Friday, 20 September 2013

Organic Textiles Weekend

Apparently it's Organic Textiles Weekend - part of the Soil Association's Organic September, and they've published a really good infographic which explains the benefits of organic cotton all the way from the field to your wardrobe. The theme for Organic September this year is 'small changes, big difference', and you're invited to share the small change you plan to make on the website. It bothers me a bit that a lot of the suggested changes are about things you could buy - buying a pair of organic cotton jeans if you don't actually need new jeans right now doesn't help anything! Neither does adding some overpriced organic luxury snack item to your supermarket trolley. These supplements should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet, if you know what I mean. You have to buy organic instead of the other stuff. Then it's really a change, and not just more shopping.

I'm not exactly making a change myself, just continuing with the never-ending process of trying to buy less/use what I have/keep it simple... Being able to sew is so helpful on this front! It's incredibly satisfying to turn something I already have into something I need. Lately I found myself in need of a nightie, but couldn't find one (an organic one) I liked and also am a bit impecunious. Then I thought of the huge piece of lovely organic cotton interlock that's been taking up so much space in my stash cupboard for years. Perfect autumn nightie fabric! I lengthened a self-drafted/rubbed-off raglan top pattern and added pockets. (No photo for you: it doesn't look good on a hanger and I'm not putting myself in my nightie all over the interwebs.) It was quick to make, is super-cosy, and the stash is (slightly) reduced - win win win - but I'm getting popped stitches all along the hem, which I stitched with a twin needle. Anyone know why that is? Is this just not a strong enough finish for a nightdress hem, or is it to do with my thread, or what? I used free-with-my-machine polyester in the two needles and organic cotton in the bobbin; it's the bobbin thread that's breaking. Should I have matched all 3 threads? Would a wider twin needle produce a stretchier hem? Advice gratefully received!
While you're advising me, what do we think about velvet leggings? 'Washed' velvet, at that (crushed velvet's marginally more sophisticated sister)? Just far too 1995, or that magic combination of stylish and warm? I mentioned in my last post that I was thinking of buying some organic velour to make leggings, but then remembered I have some filleted trousers in my stash that could be re-purposed instead. Black washed velvet (or velour because it's knitted??). The trousers were made for me by my mum in, yes, the mid-'90s...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Conscious Crafting - some sewing links

I've been feeling a bit uninspired on the blogging front lately, as you might have noticed... After writing my post about consumerism I felt like that was the kind of thing I'd hoped to write when I started this blog. I can't churn that out on a regular basis, though. At the same time I realised it's ridiculous to feel like I should post more frequently - it's my blog, after all, so any sense of guilt or obligation is entirely self-imposed! Isn't it silly? And I haven't wanted to write posts for the sake of it, without anything to say, just filling up the internet. That means I've made things and left them unblogged (also, how nice to just get on with doing without trying to work out what to say about it or stopping to take in-progress photos!); if you'd like to keep up with me going Look what I made!, I am still doing that on Flickr.

Anyway, today's post includes a list, as promised, of sources for more responsible sewing supplies. When we crafters make things, we put in so much care and effort, and we have the luxury of doing it all for fun. Many of us feel that sewing things, rather than buying them, is more ethical - you can be sure something wasn't made in a sweatshop if it was made in your living room. But, unless you're growing, spinning, and weaving your own cotton, what we think of as our "raw materials" are actually the products of many other people's work. The garment factory isn't the only place that exploitation occurs. Conventional cotton farming is a chemical nightmare, using vast quantities of pesticides that poison workers as well as the soil and water. Monsanto's GMO Bt cotton seed is linked to devastating numbers of farmer suicides in India. Processing raw cotton into fabric has many stages and all of these can be done in more or less environmentally friendly ways, and with more or less exploitation of workers.
Lisette Portfolio blouse, fabric from the Organic Textile Co
If I'm going to put a lot of work into making a new dress or blouse, I like to know that the other people involved in the process, working not for pleasure but for a living, have been able to do their jobs safely and for a fair wage. Because the global economic system is inherently unfair and dependent on human and environmental exploitation, there's no perfect answer - but for me, buying certified organic cotton is significantly better. It ensures, at least, no agrochemical poisoning of workers and ecosystems. Organic certification standards also include social criteria - no child labour (rife in the cotton industry), rules on wages and working hours, trading relationships, etc. - and cover every stage of production. (The Fairtrade mark has even higher social standards, of course, so finding fabric with both certificates is always a plus.) Choosing organic cotton over non-organic is a way for me to respect the many people whose hands the fibre passes through before it reaches mine, as well as the planet that we all live on.
A kitchen towel for my grandparents - waffle fabric (now discontinued - WHY?!)
from the Organic Textile Co, bound with Cloud 9 prints
When I first decided to choose organic cotton, maybe a decade ago, my options were very limited. There was cream, cream, and yet more cream. Actually I do love the warm tone of unbleached cotton, but I used to snap up any other shade I could find (and sometimes regretted it: I still have in my stash a large cut of bright purple handwoven shirting that's never quite the right colour for anything). And prints? No chance. But, since then, awareness of the benefits of organic production has spread, and choices for eco-minded crafters have multiplied like rabbits on an organic farm. Of course ruling out conventional cotton does still rule out the vast majority of fabrics on the market - but imposing limits on our choices is probably a good thing anyway. If you do an internet search you'll come up with a great many places to buy organic cotton, but I thought it might be helpful to share links to a few shops that I've used with a little review of each one (no sponsorship here, by the way, I'm just a normal customer of these businesses).

Despite spending a ridiculous amount of time searching for organic cotton fabric shops on the web, I only discovered this one by chance at the Knitting & Stitching Show a couple of years ago. They stock mostly shirting weight fabric, with lots (lots!) of beautiful colours including many shot weaves, and there are a few prints, corduroys, velveteens and other things too. You can buy fat quarters if you want, or colour-co-ordinated charm packs for quilting. The ethical stance of the company is nice and clear.
Lovely striped jersey from Gossypium
Gossypium is an organic and fair trade cotton clothing and homeware company with a small selection of fabrics and Clothkits-type sewing kits for sale. I find their prices reasonable - single jersey for £9.50/m, if memory serves - and the quality excellent. They've recently upgraded their website and there's nothing but yoga clothing on there now - I'm told the fabrics and kits are still available from the shop in Lewes, and I'm hoping it's possible to order them over the phone. I guess they'd be able to send swatches if you asked. Gossypium is linked to the Agrocel cotton farmers' co-op and all their cotton is certified Fairtrade as well as organic.
These baby PJs were made out of checked sheeting from Gossypium
Greenfibres is a hardcore eco-shop in Totnes. I don't buy a huge amount from them because their prices are fairly high, but everything I've had has been of excellent quality. The range of fabrics is quite small and doesn't include any prints or many colours, but a variety of weaves and weights. They have hemp, silk, and sometimes organic wool fabrics alongside the organic cottons. I used the soft voile for my first Tova shirt (the price on this fabric is actually very reasonable because it's enormously wide). Greenfibres also sell organic cotton sewing thread and some eco-knitting yarns, plus all sorts of clothing and household items. The people behind Greenfibres know their stuff and are very clear and thorough about their environmental and social principles.
Soft voile from Greenfibres for my Tova blouse
Kitschy Coo
I found this shop a few weeks ago on reader/Mack and Mabel blogger Julie's own list of organic cotton retailers. When I saw the website I told Boyfriend, "Sometimes it's a good thing I don't have much money," because budget was truly the only thing that stopped me ordering miles and miles of Scandinavian printed knits. Most of the designs are actually a bit too childish/kitsch for me but there are some lovely adult-friendly styles mixed in there. I restricted myself to two prints which will hopefully be stitched up soon - watch this space. Be aware that there are a few non-organic cotton fabrics mixed in here (mostly ribbings, I think), but the majority is GOTS-certified.
Adults can wear foxy jersey too, right?
The Organic Textile Company
This Welsh firm stocks a huge selection of organic cotton fabrics, many fairly traded from weavers in India, in all sorts of colours and weights. They have both woven and knitted fabrics, as well as organic thread, very fluffy organic cotton batting, and now a few notions too. The product photos on the website don't do the fabrics justice, but the prices are good and I've been happy with everything I've ordered (I've ordered far too much...). I'm sometimes concerned that the ethical principles behind this shop are a bit vague, for example they've recently started stocking clearance linen fabrics with no information on the sourcing, processing, etc. They also sell some bamboo viscose fabrics, which (as acknowledged on the website) probably don't live up to their eco hype. My policy is to ask about something before buying if it's not clear where it's from, what certification it has, etc. - Phil is always happy to answer an email. The range keeps expanding and includes all sorts of really good clothing fabrics now; I have my eye on the black velour for some cosy winter leggings. Do check the special offers page, I've found a few serious bargains there in the past.
Herringbone and Crossweave fabrics from the Organic Textile Co - project details here
Quite a few of the stylish modern sewing shops now carry some organic cottons alongside their conventional fabrics; I mention Raystitch because their organic range is a bit broader than most, with some stuff from the Organic Textile Company (slightly higher prices but much better photos!) and a range of handwoven stripes that I haven't seen anywhere else. Their lovely Essex Road shop is worth a visit if you're in north London - seeing fabric on the bolt is so much better than a little swatch.

Stitch Organics
This Etsy shop is a recent discovery for me. The range is quite small but includes some really useful basics that I've struggled to find elsewhere. The batiste I ordered is lovely, not quite "opaque" as described but extremely light and soft, perfect for underlinings. My mum bought some of the recycled batting, which looks like a good low-loft alternative to the very fluffy organic stuff mentioned above. Organic cotton sewing thread is available here too, at a better price than Greenfibres' and in more colours than at the Organic Textile Co. Stephanie, the shop owner, has a blog where she shows off her own organic sewing projects.
I used navy jersey from Alabama Chanin to bind my quilt
Alabama Chanin
This is the only non-UK shop I'm including here: I didn't want to leave it out, because their high-quality organic cotton single jersey (in two different weights) comes in a huge range of beautiful colours. It's the same fabric the company use for their very-high-end clothing line, and Natalie Chanin has clearly put a lot of work into getting the colours just right - they're subtle and expensive-looking. The fabric itself is not too pricey but postage to the UK is a bit of a killer (I placed my two orders to coincide with relatives crossing the Atlantic, so I only had to pay domestic P&P).
A flannel scrap bundle from Cloud 9
There are some lovely printed organic cottons from American companies (not actually produced in the US) that are available from various sewing shops in the UK. Cloud 9 keep bringing out range after range of really attractive designs, now on five different organic cotton substrates: mostly quilting cotton, but also sheeting, canvas, flannel, and voile. I think a lot of crafters buy their fabrics just for the prints (and quality), and not because they particularly care about organic farming, so I wish Cloud 9 would do a bit more to promote awareness of the environmental and human benefits of organic cotton - they do have some information on their site but it's hidden away in the FAQs section. Birch also produce numerous lines of quilting cottons and have branched out into interlock jersey, home decor fabric, canvas, and flannel too. Monaluna were responsible for a very popular fox print a couple of years ago, now reissued, and have several ranges of sweet retro-ish quilting cottons, including a few solids. I think their quilting cotton is slightly thicker/denser than Cloud 9's or Birch's - has anyone else found that? Some of Amy Butler's wildly popular designs are available in organic cotton, although these are not so easy to track down (I haven't bought any of them yet myself). The same prints are also used on non-organic cotton, so you have to be careful to buy the right thing.
A Slouchy Make-Up Bag in Cloud 9 fabric
Something to bear in mind when buying organic fabric (or anything else): you should always be able to find out what certification the product has, and where in the world it's come from. If the web page doesn't include that information I always ask, and if the retailer doesn't know and isn't willing to find out, I generally don't buy - supply chain transparency and traceability is key to the integrity of organic standards. If something is advertised as "organic" but has no certification, you can report it to the Soil Association - but at the moment there's only legal protection on the use of the word "organic" for food, not for other things like textiles or skincare. So with fabrics, certification details are your only guarantee that something really is organic. Any seller who's serious about organic principles will be open to your questions - if they can't answer you, or even act like you're insulting them by asking (this happened to me with a well-known US website that imports fabric from Japan), take your business elsewhere.

Do you have a favourite place to shop for organic cotton sewing supplies? Let me know in the comments. There are some really lovely eco-options for knitters, too, but I think I'll save those for another post. I wasn't planning for this one to turn into an essay!

Just one last note: some big high-street names are still refusing to sign up to the fire and building safety plan that's been drawn up to prevent any repeat of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. There's a petition asking River Island to summon up a shred of human decency, an online tool for you to send a quick message to Bench, Peacocks, and the other hold-outs.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Grow Your Own

One of the few drawbacks of our very nice flat is its lack of private outside space: no garden, no balcony, not even a window ledge. There are generous open, grassy areas shared by our block and the others in the street, and a big park just around the corner, but there's nowhere to plant anything of our own. I often have a bowl of mung beans sprouting in the kitchen, and wanted to try my hand at growing some leafier veg indoors.
Pea shoots are just small pea plants. The dried snow peas I bought (from Infinity Wholesale, but also available directly from Aconbury) are sold especially for growing for salad, but I wonder if ordinary dried peas might work too (I never buy the expensive little sachets of mung beans for sprouting, I just use the ones that are sold for cooking). Pea shoots need soil or something similar to support them - instructions for all kinds of sprouting can be found here. I tried growing a batch on damp kitchen roll, thinking of those primary school cress and broad bean experiments, but the peas just rotted (very stinkily).
With no outside space, I didn't want to buy a big bag of soil, and there's also the peat problem with most potting composts. I found an alternative in my local Oxfam shop: a 'brick' of dry coconut husk fibre compost. I'm not 100% happy with this solution because it's been shipped half way round the world; plus it's from Sri Lanka and I don't know whether the boycott should include fair trade produce as well as everything else. But... it's peat-free, comes in plastic-free packaging, and is small and dry enough to live under my kitchen sink without causing trouble. When it's soaked in water the block (about the size of a normal house brick) expands to make 9 litres of compost, so I crumbled off a small amount to use. It's not really designed for using bit by bit, but it wasn't too difficult or too messy to scrape some off.
I planted three layers of well-soaked peas in an old glass container on a sunny desk. I kept the lid on it for the first week or two, so it was like a tiny greenhouse. I think it took about six weeks for the shoots to be big enough for eating. I should have eaten them all as soon as they were ready - the ones I left longer didn't improve. Supposedly they sometimes shoot up a second time after cutting, but mine didn't, they just shrivelled away; perhaps a container with drainage would have made for healthier plants.
Growing your own salad means you get to eat it as fresh as can be, plastic packaging is limited to one small bag for the seeds, there are no weird chlorine washes or any of the other nastiness associated with bagged salads, no carbon-crazy refrigerated transport, and it's miles cheaper than buying it ready-grown. I reckon this batch was equivalent to a medium organic salad bag from the supermarket, and it took about one twenty-fifth of my packet of seeds and maybe 10% of my compost block (of course the soil can be reused). I reckon the cost must be somewhere under 50p, and I got some fun and a little sense of connection to my food into the bargain.
Do you sprout seeds or grow your own greens indoors? What are you favourite beans and seeds to grow? Got any delicious pea shoot recipes? Tell me, tell me!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The high price of cheap stuff - what we can do

Not many people seemed to hear about the Tazreen factory fire that killed 112 workers and injured hundreds more last November. For a few months it was Bangladesh's worst ever industrial disaster; of course that dreadful title now belongs to the Rana Plaza factory collapse. As shocking as these catastrophes are, they don't come as a surprise to anyone who takes an interest in international workers' rights. These were accidents waiting to happen, and the companies who flog the products of these sweatshops to insatiable Western consumers knew it. The business models of Primark, Walmart, Matalan, and the rest, are built on a foundation of exploitation. They consciously, deliberately, put profits before human lives. And we know it too, but most of us prefer not to think about it.

In fact, modern globalised consumer capitalism is entirely dependent on us preferring not to think about it. Companies do their best to hide the environmental and human costs of producing the goods we buy, and for the most part we make this very easy for them by not wanting to know about it anyway. We don't ask the difficult questions because we like to get a t-shirt for £2 and since all the suffering is far away in a foreign country it's easy to keep our consciences quiet. We don't ask the questions because we know that if we did, once we'd seen and heard the answers, we wouldn't be able to carry on shopping for fun. The knowledge would make our lives more difficult, more complicated, and so we avoid it and willingly play along with the powers that want to keep us ignorant.

It's appalling that it's taken a devastating factory disaster to make it happen, but it's good to see the connection between cheap clothing and exploitation of workers being made in the mainstream media this week. It's heartening, too, to see sewing bloggers wondering what they can do. And yes, supporting a new workers' co-operative or donating money to a charity campaigning for international labour rights could help. Certainly we can all spare a few seconds to sign a petition. If you want to you can even use your sewing skills to protest. These are all good things to do - as steps on the way to fundamental change. I think there's a danger that one-off "actions" like making a donation or signing a petition, even done with the most sincere good intentions, become subtle ways to quieten our troubled consciences down again, so that we can return to business as usual and tell ourselves we've done what we can.

The trouble is that there's no simple answer, nothing's really black-and-white, and everything is connected. It's complicated, and that makes people switch off. Also there's the small matter of our society being so steeped in the toxic stew of consumerism that we're barely aware that it isn't the natural order of things. Big business rules, and our political leaders and the mainstream media never acknowledge the possibility of another way. We're constantly bombarded with our instructions: shopping is your patriotic duty; the Market is a mysterious monster that we must feed, because if it dies it'll take us all down with it; be a good little drone, work hard, then reward yourself by buying stuff - you're worth it - and p.s. just don't ask where it all came from or how we made it so cheap.

But hundreds of people have just been killed making some of that stuff, we see the wreckage and the blood and the bodies and the grief on our television screens, and we find that we can't help asking. Our innate care for our fellow people has been shocked into wakefulness, and just for a moment the clamour for the latest-bargain-must-have-celebrity-endorsed-whatever is seen in all its true crass irrelevance. Now we have to make sure that we really are asking, that we really want to know, and that we really are understanding the answers. It's not enough to just intellectually comprehend the facts; we have to take it all in and let it make us feel something, so that we can't ignore it. It's our responsibility as humans, I think, to do this work.

I was brought up in a household where at least some thought was given to what was bought and where it came from - for example, my parents never bought South African fruit when I was little and the reason for this was carefully explained to me - so responsible consumption was perhaps an easy idea for me to grasp. But I remember having a turning-point moment with clothes shopping in particular: it must have been spring 2000, and there had been something in the news not long before about big companies exploiting workers in Asian factories. It certainly involved Nike but Gap might have been implicated too (as they are again, by the way, in the Tazreen fire). I was visiting my grandparents in New York, and I was out shopping. Actually I've never been much of a shopper but the exchange rate was somewhere around $2 to £1, meaning that everything in Gap there was half the price it was here - too much of a bargain for a student to pass up. So there I was in Gap considering a little stripy vest top, and I looked at the label (I can't remember if I was actually looking to see where it was made, with the news story in mind, or if I was just checking the fibre content), and it said "Made in Sri Lanka". I remember having a physical reaction to that - just a small kind of sinking feeling in the stomach, nothing dramatic - because suddenly the people being paid peanuts to churn out clothes for Westerners in dangerous factories weren't just any people, they were my people. On one side of my family I'm Sri Lankan Tamil. Now, no close relatives live there, I've only visited once, and I'm not terribly invested in the idea of national identity (besides, the Sri Lankan government is doing its best to eradicate the Tamil population). But still, in that moment, the name "Sri Lanka" was enough for me to feel a human connection to the anonymous worker who'd sewn the vest I was holding. I could form a clear mental image of what that person might look like, and get an imaginary glimpse of their possible suffering. I had a thought along the lines of there but for the grace of [god?] go I. Reluctantly, I put the top down and left the store.

My consumption habits weren't revolutionised overnight, by any means (I brought home several new H&M purchases in my suitcase that time), but it was the start of something. I started to actively seek information about where and how things were manufactured, and gradually that knowledge has transformed the way I consume. I'm certainly not perfect and in fact I don't even know what "perfect" would look like - there are so many interrelated factors to consider and every solution is a compromise. All of the better alternatives are still part of the same socio-economic system, which is unsustainable and unethical at its very core. I don't believe that the world can be saved by merely tweaking consumer capitalism. "Ethical consumerism" is an absurd oxymoron. But...

What can we do? We do all have to consume, there's no choice about that. We need to eat, we must clothe ourselves, we have to build homes and maintain them, just for a start. So let's draw a distinction between consumerism and consumption, and perhaps that will be helpful. Be a human being who by nature must consume, but don't be a Consumer.

  • One of the most basic (and most difficult) things we can all do is to buy less unnecessary stuff. My favourite trick for making this one work is to not go shopping. There are so many better ways to spend your time! I now hardly ever go into a shop just to browse, and I even avoid jumble sales and the trendy vintage fairs. The less I shop, the easier it is to not shop. Watch The Story Of Stuff if you haven't before. Read The High Price Of Materialism to discover why shopping doesn't make you happy anyway (here's a video introduction). Know when someone's trying to sell you something (it's not always immediately obvious). "Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes."
  • When I do buy something, I try to find a better option than the standard one. There are lots of different issues to consider and you'll have to choose your own compromises (here's an interesting post about one person's rationale).  Lots of things can be bought (or even got for free) second-hand. I can get almost every clothing item I need/want from a source that is at least either organic or fairly traded, often both: try People Tree, Liv, Frank & Faith, Gossypium. Most of these clothes are much better quality than the cheap high-street versions and last longer. Know that expensive clothes do get made in sweatshops too - the price tag isn't a reliable measure of exploitation, so you have to do your research.
  • I try to make myself picture the reality behind an "issue". So I don't just think of the issue of child labour, because that's only words; I try to summon up a detailed mental image of an actual child working on the thing that I find myself wanting to buy even though I know it's a product of exploitation. Then I don't want to buy it any more. Or I think of what I'm asking someone else to forfeit in order for me to have some trendy item that I supposedly "need". That word need can be a useful thought-tool in itself - my "need" for an item is hardly ever any match for someone else's need for fair pay and safe working conditions.
  • Make do and mend. Care for the things you own, and repair them to make them last as long as possible. When they can't be used any more salvage whatever you can for re-use - all those materials took resources and human labour and shouldn't be wasted.
  • Think back along the supply chain. The final manufacturing stage is only part of the story. I know a lot of crafters have felt a personal connection to the Rana Plaza victims because many of them were seamstresses, women sitting at sewing machines. Use that connection to motivate you, but think beyond the sweatshop seamstresses to the people in the fabric weaving/knitting factory, and even to the cotton farm workers. If you choose to do the sewing part yourself, that's great, but give some thought to the fabric you buy. There are plenty of better alternatives out there - perhaps I'll do a separate post about more ethical crafting supplies, but for now have a look at the Organic Cotton shop.
OK, this post has gone on long enough (hey, a diatribe was overdue) and I suspect I've waffled a bit and not made anything very clear. But as Kathryn said, one of the things we can do in response to the tragedy in Dhaka is to keep talking about the issues it raises, so this is my contribution to that. If you've read this far, thank you! And please do share your thoughts on your own blog or in the comments here.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Finish-it-up Friday

Do you know about the 'finish it up Friday' series on Amanda Jean's blog? It's a weekly feature where you can share a link to something you've finished. I'm a great starter of projects and, as I've said before, tend to have trouble finishing things off... Well, this week I completed something that I've been working on for years. I mean years - I've lost count of how many exactly, but it's not impossible that it might be into double figures. It deserves a proper post, and it'll get one when I can press-gang my sister into taking some decent photos for me (and I will do something about the creases then too). But for now, just let it be known that I FINISHED MY QUILT!
A bunch of old t-shirts and 200m of hand quilting...

Thursday, 21 March 2013

[Belated] Happy Equinox!

Yesterday was the vernal equinox, meaning that the 24 hours were neatly divided into equal parts darkness and wintry gloom. Last year's suspicions about the local ice-cream van were confirmed: it follows the solar calendar and appears for the first time at the spring equinox. (Is this standard practice for ice-cream vans?) I have to say its outing yesterday seemed rather a token one and not quite the triumphal return you'd hope for after 6 months' hibernation; I only heard a 5-second snatch of the tune and I doubt that any children ran out in the freezing, damp dusk to get a Fab (or whatever it is these days). But still, officially spring has sprung! We're into the light half of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. And as I type this it's almost threatening to brighten up outside.

Now, remember those pyjama trousers I made for myself? That looked a bit posh? And had that vintage navy ribbon drawstring that finished them off so nicely?
Yes. In the washing machine, the drawstring did pretty much finish the trousers off. Not so nicely. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me that this might happen - I'm very careful about pre-washing fabrics, but somehow I just didn't think to pre-wash the cotton ribbon. Obviously some self-kicking has been done but I think it could have been worse: I've got lots of this navy ribbon and I [used to] really like it, so if I hadn't learnt my lesson here, chances are I would have ruined something else later on, and that could easily have been a much more time-consuming project in fabric that I was more attached to. None of the other whites in the wash got stained. Plus, PJs don't go out in public (I've observed some neighbours going down to the mailboxes in their nightwear but I consider it a bit uncouth, and let's not even mention the man spotted visiting the garbage chute in his boxers) so I can still make use of these. I could replace the waistband, but there are also those blue blobs down the front of the trousers. A long soak in oxygen bleach only faded the stains slightly, but I'm loathe to try chlorine bleach - it's the dead-tree-dead-fish symbol that puts me off: like Silent Spring condensed into one simple line drawing. The Internet says Dylon make a colour run remover - has anyone tried it?
To balance out that little catastrophe I had a crafting success too: an improvised hat. I couldn't find quite what I wanted on Ravelry so I made Emily Ocker's Circular Beginning and knitted my hat from the top down. Somehow improvising seemed easier in that direction, and I didn't even have to do a gauge swatch because I just kept knitting until the hat was the size I wanted. We had a few days of lovely mild weather while I was working on this and I thought I might have missed the boat, but as soon as I'd cast off the temperature obligingly plummeted again and the hat's already been very useful.
The yarn is from my favourite wool company, Garthenor (old-school website alert!). It's a Ryeland DK that I've had stashed for years and sadly is no longer produced. Ryeland wool is very springy and amazingly resistant to shrinking. I once knitted up some little sample squares in one of Garthenor's other Ryeland yarns and subjected them to all kinds of abuse in an attempt to felt them, and they bravely withstood it all! They got a bit softer and fluffier but refused to shrink even a millimetre. When I emailed Chris at Garthenor about this he was unsurprised and explained that Ryeland sheep were bred for exactly those qualities - and I thought they'd just been bred to look cute.
I've also been continuing to make slow progress on my epic quilt. I suppose the passing of the equinox means I haven't finished it this winter, but I wasn't really attached to that deadline anyway. Honestly, this quilt has been going on so long that it's transcended the whole concept of deadlines. I've now turned the fourth corner and am on the home straight with the binding. Not much to be done after that...
Is it springlike where you are? Did you manage to finish your winter sewing projects in time to use them? I think I need to work on winter clothing all summer and sew summery dresses and tops through the winter, just to have things ready in time for the right season. Perhaps I should only follow Southern Hemisphere craft blogs??

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A blog post mainly to appease you, Mother

OK, my Main Reader, AKA my mum, has been agitating for a new post for a few weeks. It being two months since my last post, and with Mother's Day coming up this weekend, I thought I'd oblige.

And... I finished something! [waits for trumpet fanfare to die down] Not the epic quilt project that has been in progress for perhaps a decade, although the end of that is perilously close. Just some much-needed pyjama trousers; Boyfriend has three me-made pairs now so this latest one is for me. I started them at the end of last year and they ended up stagnating slightly through a combination of a failed buttonhole and an elastic shortage. I solved both problems yesterday and wore my finished object to bed last night. Isn't "object" a funny word to apply to pyjama trousers? At secondary school I had a particularly horrible sewing teacher who specialised in making students cry, and she banned the word "thing" from her classroom. You couldn't describe what you were making as a thing, you had to call it an artefact. As in, "Miss H is literally going to kill me, I've left my artefact at home". Or, "Quick, somebody distract Miss H, this stupid artefact is jammed in her precious machine". If you had a heat map of usage of the word 'artefact' in Britain, everywhere would be pretty much dark blue, maybe a few little yellow patches for museums, and then that school sewing room would be glowing red-hot. (If there are any sci-fi geeks reading this, no, there wouldn't be hotspots where people were watching Warehouse 13, because those are American artifacts with an i.) [DIGRESSION!]
These are really just bog-standard pyjama trousers, not fancy ones like Anna Noodlehead's. They have elastic and a drawstring, like the cosy People Tree PJs I got for Christmas; it means you can undo the drawstring to go to sleep without losing your trousers completely (TMI?). They look a bit posh (in real life, not so much in the photos) because the fabric is a fine organic cotton damask - not really my usual style at all, I'm more of a flannel girl - that I got for £4 or £5 from the remnants box at the long-gone Texture in Stoke Newington. For me that might be the main downside of shopping for all my fabrics online: no remnants box. The one at Texture was brilliant; they did a lot of made-to-measure curtains and cushions etc so there were often big remnants, and they were priced pretty well. This piece of cream leaf-pattern damask was big enough for these trousers with significant scrappage left over. My drawstring is navy blue cotton ribbon from a bundle of vintage trims I got on Ebay a few years ago. I added a little patch pocket to the back, which didn't go on perfectly and probably isn't very useful, but somehow makes them look a bit more substantial and less home-made. The most recent pair of PJ trousers I made for Boyfriend have in-seam pockets, which he loves, but I felt like they almost doubled the amount of work on that artefact.
I think I might have had the beautiful Stella McCartney bra from this bra-sewing blog post in the back of my mind when I picked out the drawstring - I'm planning to start sewing underwear. I've been thinking a lot recently about why I sew, and wondering whether my sewing is just a cunning disguise for consumerism. (Sarai often writes thoughtfully on this subject on the Coletterie blog, by the way - she's well worth following even if you don't sew her patterns.) Anyway, I won't go into that too much right now because it's complex and I haven't quite got my thoughts in order yet. But it occurred to me that I want my sewing to be of practical use, and one thing I struggle to find from the "ethical" companies I buy from is underwear, especially bras but these days strangely also knickers. At one stage pretty much the only organic and fairly traded clothing available was basic pants, and now everyone seems to have stopped selling them! So I had this kind of minor epiphany (after yet another depressing failure of a trip to M&S - Boyfriend said, "Why don't you just go to M&S like everybody else?" so I did and it reminded me why I don't) and realised that underwear is perhaps the most useful thing I could sew for myself. Useful is Good. Anyone else making their own knickers?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

WOOPs!... I Did (half of) It Again

Happy New Year! I've taken permission from Krisha to make no resolutions at all for 2013. Actually, it's quite tricky to resist the idea in this first week of January when so many people are talking about their resolutions (shush, by the way), and I keep catching the edge of a thought sneaking into my mind - "this year I'm going to" or "this year I'm not going to"... But I think I prefer to be unresolved, or at least to be only as resolved as I usually am. I don't subscribe to the idea that you can alter a habit or behaviour once and for all by making one grand decision, and I certainly don't think there's any special magic in a new digit on the calendar. Making a lasting change involves consciousness in the (often tiny) choices and decisions that we deal with every day. The concept of new year's resolutions seems to miss that point a bit, and perhaps that's why they're usually so short-lived. I tend to believe that embedding a change in your everyday life is about making a right choice over and over again, whenever you can - and even when one day, through practice, the right choice comes more easily, you'll still have to keep choosing it. In that sense, 1 January is just like any other day, isn't it?

So, it's nothing to do with the number of the year now being 2013, but I keep trying to work on actually finishing the things I start. Apparently there was an exhibit made of collected unfinished projects at the Knitting & Stitching Show in October. I wonder if I should open up my boxes (upon boxes) of crafting and build a piece of art... Work in progress doesn't really describe this stuff, because it's mostly so very much out of progress. These are not WIPs but WOOPs.
Threatening to join their sorry ranks is a maladjusted Tova shirt that I started just before Christmas. I wanted to solve the fit issues from my first attempt without making it look bigger, so I created a hybrid of the small and medium sizes. Essentially it's a medium but with a small inset (and collar). I'm pretty sure the way I've done it should mean that there's as much space at the bust as there would be in a straight medium. But somehow I've ended up with a garment that's still slightly snug just there and yet decidedly tent-like below. Looking for help, I Googled "Tova full bust adjustment", and the top result was my blog! Oh dear... Not all hope is lost, though, because further down the list I found this clever person who seems to have tackled the problem with success - I hope she'll share the details soon. In the meantime my top is wearable, or it would be if I finished the cuffs and took in the side seams a bit (I made French seams and have already hemmed it, so, argh).
The fabric's also been a bit of a motivation-sapper. It was a sarong, brought to me from Thailand by Boyfriend's sister-in-law. It looks lovely (I'm a sucker for stripes and a shot weave, and this is both), and it felt nice to start with too, but it turns out to be some kind of synthetic and all the (cool) ironing I did while sewing has rendered it very flat and lifeless. I guess washing might restore its texture. Also it frayed like mad and I do wonder whether I lost valuable millimetres at every seam because of that. One thing I'm pleased with is the bias tape finish on the inset seam. I attached the outer edge by hand, stitching as close to the machine stitches of the seam as I could, and then caught the inner edge in the inset top-stitching. It's a nice neat finish and I'll use it again.
Perhaps the key to finishing things is only to attempt tiny, simple projects... Yesterday I used a free template from the Purl Bee to make a little bib for a friend's new baby. I diverged from the given instructions in order to use up some narrow scraps of striped fabric, and to avoid wasting any of the backing fabric. Look out, by the way, if you use this tutorial: the template doesn't include any seam allowance.
I folded the paper pattern in two and marked out the bib halves on a long thin piece of stripy organic cotton left over from making Boyfriend some more pyjamas. I cut these out, adding seam allowance all round, and sewed them together. I then pinned the bib front to my backing fabrics (some cream organic cotton jersey from Gossypium, with an additional layer of fine organic muslin) and cut around the outside edge - less wasteful than cutting rectangles as suggested. From there I followed the tutorial. It was good to have the sewing lines marked; I think I might start marking sewing lines when I'm making clothes, it feels so much more accurate. Do other people do that, and how do you make the markings?
To finish the bib off I added a line of simple running stitch all the way round the edge, only sewing through the top layer so it doesn't show on the back. I also slip-stitched the edges of the turning hole shut, which adds a bit of extra work but is worth it, I think. With the cutting and machine sewing done yesterday afternoon, and the hand work finished this morning, this little dribble-catcher barely spent any time as a WIP, never mind a WOOP. Woop!