Monday, 31 October 2016

slow fashion october: known origins

this final week's topic for slow fashion october is known origins. this one is, i think potentially, the most mired in privilege, at least in western society. having a really solid local fibreshed in the states or canada is, quite honestly, really hard work. it seems like from what i've read, the southern states does ok (they have such long growing seasons), but in canada, there are a lot of barriers that get in the way of knowing the true origins of your fibres. here are a few:
  • our growing seasons are really short, and the further north you go, the harder it gets.
  • the fibre community at the really base level of growing and cultivating fibre crops (animal or plant) and then processing them into yarn or thread (so the mills) is very scattered and hard to track down. if you don't have a solid local fibre festival, you might actually never find out about what's going on in your local region, because the vast majority of these operations aren't online or don't have a particularly strong online presence. try checking the phone book for sheep farms and tell me how far you get.
  • our country is fucking huge. second largest in the world, and we're very spread out. so even if you have a decent local fibreshed, chances are you have to drive really far to get everything you need. which means you need access to a car, and time to drive around, and clear knowledge of where everything is.
  • shipping is super expensive. it's actually often much cheaper to order fabrics from overseas than to order within canada. and of course, the production costs in canada are probably more expensive (labour laws, strength of the dollar compared to other countries, etc.). 
basically, if you want to source ethical and local in canada, you need a lot of cash and a lot of spare time. 

that being said, there are some really incredible initiatives underway, and i'd like to highlight a few of my favourites:
  • long way homestead: this one is easy. my dear friend anna and her family moved to a homestead just outside the city i live in, are working on getting the fibre farm side of the production underway, and hopefully by next year i will have super local yarn that i'll be naturally dyeing using the local plants i forage and maybe also using the dyes i source from maiwa, a vancouver-based company that ethically sources all of their incredible textile supplies. 
  • taproot fibre lab: also close to my heart, this nova scotia-based farm grows flax and has built their own mill equipment to process that flax into fibre and yarn. it's incredible, and i had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners at this past year's manitoba fibre festival. i am so excited to see where they go with this, and in the meantime, i have some fantastic canadian linen yarn that i'm going to be designing with in the upcoming months.
  • manitoba fibre festival: another easy one. this festival is my favourite point of the year, fosters incredible relationships between fibre folks of all sorts, and is becoming a destination point in the national fibre scene. i'm especially excited about a large project i'll be coordinating with them and my lys, wolseley wool, in the months leading up to the 2017 festival. more on that to come!
  • manitobah mukluks: these folks are so amazing! something that gets regularly overlooked in the mainstream fashion world, as far as i can tell, is the amazing fashion scene coming from our indigenous artisans. why would you not want a pair of mukluks that will actually keep your feet warm in minus 40 degree weather? they figured this shit out centuries before the european settlers showed up and started messing with things. trust that knowledge, and support the incredible entrepreneurs who are keeping their traditions alive and growing and innovating. 
  • kelly ruth: i am 100% biased here, but my dearest kelly embodies all that is slow fashion. she's a clothing designer, natural dyer, and all-around brilliant lady. she's also one of my closest friends and my mentor and colleague. kelly is working on sourcing fabrics for her naturally dyed clothing line that are local to us, but in the meantime she has found some overseas providers who are good to their workers, ethical in all accounts, and super eco-conscious. as far as reasonable clothing manufacturing goes, kelly is making all the right moves, and her clothing lasts for years, suiting that "daily uniform" that allows a person to wear an item of clothing for as long as possible, because it never really goes out of style (something which fast fashion hinges itself on desperately).
also, as a knitwear designer, i would be remiss to not mention my favourite yarn providers. my own yarns have been reduced to two bases from handmaiden fine yarns in halifax (both are silk bases, and they work with a 7th-generation silk farming family in switzerland to source these), and once anna has the fibre farm up and running, i'll add pure wools back into the line. other folks whose yarn i love are:
  • julie asselin's nurtured: this is my favourite yarn of all time, hands down. i've used it in so many designs at this point (several are upcoming), and someday when i have time to knit for myself again, i'll knit some really simple sweaters for myself from it. julie gets the us-based fibres spun by green mountain spinnery in the states, and then she and her partner jean-francoise dye it in their quebec studio. julie is such a sweet friend, and i love that my favourite yarn happens to come from her.
  • hinterland textiles: this relatively new bc-based company uses all canadian fibres for their incredible yarns - canadian rambouillet (a kind of merino) and their own alpaca. they blew up in a big way at this year's knit social in vancouver, and i'm very excited to have a sweater's worth of their range yarn to design something with in the coming year.
  • yoth: literally all of their yarns are just so great. veronika is one of my favourite folks in the dyeing world, and their non-superwash yarns in particular (mother and father) take up the dyes so perfectly (i'm also totally obsessed with their big sister and little brother bases, so don't discount them!). i've published two designs with them so far, and we have a full collection scheduled for release in 2017. book number two, here we come!
  • sweet fiber's canadian: i'm waiting on my first batch of bc-based dyer sweet fiber's canadian yarn, which is, you guessed it, all canadian fibre! pure wools are my jam these days, and my dear friend sylvia got me onto sweet fiber. i plan on designing something super cozy once it arrives, hopefully in time for cold winter months here in the prairies!
there are other great folks out there too, both indie dyers and yarn suppliers. the states is really moving things forward in this regard: brooklyn tweed, o-wool, quince & co., a verb for keeping's exciting to see so many players on the slow fashion scene, and to see so many suppliers paying attention to the social, ethical, and environmental impact of their production processes. i hope that as we move forward, this becomes the norm rather than the exception. and i'm super excited to be a part of the growing local fibreshed movement here in southern manitoba. we'll see how far we get by next year's slow fashion october!

Monday, 24 October 2016

slow fashion october: handmade

whew, so this past week's topic for slow fashion october is really hitting me in the heart muscle - handmade. why do i feel this one so much? well, just have a read through of the topic breakdown:

How do you understand your style, choose projects well, advance your skills, get the right fit, and keep things interesting and long-lasting at the same time. What are your go-to patterns and most successful garments. How do you avoid mindless acquisition of yarn and fabric, or making “too much.” How do you make time and space for making — and why?

lately, i've been analyzing these questions at a very deep level. i'm doing chelsea fitch's fibreboss college course, and it's been forcing me to really look at my practice and why i do what i do. i'm also scared that i'm stagnating right now - there's not enough time to do everything i want to do, so instead i just get stuck and only do parts of things, or nothing at all (which i know isn't accurate, because i'm constantly making and churning out new designs, but i still feel stuck lately). and sales are, well, slow. slow for what i want them to be. for what i know they could be. for what i need them to be to make this a successful business venture that will eventually actually pay my bills and maybe even a living wage someday. i feel like i'm not connecting with as wide of an audience as i could be, in as significant a way as i hope to. so, it comes down to why. why am i doing this? why do i make? why do i design? is it really only for me? how do i make a business that connects with a lot of people in a deep and meaningful way, while still staying true to myself and who i am as a person (re: queer, witch, practical femme, awkward, anxious, feminist, many things that don't fit the comfortable status quo, and i'm not particularly quiet about any of them)? 

i haven't figured out the answer for those questions yet. but what i have started to figure out, in tiny baby steps, is how to keep myself in my brand. my photoshoots are primarily selfie-style these days, in my studio, which allows me to control the whole look of everything. i have bones and tarot decks and driftwood for props, and bold lipstick, and tattoos out on display, and often an outfit i've made specifically to fit the style i have in my head for that particular shoot. i'm hoping that i'll get a bit more time soon to start taking shots of friends again too, because there are a couple of folks who are a dream to photograph and who really show off my style on different faces and bodies. i'm choosing to not hide the messy parts of myself (the emotional part, the anxious part, the part that's terrified of failure even if i view "failure" as opportunities for learning and growth), and i'm learning how to craft those parts of me into the story of my brand. 

and here's the biggest part - i'm learning that even if my sales are slow and a big instagram success for me is 100 likes on a post instead of 1000 and i feel like so many people are jumping ahead of me by leaps and doesn't matter, as long as the things i make and the designs i release are things that i care about. like i said at the beginning, there's not enough time to do everything i want to do. so if i'm going to spend hours on a project, it should be something i like and am proud of. whether i'm the one who ends up wearing it after the photos are done or it flies across hundreds of miles to a new home with a dear one, it needs to be something that will be loved and cherished and appreciated. because that's why we make, or at least why i make. the whole point of slow fashion (beyond the politics, and the environmental and social impact, and the layers of privilege stacked on top of being able to make your own clothes from sources that are as ethical as possible) is to make things with love, that will be used year in and year out, and maybe even passed down through generations. kind of like the story about the blanket, that became a coat, that became a hanky, that became a patch. items that are worn so hard with use that they literally melt into us. and with the melting, comes the loving. because we put ourselves into each stitch we make, our hopes and dreams and intentions and emotions and fears and hearts. and those stitches make up a thing, and that thing gets used, and the user gets infected, just a little bit maybe, with all of those stitches and what they hold. it's why i love to make things for people i love, and why these days i only make for the people i love who also understand how precious my time is and how the thing that they receive is a labour of that love. a darling, wonderful, cherished labour for me. 

so, i make things that i want to wear, and that the people i'm making for will also want to wear. there's  only so much element of surprise in my making these days. i work with preferred colours (which in my case these days, is falling more and more into the neutrals and fall tones, resulting in some serious destashing needing to happen for those brighter colours still kicking around), and with items that will receive good wear. and high quality fibres, which in my own wardrobe is becoming more and more frequently pure wools, or silks or linens. my book collection has grown extensively in the past year, with new stitchionaries joining the library, books with new natural dyeing techniques, garment construction, sewing patterns that teach me new skills...and i take workshops where i can. i don't ever want to stop learning. there is always something incredible that can be picked up, and new depths to push our practices to, and new skills to push us out of our comfort zones. i want to still be trying new things when i'm in my nineties. which means i can't stop now. so that i guess, my friends, is my why. or at least part of it. 

what's yours? 

Sunday, 23 October 2016

slow fashion october: well worn

last week's topic for slow fashion october was well worn, those items we use that have passed through generations and been put through the ringer and maybe have been mended a hundred times and still get used. both sides of my family have a history of working with textiles, which is an incredible source of inspiration for me, so there are quite a few items in my possession that have made their way through multiple pairs of hands before getting to mine. i'm going to focus on some items i've recently inherited - the linens from my nanny and poppy's home.

a lot of families probably have doilies and old linen table runners in their lives. they've fallen out of fashion, but the amount of work that went into them is incredible (especially when you think about all the ones selling for 25 cents in secondhand shops). in my nanny's house, we actually know who made the majority of them - auntie mac (she even embroidered an m on the doily above!). i'm going to be making a lot of different projects with the textiles, but to start with, i've got these couple of linen table runners and one linen and crochet doily. i dyed one of the runners with black walnuts, and the other has been ecoprinted with lichen that grace foraged in nunavut and gifted to me. i ecoprinted the doily with lichen as well, and dyed it in the black walnut bath. the runners will be part of my altars at home, and the doily will be going to a dear one.

i dyed up some yarn with the black walnut baths too. silks take on natural dyes in the most beautiful muted way.

other items that i love and cherish are my nanny's silver thimble (which i've actually used for leather work recently) and my mum's thigh-high legwarmers (i need to mend them again, but they're from the 70's and literally the best winter layer that i own). i also have inherited or been gifted yarn, notions, and fabric from various family and friends in the last few years, most of which hasn't been used yet. i always feel like if i'm making an item from materials with a story, the finished item should be able to have stories to match. which inevitably means something that is beautiful and can also be used or enjoyed on a regular (daily) basis, and that i will either use or that will be given to someone else who appreciates it the way that i would. i suppose this just kind of supports my stash/hoarding habits...

Sunday, 9 October 2016

slow fashion october: introduction

better late than never, right? i'm taking part once again in slow fashion october, although admittedly so far my sewing has been nil while i work on knitting. i did actually get a couple of selfish knits out of the way within a couple of days though! purely out of necessity, and both of them will be released as patterns, but these were at least completely unrelated to my current collections and deadlines. the weather dipped and i needed warmer knits that i could be rough with, stat. each week of slow fashion october has a theme, just to help structure discussions, and this first week is introductions. which kind of works perfectly, because i realized recently that i haven't actually introduced myself lately, and i've had a lot more people start following me online in the last little while. i always kind of assume i'm talking to people who already know me, but that's obviously a false assumption. so, here's me, ash.

shibori dyed indigo silk scarf.
i'm a canadian knit designer, textile artist, natural dyer, and i sew my own clothes sometimes. i have a long background in all areas of theatre production, both on and offstage, including about 8 years of wardrobe experience before i left the stage a few years ago. i learned how to knit and sew from my mum as a kid, and both sides of my extended family have a strong relationship to the fibre arts (crochet, clothing, quilting, knitting, spinning). mum and i have both also recently added weaving to our personal arsenals, which is fun. knitting is for sure my comfort zone though. mum jokes that she taught me the basic skills and i've run from there, which i suppose is true. i'm of the opinion that everyone is capable of doing what i do, it's just a matter of how much time you devote to your craft. my priority is knitting, and i spend an average minimum of 6 hours per day on it. which is a lot when you consider that i actually work a full-time, 9-to-5 job in arts administration too where i lose those hours from my day. i knit closer to 12 hours each day on the weekends. that's been the case for several years now. because i do it all the time, i've gotten very good at it. i recognize that definitely not everyone is going to knit to the extent that i do, but i believe strongly in it as a useful life skill (being able to knit warm things for yourself and loved ones, especially when you live in a cold climate, is a serious level up for the zombie apocalypse). so i encourage people to knit as often as possible, and i teach classes and workshops to that end.

i also am continuously frustrated by the lack of value placed on this very practical and beautiful practice. and on the whole slow fashion movement, as compared to fast fashion. fast fashion has allowed people (at least in western society) to ignore the environmental and social impacts of our practical needs for clothing in exchange for quick and cheap looks that change every month or two. so when someone does put the time and energy and skill into making an item of clothing by hand, its value is dismissed or severely underrepresented. add in the gender politics of clothing and handmade and craft and fashion and it's a whole other ballgame.

new shawl design and bison tooth earring.
as a queer femme, my expression through the clothes i choose the wear, the make-up i do or don't put on, the way i cut my hair, the piercings and tattoos i have on display or not, all of this is an integral part of my self-identity. making my own clothing allows me to control my body in ways that fast fashion doesn't. i determine what size i need not in comparison to a magazine or mannequin, but on what my tape measure says i need in yardage to cover whatever part of my body i'm working with. it means i can make adjustments right away to get the fit that i like best for my body. it also means that i can skip the "women's" and "men's" sections in stores with fluorescent lighting, and that i can instead document my progress and final product in a way that feels more like me (usually with bone or stone in hand). and just as importantly, it means i can make these same items for my darling ones. the ones who are so much braver than i am on a daily basis, who say "fuck your cis-tem/body terrorism/"ideal" body shape" and who will wave their hand at the suggestion that they are stronger than most by just being themselves authentically. having the ability to say "please send me x measurements" and "what's your favourite colour?" and then making something that will look and feel beautiful on them is literally the best thing about having this skill set.

socks are weirdly the one accessory that counts. maybe because they're so much effort for something so everyday?

weirdly, i often don't think about my handknits as part of a handmade wardrobe. well, sweaters yes, but accessories not so much. same goes for jewelry. i make pieces regularly with stones and bones and metal and leather, but if i'm taking stock of what handmade items i'm wearing on any given day, i often skip over them. for some reason, i think of a handmade wardrobe as the clothing i sew. i don't really know why that is. i don't think it's a hierarchy in my head. but maybe it's because sewing doesn't come as naturally to me, and so it feels more like work, and that's why it counts more than the other things. or because if i sew something, it probably stays on my body all day instead of being taken on and off. i haven't quite figured this bit out yet.

slow fashion is something that i believe deeply in, and that i'm constantly analyzing and processing and working on. it's also something steeped in many layers of privilege, which i think we don't acknowledge often enough. slow fashion requires time and money and skills that have been learned either through familial traditions or mentorship or training of some sort, all of which have their own layers of privilege. so i consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the skills that i do, and constant access to more knowledge, and a wealth of materials through my local fibre shed and the internet. a handmade wardrobe tells a whole story with so many tiny and huge threads interwoven in its fabric. you can't just pick one or two without causing a ripple effect elsewhere. it's an opportunity for constant growth and learning. and it's irresponsible of us to not acknowledge that.

another new shawl design, using julie's yarn.

so, that's me, at least in this context. rambling, and political, and kind of confused and constantly learning. and deeply, deeply passionate about all of it. i'll share more of my actual making later this month.

Friday, 7 October 2016

winter is october

it snowed today. only for a brief moment, and it didn't stay. in fact, i referred to it as "fluffy rain" instead of snow. but if we're being real, there were fat fluffy snowflakes flying around in the air in the late morning. canada is apparently in for a long and cold winter. which i'm ok with for the most part. i mean, that means more opportunities for skating, wandering around in frozen wonderlands, comforting quiet snowfalls, cozy snow days at home, excuses for literally all of the wool...

i was unprepared for such a quick drop in temperature though. i managed to get ahead of my winter collection deadlines last night (sort of...being on top of them right now just means having a slight buffer for when i inevitably fall behind later). so i pulled a skein of lopi out of my stash and cast on a new pair of mittens. they'll be done (not blocked, but that's not necessary for mitts anyway) and on my hands before i head out onto the water tomorrow afternoon with dear ones. and the pattern should be ready before the end of the month. hopefully you're lucky and still have some time before the snow flies wherever you are, but these knit up quick even if you don't.

it's a long weekend here in canada, so i'll be playing catch up on paperwork amidst food and adventures! what are your plans?

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

shawl joy design-a-long

my darling friend sylvia released her first book shortly after i released flotsam & jetsam. earlier this year, she came up with a seriously brilliant new knitting method which she's debuted in a few designs now (and which others have copied without giving credit to her brilliance, but we won't go into how crappy that is...). she's outlined the method in detail in shawl joy, and to celebrate the release of the book, there's a design-a-long happening from today until november 5!

i got a head start on my design, because it also happens to be the first design for my winter collection and i need it finished, photographed, written, tech edited, and test knitted in time for an october 30th release. wooooooooo...i'm onto the final stretch, and i'm using my rumpelstiltskin yarn for it. this is my first time using this new base, and i'm totally in love with it. that sounds ridiculous, but i'm being honest. the drape of this silk/linen blend is phenomenal, and the way that the fibres take up the natural dyes is just too beautiful. my design uses two skeins that i dyed with mushrooms back in june. it's turned out fantastically, and i'm crossing my fingers that it will be blocked and dried before i head off to the woods this weekend. i won't be doing the full photoshoot in the woods, but i do want to take advantage of being in the woods to take some fun extra shots of it.

it's also slow fashion october now, and i for sure have some sewing to do. i'll be sewing a dress for the photoshoots of this collection, and hopefully also a black or dark grey camden cape. and i need to sew that replacement stowe bag for when i go on the road next month, and i need new undies, and i have some tops i'd like to make, and also maybe this skirt. i want to make all the things (to make up for the past couple of months of not making selfish things?).

i'm also doing a couple of online business courses and seminars right now, which is rather exciting, but i do need to make sure i'm prioritizing them and their homework. despite my knitting deadlines, this is a relatively slow time for me (especially compared to the past few months), so i want to take advantage of it and really start to focus on my business. so, back to work i go!

what are you making (or mending) for slow fashion october?