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?

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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.

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A Bit of Visible Mending and Thoughts on Designing

Mended sweater with elbow patch

It’s that time of year when I’m been working on a few bits of mending – darning socks, fixing unraveling mitten cuffs, all the things that need repair after a winter of wear. I posted about this on Instagram awhile back but wanted to give a bit more detail on this particular mending project, and since it’s Fashion Revolution Week it seemed apropos.

This photo shows the hole in one of the sweater elbows.

I’ve had this sweater of my husband’s sitting in my mending pile since last spring, and I finally decided to get to it. It needed elbow patches and I decided I would knit some to sew on. My local yarn shop carries this Regia 4-ply Festival Color sock yarn, so I swung by and picked out a color that would coordinate with the sweater. Using US 0 (2mm) needles, I cast on 30 sts and knit two rectangles about 4 1/2 inches long. I then bound off and sewed the new patches on. Voilà!

If you’re looking for more sweater mending ideas, I highly recommend Tom of Holland’s blog. I also have a Pinterest board with visible mending inspiration. And of course Katrina Rodabaugh’s book Mending Matters is a good reference too.

I’ve been relatively quiet so far this year on the design front. I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on last year’s designs and where I want to go next as a designer. Sustainability and intentionality are core to what I do, and the best way to have a sustainable wardrobe is to wear quality garments and keep them around for a long time. So I want to design garments that are truly wearable, and whatever your price point for yarn, will be items that you want to keep around and take care of. Which for me right now means taking my time with the design process. I am hoping to design more sweaters and garments this year, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’m doing a lot of swatching; here is a sneak peak of something I’ve been playing around with.

Photo shows a knitted swatch with a textured pattern in light gray yarn.
I’ve been playing around with texture lately.

What are the most wearable knit pieces in your wardrobe?

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