Rejecting fast fashion
Probably in response to ‘fast fashion’ – the wasteful and damaging trends in cheap clothing – the term ‘slow fashion’ is cropping up a lot more frequently. As someone who has sewn clothes for years and, more recently, has gained an appreciation for the number of processes involved in textile creation, I’ve become a lot more conscientious about the clothing I consume.
I prefer to buy second-hand, and will only buy new from companies with ethical credentials. I purchase clothes I intend to keep until I wear them out. I generally avoid synthetic fabrics. Of course I have to make compromises – I don’t have the limitless time and budget required to put together an ethically irreproachable wardrobe. But wherever possible I try to make informed, considered choices.
Partly because of this and partly thanks to hands that always want to be creating, I now have the skills and equipment to take raw fibre and turn it into something wearable. As I briefly wrote about in a previous blog post, I decided I could scrape together the self-discipline to make a whole me-sized jumper from raw fleece.
Choosing natural fibres
The fibre blend is two parts wool to one part alpaca. I used wool from Fernhill Farm – a beautiful dark grey Bluefaced Leicester x Shetland/Romney fleece. The alpaca is a lovely fawn colour, acquired from the lady who owns the barn where my Grandma goes weaving each week in Devon. I like to have connections with the sources of my materials!
The natural colour and texture of fibres needed to be the main focus of the yarn and finished jumper. The dark colours blended to make a beautifully soft, warm-brown, and I deliberately left inconsistencies in the texture of the yarn for a rustic tweed effect.
The processes to make the yarn are very similar to those I wrote about for my Peak District scavenged yarn so I’m including a few photos of the various stages of fibre preparation and spinning and leaving it at that. I love talking about fibre processing so you're welcome to ask questions if you're interested in the details!
Knitting pattern adaptation
When it came to knitting, I immediately had a problem with the combination of the yarn and pattern I’d chosen. As a thorough and sensible knitter (cough) who has learned through harsh experience, I always knit a swatch to check my gauge before starting a size-specific project. I’m fairly sure the people who don’t swatch have never had a project turn out unexpectedly and hilariously enormous or teeny. Maybe they just have really even tension and don’t make ridiculous yarn substitutions. I know I have loose tension and, as this jumper proves, definitely believe in pushing the envelope where yarn choice is concerned.
Fortunately, as a tech editor and designer, grading a new size for the jumper to accommodate my much bulkier yarn was straightforward. I never expected my knitting to involve so many numbers and calculations when I started out years ago!
When I started working on the jumper last summer I was quite sanctimonious about it being a slow, no-pressure project. I did so well – for a while. I put it aside. I worked on other things. I’ve finished a few items since then, including another jumper start to finish. And suddenly I was left with a dearth of projects on the needles. This and one more were left. The annoying, irresistible voice at the back of my head that gives me unreasonably ambitious ideas said ‘you should definitely have a hand-knit jumper to wear to Unravel at the weekend’. I had thought I’d wear the other – finished – jumper. But that one’s a test knit and still has to be kept somewhat secret.
So, less than halfway through the body, with only a couple of small skeins of yarn spare and three days to go, I picked it up again. All guns blazing, I knitted and scoured and carded and spun and knitted and spun some more. I stayed up irresponsibly late and watched motivational Youtube videos and listened to inspiring podcasts and got through most of the Star Wars films. With a few hours to spare (not really spare – they needed to be full of sleeping) I finished it.
It fits me perfectly, the fabric is lovely. It gives me the warm and fuzzies, both in the literal and emotionally metaphorical sense. As someone at Unravel said, after I instructed them to stroke my arm – completely acceptable at knitting events – ‘that’s like wearing a hug!’. Yes, fellow knitter, you’re exactly right. And I’ve been wearing that hug every day since I finished it on Friday (technically Saturday but it doesn’t count as the next day until you’ve gone to bed).
So here it is, an end-to-end completely hand-made jumper. The sense of pride is overwhelming.
The pattern I used is Soiree by Emily Foden for Pom Pom Quarterly Issue 21.
The wool is from Fernhill Farm, and eco-farm on the Mendip Hills (full disclosure, I now work for the farm but that wasn’t the case when I bought the fleece!).
For a fascinating insight into the depressing implications of the fast fashion industry check out the documentary The True Cost.