Slow Fashion October, Week 2: SMALL — and some of my hardest working garments

Slow Fashion October, Week 2: SMALL — and the hardest working garments in my closet

So again, WOW on the response so far to Slow Fashion October. Today begins Week 2 and our theme is SMALL — we’re talking handmade / living with less / quality over quantity / the capsule wardrobe / indie fashion / small-batch makers / sustainability in every sense. I’d love to hear about everything from your favorite local-to-you designers to how and when you choose to add new items to your closet, wherever they may come from. A lot of people have pledged to spend this month really evaluating their wardrobes and their works-in-progress and making considered decisions about what stays, what gets finished/frogged/donated, what the gaps are, and how those will get filled. So this week should be great!

For me, for starters, I thought I’d show you the Gallery Dress I finished last month and keep going on about. I didn’t really realize it until it was finished, but this dress epitomizes the kind of thing I want in my small closet, being so incredibly versatile and wearable. (Albeit linen.) A few weeks ago, Kathy Cadigan came to Nashville to photograph a bunch of Fringe stuff with me over the course of two days. I had just finished the dress and couldn’t stop wearing it, and the night before our shoot, I was demonstrating to her that I could pull almost anything out of my closet, throw it on with this dress, and look (and feel) pretty damn great. So the next morning, we took a little bit of time to shoot some of those variations. (In our still-empty new living room, which I now think we should never furnish.) At the time, I wasn’t thinking of it as a Slow Fashion October post, but as I waited for the images and thought about it, I realized one of the most interesting parts is what I chose to grab for these photos. I didn’t do a lot of strategizing about what to include, wasn’t trying too hard to make it any particularly pointed range of looks. But as it happens, the things I reached for were some of some of my all-time favorites. The way that all of these beloved, hardworking, long-lasting pieces go together is exactly what I’m striving for with any new garment I decide to make or buy.

The dark spot in this is that some of these things are not of known origins, having been purchased before I began paying attention. So all I can do is hope that no humans were harmed in their making, wear them as long as possible, and do all I can to avoid new things being manufactured on my behalf.

TOP: Worn with a trench vest from J.Crew circa 2009 or ’10. Vests and trench coats are two of my favorite things, so I bought this immediately upon seeing it several years ago, and I can’t imagine there will ever be a year of my life that I don’t wear it. I love it immeasurably. I see now that it was made in the Philippines, hopefully in a reputable factory, but I don’t know. The tote is via Fringe Supply Co, made by a small and conscientious San Francisco company whose workroom I have visited. The boots are new J.Crew, made in Romania, and I wish I could know more than that. Ethical shoes are one of the hardest challenges. Regardless, I’ll be wearing these for years to come.

Slow Fashion October, Week 2: SMALL — and the hardest working garments in my closet

Paired here with the denim shirt I wear probably 150 days a year (including in a ridiculous number Fringe Supply Co. photos). It’s Madewell from several years ago, a dead-ringer for an identical predecessor I wore for at least ten years, and was made in China, so all the same caveats as above. When the time comes, I vow to sew my own replacement. The bag is handmade. The boots are Gap — any markings have worn off, but given what I paid for them I’m guessing they were made in China.

Slow Fashion October, Week 2: SMALL — and the hardest working garments in my closet

Here it is on its own. I was considering this one a try-out of the pattern and sewed it from some inexpensive linen I had on hand — made in China, purchased at JoAnn. It’s the dress version of the Gallery Tunic and Dress pattern (obviously), lengthened by 1.5 inches, band collar variation, and I left off the sleeves, finished the edges with bias. I’ll absolutely be making it again and will address the one fit issue which is the way it wants to form pleats at the shoulders. After consulting Liesl about it, I need to compare the slope of the shoulders to some other patterns that sit better on my frame and figure out how to adjust for that. If you sew and pay attention to this stuff, you know finding fabric that was not made in China is incredibly difficult, and I hope we’ll be able to explore that this month. Handmade bag. And J.Crew sandals from a couple summers ago, made in Italy.

Slow Fashion October, Week 2: SMALL — and the hardest working garments in my closet

This outfit makes my heart sing. The sweater is designed and knitted by me — version two of this one, pattern coming soon — and the bag is handmade by Poglia in NYC (a definite investment piece that will weather beautifully over the years). I would wear this every single day if I could get away with it. But what’s especially pleasing to me about it is that I sketched it and then I made it come true.

Slow Fashion October, Week 2: SMALL — and the hardest working garments in my closet

So we went on to shoot all the planned stuff for two days, and on the third morning, I got up and got dressed to drop Kathy at the airport and head to work. I put the dress back on and pulled my favorite sweatshirt over my head, and Kathy got the camera back out for one last shot. I don’t even know how old this sweatshirt is or where it came from. The tags are long gone. It has holes and stains and paint splatters, and should really never leave the house, but I love it too much to let it go. I’m going to attempt to copy it for myself, and also want to knit a sweater that fits exactly like this, for pulling on over everything. My pouch is handmade by Bookhou, one of the most thoughtful and admirable makers I know. (Returning to Fringe Supply Co. soon.)

I’m not sure I’ve ever owned a garment that elicited as many compliments this dress does, which isn’t why I wear it multiple times a week, but is a pretty nice benefit! I’m still wearing it, even though it’s linen and the weather has taken a serious turn, so if you expect to run into me anytime soon, odds are I’ll have it on.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Week 1, You (me, all of us)

Photos by Kathy Cadigan

101 thoughts on “Slow Fashion October, Week 2: SMALL — and some of my hardest working garments

  1. Colder weather calls for tights/leggings/hand knit leg warmers with your lovely dress!!

  2. I appreciate your reflections on where things come from and trying to find a balance…
    I’ve been working on knitting and sewing projects for my tiny, new great-nephew! Play mat from scraps, pants from felted wool sweaters, and lots of knitting. He’s very fashionable! Some of the yarn I have in my stash is from the early 80s when I worked in a very upscale knitting shop in NYC…

  3. I have a simple black linen tunic dress that serves this role in my closet. I made it recently to relate one that I has been wearing for 10 years. I am going to make one in brown and one in grey and I will be set.

  4. Firstly, I like the simplicity of that dress and could see how it’d work well in a variety of closets. I often find that I make things for myself out of patterned fabric, which can limit their functionality. It’s akin to the fact that I wear a lot of black yet have never knitted a black sweater for myself (who knows what this is about?). I’ve been trying to “curate” my closet for awhile and am preparing for a major closet (and other items) reckoning. I think there’s a lot of noise in my closet – caused by dresses and outfits that I was seduced by but may not have actually loved but yet have a hard time getting rid of (long clause, sorry). I feel like things like Slow Fashion October as well as my upcoming closet purge may actually help me get to a better picture of who I am and how I want to live my life.

    • A flippant response to your thoughtfulness, claudia… you haven’t knitted a black sweater because it is an excruciating thing to do! Knitting black yarn can only happen in full daylight or you send yourself blind (painful experience, here…).

      • Can’t agree more; choose a neutral light-colored sweater to make to go with black clothes. It’s much kinder to your eyes.

      • Ha, ha, ha, this is SO true! I knit a very dark navy blue garment not long ago. To complicate matters, I decided to make substantial modifications to the pattern, to the point that counting rows and stitches was very necessary. Suffice to say, by the end of it, I knew exactly why there were so few black FOs on Ravelry. And now my husband wants a coal black sweater. I keep procrastinating….

      • Knitting in black (or dark navy or purple) is very difficult especially since so much of my knitting time is in the evening. I have a friend who knitted something in a colour that she didn’t end up liking very much even though she loved how it fit – so she overdyed it. But getting a true black is incredibly difficult from what I understand about dying (not loads).

    • Claudia, I think a lot of us do the same thing. I get totally seduced by complicated patterns or things that look fun to make, but they don’t always fit into what I actually wear.

  5. The dress looks great on you! For me,* small* is becoming finding a ‘uniform’ of clothes that suits my body type, style, and maintenance routine (i.e., no dry cleaning, rarely iron). I keep coming back to the Harpers Bazaar article from earlier this year, by an art director who always wears black trousers and a white shirt – every day! This uniform has given her more time and more confidence. I would love build a uniform of handmade items/ethical purchases. I am still working on finding my uniform, but here is a link to the article in case anyone is interested:

  6. Gah, Karen, I love this post! You totally “get” this pattern, which makes me so happy. I’ve been thinking a lot about the small topic for the past few months and really need to write a post about it, particularly as it relates to your slow fashion theme. I’m going to try to find some time this afternoon (maybe to slow down…) and finally write it. Thanks for a lovely post!

  7. Since reading your blog I am aware how much yarn I bought just because I loved the color! Nothing goes with nothing as it is every shade of the rainbow. It appears the key is to select color WISELY-good ol neutrals and then your wardrobe will have a cohesive look. Perhaps a bright knitted scarf or hat thrown in. I am now more focused on making an item that had some forethought-will it go with more than 3 items? Do I absolutely love the yarn?
    I tend to shy away from more expensive yarns because I am a new knitter but then I see a $100 pile of yarn that is one or two skeins and it just sits there.
    Thank you for the extra attention of being AWARE and not making impulse purchases. Perhaps I will take a “before” pic of my overstuffed closet and how I weed through it to make it accessible and functional:)

  8. All looks wonderful, but I especially like it with your sleeveless turtleneck. I think that little sweater will also work great as a layering piece over a long sleeve tee.

    I love the whole idea of a minimal wardrobe. With that in mind, I have been doing some serious closet purging in the last several months. An especially helpful book to get that process rolling, is “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.

    Kondo’s whole concept is that the key is to only keep the things that really bring you joy, and releasing the rest of it into the world so that it might bring joy to someone else. With that in mind, I now give things away with pleasure, instead of trying to sell it.

    So, is Chinese silk a no-no when it comes to ethical fashion? I love silk. I wash it before sewing with it (so as to avoid dry cleaning) and now I am even dyeing it myself. Yesterday, I came up with a charming, easy way to print it and thought it would be fun to share, but now I’m not so sure. :-\

      • Diane, I have found it so useful. She has a method of folding/rolling things like tees and jeans that makes better usage of the space without smushing the garment in the process. And the visibility of the items makes dressing and maintaining the neatness, a lot easier.

        I am still working on the best ways to store my knits. It gets a little more complicated when it comes to shawls and sweaters. Especially when the closet space is as limited as mine.

    • People in China need jobs, too — I hate condemning whole continents. The problem, whether something is made in the US or China or anywhere else, is being to able to know exactly where it was made and whether the workers were sufficiently compensated and the working conditions safe and clean. Our labor laws don’t *guarantee* nobody ever violates them. But the farther away a factory is, the less specifically identified, the laxer the country’s labor laws, the less sure you can be that your money didn’t go into the pocket of exploiters rather than responsible employers.

      Re my turtleneck, yes, it’s an excellent layering piece. I especially love it over rolled-up shirt sleeves or a thin cotton turtleneck tee.

    • I read the Kondo book, too, and will be using it to sort my closet and belongings. The folding thing is key! One of my current mantras is downscale my belongings and upscale my life.

  9. I’m a long-time reader of your blog, and I just had to comment to say that the fourth outfit in this post — your dress with your knit vest and those boots and that bag! — is killer. I’m totally copying you. That being said, I’d appreciate some guidance: I’m just getting started in the world of hand-made clothing, and I love this series for the way it’s made me think not only about my closet, but also my possessions in general. I learned to knit a few years ago, and would love to start sewing some of my own clothes. (My hand-made clothing adventures actually started with making some clothes for my baby.) Do you think the dress you made is a suitable pattern for someone new to sewing clothes? And any suggestions for a fabric that might more easily cross seasons than linen? Thanks!

  10. This whole subject makes me crazy-happy! Because of moving, on promise for this month: a hat for me of my husband’s handspun. I don’t go to malls/clothing stores any more. (Yeah!) Most of my clothes are thrift store. Some on-line new purchases (underwear, shoes, socks – some staple base t-shirts.) I could live in my denim shirts with a tee underneath and be happy. But for dress up times, having an incredible designer in our own gallery took my dreams of “art clothes” to reality – oh, my: Teri Jo Summer. (Be still my heart!) Shoes/sandals – I love shoes but moving toward minimalist and what gives me joy, its now all about Merrells (even the “dress” shoes I wear) with a Teva sandal thrown in. I realized going through the decluttering process that my closet contained shoes I liked the “idea” of but actually didn’t wear because they weren’t comfortable. Once I can get back to sewing, I’m starting to “art up” my denim shirts in fun ways. Oh, wow… I could go on…

  11. So inspiring! Seeing a minimal wardrobe “in action” makes it seem doable. And beautiful!

    It seems most people need to pare down; I have the opposite problem – I now have a very small “wardrobe” (it hardly merits the name) and am building almost from scratch. It’s great to see that I won’t need a lot of pieces – just to choose them carefully.

    As I’m also going to be constructing a workspace and assembling tools, I’d love to read more about how people apply the concepts of Slow Fashion to their tools, furniture, and spaces, as well as the clothing itself.

    I’ve just posted about week 1 at

  12. That was such a fun and inspiring few days in Nashville with you, Karen! And I love that you received compliments on your beautiful dress everywhere we went! xo

  13. Your post and honesty have taken a lot of weight off my shoulders!! I, too, have a few favorites that I have worn (and will continue to wear) for years with questionable history… I will now commit to wearing them as long as possible and getting an ethical replacement when the time comes. I think that is the best way to respect the person who made the item. wherever they may be. Also, you take captivating photos!

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  15. Karen, you should be on commission! I bought and made the endless summer tunic this summer after seeing yours, and now I just bought the dress pattern.

  16. Starting little- that is I’m knitting winter hats for husband, children and grandchildren– and also for the homeless. These are Chanukah presents.
    I love paring down my stuff and working towards truly green purchases which also means kind to the makers. The truth is there is always a small collection of things I wear all the time. I have one shirt that I use as the standard measure for my knitted tops.

  17. Earlier this year I bought a sweatshirt like your last photo from Everlane – another transparent company – and which has quickly become a favourite too. I volunteer at a non-profit thrift shop so have added some better quality items to my wardrobe, but Slow October is causing me to rethink my purchases there – am I buying something just because it is such a good deal? I always have a lot of hand knits to wear too,….but I love knitting…..and wool never wears out…..what to do? !!!!

    • Best post EVER! I so relate to your sentiments re ethics and and the maker movement. I love that there is a renewed interest in making things, and am (also) inspired by the added level of accountability and sustainability and all the other “bilities”. But as someone who has been making things since I could…well…make anything at all…the real excitement for me is in sharing craft and skills and the deep, soulful fulfillment that comes from doing that in the best way possible. So, maybe Instagram is the answer as to how to fully share these things. I will join and look for you there, Susan. Again, thanks for a post that speaks to my heart.

  18. wow, i love this type of post! i love that you have found a load of ways to wear a dress you love! that’s the way to rock a simple wardrobe. i have posted another slow fashion october post and would love it if anyone would want to stop by. i’ve been so enjoying looking through all that’s out there on this topic- so many different approaches and styles- very inspiring! thanks again!

  19. I love wardrobe pieces that can be styled in different ways, I have such a hard time choosing items with that type of vision, so I always admire it when people do it well. Since I crawl around on the floor with kids for a lot of the day, I stick to really basic wardrobe pieces. I also layer a lot, so I can peel back a layer if I have a kid who is making me sweat on a given day ;)

    Here’s my full post for this week:

  20. Love this post and your thoughtful approach to building a wardrobe. I bought no clothes this year except for two midi skirts, one in denim and one in leather, knowing they work perfectly for my shape and will go with about everything. An unexpected reduction in our budget made me seriously reconsider my shopping habits, and I found I was often shopping at lunch time out of habit or boredom. My wardrobe contain items I have never worn. This month is an opportunity for me to sort things out, sell my most beautiful unused items, recycle others and reorganize. And I’ve been on a serious yarn shopping diet too, once I realized my stash was not only taking over my life, space, but that I never seemed to have the colors I truly loved and wanted to knit. Another big incentive is a planned move in a few months. The less we’ll have to bring along, the better.

  21. Karen, in your outfit descriptions you’ve given a lot of detail about what items are made of and where they came from, but in two of the pictures you just say handmade bag. I really like those bags and was wondering if they are from a pattern that can be shared.

  22. Love this approach to building a thoughtful wardrobe. I’m closer to the beginning of my journey of choosing ethically produced clothing. I really resonate with the idea that workers should be treated fairly, no matter where they live. On my blog post for week two, I tackled the idea of sustainability and wasting less. I think the two are related, but have some important differences. I’m not going to throw out my factory-made clothes just because they’re polyester or made in China. Instead, I try to honor the people who made them by getting the most wear and taking the best care of them…and committing to more sustainable choices when the time comes…

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  24. I’m loving these posts! Such a great thing to think about. As far as ethical footwear goes, have you heard of Nisolo shoes? The company is based in Nashville and I’m pretty sure they have a store or showroom, and they’re made in Peru by workers that are paid a very fair wage. I don’t have a pair, but I’m saving up my pennies for one. :)

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  28. I am just loving everything that’s being shared through Slow Fashion October – I’ve only begun thinking about some of these ideas, especially using sustainable/ethically sourced materials and tools for my making. I’m so glad you organized this, Karen! Also, you’ve totally convinced me to make my own Gallery Dress/Tunic – the possibilities are endless.

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  34. Thank you for this slow fashion october!
    I have no blog, Facebook or Instagram account, so i thought i may write my thoughts here…
    Last week i wrote in my diairy: Less garments, in which i feel comfortable and pretty and myself, and feminine without feeling overdressed. Knit and sew slowly and thoughtfully, doing my best to make the best garment possible.
    As for this week: stop sewing for the moment, because i discovered during the week that i dont really enjoy the time spent sewing! It irritates me, most of the time. I think what i liked in the first place was hand sewing. It calmed me down. Buying a sewing machine was not a good idea for me. What i really like is embroidery, but it s difficult to make really useful items!
    Also, buying only what i really need, or what i ve dreamed of for long enough!… And remember that happiness is never related to things!

  35. The dress is perfect and looks amazing on you. I love the feeling of making something that you WANT to wear every day. I have a few things like that and hope to have more in the future.
    Everlane makes a similar sweatshirt to the one in your last photo. I have one and love it. And their transparent company is pretty inspiring (even though not perfect).

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  37. I’m interpreting “small” as “local” this week. Just spent a morning in the local ravine collecting sumac berries, buckthorn berries and curly dock for some natural dye experiments. I’m currently working through an 8 lb Romney fleece (also locally sourced) and eventually plan to have a handspun, handknit sweater in a naturally dyed palette.

  38. This is a totally random comment inspired by all the “Made In” locations from your items. I have worked in fashion (textile and hardware development among other areas) for a while which is where I learned that just because something is labeled Made In (we’ll use Italy as an example), it doesn’t mean the item was really made there. An item can be made in China then shipped to Italy where they do one small finishing aspect – sewing on a tag, for example – anything small – and since something was done in Italy and the finished product ships from there it can legally be labeled Made In Italy. It’s well-known in the industry, but not as well-known among consumers. Unless a company is completely transparent about everything, or unless you know somebody who works at a company and has a vast knowledge of them, it’s nearly impossible to know the true source and process of items we purchase from larger companies.

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