Archives for posts with tag: Kate Davies

As a knitter, the Intelligent Craftafarian, as I call Kate Davies, is at the forefront of the British fashion sustainability movement (I say it’s punk, and it is spectacular). She has been asked by the awesome women who grow and shear their own sheep at Juniper Moon Farm in Charlottesville, VA to design a sweater made from heirloom hardy wool suitable for outerwear. (Dr. Davies gently sneers at the little girlie merinos, silk blends yet, that I’m crocheting useless little girlie garments with, which, she assures me, will pill and look ratty before they’re off the needle. So femme, my bad.)

The straight skinny on sustainable choices for fashion design. My theory is that the British art and fashion schools developed these curricula from straight edge punk culture. Alexander McQueen was the apotheosis of this.

There’s nothing I love more than a process story, about how things go from the sheep’s back to my back. The women will shear, card and spin the hardy wool, commission sweater designs from masters like Dr. D and then commission master knitters to make them. All by hand, for a sweater of hardy wool, barely twigless, that will outlast hard wear on your herring dinghy in the North Seas, perhaps, or digging peat on top of Ben Bleak, for perhaps three generations. Dr. D’s post touches too on the celebration of 21st century sheep farming as women’s work in the logo the ladies have designed, featuring ladies as both shepherd and shearer. (And sheep, too, I think. No nasty horns there.)

Juniper Moon Farm logo for their sheep-to-sweater project.

I can’t wait to see the heirloom/21st century Ninja shepherdess sweaters Kate and her colleagues design. This has set me to thinking about my local heirloom Navajo churro sheep, their hardy wool, and getting somebody to design an undyed fisherman’s type sweater based on Navajo designs.

From To Walk in Beauty: A Navajo Family’s Journey Home, by Stacia Spragg-Braude.

My Old Hell Freezes Over Friend (OHFOF), who despite everything I still love, and I once walked into a gallery in the National Women’s Museum filled with headless, bowed, and seated human figures sculpted by Magdalena Abakanowicz out of glue, burlap, and three thousand years of Polish mysticism.

Backs, by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Tears shot out of my eyes.

An art historian, my friend explained that Abakanowicz had invented the medium of burlap stiffened with glue because there was nothing else to sculpt in Soviet Poland. No bronze foundries, no marble, no chalcedony. So she re-invented sculpture.

Just so, my friend explained, did the Poles invent and re-invent their clothing. Famously the Soviets made one size bra – enormous in the back and in the cups and light blue, as the New York Times reporter noted, the same reporter who noted that the Russians look like us but are not like us.


 The Poles are more like the Russians than they are like us. Unlike the Russians, however, they had all inherited a Savile Row tailored suit from their grandfathers, and a hand-crafted umbrella. Working with the venerable fabric like the genius Abakanowicz, they mended and refashioned and maintained their grandfather’s beautiful 1927 suit for the 50 years of the Soviet occupation. There were guys in tiny three-foot-wide stalls who made a living patiently repairing stretchers and ribs, tubes, tips and triangular waterproof silk panels of heirloom umbrellas. People stepped out in the meticulously mended and re-fashioned wool suits their grandfathers had been married in, carrying the umbrella he held up against Hitler.

They made eye contact, my friend said, on the sidewalk, as people in North America do not. There were no invisible men in Poland. Reinventing your inheritance, mending invisibly the cuff your grandfather’s 50 year working life had frayed, made the Poles the most elegant, the sexiest, and toughest captive people she had ever seen. It was she who also elaborated on the point, briefly noted once every 15 or so years in the West, that there can be no counterculture, no Abakanowicz, where there is no Stalinist socialist realism, no oppressive official culture, and the form-conferring clothes were just as much a part of the resistance as the form-seeking stiffened burlap.

So I started looking online for refashioning blogs and communities. I wanted to see how people in a recession were altering thrift store clothes for their children. This quaint idea I got from a vintage British sewing book recommended by the Intelligent Craftafarian, Dr. Kate Davies. It’s The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft, the 1946 edition of which emphasizes thrifty, mend-and-make-do counterculture strategies to deal with World War Two fabric rationing. My favorite is the maternity dress cobbled together from two old dresses, and topped with a Rosalind Russell chapeau. There’s also a tailored jacket from a swing coat, a bolero from a jacket, a child’s dress from a skirt, a layette from old silk nightgowns, pinafores from slacks, a day dress from “a dance frock”, a pinafore frock from a worn dress, blouses, rompers and children’s clothes from men’s old shirts, a lady’s suit from a man’s suit, blouses from dresses, cutting down children’s garments, enlarging children’s knits. What most interested me was how to make a child’s coat from a man’s, and how to make your own teddy, bra and panties from silk nightgowns.

I Googled re-fashioning and upcycling and came up with hundreds of blogs about turning t shirts and pillowcases into little girl’s clothes. How can I put this nicely? I am a veteran of the laborious embellishment of sow’s ears, with hand-crocheted lace and loving embroidery, from new cheap shitty sheets into cheap shitty sheets with about 200 woman-hours of labor rendering them painful to behold, painful to launder, the only sheets I have which require ironing. These prodigies of labor did not render them passably comfortable to sleep on. I had fun, the sheets are almost useless, and,  but for the handmade lace and embroidered shamanic phrases, look terrible.

Imagine expending far less labor on turning your old Metallica wife beater into a dress for a little girl with a gelled Mohawk. Or, 10 thrifted t shirts, lovingly cut up and re-assembled into a piecework masterpiece Joseph coat, with a gigantic Hobbit hood, of many colors no child would be caught dead in, because her homeys in the old Metallica wife beaters and Rihanna booty shorts would beat the living piss out of her.

A popular internet upcycled t shirt project.

You couldn’t even get away with it for Halloween because you basically freeze to death in an ankle-length Donny Osmond coat made out of t shirts.

Osmond on Broadway in the Bible musical.

And, little girls in midi-length sundresses made out of dingy, pilled-up, flowered polyester pillow cases have a nasty affect redolent of ‘70s sex. And not the pastoral, innocent shepherdess fantasy kind, either. I was similarly skeezed by numerous blogs in which gorgeous thrifted men’s jackets were “upcycled” into tote bags. How many hairy hobo bags, chafing the tender underflesh of your upper arm, does a girl need? There’s a reason they call tweed jackets outerwear. As someone else has said of cooking, “It’s not easy, and it’s not creative.”

I think the homeys in the Metallica t shirts would also beat little girls wearing tweed coats cut out of old men’s coats, which  have their own unsavory affect. But if artistic and useful recycling of vintage tweeds, silk, and wool knits is the goal here, small garments of larger worn ones is going to be the end product, and our idea of what cool children wear will have to change. So they’ll look like like John Roberts’ children at the announcement of his appointment to the Supreme Court. We can teach them how to fight.


Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, his President, and his family.

A truly useful, and sustainable, refashioning tutorial would teach parents how to make children’s coats out of thrifted adult  fleeces and down jackets, which are the clothes children can wear at the bus stop without attracting driveby shootings. I have Googled every which way to locate such a tutorial from an experienced blogger, and have found no one willing to tackle it. I suspect the principles, as outlined for cutting a cloth coat down by a Depression-era granny in a sewing forum, would be the same for down jackets. You carefully pick it apart, have it cleaned, pin your pattern pieces to the non-worn parts of the down jacket, with many pins to prevent the escape of the down insulation, and then sear the seams as per this expert’s instruction.

Children’s hats and gloves can be made from thrifted  fleece; the best fashion forward look I’ve ever seen involving a fleece vest was a street fashion shot of Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley striding down Fifth Avenue in a tailored suit with an orange funnel-necked fleece vest over the top and, I believe, a yucho.

Yucho patterns from Ravelry.

Hand-knit hats, as ALT demonstrates, are always preferable, and you can, according to the 1946 needlework book, cut knits down for children. I cut down a fake Fair Isle vest for a hot water bottle cover.

Six-dollar thrifted Fair Isle vest becomes hot water bottle cover.

The Big Book of Needlecraft,  Odham’s retro masterpiece, contains patterns for knitted undershirts and underpants for adults and children. For, you know, when the lights go out.

Another PhD Brit knitter, like Kate Davies, the original Intelligent Craftafarian, who explores the female proletariat (Ackworth Quaker School, peonage system for Shetland knitters) through material culture, and Felicity Ford, the sonic feminist and all-night walker, takes on “fashion”, and the political and aesthetic significance of rolling your own. I think of these British historiennes, all under 40, as the theoreticians of the straight edge punk philosophy of the new crafters, inspired by Marx, Armageddon or Fugazi, whatevs.
Amy Twigger Holroyd defines makers and deconstructers of factory-manufactured fashion as “fashion Diggers”, after the Haight-Ashbury socialists and their earlier incarnation as 17th century British communists. She writes,

Fashion well-being is an under-researched concept which could be placed within a broader debate around body image and definitions of beauty (Corner 2009); however, I define it more specifically as a positive sense of ownership regarding clothing choices, and a feeling of balance between the self and others in these decisions.

Amy Twigger Holroyd

In arguing for fashion as an ethical self-representation, Holroyd crystallizes decades of observation on my part about fashion as authenticity.  The American philosopher William James discusses as purity, a character trait of saintliness, the fashion revolution instigated by the Quakers, to whom the Diggers were connected, and how it enraged the oligarchy.*
Chumbawamba – The Diggers Song
These are the people Alexander McQueen came from, overcoming enclosure, as Holroyd defines it in her PhD abstract on Fashion Diggers: transgressive making for personal benefit.
McQueen is the most important fashion influence of the past 50 years, I think, aside from street fashion, which is always the engine of the designers. Watch McQueen deconstructing a man’s suit. If you are in doubt that fashion is of the essence, take a look at McQueen in this Bridegroom Stripped Bare video; Dada will not even make you tell what is the high art work and movement the title refers to.  Trust me, it is art. Scroll down for it.
(Pause while contemplating the most influential people in the past 50 years of fashion, most all of it up from the streets: Yves Saint Laurent and the pantssuit, Stevie Nicks, the Pointer Sisters, Westwood, and Kissi and Gumbs, the black ivy guys over at Street Etiquette.
Yves Saint Laurent pantssuit, by Helmut Newton, 1975.
Helmut Newton’s shot of the Yves Saint Laurent pantssuit, 1975.
Travis Gumbs and Joshua Kissi perfect an aesthetic of dress that is as good for working women as it is for black men. TCB Sauce, you could call it, with Blade Runner/bicycle messenger elements.
Personally I am thrilled that somebody writing about fashion cites John Clare and the whole idea of the commons. You can Google it. Power to the people.
The peoples' poet, John Clare.
The peoples’ poet, John Clare, 1793–1864, who lamented the privatized enclosure of Britain’s commons lands, where poor people grazed their livestock.
*In the autobiography of Thomas Elwood, an early Quaker, who at one time was secretary to John Milton, we find an exquisitely quaint and candid account of the trials he underwent both at home and abroad, in following Fox’s canons of sincerity. The anecdotes are too lengthy for citation; but Elwood sets down his manner of feeling about these things in a shorter passage, which I will quote as a characteristic utterance of spiritual sensibility: — “By this divine light, then,” says Elwood, “I saw that though I had not the evil of the common uncleanliness, debauchery, profaneness, and pollutions of the world to put away, because I had, through the great goodness of God and a civil education, been preserved out of those grosser evils, yet I had many other

evils to put away and to cease from; some of which were not by the world, which lies in wickedness (I John v. 19), accounted evils, but by the light of Christ were made manifest to me to be evils, and as such condemned in me.

“As particularly those fruits and effects of pride that discover themselves in the vanity and superfluity of apparel; which I took too much delight in. This evil of my doings I was required to put away and cease from; and judgment lay upon me till I did so.

“I took off from my apparel those unnecessary trimmings of lace, ribbons, and useless buttons, which had no real service, but were set on only for that which was by mistake called ornament; and I ceased to wear rings.

“Again, the giving of flattering titles to men between whom and me there was not any relation to which such titles could be pretended to belong. This was an evil I had been much addicted to, and was accounted a ready artist in; therefore this evil also was I required to put away and cease from. So that thenceforward I durst not say, Sir, Master, My Lord, Madam (or My Dame); or say Your Servant to any one to whom I did not stand in the real relation of a servant, which I had never done to any.

“Again, respect of persons, in uncovering the head and bowing the knee or body in salutation, was a practice I had been much in the use of; and this, being one of the vain customs of the world, introduced by the spirit of the world, instead of the true honor which this is a false representation of, and used in deceit as a token of respect by persons one to another, who bear no real respect one to another; and besides this, being a type and a proper emblem of that divine honor which all ought to pay to Almighty God, and which all of all sorts, who take upon them the Christian name, appear in when they offer their prayers to him, and therefore should not be given to men; — I found this to be one of those evils which I had been too long doing; therefore I was now required to put it away and cease from it.

“Again, the corrupt and unsound form of speaking in the plural number to a single person, you to one, instead of thou, contrary to the pure, plain, and single language of truth, thou

to one, and you to more than one, which had always been used by God to men, and men to God, as well as one to another, from the oldest record of time till corrupt men, for corrupt ends, in later and corrupt times, to flatter, fawn, and work upon the corrupt nature in men, brought in that false and senseless way of speaking you to one, which has since corrupted the modern languages, and hath greatly debased the spirits and depraved the manners of men; — this evil custom I had been as forward in as others, and this I was now called out of and required to cease from.

“These and many more evil customs which had sprung up in the night of darkness and general apostasy from the truth and true religion were now, by the inshining of this pure ray of divine light in my conscience, gradually discovered to me to be what I ought to cease from, shun, and stand a witness against.”[175]

[175] The History of THOMAS ELWOOD, written by Himself, London, 1885, pp. 32-34

These early Quakers were Puritans indeed. The slightest inconsistency between profession and deed jarred some of them to active protest. John Woolman writes in his diary: —

“In these journeys I have been where much cloth hath been dyed; and have at sundry times walked over ground where much of their dyestuffs has drained away. This hath produced a longing in my mind that people might come into cleanness of spirit, cleanness of person, and cleanness about their houses and garments. Dyes being invented partly to please the eye, and partly to hide dirt, I have felt in this weak state, when traveling in dirtiness, and affected with unwholesome scents, a strong desire that the nature of dyeing cloth to hide dirt may be more fully considered.

“Washing our garments to keep them sweet is cleanly, but it is the opposite to real cleanliness to hide dirt in them. Through giving way to hiding dirt in our garments a spirit which would conceal that which is disagreeable is strengthened. Real cleanliness becometh a holy people; but hiding that which is not clean by coloring our garments seems contrary to the sweetness of

sincerity. Through some sorts of dyes cloth is rendered less useful. And if the value of dyestuffs, and expense of dyeing, and the damage done to cloth, were all added together, and that cost applied to keeping all sweet and clean, how much more would real cleanliness, prevail.

“Thinking often on these things, the use of hats and garments dyed with a dye hurtful to them, and wearing more clothes in summer than are useful, grew more uneasy to me; believing them to be customs which have not their foundation in pure wisdom. The apprehension of being singular from my beloved friends was a strait upon me; and thus I continued in the use of some things, contrary to my judgment, about nine months. Then I thought of getting a hat the natural color of the fur, but the apprehension of being looked upon as one affecting singularity felt uneasy to me. On this account I was under close exercise of mind in the time of our general spring meeting in 1762, greatly desiring to be rightly directed; when, being deeply bowed in spirit before the Lord, I was made willing to submit to what I apprehended was required of me; and when I returned home, got a hat of the natural color of the fur.

“In attending meetings, this singularity was a trial to me, and more especially at this time, as white hats were used by some who were fond of following the changeable modes of dress, and as some friends, who knew not from what motives I wore it, grew shy of me, I felt my way for a time shut up in the exercise of the ministry. Some friends were apprehensive that my wearing such a hat savored of an affected singularity: those who spoke with me in a friendly way, I generally informed in a few words, that I believed my wearing it was not in my own will.”

When the craving for moral consistency and purity is developed to this degree, the subject may well find the outer world too full of shocks to dwell in, and can unify his life and keep his soul unspotted only by withdrawing from it. That law which impels the artist to achieve harmony in his composition by simply dropping out whatever jars, or suggests a discord, rules also in the spiritual life. To omit, says Stevenson, is the one art in literature: “If I knew how to

omit, I should ask no other knowledge.” And life, when full of disorder and slackness and vague superfluity, can no more have what we call character than literature can have it under similar conditions. So monasteries and communities of sympathetic devotees open their doors, and in their changeless order, characterized by omissions quite as much as constituted of actions, the holy-minded person finds that inner smoothness and cleanness which it is torture to him to feel violated at every turn by the discordancy and brutality of secular existence.

That the scrupulosity of purity may be carried to a fantastic extreme must be admitted. In this it resembles Asceticism, to which further symptom of saintliness we had better turn next. The adjective “ascetic” is applied to conduct originating on diverse psychological levels, which I might as well begin by distinguishing from one another.

1. Pondering the Tarot reading with the reverse Ace of Cups. It has to do with last year’s oracular voice saying You’re working out of the wrong energy.

2. Some mountains require no movement from Mohammed. Some, like the Mexican evening primroses which ambushed me this morning seed themselves. I found them glowing in the sunrise in the gravel of my xeric desert front yard. They are the desert blooms promised.

Mexican Evening Primrose at dawn in my garden.

3. Godzilla Pillow #7: Hiromi, after a three year hiatus, begins to take shape.

Hiromi, from Fruits, by Shoichi Aoki.

Instead of headphones, this Hiromi gets a prayer flag, made with hand-made kumihimo cord, upcycled Madeira embroidery, and old lace. Click for deets.

The Madeira embroidery for Hiromi’s prayer flag, located on e-Bay, was inspired by Kate Davies,  the Intelligent Craftafarian. Click for deets.

4. I got the plan, the 1881 lace, the kantha stitching, the fabric painting, the Madeira embroidery, the kumihimo loom, instructions, and supplies done in D.C.

I moved them across the continent to be with me.

I was a different person then.

Kantha stitching, inspired by Jude Hill at Spirit Cloth.

5. The challenge of the entire Godzilla Room project was to learn crochet, fine dressmaking techniques (French seams and lingerie finishes), smocking, embroidery, kantha stitching, shisha and sashiko embroidery, kumihimo cord weaving, omiyage small biomorphic sewn objects such as the Inca/samurai warrior butterfly morphed from one of Kumiko Sudo’s insects, rag rug making and…

I learned to do filet crochet in 2007, with lessons from the fabulous Karen Klemp and the coven at Aylin’s Woolgatherer in Falls Church, VA.

This is a chart, by me, for the Godzilla lace. If you steal it, make sure you’ve got the stones to make it on a .4 mm crochet hook.
I don’t think you do.

6. The Himalaya for Hiromi — after her trans-continental move, of course — is kumihimo, and an embroidered lingerie edging for the prayer flags.

7. Tried it, with some success, in glow-in-the-dark floss, on the banner for the afghan I made from Local Harvest, homeground, Clun Forest sheeps’ wool from Touchstone Farm in Amissville, Va..

Two embroidery projects. In the foreground, the banner identifying provenance of wool in afghan, to be displayed woven through the interstices of the lacey stitch. The scalloped edges of the banner were embroidered according to the instructions in the vintage Odham’s needlework book recommended by Kate Davies.

8. Ace of Cups reversed tells me I can’t do it for Hiromi.

Experience tells me I can.

Godzilla Pillow #3: Yuko: Inca warrior butterfly by me morphed from Kumiko Sudo and The Colonial Andes: Tapestries and Silverwork, 1530-1830

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