A small, sustainable wardrobe: practical knitting

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

My copy of Practical Knitting Illustrated: The Key to Hundreds of Garments You Can Make Yourself doesn’t have a date inside. Looking at it, I thought it looked quite 1940s, and the fact that all the illustrations are black and white would fit that theory. A quick internet search gave me one copy dated to 1947, which sounds about right.

I don’t think that a volume entitled Practical anything would sell particularly well nowadays. Despite the resurgence in craft, knitting and dressmaking patterns seem to be sold as novel! easy! quick! or fun! This book doesn’t claim to be any of those things – although it does bill some of the resulting items as such. Instead, it focuses on how hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile the garments inside will be. And although I wouldn’t want to wear all of the garments listed (a knitted beach suit, anyone?), those are the values that I like to apply to my own designs.

It goes without saying that British knitters of the late 1940s were approaching their craft from a rather different place than we do today. At the height of rationing, each adult civilian was entitled to the equivalent to one new set of clothes and shoes a year. Clothes – and materials – rationing was on the cusp of coming to a close, but there would continue to be shortages for several years yet. Although you could theoretically go out and buy whatever your wardrobe needed after 15 March 1949, you were unlikely to be able to in practice. Goods in short supply were managed by price control. Despite this, clothes were expensive and had to be made to last.

This issue is reflected in the advice given on buying yarn. Sold by the ounce, yarn quantities are one of the most confusing things about vintage patterns because how long is an ounce of wool? It seems that it depended on the quality, and readers were instructed to buy the best they could afford. The best qualities although more expensive to buy, are cheaper because they go farther in the knitting through having more rounds to the ounce. And it only took 5 ounces – about 140 grams – of yarn to knit a women’s 2 ply jumper. How’s that for economy of materials?

I would imagine that higher quality yarns would also work out cheaper in the long run because they would wear better and not need to be replaced as quickly – saving both money and labour.

It’s the labour in the book that I can’t quite understand. Although the book pictures 24 different types of yarn, it’s clear that finer yarns were the order of the day. Shetland yarns – which I assume were like the traditional Shetland jumperweight 2 ply yarns still available today – cannot be recommended too highly. Having knit a 2 ply fair isle allover myself, I know how much longer it takes to knit a jumper in a finer yarn. John’s cabled cardigan – in DK as it was – nearly finished me off. Yet here, women (because this book is clearly aimed at women) are encouraged to knit everything for the entire family. No wonder virtues such as hardwearing and plenty of room to grow were included in the descriptions of products. Keeping a family in vests and socks must have been a Herculean task indeed.

I don’t suppose that any women, no matter how dedicated, fulfilled all their family’s requirements in this way. I’m told that my husband’s grandmother, who must have bought or received this book as a newlywed, was a prizewinning knitter, and I would love to have been able to ask her about what she did and didn’t knit for her family. While I keep myself in socks, other people receive them from me as gifts rather than as a matter of course. I’ve never knit a vest (undershirt) in my life. But baby knits and children’s jumpers? Yes, I’ve knit many of those in my time and it’s true: the more hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile they are, the more wear they’ve had by one child after another.

I’m as guilty as anyone of wanting things done yesterday. I knit almost a whole jumper in a weekend recently. And yes, it is hardwearing, warm, comfortable and versatile. But I didn’t enjoy making it more because it was fast! In fact, I definitely enjoyed it less. So when I cast on for a new pair of socks last night, I opened Practical Knitting for company, and enjoyed its words of wisdom on the subject of socks for your sons. These three-quarter length socks are excellent for sturdy schoolboys who are always on their feet, it told me. For holiday times, make them with Fair Isle tops. Now if that isn’t taking pride in your craft and making the most of the materials you have, I don’t know what is. Practical doesn’t have to be boring. It can be as fun and creative as you like. Just like the rest of the deeply practical wardrobe I aspire to.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

Do you prefer to make things quickly or slowly? What’s the most painstakingly made thing in your wardrobe? Did you make it yourself? And is it practical?

Introducing Little Flurries – and a giveaway

November is upon us, and any knitter worth their salt is casting around for ideas for Christmas. Enter Little Flurries, a could-be-for-Christmas, could-just-be-a-lovely-jumper pattern for ages 1-5.

At its most festive, this is the jumper that gives you a cosy crafternoon with the little people in your life. Knit it for them, then present it to them with a jar of buttons, tinsel, embroidery silks, little trinkets – the more the merrier. Show me a 3-5 year old who wouldn’t want to wear a jumper with a Christmas tree that they’d decorated all by themselves on the front. And for the under 3s, you get to retain full creative control, as there will probably be far too many choking hazards involved for them to get involved. But as long as everything is securely sewn on, there’s no reason why even the tiddliest toddlers can’t be dressed for the festive season.

My children started by playing with buttons…

before raiding the real Christmas tree basket for some tinsel…

when Ilse suddenly remembered a bracelet which had snapped, leaving her with lots of lovely beads.

I still rather like the button option, especially for younger children. And of course, you could use embroidery, little badges (or buttons, as I believe they are called on the other side of the Atlantic), or whatever you have lying around, really. This is the ultimate project for rooting around in your craft drawers.

Of course, for the budding minimalists among the pre-school set, there is always the refined option of simply wearing it as a lit up tree. Or a tree with multicoloured baubles knitted in. Or even an entirely green tree, to make an understated environmental point.

Being someone who doesn’t like waste, I do like the fact that you can remove the tinsel and the trinkets and turn this back into a simpler sweater to wear for the rest of the winter, before passing it on to someone else to decorate the way they’d like the following year.

Or you can knit one of the three everyday options: bobbles in the same colour as the rest of the jumper, no bobbles at all, or a two-tone version with darker sleeves and bobbles against a lighter body. One model’s mother went for the latter version and I have to say, I love it in the teal. It is pretty and practical and very cosy indeed. My tiniest model will be showing it off next week, but here’s a preview of it in progress:

The bobble-less version, for those who are not so keen on bobbles, still has lots of texture thanks to the warm ribbed sleeves.

I’ve put a huge amount of thought into the development of this pattern. Even before the launch of Snow Day, I was toying with the idea of a pint-sized version. The bobbles and ribbing look lovely in the adult pattern, and I had some ideas for turning them into a sweet little toddler sweater. It wouldn’t be enough to simply resize the pattern; small children would be simply swamped by all that texture in an Aran weight yarn. Mealtimes, playdough and time spent outdoors meant that the jumpers would need to be machine-washable. Yet I wanted the sweater to retain its warmth and its characteristic bobbles and ribbed sleeves. 

So along came Little Flurries: a toddler-sized, DK, envelope-neck version of the Snow Day jumper. I’ve kept the uneven hem, to cover nappy-enhanced bottoms, and added a traditional neckline welcoming to even the most enormous of heads. Instead of thumb holes, the toddler version offers an optional foldover mitten, for quick trips outside when wrestling with real mittens is a step too far. And, of course, I’ve had a lot of fun with the bobbles. The Christmas version – outrageously silly as it is – is my favourite. My children had a huge amount of fun decorating the sample jumper, and as they’re all far too big to wear it, they have started a campaign for bigger ones. Maybe next year.

Whichever version you use, it goes without saying that there will be a knitalong, with a tutorial each week explaining each step with photographs to help you out. This is about the same level of difficulty as Snow Day. It uses some of the same skills (those bobbles and that ribbing) and some different ones too (the shaping is worked with decreases, and there is no increasing at all). The making up is, if anything, slightly simpler, as there is no neckline to knit on.

I’ve knit two of these in the past three weeks, and my mum knit the other one for me. They fairly fly together, if you set your mind to it, in little flurries of knitting on autumnal evenings. For those little flurries otherwise known as small children, of course. Make one. Make two. Make more, if you’re a speedy knitter. However many you make, and whichever design option you choose, I hope you enjoy making your Little Flurries as much as I have.

As with my A-line skirt pattern, I’d like to run a little giveaway for the Little Flurries pattern. I’ll be giving away one copy of the Little Flurries pattern to every ten people who enter. I will round up the number of commenters to the next ten – so if 11 people enter, I’ll give away two copies of the pattern, for example.

If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Thursday 1 November 2018. Please only leave one comment per person, and make sure that you use a valid email address so that I can contact you if you win. I’ll be drawing the winner(s) and sending out the pattern(s) on Friday 2 November. Please note that you need to leave a comment in order to be entered – emails will not count. And if you’d like to leave a comment but don’t want to be entered in the draw, just say so in your comment! You are very welcome to enter both giveaways.

The pattern is suitable for confident beginners. It will be available through my Ravelry shop  from Friday 2 November, and my Etsy shop from Monday 5 November.

Madeleine

Dare I ask if you’ve started any Christmas knitting yet? How would you decorate Little Flurries, if you were to make one?

Snow Day knitalong part 5: making up

In the photo above I’m wearing one of my auntie Fiona’s lovely hand crocheted snoods. She makes all sorts of vintage-inspired items, from gorgeous snoods to new baby bunting and traditional Irish willow baskets to modern Christmas trees. You can find her in Derry’s Craft Village, or online.

Welcome to the last tutorial of the Snow Day knitalong. This week you’re going to be making up the jumper: knitting the neckline and sewing all the different parts together.

You start by laying the front and back right side up, with the right shoulder edges together. These are the bound off stitches which will sit on your right shoulder. Thread your tapestry needle with some yarn, either straight from the ball, or a tail.

Insert your needle under the first bound off stitch on the front shoulder. You’ll get a neater finish if you insert your needle under a stitch that looks like an A, rather than a V.

Now do the same with the first bound off stitch on the back shoulder (ignore the red thing; it’s just the circular needle that I was holding my live neck stitches on):

Work your way across the shoulder seam in this way, until you’ve sewn five or six stitches. Your yarn will still be very loose, like this:

Gently pull the yarn through, so that the shoulder seam is neatly drawn together. Don’t pull so hard that you cause the shoulder seam to bunch up, though.

The seam should be virtually invisible. Carry on like this until you reach the end of the seam, then stop, leaving the tail of the yarn hanging for now.

Next, you are going to knit the garter stitch neckline. With the wrong side facing, and starting at the left hand side of the front, transfer all the live stitches along the front neck to one of your smaller needles.

Continue along the back neck, doing exactly the same thing, until all the live stitches around the neckline are on one (smaller) needle.

Join a new ball of yarn (by looping it over the end of your needle with a tail of six inches or so) and knit all the way along the row.

When you reach the end of the row, turn your work and knit the next row. You are making a garter stitch neckline. Continue until you have knitted four rows in total.

Using one of your larger needles in your right hand, bind off all of the stitches (in knit) along the neckline.

Try to keep your stitches reasonably loose – don’t pull them very tight. They don’t need to be anything  like as loose as the ones you bound off along the top of the sleeves, but nor do you want an inflexible neckline. After you’ve done a bit, stop and pull on it. It shouldn’t be stretchy, but it should have a bit of give and look nice and neat. Mine is pictured below.

Keep going until you reach the end of the row. Cut your yarn and pull the tail through the final stitch. The top of your jumper (sweater) should now look like this:

One shoulder seam is sewn and the other is not. Sew up the other shoulder seam in exactly the same way as the first.

Bear in mind that you’ll also need to sew together the two edges of the garter stitch neckline that you’ve just knitted. You do this by working your way back and forth in the same way as you did the shoulder, only there aren’t nice even As to stitch together. However, garter stitch is very forgiving. Work one whole stitch (two bits of yarn) in from the edge, like so:

You’ll find that there is a small gap at either edge of the front neckline, like this:

You need to weave a bit of yarn gently in and out of the fabric at the back of this, to pull the edges of the gap together. There’s no specific way of doing this, but it helps if you incorporate the adjacent stitches as well. Here I am, doing some weaving:

Don’t fret about it; just have a go. It’s only knitting, after all, and you’ll be surprised how easy this is. Before you know it, the gap will have disappeared and no-one will ever know it was there.

Leave all your ends for now; you’ll weave them in later.

Now it’s time to attach the sleeves. Lay your jumper out, right side up, and measure the distance indicated in the pattern down both the front and the back sides. I’ve marked the distances here with knitting needles but safety pins would have been more sensible…

Find the centre top of your sleeve and align it with the shoulder seam. Pin the sleeve to the body between the two markers (in my case, knitting needles) and spread the ribbing out evenly. Pin it in place.

Cut a long piece of yarn and thread it through your tapestry needle. Pull it through the centre of the sleeve top and the shoulder seam, stopping halfway. You’re going to sew the sleeve from the shoulder seam to the armpit in one direction, and then the other, using the same length of yarn. I tend to sew towards the left first, because I am right handed.

Sew the sleeve to the body. The body stitches are easy: stay one stitch (one complete V) in from the edge and pick up the little stitch than runs across the back of the stitches. You can see me picking this up in this photo, below:

The ‘knit’ stitches of the ribbing are picked up as little Vs – kind of like you picked up the shoulder seam stitches as little As. The ‘purl’ stitches are harder to pick up as neatly. Just stay a full stitch (two bits of yarn) in from the edge, don’t pull your stitches too tight and honestly, don’t sweat it. Trust me, as long as you get the stitches on the body right, and keep the sleeve spread evenly against the body, the sleeve will look fabulous. Here’s mine:

and of course it will look even better after blocking.

Do the same to the other sleeve.

Now it’s time to sew down the side seam. Align the top of the garter stitch notches on both the front and the back edges, like so:

and pin in place. You’ll notice that the back of the jumper is longer than the front; this is as is should be. Pin the seam, making sure that it is evenly joined all the way from the top of the notch to the underarm.

This is a really easy seam to sew. Just stay one stitch (V) in from the edge and pick up those little horizontal strands of yarn that are hiding behind the stitches. The rows should match up almost exactly. If not, just skip the odd row on either the front or the back, keeping things nice and smooth and even. Again, don’t pull your stitches too tight.

See? The seam is almost invisible already, and it will disappear altogether after blocking.

Now sew up the other side seam.

Finally, it’s time to sew up the sleeve seams. Pin them, taking care to match the bottom edge and the increases that you made. If you’re going down the extra-long-sleeve-with-thumbhole route (and it is very cosy), mark four inches and two inches from the bottom of the sleeve as well.

Starting at the armpit, thread either a long tail of yarn or a new length and start to sew the seam together. You’ll notice that there are two knit stitches by the edge on one side (looking very neat and V-ish) and two purl stitches on the other side (looking very chaotic). Starting with the purl side, pick up a horizontal strand – or something similar, it really doesn’t matter that much – one stitch in from the edge. Here I am doing this:

On the other, tidy knit stitch side, pick up a horizontal strand. Take care to work exactly one stitch in from the edge, so that you have two lovely neat columns of Vs left outside of the seam:

The reason for this is that when you’ve made a few stitches and pulled them through, it looks virtually seamless:

See? The knit two purl two rib is uninterrupted. However, let’s be honest, this is a seam which is in your armpit. Anyone who’s looking that closely probably loves you enough not to mind if your seams are a bit wobbly.

Carry on down the length of the sleeve. May I remind you one last time not to pull those stitches too tight? You’ll find that the increases mean that you have more or fewer knit and purl stitches on each side, and that sometimes the knit stitches and purl stitches even end up on opposite sides to where they started! It really doesn’t matter. Keep stitching things together, one stitch in from the edge, and you’ll end up with a lovely sleeve seam like this:

By the way, if you are including a thumb hole on a longer sleeve, stop four inches before the bottom edge and backstitch a bit along the seam that you’ve just sewn, to secure the end of your yarn. Then use the tail from the cast on edge of the sleeve to sew the seam upwards, towards the thumbhole, for two inches. This will leave a two inch hole for your thumb.

Do the same to the other sleeve.

Put your jumper on, crazy ends trailing everywhere, and spend a long time admiring yourself in it. Don’t worry about any little imperfections; a good blocking goes a long way.

When you’re ready, take it off again, put on a good film and weave in all those ends.

There is no magic way to weave ends in, but here are my top tips:

  1. if the end is within spitting distance of a seam, wend your way over there and then go up and down the seam a bit,
  2. 4 inches is plenty to weave in,
  3. work on the wrong side but remember to keep checking the right side in case you can see the woven in end,
  4. work in one direction for a few stitches (up, or left) and then the opposite direction (down or right) before changing direction again, and
  5. resist the urge to tie knots.

As you feel that each end is woven in, snip it off with an inch to spare. The end will adjust when you block it, and then you can snip it right off. This bit of extra length stops it annoyingly poking out or getting loose after blocking.

To block your jumper, soak it in lukewarm (tepid) water for about half an hour – it should be sopping wet. Drain the water and press the jumper against the sides of the basin to get rid of excess water. Lift the jumper out, taking care not to let any parts of it dangle or stretch. Lay it out on a clean towel, roll it up in the towel, and press (or stand!) on it to get the water out of the jumper and into the towel.

By now it should just be damp, rather than soaking. You need a flat surface that won’t be damaged by (or cause damage to) a damp jumper. Take some time to arrange the jumper on this surface, smoothing out any lumps and bumps and making sure that the neckline is lying just so. Use your tape measure to make sure that it is the right width and length. Then leave it to dry.

Doing this ‘sets’ the stitches – if you unravelled them now they would be very wiggly indeed. This helps the jumper to hold its shape. It also evens out any uneven stitches in your knitting and smooths the seams.

Wear with pride. And every time someone compliments you on your lovely new jumper, say, with studied casualness, oh, thanks. I made it myself.

 

 

A small, sustainable wardrobe: introducing a lined A-line skirt – and a giveaway

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

One of the most important things about building a small, sustainable wardrobe is having things just the way you like them. It’s no good having a beautiful skirt in a lovely fabric which fits you perfectly if it doesn’t go with any of your tops. It’s equally limiting to know that your skirt, which goes with everything you own, is in a fibre that you just don’t get along with. Shopping for clothes, when everything has to work as hard as it does in a tiny wardrobe, can be a frustrating business. Which is one of the reasons that I make most of mine.

Sewing your own clothes gives you complete control over fit, fabric and finish. But it also gives you control over your supply chain. Without the ability to sew, the ethical consumer is limited to an ever-expanding but still fairly small number of suppliers. It can be hard to get what you want – and it can be expensive, too, if you buy all your clothes from such companies. Learn to sew and you can choose reasonably priced organic, fair-trade fabrics and threads from small, responsible companies. A simple skirt needn’t cost a fortune to be sustainably produced – provided you have the skills to make it. And you can still support skilled workers by buying other things – like jackets and underthings – from your favourite ethical companies.

When I was dreaming up my first knitting and sewing patterns, I knew exactly what I wanted to design: a micro-collection that new knitters and dressmakers could make for themselves. An introduction to making that bypassed the scarves and cushion covers and went straight to what I wanted when I started out: a simple wardrobe that I could make for myself. And so the very first of my dressmaking patterns to be released is a version of the very first garment I ever sewed for myself: an A-line skirt.

My first skirt was not exactly responsible, but it was fun. Do you remember the trend for buttons and ribbons on skirts, circa 2005? I really wanted a woolen A-line skirt embellished with ribbons – I’m sure they were everywhere that winter. Short on cash, I went to a local craft store and bought a length of acrylic felt and some inexpensive ribbons, and set to work. One wonky zip later, I was the proud owner of a pseudo-woolen skirt, the likes of which I had been ogling in Monsoon. I topstitched the ribbons around the hem and was delighted with the effect. (Needless to say the acrylic bagged horribly after a few wears and will no doubt still be around in a few hundred years, and for that I apologise. That was before I switched on about unnecessary plastic use.)

Simple as it is, the A-line skirt is one that I have returned to again and again over the years – in much nicer fabrics and with properly inserted zips. I don’t think you can beat it for its versatility. It is the sort of skirt that you can go to work in (think heels and a blouse), wear in the garden (add wellies and a jumper), take on holiday (avec strappy top and sandals) or just wear at the weekends (with nice boots and your favourite top). My most recent – in real wool felt – was such a favourite that it looked quite disgraceful by the time I cut it up for potholders. And the sample I sewed last week – to test the pattern pdf and take tutorial photos of – is a lovely teal linen version, for Fliss. Of course, as soon as she put it on I thought, that is the perfect school uniform skirt for her, and I’ll be making up a couple more in navy after her next growth spurt.

Being ageless, A-line skirts suit pretty much everyone. They don’t smack of a particular trend or era, and so can be worn by old and young alike. Depending on your choice of fabric, colour and pattern, they complement anyone’s wardrobe. Fliss has plans to embroider hers all along the hem, as she did to great effect with her old dance skirt this summer. But you could make one in a floral, tartan, tweed or whatever motif takes your fancy. They are the blank canvas of the skirt world.

As this is a beginner’s pattern, I have written and photographed a full tutorial series which will be published over four weeks following the pattern release next Friday. This tutorial/ sewalong will take you through printing and cutting your pattern pieces to laying out your pieces, sewing them together, inserting a zip and hand-finishing the hem. As with my Snow Day pattern, the directions are written out in full, plain English. I’ve even gone so far as to label each edge, so that you can simply look for edge g and h and sew them together, without wondering which is the top of the front of the waistband, and so on.  But you don’t have to be a beginner to use this. Although the beginners’ tutorial takes you through how to sew the skirt unlined, the pattern pdf instructions are for making this up as a lined skirt. So you can choose whichever set of instructions you prefer, or which best suit your abilities.

Speaking of abilities, you need to be able to sew an accurate straight line and a slight curve on a sewing machine if you want to make this skirt. Of course you’ll also need other skills, like wielding an iron and being able to use scissors and tape, but we’ll take those for granted. This is a pattern suitable for confident beginners.

I’m really proud of this pattern. Not because it’s fancy or complex (it is neither), but because it takes something which could be fancy and complex and makes it simple. What you will receive is exactly the sort of pattern I would make for myself, with the sort of clear and logical explanations I use as self-talk when I’m working out how to assemble a garment. The pattern itself is hand-drafted, hand-graded from the middle size (UK 12) and represents a lot of detailed work. It is not a commercial pattern. It is a home dressmaker’s pattern, carefully prepared for sharing.

With sharing in mind, I’d like to announce a little giveaway with respect to this pattern. I’m going to send a free copy of the A-line skirt pattern to one of every ten people who leave a comment at the end of this post. Whatever the number of comments, I’ll round it up and choose that number of commenters at random to receive a free copy.

If you would like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Thursday 1 November 2018. Please only leave one comment per person, and make sure that you use a valid email address so that I can contact you if you win. I’ll be drawing the winner(s) and sending out the pattern(s) on Friday 2 November. Please note that you need to leave a comment in order to be entered – emails will not count. And if you’d like to leave a comment but don’t want to be entered in the draw, just say so in your comment!

Edited: The pattern itself will be released next Monday, 5 November 2018, and will be available via Etsy. Apologies for the delay and thank you for your patience! I’ll update this post with a link when it goes live. The pattern is graded for waist sizes 25″-31.5″/ 64cm-80cm (UK sizes 8-16).

Edited: The pattern is now available via my Etsy shop.

Madeleine

What was the first garment you ever made for yourself? Do you have any go-to patterns that you’ve used over and over again (this is one of mine). Or are you a dressmaking newbie? I’d love to know!

A 48 hour jumper

Should you wish to make your own, here is the recipe for a 48 hour jumper.

You will need:

An overambitious plan for the month of October, involving double the usual number of patterns in only three quarters of the usual time

Plenty of other commitments which have wiped out the rest of the week

A date set for a photoshoot with an adorable little model (and his equally lovely mum)

Five balls of yarn, only one of which has been knit up so far

Straight needles in sizes 3mm and 4mm

A copy of my soon-t0-be-released toddler jumper pattern

A sore hand from knitting the same jumper in age 5 the previous week

A huge sense of relief and gratitude that your mum is knitting the third test jumper

Method:

Realise that knitting four balls of wool means two balls a day over two days. Try not to think about that while enjoying a rare date night with your husband on the Friday. Cocktails, anyone?

Get up on Saturday morning and put two balls of wool in your knitting basket. Set yourself up with a hot water bottle, blanket, and a drama on iPlayer. Finish the back.

Worry about whether you have enough wool. Do a quick check and realise that Wool Warehouse has sold out of that dyelot.

Enjoy chatting to your children when they come home from their sleepover with their grandparents. Keep knitting.

Help with homework. Keep knitting.

Supervise piano practice. Keep knitting.

Drink tea. Keep knitting.

Realise that you are getting very sore already and that you need to pace yourself. Stop for lunch and stretches.

Visit your husband’s 100 year old grandmother. Knit on the way there. Knit on the way home. Try not to feel carsick. Knit quite a lot of the time you are there. Be grateful that you are doing something portable like knitting. Be pleased that you are talking about something other than knitting.

Get home. Keep knitting through the rest of the evening, stopping for tea (moules frites again, because they are in season, and thank you John).

Finish the front. Cast on for the sleeves, intending to do an inch before bed. Don’t do an inch before bed.

Sleep like a log until 10.30 (which is almost unprecedented), when your significant other wakes you up because they know you have to start knitting. Be amazed that you slept for so long.

Catch up with the Archers omnibus. Start knitting.

Knit all day, stopping to stretch every 45 minutes, which is how long it takes you to do an inch on your two-at-a-time sleeves.

Take a ‘Stretch with Fliss’ class at 3 pm. Realise that your arm and hand are starting to feel better thanks to all this stretching. Get told off for not pointing your toes properly.

Play a bit of Debussy, to stretch your hands out with all those lovely arpeggios. Get back to the knitting.

Snap a grainy, blurry photo for your blog post. Keep knitting.

Eat an enormous roast dinner.

Knit through Dr Who, the Strictly results show and a spy drama.

Declare the sleeves done at 10.53 pm.

Look forward to making it up, handing it over, and taking photos of a very sweet little person in it. Hope that he likes it.

Vow to set yourself more manageable targets next month.

Madeleine

Do you set yourself ridiculous targets? Any other marathon craft sessions out there? I suspect we’ve all been there…

 

Snow Day jumper knitalong part four: the sleeves

Hello there – ready for the next part of our knitalong? This time you’re going to master two skills: knitting in rib and increasing. Yes, it’s time for the sleeves.

The first thing you need to do is cast on the number of stitches that the pattern tells you to for your size. Then you need to establish your rib.

All that ‘2×2 rib’ means is knit two stitches, then purl two stitches, then repeat these four stitches until you get to the end of the row. So you need to knit the first two stitches as I’ve done below:

Your yarn will be at the back. Bring it to the front, like so:

and purl the next two stitches.

Take  your yarn to the back again to knit the next two stitches, like so:

then bring it forward again to purl the two stitches after that, and so on and so forth until you have reached the end of your row. You now have one row of ribbing on your needle. Voila! You can see mine below.

Turn your work and rib the next row, as established. This just means that you knit into all the knit stitches (which look like they are wearing little v-neck jumpers) and purl all the purl stitches (which look like they are wearing turtlenecks). You’ll find that you knit two, purl two, all the way along the row. Keep working back and forth like this until you have an inch of ribbing. Make sure that you finish with a wrong side row. It’s impossible to tell right and wrong sides from ribbing alone, so a good trick is to remember that your cast on tail will be dangling from under the last stitches you knit on a wrong side row, and the first that you knit in a right side row. You can see that I’m just about to start a right side row in the photo below.

So that’s the ribbing mastered.

Now it’s time to start increasing. If we didn’t increase, our sleeves would either be too baggy round the cuff or too small around the top of your arm. But increasing is easy. While we’re increasing, we want to keep our ribbing looking good, so follow the instructions to the letter.

First, you need to purl the first stitch of the next row. I know that it’s a knit stitch, but you need to purl it. Trust me. You can see mine here:

You’ll notice that there’s only one knit stitch now, before the next pair of purl stitches. Move your working yarn to the back of your work. What you’re going to do is make another knit stitch, which is known as making one knitwise. You do this by knitting into the strand of yarn which runs between the knit stitch on your left needle, and the stitch you’ve just purled on your right needle. In the photo below, my pencil is pointing at the strand of yarn in question.

What you need to do is insert your left needle under this strand from the back to the front. The strand should now be lying over your left needle, like so:

Now you’re going to knit this strand of yarn as if it was a normal stitch. So you want to insert your right hand needle under the strand from front to back, and left to right. It can be a bit awkward at first, but don’t worry, it is right. You can make it easier by pulling more of the strand forward over the needle with your left index finger, to make a bigger gap for your right needle to get in under. Once inserted, it should look like this:

Okay? Now knit it, just like a normal stitch. You’ll now have a knit stitch and a purl stitch on your right hand needle, and the next stitch on your left hand needle will be a knit stitch too. Here’s mine:

That’s it. You just made a stitch, knitwise. Work the rest of the row in the established rib, stopping one stitch before the end. That means you’ll knit the next stitch, then purl two, knit two all the way to the end of the row, stopping before the last stitch, which will be a purl stitch. Leave it on your left needle. We’re going to make a new purl stitch from the strand of yarn lying between this last stitch on the left needle, and the one you’ve just purled on your right needle. My pencil is pointing at the strand in question:

Now, making one purlwise (for that is what we are about to do) follows exactly the same principles as making one knitwise, only we insert our needles differently. This time, you want to insert your left hand needle from the front to the back of the strand of yarn.

Once you’ve done that, you insert your right hand needle into the strand from back to front, right to left, ready to purl:

Then purl as normal. There! You just made one purlwise.

Knit the last stitch. Yes, I know that it’s a purl stitch, but if you look at your right hand needle you’ll find that you’ve already got a pair of purl stitches. So the final stitch of the row now needs to be a knit stitch. Here’s my completed row.

You’ll have noticed that, from left to right, the stitches are knit, then two purls, then two knits and so forth. This is correct.

Follow the pattern for the rest of the sleeve, paying close attention to whether each increase is knitwise or purlwise, and whether you need to knit or purl the first and last stitches of each increase row.

When you get to the top of your sleeve, you need to bind off in rib. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that you BIND OFF LOOSELY. You’d be hard pressed to bind off too loosely and to be honest, it wouldn’t really matter if you did. No-one is going to see this top edge as it is going to be sewn to the inside of the jumper (sweater). Bind off too tightly, though, and you won’t be able to get your arm into your sleeve. This is because the ribbing needs to be able to stretch right across that top edge, and if there isn’t lots of extra yarn available for it to stretch out nice and wide, it simply won’t be able to. So be generous with your yarn, and keep things looser than you think can possibly be necessary.

The other thing you need to know about binding off in rib is that you have to keep to the purl two, knit two pattern whilst binding off. That’s perfectly straightforward, but I’ll show you how it’s done anyway.

First, purl two stitches NICE AND LOOSELY. See below how the purl stitches on the right needle are loose?

With the left needle, lift the first stitch that you purled over the other one and off the end of the needle – just binding off normally. Resist the urge to pull anything tight:

Now, because we’ve just purled two stitches, the next stitch will be a knit stitch. You don’t even have to keep count; just have a look to see what the next stitch will be. You can see in the photo above that it’s wearing a v-neck (rather than a turtleneck) so it’s a knit stitch. Move your yarn to the back, ready to knit this stitch, like so:

and knit it.

Now you’re going to bind off the purl stitch which is sitting to the right of the knit stitch. Just lift it over and off the end of the needle, keeping everything very very loose, so that your work looks like mine, below.

The next stitch is another knit stitch, so knit it very very loosely. Fight the urge to pull that working yarn taut!

Then bind off the previous stitch. In this photo you begin to get a sense of how loose my stitches are – can you see how big that most recently bound off stitch is? That’s just what we’re after.

The next stitch is wearing a turtleneck, so I know I need to purl it, and so I move my working yarn to the front again like so:

and I purl it very loosely and bind off the preceding stitch and so on and so forth.

Once you’ve bound off a few stitches, just take a moment to check that you are binding off loosely enough. To do this, pull on your bound off edge and see how far it stretches. If you’ve done things loosely enough, the ribbing will be able to stretch to its full extent. In the photo I am stretching mine, and it is lovely and stretchy.

Keep binding off very loosely in rib all the way to the end of the row, stopping every now and then to check that everything is still lovely and loose and stretchy. When you get to the final stitch, as shown in the photo below, cut the yarn with a long tail and pull it through that stitch as you take it off the needle.

Now for the moment of truth. (Don’t worry, if you’ve kept things loose this is guaranteed to be fine.) If you take a look at the ‘Making Up’ section of the pattern, it tells you how far to measure for the armhole down the front and back. Multiply this number by two (for my size it says 7.5″, so that makes 15″.) Using your tape measure or ruler, see how far the top of your sleeve will stretch. You can see from the photo that mine stretched to at least 17.5″ without pinging out from under the speaker that was holding the far end down while I took the photograph. That’s brilliant, because I only need it to stretch to 15″. It’s got stretch to spare!

That’s the first sleeve done. Well done! Making the second will be a walk in the park, now. Happy knitting, and see you again for the final tutorial next Friday: making up.

Madeleine

How are you getting on with your Snow Day?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: how to buy new

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

I know, I know. Shopping is the antithesis of having a small wardrobe. Buying new does not bode well for sustainability. But sometimes you need to buy something, and you need to buy it new.

I don’t use the word need lightly. I’m not talking about the perfect pair of shoes to go with a new dress, or the cruel temptation in the latest catalogue to plop fatly onto my hall floor. Not that I’m immune to such things: we are all human. No, I’m talking underwear and base layers. Tights, socks, thermal vests, bras and knickers. The things that I do genuinely think we need to buy new.

I don’t actually have any qualms about buying all of these things brand new, because I know that I will wear these basics over and over again until they are fit for nothing but the compost heap. What I do sometimes struggle with is how to buy them. Do I shop ethically but online, and risk a sea of plastic packaging? Do I worry about the delivery truck driving just to my house, when I could collect something from M&S on my bike? Do I spend more on my underthings than a couple of good meals? Is that obscene? Should I buy one set for me and one for charity? (Nobody donates underthings to charity, new or used). What do I do with the old ones? How many do I need? What colours? Seriously, I could go on. But life is short, and there are more important things to agonise about, so I have a few rules of thumb. In no particular order, these are personal my New Things purchasing guidelines.

Number one: buy organic if you can. Especially if you are buying cotton. Contrary to popular belief, buying organic isn’t about you. Quite frankly, with the amount of toxins sloshing about our daily lives I really don’t think that the residues of pesticides on our clothing – especially after multiple washes – are going to have a significant impact on our health. But they do have an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of the people who grow cotton. They also have a tremendous impact on the health of the soil in which it is grown, and the surrounding ecosystem.

Number two: buy from a company that you trust to treat its workers fairly. Again, this is about people. I want to know – not just hope – that the people putting my clothes together are paid properly and treated with dignity.

Number three: buy less. Just buy what you need (and maybe a second set to donate, if you feel that way inclined). I have enough to get me through a week. I don’t need more than that. Let your laundry habits be your guide.

Number four: a little forethought goes a long way. I know it sounds dull, but sitting down and working out how many skin-coloured sets vs. other-coloured sets you actually need is a vital part of buying less. Work out which colours of tights will enable to you actually get dressed in the mornings. And for goodness’ sake, make sure you know what’s comfortable.

Number five: go local and go small. If you can buy what you need locally, then do. It saves on transport emissions as well as packaging. If you can’t, try to buy from a smaller company with ethical credentials. Most of us don’t have time to investigate the business ethics of every company we buy from, but you can get a sense of whether ethics are a priority or just a greenwashing exercise. Oh, and ask for plastic-free packaging if they don’t offer it as standard.

Number six: love what you buy. Don’t buy something that you don’t particularly like, just because it’s fair trade or organic or whatever. Hold out for something that you are going to enjoy putting on week after week until it falls apart. Otherwise you’ll be back on the shopping treadmill before you know it.

Number seven: aftercare. Now that you’ve bought it, take care of it. Wool and silk last far, far longer with a bit of attention. Wash things by hand, or at the very least, on the delicates cycle with some wool/ silk detergent. It takes far less time than you think.

I tend to do a little overhaul every spring and autumn and this autumn I’ve not had to buy much new. Some underthings and the thermal vest pictured above. None of it was cheap, but I’ve been wearing those vests for years and know exactly how long it’ll last. We’re being advised not to buy anything that we won’t wear at least 30 times, which is a very achievable target. I’ve worked my vests out at 135 days of wear – and that’s a conservative estimate. After a few seasons, it’ll be in no state for anything but to be snipped up and mixed into the compost heap. So I think it’s worth it, on all sorts of levels.

As I said, there are other things that I buy new, from time to time. No doubt they will be the subject of another post. Really, though, the same rules apply. That, and just trying your best, and not being too hard on yourself if you get it wrong and find yourself wondering what to do with that novelty PVC catsuit on November 1st. You know the drill. Only 29 more outings to go. Ready to do the school run in style?

Madeleine

Have I missed anything out? What are your rules of thumb for buying new?

The Saturdays

As a child, one of the books that I read over and over again was The Saturdays. In Enright’s tale, four New York siblings are bored every Saturday, until they decide to pool their allowance and let one person have an adventure with it each week.

It’s a very long time since I had a long and empty Saturday – what a treat that would be! But, busy as they are, they can still be boring. Between the cleaning and the shopping, the homework and mountain of logs to be stacked, Saturdays can be a bit mundane. This year, though, we seem to have stumbled upon a bit of a plan.

It turns out that a plan was just what we needed. (Who would have guessed?) With the children being the ages that they are, little rhythms have fallen into place. I make a vat of soup, to last the week. John visits the fishmonger, to buy something delicious for tea (moules frites, anyone?) Birthday cards are made and posted. One or another of the children bakes a cake. And then I have a little crafternoon, with anyone who wishes to join me.

It’s only a little crafternoon, because by the time the house is clean and piano practice done and the fridge full up for the week ahead and so on and so forth, there are usually just two or maybe three hours left to play. But that’s enough time, if you’ve planned ahead, to achieve something quick and crafty. Last week, I made beeswax balms. The week before, I worked on my Lionberry shawl while Ilse crocheted a snood with impressive speed. Before that, we made some beeswrap. Having everything to hand, ready to begin, is a wonderful thing. With a bit of preparation, cakes get baked, chairs waxed, pots filled with protective goodness.

This week, inspired by all the fun with beeswax, Ilse suggested that we use the candle-making kit she received for her birthday and, knowing that this Saturday was going to be particularly full of jobs, I agreed. We aren’t really a kit-making family, to be honest. We generally tend to make things up for ourselves. So it was particularly pleasant to set out the chopping board and a couple of sharp knives and look on, knitting in hand, as Ilse and Seb worked their way through all the candles in the kit. Apart from the odd bit of tricky cutting, I wasn’t really needed at all. I was quite happy, then, to nibble my chelsea bun, sip tea, and admire their progress – all the while knitting furiously on another jumper sample.

I worked out that I’ve knit three jumpers in the last month, and cast on for one more yesterday evening. There is no shortage of craft in my life. In fact, I fully intend to do less knitting as soon as the latest pattern is launched, for fear of doing damage to my hands. They are beginning to seize up a bit. So why, you might wonder, would I want to do yet more crafting on a precious Saturday afternoon?

I suppose it’s the difference between work and play: making something just for fun, as opposed to creating something with the intention of publication. Then there’s the family aspect of it – I love watching my children’s creativity. And the pleasure of bashing something out in a couple of hours flat, rather than taking days and days to get it right. Plus the satisfaction of ticking something off the ‘I’d like to…’ list.

Not all Saturday crafternoons are crafty, strictly speaking. Sometimes Fliss draws. We have plans for a Christmas cake quite soon, and a batch of garden chutney. But they are the sort of activities that don’t quite fit anywhere else in our week. Too long for a weekday evening, too short to fill a luxuriously lazy Sunday. As long as we’ve thought ahead and got everything we need, we can make these things in a couple of hours in an otherwise bustling day. Who knows how long it’ll last, how long before no-one wants to sit and knit with me. No doubt the family rhythms will shift again, before long. But for now, this is how we spend our Saturdays.

Madeleine

Please excuse the flatness of these photos – we’ve had high winds, grey skies and lots of rain, none of which are helpful in taking a decent photograph!

How was your weekend? Do you have a rhythm on Saturdays, or is every one different?

Snow Day knitalong part three: the front

Hello again! Ready to start the front? The weekend would be a great time to work your first few bobbles, so that you’ve got them down pat before the week begins again. Then you’ll be able to knit the rest of the front during the coming week, knowing exactly what you’re doing.

To start with, the front is exactly like the back. If you want a reminder of how the bottom hem and notches are worked, take another look at last week’s knitalong tutorial. Just bear in mind that the pattern specifies a different number of rows for the front and back notches – you don’t do as many for the front. Once you’ve finished the notch section, it’s time to start on the bobbles.

You begin by knitting however many stitches the pattern specifies for your size, in order to reach the point where you will make your first bobble. So take a moment to knit to that place, and then have a quick read of all the bobble instructions before making your first bobble.

You’re going to make a bobble out of the next stitch. In the photo below, the metal needle is pointing at the stitch that you are going to make the bobble out of.

Knit the stitch, but don’t slide it off the left needle. In the photo below, the newly knitted stitch is on the right needle, but the original stitch is still on the left needle (being held on by my index finger). You’ve just made two stitches out of one original stitch.

Put your yarn to the front of your work, so that you are ready to purl.

Now purl into the same stitch (the one that my index finger is touching in the photo above). You can see my inserted needle, ready to purl that stitch, in the photo below.

 

Again, don’t slide this stitch off your needle. You can now see, as in the photo below, that you have two new stitches (one knit and one purl) on your right needle, and still that same original stitch on your left needle (my index finger is holding it in the photo below).

Move your yarn to the back of your work again, as in the photo below.

and knit into this same stitch again, as you can see me doing below.

This time, you are finally allowed to slide that stitch off your left needle once you’ve knitted it. So you can see, below, that my thumb is indicating the three new stitches that we’ve made out of that single initial stitch. There’s a purl stitch in the centre, and a knit stitch on either side of it.

Okay? So you’ve turned one stitch into three. This provides the breadth of the bobble. Now we need to give it some height. To do this, we’re going to work just these three new stitches for a couple of rows of stocking stitch, as follows:

Turn your work so that the wrong side is facing you, bring your yarn to the front, so that you are set up like the photo below.

Purl the first three stitches. (They are the ones that you have just worked.)

Turn your work again so that the right side is facing you, and move your yarn to the back, as you can see below.

Knit these same three stitches.

Turn your work again so that the wrong side is facing you, bring your yarn to the front once more, as shown in the photo below.

 

Purl the same three stitches again.

Finally, turn your work so that the right side is facing, and move your yarn to the back again, as shown below.

This is the special bit. You’re going to knit all three of these same stitches together into one stitch. To do this, you literally knit the three stitches as if they were one. You can see that I’m doing this in the photo below. In fact, treating all three stitches as one even makes it look as if I’m only knitting one stitch. I’m not; my needle is inserted through all three stitches knitwise (i.e. as if knitting normally) at the same time.

Wrap your working yarn to make a knit stitch (as usual), move the right needle under the left (as usual) and slide all three stitches off the left needle – just as if you were knitting one ordinary stitch.

That’s it! You’ve made a bobble! It’ll look more like a proper bobble once you’ve worked a couple more rows. For now, just knit a few more stitches, keeping count so that you know when to make the next bobble. In the photo below you can see that I’ve knit my bobble, with all that bulk below and to the right of it, and then three more normal knit stitches.

I assure you that it’ll look much more like a proper bobble in a couple of rows’ time, at which point you’ll be able to give it a prod and a poke from behind to make it more rounded and full. For now though, just concentrate on getting to the end of the row. Remember, count your stitches and stop when it’s time to make the next bobble.

By the time you get to the end of your row, it’ll look something like this:

My empty needle is pointing at one of the bobbles.

Carry on in stocking stitch (knit the right side rows, purl the wrong side rows) for the specified number of rows, then work the next bobble row in exactly the same way. You’ll notice that on the next bobble row there are fewer bobbles and more knit stitches in between them.

Carry on knitting the front of your jumper until you reach the length specified for your size in the pattern, or your desired length (but only if you bought extra wool to allow for extra length). Don’t worry which row of the bobble-making pattern you finish on; it doesn’t matter. Just make sure that you make a wrong side (even numbered) row the last one you work.

Now it’s time to shape the neckline. We’re going to do this in a particularly simple way, with just a hint of shaping to allow the front neck to lie fractionally lower than the back. You’ll find that the neckline naturally curves gently into a lovely boatneck shape the first time you wear it.

Knit the whole next row, and turn your work, ready to purl. The pattern will tell you how many stitches to purl for your size; purl only this number of stitches and stop. It will look like this:

 

Now turn your work, make sure that your yarn is at the back, ready to knit, and knit the same (small number of) stitches back again.

Turn your work again, and purl the same stitches again. Your work should now look like mine does below, with the small section you’ve just worked a couple of rows longer than the rest of the neckline.

Now you are going to carry on purling the rest of the row, but you need to be really careful with the next stitch. Purl it really loosely, so that the longer section that you’ve just created will be able to stand up higher than the middle bit of the neckline. You’ll know that you’ve done it well if there’s just  the littlest of little holes to show where the join is. The needle is pointing at mine in the photo below.

Can you see how the fabric to the left of it is a couple of rows longer than the fabric to the right? By leaving that stitch nice and loose, the longer part of the neck will be able to extend straight up when we bind it off in a minute.

So, you’ve now purled all the way across the top of the front and are about to work the other raised shoulder bit. Knit the number of stitches specified for your size in the pattern, and stop. It will look like this:

Turn your work, bring your yarn to the front and purl those same few stitches back again. Now turn your work again and bind off the same number of stitches.

You’ll find that the last stitch to be bound off will be joined to the lower part of the neckline. Again, you need to make sure that this stitch is nice and loose so that the longer part of the front can stand proud of the lower part.

Knit all the way across the row. Then turn your work and, in purl, bind off the same small number of stitches specified in the pattern. Leaving a nice long tail, cut your yarn. Your front will now look like this:

Can you see the two bits that stick up at either end? They are the shoulders of your jumper.

You will need your needles to knit the sleeves next, so transfer the live stitches to a spare needle, stitch holder or length of spare yarn. That’s the front done!

Madeleine

How are you enjoying knitting your Snow Day? Any questions or feedback? Please let me know in the comments!

 

 

A small, sustainable wardrobe: we are the grown ups now

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

My Sharpen Your Pencils dress as modelled by the gorgeous Ella. We got together for a photoshoot in the summer holidays, and she wowed me with how a  woman in her late teens or early twenties might style and wear my clothes. There are more photos to follow of both of us in the patterns. The dress pattern will be available in the coming months.

For some time now, I’ve been mulling over how to present my patterns within the wider context in which they are created. In the end, a series seems the best way forward: a weekly post about clothing and its impact both on us and the world around us.

I have always been interested in the wider world, the health of our planet, and the living conditions of its poorest inhabitants. You don’t grow up in a country like Tanzania in the 1980s and then turn a blind eye to issues like climate change, pollution, poverty, or human rights. Perhaps it seems odd – frivolous even – to approach these issues through the prism of the clothes we wear. Perhaps it is. But we all, without exception, clothe ourselves each day. And when you are conscious of your daily choices in one sphere, this consciousness spills over into other parts of your life, until before you know it, you are buying your loose leaf tea in an old ice cream tub and looking for a car share buddy.

I can distinctly remember learning about climate change at school. I was an early member of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots – a global environmental organisation which started in Tanzania, educating and inspiring children from kindergarten through to university about the change that they can make to the planet and its people. I remember reading Douglas Adam’s wonderful Last Chance to See, and about the rate at which the rainforests were disappearing, and being taught about the importance of educating women in eradicating poverty. So we kids made our changes: we stopped buying aerosols, and ate less meat, and learned to recycle our waste.

And all the time, I trusted the grown ups to sort the big things out.

More than twenty years on, little has changed. If anything, the rate of destruction has increased. We are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year. Girls all over the world – including developed countries – miss school every month because of lack of sanitary ware. Between 150 and 200 species go extinct every day. Governments make decisions which they know are harmful rather than helpful to the world and its inhabitants. Even Lovelock’s fantastically optimistic Gaia hypothesis has lost its nerve.

We could do nothing. We could weep and wail and feel powerless in the face of big corporations, big government, big natural disasters that heap still more misery onto human misery. Or we could simply accept that we are the grown ups now.

I have money in my pocket, and I can choose where to spend it. I have places to go, and I can choose how to get there. I have children, and I can choose what sort of a role model I wish to be for them. I have friends, and I can choose what to talk about with them. And I have a voice, here on this blog, that I can choose how to use.

Most recently, I had the choice of what to do with the time that has opened up to me as my children grow ever bigger. I put a lot of thought into what I wanted the legacy of this time to be. In the end, I decided to start a business selling dressmaking and knitwear patterns. How, you might think, is that a positive choice? How will that make a difference? How is that being a grown up?

I started making my own clothes when our children were small and, frankly, we had no money for adult clothes shopping. More pertinently, we had nothing like the money required to buy the ethically made garments I really wanted. So as well as shopping second hand and accepting hand-me-downs, I decided to teach myself to make them. Of course, there wasn’t spare cash for patterns either, so I borrowed a book from the library and tried to draft my own.

Over a decade later, I’ve learned a vast amount. Best of all, I’ve taken charge of the choices I make. Knitting and dressmaking can be as sustainable – or otherwise – as you make it. Churning out clothes that you don’t need or don’t even want is no better than going shopping every Saturday. If you are taking clothes to the charity shop, you are still consuming too much.

Instead, I’ve become fascinated by detail, by skill, by versatility and material. I demand a huge amount of my clothes: that they be warm or cool or cross-seasonal, that they be comfortable, that they be attractive, that they fit into a reasonably compatible colour palette, that they have the sort of details that make them not just good enough, but exactly as I want them. One of the things that delighted me most about the reception of my Snow Day jumper was the number of people who commented on the little details. I added an uneven hem because it looks good and keeps my lower back warm. I added a very wide boat neck because I wanted a jumper that was both a little bit sexy but also cosy. The sleeves are ribbed to make them extra warm, because I feel the cold. And these details matter because that is my only jumper. I don’t have another jumper in my wardrobe. It needs to work hard.

In my wardrobe there is a fairly stable number of items, though of course it fluctuates a little. At the moment I have three pairs of shoes, three coats or jackets, one jumper and two cardigans, three dresses, three tops and four bottoms. Actually, I only have two bottoms, because I’m waiting to test the printed version of a couple of patterns. But there will be four, soon. I make my clothes exactly the way I want them, and then I wear them over and over again. Eventually they wear out, and I cut them up and make them into other things: quilts and potholders and so on, to give as gifts or use around the house. It works out that I generally need to replace one of each category each year. That means that I make one new knit, one dress, one top and one or two bottoms a year. I buy new shoes, coats and underwear as I need them, usually secondhand or from ethical companies.

Of course, having a tiny wardrobe isn’t going to save the world. But it was one of my first steps to making a significant difference. And I do believe that I make a significant difference. Every time I refuse to buy wrapped cheese, every time I log onto The Life You Can Save, every time I get on a train instead of an airplane. Spending less on shopping means that I have more money to donate or spend with trusted companies. Making my own clothes, and making them precisely as I want them, ironically means that I spend less time thinking about my clothes and more time thinking about things that matter. Each night I put away the few things that have needed to be washed. Each morning I put on whatever is clean and suitable for the demands of the day. I might wear the same things over and over again, but I couldn’t care less. I love all of my clothes and feel fabulous in them.

If you wanted to, you could work through all the patterns with me and, at the end of three years, we’d have sibling wardrobes. In different colours, no doubt, and different patterns and materials, but essentially the same. That would be fun. Equally, I’d be happy if people made just one of my patterns, so that they had that one great dress, or sweater, or pair of socks, and stopped buying more and more and more. Because the world just can’t take it any longer.

In my messy, imperfect life, making my own clothes is one of many things that I do to try to make a difference. I make mistakes all the time (though not in my patterns, I hope!), but I keep on trying. The internet is full of inspirational people sharing their personal passions. This is my offering: make the world the way you want it to be, from the clothes on your back to the cares in your head. Be conscious. Most of all, know that the choices you make do matter. We might not all be politicians or aid workers or company bosses. But we are the grown ups now.

Madeleine

Do you buy lots of clothes, in the search for the ‘perfect’ this or that? Do you make any of your own? What would your ideal wardrobe look like, in order to work for you and the world around you?