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June 29, 2011 / KristenMakes

My Textiles Journey

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Reversible is a project in which I share the work that I am doing for my MA in Fashion & Textiles Design.  I am investigating sustainable design for knitwear in a reversible and reworkable context.  Utilising the organic quality of the knitted structure to create intrinsic shaping and detail as fabric and garment are simultaneously created, I am designing and knitting a garment that can be worn in different ways and produce different looks.  As such, I invite the wearer to engage personally with their own wardrobe, and hopefully value and meaning can be instilled into a garment that would otherwise be thrown out after a few wears.  In this blog feature, I will talk about why I chose this path, how I am proceeding, and what the final product will be.  I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences in this space so that we may all learn and benefit.

First off, I cannot  thank everyone enough for all the support and enthusiasm you’ve given from my last post.  It makes me so excited to continue sharing!  So on a personal non-scheduled update about my work, I’ve had some great strides this week with my garment that I am making!  It is almost complete, just in time for my exhibit this weekend!  I’ve been quite worried lately that something wouldn’t fit right or look right and so far, I’m really pleased with it, but I’ll share more on that later.  Continuing with our schedule, today’s post is about me and crafting, how I got into it, and my journey in textiles, I hope you enjoy!  Pardon the wordiness!

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Hi!  I am Kristen, and I make things.  I’ve made things ever since I was little.  I started (I think) with Klutz books and was obsessed with friendship bracelets.

Friendship Bracelets (Klutz)

That soon gave way to papier mache, Fimo clay (for making beads and also plates of clay spaghetti and blueberry pie for my doll house), and eventually sewing.  Yes, it took until high school for it to occur to me to ask my mom how to sew.  We made a messenger bag (in which she gracefully acceded to my unreasonable request for a super long strap so that the bag actually hang to my knees).  Then came high school sewing class, and eventually I was studying Fashion Design at Florida State University and spending weekends sewing purses to sell at the university market.  Bagmaking was the key to experimentation for me.  Bit by bit, shape by strap, I learned new ways of putting pieces of fabric together, with minimal chance for failure.  Any chronic self-editors out there who are also afraid of experimentation resulting in failure and wasted time will understand that bags were a safe and slow route for me (but please hold out, there is hope!).

My time in FSU was amazing.  I learned that there was something that actually came easily to me, which honestly was a surprise.  Manipulating darts, adding fullness, patterning a design from flat paper into 3D shape, it all seemed to make sense.  To top it off, I completed my final year with an internship at a fashion house in New York City, where I learned a valuable life lesson:  after all that, I was not made for the fashion industry.  While I enjoyed designing and making garments on my own, to ‘make’ it in an industry that was so harsh, fast-paced, and very literally materialistic, was actually not something I wanted to channel my entire life into.

Fast forwarding through some very fulfilling years of moving and marriage and more moving (all for the sake of brevity and not losing you, my reader), I went from fashion school graduate to Italian restaurant waitress to high school sewing teacher to waitress again to toy piano salesperson to wee Scottish yarn shop worker.  And along the way I picked up knitting (while serving tables in Pennsylvania, that is) and started this blog mainly as a way to share my ‘makes’ with my mom in a more fluid ‘Show and Tell’ than email could provide.

Around the time that I was working at the yarn shop, I began designing knitting patterns for the yarn that was offered.  The patterns sold in the shop and online, and I began to experiment more and more with knitting.  What enticed me to experimentation in knitting is the fact that you can’t mess up!  If you think you’ve messed up, you may have actually created a new technique or perhaps done the ‘right’ thing, only in a different project.  Elizabeth Zimmerman said it best in Knitting Without Tears: ‘There is no right way to knit; there is no wrong way to knit… Show me any “mistake” and I will show you that it is only a misplaced pattern or an inappropriate technique.’  More so, if you don’t like what you are doing in your knitting, rip it out, start again, and no one will know.

At some point during our first year in Edinburgh, the school bug bit.   I had been knitting, designing and working in the yarn shop and doing a fair amount of sewing in my freetime, mainly dresses and other garments for myself, along with the Eero & Riley baby blankets, but wanted something more. Knowing only that I liked making things and learning how to make more things, I applied and found myself a Textiles Masters student at Heriot-Watt University.  The first semester was spent in lectures, group projects, and research.

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On the side, a few of us enticed a technician to teach us the domestic and v-bed knitting machines.  Somewhere in this stage, I picked up the whispered words, ‘slow fashion’ and ‘sustainability’.  I knew what slow food was and a few blogs that I’d read had hinted towards sustainable living, and became curious.

It was initially intrigued because of the waste issue.  Hearing waste addressed in fashion was the scent of delicious stew to a starving stomach I did not know I possessed.   I had only been vaguely aware that I hated waste but didn’t recognise or put words to the feeling until reading further about it.  Somehow I really loathed it, but I’m not sure how such strong feelings arose.  I’m not the most strongly-opinionated and argumentative person you see.  But waste, grrr, that seemed to irk me.  I think sewists and crafters in general tend to invest more thought, planning, and value to what they fill their wardrobe with, having an informed idea of the time and process involved in garment-making, so it could have stemmed from my ‘making’ background.  My first introduction to waste in fashion was during a year that I spent in a chain retail shop.  Each season the new t-shirt came out.  This season it was capped sleeves, next season a longer torso, but it was still the same tee, just slightly tweaked to convince people they needed it.  And boy did they buy it.  We had regular shoppers who would buy more than they could ever need to wear, and here we were supposed to be convincing them to buy even more!  For years, that issue irked me: how do I concede my desire to make lovely clothes with the question, ‘do we really need them?’

A simple university library search had brought up, among others, Kate Fletcher’s book, Sustainable Fashion & Textiles: Design Journeys which listed so many more issues affecting sustainability than I had ever imagined.  I couldn’t believe I’d never considered garment life cycle, that how you wash your clothes can have more environmental impact in the long run than how it was made (Fletcher, 2008, p. 77).  Keeping new revelations such as these in the back of my mind, I continued to think on what I wanted to do with my time in uni.

Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys

I really don’t know when or how, but at some point in my rare bits of free time during that first semester, I decided to design and knit a seamless jumper that you could turn inside out and wear both ways.  Perhaps in the back of my consciousness this was due to my readings on multifunction clothing (Fletcher, 2008, p. 154).  I mentioned this ‘side project’ to a tutor, and from his reaction I realised that this could be more than a silly personal project.  And so from that point on, all things were devoted to investigating knitted textiles that were reversible both in structure and appearance.

4-ways

This seems like a good time to break, seeing as how I have shared myself up to the point of this project.  Next week I will share a bit more about my findings on sustainability issues in fashion.  But before heading off, what are your experiences?  Do you craft, and if so how did you get into it?  Did it affect your shopping or thoughts towards fast fashion?  Feel free to comment or email:  kristenmakes@gmail.com.

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13 Comments

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  1. Rue / Jun 29 2011 12:29 pm

    Love this new series!

    I got into knitting first and then spinning followed pretty naturally from that. My mother first tried to teach my how to knit when I was in middle school. It didn’t take. Then once I had finished high school and was working a summer job before heading off to college, I was flipping through one of her knitting magazines and found a pattern I liked. I asked her to knit it for me and she took one look at it (a felted tote bag – essentially a large stockinette tube that would be thrown in the washing machine for finishing) and told me she would die of boredom were she to make it but that she would teach me to do it instead. I’ve been knitting ever since.

  2. amanda / Jun 29 2011 12:37 pm

    kristen i love getting to read all about this!

  3. Mum / Jun 29 2011 4:59 pm

    Hearing you recount your ‘Textile Journey’ is so much fun for me. It was a rite of summer to get those Klutz books and I think I still have your box of embroidery floss from back then! We should also still have your Fimo creations in your doll house, too. Do you remember that little quilt we started? It still is unfinished! It was such a thrill for me when you showed an interest in sewing and I do remember that first messenger bag…I had no idea where that would lead you, career-wise. You’ve made this mum (and home-ec teacher) very proud! I look forward to watching the rest of the journey!
    Love, Mum xx

  4. Noas'Libellule / Jun 29 2011 5:28 pm

    Love reading about your journey.

    I started to do crafty things very early – I think. I tried and did everything friendship bracelets, beads work, recycled paper, patchwork. My grandma used to take the train from Paris to ours and she would knit jumpers for us. I was allowed to do a couple of rows with her (she love doing colourful jumpers).. I left the knitting and crafty things on the side (so not cool when I was a teenager) – too it back a couple of times – but did not do anything until 2 years ago. I saw an embroidery pattern in a pattern for Xmas that I really liked. I love old French embroidered letters. I found a teacher in London to help me out, and she was also doing knitting and crochet. The knitting came back straight, I learnt embroidery and crochet as well – and I have not stopped since (that is in my spare time). I have not actually sold anything, just giving gifts to people. I have started looking at how to ‘recycle’ clothes that I do not wear anymore – I suppose that is my contribution to sustainability. I try, but I am not that good at it.

  5. Sue / Jun 29 2011 8:08 pm

    This is so interesting. I MIGHT be partial, but probably am not.
    What are Klutz books?

    I found a lot out about you I didn’t know. Guess I’m only familiar with the things you’ve done since high school (when you and TEO became an item). I do remember the prom dress you made; it was so pretty.

    I always thought I would be crafty, or at least sew. My mother was always sewing (made most of my clothes — I so wanted store bought clothes!) or doing some other needle work, like cross stitch or crocheting. I did learn how to sew and did some as a teenager and in my early years of marriage. I think my main claim to fame in that area (as reminded by my daugher) was making doll clothes (big enough for children to dress the dolls themselves) and Halloween costumes.

    I’ve tried a few other crafts (Christmas ornaments, for one) but am just not very good at them. The only thing I seemed to enjoy was macrame when it was popular. Made a lot of macrame things.

    I also enjoyed cake decorating — is that a craft?

    Now that I’m older, I realize my sister got all the “crafty” genes. Oh well, I enjoy receiving the products others make.
    Mom O

  6. Jo Campbell / Jun 30 2011 4:46 am

    I’ve sent a response by email as it turned out rather long 😀

  7. Kerry / Jun 30 2011 8:02 am

    Hi Kristen, really interesting to read more about you! Like you, and many others, I’ve also become fed up with the culture that is designeed to make us buy more and more, and not value our clothing. Have you heard about this Lucy Siegle book? I think it looks like an interesting read:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/12/to-die-for-lucy-siegle-review?INTCMP=SRCH

  8. KristenMakes / Jun 30 2011 4:16 pm

    Wow, thanks for sharing that article, I can’t wait to read that book now. It’s reassuring that I’m not the only one feeling fed up!

  9. aviewintomyworld / Jun 30 2011 7:21 pm

    i wanted to do art in college but chickened out and did arts (english lit) instead and then came full circle and enrolled in evening classes in fashion design about a year after graduating. learnt to sew as a by product of the pattern drafting. i remember learning to knit as a very young child in primary school but never really took it up apart from random holey scarfs from time to time until about a year ago when i concentrated on what i was doing – the end is in sight on my first actual garment – exciting!!
    loving getting to find out more about you!
    louise

  10. frayedattheedge / Jul 1 2011 3:01 pm

    Hi Kristen ….. my Granny taught me a little bit knitting and embroidery when I was very little, but I started knitting and sewing properly when taught at school, aged 7! I made my own clothes as a teenager, then made things for my son. I can’t imagine not sewing and knitting. The funny thing is that I don’t knit sweaters for myself, as wool makes me itch (I can wear wool socks). On the clothing front, as I take good care of my clothes, when I no longer wear them, I give them to charity shops. The production of cheap clothing is a difficult issue – having lived in Indonesia, I have seen the dire poverty which can be alleviated by jobs in the textile industry.
    Anne x

  11. Sewing Princess / Jul 5 2011 3:51 am

    Very interesting to hear about your journey.
    My journey with crafts started with my grandma’s crocheting all day long whether at home or at the park with us. She tough me a bit but I was only 10 when she passed on.
    Then my mom…who sewed some of my clothes. And she taught me the basics.
    Many years later after uni I took her 60s sewing machine to Brussels with me and started hemming pants.
    Only 2 years ago I started sewing my clothes, diving into blogs and taking a course.
    I also hate the consumerism with clothing…and even more the fact that big luxury brands pay just as much as H&M, Zara and the likes… but profit way more!

  12. Ali / Jul 5 2011 8:57 pm

    Wonderful to read about your journey(s)! I agree that my understanding of fast fashion came through the act of making — and I’m amazed, in hindsight, how oblivious I was. You know I like to largely work with second-hand fabrics or creating new items out of old clothes and really care about not being a hoarder, but it’s hard. Looking forward too reading more 🙂

  13. amanda / Jul 12 2011 1:08 pm

    I was reminded by my mom recently that I started crafting as a youngster making friendship pins and then friendship bracelets. Maybe that’s what started my love for making accessories. I love to make jewelry. Earrings mostly but also necklaces and bracelets. I have an Etsy site that I try to keep current (etsy.com/shop/aheyne) but most of my energy goes into selling to friends, coworkers, local farmer’s markets and art exhibits. I sew a little bit and have learned knitting from my sister-in-law, Kristen. Reading this blog always inspires me and I always look forward to our next chance to get together so she can teach me more.

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