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Last week, we delved into the story of one of the many remarkable teams who seamlessly came together to see to fruition the first iteration of our Ranch Project — Bare Ranch in Surprise Valley, California, whose devoted efforts at sustainably stewarding their land and animals resulted in the extraordinary Climate Beneficial American Rambouillet wool that we sourced and spun for Ranch 01. It was through our work with Bare Ranch that we connected with Fibershed and what would become another integral chapter in the Ranch 01 story, and hopefully in our collective fiber and making story as well.

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A fibershed is a concept referring to a strategic geography that defines a textile resource base, much like a watershed or a foodshed. In that sense, it means being connected to a place and a landscape, knowing what grows there, what options for production are possible there, and then supporting and relying on those resources to fulfill basic necessities such as water, food, shelter — and clothing. It is a step away from the human and environmental impacts of fast fashion and a return to tightly knit local communities founded on meaningful, necessity-based relationships. In many ways, it also points to a radical act of slowing down and of reinvesting attention and care into materials, whether inherited, made, or purchased.

As an organization, Fibershed is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded by textile artist, author, and educator Rebecca Burgess. Their mission focuses on educating consumers and independent producers on strategic fiber systems and on connecting wearers to the soil in which their clothing was grown. Fibershed is also doing work in actualizing the concept of fibershed in regions such as Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, regenerating landscapes through carbon farm planning, rebuilding local manufacturing, and empowering regional communities. Fibershed envisions a soil-to-soil cycle of textile production, which decentralizes the conventional textile supply chain and ensures that textiles make their way back to the soil, ultimately for greater environmental, economic, and social benefit.

Climate Beneficial illustration by Fibershed

Fibershed is doing groundbreaking and awe-inspiring work in this regard through education efforts, research on fiber systems, and their Producer and Affiliate Programs. Their research on fiber systems is particularly fascinating in that they are aimed at bolstering fibersheds by developing land-based models and methods for reviving historically local fiber and dye plants and animals, and for creatively rethinking the ways in which local landscapes have been used in order to cultivate new textile resources (that might otherwise be imported). For example, through extensive research with Indiana University professor Rowland Ricketts (trained in indigo farming and dyeing in Japan), they were able to grow and process Japanese indigo in temperate northern California. Meanwhile, our very own Pacific Northwest Fibershed is working to revitalize the flax plant (which produces linen) in Oregon, which historically, up until the 1950s, supported the only flax industry in the United States.

Fibershed’s Producer and Affiliate Programs serve to inspire and continue these grassroots efforts at both developing and reviving regional fiber communities. The Producer Program (of which Bare Ranch is a member) connects farmers, ranchers, spinners, mill owners and textile artists working in northern and central California. The Affiliate Program is its global counterpart, which now has 35 national affiliates (or chapters) and 15 international affiliates. Those interested in participating in these affiliated fibersheds — whether they’re a producer, a scientist, a maker, or a consumer — can express and develop their skills while learning others in contribution to the “shed of their existence.”

Photo by Paige Green Photography

Re-imagining our involvement and investment in local communities is rooted in this: being connected to your materials and resources, knowing where they are from, keeping them in play for as long as possible, and then putting them to rest in the manner they are due. If it is say, a wool sweater, this can mean sourcing a yarn that was produced responsibly, taking the time to turn it into a garment, loving and wearing it to bits, and then composting it at the end of its life so it can regenerate the soil from which it came. In the words of Rebecca Burgess, “It’s healthy to find ourselves in a place where we feel like we need each other and the plants and animals, and to have respect for them. And it’s hard to have respect for things if you don’t know where they come from or if you don’t know who you owe your gratitude to.”

In that vein, next week we will visit the last chapter in our Ranch 01 story, Green Matters Natural Dye Company and the work they have done in imparting the earth’s colors to this beautiful Rambouillet wool.

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A great variety of knitting patterns are now more available and accessible than ever before, thanks in part to online pattern databases and publishing houses dedicated to knitting patterns — in Brooklyn Tweed’s library alone there are more than 500 patterns. With so many options to choose from, now is a great time to expand your current skill set and venture off into uncharted knitting territory! (Or shall we say, charted knitting territory?)

In Anatomy of a Brooklyn Tweed Pattern, the sixth installment of our Foundations series, we walk you through the information and resources that we provide in our patterns to ensure you have a well-informed and successful knitting experience, whatever the skill level the pattern may be.

Today we offer additional tips to help you build confidence with your craft — and boldly tackle that intricate lace, cabled, or brioche piece, or perhaps even your first seamed or colorwork garment.

(Patterns clockwise from top: Huck, To the Point, Hayward)

Remember that Skill Level ratings are not meant to be restrictive. A knitter who identifies as an advanced knitter may still be stumped by a pattern and one who identifies as a beginner may have few issues following the same pattern — so don’t feel intimidated by a higher skill rating!

In general, our Skill Level rating system is aimed toward giving you at-a-glance information on the types of techniques or construction methods that may be involved in the pattern, rather than being a hard and fast determiner of the types of patterns that you yourself can tackle. In Anatomy of a Brooklyn Tweed Pattern we break down the criteria we follow when assigning Skill Levels to our patterns. We also provide information on the construction of the item and the techniques involved in the pattern (both required and optional), so you know what to expect and can assess how this information meets your skill set long before you cast on.

Gather your resources. The great thing about knowing before casting on what construction methods and techniques are involved in the pattern is that you can prepare yourself by gathering your resources — be they a guide to abbreviations for common knitting terms, instructional videos on how to perform a certain stitch or finishing technique, or notes other knitters have provided about their experience working with the pattern.

Having these resources in one easily accessible place (perhaps as a collection of printed-out material or as bookmarks on your web browser) can be extremely handy when you find yourself stuck on a certain section of the pattern. You can also consult these resources to practice before starting your project.

Feeling well-supported is critical to a successful knitting experience. As such, we always provide in our patterns written instructions for the special techniques involved (whether required or optional) along with a handy list of abbreviations for the knitting terms and stitches used. Our abbreviations “dictionary” also includes written instructions on how to perform the particular stitches they stand for. In this way, you can be sure that your pattern and pattern resources are already assembled in one package.

(Patterns from Left to Right: Grove Mittens, Agnes)

Trust the process (and the instructions). One of the many magical things about knitting is that you’re creating your fabric itself, while also manipulating it to look, fit, or behave a certain way. Inherent to this method of making is a little bit of mystery — even with a schematic, you may not actually see how a piece will be shaped until you’re in the moment of shaping it, or what it will look like in its entirety until you’ve finished it. (Sock knitters, remember what it was like when you first turned a heel.) So, try to place your trust in the process and the pattern instructions. You can rest easy knowing that our tech editors and proofers work tirelessly to make our patterns as clear, concise, and reliable as possible.

Know that it’s OK to substitute techniques. There may be a simpler way to accomplish a specific technique — and these are often provided in our patterns — so don’t be afraid to substitute them to fit your comfort level. Some examples are working a Long-Tail Cast On instead of a Tubular Cast On or binding off normally instead of working a Sloped Bind Off. Some techniques may also have multiple variations. For example, some knitters prefer to work wrapless Short Rows instead of the Wrap and Turn method, or work a Long-Tail Tubular Cast On instead of the standard Tubular Cast On involving waste yarn. Play around, experiment, and practice multiple variations on techniques to find the method that works best for your knitting style.

In a similar vein, you can draw upon techniques you’ve worked in previous projects to evaluate how you can utilize them in a seemingly different application. For example, if you’re a cuff-down sock knitter who often grafts toes with a Kitchener Stitch, you’re all set to work a Tubular Bind Off!

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Many of us may develop a perfectionist streak throughout our knitting careers. While quality and perfection are worthwhile goals to strive for, it is still helpful and kind to allow yourself the room to make — and learn from — mistakes. It’s also helpful to determine what kinds of mistakes you can live with and what you can’t, so you can more judiciously allocate your time and effort.

In the words of Lela Nargi, author of Knitting Memories: Reflections on the Knitter’s Life, “There are no mistakes, only design opportunities.”

(Patterns from Left to Right: Yishu, Freja (To be released with Winter 18)

Practice new techniques on a smaller project. Try starting with something small, like a hat or a cowl. This way, you can practice and experiment in a more manageable way, and without the pressure of more yardage or fit considerations. The bonus is that accessories can be quite versatile and practical additions to your wardrobe rotation.

Ask for help. Don’t forget to ask for help when you need it. Your fellow knitters at your local yarn store, in your knitting group, or on Ravelry will be happy to help you if you get stuck. We also offer online pattern support for all Brooklyn Tweed patterns so always feel free to drop us a note at support@brooklyntweed.com.

Take notes. When trying something new, it’s always helpful to document your process, the issues you encountered, and how you solved them, either in a separate notebook or on the pattern itself (whether on paper or the PDF copy) — we leave plenty of negative space in our patterns for this reason! In this way, you can become a resource for yourself when you take on future projects.

Take a break. If you feel like you’ve been stuck at a certain point in a pattern too long for your liking, feel free to set your project aside for a moment. While we all want to be able to tackle a challenge immediately, it’s important not to overstretch our limits. As such, rest your mind (and hands) every now and again so you’ll have renewed energy and a fresher perspective when you return to your project.

Most importantly, have fun and keep at it. We all start somewhere — and knitting is a life-long learning experience!

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Slow fashion encourages the careful consideration of what we bring into our closets, the deep satisfaction of making or owning garments of quality, and extending the life of what we have already loved to pieces. It offers the opportunity to creatively express yourself which is at the heart of making itself.

In Part I of this series, you heard members of the Brooklyn Tweed team talk about their personal thoughts on the subject. Expanding upon those ideas, we compiled the following practical tips for anyone who is interested in slow fashion and is curious about how or where to begin.

Identify your personal style: Having a clear idea of what types of clothing you want to wear, including its fiber content and color palette, will help you identify your personal style and inform your choices on what to knit and how to assemble your wardrobe. Taking time to identify your personal style will make it easier to build a long-lasting wardrobe and avoid impulse purchases that won’t get much wear.

Create a vision for your wardrobe as a whole: Perhaps the most powerful way to take control of your wardrobe is to think of it holistically. When you plan your wardrobe as a whole, you can intentionally decide what your next project will be based on what type of garment will complement your existing, or ideal, wardrobe. Building a wardrobe with your personal style in mind will also help ensure you’re making garments that will flatter your body and inspire you to wear them with confidence.

To help plan your wardrobe, take the gauge swatches from sweaters and accessories you’ve made with you while shopping to help select yarn or fabrics in colors or prints that will coordinate across those knit garments. (If you’re new to swatching, read our Swatching 101 post here.) If you are shopping for ready-to-wear, look for pieces you can expect to wear a minimum of 30, 40, or even 50 times. (Raise your hand if you’ve joined the KonMari bandwagon!) By being intentional about what we bring into our homes, whether ready-made clothing or what’s being cast onto our needles, we can simultaneously eliminate waste and ensure we will find both joy and usefulness in what we create and wear.

Make “capsule” items you’ll wear for years to come: When pondering what to knit next, consider functional, classic garments that never go out of style. Think Aran cabling, Gansey pullovers, shawl-collar cardigans, and accessories such as watchcaps and go-with-anything cowls and scarves. When knitting or sewing wardrobe staples, make the most of your time and resources by creating items of clothing that you know will see years of use.

Consider the source of your materials: Take time to know the origins of your fiber. By working with sustainable materials, you can ensure you are supporting the environment as well as the people who work to bring the fiber to your hands. Wool sorted by breed — aka breed-specific wool — provides farmers with a higher wage than fibers that are sold to be jumbled together across breeds, and preserves the breeding stock of sheep that will continue to provide fiber for years to come.

Reclaim yarn from sweaters you already have: Your next project need not require the purchase of new yarn. Sweaters that you either already have in your closet or find secondhand offer the opportunity to give fibers another life. Perhaps you have wool languishing away in a UFO at the bottom of your knitting basket that you can unravel, wash, and recast as another garment that will give you greater joy while knitting and wearing. If you have a handknit sweater that doesn’t fit quite right or that no longer suits your style, but you can’t bear to part with it, reclaim the yarn for a new project.  

Start Small: Slow fashion, and the idea of making your own clothing, may seem overwhelming at first but it need not feel insurmountable. By following some or all of the steps above, we can each engage with the movement in ways that work for us as individuals, all the while adding enjoyment to our lives. There’s no need to knit or sew your entire wardrobe or go to great expense in order to participate in slow fashion. Start small by wearing one thing you have made every day. Accessories can be key here — a good, classic hat or scarf can carry you through the seasons. If you enjoy the process of making, you can slowly add to your handknit wardrobe one piece at a time and simultaneously express your creativity each and every day.

Join a community of crafters to learn and share knowledge about hand making clothing. Share your knowledge with one another through knitting groups or meet-ups designed to encourage learning more about your craft and making clothing. Local yarn stores, fabric stores, and crafting guilds are great sources for such gatherings. There are also robust communities online where you can connect with people with similar interests, such as Ravelry for knitters.

In closing, always keep in mind that the slow fashion movement comes from the desire to take control over how we clothe our bodies and is a non-judgmental process that originates with the individual, not from external forces. Just as the slow food movement taught us to take time to savor both the process and the product, slow fashion offers us makers the opportunity to thoughtfully consider how we wish to express ourselves through our creations. By being mindful about the materials we work with as well as the products we create, we can have a literal hand in how we both move through and impact our world day by day.

Thank you for joining us this month in our series focused on slow fashion. From hearing thoughts about slow fashion from members of the BT team to reading about how we incorporate slow fashion principles into our business to learning some tips about how to bring slow fashion aspects into your own daily practice, we hope you have found some nuggets of inspiration in these recent posts focused on the process and product of making.

We invite you to share with us below your own thoughts and comments about the slow fashion movement. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

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