Post #3053: Restoration, self and loom.

Is it ironic that I took a mental health day on mental health awareness day? Because that’s what I did yesterday – I took a day off work to deal with my anxiety, imposter syndrome, and the general antipathy that I am feeling towards both my work and my co-workers at the moment. I won’t go into why I’m feeling stressed about workplace issues – because we’ve all been there and the specifics matter much less than the fact of having to sell our labour to survive in the first place.

Anyhow. I spent my day off as follows: morning meditation, long walk on the beach, studio time, 2-hour yoga class, errands, awesome healthy dinner, and more studio time. Pretty great, eh? Well yes, but the work anxiety plagued me all day and I periodically checked in on my email as a result. Turns out, I am missed when I’m not around and today I have double the number of items to follow up on. Which is why I get paid what I get paid, the buck so often stops with me.

My studio time yesterday was spent mostly on the loom. On Tuesday I was at a furniture restoration place to drop off a chair, and I picked up the miracle product: Howard’s Feed N Wax which is a wipe-on, wipe-off beeswax product that smells like oranges – and I could hardly wait to take it to the wood of my 44-year old loom. I’ve got the breast beam and the castle done and you can see here the difference between the waxed (right) and unwaxed (left) parts:


Wax on Wax off…..

Even more striking are the shaft bars that I polished and strung with new texsolv heddles (you can see them in the foreground hanging in front of the old bars and string heddles behind):

Texsolv replaces string

Texsolv replaces string!

img_20170125_204421638As I’m working on the loom, I’ve got the distinct impression that it was built sturdily but in its many decades of being moved around (the former owner moved it across the country and back 3 times), it hasn’t been put back together quite right and so there are some places that need tightening, and I might end up putting a screw or two in to straighten things up. This is one of the benefits of cleaning and waxing the whole thing at the outset – it’s giving me a real chance to look at each part carefully. I’m glad it’s taken me over a year to get to this job, for I didn’t know enough when I bought the loom, and would have done a half-assed job of fixing it up had I just brought it home and got started.

In the evening, I started winding another warp, getting about 2/3rds of the way through it (and finishing the colour stripes which are the time consuming part). This is for my hubble-photo inspired  tea towels which will be of a very plain weave – and will be woven on Little-J (my small loom). I have to admit that the more I weave on the small loom, the less I like it – it’s a table loom with treadle conversion and thus very light weight and wobbly – not to mention clacky (loud). I expect that the countermarch, when ready to go, will make a much more satisfying weaving experience – but I’m glad I’ve had the small one to work with in the meantime. I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and Little-J was a lot less overwhelming to get started with.

I forsee that the Little J will get sold in the future, as I narrow down my needs and options. I now realize that it’s too small for most things I want to do (20 inches), but weaving on the 45-inch countermarch is going to be a bit of a reality check on what width of fabric I really want to make and my talent at shuttle throwing!

This weekend I’ve got to focus on making bags for an event next weekend, so I’m not sure if I’ll get my loom threaded for the tea towels – but I sure hope so – because there’s something nice about always having a weaving project set up and ready to go. Bit by bit, I’ve got myself a weaving studio happening here — not to mention a great beach to take walks on when I need a reality check….. now, if I could only ditch the work thing.


Post #3052: Recognizing the countermarch!

I have to confess something here and now:

When I bought my floor loom last February I had no idea what I was buying. I mean, I thought I did, but really I didn’t.

For months now, I have been circling this loom and trying to figure it out. I’ve moved it twice but never gotten it set up to weave on – partly because I want to replace all the cordage, but also because I just wasn’t *getting it*. I thought it was a standard jack loom because that’s all I really knew about, and I reasoned that it looked so different from other looms because it was hand built in Nova Scotia in 1973 (by a draft dodger and his wife) which made it unique. I figured that I had the treadles on upside down which is why they did not hang properly – I thought once I replaced the cords and tied it up, I’d get a warp on no problem and it would all fall into place….

It turns out that all of that was wrong.

Since November when I started weaving again after getting the J-made up and running, I’ve been consumed by weaving websites and discussion forums and books. It was while perusing some forum a couple of weeks ago that I found a picture of what looked almost identical to my loom…… The Glimakra Standard – and it was upon poking around some more that I realized that my loom is not a jack loom at all — but a countermarch!

While jack and countermarch looms have many things in common, they do not operate in the same way when it comes to tying them up. The weaving process is the same, but the set up process is not. No wonder I was confounded!

Now that I know what I have, I’m feeling a lot more confident about getting it up and running over the next few months. It is a beautiful piece of work, this loom – likely made of maple, with hand-forged metal fittings — a good cleaning will bring it right back again, not to mention replacing all the old string heddles and the clothesline cord before even attempting to warp and balance it for weaving on. Countermarch looms are supposed to have easy treadling and be fairly quiet – once you stop swearing while attempting to tie them up that is! So I’m eager to compare it to the little loom I’ve been working on for the last few months.

I’ve taken a bunch of photographs and created a gallery of the details here because one thing I’ve found is that there are not tons of countermarch resources on the Internet, and my pictures might help someone else ID their loom later on.  Bit by bit, I’m going to figure this one out!

Post #3022: Doing the unexpected, cabinet building edition

If summertime is about beautiful backdrops, mini-adventures, and unexpected projects – summer is definitely going full force in my life at the moment. After getting ourselves mostly moved in and arranged at the new house, I took the last week and a bit off work to do a four day meditation retreat just outside of Squamish, and then spent a week at our Link Lake cabin. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but we’re back at home for a bit, just in time to host our housewarming this weekend!

One thing that I got a chance to reflect on at the cabin was how much work can feel like play when you’re hammering away on something that you have an interest in doing. Case in point: sanding drywall (yuck, boring) versus building a new outdoor kitchen cabinet out of scrap lumber and a donated sink (so much fun! and look at the above photo for proof that we did it!)

As the weather was a bit meh up in Princeton area this last week, it was perfect (as in – not too hot) for small building projects. While Brian started out with a bit of taping and mudding of the drywall, by the end of the week, these cabinets were our real pride and joy – especially since neither of us have much experience building anything except last year’s woodshed.

But necessity *is* the mother of invention – and I was tired of doing dishes stooped over a small table inside – so we devised a three frame solution that worked to create cabinets and counterspace, in addition to holding up a 60 pound cast iron sink. It was a little tricky in spots (that sink is one *tight* fit) – but overall, we had quite a bit of fun figuring it out and doing it.

There’s some finishing work that will happen when we are back in August (staining, cabinet pulls, etc) but we’ve already been using this very functional piece of woodwork and are definitely figuring our next co-build.




Post #2096: To purchase a loom and other weaving thoughts

I am in the midst of trying to purchase a weaving loom, and like any large (expensive) purchase – it’s been giving me a bit of a headache the last few days. Nothing dramatic, of course, but lots to ponder and learn!

While I am only a month into learning to weave, I am fairly certain that even as I sweat over the warping process and drive myself crazy with colour theory, this is something I am going to continue doing. Not only that, I am already feeling limited by the small table loom I am working on and eager to sit down at a full floor loom with a full range of project capacity before me. The small loom is great for learning on, and I am quite content making samplers to explore colour and texture at the moment, but there will come a time when I want to make more than a scarf!

There are so many considerations when one is buying a first loom such as:

  • what types of items will I want to weave?
  • how much space do I have for a loom in my home?
  • can I put together a loom that comes in pieces/components?
  • how many shafts, treadles, what weaving width is preferable?
  • am I looking for portability?
  • will the loom fit through the doorway where I want to set it up?

Etc. I want to put the loom in our large upstairs bed and sitting room because it is where we have the most space, and the best light – but that means moving something through a 2 foot wide door or bringing it in pieces and setting it up. Also, some looms are really heavy which is great for keeping things still when weaving, but not great for moving it around.

In addition to all of the above, I’ve found that trying to purchase a loom second hand (my preference at the moment due to cost and ecological considerations) is a bit of a hinky affair since 1) there have been many small, independent loom makers over the last century in North America and it’s hard to find out info about some loom makers, and 2) lots of people selling looms on Craigslist or Kijiji are selling them for someone else (often deceased or in a home) and don’t know what they are selling. Manufacturers like Leclerc have many different models that have been on the Canadian market but they simply stamp their looms Nilus or Leclerc and not with the actual model name – so people will advertise that they have a Nilus when in fact it is a Mira and so forth.

This is no one’s fault – it’s just the way things are – and purchasing anything secondhand is always a bit more legwork on the front end to get the deal. I’m game and I don’t mind writing to people and doing the work to figure things out.

Thus far I’ve decided on a 45 inch 4/shaft floor loom for now – after briefly considering a much smaller loom over the weekend – because I don’t like the idea of being limited right off the bat. If I find that I also want to be able to do some weaving at the cabin or take workshops, I will likely invest in an 8-shaft table loom at some point in the future – and I plan to make myself a little frame loom and a pin loom to play with simple weave structures on as well. But right at the moment I’m obsessed with the idea of a floor loom and so I’ve been looking at the boards everyday for a few weeks. I have an appointment this Sunday to look at a loom made by a Nova Scotia craftsperson in the year I was born (1973) which I feel has good juju attached since I’m going to look just the day before my birthday. It’s in my price range and has a nice look about it so I’ll have to sit down and see how it feels (and make sure it has all the essential parts intact).

In the meantime, I’ve warped my rental loom for a second time (mostly by myself) and I’m ready to start my second weaving sampler with a focus on colour combinations and weaving in different material. I’m starting to understand how to read a pattern draft and I’ve got myself a couple of excellent books that I’m sure I will use for a long time into the future. These are:

The first is a real instructional, with lots of pictures and skill-building lessons. The second is a pattern encyclopedia with over 600 weave patterns for the 4-shaft loom. So far I’ve referenced both of them about a hundred times – I kept the first one open beside me throughout the warping process last night, just in case I couldn’t entirely remember what I was doing.

And just to finish off, here’s a little stash of weaving fibre just waiting for me to finish work today!


Post #2095: A recap of month one

My key words for 2016 (as recorded in my Year Compass) are “Movement. Motion. Mobilizing,” which is what I wrote in response to the request for a single word to describe what I wanted. It seemed like this was one word, but broken out into different aspects of the same forward-momentum that I am hoping to manifest in regards to my career, my physical activity, and my creative life. I feel like last year was more of a “sit still and listen” kind of time for me, which lead to a deepening of my meditation practice and decision to enter into more serious zen study. While I don’t want to let go of that, I also feel a bit of a push to explore in different ways and so far, I feel like I’m on that track:

  • I keep reviewing the job boards, and applied for something at another agency earlier this month. More interesting though, are the conversations that I am having inside my organization about the need for certain kinds of roles and my suitability for those roles. My goal is to get to the end of this year with something firmed up on the career/role front since my assignment ends early in 2017 and I don’t want to go back to my old position.
  • IMG_20160124_091121124We’ve been snowshoeing at the cabin! Something I have been aching to do since December.
  • I started cycling to work last week – did three days, and three days this week. I expect next week I’ll be able to do four (Thursdays are not possible at the moment due to my weaving class).
  • I’m doing a bit of community mobilizing around refugee support and neighbourhood building.
  • I’ve finally finished my first knitted sweater, started sewing on the baby quilt, started a crochet blanket, and am working on my second knitted legwarmer… but most excitingly:
  • I’m learning how to weave! And this has turned out to be a greater pleasure than I had imagined it would be. Learning a new art form is always interesting, but there is something deeply compelling about the way that two layers of yarn/string/thread meet to form patterns and I have fallen down the rabbit hole of learning. So much so that I am in the market for a floor loom and learning all about that. I plan to write a bit more about this process shortly – but suffice to say that this is fast becoming a significant interest even as I realize I probably don’t have time to make all the things!

I have also instituted a couple of daily habits so far that are really working for me and I hope to keep them up through the year:

  • Reading five pages of a book per day: I know this seems like a small daily reading goal, but for the last few years I have not been reading as much as I would like and I realized that whatever page number I set had to fit in with the actual reality of my life. I can always find time for five pages – and the act of picking up a book instead of going to my computer, means that I’m much more likely to read beyond that first five pages. Between this habit, and purchasing a wrist watch in 2015, I find myself turning to the devices a lot less (the wrist watch means that I don’t use my phone as a time piece and therefore am not looking at it nearly as often).
  • Recording the basics of each day in a daytimer: Each night I am writing down the major activities of my day – including cuddling, crafting, making dinner, cycling – as a way of looking at the balance of what I am prioritizing in my life. It allows me to adjust or notice patterns if, for example, time with my partner is being crowded out by other things (which it currently is, though some time off coming up will help shift that).

The idea really is to keep my activity level at a pace that is enjoyable to me without letting things slide into being overwhelming. I find this to be a tricky tension to maintain, but am bringing my attention to exactly that as I move forward towards month two (and my birthday) of 2016.

Post 2090: First finished of the new year (sweater!)

IMG_20160111_213516It still needs a soak and a blocking, but I’m proud to announce the finishing of my first-even knitted sweater! I’ve crocheted a few (three successful, one not so much), but I really wanted to get a knit sweater under my belt since learning how to knit in June (I started the sweater in August). This has some issues – I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to start with a fingering weight pattern on size three needles as my first project – and you can see a map of my stitching improving as I go. But it’s *so* soft (Cascade Heritage) and it fits me in a nice, relaxed way. The sleeves are longer than the pattern called for (I believe it should have had 3/4 sleeves) so I really should have done another couple decrease rounds on the sleeves towards the wrist – but I do like that they are loose and easily rolled up.

All in all, this sweater makes me happy, and though it won’t win any knitting awards, it has an immediate spot in my wardrobe. Now that this is finished, I get to start on my next sweater project which I am lucky enough to be knitting in Brooklyn Tweed (for my husband’s birthday in May). Between that and working on the second Aspen legwarmer, I’ve got my needles pretty full for awhile.

Post #2080: Instant Pot breakfast goodies

As promised, here’s the quick skinny on my second set of weekend kitchen experiments — homemade granola and homemade yogurt in my Instant Pot. For those of you who don’t know about the magic of the 7-in-one Instant Pot, I highly recommend you look it up. It works as a electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer, and sauté pan all in one – and so far I’ve been very impressed with everything I’ve made in it. More on that later.

This weekend, I decided to get the week’s breakfasts in order by making both granola, and yogurt in the instant pot (but not at the same time!) Recipes and instructions are below – and let me tell you, this makes for one amazing start to the day. Also, given that both of these are multi-hour projects, I give a time breakdown at the bottom that can help you plan for getting this all done in a day for a week’s worth of good starts.

Cherry Almond Granola

5 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/3 cup honey
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Put everything in the instant pot except for the seeds and coconut. Stir. Turn the post onto slow-cook and adjust to high. Leave for one hour. After the machine beeps, add the seeds and coconut, stir and then turn down to low for four hours. After four hours is up, spread the granola in a roasting pan and pop into the oven for about 30 minutes – at 350 – stirring every 10 minutes until the granola crisps up. I didn’t find the slow cooker really got the granola crispy on its own, which is why I think the oven step is necessary. I’ve seen people recommend keeping the lid slightly ajar in order to let moisture escape – but really, the last bit in the oven is pretty straight forward and you can crisp it to your preference. Let cool completely on a cookie sheet and then store in an air tight container.

Instant Pot Yogurt

1 quart of milk
1/2 cup yogurt

Pour milk into the instant pot, press yogurt button and the adjust to boil. Milk will boil in the IP and then machine will beep. Take the inner lining out and allow the milk to cool in it (for about 1/2 hour or so) until it goes down to 115 F. Whisk the yogurt into the warm milk and then put the inner liner back into the IP. Press the yogurt setting again and don’t adjust this time! The IP will automatically set the time for eight hours. Once eight hours is up, the machine will beep and you’ve got yogurt! For Greek style yogurt, you can strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer for three hours or overnight which will separate the whey from the yogurt and leave you with a really dense and creamy yogurt.

Timing for getting this all done on a Sunday

8:00 am – get the granola going in the instant pot. It will be done and cooling by 1 pm.

1:00 pm – get the yogurt going in the instant pot. It will be done by 10 pm.

Strain yogurt through cheesecloth overnight – in the morning there will be awesome breakfast!


Post #2078: Report back on the olive experiment

Remember how I bought ten pounds of olives back in September – and I wasn’t really sure what to do with them or how they would turn out? Well. I’m glad to report that the water-cured olives have so far turned out great, and the brine-fermented olives seem to be doing their thing. Here is the blow-by-blow on what I think about each:

Water-Cured: Cracked

IMG_20151206_121818952Besides lye-curing, the quickest way to cure olives is by water curing them. This involves breaching the flesh of the fruit and then soaking them in water for up to a month, changing the water each day. This leaches the bitter oleuropein out of the fruit, and once that is done, you can cure the olives in brine.

One way that you prep olives for water-curing is by cracking them with a back of a spoon – you don’t want the pits to come loose, by you do want to create a split in the fruit so the water can do its work. We transferred these olives from the water to a herb-brine at the end of October and started eating these about two weeks ago. Here is what my cracked olives look like now, two and a half months after I started the process:


By far, this is the quickest fermenting method as the smashed olive allows for a lot of “flushing” to happen in the water cure. Also, these olives pick up the brine flavours quickly (after four days in the brine they were edible). On the downside, the smashed olives seem to be degrading relatively quickly and they are softer on the inside than I would like. We have eaten close to half of the jar, so that’s fine – and I’m thinking of turning the rest into tapenade.

Water-cured: Cut

EverytIMG_20151206_121828892hing about these olives is the same as above except instead of smashing them, I took a paring knife to each one and made an incision. They look much nicer as a result, and they have held their firmness since being transferred into the fridge. They are certainly more bitter than the smashed ones, but not unbearably so and I think the slight bitter taste gives them a bit of kick. This combination with the brine makes for a very edible table olive, and truly – these can be ready in as little as six weeks. I just broke these open for eating today though and I do think the extra month in brine really makes a positive difference.

Brine-Fermented, Unbroken

IMG_20151206_121920582These olives have also been kicking around in the curing process for two and a half months, but unlike the water-cured olives they still about about two and a half months to go. Brine fermenting leaves the olives intact, but takes much longer to cure them. You can see from the picture that the olives look a lot more “whole” and less degraded than the split examples above (the photo at the head of this article is of the brine-fermented olives you see on the plate here. Although I know these are far from ready, I did brave a taste today – I couldn’t help myself really since I was photographing after all. And though these are still on the not-as-edible side of bitter – they are actually ok, as in they don’t make you gag from the astringency. I definitely want to leave them until the new year – but by far these had the strongest flavouring from the brine, plus they are as firm as ripe olives can be with no degradation of the flesh at all. I don’t think these olives fermented as actively as I would have liked in the beginning, but still they seem to be well on their way to becoming an edible thing.

Overall I am quite pleased with the olive experiment so far and have no problem serving the water-cured olives over the holiday season. That means that when olives come into Vancouver in early fall, there is plenty of time to cure some up for Christmas gifts with the water-curing method. Though cutting is more work, I think that I prefer this over the smashed olives because it leaves the fruit with better consistency over time – but if you don’t mind a softer olive, or want olives for tapenade, the smashed route leaves them less bitter.

I’m really looking forward to the brine-fermented olives in the new year – and I highly recommend trying this out when you have fresh olives available. I can easily see doing double the amount next year and putting together some Christmas gifts of small jars of olives to give away with the other seasonal treats.

Post #2065: The sewing room tour (finally finished)

After a flurry of posting about the sewing room reno in early September, I’ve been a bit quiet on the subject in anticipation of the two final pieces of furniture that were on their way to helping me finish the job. This past weekend, both were installed, and so I’m ready to show off the sewing room I’ve been working on since August.

In case you forgot, the sewing room was shared with the TV and guest quarters and used to look like this:


TV, Sewing Table, Storage

Besides the fact that my sewing stuff was crammed into a shared space, I had also collected a ton of fabric from thrift and seconds sales, none of which I was ever going to use (it was bought so randomly), which resulted in a stash overflow of epic proportions. A big part of the job at the outset was de-stashing the fabric, with a little yarn thrown into the mix. We also got rid of the gross/ancient futon couch, the table my sewing machine was on, and moved the TV to another room.

IMAG1584This really left me with only a large wooden shelf from the original room furnishings – an item my father and I made together about thirteen years ago – and that has always been wonderfully useful in my life.

This I organized with uniform boxes, five to a shelf, all labelled with their contents. Likewise, patterns got organized according to type in magazine files. Some other odds and sods ended up on these shelves as well, which is to be expected, not everything can be categorized! Having used this system now for the past month – it’s incredibly easy to both find things when I want to use them, and to put them away. Seems elementary I know, but being well-organized makes it so much easier to stay well organized.

Next up is the sewing table, which we put together on the weekend (it was on order at Sears for a month). I picked the Sauder table because it is designed for both sewing, and storing a sewing machine (right depth, right height), plus has some built-in storage, and folds into a cabinet. It may be that I never put my sewing machine underneath in the long run because I like to have it out and available. But if I ever do get a serger, it’s got a place to live.


Being able to keep my workspace tidy is really important (given the mess it was before all the time), so the extra cupboard on this is a bonus.

Of course, the one thing I haven’t had for years (since I lived in a 1/2 duplex all by myself on the Sunshine Coast) is a cutting table positioned at the right height. And so, I bought an Ikea Bekant table to do the job. It’s sturdy and a decent size – and I find myself using it as an all-purpose standing table for all sorts of things – sorting through patterns, hand sewing, choosing fabrics and threads under the super bright work light. It’s been really great having this set up. Underneath you can see baskets – one for unfinished projects, and one for scraps from works in progress. The UFOs in the one basket are very old, and some decisions will have to be made soon. The plastic drawers house some quilting projects in progress.


IMAG1578And then we come to two pieces of storage hardware the I purchased from the Algot line at Ikea. Algot is a series of mix and match pieces that make in-closet and hanging storage solutions – very easy to hang and put together. I wanted to be able to store all the fabric, yarn, and garments-in-progress neatly, and visibly (for easy access). My self-imposed rule now, is – no new fabric or yarn unless there is room in the bins for it.  I have made my storage space finite and obvious to help curb my hoarding tendencies. Right here you can see that there are several garments worth of fabric, and at least four sweaters worth plus a bunch of other yarn. That’ll keep me going for awhile. One of the first things I did after the sewing room was mostly set up, was make the Woodland Stroll Cape out of wool that’s been in my stash for three years – this is a trend I tend to continue as I look at my oldest fabrics first.

One of the other final pieces, picked up last week, is this most-desired chair – which my mother bought me as a graduation gift. You see, I don’t always like to sit at the sewing table or stand at the work table – when I am knitting intensively or stitching, or even ripping out stitches on a dress gone awry – I like to have a comfy place to sit. Beside that you can see the technology center which features the printer/scanner, my tote full of camera bits (which I apparently didn’t tidy for the photo), a bin for paper, and the notebooks I pull out  to write and sketch in.  On top, you can see a doll made by my mother – my favourite of the many she has created.


Ultimately, it’s the little details that thrill me when I discover their utility or aesthetic value: I installed a full-length mirror so I don’t have to run up to the bedroom to try on garments, I framed some dresses that my mom made when I was a little girl as memento artwork, I hung kitchen organizers to keep all the small bits close at hand, and got all the thread out of a shoebox and onto an organizer so it’s easy to pick from. I also installed new overhead and task lighting, and a new roller blind to help keep the light in when working at night.


Of course, this wasn’t my labour alone. My husband painted from top to bottom, helped me install the shelving, and put the sewing table together. He’s also just been super supportive of turning this into my space now that we have a little extra room in the house – and that is *huge* to me.


Post #2064: Slow fashion and slow food – another way of saying elite consumer?

While thinking about the slow fashion/clothing movement a couple of weeks ago, I watched the documentary “The True Cost” (available on Netflix) which is about the textile industry and the transition to clothing as disposable consumer items over the last three decades – its really a catalog of environmental catastrophe and labour abuses worldwide and I think that everyone who has every bought a $5 t-shirt and thought yes! what a deal – should watch it. Actually, everyone who wears any mass produced clothing should watch it – just to be informed about what it really does cost all of us to have an endless parade of cheap garments.

Part of that documentary, however, focused on the switch to fair trade products and companies such as People Tree which has environmental and ethical sourcing policies for its clothing – and makes beautiful and fashionable things. I immediately went to their website after watching the documentary to see what they had on offer for dresses – and I loved them! I wanted to buy several right away… because they are great, and not *too* expensive, and with the halo of “doing good” it almost seems like one ought to buy some more things to support this venture – right?

Well – from my perspective on making and slow fashion, my reasons for it – no. And its something I struggle with all the time – because like everyone, I want new things for my wardrobe – but I don’t need nearly the amount of clothing that an endless procession of new things would generate. Whether I purchase ethical, or not, I am still faced with the issue of too much stuff. Too much for me, and too much for the planet to bear – even with the most ethical sourcing policies possible.

And while I see a place for fair trade/local making when it comes to garments, food, and other items – I am afraid that too often “slow” as in slow food and slow fashion, is just another way of saying elite. This is really exemplified in food writing – as pointed out in an article in The Atlantic a couple of years ago – which details the celebration of gluttony by many writers who also espouse “slow food” as an ethic. It’s a real nice bit of hypocrisy to, on the one hand celebrate less overall consumption for everyone, while also stuffing oneself to the point of near-illness. I don’t think the point is lost here when it comes to fair trade shopping either. Too often, people who feel that they can afford to shop fair trade (people like me, for example, a middle class income earner), still purchase far above their actual level of need. And when they are done with those clothes, because they are middle class, they probably donate them to thrift rather than sell them – contributing then to the problem of global over-supply of goods which then destroy local textile markets in the global South. That is, over-consumption is a problem, whether we are talking about $5 t-shirts or $200 dresses. And while the lowest income folks are most definitely consuming the most mass-produced goods, they are still consuming way less goods overall than most of us who have greater disposable incomes (or who are wealthy).

While I believe that systemic change is necessary in order to grapple with the real problem of too much resource use on a finite planet (ie – capitalism is a terrible way or organizing ourselves for sustainability) – on an individual level, I still want to find a way out of this trap of wanting, and having, and discarding. When I started making clothes a few years ago, it was really motivated by a bunch of different impulses – making, body image, learning, creativity – but as I have worked with textiles, I have come to think a lot about the process of the garment industry – both textile making and ready-mades – and how that applies to me.

Garment-making is physically challenging work, and often very dusty, bringing one into contact with chemically treated fabrics and threads. The recognition of this alone has helped me to pare way back on my purchase of ready-made clothing. And when I stick to making my own clothing, I tend to acquire a lot less clothes overall. In a given year I might make two skirts, two dresses, one sweater, maybe a blouse, and some accessory items. This is still quite a lot of stuff (it adds up when I look at what is in my closet from five years of making clothing) – but nowhere near what I would consume in an Old Navy during a sale (I still purchase jeans, underwear and tank tops ready made – and $100 in a place like Old Navy gets one crazy amount of stuff).

But even then, I don’t feel like I’m really doing my part to combat over-consumption – as the act of making, alone, accounts for a huge amount of consumer action. The community of knitters, sewists, and other makers is just as prone to excessive consumption as any other social group – although everyone trumpets their ability to “use every last scrap” a lot of people are very proud of their yarn and fabric stashes – some of which take up storage lockers and whole rooms in a home. Although I purchase a lot of yarn and fabric through thrift stores and de-stashes – I still do my fair amount of new purchase as well. And I did just re-do my sewing room from top to bottom which involved a lot of money spent on Ikea furniture. As makers, we often find ourselves caught in the conundrum of spending resources in order to conserve resources – which in the end cancel each other out. It really points us back to the base problem of living in a system which values growth over life – and its very difficult to get off that wheel individually and collectively.

This post isn’t going to end with an answer, or even an avowal that I will do better. I will try to do better, as I move away from ready-mades, thus limiting the amount of new garments which come into my life on an annual basis. But I see, all the time, that I am still consuming way more than I need, most North American consumers are. Whether we espouse slow and local, or ready-made – the real trick is in living with less — way less.