Slow(er) Fashion is for Everyone

decoration spool 1

A start-where-you-are, one-step-at-a-time, use-what-you-have, guide.

Here we are in Slow Fashion October again! It kind of snuck up on me, actually; we just got home from traveling for shows, and if it were any other challenge/focus for the month, I probably would have just let it go. But not this one—it’s too close to the heart of what I think is important. I remember last year being amazed at how articulate and thoughtful everyone was being around these topics on Instagram. As I sat down to write an introduction to where I’m at this year, I surprised myself with how much I cared about what I was writing, and the idea for this post sprang into my head.

I almost didn’t write it though. It just feels too big. I’ll never cover it all, and I’ll leave out things that are important … which I probably will. But it turns out I care more about what I want to say than about how I might screw it up, so here goes.

It bothers me when people complain about the idea of Slow Fashion being elitist or exclusive, because to me at the center it’s about buying less, and being more thoughtful. It’s about the power of choice, and the fact that every single choice makes a difference, whether or not it’s a difficult or expensive choice. It starts with small steps that almost everyone can absolutely do, today, and if we all moved just a little bit toward Slower Fashion, it would mean a massive shift in the way the fashion industry operates.

These steps are roughly in order of difficulty. Each one has actions (readily available things we can all do) and ways to level up (which are more involved and could also make a bigger difference), plus notes for those of us who already make part/most/all of our own clothes.

In case you are still wondering what all this is about or why the heck you should care (but miraculously still reading), I invite you to check out this article about how our level of clothing consumption has reached the point of totally overwhelming any market for secondhand clothes.

One last thing before we start: although I’ve tried my best to keep this list simple and actionable, trust me, I know it can seem like these are humongous problems, way too overwhelming for any one person. But I can honestly say that the deeper I dig, the more I come through the uncomfortable feelings into a space where I feel better about myself, and what I’m making and wearing, and even about my place in the world. Each of these actions, even the ones that seem simplest, can have ripple effects into the rest of our lives as well, making things seem just a little bit slower and saner. Taking it slower has been such a healthy and fulfilling choice for me on quite a few levels.

 

refashioning scraps

 
 

1. Buy Less

This step is available to anyone who is buying clothes, anywhere, and has a budget for anything more than the bare necessities. If everyone did only this—nothing more than being more thoughtful about what we bring into our closets—it would be a true fashion revolution. Opting out of the constant consumerism which is so much a part of our economy that it’s also part of our culture is a big deal.

Actions:
Before you purchase an item of clothing, ask yourself some of these questions:
Do I need this?
Can I see myself wearing this frequently? Does it go with what’s already in my closet?
When I look at this, what message does it send? Is that the message I want people to get when they see me?
Do I need this many?
Is this so cheaply made, or so trendy, that it won’t last me very long?
Am I shopping for something I really need, or is this “retail therapy”?

Level Up:
Try to buy pieces that will last longer, either because of more timeless style and/or more quality materials and construction. Instead of buying several cheaper pieces, wait and use the same funds towards one better quality item.
Unsubscribe from emails/newsletters/magazines etc. that make you think you always need more and promote seasonal “must have” items. If you enjoy shopping and contemplating your wardrobe, you might try a project like the Wardrobe Architect (designed for makers, but with exercises that work whether you make or buy most of your clothes) that encourages thinking about and honing a personal expression of style, rather than following trends.

For Makers:
I would not encourage you to be less creative, or spend less time using your hands and your favorite tools. However, it’s all too easy to switch from consuming finished goods to consuming materials, with as little thought to their origin and future usefulness. The same questions above can apply to fabric and yarn, or to potential makes. If you should find yourself in the enviable position of having already made everything you need, consider learning a new skill, taking on a longer/slower project, and/or making something for someone else who can really use it. Check out the very thoughtful Stash Less series for a lot of exploration of the emotional reasons we stock up our stashes, and ways to avoid doing it.

 

sw sweater palette

 
 

2. Care for Your Clothes

If we started treating our clothes like things we cared about, instead of disposable items, that would be another big cultural shift with big, positive ripple effects.

Actions:
Wash clothes only when they need it. When washing, soak clothes longer and agitate less. This may require turning off your washer and setting a timer to remind you to turn it back on. Use the delicate cycle.
Hand-wash. It’s ridiculously easy (and also saves money and chemicals if your alternative is dry cleaning). I wrote about my favorite method in this article for Seamwork.
Use a clothesline or a dying rack. It lets your clothes last longer (by saving the abrasion of the dryer) as well as saving energy.

Level Up:
Mend. Everyone should know how to sew on a button and do simple repairs. There’s no shame if you don’t though, as these skills have been largely abandoned. Luckily, they’ve been replaced by the internet, where you can find people willing to help you with almost anything (including right here on this site). There are even challenges and forums that focus on mending, like #visiblemending and #menditmay. Some locations also have in-person repair events (a fantastic idea)—check your local listings.

For Makers:
One of the benefits I’ve found of having a more handmade wardrobe is that it encourages me to take the best care of those clothes so they’ll last as long as possible. I’m not always the best about extending that care to my non-handmade clothes, or my husband’s non-handmade clothes … but that’s a step I could and should take.
Teaching your friends simple mending is another way to make a difference, and darning socks is way more fun in groups. Why not organize your own mending event?

 

What is that thing on the right anyway?  Not sure, a rug maybe?

 
 

3. Consider Origins & Life Cycles

This is where it gets sticky, but we’ll end with some hope. Acknowledging that the way most companies make clothes now does harm to the environment and/or to other humans, and that by buying those clothes (or that fabric) we are complicit in that harm, feels bad I know. But I also think that we have to know where we are in order to move on and make better choices. The other hard part is that this is where the choices get narrower. Clothes that are produced more sustainably and with fair labor practices are more expensive than clothes that aren’t, because the ones that aren’t are carrying a bunch of hidden costs we aren’t paying in money—but we are paying them in environmental damage and bad conditions for workers. As we hopefully move towards a more sustainable fashion future, it will almost certainly mean all of us buying fewer clothes, and paying more for them. I hope that we can navigate this transition with fairness both to the people making the clothes (and the ecosystems that produce the raw materials) and to the people buying them, but I definitely don’t have all the answers here.
Here are the icky facts: synthetic fibers (like polyester & nylon) are made from the same stuff plastic is: oil and tar … plus increasing evidence shows that just washing these fibers releases tiny synthetic bits that make their way all the way into oceans and the food chain. Most chemical dyes are toxic, and few of the countries where fabrics are now produced have good enough environmental regulations to prevent them being released into waterways and harming human health. Most yarns and fabrics are also treated with other harmful chemicals (bleach, agents that change the hand or finish, etc.) before they come to us. If, as that article on textile waste states, there is enough of these chemicals left in our garments once they reach the landfill to leach into the groundwater, surely they are also leaching into the wash water, and probably onto our skin.
Now that you’re thoroughly freaked out, may I remind you to take this one step at a time, and do the parts that seem achievable today. Some of this is subjective, or depends more on the individual case. Is it better to buy polyester made from recycled pop bottles, or non-organic cotton? I don’t know either … but I’m making my way as best I can.

Actions:
Choose natural fibers. I’ve been making this choice for a long time, out of personal preference and knowing that they wear better than synthetics, but knowing about the micro-fibers in the ocean cements this one for me. Even if they are treated with chemicals, biodegradable fibers usually find an easier place in the ecosystem.
Buy quality whenever you can. Pieces that last longer save resources.
Buy secondhand.
When buying new, buy things produced in countries with good labor practices and environmental regulations (such as the one you live in?) whenever you can.
If you can afford a couple of really special, locally made, responsibly sourced items of clothing (or the materials to make them), please buy them! But if you can’t, your choices still make a difference.
Pass on unwanted clothes responsibly.

Level Up: (Most of this boils down to research.)
Consider raw materials individually. For example, it takes less water and fewer pesticides to grow linen or hemp than cotton.
Choose minimally processed, low-impact dyed, and certified organic fabrics if at all possible. Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label, which covers all stages of production. I’m not going to lie, these can be hard to find, and looking for them puts you in danger of being labeled a hippie. Nevertheless, more mainstream brands are starting to offer organic options, especially for cotton. (I found GOTS certified sheets at Target this year, very reasonably priced.)
Buy from brands that have a commitment to fair labor. Often these brands are concerned about the environment as well, so starting with either one can lead to both. The more questions we ask, the better. Searching for “ethical fashion” will give you a bunch of places to start.
Organize a clothing swap with your friends (this is an especially good way to pass on handmade/special items you aren’t using, and make sure they get a home with someone who will appreciate them).
Look for charities near you that can actually use your old clothes, and donate there.

For Makers:
You know the bad news here already: making something yourself does not erase the environmental or labor impact of the materials you’re using. The good news is: it’s easier to find responsibly made materials than finished clothes, and the more of the process you’re doing yourself (i.e. knitting or spinning your own) the more available and reasonably priced those materials tend to be. I have a list of sources for more sustainable fabrics, and there’s a good roundup of resource lists from the end of Slow Fashion October last year. It seems there are more American-made, domestically-spun yarns every time I turn around, which is a great thing! I know the local wool movement is also going strong in Britain, and probably other places as well …

 

TOCMC cotton 4

Photo courtesy of Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Co-op

 
 

4. Make

Making your own clothes is the final frontier of fashion independence, and opens up a new world of choices, both stylistically and in materials (new and repurposed). If these are skills you aspire to, start with small, doable projects (ahem, mending) and get a feel for the tools and materials. You’ll be able to grow your skills quickly, especially if you can find a good mentor/teacher.

Actions:
Try a new skill, like knitting or sewing. There are about a million tutorials and friendly folks online if you can’t find someone to help you in person. If you can, you’ll get a head start. Look for classes or ask crafty friends. Be patient with yourself, especially if you’re not used to working with your hands. New skills take practice, but they’re so worth it.

Level Up:
Already knit or sew? Try spinning! I’m only a little bit kidding. Spinning is aaaamazing, and perhaps the ultimate expression of slow fashion.
Learn any other new skill you’ve wanted to try. Leatherwork? Natural dyeing? Each one only increases the possibilities of what you could make, and for me at least, feeds into the creative whole with new ideas.

For Makers:
Help the new makers!

 

cartoon with both threaded small

 

So, I hope you’re convinced that you don’t have to run out and get a sheep and start from scratch in order to make a difference. (But if you want to do that, I totally have your back!)

I’d welcome your thoughts, resources, notes about things I forgot … take care everyone!

 

DIY Fabric Shower Curtain

 

fabric-shower-curtain-2

 

Hello everybody, it’s been a little while! I’m a firm believer in blogging whenever you can and feel inspired, not on a pre-ordered schedule, and I also think that most blogging apologies are a waste of time and just make you feel bad. Still, it’s been much longer than I meant it to be, and I’d like to echo Molly’s sentiments on Orangette: if I ever decide to leave this space for good, I’ll tell you so. It seems only fair. The way she puts it at the end of that post is so good.

The first reason for my losing track of online things was one of the better ones: for the second time ever, we hosted our annual family and friends craft retreat at my house last month. The first time we hosted it, two years ago, was when I had an inspiration—the infinite to-do list—that started a big difference in my thinking.

I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself this time. I felt calm and relaxed in the lead-up, and I even slept well before and during at least the first part of the week—proof that I’ve made progress as a human lately, and let go of some anxiety, even the good kind that’s more like excitement. (If you need this too, may I highly recommend the book The Three Marriages by David Whyte, which is full of deep insights about things in general, and came into my life at exactly the right time. You can also listen to a good interview with him from On Being.)

It was one of those times when being calmer and going slower actually ended up meaning that I got more done. We cleaned off the back porch, for instance, which probably hadn’t been done in the two intervening years …

And I made a new shower curtain! Well, “made” might be exaggerating somewhat. I took a length of wide fabric, hemmed it, installed some grommets, and there we go.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-1

 

I’d like to apologize to all of our previous guests for the old shower curtain, a cheap vinyl thing with one ripped eyelet, which someone bought right as we were moving into our house a decade or so ago, and had been there in various states of nastiness ever since. Incidentally, I also figured out that if I actually took the vinyl thing down, soaked it in the tub with vinegar and dish soap, and took a scrub brush to it, it came out clean—enough better that I decided to save it in case I need a waterproof something.

Back to the new curtain though: I’ve been slowly moving more and more away from synthetic materials and towards natural ones for all kinds of reasons. I got another push that way when I found out that polyester and nylon clothes shed tiny synthetic fibers in the wash which eventually find their way into the oceans, enter the food chain when they’re eaten by small critters, and never break down. I first heard about this on Science Friday a while back (but cannot now find the specific program). It came up again recently on Root Simple. This was one of those last-straw moments. I’m convinced, I’m done with that, and I’ve been trying harder not to buy any synthetic fabrics.

So I wanted a natural fiber shower curtain, and as I was looking for one and researching options, it occurred to me that I had in my stash some wide cotton fabric which was basically what I was looking for—lightweight but tightly woven. And with stripes!

I measured the old curtain to figure out what length would work best (a little shorter than standard turns out to be good for my tub) and if one width of the fabric would be enough (it was, but you could always add a seam if not).

I made a deep hem on the bottom, and a narrower one at the top. The hardest part was hammering in the grommets. Typically for me, I liked the “wrong” side of the fabric better since it’s a little more textured and subtle, so I put that on the outside.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-3

 

I had a few questions, but figured it was worth trying to see what would happen. Would plain cotton keep the water inside my shower? Yes it did! Would a deep hem be enough to weigh down the bottom? It was! To be on the safe side as far as mildew, I’ve been wringing the curtain out after I shower, and then spreading it out as much as possible to dry. So far, it’s working really well, and it’s so much nicer to look at than the old one, it’s fairly ridiculous. I also like the idea that I can take this one down, put it in through the washer, and hang it to dry in the sun once a month or so, which should actually be easier than cleaning the vinyl one.

If you wanted a sheer curtain, or a liner for a more decorative fabric on the outside, I suspect that silk organza would be amazing (although I haven’t tried it, not having that much on hand). Something so thin but crisp and tightly woven should dry almost instantly, and look beautiful. Oh printed silk …

Anyway, I hope this give you all some ideas!

It feels good to be writing here, and I intend to do it again soon.

 

fabric-shower-curtain-4

 

Knitting 102 Cowl – Free Pattern

 

T with simple knit cowlWhen my cousin was about 12 years old, she knit me a scarf. I’m touched by this gesture every time I think about it. That’s a lot of time and effort to put into an object for someone else when you’re that young. The scarf (at left) is great, made from a colorful thick-and-thin yarn, but it’s kind of short. Then one day a couple of years ago I realized that if I added buttons and buttonholes to the ends, it could be a stylish cowl, and I’d probably wear it a lot more. Which I do.

Then I realized that a cowl like this, just a knitted rectangle with buttons added, would be a perfect second or third knitting project for my students. For when you can knit and purl, but maybe you’d like to make something besides a washcloth using your current skills, before moving on to knitting in the round and all that.

I made a sample one with some seed stitch columns added, and left it at the yarn store where I teach. One day not long ago I was over there, and the owner and one of the employees were telling me about how people ask for the pattern a lot. I was quite surprised. I agreed to write it out. Then I got to thinking, if I’m going to give this pattern to whoever comes into the shop, I’d like to give it to you guys too. So here you go:

 

Knitting 102 Cowl Pattern

 

102 cowl 1

 

To make this cowl, you’ll knit a long rectangle, and then use a simple crochet stitch to make buttonholes on one end. Sew buttons on to the other end, and it’s ready to wear!

This concept is very adaptable. It’s easy to vary the yarn, stitch choices, and size to suit your own taste and knitting level.

 

102 cowl 4

 

Materials

Yarn: the sample is made in Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky, a very soft yarn with a lot of drape and not much bounce. One skein is enough for a small cowl like this. The finished fabric hangs in liquid folds. If you’d like a cowl that will stand up more, choose a yarn with more body and spring.

Gauge: the finished sample has 4 stitches per inch in both stockinette and seed stitch. It’s OK if your gauge comes out a little bit differently, since exact size isn’t super important for this project. It’s still a good idea to make a swatch with your yarn and see if you like how the fabric is coming out, and measure your gauge to get an idea of how big your finished cowl will be.

Needles and Hook: try US size 8 (5mm) knitting needles, but keep in mind that you may need a larger or smaller needle to get the gauge you want (especially if you use a different yarn). You’ll also need a crochet hook in a similar size for the buttonhole loops. In my experience the hook size doesn’t need to be exactly the same for such a small section.

Finished size: the sample cowl is 8 ½“ wide and 22 ½” long. It fits fairly close around my neck, but is big enough to get over my head without undoing the buttons. You can compare the dimensions to any cowl you like to see if this seems like a good size for you.

 

Directions

Cast on 35 sts (or your stitches per inch x desired size in inches).

Other options: If you’re not quite ready for keeping track of the seed stitch columns, you can also make a perfectly good cowl using garter stitch (knit every stitch, every row) or using seed stitch across the whole piece. (A cowl made with all stockinette stitch—knit one whole row, purl one whole row—will curl up at the edges.)

For the seed stitch pattern, you’ll need an odd number of columns of stitches. In the sample cowl, there are 7 columns of 5 stitches each. You can also vary the number of stitches in each column if that works better with your stitch count.

First row (right side): work in seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then knit 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: You may want to put a stitch marker around the needle between the sections to help remember when to switch patterns.

Second row (wrong side): work seed stitch for 5 stitches (knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1), and then purl 5 stitches. Repeat this sequence of 10 stitches (2 columns) two more times, and end with 5 stitches of seed stitch.

Note: this seed stitch in this pattern alternates every stitch between knit and purl, both horizontally and vertically. After set up in the first row, work a knit stitch on top of each purl stitch you see in the seed stitch sections, and vice versa.

Repeat these two rows until you reach your desired length for the cowl.

Bind off—not too tightly or the edge will pucker. Leave a long tail (a couple of feet long) and you can use it to make the buttonhole edge as well.

 

102 cowl 5

 

Crochet buttonhole edge
Go into the first stitch of your bind-off with a crochet hook. Pull a small loop of yarn through with the hook. Go into the next bind-off stitch the same way, pull another loop through, and then pull the second loop through the first loop so that you have only one left on the hook.

(I drew these illustrations for my students, who would also have me standing next to them to show them how to do it.  If this whole concept of crochet edges is new to you, check out this explanation from Knitty, which covers crocheting on to a knitted edge, as  well as the difference between a crochet slip stitch and single crochet stitch.)

 

crochet edge

 

Continue in the same way, going into each stitch as you come to it, pulling a loop though it and then through the loop you already have on the needle. This is called a “slip stitch” in American crochet terms.

You’re making a line of crochet stitches, which should look like another bind off row on top of the first one.

When you get to the place where you want to make a buttonhole, chain (pull loops through your working loop one at a time, without connecting to anything else) until you have enough stitches to just fit around your button.

You can make the buttonholes flat to the edge or more of a loop—your choice, depending on where you attach them—but either way they should be just big enough to push the buttons through, otherwise they may come loose while you wear it.

Reattach the chain to the edge by going into the bind-off stitch you choose, and making a slip stitch as you did before.

 

crochet buttonhole v2

 

The sample cowl has three large buttons and buttonholes, which line up with the three stockinette stitch columns.

 

102 cowl 2

 

Sew on your buttons to line up with the buttonholes.  I use the same method as I do with sewing thread, except the yarn only goes once each way through the buttons since it’s so thick.

 

102 cowl 3

 

Enjoy!  If you make one, I’d love to see it.

 

Blocking Knitting Without Special Equipment

When I mention blocking your knitting, I get a lot of blank looks from my students, and concern about how to do it and what they need to make it happen. Although it can be a magical transformation, it doesn’t need to be mysterious. And although there are a bunch of gadgets (special mats and pins, forms, blocking wires etc.) sold specifically for blocking, you don’t need to use any of those to get good results.  Some pins and a place to hold them will do, and sometimes you don’t even need that.

 
lupine cowl blocking

 

What does blocking mean anyway?

Blocking is actually a simple concept.  It just means using water and/or steam to set the final shape of something after you knit it.  As you knit, you make a new structure—a fabric—with your yarn. When the fabric gets wet, the yarn has a chance to settle into its new shape.  Sometimes it can change quite a bit, expanding or relaxing in response to the tensions (or lack of) that are now on it.

In blocking we take advantage of the fact that the yarn can form new shapes, and influence those shapes in the direction we want.  This can be as simple as gently stretching and patting a sweater so that it looks good flat, and leaving it to dry.  Sometimes more dramatic blocking is part of what makes a pattern shine, like stretching lace as much as possible to make the most of the open areas in the pattern.

Essentially, blocking is getting your knitting wet, shaping it how you want it to be, and holding it in that shape until it dries.

 

Why wet?

Yarns, especially wool ones, can change shape much more easily when they’re wet.  This is because of the structure of the fibers themselves.  (If you’re curious about the science of wool and haven’t seen the wool article I wrote for this month’s Seamwork, check it out!)

You can also stretch/shape your object while it’s dry, and then steam it to set the shape.  In general, I prefer the wet method for a few reasons.  It’s gentler on the fibers, and gives them a chance to relax before being under tension. It also gives a good idea of what your finished project will be like when it’s washed later.  A damp yarn object is easier to shape.  And when you finish knitting something, it may have been dragged all over hither and yon and have oils from your hands (or sticky stuff from your toddler) on it, and washing it is probably not a bad idea anyway.  (Hey—my favorite method for hand-washing is in that wool article too—good timing!)  (And speaking of good timing, Karen posted an eloquent argument this morning about why you should wash/block a swatch before embarking on a big project.  This is especially important when you’re making something like a sweater, where the final size/fit/drape is crucial to success.)

 

Does everything need blocking?

Not really.  I do wash all my finished knitting projects, shape them gently with my hands, and then leave them to dry.  But not everything needs to be pinned out, or to dry in an exact shape.  Socks, for example, are meant to be a little smaller than my foot, and to take on the exact shape of my foot when I wear them, so I don’t see much point in carefully shaping them before wearing.

 

How do I block something without special gadgets?

Everyone should have sewing pins, they’re useful for all kinds of things.  I’m not counting them as special equipment, but, it’s worth getting some with large, easy-to-see heads if you don’t have them already.  I like plain flat-head pins for sewing, but they get lost in the structure of hand knits.

The only other thing you need is a surface where your knits can dry that you can pin into.  A lot of times I use the same folded piece of flannel that I iron on.  An ironing board or a couch cushion covered with a towel are good choices for small projects.  For big items I stretch an old sheet over my bed (see below).

 

blocking shawl 1I tuck a doubled-over old sheet in tight over the bed covers.  That provides enough tension to hold in place when I pin onto it.  Plus it protects the covers from pin marks or any dye transfer from the yarn.  (Forgive the weird indoor lighting.  I wanted to show how I actually do this, but our bedroom is not ideal for photos …)

 
When your finished project is clean and damp, it’s ready to block.  Stretch and shape it with your hands, patting wrinkled areas out, smoothing ridges parallel, etc.  Pin in place any pieces that try to shrink back, away from the shape you want.

 

blocking shawl 2For this shawl, I pinned it at regular intervals along the straight edge, and intermittently along the other two edges.  You may have to move the pins as you smooth out the whole project, and that’s fine.  (This is my Indigo Boomerang, made with handspun.  More details are on Ravelry, and pictures of it worn are also in this post on slowness.)

 
For the cowl at the top of the post, I wanted to stretch the lace sections, but not the plain knitting in between.  I could have blocked it flat, a couple of sections at a time, and that would probably have worked fine, especially if I steamed it.  Instead I decided to experiment with different sizes of rolled up towels, and found a combo which was the right size to block it around.  I opened up the lace with my fingers while it was damp, and pinned the two edges parallel.

When your blocked knitting is dry, take out the pins and check out the shape.  If there are any parts you’re not happy with, or little pulled areas from the pins, those are great places to steam.  Hold your iron over the part you want to adjust (don’t flatten it) and fill it with steam.  Then take the iron away and reshape it with your fingers.

 

Will I have to block my knitting every time I wash it?

Probably not.  The most dramatic change takes place the first time the yarn gets wet in its new knitted shape.  Unless something extreme happens to it, it will stay more or less how you blocked it, with the additional influence of how it’s worn.  Lace may need to be re-blocked to look its crispest, but it won’t go all the way back to how it looked before you blocked it the first time.  For most items, a quick smoothing/stretching with your hands, before letting them dry flat is enough.  I like to drape bigger things like the shawl over the top of a wooden drying rack, using lower bars of the rack to hold the ends so that no part gets too stretched by gravity, or too folded and wrinkly, while it’s drying.

If your project does dry with wrinkles, a little steam will fix that right up.

I hope this helps demystify blocking for you!  The more we can all understand what’s going on with our yarn at various stages and why, the more we can get the results we want.  Happy knitting!

 

Peachy

 

peachy pie 2

 

It’s been a crazy few weeks around here.  Bryan has been finishing up a HUGE project for an art exhibition opening shortly—huge in physical scale, and in time invested, etc.  It took over his life, and then started to encroach on mine too.  Many things I’d been planning to work on got put to the back burner, until finally near the install date I was doing nothing besides helping get ready, unless the other thing had an already-agreed-upon-in-writing due date, and even then not too much was happening.

I’ve been cooking a lot though.  It’s the kind of situation where logically it would make sense to just make a big pot of soup and eat it for the whole week.  But, it’s my absolute favorite time of year for eating.  All the ingredients for ratatouille are sitting there, fresh and glowing, at the growers’ market, and it would be make me feel much more deprived not to cook them and eat them.  And it turns out, not surprisingly, when I’m not spending my creative energy on other projects, I end up experimenting more with food and making up recipes.  And, when Bryan is burning lots of extra calories working on huge sculptures all day, he’s more excited about having dessert, and any time I’m stressed I definitely want dessert.  Any two weeks in which we ate two of these pies can’t be that bad.

Although things evolve and change, and I’ve been excited to have so much fiber stuff to share lately, I wouldn’t want recipes to disappear entirely from this space, so here you go.  I’ll be back soon with a little more about the sculpture project & the exhibition (which is really pretty cool) and maybe even one more recipe.  But for now:

 

Weekday Peach Pie with Nut Crust

(adapted from various bits of the Joy of Cooking)

This isn’t a humongous Southern-Sunday-dinner peach pie, but instead one you can make if you just grab a few extra peaches at the market.  Pecans are my favorite for this crust, which is the same one I use for pumpkin pie in the fall, and just happens to be gluten free.  You can use other nuts that grow near you and/or you like, and it should work fine.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Peach filling—put all this in a bowl:

1 1/2 lbs peaches (weighed whole), cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  (Freestone peaches are much easier to slice.)

1/4 cup sugar if your peaches are ripe and juicy, maybe a tablespoon or two more if they are firm and tart.

1 1/2 Tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch for thickening.  I ground the tapioca in a spice grinder to get finer grains, which I think I read about in an Alice Waters cookbook.

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice.

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional but I like it).

A small pinch of salt.

Stir up the filling and let it sit while you make the crust:

You can either put all these ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse together, or grind the nuts first and then mix everything by hand.  Either way, don’t chop the nuts super fine, or the crust won’t have a lot of structure, a texture like coarse crumbs is good.

2 cups pecans (or walnuts, almonds etc.) chopped, see note above.

4 Tablespoons butter (especially if you’re making it in the food processor, it’s important to soften the butter first, otherwise you’ll end up with chunks of unmixed butter).

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Butter a pie pan well, and pour in the mixed crust in it.  Use your fingers to press the crust over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, getting it reasonably even if you can.

Prebake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until it starts to brown.  The edges of this crust are apt to burn, so cover them with a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil first.  If the sides of the crust start to sag or the bottom gets too puffy, you can push them back in place with the back of a spoon.

While the crust bakes, beat 1 egg (the smallest egg you can find) with just a tiny bit of water, until well beaten.

When the crust is warm and starting to brown, take it out of the oven and glaze it with the beaten egg. This is the key to putting a moist filling in the nut crust without getting a soggy crust!  Use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of egg wash all over the inside surface of the crust, up over the sides, etc.  The egg will want to slide down, but just keep brushing it up, until the warm crust starts to absorb it and hold it in place.

 

peachy pie 3

 

Put the egg-washed crust back in the oven for just a couple of minutes, until the egg is cooked and shiny.

Then pour in the peach filling.  Cover the edges of the crust again, and put the whole pie back into the oven until the juices of the filling are thick and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  No matter what you do, the edges of the crust will probably get a “bold” baked color (as the bread makers say). If it goes all the way to burnt, just scrape off the very top.  This crust is really simple and delicious, so it’s totally worth it.

Here’s to a weekday-peach-pie kind of week …

 

peachy pie 1

 

Simple Textures

Here’s what I made with that first batch of my handspun yarn.  And how to make something similar yourself, if you’re interested!

 

first handspun cowl 2

 

I really wanted something simple, that would let the (ahem, very thick-and-than-thin) nature of the yarn shine through.  But, I’m not a knitter who’s happy with endless rounds of stockinette.  No offense to those that are, but I just need a little something pattern-wise to keep my brain engaged, and let me see that I’m making progress.

My gut-instinct guess was that I’d have enough yarn to make a small but substantial cowl.  Of course, there’s no label on my handspun to let me know the yardage, but I was able to estimate how much knitting I could get from the yarn pretty successfully.  I knit a swatch in my pattern, measured the dimensions, and weighed it, so I knew about how many square inches of knitting I could get from a certain amount of yarn by weight.  Then I weighed all the yarn I had, and used that number to figure out about how many square inches of total knitting I could make from it in this pattern.  I tried on a cowl I had, and estimated how big it would need to be to comfortably fit over one’s head, and how tall I would ideally want it, and arrived at a compromise number to cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 4

 

The finished cowl is 25″ around, and 7″ tall, which turned out to be plenty big!  At my gauge of 2.5 stitches/inch, I cast on 64 stitches.  I used Jeny’s Stretchy Slipknot Cast On.  (In this yarn—yes really!  More about that here.)  I did two rows (or maybe three? Forgot to write that down …) of plain knitting to make a little roll at the bottom, then switched to my pattern; alternating blocks of four knit and four purls stitches, and switching them after 4 rounds.

Of course you could use another simple pattern for the body of the cowl.  Just make sure that the total of your pattern repeat (in my case 8 stitches) divides evenly into the number of stitches you cast on.

 

first handspun cowl 3

 

When I was getting near my estimated total height, and at the end of a pattern repeat, I knit a couple more plain rows, and then bound off, using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s sewn bind-off.  I ended up using almost every bit of the yarn, which was definitely my intent!

I almost never buy yarn this chunky, so it seemed like the whole thing took about 5 seconds to knit.  In reality, it took parts of two days of traveling, and it was done!  So far, it seems like spinning is actually speeding up my production of finished knitted items, if that’s possible.  I actually have another finished handspun thing that just needs photos … and this one is off to live with someone dear to me, hopefully it will keep her neck warm this winter!

 

first handspun cowl 1

 

In the meantime, I hope this is helpful if you’re looking for something to make with a special bit of
thicker yarn, whether made by you or not!

 

 

A Simple Piece of Mending, and Some Thoughts on Posting

 

potholder front

 

So, here I am.  We’ve been home for the fall for a few weeks now, and it’s lovely to be back.  But ever since we got here, I’ve just felt swamped.  With good things mostly, and some of the best kind of quality time with family, but still swamped.  I have great ideas for posts.  I even have pictures for a lot of them, but I just haven’t been able to put together the time to edit and put in the words.

As I’m sure you know if you’ve been reading for a while, I’ve been shifting more towards posting when I have something I really want to share, and away from a set schedule.  I hope this gives me more time to work on each post, so that each post is better.  Goodness knows we all have enough arriving in our email every day, and I don’t want to be contributing to that just to make something appear in this space, unless it’s something I’m proud of.

And yet, sometimes (like right now) I really do want to connect with my online community, I want to put something out there, and it doesn’t have to be complicated to be worth reading, right?  Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

Like this potholder.  I know, I mended a potholder, it’s not exactly Earth-shattering news.  In fact, I didn’t even like this potholder.  Bryan had it when we met (goodness knows where he got it) and I always thought it looked so cheesy—definitely not my favorite kitchen object.  But, the back fabric wore out.  (It was yellow plaid.  I had so little intention of posting about this that it never occurred to me to take a “before” picture.)  The front was still fine, even the binding was in good shape, and I have this stubborn genetic defect which makes me refuse to throw out anything useful, so I just sewed a patch of sturdy black knit over the back.  After I sewed around the edge, I thought it needed a bit more, and I decided to outline the tacky shapes on the front.

 

potholder back

 

Then, the stupidest thing happened: I suddenly loved this potholder.  It’s now cheeky, it’s a little edgy, it’s visibly mended, it’s mine.  Every time I see it I smile.  Sigh …

What about you, ever fixed something and then fallen in love with it?  (The more I think about it, the more I think this happens to me all the time.)  If you blog, how do you balance the number and quality of your posts?