Radical closet refashion: part X

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In my last post, I finally shared the results of my wardrobe inventory. 

I’ve been having another type of wardrobe clear-out recently: launching a Keep & Share sale, to help me clear the cupboards of my ready to wear collection as I shift to becoming a commission-only label, remaking styles from my archive.

But - returning to my own wardrobe - new clothing-related questions are now popping into my head. The question I’d like to focus on this time is: just how long do we keep our clothes? As I've mentioned in my previous wardrobe project posts, there isn’t a whole lot of research on the contents of our wardrobes - and information about the length of time we keep things is particularly scant. 

While I have a lot of clothes, I don’t add to my wardrobe very often these days. This is partly because I love many of the things I already have - I know that any new item would have stiff competition. It’s also based on a conscious decision to adopt a slow approach to fashion - informed by my own design philosophy and linked quite specifically to an article I read whilst studying for my MA over ten years ago.

The article was in View on Colour, a trend prediction journal, and argued for a move towards slowness and satisfaction. Here are some excerpts that I found particularly inspiring at the time:

Pollution, over-production, and the possible scarcity of raw materials became a general concern some twenty years ago. The main answer has been recycling … but recycling still demands energy and produces waste. The more definitive solution is to keep.

We want to invest. Buying for now and for the future, designing our own sustainable style as years go by.

Putting together a wardrobe and a home will become a life-long process and something of a quest. 

You will not be searching for the perfect object but the perfect object for you. Putting together this alphabet of basic and loyal items will spell out who you are.

These words - particularly the line about a life-long quest - have stayed with me, more than any other book or article about sustainable fashion. I do feel like I have been searching for the perfect ‘Amy pieces’ - and when I find them, I want to hang on to them and keep wearing them for a long, long time.

Flicking through my wardrobe this morning, I tried to figure out the average length of time I’ve owned the contents. It’s hard, because of course, the answer varies - there are recently-acquired items sitting alongside pieces I’ve had for many years. And while I’ve got lots of second-hand/vintage clothes, which might be decades old, I’m interested (right now) in how long they’ve been in my wardrobe, rather than how long it is since they were made. 

I reckon I’ve acquired the majority of pieces in the last ten years, and I’d estimate the average at 5-6 years - though this is by no means accurate.

As I browsed the rails, a few older items stood out and so I took them out into the garden for an impromptu washing-line-based photo shoot…

>> The longest-standing pieces are a number of shirts and Indian tops that I’ve had since I was in my early teens (think grunge era). I wore them a lot then, and then didn’t wear them for a long time… but they’ve recently come out of hibernation and feel both emotionally significant and totally right for now, so I’m very glad I kept them.

>> Then there are a few pieces - t-shirts and a sweatshirt - that were handed down to me by family and friends, and so have a longer ‘known life’ (if we include the time worn by the previous owner). The stand-out item here is a well-worn Bob Marley tour t-shirt bought by my parents in 1976. I love to wear it, but keep it for special occasions as it is so delicate, beautifully disintegrating into a constellation of holes. 

>> I had a quick look at my shoes, and realised that the older pairs tend to be ‘posh’ heels - I wear them so seldom that they don’t have chance to wear out! The oldest ones still knocking about are a pair of Red or Dead patterned slingbacks - which I loved so much, I bought two pairs. Man, I love those shoes - though I’m not sure I’m ready for that 90s heel again, quite yet.

>> And finally - here I am, wearing what I think is the longest-standing item I have worn continuously, without a break, since acquiring it over fifteen years ago (a Belle & Sebastian band t-shirt), with what I think is the actual oldest item in my wardrobe (a lovely handmade black jacket) - and my most frequently worn garment, my black Old Town trousers. 

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This post is part X of my ongoing wardrobe project. 

You can find an introduction to the project, and links to the first five posts on the Refashioner blog, here. To read parts VI to X on ReFashioner, follow these links:

Part VI - an inventory of my hefty mending pile

Part VII - counting my clothes whilst packing to move house

Part VIII - thinking about the idea of rotating clothes for the changing seasons

Part IX - revealing the grand total of the wardrobe inventory

Part X - about how long I keep my clothes

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Betty and Beary and their excellent knitwear

Sunday, March 2, 2014

After a break from blogging - due to being busy relocating from Hereford to Leeds (read more) - I'm back with another childhood making-related gem!

This time, it's my doll Betty (notable for her problem hair) and bear Beary (notable for his imaginative name) - and their awesome garter stitch knitwear. Betty's jumpsuit was definitely made by my mum... and the provenance of Beary's jumper is lost in the mists of time, though I, for one, would rather like to recreate its graphic simplicity in adult size.

In other news: PhD amendments approved, so I am all done! I've put the thesis abstract and some excerpts from the conclusion - including my key insights - on the website, here. If you'd like to read the full document, please contact me for a download link!

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A new chapter

Friday, January 17, 2014

In my last post, I mentioned lots of exciting post-PhD stuff coming up in 2014. I wasn’t kidding - I officially started the biggest, most exciting thing right away on 1st January! I have a new role as Research Fellow in the School of Design at the University of Leeds, working on a 3-year AHRC-funded project looking at design strategies for revitalising local and traditional craft processes and products.

It’s a really exciting project, and I’m delighted to have found an opportunity to continue researching so soon after finishing my PhD. But - you may be thinking - what about Keep & Share? That’s a good question, so I’ve put together a handy FAQ post to answer it (and explain to myself what the heck I’m doing, too).

Q. Will Keep & Share continue?

A. Of course! Keep & Share is basically the umbrella name for all of my knit-related activities - so whatever I’m doing, that’s what Keep & Share is doing. Keep & Share has evolved and changed over the years (I’ll be celebrating the ten year anniversary in August!) so this is just a new chapter in the story.

Q. But will you still be making and selling knitwear?

A. Yes! However - I’ll be shifting to only making pieces to commission, via the atelier. I won’t be keeping ready-to-wear items in stock any more. This is partly because I’m really enjoying revisiting designs from my archive, making pieces to individual customers’ requests - and also to save space.

Q. What do you mean, save space? You can’t be moving from the Keep & Share HQ?

A. Yes I am! The unthinkable is happening. We’ve had eight and a half fantastic years at Lugwardine Court, but the time has come to move on. It’s no good having a fantastic studio in Hereford, if you live in Leeds!

Q. What, so you’re moving right away?

A. Ah, no. I’m keeping the studio for a while, to soften the blow of moving and to give me some time to figure out how to downsize the mountains of stuff in there at the moment.

Q. And what about the knitting workshops?

A. Well, I’ve scheduled one last round of workshops, taking place at the studio between March and June this year - you can see dates on the workshops pages

Q. And after that?

A. Because I’m now working in research full-time, I won’t have time to keep running lots of workshops any more. However, all is not lost! The plan is that my lovely friend and colleague Marissa Harmon, who will be running the beginners’ machine knitting workshops for me this spring, will take over the mantle. And maybe I’ll find the time to run the odd one, here and there - watch this space!

Q. And what about events - the Travelling Store and Knitting Tent?

A. Well, I won't have as much time to devote to zooming around the country, setting up shop, so I'll be just selling via the website for the foreseeable future. But I'm hoping to squeeze in fun stuff, like the Knitting Tent at festivals - I'll see how it goes.

Q. It sounds like you won’t be doing that much making. Won’t you get itchy fingers?

A. Don't worry! The middle phase of the new research project will involve lots of designing and making. And I’ve got lots of things on my list of things to make for myself, in my new hyper-amateur maker mode - mostly experimenting with the re-knitting techniques I have developed, playing around with them to rework the items in my wardrobe and create new pieces for exhibition.

Q. Hm, interesting. Can you tell me more about your new research project?

A. It’s all very new, so I’ll wait until we’ve got the project website up and running before I try to explain any more...

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