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

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

Slow Fashion October, Week 1: YOU (me, all of us)

Happy first day of Slow Fashion October! If you haven’t seen the introduction (with the weekly themes/prompts), take a minute to read that over. The theme for this partial first week is YOU. As in you, me, all of us who are participating in any form. This is your chance to introduce yourself. Who are you — are you a knitter/sewer/mender/thrifter/weaver/small-batch-fashion designer? How did you come to be interested in the slow fashion movement, and what are you hoping to get out of this month? And do you have a special project in mind? This is also a time to think about how you want to participate — whether it’s daily, weekly or one contribution for the month; in the form of a comment here on the blog or in posts to your own blog and/or social media feeds. Whatever you’re comfortable with, that’s what you should do! If you do publish something on your blog, leave a link here for people to see, and be sure to use hashtag #slowfashionoctober on social media so everyone can follow along.

Each week, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite contributions here on the blog, and will also feature people in various ways on the @slowfashionoctober feed on Instagram.

For my part — for anyone who might be new here — I’m Karen Templer and this is my blog. Last year I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Nashville, where I live with my husband and run Fringe Supply Co. I’ve known how to sew pretty much my whole life but have done it very sporadically. Learning to knit four years ago reminded me how incredible it is to wear something you made with your own two hands, bringing me back to sewing. And tapping into the incredible community of makers online really raised my level of awareness of some of the more political issues around disposable fashion and the human and environmental costs thereof. I’ve written an essay for the current issue of Amirisu about much of my motivation for building a handmade and/or known-origins wardrobe, and talked quite a bit about it in my Woolful podcast interview last winter. I also did an interview for Curious Handmade recently, wherein she asked a lot of really great questions around these subjects. So if you want to know more about me and where all of this is coming from, I’d recommend reading that interview! I also did a blog post last year about my Handmade wardrobe role models, and hope you’ll take a look at that if you missed it.

I’ll be posting here on the blog and on my @karentempler Instagram feed throughout the month, following the weekly themes. And my special project for the month will be to sew a garment from fabric my friend Allison Volek-Shelton of Shutters and Shuttles is weaving for me. So expect periodic check-ins on that project, as well. (And wish me luck! So scary.) To learn more about Allison, listen to her on last week’s episode of Woolful.

p.s. SPEAKING OF AMIRISU, a little bit of shop news: Yesterday we got another short stack of the fall issue of Amirisu (the one with my Slotober essay), and also have some amazing new additions to the vintage fiber mill spindles for you. Check it out!


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Get ready!

My weekend with Liesl

My weekend with Liesl

I had the most remarkable weekend and want to tell you guys all about it, but it’s big jumble of a story about friends and family and bust size and handmade clothes and … I hardly know where to begin. So let me start here:

When I was at Squam last June with lots of people asking about our decision to move to Nashville, several said, “Have you heard about Anna Maria Horner’s thing, Craft South?” I hadn’t, and I knew the name Anna Maria Horner only as someone big in the sewing world, which I wasn’t especially tuned into at the time. When I got home and looked it up, I discovered that Craft South was a yarn and fabric store that was nearly a year from birth, but in the meantime it was a series of weekend-long workshops, one of which was three days with Liesl Gibson, a pattern designer I’d been following on Instagram (where she’s @lieslgibson and @oliverands). This was around the time I took a solemn vow to get past my Lifetime Beginner status as a sewer, and I wanted desperately to sign up for that workshop, but it coincided with the move in a way that just wasn’t possible. Plus it was crazy expensive and we were already taking on quite enough crazy for one summer, thankyouverymuch.

Shortly after we got here, I got a long and very sweet email from Anna Maria out of the blue, introducing herself and welcoming me to town, and her friendship has been one of the great blessings of the move. As Craft South got close to opening a few months ago, they sent out their workshop schedule for the new space, and I was thrilled to see Liesl’s class on there again. There was still the hard-to-swallow matter of the expense and it wasn’t entirely clear what it was about, other than something to do with fit, but I figured whatever she was teaching I wanted to learn it, and I didn’t want to miss another chance. So between Friday night and yesterday afternoon, I spent a total of 22.5 hours holed up at the shiny new shop with Liesl and Anna Maria and another 15 talented women, having a complexly wonderful and challenging time.

My weekend with Liesl

A few weeks ago, we got an email about what to bring to class and the main thing was “a fitted dress sewing pattern with either princess seams or a basic bust dart.” In other words, the last garment you’d ever expect to see me in! But whatever — I want to understand how sewing works at least as well as I understand how knitting works (so I can be free to modify or improvise in the same way I do with knitting), and if that meant learning the mechanics of bust darts, I’m game! So Liesl — who is utterly lovely in every way — taught us how to do a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) and its more applicable counterpart, in my case, the Small Bust Adjustment (SBA). She taught us how to make a Muslin like a pro, and we all spread out with our tracing paper and muslin and deliciously old-school carbon paper, and we sewed our first drafts. For the rest of the weekend, we took turns putting on our muslin, being pinned in by a friend, and having Liesl go over it with us inch by inch, explaining and marking tweaks to be made to get our bodices to more perfectly match our bodies — or in some cases, instructing us to start over, for whatever reason.

I started out thinking it was a slightly abstract exercise for me — that I was absorbing pattern theory to be applied in other, as-yet-undetermined ways — but somewhere along the line I got hooked. The main reason I’ve never worn a lot of fitted garments is that fitted garments don’t fit me. (You’ve all heard this song: If they fit my giant shoulders, they’re huge in the torso, and if they fit my torso, I can’t move my arms without ripping out the seams.) But it slowly dawned on me that here I was on the brink of having markings on a piece of tissue paper that I could translate into a closet full of garments that actually fit. Exactly the sort of total control I live for.

It didn’t hurt that I was just plain having a ton of fun, 100% absorbed in the activity, and happy in the company of these women. I was also riding a wave of nostalgia. We’d all talked on Friday night about how and when we learned to sew, and Liesl said something about her mom that rang so true for me but that I’d never specifically thought about — as hers had, my mom taught me at a very young age that patterns are modular and adaptable. And what an enormous impact that has had on me.

My mom is always with me when I’m sewing, as is my sister, in a sense. Each time I wind a bobbin or watch for the right seam allowance marking as I feed my fabric through the machine, I still hear my mom teaching me how, and I also hear myself teaching my sister, which I hope to finally do one day soon.

When we were little and shared a hideous inherited bedroom — our Holly Hobby bedspreads (made by mom) plunked down in a room with two bright yellow walls and two that were papered in a wide black-and-white stripe — my sister and I used to take my mother’s tracing wheel and run it all over our hand-me-down dresser, entranced by the constellations it carved in the soft old wood. Using Liesl’s carbon paper and tracing wheels, which I haven’t done since my mom first taught me how, I couldn’t help but think of them all — my mom and sister and my dad, who got so mad at us about that dresser — and the fact that they were together at a family reunion I was missing in order to take this class. There was some kind of Old Country radio show playing on the shop’s sound system, and in the afternoon it was a vintage recorded performance of Merle Haggard’s. I died the moment I heard him tell the audience the next song would be “Corrina Corrina,” the song my dad sings to my mother, Colleen, as “Colleena Colleena.”

On my drive home late Saturday night, I found myself elated at the prospect of being back there at 9:30 in the morning to start over. At that point, I had a pattern that fit me perfectly across the chest and shoulders, which I knew I’d be able to adapt to all sorts of sleeveless garments the likes of which I’d been unable to draft for myself before. But Liesl had marked a change to the armhole on my muslin that would make a sleeve fit me correctly. (In theory — I still have another draft to attempt.) I was savoring the notion of getting out my tracing paper again, tracing over that first draft (eliminating all the extraneous markings from the SBA in the process), making the armhole change, and marking up a new muslin. The prospect of seeing myself in a “garment” that fit me simultaneously in the torso and the sleeve was compelling enough all by itself, but the fact is, I had fallen in love with the process. It dawned on me that it has everything in common with what graphic design was when I was in art school in the ’90s, all the aspects I loved that were lost when it became a computer job — rulers and mark-making devices and meticulously annotated layers of tissue.

So I loved every minute, and walked away with three priceless slips of tracing paper and all the magic they contain.

My weekend with Liesl

Special thanks to Kay Gardiner, who happened into the shop on Saturday afternoon to my great delight, and who snapped the pic above of Anna Maria and me, wearing my first draft.


My first, sort-of Me Made May pledge

My first, sort-of Me Made May pledge

Me Made May kicked off last Friday and, while I’m excited to be seeing so many handmade outfits appearing in my IG feed, I’ve been feeling a little sad that my fledgling handmade wardrobe isn’t to a point where I can participate in any real way — especially since the vast majority of my me-mades are wool sweaters. When I wrote about my handmade wardrobe role models recently, I linked to Zoe’s overview from last year, and I just went and read this year’s version. I can’t pledge to wear a certain number or percentage of handmades this month, but I’ve decided to make a different kind of pledge. While I’m cheering everyone else on in their wears, I’m going to focus on making. So I hereby pledge to make one garment per week for the month of May, or four finished garments by the end of the month. But my bigger pledge to myself is to have assembled a meaningful handmade wardrobe (knitted and sewn) by next May!

If you’re not already doing so, keep an eye on the #memademay and #mmmay15 hashtags on Instagram this month.


Pictured are my Vintage Waistcoat, modified Wiksten Tanks No. 1 and No. 1a, and Togue Stripes tank

My handmade wardrobe role models

My handmade wardrobe role models

Ever since my Woolful interview first hit the airwaves, I’ve heard from a lot of people who say they were inspired by my views on the concept of a handmade wardrobe, which is really wonderful to hear. But I also owe a lot of my thinking to a lot of other people. On the podcast, beyond the sheer joy and satisfaction of making one’s own clothes, I talked mostly (as I recall) about wanting to exercise more control over my wardrobe — to not be at the mercy of what’s in stores — and about having some lovely handmade clothes in my closet that made me think less of mass-market stuff. Of course, there’s so much more to it. Way more than I could address in that conversation — or in this post, for that matter. But I want to at least scrape the surface—

There’s my general dislike of mass-produced goods and preference for things with character, patina and “presence of hand.” (I’ve always preferred second-hand or handmade furniture, for instance, but the same did not always go for my clothes.) There’s my distress at our culture of endless, needless manufacturing and (again, other than in my closet) desire to tread lightly on the earth — from turning off the light when I leave a room to driving the same car for as long as it agrees to run. There’s the issue of overseas factory working conditions, which I’ve read a lot more about in the past couple of years. (One of the most thought-provoking comments I read somewhere was that a conscientious company working with a foreign factory might make them sign an agreement saying they will use only non-slave, legal-age, local-minimum-wage compensated workers — as if having to stipulate this is not alarming enough — and that they will not subcontract the work. But it’s not uncommon for these factories to subcontract behind that company’s back, and there’s no way of knowing what the conditions might be like in those secret second-tier sites. In other words, we really have no idea where our mass-market clothes might have been made, or what we may have contributed to.) There’s the aesthetic and economical fact that store-bought clothes are generally not well-made, increasingly synthetic, and either overpriced as compared to the quality and material, or unsustainably cheap. Like I’ve said before, I don’t want to eat a hamburger anyone can afford to sell me for $1, and the same goes for shockingly cheap clothes. Where is the meat/fabric coming from, and who’s processing/making it under what conditions? There’s that epiphany I had last spring about wanting to be more connected to — and more responsible for — my clothes. That really is just scraping the surface. But more than anything else, what influenced me was a lot of other makers, in a variety of ways. These are just a few of the people who got me thinking:

TOP LEFT: Kristine Vejar. When I took up knitting, it also reignited my interest in sewing. My local yarn and fabric shop at that time was A Verb for Keeping Warm, owned by Kristine. The following year, Kristine launched Seam Allowance, a community of customers/followers who would each pledge to make at least 25% of their wardrobe — roughly one out of four things one might be wearing on any given day. I never took the pledge, and only made it to one meeting before moving away, but the idea has definitely stuck with me. (ICYMI: Kristine in Our Tools, Ourselves)
(pictured in a Fancy Tiger Sailor Top sewn from linen she dyed with cutch)

TOP RIGHT: Sonya Philip. It was at the Seam Allowance launch party that I first met (very briefly) Sonya Philip, who was then in the first year of her 100 Acts of Sewing project. Read this statement, if you haven’t before, but it’s also her very personal style and zest for what she’s up to that draw me in.
(pictured in layered garments sewn from her own patterns; the shawl pattern is Earth & Sky)

MIDDLE LEFT: Felicia Semple. I no longer remember how Craft Sessions founder Felicia and I first became online friends (she lives Down Under), only know that we’ve had a little mutual admiration society going on for a couple of years, and so I loved being paired with her on the Woolful episode. If by some chance you stopped listening at the end of my segment, go back and listen to hers tout de suite. Her enthusiasm, attitude and outlook on crafting amaze me. (And of course, I love her blog.) My favorite part of her Woolful interview was when she talked about being mindful not only that we make, but of not making in a way that’s as gluttonous and unsustainable as other forms of consumerism.  That’s my paraphrase, mind — go listen.
(pictured in her smartly modified Vitamin D cardigan; more pics/details on her blog)

MIDDLE RIGHT: Alyssa Minadeo. Alyssa is a good friend and invaluable collaborator of mine, and an amazingly talented sewer. (If you have one of the first-edition Fringe Supply Project Bags, Alyssa sewed it … after having worked with me on getting that bag out of my head and into three dimensions. More news on that soon, I hope.) She’s another person who is nearly always wearing something handmade — even her coat! — which seemed astonishing to me when I first met her. Her skill and output both made me want to sew more for myself, but in the meantime she made me some of the best clothes in my closet.
(pictured in a Kelly Skirt sewn from a Nani Iro fabric)

BOTTOM LEFT: Z. When I wrote about her on the blog in May 2013, she asked that I identify her only as “Z,” but she’s the one person whose handmade wardrobe I would take over any store shopping spree. She makes the most beautiful, wearable basics, and her pattern and fabric choices are right up my alley. Nobody would take a look at her closet full of impeccable clothes and think they were homemade. It’s the epitome of a handmade wardrobe, in my opinion.
(pictured in her Ondawa sweater; details/pics on her blog)

BOTTOM RIGHT: Me Made May/Fancy Ladies. A blogger named Zoe launched a campaign a couple of years ago called Me Made May, which I only really know of through Instagram. As with Seam Allowance, I believe it’s up to each participant how they define their participation, but the past two months-of-May I’ve followed the hashtag and been stunned and amazed at all of the people who have sufficient amounts of handmade clothes in their closets to be able to take a meaningful number of selfies in those clothes over the course of the month. None more so, though, than Fancy Jaime and Fancy Amber, the owners of Fancy Tiger Crafts (now friends of mine), whose handmade wardrobes are jaw-dropping in their skill and depth, as they’ve been building them over the course of many years.
(pictured in their Perkins Cove variations; details/pics on their former blog)

One other is a more indirect influence. I can already hear many of you asking where it is that I read what I’ve read in recent years about the socio-political costs of mass-market fashion, and honestly a lot of it has just been links from Sarai Mitnick’s Weekend Reading posts on her Coletterie blog (another Blog Crush of mine). I promise to make it a point to pass more of them along! (Just as soon as I figure out why her blog stopped showing up in my feed reader some time ago …)

Them’s my thoughts — in a nutshell. I’d love to hear yours—


CORRECTION: The original version of this post featured a photo of the Fancy Tiger ladies wearing Gudrun Johnston’s Northdale sample sweaters — my mistake! The photo was updated to one of the many of them wearing their own work.