An Ethical Wardrobe?

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Photo Credit: Fashion Revolution

Do you ever stop to think about the person who made your clothes? Or wonder where the raw material came from? I’ve noticed a trend among “lifestlye bloggers” for posts about “ethical fashion” which led me to reflect on my own purchasing choices. A couple of weeks ago my Instagram feed seemed to be full of bloggers  wearing the new season from People Tree (One of my favourite mail order fashion brands), even my favourite Lifestyle blogger wrote about her foray into ethical fashion. In her blog post Dominique talks about how difficult it is to know what  “ethical” fashion is, she signposts readers to some great retailers in her capsule wardrobe collection and talks about the difficulty of making the “right” choices on the high street. I applaud her for her honesty.

I began to wonder, is is better to hold on to those sweatshop items, chemically dyed t shirts and leather shoes or is it “better” to chuck everything away and replace them with an ethical alternative? Truth is, I have no idea, but my gut tells me to hang on to what I have. The environmental impact of throwing “stuff” away is huge – even recycling creates pollution – there really is no “away”. Once something is made, it’s really hard to dispose of. Even the most eco friendly materials carry an environmental cost that we often forget.

Scanning my own (fairly minimal) wardrobe I can spot at least a dozen items over ten years old. You see, my philosophy is “buy once, buy well”.  There are a few  items labelled ethical or fair trade. The Patagonia trainers I bought in 2007, worn down at the heel now, but regularly cleaned and with new laces they make an appearance every spring and I love them. The organic denim Howies jeans  – the pair that I hang on to even though they are practically worn away – and the pair I “keep for best”. A People Tree vest that has served me well, the extra long length means it’s great for tucking into jeans under a jumper in winter and perfect for hot summer days. When I bought them, these clothes felt like a huge investment, so I hang on to them for as long as I can. At least half of my wardrobe comes from charity shops and I’ll come clean and tell you I have 3 t shirts from Primark*  – work horse t shirts –  a bit faded but worn regularly and a reminder of the year when Mr T and I  practically lived on thin air in order to meet our goal of paying off the mortgage before we hit 50! (More about that another day).

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Years ago I worked for a charity that supported fairtrade education. We would run workshops for schools and community groups telling them the story behind their clothes. The reality of life in a clothing sweatshop, dye studio or weaving shed can be pretty grim (that’s a euphemism for bloody criminal that we expect anyone to work in such conditions). My colleagues and I would dress in our ethical cropped trousers, our organic cotton t shirts and “educate” our audience about the possibilities of a more equitable future. It felt good to spread to the word.

But, the reality was that only a couple of items in my own wardrobe actually met the strict ethical standards I was encouraging others to choose. I simply couldn’t afford to replace everything. When I did buy new I had to consider the price. I wear clothes out, I patch them, remodel jeans into shorts and when they are finally no longer fit to be worn I cut them into dusters. Items I grow tired of go to the charity shops or to friends. When I do buy new, I think about the conditions of the factory workers who make my clothes. I try to buy from companies that pay a living wage or engage in debate with trade unions about making workplaces safer and fairer. That’s not easy to do. Campaigns like Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes certainly help to raise awareness and encourage consumers to think about the social impact of what we buy and the truth is, there are very few companies that can claim to be truly ethical at every stage of the supply chain.

I’ve also begun to consider the ethics of the things I make for myself. Where did the wool I knit with come from? Who spun and dyed it? The ethics of handmade are just as difficult to wade through as high street fashion. I try to buy wool that is reared, spun and dyed in the UK. I like to buy from independent makers, small businesses that share my view of the world (or at least I hope they do).

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Seek out small batch, local wool that has been minimally processed

There are dozens of books and websites around to guide you through your  ethical wardrobe dilemmas, but no clear cut answers. The approach I’ve adopted is this.

  • Shop wisely. Buy what you need, and when you can, choose retailers with strong ethical and environmental principles.
  • Look after what you have. Follow the care labels, mend, patch and replace zips and buttons when necessary.
  • Ask questions about where your clothes / wool / fabric came from
  • Throw nothing away (but see below). Everything can be repurposed, old towels can be cut down into facecloths and make great alternatives to paper kitchen towel. Cotton sheets can be used as dusters.  Old woolly jumpers make great liners for hanging baskets. Explore your resourceful side!
  • Buy natural fibres. When you do finally throw “stuff” away remember acrylic  never degrades, man made fibres won’t rot down.

 

If you want more advice about making ethical wardrobe choices check out Safia Minney’s book “Slow Fashion” or read Lucy Siegle’s ethical and green living columns for the Guardian such as this one. Visit Labour behind the Label‘s website or check out Fashion Revolution’s 2017 campaign resources.

If we all start to ask questions about where our clothes come from (and what happens to them after we’re finished with them)  that’s a start to building a more ethical wardrobe isn’t it?

* It’s certainly not the only high street store with a poor record on environmental and human rights.

 

 

 

Capturing nature

20160723_171515For most of last year I had a personal project to try and capture the colour and textures of my garden. It was a lovely change from the challenges of commercial design work and it made the contrast between my personal designs and my commission work even more obvious.

It’s been a difficult struggle, to reconcile my beliefs in sustainable textiles and natural processes with the commercial demand for “budget” makes that many of my clients have been asking for. Acrylic yarns in particular are not “environmentally friendly”, they aren’t biodegradeable, the process of making is energy intensive and the brightly coloured dyes are often harmful, chemical based products. So,  I’ve tried to separate my commercial design work from my personal projects.

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Dyeing yarn using plant materials (not extracts or commercial dye stuff) has been a challenge and a steep learning curve. But I am loving the results and the colours I’ve achieved. Inevitably this has led on to exploring other natural processes and rediscovering some of the techniques I used in my teaching days.

three plants fern box and tree

This year I’m exploring ways to capture different landscapes and locations that have a personal connection for me. It’s been good for me to learn new techniques and to spend time with other artists and practitioners who are willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for natural processes.

herdwick bag

Of course I’ll still be publishing knitting and crochet designs (which you can find over at Granny Cool) and in future issues of Inside crochet magazine I have some fantastic designs which make the best of British Wool including (finally!) the  pattern for this gorgeous crochet bag pictured here in my favourite Herdwick wool.

Bargain Book Finds

hooked-cover-imaage1Book bargains are great news for readers, especially if you’re on a tight budget like me. And as a writer, I am happy that my books might be picked up by readers who might not want, or be able to pay full price. I have discovered some brilliant designers by shopping in  bargain book shops and my local charity shop and I can never pass the door of a second hand bookshop without peeking inside for “just a minute”. Luckily, Mr T shares by book love, so he’s happy to accompany me.

Lately, I have snagged some absolute bargains while mooching in The Works. These include the wonderful Claire Montgomerie’s book Hooked, which I picked up for the bargain price of £4 and Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant for just a fiver!

Both books are excellent and I love them both. I noticed both are also on offer at other online bookshops (including Amazon and The Book Depository), so if you still have Christmas money to spend, these are both perfect choices – you won’t be disappointed. Even at full price they are both excellent value and will earn their keep on your crafting bookshelf as you dip into them time and again.

So, what makes them such great books?

let’s start with Hooked by Claire Montgomerie. Once Editor of Inside Crochet magazine, Claire has a long list of successful knitting and crochet books. Hooked, published in May 2016 is her latest and perhaps best crochet book (that’s just my opinion). It is filled with beautifull projects aimed at beginners, but even the more experienced hooker will find themselves wanting to make almost everything. The styling and photography are fresh and modern. I love the colour palette Claire has chosen – and can’t help noticing she’s sneaked in several projects with her own favourite colours – the Chevron Clutch, Granny Square Blanket and Tiny Coin Purse are stunning.

As you would expect, the first chapter takes you through the basics, holding your hook, reading a pattern and basic techniques. Subsequent chapters are designed to extend your skills and challenge you to try new techniques. The Striped Pencil Case for example has a useful tip about avoiding “jogs” in your stripes. There is a useful glossary at the back and a well designed index so you can look up projects and techniques easily.

I have recommended this book to lots of crocheters (new and more experienced) and I know a couple found a copy under their tree, so I’m looking forward to seeing their makes. So, congratulations Claire on producing another beautiful and useful book to add to my groaning bookshelf!

Next,  Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant. I just adore this book. Filled with colour work patterns inspired by Fair Isle and Icelandic knitting techniques this isn’t a book for beginners. It’s light on technical advice, although there are a few pages at the beginning which skim over double knitting, grafting and making a pom pom. You’ll also find advice on caring for your knits and how to prevent moth damage. If you haven’t tried stranded colour work before I’d recommend a good technique book or a patient friend to guide you through some simple techniques, and you might find yourself looking up provisional cast on tutorials and working from charts if these aren’t already aprt of your knitting skill set. But, few knitters will be picking this up expecting a “how to”, it’s a snapshot into Hilary Grant’s creative process, her design inspiration and a chance to knit some truly beautiful accessories.

The real beauty of this book lies in  the short text that accompanies each pattern and of course the photography. Each pattern is accompanied by a stunning collection of images which are  almost a love letter to the Scottish landscape. The first project, Beacon Pom Pom Hat is less than half a page, but the 3 pages of photographs which accompany it had me gasping at how such a simple knit can be so beautiful. It is also a perfect project for the less confident knitter to begin with.

This collection adapts some of Hilary’s most popular machine knits and  is filled with graphic patterns, flattering shapes and simple designs that hand knitters can recreate at home. Practical hats, snoods and sweaters suitable for all skill levels will inspire you  and no doubt (like me) you’ll find yourself googling trips to  Orkney to see for yourself the stunning backgrounds showcased in the photographs. The colours chosen for each design are beautiful, although it’s rare for me to knit anything in exactly the same colours as shown in the pattern, this is one book where I would be tempted to make everything just as it is.

In short, I love this book. I have spent hours just gazing at the photographs, planning projects and colour schemes. It’s a book I will buy for friends and certainly not one I shall be lending out. It will sit with me for years, and every now and again I shall knit myself something beautiful from it’s pages.

 

 

Learn to Crochet Workshops 2015

7th March 2015 Gallery Artemis, Cockermouth Cumbria – Learn to Crochet for Complete Beginners

I’m pleased to announce my first confirmed date for 2015 will be in my adopted home town of Cockermouth, Cumbria.

Gallery Artemis is a contemporary gallery and art space which supports local artists and makers and sells a range of jewellery, decorative pieces and paintings by local artists.

The class costs £45, which includes all the tools and materials you’ll need on the day. In addition to the basic skills and stitches, you’ll take away a kit to make a pair of wrist warmers.

The course runs from 10am until 4pm, with a break for lunch. All refreshments are provided, but please bring a packed lunch (or buy from one of the many delicious eateries on or near Main St).

You can book directly with Gallery Artemis by phone, or if you’re nearby why not pop in and take a peek at current exhibits, which include some gorgeous fused glass piece by my friend Helen, and my own boiled wool purses. A full listing and course description is available here.

Cockermouth is well served by public transport and has plenty of local parking. It is familiar to many yarn lovers as the home of Woolfest. I’ll be in Cockermouth all weekend, so if you’re tempted by the chance to learn to crochet, but will be travelling some distance, why not make a weekend of it? I’ll be happy to point you in the direction of some great local sites for yarn lovers, such as The Wool Clip in nearby Caldbeck.

For more details, you can email me (todhunter63[at]gmail.com or contact Yvette at the Gallery on 01900 267090

Hope to see you there.

Introducing the Ellie Hat

Ellie Hat pairI have just added another new pattern to my online Etsy and Ravelry stores. This elegant hat is so easy to make, a beginner could manage it with ease.

The yarn used in the product photos is Eden Cottage Yarns Langdale Aran, a beautifully soft 100% Merino yarn which available in an extensive range of colours. This pretty green reminded me of spring, which is when the hat was made. The adult version has a raised front treble row to form a textured brim.

Ellie Hat close upWith a few “tweaks”, there is no reason why you can’t substitute a DK yarn for the aran specified in the pattern, using a 4mm hook will of course make a smaller hat, but the principle of increasing on each round makes alterations fairly easy.

DK version, made using Shilasdair Luxury DK

DK version, made using Shilasdair Luxury DK

Instructions are provided for newborn and adult size, for my DK version I simply followed the adult instructions.

Eden Cottage Yarns will be at Woolfest next weekend (27th and 28th June) and you’ll be able to see the hat on their stall and take a look at the beautiful range of yarn blends and colours hand dyed in Yorkshire. I’ll be at Woolfest too, just on Saturday this year, and I already have an extensive “wishlist”!

You can download the hat pattern from Etsy or Ravelry,

Photo Credit: The photos of the Ellie Hat crocheted in Langdale Aran are (c) Victoria Magnus for Eden Cottage Yarns

Best of British Yarns

Thanks so much for all feedback on yesterday’s post about the WI collaboration with Hobbycraft. I’m ploughing through the emails, and will respond to everyone. You can read some of the responses on my twitter feed and in the comments on yesterday’s post.

In the interests of fairness, tomorrow I’ll be sharing some of my favourite designs made using man made fibres, but today I’m sharing a few of my  makes which show off some fabulous British wool and wool blends.

Just for the record, my interpretation of “British” wool means that the fleece grew on the back of a British sheep and that will always be my first choice for personal projects. However, there are some fabulous independent spinners and dyers doing amazing stuff with natural fibres and I shall definitely write about those in the future.

west yoks spinners 4 plyFirst up is this “work in progress”, a plain sock which is on the needles at the moment. I like my socks plain, simple and  a perfect fit in a good quality yarn. This Signature 4 ply from West Yorkshire Spinners definitely fits the bill and priced at £7.20 for 400m (a 100g ball) it compare favourably with other commercial sock yarns. I’ve got a bit of a WYS “thing” going at the moment, you may recall the beautiful mohair wrap I made at Easter. They do a great range of DK and Aran weights and are reasonably priced. The Aire Valley DK washes particularly well and is great for kids wear.

Willow Shawl, pattern and photo Credit Vicki Magnus, full details on Ravelry (click on the photo to be redirected to Ravelry))

A long time favourite dyer of mine is Vicki Magnus of Eden Cottage Yarns,lots of my personal projects are made in her gorgeous yarns. Among her British yarns is the new MIlburn 4 ply. ( a blend of Blue Faced Leicester and silk),  I can’t wait to treat myself to a skein. Vicki kindly gave permission to use the photo above. You can find the pattern details and download  on her Ravelry page.

wrist warmers

It’s always a bonus when an editor supports my choice for British yarn and these gorgeous wrist warmers in two beautiful shades of New Lanark DK first appeared in Love Crochet last year. This yarn definitely falls into the “super value” category and comes in a great range of colours. If you’re not familiar with New Lanark, do visit the website and drool over the amazing shades. A visit is highly recommended too!

Of course, I’m lucky to have such great editors, Knit Now for example have done great stuff in supporting and promoting British yarns  (if you’re looking for more British yarn suppliers, take a look at the current issue which has plenty of adverts for British yarn suppliers).

knit now

One of my all time favourite shoots has to be this simple ear warmer from Inside Crochet. Made using two balls of Erika Knight’s British Blue yarn it is just adorable and really shows off the subtle shades and soft yarn Erika Knight  has become known  for. Ideal for baby knits and for colour work, the 25g balls are the perfect size for little treats and fair isle projects.

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Photo Credit: Britt Spring for Inside Crochet (c) Tailormade Publishing

I’m often drawn to the colour and texture of a yarn and that often influences a design. The two shades of British Blue I used here are “Milk Chocolate” and “Steve”, other yarns in the range include “Mouse” and “Iced Gem” and are equally beautiful.

LilyWarneWool

Another great value and beautiful yarn which I recently discovered comes from Devon. Lily Warne wools  (cheaper, by the way,  than the Hobbycraft Heritage yarn I talked about yesterday). Sold   in DK and Aran weights the colour range can best be described as “scrumptious”. I’ve had great fun playing with different colour ways and I’ll have a project and pattern to share soon. Do take a look at Paula’s website, you can buy yarn and patterns direct or check out the list of stockists.

Photo Credit Lily Warne Wools. (Click on the photo to visit the website)

I just adore this photo and the super cute lambs steal the show!

Finally, I can’t write a post on British wool with a word for the producers. The farmers, shepherds, shearers and companies that provide us with one of the most beautiful, versatile and durable of fibres. Without healthy, happy sheep we wouldn’t have such beautiful yarns. So, thank you to everyone out on the fells at this time of year. If you’re interested to know more about the life of a shepherdess, I can throughly recommend you take a look at Alison O’Neill’s website. The neighbour of a friend of mine, she writes and records her life in the Howgills with humour and honesty.

Alison fleeces

Photo Kindly provided by Mike Glover to promote Kendal Wool Gathering. Click on the photo to visit the website.

I could write all morning about the gorgeous yarns, friendly suppliers and producers, but there’s really no substitute for going out and discovering British yarns for yourself. Do feel free to leave a link to your own favourites (or your own shop) in the comments and don’t fret, I know there hasn’t been a single mention for alpaca, cashmere or one of the many other beautiful fibres available. That’s a post for another day!

 

Off the Hook: Mohair Wrap

british mohair wrapRemember that gorgeous hank of Mohair I showed you from West Yorkshire Spinners? Well, here it is after 4 hours of relaxing crochet. This beautiful wrap, pictured here drying in the sunshine after a quick soak in Eucalan* is so fine and yet so sturdy I’m sure you’ll see me wearing it a lot this summer. More photos will follow, but I wanted to show it off. The pattern is very simple and that too will be shared soon. Using a beautiful yarn, combined with a simple stitch makes this an ideal beginner project. Like many mohair yarns, this one is almost impossible to “rip back”, so stick to a simple stitch or concentrate hard to avoid frustration!

You can find the full range of colours available on the West Yorkshire Spinners website (where you’ll also find their British 4 ply and DK yarns, I’m a big fan and hope to have a pair of socks knitted up in their Signature 4 ply to show you soon.)

We usually think of scarves and wraps as winter projects, but this simple wrap would be ideal for holidays, summer weddings or even for those cooler evenings when we shall all be sitting outside enjoying the  British summer …

*Eucalan is a rinse free formula soak, ideal for blocking and washing your handknits. I don’t use anything else!

Pattern: Jemima Ear Muffs

Crochet_6Jan14-121I am just in love with these photos the Inside Crochet team have supplied of my latest design. These cute little ear muffs look adorable don’t they? You can find the pattern in issue 50, which is on sale now (I believe issue 51 has just gone to press, so you should still be able to find it in the shops). This design was definitely influenced by the yarn. Erika Knight British Blue wool is so soft and the colours so beautiful it really lends itslef to children’s projects. Also, becuase it comes in 25g balls, you can afford to splash out on a luxury yarn for your precious little ones!

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These ear muffs take 2 balls (I used Milk Chocolate and Steve), you can really play around with the colour combinations in the Erika Knight range and have some fun. The pattern is designed for beginners and only requires a knowledge of double crochet, increasing and decreasing. You could use any doublke knitting yarn for this project, but it really does need to be soft and not scratchy. I use this yarn a lot for baby gifts and the quality and the colours are hard to match (I’m particularly fond of “Mouse” and “Iced Gem”).

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I used a shop bought pair of ear muffs for my base, but the pattern also has instructions for making your own with a hair band and foam.

I’ll be back later this week to show you a more “grown up” version I made, which I really think you’ll like!

Happy making x

Photo credit: All images supplied by Inside Crochet

Free Pattern: The Variable Cowl

variable cowl 2

Sorry, this pattern has been moved (and updated), you can find it here. Also don’t forget to follow my Free Crochet Patterns board on Pinterest to keep up to date with all my latest free paterns.

Published Patterns: A Wool Week Special

The autumn edition of Love Crochet went on sale recently and included these rather lovely handwarmers. The magazine version has lots of ideas for customising with ribbons and buttons, but these are my favourites. The yarn used here is New Lanark, an often overlooked, but very beautiful yarn from Scotland.

The pattern is very simple, ideal for a beginner looking to move beyond basic half trebles and double crochet. Feel free to customise any way you like – and if you do – I’d love to see a picture. It was a real thrill to spot them on the cover, next to Ros badger’s cute beanie hat, and over on the far left you’ll spot my nesting bowls, imagine them in festive colours and they would be great for Christmas, fill them with sweets or make a set as a gift.

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  • I’m Tracey Todhunter. I’m a freelance writer. specialising in green / ethical living – with a “sideline” in craft!

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  • When you look up from the tv and realise outside is far more interesting! Happy Bank Holiday weekend everyone. I shall mostly be harvesting onions, drinking g&t and reminding myself how lucky we are to have this view.
#slowliving #thankful #girlgardener #mygardenrightnow #cheshirelife #thewayweliveinthecountry #permaculture Finished a new shawl. Far too hot to wear it, but luckily my shed is a great backdrop! Yarn is King Cole Riot. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #neverenoughshawls #sheshed #madenotmanufactured #crochetlove Free food! Next best thing to growing your own food is eating other people's homegrown. I'm looking after my neighhour's garden & boy does he have a lot of radishes just now! I have written a blog post about more of my favourite (almost) free foods. Link in profile, now I'm off to pickle these radishes.
#frugalfood #foraging #ediblegarden #growyourownfood #girlgardener #allotmenteering #eattheseasons #permaculture  #zerowaste #slowliving #gardentotable #organicgardening #forktofork I'll admit it, I grow this mostly for it's amazing colour - but the stems are delicious sauted with chorizo or streaky bacon!
#mygardenrightnow #girlgardener #girlsthatgarden #permaculture #growyourown #ediblegarden #bakingandmaking #slowliving #organicgardening I do love a formal garden. I walk through this one every Friday on my way to knit group.  Castle Park is a hidden gem.
#gardens #castlepark #parksandgardens Thanks @simplycrochetmag for featuring my crochet picnic basket :) The pattern is available  now in Simply Crochet celebrations edition. You'll need a cardboard box to upcycle & some chunky cotton yarn, I used DMC Natura XL & finished it off with leather buckles from Bag Clasps. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #upcycling #reloved #crochet #makersgonnamake #lovecrochet
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