Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ooh heck, there's been lots going on in the past few months and there's a blog post backlog mounting up!

First, I should mention that I'm very pleased to have lots of work in the current exhibition at Walford Mill Crafts in Dorset, Knit 1, Mend 1, Keep 1, Change 1. They're showing several stitch-hacked and pattern-blagged pieces, along with my re-knitting sampler garment and a nice big version of my spectrum of re-knitting treatments. The exhibition is on until Sunday 1 March, and features work by other makers, including the fabulous Celia Pym. Highly recommended!

And now, here goes with a quick post about a really great day in January.

I was invited by Alex McLean to take part in a Hack the City event in Sheffield, in association with his 'Weaving Codes - Coding Weaves' research project. 

It was my first experience as a participant in a hack, and I found it really nice to have a day set aside for playful exploration, alongside interesting people from diverse backgrounds. 

I teamed up with Holger Ballweg, a live coder, to explore whether it was possible to write some code to convert a written knitting pattern into sounds. We based it on a traditional Shetland lace stitch - horseshoe - and used a free pattern from Knitting Bee. Towards the end of the day we tested the code with another lace stitch.

I have to confess that the division of labour felt rather unequal - Holger slaved away over creating a whole new lot of code, while I knitted a nice repetitive and familiar pattern! 

We made it so the speed of the sounds could be varied - at knitting speed (as in the first YouTube clip below), or much faster, which shows the repeats in the pattern quite effectively (and amusingly - click the second clip below). I think the version at knitting speed could (with lots of development and refinement) be useful for knitters, especially those with visual impairment.

Hopefully, we'll be able to develop this in the future... A big thank you to Holger for taking on my challenge, and for posting the clips online. You can read his blog post about the project, which includes a link to the source code, here.


Lauren's wedding dress

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Earlier this year I completed a very special one-off project: making a wedding dress for my lovely friend Lauren.

It was a lot of fun to work with Lauren to develop her initial idea and make it real. I felt very proud on the big day!

When I told people I was making a wedding dress, they assumed it would be knitted. But no! I can sew too! Although - as you'll see - it was inevitable that some crochet would pop up in the trims...

Congratulations Lauren and Joe! And thank you, Lauren, for being such an incredibly laid-back bride!


'Sustainable fashion' and binary thinking

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I realised something recently. It's pretty simple, but seems rather important.

This realisation emerged from a comment someone made about my work on homemade clothes and sustainability. They challenged the whole idea of 'sustainable fashion', arguing that too often people assume that sustainable fashion is 'better' than mass-produced fashion - when strategies such as making our own clothes at home might bring their own challenges and limitations.

In response, I explained that I don't think homemade clothes are automatically more sustainable than mass-produced clothes (though they certainly have the potential to be) - in fact, that's the central point of my whole thesis - so, effectively, I agreed with the point they were making.

However, I quietly sidestepped the larger issue they raised. I could only think: well, of course I think sustainable fashion aims to be 'better'! That's the goal, right? Seeking solutions to problems and new ways of doing things? That's what we're all working towards!

Over time, I've come to realise that my confusion over this comment indicates two totally different understandings of what 'sustainable fashion' means. The first is binary, while the other (my own) is aspirational.

The binary understanding sees 'sustainable fashion' and 'unsustainable fashion' as two distinct categories. From this perspective, 'normal' high street fashion falls within the 'unsustainable' category - while anything placed within the 'sustainable' category carries the implicit claim of 'betterness'. 

This binary view is certainly easy to understand: it efficiently splits the fashion world into baddies and goodies. It helps you to feel good as a consumer - having picked the virtuous option versus the negative one. It's also a logical perception: if designers and journalists talk about 'sustainable fashion' it implies a single, unified group which exists in opposition to its nemesis, 'unsustainable fashion'. 

However, given the complexity of the fashion system, the energy and resources consumed in creating and maintaining garments, and the many human and social factors involved in wearing clothes, no initiative can truly claim to be 100% sustainable. I learned early on that this is true of design for sustainability more generally - you will always be trading off advantages against disadvantages, and dealing with unexpected impacts. There are no easy wins! 

From the binary perspective, there is great scope for challenging those who describe their work as sustainable fashion - the critics need only point to the inevitable negative impacts of their initiatives to argue that they are (at best) naive idealists, who have not considered the implications of their well-intentioned efforts.

In contrast, my understanding of sustainable fashion is that it's an aspiration - something that, to be honest, we haven't yet achieved. As a fashion designer exploring alternative fashion systems with sustainability as a goal, I might describe my work as 'sustainable fashion' - but that's a shorthand for the aspirations I have sought to pursue, not for '100% goodie'.

And I'm not alone. I don't know of a single person working within the field of sustainable fashion who thinks in this binary way - that what they are doing is definitively 'better' than the norm. Instead, I see a lot of people pursuing different approaches - based on their own priorities, interests and talents - and trying to expose alternative, more sustainable, ways of delivering the benefits of fashion. They are highly aware of the negative impacts of the strategies they are developing, and the trade-offs they are making.

Meanwhile, many of these people are working with the 'baddies' of the high street fashion world, seeking to explore alternatives on an industrial scale through collaboration, rather than competition - challenging that binary view from another angle.

Simple, right? We were talking at cross purposes all along. Just a shame it took me so long to realise!

I guess we all need to get a bit better at explaining what we mean by 'sustainable fashion'.