size 8 needle. I had to unravel a lot of my knitting in the beginning because I kept messing up the cables. I was pleasantly surprised by the finished product, though. It makes a nice transitional/winter sweater (given Austin winters).
My final sweater is a v-neck pullover made in a red Lion Brand Microspun. Again, I used another pattern I’ve had for a long time from the English knitting magazine Sandra, February 1999. I liked the center/neckline detail and thought it was classic enough to last me years. The problem is back in 1999 sweaters were HUGE and shapeless. So I kept the basic design but added waist shaping and a set-in sleeve versus a drop shoulder sleeve to give it a fitted look.
I’m currently in what I call the “incubation” phase. This is that murky, frustrating phase where I am trying to find my next project. I can’t just make anything, it has to feel right, I need to be inspired.Truthfully, it drives me crazy. The good news is when I do have to go back into the office and lose the couple of hours a day in traffic, I’m going to have a great wardrobe and the confidence that I’ll hit my goal.
As the injustices of our system seem to have finally penetrated our consciousness (well, at least mine), I felt a little bit of …shame, maybe… for my last post. How could I go on about decorating my house when my fellow human beings, by virtue of nothing other than skin color, are being denied their basic rights, including the right to life?
I am a maker. I make no apologies for it. It’s who I am, woven in the very fiber of my DNA. Making things has kept me sane over the years. The repetitive motion of knit, crochet and sewing is meditative. I love every element of the process, from the planning stage to seeing my idea come to life. If gives me a sense of joy and accomplishment. It calms me when my feelings get to be too much.
I once had an ex call me a “robot”. He didn’t mean it as a compliment and looking back over the relationship, I can see it was a passive-aggressive attempt to “put me in my place”, or shame me. It’s rather ironic because he was upset I didn’t show a lot of emotion (he had what I call “knight in shining armor syndrome” – he wanted to be seen as the “savior”) while other men in my life ignored and shut me down when I was emotional. So I learned to keep it all in.
I spent the last three years focused on my own personal development. I’ve been a student of self-improvement my whole life, but this time I spend the time and money to make it happen. What I gained from the experience was a sense of self-acceptance. I used to look to others to validate my worth, now I understand my worth. One of the lessons I learned over this time is that I feel – deeply – but because of being shut down, I have not learned how to process these deep feelings in a healthy manner. Current events have brought a lot of raw emotions to the surface and I’m learning how to challenge my assumptions/beliefs as well as channel my emotional energy for positive change.
And after all that introspection, I finally feel ready to focus outward – it’s not just about me anymore. This doesn’t mean my days of looking inward are over. I’m seeing how my own thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, etc have allowed systemic racism to continue. I don’t believe most of us are overtly racist or mean to be racist. I think the majority of people are good, caring people. To paraphrase Brene Brown, it’s not if you have any biases, it’s what are your particular biases. Because we all carry baggage. Some of us are ready to look in that suitcase and unload what no longer serves us. Some of us won’t even acknowledge the suitcase. How do we bridge that gap? How do we get past the desire to prove ourselves right (and make people defensive) and engage in meaningful conversations? As white privileged people, how do we learn to listen and really hear what is happening?
Interestingly enough, art and craft can help open the conversation. Craft and activism have gone hand in hand for a long time. There’s even a word for it – craftivism, which has its own website. I love the “Craftivism Manifesto”. (Unfortunately, the website is not longer used, the owner moved to a different site and it doesn’t appear to be updated as there is not a word about recent events).
The Center for Artistic Activism, however, is still active and bringing their voice to the Black Lives Matter movement. On their “What we do” page they ask why is artistic activism important. Here is what they say:
Because this stuff matters: Our modern political terrain is a highly mediated landscape of signs and symbols, stories and spectacles. To operate successfully on this cultural topography, we need to respond creatively.
We believe culture and creativity are critical to the future of social and environmental justice.
Creativity is also more accessible. Unlike the law, technology, and political access, cultural creativity and artistic expression is often already in the possession of those who are most marginalized from formal spheres of power. It is critical for marginalized people and groups to effectively and collaboratively use their powerful creative skills for lasting social change.
Crafters are…well, crafty, in how they use their craft to help the greater good or point out injustices. It is said that quilters used different blocks as code in the underground railroad. There is little more than oral history to back this up, but let’s face it, when it comes to matters of life or death, you’re not going to write these things down (and perhaps give your enemies a reason to hang you). It makes sense though, given most slaves didn’t read so using quilt blocks as code seems ingenious to me.
Phyllis Latour Doyle, a 23 year-old British spy during WWII, used her knitting to hide codes in. She is just one of many female spies and patriots who used knitting to support a cause and help win the war.
Modern day activists used their knitting powers for the woman’s march in 2017, with the Pussyhat (which now is problematic because as noted in a Seventeen article ” when it comes down to it, not all women have vaginas and not all people with vaginas are women”).
It’s good to see so many of my creative friends add their voice to the conversations as my inbox has been inundated with emails expressing their commitment to ending systemic racism in this country. I’m not sure yet what actions I will be taking – will it be making pretty things to auction off so I can donate the proceeds? I don’t know yet. I’m exploring the options, educating myself and looking into my heart. What I do know is I have to take action because until we ALL have justice, NONE of us have justice.
I’ve been sheltered-in since March 14. I’ve had a lot of time to take in my surroundings and decided my apartment needs an upgrade, just like my wardrobe.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my apartment (except for my upstairs neighbor who apparently wears cement shoes). But I want to bump up its personality factor. Once again I am turning to my trusty stash. My first project is new bedding. The current quilt on my bed I made about 4 years ago. It was meant to be blue and green and turned out more green than I wanted. And with my bare, ivory walls, it doesn’t really make a statement. I want color. And not just a little bit of color, I want ALL the colors!
I decided to make a crazy quilt using up as much of my scraps as possible. This project makes me happy. I get an odd sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when I can make something practical as well as beautiful from what everyone else would throw away. And I love the challenge of using what I have on hand.
My biggest challenge will be the actual quilting part. I don’t have the floor space to lay out my backing, batting and top to pin it all together because I have carpeting. If I had hardwood floors it be doable, but I don’t. I have a narrow strip in my front entry I could use but to do so, I’ll have to do it in sections, which I don’t mind because it will be easier to quilt. And I can get fancy with the back and use up more scraps.
I’m also looking at my yarn stash. I’m making a tiny dent with my wardrobe project (knitting a sweater a month) but there are some yarns that I don’t have enough to knit a whole sweater or I wouldn’t want to make a sweater out of. I could make a bunch of smaller projects (scarves, socks) and I’ll put some aside for those projects, but it still leaves me with a LOT of yarn.
I kept thinking about bigger projects that would use a lot of yarn. That’s when I thought of rugs. As I searched Pinterest for inspiration, I came across Boucherouite rugs from Morocco. My interest was piqued. Boucherouite apparently is a fancy term for rag rugs. We’re all familiar with the beautiful knotted rugs made by the Berbers. Boucherouite rugs are made from all the leftover scraps of clothing and were made for the rug makers own homes. These weren’t considered of any value until the 90’s and now are considered collector items.
I fell in love. Boucherouite rugs align with my values (sustainability) as well as my aesthetic. I don’t know what it is, but I am drawn to objects and crafts that emerged from thrift. Though the quilting industry these days is a multi-million dollar business, they started out filling an essential need – warmth – using available resources. They were made from sewing scraps as well as the remnants of clothes no longer good enough to wear, even feed bags! Boro, the Japanese tradition of repairing cloth with simple embroidery, makes patched knees downright fashionable and now I can add to my list Moroccan Boucherouite rugs (of course we have our own tradition of rag rugs such as the braided rug).
Maybe it’s the ordinariness of the materials that appeals to me. I think it has to do more with the personality of the maker that these objects are imbued with. Their quirkiness and lack of perfection give them charm and appeal.
So adding to my project list will be Boucherouite rugs. Because it’s a rug I don’t have to worry about matching fibers or thicknesses of yarn, which means I’ll be able to use more of it. I can mix them all up in the rug. I’m going purely by color.
These won’t be laying on the floor, I’m going to hang them on my wall. I’ve been torn on the design though. Do I do a subtle floral a la Kim Parker or bold, bright, 70’s, paisley, psychedelic maximalism?
The clothing industry is the second largest polluter (after oil) in the world and the destruction of our environment and human rights infringements are frightening. The amount of pesticides and chemicals leeched into our waterways (including growing bt cotton, producing man-made petroleum based fibers, and dyeing fabrics), the off-gassing of man-made fibers and its effect on workers, the carbon dioxide overload, the waste created by clothes thrown out after only a couple of wears (don’t kid yourself, most of it goes into a landfill, not a second-hand store, not to mention most of it won’t compost because of the petroleum based man-made fibers) and the human rights violations (low pay, poor working conditions, health risks, long hours, child labor) remain invisible to the majority of us.
My current read isFibershed by Rebecca Burgess, which highlights many of these problems. The difference between Burgess’s book and others that pull back the nasty little curtain on the fashion industry, is she offers an eloquent solution – proof there is a better way. I learned about Burgess in 2010 when she decided to:
“develop and wear a prototype wardrobe whose dyes, fibers and labor were sourced from a region no larger than 150 miles from the project’s headquarters.
Burgess teamed up with a talented group of farmers and artisans to build the wardrobe by hand, as manufacturing equipment had all been lost from the landscape more than 20 years ago. The goal was to illuminate that regionally grown fibers, natural dyes, and local talent was still in great enough existence to provide the most basic human necessity – our clothes. Within months, the project became a movement, and the work Fibershed and the working concept behind it spread to regions across the globe. Burgess founded Fibershed’s 501c3 to address and educate the public on the environmental, economic and social benefits of decentralizing the textile supply chain.” – from the Fibershed website.
The book looks at the true costs of fashion but it also offers an alternative steeped in regional farming traditions and science. It’s a reminder that we are all interconnected and interdependent – soil, water, air, plants, animals, humans – and when we disrupt the delicate balance of one, we effect all, no matter how much we want to bury our heads in the sand. Organic foods have become prevalent because we understand spraying poison on our food crops will poison us. It also follows that the chemicals in the fibers of our clothes (especially man-made) will be absorbed into our bodies, given skin is our largest organ.
As I look at my fabric and yarn stash (not to mention my closet…) I feel like a hypocrite. I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem but berating myself over past behavior doesn’t serve any constructive purpose. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
What do I do now that I know better?
Do I get rid of all my man-made, chemically (vs. natural) dyed stuff (which to be honest, would be most of it)? With man-made fibers, most of the harm is done through the manufacturing process but that doesn’t mean the finished product is harmless. But the majority of my stash has been with me awhile so it’s probably off-gassed any chemical residues. There is still the issue of skin absorption, but I can always wear something underneath it, if I’m really concerned about it. I think at this point it would be more sustainable for me to keep what I have and use it rather than give it away (I wouldn’t throw it out) and buy something else. The idea isn’t to get rid of everything and start over, unless you want to and have the financial means to do so. For me, it would be too overwhelming. As with any change, baby steps.
Here’s my plan moving forward:
Wash my clothes less often.
This helps clothes last longer and lessens the amount of small fibers and plastic particles (from man-made fibers) that infiltrate our water systems. Also, I choose detergents with as little chemical additives as possible.
Buy natural and naturally dyed fibers.
Protein (wool, angora) and plant (linen, hemp, organic cotton) based fibers will compost and add nutrients to the soil after their life as clothing is done.
Natural fibers are also more comfortable and comfort is a huge consideration for me. I live in Austin which is hot most of the year but I still have to wear layers pretty much year round because air-conditioners are set at arctic temperatures and in winter the temperature can fluctuate a lot (cold in morning, warm in the afternoon). I’m a pretty laid back person but I will get cranky if I’m cold. Natural fibers keep me warm in winter and cool in the summer.
Be careful, though, because of the lack of transparency in the fashion industry and bastardization of the terms “organic” and “natural” for marketing purposes means there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. Do your research.
Buy local or from smaller, sustainable, transparent businesses.
The COVID-19 crisis has really driven this point home, not just for fashion. I want to support businesses that are ethical, socially and environmentally conscious. Here in Austin we have several designers such as Miranda Bennett and TogetherSegal (petites) using linen, natural dyes and local manufacturing. For my own projects, I’m sourcing locally raised fibers – organic cotton yarn, wool and linen. The point is large, centralized, monoculture systems aren’t benefiting anyone except shareholders.
Quality over quantity.
I wonder, do people really think a $5 t-shirt that falls apart after 3 washings, is cheaper? To make a product requires labor and material costs. If a t-shirt is $5, someone down the chain is getting shafted or dodgy shortcuts were taken. We expect to be paid fairly for our labor yet we rarely think about someone else’s time when shopping. We’re so caught up in the thrill of the bargain, which isn’t really a bargain after all if you consider cost per wear and how often you’d have to replace a garment. For instance, I bought a leather coat in 2001 and paid $150 for it (not really all that expensive for a leather coat). It’s 19 years old and I still wear it so the cost per wear is in the pennies, if even that. On the other hand, I bought a fake leather jacket (yes, I’m just as susceptible as anyone else to fashion’s allure) about 5 years ago and paid $125 for it. The leather coat still looks brand new while the fake leather is flaking and falling apart. In the end, I’m willing to pay more upfront for something that is ethically made, pays people fairly and lasts longer.
Timeless over trendy.
By using quality materials and good construction techniques, I expect my clothes to last longer but I don’t want to look stuck in a time warp. The solution is classic styles that don’t go out of date – jeans, a classic T, a Fair-Isle sweater or a well-tailored blazer. I’m focused on good fit to flatter my body anyway, not what is trendy.
There once was a time when fashion had only two seasons – fall/winter and spring/summer. The start of school was when I got new clothes. But fast fashion changed all that and in order to get people to buy they have to make yesterday’s (literally, because new styles are appearing weekly) clothes obsolete. But spending a month knitting a sweater that’s going to go out of style in another month isn’t a practical use of my time or materials.
Mend and repair.
I’m a child of the 70’s and I’m a sucker for color and pattern. Long gone are the days of iron-on patches, mending has become art. It’s not only creative but it extends the life of the garment. In Japan they have a tradition of mending called Boro. The history and art of these pieces are amazing and I wonder if there is any of the original garment even left underneath the generations of neatly sewn patches.
I admit, this really appeals to me and gets my creative juices flowing. I love the idea of recycling, upcycling and reusing materials. It goes nicely with my 70’s aesthetic for color, pattern, patchwork and embellishment. If I had to choose between a high end department store or a thrift store, I’d choose the thrift store. Not only is buying used environmentally friendly and easy on the budget, there is a wealth of educational and creative opportunities.
First, you can look for pieces to add to your wardrobe. I look for natural fibers (cotton/denim, wool, silk, linen) and solid construction which means sifting through a lot of cheap, trendy, ill-constructed garments. I’m not restricted by size because I can alter pieces to fit me. And the variety is endless. There’s the latest trends mixed with vintage pieces.
Second, I see raw materials for new projects. A lot of my yarn is recycled from men’s thrift store sweaters. I prefer men’s sweaters because the colors are neutral, they’re bigger (so they yield more yarn) and usually made with natural fibers. For under $10 I can have a sweater’s worth (sometimes two) of wool or cotton yarn.
And finally, I buy garments to make patterns from or learn different construction techniques. If you want to learn tailoring, find a good jacket and take it apart. It’s a wealth of information.
If the lure of the newest, brightest, trendiest, etc. is hard for you to resist or your whole purpose or identity is wrapped up in having the newest/trendiest fashion and you’re addicted to the high of instant gratification of shopping, then you probably think I’m nuts. I love the idea of working with systems nature has provided us and following practices that support rather than harm the environment and all the living things within it. I’m excited by the creative possibilities of working within this framework to connect, build community and create.
Since my first post about my wardrobe redo – Project Lynn – I’ve been productive but not sure I’ve been efficient or quite as effective in my efforts as I had hoped. I realized I needed some sort of plan other than “make clothes for myself”, especially since I have tons of material – yarn and fabric – to work with. It dawned on me I should be coordinating my efforts so I don’t end up with a bunch of random mismatched items. A plan was born!
Step 1 – Assess what I have.
The first logical step is to assess what I have. My goal is to work from my stash. It finally hit me I should be creating outfits, not garments. What I did was bring out all of my yarns and fabrics (excluding the quilting cottons and heavier fabrics I use to make bags) and start pairing them up. At this point it wasn’t necessary for me to know what I would make from them, just that they went together. I also included some ready-made garments I had that could benefit from another piece (like a light weight cardigan to go with a sleeveless summer dress).
Once I laid out my fabrics, I was relieved to see some cohesion as far as colors went. Jewel tones look best on me and I had a variety of vibrant pinks, blues, purples, teal and as well as some neutrals.
My yarns aren’t quite as varied. I have tons of neutrals and teals (both blue and green dominate) and reds. I have bits and pieces of other colors.
Step 2: Assess what I want/need.
I started a new job and the dress code (once we can return back to the office) is corporate casual (jeans only on Fridays).I have 3 dresses, a skirt and 3 pairs of pants I could wear. Technically I could make this work but not everything is good for all seasons. Summers in Austin may be hotter than hell but most buildings are air conditioned to arctic temperatures. Winter temperatures can fluctuate wildly so layers are vital to my comfort year round (I am miserable if I am cold).
My wardrobe is so small that I can make anything and it would be useful. There will be a lot of filling in the blanks as I have bottoms with not a whole lot of tops. I’d like more skirt outfits and have several different types of skirts planned – gored, a-line, straight and a magnificent hi-low skirt I’ve made before but have to redraft because it was a tad bit bigger than I would like. I could just use the pattern I have and use a larger seam allowance – that is if I had bothered to save the pattern! (It was time consuming to draft so I’m kicking myself for not keeping it.) So it’s back to the drawing board.
Step 3: Organize it.
My organization method is just a spreadsheet that notes what yarn and fabrics I’m putting together as well as ideas for the type of garments I’ll make with each.
I’ve also physically organized my stash so the stuff I have immediate plans for is easily accessible since I have textiles crammed in all sorts of nooks and crannies in my apartment.
Step 4: Pick an “outfit” and start designing/making it.
I enjoy every step (I’m an organizing geek) but this is where the real fun begins! This step is rather broad as I consider a multitude of factors such as: how do I care for different fabrics, what patterns do I have, what patterns do I need to draft, what do I need to make a muslin of to test the fit and what silhouettes look best together.
I’m not going to design everything but whether I’m using a commercial pattern or I design it myself, I want to think about all aspects of the design to make sure my end product is something that fits properly, flatters my figure, is easy to care for (no dry cleaning), and is comfortable.
In our last staff meeting we were informed that we’ll be working from home until the fall. I should have a nice assortment of new outfits by then if I can keep up my pace.