* or, how to procrastinate on finishing a skirt for 8 months. But hey! It’s done!
When I took on this project (see This is Moonlight for more info), I had very little idea of what the year had in store. I thought it could be a great way to kickstart some research I wanted to explore around maker communities, and I still want to do some more writing in this area. However, it fast became apparent that wasn’t going to happen. My already limited time very quickly disappeared as I: finished writing an (academic) book, purchased a house, moved and arranged the settlement, continued my policy of not buying new clothes, took up aerials circus (trapeze and silks) and continued to work at my myriad of (paid) teaching and research jobs. All this = not as much time to play as I would like.
I had grand plans for my outfit, I initially wanted to make a multicolour fair isle dress and a black and white graphic coat, but reason prevailed. The intention remained the same throughout, however, I wanted to create something I would wear – given my precious, priceless making time, I did not want to dedicate my time to an outfit that would just be an artwork, it had to be practical and wearable.
Over the last couple of years I have got to a point where I wear the majority of what I make all the time, I even wear the exercise gear I make. I have a pair of Closet Case Patterns Ginger Jeans that depending on the season I wear every day. And so, while I know that the fabric choices I make are not 100% perfect (I focus on buying natural fibres, but I don’t always know where they’re from, most of my fabric is dyed) I justify this to myself by trying to buy and make less and wearing what I do make more often. (As Nicki commented at the start of this, the concept of compromise and the justifications we make to ourselves are fascinating). I almost feel that if I was going to be buying special things from my area, and dedicate the time to dyeing, weaving, knitting, the end item had to be similarly thought through.
Part 1: The (doomed) Skirt
I ordered some black alpaca yarn from the Fibre of the Gods via email and had it mailed to me. Unfortunately I didn’t get to do some of the journeying I had hoped. I purchased three balls of 6ply to weave into panels for a skirt.
Part of this was really, really quick. It took no time at all to weave the panels on my cricket loom. I warped the loom with enough yarn that I would be able to continuously weave without cutting anything and just finish each panel, leave a space then start the next one. This saved yarn and time. However while I wove and finished all the panels before moving house (August), I then totally stopped.
I made a practice skirt out of old jeans to see if I liked the shape and how it would work, which I loved but decided I would need to make a facing etc, and the thought of weaving more stopped me for quite some time. I literally folded up the panels and ignored them until February.
When I picked it back up, I decided to knit and felt a waist facing which ended up being a terrible idea. The result was way too bulky. The same happened when I finally sewed the panels together in February. I tried on the skirt, and decided, with the help of my mum that the whole thing was way too bulky. The idea I had had for closures (as shown in the recycled jean skirt above) meant that I had 6 layers of fabric at my waist. This totally wasn’t going to work, so, I unpicked one of my panels folded it up and hid it away.
When I went back to it last night I put it around my waist and immediately wondered where the fifth panel had disappeared to. On finding it I sewed the two seams and the waist and hem, tried it on and then remembered why I hid the panel (doom) – do everything twice because you leave a month between processes. I also hand sewed and pulled out (twice) back darts. All in all there was a lot of very tired forgetting of lessons learned in early February. I eventually decided to go with too tight and streamlined over super bulky. I removed one of the panels (again), re sewed the hem/waist and decided I would just fold over the excess (so that I can actually pull the thing on) and tie on a button for now.
Button is from a bottlebrush tree I grew from seed which sadly died last year. But it lives, in a little button.
Basically, sewing this skirt, while it looks nice, is definitely not as strong as I would like it to be to live up to daily wear. I missed my sewing machine and the stabilising wonder of thread and tightly woven fabric. While usually I could just cut another piece of fabric if I needed to make something smaller or larger, here I had to get creative. Hilariously, I also think I am slightly allergic to the alpaca yarn, it makes me sneeze, and unlike wool I don’t like the feel of it on my skin. However, in my wearability mission, I have a plan. At some point in the future I will go to an op shop and try to find something silk with a zip. I will then underline the whole thing, giving it strength, make some more darts so that it fits nicely, and put a zip in so that I can actually wear the silly thing.
Part 2: The Graphic Jumper
This was a slightly more pleasing process. I had envisaged doing something graphic and fair isle for this – originally I wanted to make a black and white coat. Then I thought perhaps a fairisle dress when I decided to add colour. While I am quite proficient at dyeing yarn with acid dyes, everything I was going to be able to achieve was going to be experimental and surprising, with this project I couldn’t plan anything. I did however have a lot of fun dyeing the WA wool I bought at Bilby Yarns with anything and everything (from nearby). My favourite was the green I got from peppermint leaves and iron (from Peppermint Grove and the street up from my house) and the many light blues/purples/greens from purple carrots, which over the past 9 months have faded considerably. Other colours, like the yellow below from eucalyptus trees were totally discarded. (Dyes included, purple carrot (from the shop, but ultimately grown in Perth), peppermint tree leaves (from 20 metres from my house), madder (from Subiaco), WA shiraz, Perth avocado seeds/skins, and fennel leaves (from my garden).
I was also worried because I wear a very particular colour palette – black, blue, purple, grey, teal with occasional splashes of bright pink, maroon and khaki green. In spite of my best attempts (including boiling umbrella tree flowers which for friends produced blue/purple) my colour palette was muted.
This wasn’t to say I don’t aesthetically like the colours, but they definitely weren’t going to work for fairisle where muted can end up looking muddy. Back to the drawing board.
I started to come across these really graphic geometric prints which looked great in muted colours and decided to go for something in intarsia.
Some of my inspiration looked like this:
I ended up designing a jumper around my favourite jumper pattern (Rhiannon from a Rowan Fine Tweed book), incorporating a split hem because I liked the idea. I drew up the jumper based on increases/decreases/stitch counts in excel. Exported it to photoshop. Drew all over it, sometimes using the graphic shapes in the background to get a starting place. I knew I really wanted it to come to a point at the front, from where it would then split. I then plotted it back on to my excel sheet.
I then attempted to make the graphic wrap around the body and the sleeves. This was particularly difficult and I ended up attaching scrap sleeves, drawing on the lines, then translating them to the spreadsheet.
I love the jumper, I think it is beautiful and interesting and while it definitely doesn’t fit with colours I would usually wear, I am really intrigued with this process of making do and the challenge of using what was available.
I did also get halfway through making a pair of socks, but I left them on the street outside a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve and I haven’t collected them yet.
I found the process interesting. I liked that I created something that I had such a hand in making, but I was also continually frustrated by how slow the process was, that I had to think about it, rather than simply enjoying the making of it.
I did like insetting a couple of favourite knitting elements, like finishing everything with tubular bindoff.
I really want to keep playing around with natural dyes and Australian yarn and I still have plans to make hot pants from the yellow yarn I made with the umbrella tree fruit (see Instagram). I also want make the skirt more everyday wearable through a lining and zip. And I think I want to play around a bit more with the investigator and reinventer aspects of this challenge.
I perhaps want to trust myself to slow down and design a little more very occasionally, because (a) not everything needs to be fast (b) the process is fascinating.
More generally, this, plus the move, has really made me evaluate my fabric choices. Even more than in the past I am trying to carefully curate the fabric I use for my clothes. I am also making a concerted effort to purchase Australian wool for my projects, where the processing of the yarn is traceable, while using up the stash of yarn that has taken over my cupboard. It is so easy to get super excited about new yarn from elsewhere, but there is amazing stuff lots closer to home.