Thoughts On Sustainability In Crafting

This past weekend I had a chance to listen to a panel on ‘Sustainability in the Crafting Community’ during the virtual NY Sheep and Wool Festival. The panel was presented by Merritt Bookstore and included Kathy Hattori, Clara Parkes, Sonya Philip, Katrina Rodabaugh, Adrienne Rodriguez, Hannah Thiessen, and Kristine Vejar. A wide range of approaches was discussed, and I thought this would be a good time to reflect further on my thoughts around this topic, which is one of my core values as a crafter and business owner.

Topics on the panel ranged from mending to mindful use of materials to thrifting and natural dyeing. Here are some ways I personally try to be more sustainable in both my crafting and my design work:

  1. Being mindful about what I make and how much material I purchase and use. I love to make (and design) sweaters, but honestly I’m not sure how many sweaters I personally need right now. So maybe this year I will make other things that I need or that I can gift. I also don’t stash a lot of yarn, and I try to buy a project quantity of yarn so that I don’t have all those odd single skeins no one knows what to do with. I generally have at least an idea whether I might actually make socks with that yarn I’m eyeing or whether I will need a sweater or shawl quantity, and I purchase accordingly.
  2. Designing and knitting things I will wear for a long time. This means being less trendy and more timeless in my style choices, and choosing details and finishing techniques that will help a garment to wear well. For me it also often means knitting with finer yarn on smaller needles. Not everyone enjoys knitting sweaters with fingering weight yarn on US #3 needles, but it has the added benefits of giving me more hours of knitting enjoyment per project and is often more economical as well, since finer yarns contain more yardage per skein.
  3. Using (mostly) good quality, natural fiber materials. This is probably one of the first aspects most people think about when they think about sustainability. Not only do these materials last a long time, but when they’ve reached the end of their life they can be more easily broken down. That doesn’t mean I never use sock yarn that contains nylon, or superwash yarn for a gift meant for someone who throws everything in the wash. (My sister-in-law is notorious for shrinking sweaters.) And I won’t judge you for using acrylic yarn if it’s what you’re going to wear for a long time. If there was one main takeaway from the panel, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability. It’s about making mindful choices. I personally happen to love wool and linen especially, so that is what I use.
  4. Using local and breed-specific yarn. This is something I am really passionate about – there is an astonishing variety of wool textures and natural colors available if you look beyond large scale commercial processors, and as a designer it keeps me endlessly inspired. I can find some really nice yarn from farms that are local to me, and buying yarn from different sheep breeds helps keep those breeds from dying out, maintaining genetic diversity. It also means I can find wools that are suited to a variety of purposes! There are definitely supply chain issues with producing these yarns affordably, as was discussed in the panel, and and I encourage you to read Clara Parkes’ book Vanishing Fleece to learn more. It can be a challenge to design with yarns that aren’t widely distributed and may vary from year to year, but despite these issues I am hoping to design more with local yarns in the near future.

What are your favorite tips for being more sustainable with your crafting?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Knits gifts now available

A teal and gray striped hat and mitts on a stone board lay on a bamboo mat. An evergreen bough sits to the left.
Icy Stripes Hat and Mitts. Photo courtesy of Interweave.

I’m excited to have both a pattern and a technique article (my first article!) in this year’s Interweave Knits: Gifts edition. The Icy Stripes Hat and Mitts pattern was inspired by two skeins of vintage Germantown worsted yarn that I found in a thrift shop. (If you don’t know the story behind the original Germantown yarns, you can read more in a Kelbourne Woolens’ blog post.) What better project for such a classic yarn than a classic striped hat and fingerless mitts! This hat and mitts are knitted in Blue Sky Fibers Woolstok Worsted, a deliciously soft and squishy 100% wool yarn.

The accompanying article covers two methods of knitting jogless one-row stripes in the round using helical knitting knitting techniques. You can purchase the individual pattern of the Icy Stripes Hat and Mitts or a digital edition of the magazine on the Interweave website.

Speaking of techniques, I’m planning a few technique posts here on the blog – on topics like how to memorize a cable pattern or how to choose colors for Fair Isle knitting. Stay tuned – and let me know what you’d like to see!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.


Spinning Project Roundup

I confess I haven’t been knitting all that much lately. True, it’s summer in North Carolina, and some afternoons it’s just too hot to knit. But like many people in these COVID times, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the things that usually give me joy. I have, however, been doing a lot of spinning. There is something so fundamental about the rhythm of the spinning wheel (or spindle) that I have found comforting.

I’ve already written about my main Tour de Fleece project. I had a bit of time left after finishing my mini skeins, so I did some sampling on another Three Waters Farm colorway: Radicchio (also on the Polwarth/ silk base). I plan to use it for colorwork, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted a 2- or 3-ply yarn. So I took a third of the braid, which is one complete color sequence, and tried both a straight 2-ply and a chain-ply. I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to get the colors to line up so well in the 2-ply, and I like the way they reflect the light more than the chain-ply, so I think I will do the rest of the braid that way. First I want to swatch it to see if I’m happy with the length of the repeat.

Two small skeins of handspun yarn in shades of pink, turquoise and gold on a concrete and brick step.
Handspun Polwarth/ silk yarn from Three Waters Farm in colorway Radicchio. On the left is the straight 2-pym on the right the chain ply.

I’ve also completed my first Shave ‘Em to Save ‘Em project, which I shared on Instagram. I bought Clun Forest roving from Left Hand Wool Company – you may recall I got my hands on some Clun Forest x Corriedale awhile back (I wrote about it here), and I really wanted to see how it compared to 100% Clun Forest. This is also my first time spinning a Down-type breed (Clun Forest isn’t one of the true Down breeds, but it has similar characteristics). This roving had the same spongy, springy quality as the Corriedale cross I had spun, but it’s less soft. It’s not prickly, though, and I think it will do nicely as socks. I plied it with a high twist with that purpose in mind – so much so that the finished yarn is a bit wavy. I’m confident that it will knit up okay, though. I’m also thinking of dyeing it using walnuts or other natural dyes I have available.

A skein of undyed cream-colored Clun Forest yarn sits on a wood table.
The finished Clun Forest sock yarn.

Before starting the sock yarn, I also took a portion of the roving and spun it a bit thicker for my blanket project and knit it up into a hexagon. I’ve got 10 hexagons so far, representing 9 different sheep breeds (I’ve used Corriedale with two different natural dyes; the rest are undyed.) I figure I need at least 24 hexagon pieces to make a small blanket, so I need to spin a few more breeds!

A knitted hexagon in cream-colored yarn, still on the needles, sits on a wooden table.
My Clun Forest blanket ‘square’.

For updates and special offers, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter. You will receive a code for 30% off any of my self-published patterns.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.


Thoughts on Inclusion in the Knitting Community

There have been multiple conversations happening recently around inclusion in the knitting world, and I wanted to write my thoughts about these conversations in one place. It’s probably overdue, but it’s given me a chance to really think through all of the issues that are being discussed.

My core values as a business are sustainability, community, and integrity, and I want to talk about what those mean to me.

Sustainability

I have been concerned about environmental impact for a long time. Before starting this business I worked as an environmental engineer, and my concern about fast fashion is one of the reasons I started making many of my own clothes.

As a designer sustainability to me means, first and foremost, designing for longevity. I want you to knit a garment that will last, and that is modern and fresh but still timeless enough not to be cast aside when the next trend comes along. It also means using natural, low impact materials as much as possible. It does not mean following a certain design aesthetic. I also love to knit with yarns that are local to me and have knit myself two sweaters using only yarns available from a local farm. I am an active member of the Piedmont Fibershed, which seeks to support an equitable, local fiber economy in my region. I am exploring ways to use more local fibers in my designs while allowing for a yarn selection that is locally available to the knitter.

It’s true that sustainable materials can cost more because they reflect the true cost of manufacturing and fair labor standards. However, I do design patterns using yarns at a variety of price points that I feel are going to stand up well. I always give full yardage information and yarn content and characteristics in my patterns, and my test knitters use a range of yarns in their projects. I also give yardage information so that you don’t end up buying significantly more yarn than you need for the project, another way of making knitting more sustainable – just keep in mind that yardage requirements are estimates and may vary depending on the yarn chosen and how you knit.

Community

I unequivocally believe in a community where everyone is welcome. While I have been in engaged in anti-racist learning and action personally over the past several years, as a white woman whose sole employee is me, and who doesn’t yet have a large audience or platform, it’s tempting to sit back and dream about what I can do once my business grows. But the thing is, I already support small, local and independent businesses whenever I can. And I can do more to support independent BIPOC-owned businesses. I am currently auditing where I spend my dollars and looking for ways to align my spending with my values. And I can look for collaborations that support those businesses and makers too. I also am committed to giving a percentage of my income back to the community, and I’m making it a priority to shift my support to organizations that are run by the communities they serve.

Size Inclusivity

All of my independently published garment designs are sized to fit at least a 30-60 inch bust measurement, and I am continually working on improving my sizing. If you’d like to help with that please participate in my test knits! I will commit to working with you on any issues that arise so that you come away with a garment that you’re happy with.

Accessibilty

To tell you the truth, this is an area I am still learning about. I am looking into making my patterns, as well as my website and social media, more accessible. I do work hard to write my patterns clearly and succinctly so they are easy to follow for as many knitters as possible. I offer directions in both charted and written form where it is useful, and going forward I plan to include symbols as well as colors in my colorwork charts so they are easier to read and can be printed in black and white. Since Ravelry’s new design has made it inaccessible to many, I am working on making more of my knitting patterns available on Etsy, in both print and digital format, and most of my independently published patterns are already available on the LoveCrafts website. You can find links to those sources on my front page.

Integrity

I chose to go into business for myself because I wanted my work to align with my life and my values, and to truly reflect who I am in the world. All of this is a work in progress, and I’m not claiming to do any of it perfectly. I do commit to continuing to work toward the kind of fiber community I want to see, and to be accountable in my work.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Eight skeins of solid-colored Polwarth/ silk yarn in various colors

Tour de Fleece Spinning

This year I joined the Three Waters Farm Tour de Fleece team for the second time. I decided to spin the braid of the Mountain’s Edge colorway on Polwarth/ Silk from my stash. Until now I’ve been somewhat intimidated by hand dyed braids (if you’ve been following me you’ll notice I spin a lot of undyed roving and top), but I decided to get a bit adventurous this time.

A braid of handyed fiber in shades of teal, purple, yellow and brown.
Mountain’s Edge on 85% Polwarth/ 15% silk from Three Waters Farm

Much as I love to look at beautiful hand-dyed fiber, I don’t really knit with variegated yarns all that much. I’m not one for gradient or self-striping yarns, except for sock knitting. I guess I’m too much of a control freak – I like to have control over the color changes. So I decided to break down the braid and spin mini skeins to use in colorwork knitting. When I broke down the braid, I ended up with sections where two colors were mixed, and so I was inspired to try a bit of color mixing with my handcards. I was inspired by an article in Spin Off last summer (?) [Spin Off article] about creating tweed yarns.

I grouped my leftover sections into three piles: teal/ purple , teal/ yellow, and purple/ gray/ white. I used my handcards to blend those sections as evenly as I could, then removed them from the cards (without forming rolags, so the fibers were still somewhat directional) and did a bit more blending by hand as I formed the fibers into a loose roving. I didn’t get a great picture, but you can see my roving in the photo below.

Nests of blended, dyed roving.
Blended Rovings

And here are the resulting yarns. At the top you can see the full set of mini skeins from this braid.

Three mini skeins of handspun yarn in blue, yellow and lavender.
The resulting blended yarns

I think the blends turned out beautifully, and I can envision combining the skeins in any number of ways for colorwork. I spun them into a fingering weight (the Polwarth did fluff up a bit after washing), and with the sheen from the silk these will combine wonderfully with one of my favorite colorwork yarns, Tukuwool fingering. In fact, I’m thinking my first project will be to use the blue blend, and maybe a bit of the yellow or green, in a cardigan I’ve been planning for my niece.

Photo of a childs cardigan pattern next to three skeins of yarn.

Want more of this delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and receive a code for 30% off one of my patterns.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.