Building community in unexpected ways.

Watching the sunset on a summer evening.

Every night my family sits down for dinner and we ask “How was your day?”. Before the quarantine, shelter in home times, the question was sufficient to elicit a decent enough response from my boys and husband; we all got a good sense of everyones’ day. Now, the question can seem hollow and insincere since we’re all together all the time, by the time we hit the dinner table we already know how everybody’s day has been. Still we all crave the ritual, the sense of normalcy it provides and the connection it delivers.

This also happens with the different knit and friend groups I talk with via one of the many online options available to connect. People want more than small talk. They want real connection, genuine conversation and to feel kinship, even if it’s through a screen. But the screen is the hard part. At least at the dinner table I can see my family in real time and we can (generally) read the body language and know when one of us is going to speak. It’s hard to develop that online. So how do you create community and connection through the screen?

Before Covid hit and demanded we stay at home, I hosted a couple of in-person knitting groups. I’d meet a friend for a sewing date, a walk or a meal. Occasionally I’d have a chance to take a fiber class. By most people’s standards I was moderately social; loved seeing people and going places, loved staying home.

Now, many months into this, I’m finding what ways are best to connect with my family and friends. The key element is having an activity to go with the conversation. It helps our brains relax and our hearts to connect. Before, if I talked on the phone, I most definitely was doing something else as well like weeding, cooking or knitting. Now that many conversations and activities have moved online, if there is an activity to go along with the conversation, we’re able to be present and engage much more deeply. It’s hard for our brains to read all the non-verbal cues that we need to connect in real time over a screen. If we have something to do, it kind of tricks our mind. We stop looking at ourselves on the screen and focus on what’s in front of us. For family gatherings, we often play a game. My knitting groups have transferred quite nicely to being online because we have needles and yarn to keep our hands busy.

A silver lining is that we don’t all have to be in the same place to participate in these online gatherings. In my knitting groups, a good friend can join from Australia and another from New Jersey. I’ve “seen” my family all together more times than any other year. I’m able to continue to challenge myself and actually sew through my sewing dates with another good friend. I was able to be part of an amazing retreat that was held on the East Coast, something I wouldn’t have been able to join had it been held in person. Traveling at the beginning of a school year is not possible. And I’m finally able to teach folks how to knit via online classes.

Getting ready to teach my Learn to Knit class.

To be honest, I’m warmed and surprised how these different groups have been able to thrive within these limitations. I’m equally saddened about the connections that are no longer growing because of them. Nothing takes the place of in-person conversations, gatherings, celebrations, walks and hugs. I miss hugs. There’s no replacement for any of it on an online format. It’s not the same and part of it is letting go of the expectation that be the same. We won’t ever go back to the normal we knew, we’ll just arrive at a new normal. Now is the in-between time, the hardest place to be in any journey and we’re being forced to think, relate, connect outside of the box, outside of our norms. We all are navigating through it as best as we can. And so I keep committing to creating and holding space for community where I can, seek out new ways to connect with my people when I can and find joy in the ways that it works, right now.

New/Old Wool Vest

There was a period of time in high school where I raided my dad’s closet. I was into the baggy/skater/slightly hippy look. I cut off old 501’s for shorts and took this rag wool REI sweater from who knows when. I always kept this sweater, long after I realized fitted clothes were much more flattering. This past fall I decided to transform this over sized sweater into a vest I could wear.

On the first try I just sewed a few inches in on the sides, following the existing line of the sweater. That didn’t give the fit I wanted so I ripped it out and then pinned a sweater from my closet on to the wool sweater. Then I sewed the outline of the black sweater. For the sleeve holes, I pinned back the sweater material, sewed and then cut the excess fabric to get the best fit possible. This is my first time altering a garment and it was a relatively quick project once I figured out the shape.

I can be pretty nostalgic about things but they do me no good when they sit in a box or drawer. It’s fun to wear this old/new vest, especially with the added meaning that it used to be my dad’s. Plus, it fits into my goal of a mostly handmade, hardworking wardrobe. Triple win!

Un(realistic)Expextations

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Sunset on New Year’s Day

Last year I was gifted a small book, One Thought a Day. It’s a little book where you write a line or two each day for five years. Thoughts were written until March and then it was put down. I picked it up again this new year, to give it another go. It was a surprise that I started writing the same “realizations”, struggles and challenges almost to the day the year before. If my thoughts from last year weren’t written down in the little box, I would be patting myself on the back for the new insights I had, plowing ahead with expectations that the coming year would be completely different.

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Knitting in the car

It’s funny, the narrative we play over in our minds and what we forget. This year I set out to knit all my family members a gift. In my planning, I thought what I set out to do was doable: a few hats and cowls. Intellectually, it all was possible- just like all the change I planned with my “new” revelations but in practice it was a whole different story. I knit a lot faster in my mind. There are few interruptions and my fingers move at lightening speed. In truth, I was rushing through the knitting, frustrated that I didn’t have more dedicated knitting time, just in order to finish and get on to the next gift. It wasn’t the relaxing or enjoyable experience I expected. It prevented me from being present with my knitting or benefiting from all the reasons I love it; it became another “to do” on the list.

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My brother’s finished hat

Through my first season of gift knitting and re-reading my thoughts from last year, it’s clear that my expectations have been a bit unrealistic, especially during the holiday season. I want to do all the things: knitting, baking, shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, parties and the list goes on. To have all the family gatherings to be relaxing and smooth without conflict or frustration; to participate in every activity with enthusiasm and grace. In what world does this happen?  Yet every year, I set myself up for the impossible and then have the hardest time enjoying what is right in front of me.

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Sparklers on New Year’s Day

New Year’s resolutions are not something I make every year, and if I do, they’re usually big sweeping statements that are great sounding but nearly impossible to carry out and inevitably fade away by March. This year, however, I will focus on sleep. I figure, lots can come from being more rested…or not (adjusting those expectations!). Some weeks will be better than others. Often it’ll be out of my control (right now it’s 5am wake ups in my house). But I can start small and forgiving and not get caught up in all the things I’d like to change/do (exercise, yoga, de-clutter, less phone time, creative pursuits, reading, travel…).

One thing knitting has taught me is if I rush it, it saps the joy from the act of creating. When knitting to finish in order to cast on the next project, I’m not present with what’s in front of me but instead wishing for what I don’t have; always wanting more. Knitting endlessly is not possible. My hands ache and other tasks and people call my attention. Balance is required. It helps remind myself that taking it slow is part of the process; it encourages me to accept where I am at this point in my life.

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One of the many beautiful Christmas trees we celebrated around

The gifts are still being made and the joy that I have in giving a homemade present is just as wonderful. They can always wear it next winter! And little thoughts are being recorded right before an earlier bedtime- I just hope I make it past Spring.

 

 

 

 

The middle ground

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It’s the last week of Slow Fashion October: KNOWN.  Where do our clothes come from, and if we are hand making our clothes where did the yarn or fabric come from?  It’s easy to fall down into the rabbit hole and feel overwhelmed because as  Karen Templer says, quite accurately:

The fact is, knowing is hard — both the finding things out and the knowing what to do about what you know or don’t know.

This entire month of Slow Fashion October has led me to take a deeper look- well, truthfully, just take a look at from where my clothing comes. I found three things in my closet that were made in the USA.  One which is handmade, one a sweater of my grandma’s and a random sweatshirt. The rest were from around the world. Who knows how they were made, or who made them in the USA or otherwise.

In this journey and growing consciousness, I’ve come to the realization that the first thing to do is to consume less. Not all I buy will be made local, not all the clothes will be handmade. I can definitely strive for that but I have to be honest, it won’t be 100% of the time. One thing that’s always been in the back of my head is that yes, it’s great to recycle and have less trash but it’s even better to consume less. Recycling doesn’t cancel out consumption. Buying books/yarn/needles to make sweaters, hats and cowls isn’t necessarily better.  To consciously ask: do I need this? To be mindful of the choice I’m making (because it is a choice) and to find my middle ground.  Because my middle ground won’t be your middle ground.  And if I try and tackle this all at once, I won’t make any change. One thing is for sure, consuming is a difficult habit to break and knowing is hard.

My Mending Basket

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I have this basket. A mending basket. I was inspired to be more conscious of repairing, hemming, fixing, mending when I read the article: Put A Patch On It by Em Falconbridge in Issue 11, MEND of Taproot.

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To be honest, the basket is full of pieces to mend because although I put the clothing, dress up costumes and stuffies aside to be worked on, I never set the time aside to complete it. The task has never taken priority over the other to do’s, wants on my list. Intention but not execution. This week’s theme of WORN during the month long Slow Fashion October instigated by Karen Templer has shined a light on that basket full of mending and I have finally set aside some time to work on a few pieces. I mended two stuffies for my kids and repairing the neckline of a wool sweater coat I’ve had for a few years. It was so nice to slip the jacket on again- like having a new piece of clothing. And….I noticed that some of the other clothing in the basket are now too small for my kids. Sometimes you miss the window of mending and wearing again.

Longevity in children’s clothes is a challenge because of their rapid growth and wear and tear on the clothes.  Luckily we can pass clothes from one sibling to the other, and then on to family, friends or great charities in the area.  I seek out clothes that will wear well and can be passed on to balance the knowledge that at this point, we are lucky to get a 6-12 month life-span out of a single piece.

Longevity in an adult wardrobe is different. Hand-washing, line drying, mending (when you can get to it) all increase the life and quality of clothing. But longevity of clothes is also dependent on maintaining the same body shape and size. I’m rounding the corner, seeing a glimpse of my pre-babies body and aim to pass that for an even healthier one. So naturally I can’t wear my maternity or post maternity clothing and my shape has changed post-baby that many of my clothes pre-baby don’t fit the same way.

Slow Fashion October has come at a opportune time. It has created a space for me to step back and look inside my closet. In the past, I’d pull what didn’t work, fill a black plastic bag for donation and then fill the closet back up again with clothes that worked in the moment. That was ok, that’s what I needed at the time. But now, I’m asking myself to go “shopping” in my closet first and see what I find: I mended the black wool sweater coat and I re-discovered an old pair of boots; finally hemming adds some well-fitting pants to the mix.

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The biggest change is not rushing out to fill up the closet with clothes because they are on sale and are good enough for now; focusing on what is needed and not the instant gratification of a want. And while my body will continue to change, it doesn’t mean I have to continue to wear “disposable” clothing. As I strive to find the balance in clothing for my children, the same needs to be done for myself: a balance between a few meaningful store bought pieces with an eye to longevity, more handmade pieces and working through what’s in the mending basket will get me closer to the more conscious wardrobe I desire. The intention is there, and the execution will follow, slowly.

What’s in my closet

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This week’s theme of Slow Fashion October is Small; a prompt to think about what makes up a wardrobe. I must confess there are virtually no handmade, small batch or indie made clothes with an eye to sustainability in my closet. There are a few hand-me-ups from my sister and hand-me-downs I saved from my grandma and one hand-knitted sweater. I don’t consider myself to be all that stylish or “on trend”. I don’t replenish my wardrobe each season. I mainly buy utilitarian clothing on sale that fit pretty well and can be worn daily; clothes I don’t have worry about if grubby hands/feet/paws are smeared all over them. My hardest working pieces in my closet are jeans and a fleece hoodie.  That doesn’t mean I have few clothes in my closet. It means that I have lots of clothes that don’t fit that great and are pretty generic.

Over this past summer, I wanted to add a few more pieces to my wardrobe. Ones that I could wear often, that didn’t break the bank, felt good on and had style. I pretty much struck out and instead of buying the same old things, I didn’t buy anything. I’m a petite person, so clothes either need 3 inches more in the shoulder, stretch across the bust or the waist hits at my thighs. Most small batch/indie clothing are not made for my body type, let alone mainstream manufacturers. So, I made a decision to learn how to make my own useful clothing; to fill my closet with clothing that fits, I love and am proud to wear.

It’s a great idea but a lot harder to put in practice. I have limited sewing knowledge and there is a big learning curve and adjusting patterns for my body is still above my skill level. It would be so much easier to just go and buy a “good enough for now” top/dress/sweater. But I don’t want that anymore. I’d like a more selective wardrobe of hardworking, mostly handmade clothes. It won’t happen instantly, but I’m determined.

Finding my way

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I was introduced to Karen Templer’s blog Fringe Association and Felicia Semple’s The Craft Sessions this past summer.  I was instantly inspired.  It led me to think about how I approach creativity and what it means to me (and how I haven’t been making much time for it these days). The Stash Less posts not only have made me aware about how I choose projects, but also how much I have already.  And that has begun to bleed over to my wardrobe, books, and other crafts.  I’ve been the type to purchase a book or craft supplies in earnest enthusiasm.  I spend a few days or weeks plotting and planning and even starting but inevitably, life interrupts and it gets put in a pile or basket on the closet shelf. I rarely follow through with a project.  Unfinished dress, and crocheted blanket; alphabet embroidery panel and wedding photo albums.  I did finish knitting a sweater- my first ever- this past July.  That gave me confidence that I can indeed finish and start a project.

I decided to start this blog as a way to carve out time to work on various projects.   To make my creative endeavors more of a priority.  A challenge of sorts: to follow through, explore, learn, make and be brave.

When Karen Templer introduced Slow Fashion October I immediately knew I wanted to participate, excited to join a growing movement inside of myself as well as a greater community.  I instantly posted on Instagram all the projects I wanted to complete.  And then I realized I’m doing the same thing I always do: setting myself up with wonderful and lovely projects, gathering all the supplies along with unrealistic expectations.  I need to choose one or two and go about it slowly.

So I think of this October as the beginning of a long journey.  Finding my way to a wardrobe of known-origins full of handmade items.  Completing a few projects before buying supplies for the next one.  With that in mind, I revise my goals: I will figure out how to finish the dress and continue knitting on my Charlotte Light Cardigan.  It’ll be hard with all the beautiful, amazing possibilities out there to make but the way I’ll participate in Slow Fashion October is to take it slow.