On slowing

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Once, I was talking to a friend who owns a small, craft-related business, and she said something that was both humbling and comical:

We’re all talking about slow fashion but we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off!

She was being hyperbolic, I’m sure, but I couldn’t help but chuckle in agreement. I love making things, and, as I’m trying to do with/through this blog, I like exploring the origins of the materials and processes I use to make clothing. To me, ethical, regenerative, intentional making is inherently slow. As anyone who wants to know more about their materials has discovered — and I think so many people are doing an incredible job asking these important questions — there is no way to cut corners. To internalize the social and environmental costs requires extra time and money. And yet, we find ourselves living in an increasingly fast-paced world, tempted not only by the latest indie sewing pattern or lust-worthy fabric or yarn (raises hand guiltily), but by an amazing array of talent and inspiration, and simultaneously a heartbreaking, seemingly insurmountable level of human suffering and landscape devastation.

For me, these factors swirl together and whip me into a frenzy to do something. Something with my hands, which relieves the stress and anxiety of fast living; something, ideally, with local materials, which leads me to new relationships with people and place; something with a certain level of transparency, so I can reduce my reliance on far-off supply chains and untold damage; something in community, to be shared in this growing world of online makers who make me smile. Of course, I’m trying to do all the things all at once, with self-imposed deadlines and a constant stream of fresh inspiration for the next project, or readying myself for the upcoming season (hello, midwestern winter heading my way), and thus running around like a proverbial chicken with my head cut off, leaving a stream of thread and yarn and paper trimmings in my wake. It might be Organic, but it ain’t slow.

Karen Templer (of the iconic Fringe Association and Fringe Supply Co.) launched a new project this month: Slow Fashion October. Slow fashion has many, nebulous definitions, drawing both from the Slow Food movement of local ingredients and artisanal practices (see: Terra Madre, Chez Panisse), and standing in contrast to the Fast Fashion epidemic of race-to-the-bottom economics and jaw-droppingly low clothing prices that create a false sense of consumer wealth (see: Overdressed & True Cost). For each week in October Karen has provided a themeyousmalllovedwornknown. What I love about this approach to #slowfashionoctober (in addition to Karen’s always on-point art direction and thoughtful writing) is that these are parameters for exploration, an invitation to all to participate in a way that is meaningful for you.

Speaking of you, I missed the first partial-week theme so I thought I’d write up a few quick words about myself:

I’m Jess, and my interest in slow fashion is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very broad and eager. I am hungry for change, a change in my own consumer habits but also in larger systemic issues like climate change, exploitative labor, and wealth inequality. I believe that such big issues will be affected by change at every level, and for me that starts (in part) at home because I love to make things, especially through knitting and sewing. I don’t think everyone needs to make all of their clothes, I know that time is a luxury for many people, but I think there is a radical power and depth of appreciation in understanding how things are made, and in obtaining the basic skills to participate in making. My background is in sustainable agriculture with a focus on food systems, so I think a lot about the parallels between food and fiber systems and land-based material flows, and how we can create a consciousness shift to engage more people with good food and good fiber. I think people who make their own clothing are often a step ahead in this, but I think fair wages and clean water (to name a few) are human rights, and improving food and fiber systems is essential to securing these rights. Does this sound like a political manifesto? I’m not one to preach, but I do feel strongly about these themes. My goal for Slow Fashion October is to explore and unpack some of this energy, and to spend more time writing out my thoughts, which will require, in tandem, slowing down in my sewing and knitting projects. My lofty ambition is to find peace and balance between my impulsive love for textiles (which has led to an uncomfortably large stash of fabric, slightly less so for yarn) and my gut feeling that my pace of consumption is not sustainable.

In tangible terms, I plan to spend this month approaching the backlog: projects I’ve had in my queue for months, which, to be honest, weigh on me emotionally! I’ve promised to make my partner two Archer button-down shirts (with short sleeves) but have only finished a muslin, and I know that I have some gaps in my cold-weather wardrobe, so I hope that by spending Slow Fashion October reflecting and re-centering my energy, I can change my habits to a slower, more thoughtful speed. Oh, and there is one very special dress that I finished in the last days of September and I can’t wait to share its story.

[Image at the top via Google Earth]

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Jess

making things & asking questions

2 thoughts on “On slowing”

  1. I found you a while ago through the #1year1outfit challenge and felt a resonance… This post really spoke to me – I’ve made one up in my head along these lines countless times. Most of the time in work, and in family life I am super swift (and in fact my surname is Quick!) but through textiles I have lately been finding a steady slow that is much slower than the pace of most craft challenges or blogs… which is why I’m (mostly!) content in the fact that I’m still carding and spinning yarn for my 1year1outfit one year on… The process of getting where I am has been an amazing journey into the possibilities of my own garden, the fibre on the sheep in my neighbour’s field, the rich textile traditions of Wales (where I live). As I’ve scoured, carded and spun I’ve had time to plan all sorts of projects for the year ahead – although I’ve a feeling I might still only manage one garment!

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    1. Thanks for the lovely words, Zoe. I love the craft/textiles inspiration and community I’ve found in the online world, but the constant stream of projects does make it tricky to really engage deeply with slow processes. It sounds wonderful that you’ve dedicated the past year to spinning and carding, I think even one local garment carries sentiment, resonance, and there’s so much to gain. Best of luck! Do you have a blog or place where you share your process?

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