Karen, who authors the Fringe Association blog which kicked off slowfashionoctober, recently documented the cost of making her own clothes for a year: Through her blog and others, I have learned a lot about the hidden costs of “fast fashion” ranging from the cost to the environment in terms of cheap clothing going into the landfill and chemicals generated by excessive clothing production and disposal. In addition, many bloggers have been reflecting on standards of quality in different levels of garment manufacture, including hand knitting.
Anny Blatt trunk show of hand knits, Paris
As hand knitters, we have total control over our own quality standards, which are only limited by our skill and our budget. But for some reason, this is not commonly discussed in my knitting groups. So I was intrigued to read comments on Karen’s post in which other hand knitters reflected on the money Karen had spent on yarn to knit a baby camel sweater ($300) versus how much she would spend on it in a store, and estimated the wears she would get out of it, and if it was worth it or not. It suddenly seemed really weird to me that we knitters talk all the time about what we are making, but we don’t talk about how often we wear what we make, and what our best investments have been.
In the past, I haven’t spent much time thinking about this topic, as my primary focus the past few years has been on developing my ability to create couture-quality fabric in hand knits. For example, the silver-trimmed jacket above was knitted after I watched Chanel’s Paris Dallas fashion show, which included a $6,000+ denim jacket with silver trim.
In my mind, I spent $225 on materials for my jacket, which meant I was at least $5, 800 ahead! But that is an absurd calculation, given that I would never spend $6, 000 on a jacket anyway. In fact, given the prices of couture these days, who can afford to buy it new except for celebrities and the top 1%?
Rihanna wearing Chanel
Amy said it best in her blog, red, speckled white, “I don’t need to be Beyonce, I can embroider.” And frankly, the greatest enjoyment I got out of my silver-trimmed jacket was the skill I learned in crocheting metallic trim onto the knitted fabric so that it was good enough to wear. This took a lot of time, but my investment in developing my skill was worth it.
Who says that couture always offers top of the line quality anyway? My grandmother, who grew up on a farm in East Texas sewing all her own clothes, experienced a unique boon in which for a time, she was able to afford couture, and she made the most of it. But the first thing she did, when she brought a designer ball gown or suit home from Neiman Marcus, was to throw it under the presser foot of her sewing machine, first reinforcing all the seams and then tightening all the buttons by hand. That taught me an important lesson, and I always put extra effort into the finishing of my knits, pressing my mattress-stitch seams and making my buttons extra secure. I doubt my grandmother ever admitted her sewing tricks to any of her well-dressed friends, and similarly, I feel we knitters keep important stores of knowledge to ourselves. I hope others will start to write more about their hard-earned knowledge of what yarns, garments, and techniques they have found to be the best investment over the years! Here are my first thoughts about this topic:
What Makes a Good Knitting Investment?
1) Garments I have knitted at a tighter gauge have lasted longer than garments I knitted at a looser gauge. It seems to be a huge trend right now to take fingering or lace-weight yarn and knit it on a big pair of needles to create more drape. While I am a fan of drape, I am not a fan of the slow “dissolve” I have witnessed over time to the garments I knitted too loosely.
My Darcy, a Kim Hargreaves pattern knitted in Karabella Aurora sportweight yarn in moss stitch, is the worst example. Being a loose knitter, I decided to use a fine yarn on the pair of needles the pattern called for instead of using a dk weight yarn on smaller needles. The result? The first time I washed the cardigan, it lost all its bounce and deteriorated into a soft mush which the combined efforts of myself and my mother-in-law only barely saved through frantic blocking. Every time I wear the jacket, I feel it is barely hanging on by a thread, and I am terrified to brush hairs off of it, lest it fall apart. It was a very bad investment, in spite of the fact that I had splurged on pure Italian merino yarn. By contrast, the Kim Hargreaves jacket I knitted in Rowan Felted Tweed Aran in moss stich on smaller needles is practically indestructible and I wear it all the time:
2) Garments I have knitted with high-quality tweed, cotton, and silk blends have lasted much longer and draped better than garments I knitted with low quality yarns of the same fiber content. My favorite sources are Habu and Handmaiden for silk, and Rowan for tweed, cotton and mohair blends.
Knitted in Rowan felted tweed
3) I wear garments knitted in soft, non-irritating fibers twice as often as I wear garments knitted in “durable” natural fibers because I have sensitive skin. This means, that in my case, high-quality cotton blends, cashmere, angora, merino and silk blends are a much better investment than mohair, alpaca, tweed, pure cotton, and many wools. Although the latter fibers may “last” longer, if I only wear the piece once a year, what is the point? This means that in future, I should reserve those fibers for fall/winter jackets, vests and cardigans I can wear over long-sleeved shirts or dresses. All tops and tanks should be made in soft yarns unless they are to be worn in the middle of winter with a long-sleeved top underneath. And my cardigans for spring/summer should be knitted in soft fibers as they might touch my arms.
Knitted in Handmaiden sea silk
4) Any garment that requires learning a new technique or novel color combination is a good investment. But perhaps a smaller project is best? I was particularly satisfied with my cowl, below, because it was a small project I knitted from stash, so the learning curve was not too expensive in time or money terms.
PLEASE share your experiences, dear readers!!! What have you found to be your best knitting investments, and why?