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  • slow fashion october: what's your look?

    Every year when Slow Fashion October kicks off, I read along and think about how I'd love to properly join the discussion. But for the past three Octobers, I was either working on a master's degree or dealing with my transatlantic move, and taking the time for the kind of reflection I think Slow Fashion October deserves has always felt like a challenge – let alone being able to write about it and share with others. This year, however, I'm beginning the month as I mean to go on. Slow fashion is something I think about year round, so taking the month of October to try and sort through some of my thoughts and feelings seems like a really great opportunity this year.

    Slow Fashion October was started by Karen Templer over at Fringe Association in 2015, and every year there's always a great discussion over different media platforms, often aided by themes or discussion prompts provided by Karen. There's no need to follow her own outline if you want to take part in the discussion of Slow Fashion October, but they are a useful guide when the topic feels overwhelming (and it can!). So I thought I'd kick off this month with the discussion prompts Karen posted on her blog today. I've skipped a few of the questions to keep this post from getting too long, but the overarching theme is: what's your look?

    Do you have a color palette?

    Most definitely. My Ravelry profile has, for years, read "blues, greens, greys" next to the "favorite colors" questions (don't you love that they say colors, plural, instead of trying to limit us to one?). That's held true for the past ten years that I've had my Ravelry profile. The first sweater I ever knit was purple, but sweaters number 2, 3, and 4 were green, grey, and blue, respectively. I knit with those colors a lot, and I wear those colors a lot. Blue is one of my neutrals, and blue or black jeans plus a grey t-shirt is one of my most commonly worn outfits. Lately, different shades of burgundy, dusty pink, and mustard have also been creeping into my wardrobe, and this is showing up in my knitting as well. Seeing it all together, though, it still manages to feel like a very cohesive palette. When I look at these colors, they feel very, very me.

    Is there a brand you’re always drawn to, for their clothes and/or how they put them together? Why?

    Jennifer Glasgow has been a favorite for years. I first discovered her clothing while shopping at Velouria in Seattle – it's a wonderful store with a selection of clothes from North American brands whose clothes are made domestically, either within the United States or Canada (if you find yourself in Seattle, I can't recommend them enough). Velouria was a huge part of my own journey towards thinking about incorporating slow fashion into my wardrobe. Jennifer Glasgow is based in Montreal, so I was excited when moving here that I'd get to shop at her flagship store General 54 on a regular basis - which for me, means about twice a year, each time the new collection is released. Aside from the fact that I really like the style and cut of a lot of Jennifer's pieces, and that they fit me well, she's very transparent about her production process and who's making the clothing, and she often prioritizes natural fibers over synthetics in her fabric choices, which is something I really appreciate and want to support.

    What is your favorite garment or outfit (right now or always) and why?

    I spent my summer in a piece from Jennifer Glasgow's spring/summer collection this year that I'm still just obsessed with, called the Mariner dress. In the past I've gone for more fit-and-flare style dresses from her, but this one is oversized and loose, which makes it just the most comfortable dress to wear. It's a silhouette I started playing with earlier this year and I like it a lot – I find myself increasingly prioritizing comfort. I feel like I absolutely lived in this dress over the summer (if you shop at Espace Tricot in Montreal there's a very good chance you saw me in it) and I intend to keep wearing it into the fall.


    What is the image you would like to project with your clothing?

    A degree of put-togetherness, and confidence. 


    Can you describe your style in five adjectives?

    I absolutely couldn't – I have very little objectivity there – but I would be curious to hear how others would describe my style. If I were being aspirational, I would want my style to be classic, sophisticated, playful, comfortable, and maybe the tiniest bit sparkly. 

    What showed up in your mood board that surprised you?

    Considering that my fashion / style board on Pinterest is something I've been casually building without very much thought over the course of several years, it was interesting to see that it's very overtly feminine. I know that I'm someone who often swings back and forth between feminine styles and more masculine or androgynous styles from day to day or season to season, but in general I think I trend towards more androgynous and it feels like there's very little of that represented here. To me, it often feels like there's a conflict between some of the feminine styles I'm very drawn to, especially dresses, and the practicality that I want or need in clothing in climates where there can be a lot of wind, or a harsh winter, for example. My clothes became very utilitarian when I lived in Tromsø, and I wore very few skirts and dresses there, but a lot more skirts and dresses worked their way back into my wardrobe this summer in Montreal. So that's interesting. But I also think that I have a tendency to think my clothes are more androgynous than they really are – I have a distinct memory from the year in college when I cut my hair into a short pixie for the first time, and to me, that felt like a bucking of traditional ideas of femininity (and admittedly, as a six foot tall woman, I do sometimes mistakenly get called "sir" by strangers who aren't paying attention when my hair is really short). But I took a course on women and political science from the women's studies department that semester, and my professor pointed out to me that despite my short hair, my overall look in terms of clothes and presntation was still very, very feminine. And she was right. I think that has changed slightly in the years in between, but I do still think there can be a disconnect between what I think is happening in terms of how I dress and how I actually look to the outside world. All that being said, when I pin something to this board, it is something that I feel like I could / would actually wear, even if it maybe isn't representative of my style as a whole.

    What’s an example of something you own and love (had to have!) but never wear, and why not?

    Vintage shopping is really hit and miss for me, and I have a few vintage pieces that I rarely wear, either because of the fit of the piece, or the fabric it's made from. Even though I love them, they may only come out once a year (but at least it's not never!). My own size – my height as well as the muscularity of my shoulders (since I started exercising my upper body more after recovering from my shoulder break in 2016), both mean the top half of my body isn't really the same size or shape as the average woman from half a century ago. So often, things are too small for me. 

    --

    I'm looking forward to see what others have to say to the "what's your look?" question. If you want to follow the discussion as well, I'd suggest following the #slowfashionoctober hashtag on Instagram (you don't need an account to be able to see public posts that have been tagged), or following the Fringe Association blog – and there are always interesting discussions going on in the comments, so don't skip those.

    For those who are curious, three of the pieces in the outfit I'm wearing pictured up top fall under the slow fashion banner in different ways: the dress is a new one from Jennifer Glasgow made here in Montreal, the cardigan was picked up second-hand at a clothing swap several years ago, and the boots are Red Wing Heritage Iron Rangers from the women's line, made in the US.

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  • FO: fringe and friends top-down knitalong

    This past week's Slow Fashion October theme is HANDMADE, and for whatever reason I'm not finding myself in the right headspace to write about it. Maybe it's because I feel like my style is in flux at the moment - I wrote about how moving to northern Norway and breaking my shoulder in March have both had an effect on my wardrobe. I make clothes by hand because at this point, I don't know how to not make things by hand. There is an element of habit and compulsion that I'm in the process of reflecting on. So I'm still working on how to acquire new materials thoughtfully and with purpose; meditating on how to avoid buying too much, or things I don't need. And while my stash doesn't feel like a burden the way it did two years ago, there's still a lot of it. 

    So I suppose when it comes to handmade, my priorities are a work in progress. Karen also brought attention to the handmade vs. homemade distinction, which I think is really interesting. For me, sometimes handmade is homemade (by me), but I'm also perfectly willing to invest in handmade clothes made by someone else for commercial production. I love small batch producers of ethical clothing. And since my forays back into sewing in the past few years have left me feeling a little frustrated (and I also no longer own a sewing machine), clothing handmade by small brands has real value to me. I am much less prone to excess when I'm spending a lot of money on a Jennifer Glasgow dress or a Curator top (or even a home-sewn dress from a vintage boutique). I'm forced to really think about how that piece will fit into my existing wardrobe or whether I'm buying a second version of something I already own, in a way that doesn't always happen when I'm casting on for a new project. I find that a useful exercise. But all this starts pushing into next week's topic, which is known origins, so let's get back to handmade for the moment...

    I already wrote that I jumped in on this year's Fringe and Friends KAL almost on impulse after getting an idea for a stripe sequence that would use a buch of stash yarn. Just over two weeks ago I finally finished weaving in all the stripey ends and got that sweater blocked and seamed, and I'm so pleased with it that it's hard not to just wear it every day.

    So here's my Improv (I used Karen's top-down tutorial on the Fringe blog). It's really interesting to write about this sweater this week, with this handmade theme for Slow Fashion October. Part of why I went ahead and cast on for this sweater when I had planned to stick to WIPs was because it was something that could be made entirely with stash yarn - I mean, how many of us have stashes full of single skeins (or perhaps pairs of skeins) of yarns we fell in love with and bought without a plan? Most of us don't have sweater quantities of single yarns in one color sitting around in our stashes. So a sweater entirely from stash - that felt like an exciting challenge. And sometimes the best time to jump in and start something is when you feel that spark. So I did! (And for the record, I've been doing pretty well at not casting on new things and working my way through those WIPs, so I'm giving myself a little pat on the back.)

    I've written before that the idea for the stripe sequence was able to emerge in my head largely because I've started cataloguing stash on Ravelry - I'd handled these yarns in the recent past, I'd weighed them to note the amounts I had, and I'd photographed them. I'd also noticed that some of the colors went really well together. So once I got the idea, I was able to determine pretty quickly that I had more than enough yarn for a sweater. Looking at the exact amounts allowed me to finalize the stripe sequence - I had remainders of single skeins of three colors, and I had about two skeins each of two colors. Technically, these were all leftovers from other projects, though in some cases I overbought for the initial projects (or the original plan changed), leaving an unusual amount of yarn leftover.

    These are all worsted weight yarns - three of them are Berroco Ultra Alpaca (in Charcoal Mix, Heathered Olive, and Turqoise Mix), and two are Stonehedge Shepherd's Wool Worsted (in Great Lakes and Blue Spruce). I wasn't too concerned about mixing these bases even though one is a wool/alpaca blend and one is 100% merino, and since the vast majority is the Ultra Alpaca, it really didn't matter in the end. Because I had the largest quantities of the Charcoal Mix and Heathered Olive, I worked stripes of both of those colors between each contrasting stripe. The distinction isn't one you really see from far away, but up close the subtle effect reveals itself and I love what it does for this sweater.

    The finished sweater very closely resembles my original vision. There's some subtle decreasing on the sleeves, but the body has no shaping. The bottom features a split hem. The one compromise I had to make in the end was the neck - when I imagined this sweater initially, I pictured a wide sort of foldover turtleneck (think Birch Bay), which seemed both posh and cozy and felt really inviting. But it became apparent really quickly as I worked my way through the sweater that it was very unlikely I'd have that much charcoal yarn leftover. I spent awhile thinking about whether to simply finish the neckline with the yarn I had or if it would be better to stay faithful to my initial vision and buy an extra skein of the charcoal to make the generous neck happen. (I also asked for your advice on Instagram at that point, and thank you all so much for your helpful feedback!) In the end I decided that I would rather not buy extra yarn - so much more satisfying for it to be entirely stash! - and just see how far the yarn I still had would get me. I also had the realization that practically, a simple open neck would be much more useful in my daily life than an oversized cowl/turtleneck, since I wanted to be able to wear this sweater inside, and I overheat really easily. And now that it's done? I'm really, really happy with the neck of this sweater. It truly does fit seamlessly into my existing wardrobe. And I definitely knocked back my stash a little bit. The photo at the top shows the leftovers of each color - from left to right there's Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Charcoal Mix, Heathered Olive, and Turqoise Mix, and then Shepherd's Wool in Great Lakes and Blue Spruce. 

    While I was knitting this sweater, I had dreams of photographing it in front of the beautiful golden birches, but by the time I got all the ends woven in, I'd kind of missed my window in Tromsø. The closest I got was this progress shot (above) during our trip in Nordland, when I was working my way through sleeve number two. (We'll just have to use our imaginations. But you can see that it would've been great, right?!)

    I learned a lot making this sweater. I learned about finding creative ways to use my stash to supplement my wardrobe. I learned a lot about why you might want to knit a sweater top-down (I'm still a steadfast bottom-up devotee, but now it's easier for me to see which cases might call for top-down). And I learned that my original vision may not always be the best fit for my wardrobe, and that taking time to reflect on that will probably help me knit pieces that become staples (and don't get frogged down the road). You can check out my Ravelry project page here, and I highly recommend taking a spin through the whole #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 feed to see everyone's beautiful sweaters. They are all so different and all so special - thanks to everyone else for sharing along the way!

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  • slow fashion october: my first sweater

    This week's topic for Slow Fashion October is LONG WORN. It's an interesting one and there are a lot of different ways to approach this topic, particularly when it comes to shopping second-hand or thrifting. And I do have a handful of vintage or second-hand pieces that I might decide to write about, but my wardrobe has been in a nearly constant state of flux for the past few years, as I moved in with a partner and got married (and started sharing closets and dressers for the first time in my life) and also saw a natural evolution in my style and how I use it to express my identity. I'm hoping that's starting to even out a little bit and I'll be seeing a slightly more stable wardrobe, with less pieces moving in or out, but because of all of that I thought it would make sense to write about one piece that I'm very unlikely to get rid of: the first sweater I ever knit. 

    Truth be told, I came very, very close to letting this one go last Christmas in the midst of a clothing purge. It was my husband who talked be out of it, actually. "Firsts are important," he told me, and he was right (he still has his first guitar). Ten months on, I'm really glad I kept it. I was kind of shocked to realize exactly how long I've had it, once I started thinking about it; I made this sweater in 2007, which means it was nine years old this summer.

    Ten years ago my relationship with knitting was very different, unsurprisingly. I learned to knit as a kid but it didn't totally catch on for me until around 2005/2006, when suddenly there were new, hip knitting books being published (it was the age of Stitch 'n Bitch), I was regularly reading Bust Magazine, and there was a crafty community emerging online - I eagerly anticipated each new issue of Knitty (still going strong!) and I remember taking part in the Craftster forums. I had yet to discover local yarn stores and was still using lots of acrylic or acrylic-blend yarns from big-box craft stores and prior to this sweater I'd really only knit scarves. Lots and lots of ribbed scarves. I hadn't even tried out knitting a hat yet (I was afraid of knitting in the round for a long time). I'd received a copy of Stitch 'n Bitch from my mom for Christmas at some point and eventually decided I wanted to make the Big Sack Sweater by Jenna Wilson, which looked cozy and inviting.

    Since it was nearly a decade ago I remember very little of the decision-making process or how long it took me to knit the thing (I'm pretty sure it was months, though). What I do remember is that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The Big Sack Sweater calls for bulky yarn, but I picked out a worsted weight 100% acyrlic at the craft store. I definitely didn't swatch, so it seems like a miracle that I ended up with something that basically fits. The sweater's other flaws are easy to point out: I didn't know I should track my rows for the sleeves in order to make them the same, so I "estimated" (one sleeve is two inches longer than the other). There's an accidental m1 increase right in the front of the sweater. My picked-up stitches for the neckline are a mess. The sweater is worked flat in pieces and then seamed, and my seams are maybe the sloppiest I've ever seen. I didn't weave in the ends for years, literal years. But in spite of all of that, I was very proud and I loved this thing. And even though I would make very, very different decisions if I were knitting this sweater today (particularly with regard to yarn), I still love this thing and I do still wear it sometimes, even here in Tromsø, even though I have lots of handmade wool jumpers to choose from. I no longer have the second or third sweaters I made, but nine years on, I recognize the importance of this first for me, and it seems unlikely to leave my wardrobe for good, even if it falls out of regular rotation sometimes.

    More on the "long-worn" topic later, perhaps. For now, I'm happy that this is one of the pieces that's been in my wardrobe for the longest.

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  • slow fashion october: introduction

    When Karen launched Slow Fashion October last year, I really wanted to participate. I wasn't able to take part in any very active way, though, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I was knee-deep in the first semester of my master's program, trying to keep up with readings and homeworks and paper-writing after several years away from any type of schoolwork. For another, I had only moved to Tromsø two months before, so I was only just beginning to adjust to my new climate, which has had (and continues to have) a great effect on my wardrobe. This year, I'm in a much better place to join in on Slow Fashion October with some active reflection. I've spent over a year in my new climate and I have a much better idea of how it's transformed my relationship with clothing. It's also been a year and a half since I decided to step away from running Paper Tiger as my full-time day job and start the transition back to this being a part-time gig. It feels like a good moment for reflection.

    For those unfamiliar, Slow Fashion October was started by Karen Templer of Fringe Association last year as an opportunity for conversation - about what "slow fashion" is and means to us, about the ways in which we approach it, and reasons why a slow fashion wardrobe is a choice many of want to make. In Karen's words, "the conversation is not just about handmade — it’s about all the ways (and reasons!) we can approach a slow-fashion wardrobe." This includes finding ways to make do and mend, buying second hand, and thinking about how to keep clothing out of the landfill. I have many, many thoughts on fast fashion and the state of the fashion industry, but for today I'll focus on how my own context affects my approach to clothing.

    I've spent much of the last year thinking critically about my wardrobe and how my move to Norway is affecting my choices, as well as ways to make do with what I have. Even though I donated about half of my yarn stash before the move, my stash is still.... sizeable, to say the least. It no longer overwhelms me, but I would like to knit from it before buying new yarn, and it always feels good to find the holy grail: the right project that fits into my long-term wardrobe plans using yarn I already have. So I've slowly (very slowly) started to catalog my stash using Ravelry's stash feature. While it's an ongoing process, I've already seen the benefits - starting to catalog worsted weight yarns on Ravelry led directly to my Fringe & Friends KAL sweater (pictured at top, and nearly finished!), knit entirely from yarns in my stash. I don't think that stripe sequence would have popped into my head if I hadn't been handling the yarns and noting the quantities for my Ravelry stash page.

    So, how has my new climate affected my wardrobe? Those of you who follow this blog know that I live in Norway, but many of you probably don't realize exactly how far north Tromsø is. This felt like a good opportunity to provide some conext:

    Tromsø sits at 69ºN, well above the Arctic Circle (and the entirety of Iceland, which only just barely crosses the circle), and nearly due north of Stockholm (since Norway wraps around the northern coast of the Scandinavian peninsula, it shares a border not just with Sweden, but also with Finland and Russia). I'm up there. Tromsø is about as far away from Norway's capital, Oslo, as upstate New York is from Savannah, Georgia. Thanks to the Gulf Stream winters are actually quite mild for this latitude, but there's still about four months of the year when we've continuously got snow on the ground. Summers are also mild - 20ºC/70ºF is a hot day - and they can be on the wet side. It's often pretty windy here. My wardrobe has been moving in a more androdgynous direction for a few years, and living in Tromsø has definitely continued that trend, along with a healthy dose of practicality. When I think about things I want to make for myself now, I'm always taking the weather into account. This is obviously a wool-friendly climate, and truth be told, the biggest gap in my handmade wardrobe now is socks. I wear my few pairs of handknit socks with boots on a very regular basis for most of the year.

    Breaking my shoulder in March had an effect on my sartorial choices as well. Spending two months in a sling with instructions not to move my arm in certain directions meant getting in and out of clothing became a special challenge. Button-down shirts and loose boxy tops that were easy to pull on and off with one arm became my go-tos, and to be honest, things didn't really change that much after my shoulder started improving and I could move my arm again. Clothing that layers well and fits under a coat or jacket is also important. That means most of the time I find myself at a happy medium between fitted clothing and super oversized pieces. 

    Continuing this line of thought, I started off Slow Fashion October by frogging a sweater. In the midst of reassessing my wardrobe, I've realized there things I just don't wear anymore. With the exception of the short summer, I rarely wear skirts or dresses here, so my pre-move plan to knit more things I could wear with high-waisted skirts now seems pretty low on the priority list. When I do reach for a sweater to wear with skirts or dresses, it's my Chuck. Those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile may remember the sweater pictured in that previous blog link - my Splitta Genser, with the lovely foldover back and dark grey garter stitch. It's a nice sweater. I genuinely thought it would help fill a hole in my handknit wardrobe. But - here's the crucial bit - I never, ever wear it. Truth be told, it came out too small (it's been rather aggressively blocked in those FO photos). Also, dolman sleeves? Not for me, it turns out - they don't work so well when you try and tuck them into a jacket. So over the weekend, I sat down and carefully unpicked the grafted seams and then frogged the whole thing. I love wearing grey and I have more of this yarn; I can easily turn it into something I'll actually wear on a regular basis. I'd rather have it as yarn waiting in my stash than as a sweater that I never wear (clothing storage space is at a premium for us in our closet-less Norwegian apartment).

    When it comes to buying ready-to-wear clothing, I'm a little at a loss these days. I find it very hard to avoid fast fashion in Norway and I've ended up buying clothing online from the US instead because I know I can buy from companies who are doing their best to make ethical business decisions and promote transparency in the fashion industry. If any Europeans (especially in Scandinavia) have suggestions for clothing companies that are sourcing their fabrics ethically and manufacturing domestically, I'd love to hear about it. Basically, I'm looking for a Norwegian version of my favorite shop in Seattle, Velouria. It feels like it must exist, but if it does, I don't know about it yet. I guess the silver lining is that I don't really need anything new - I do have plenty of clothes already.

    There's so much more I could say about my thoughts on slow fashion, but I'll save some for future posts. I've already been doing a lot of thinking and reading in these first few days of October. Karen linked to a really important piece of writing called No One Wants Your Old Clothes - it's an eye-opening piece that feels like an excellent prerequisite to this year's conversation. I also just last week started reading Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert, which is already an excellent book just two chapters in and I'll have a lot more to say about that in a later post as well. Will you all be taking part in this year's Slow Fashion October?

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