Fashion Revolution No. 4 // SWAP


One of the most under-rated clothing resources that I know of is the almighty swap. Clothing swaps are something I feel strongly about because I love them and I have always done well by them. Just last week our local ladies pinball league hosted a swap and it was a real bonanza. I got rid of a ton of stuff and came home with all of those lüks above (plus a vintage swimsuit and some leggings with fish skeletons on them). Swaps are great because they are free, they are social, and if you get enough people together you'll wind up with a real range of clothing (I came home with all high quality, much needed staples, and Tavi came home with one vintage pinball t-shirt, her own personal jackpot). I am by no means an expert, but here are some tips:

1. Join your local ladies pinball league. Just kidding, but only sort of. 

If you are hosting:

  • Clear out some space. The best swaps I've been to have been sort of massive and it helps to have several tables or designated floor space for stuff so that people can meander. 
  • Organize. Make spots for pants, spots for sweaters, etc. Put out baskets for accessories and little things. Rig up a clothing rack for hanging things. Consider this a good excuse to dust the corners and wash the floor and vacuum the couch and then let everyone get up into all of it. 
  • Provide and encourage snacks and make it BYOB. It can be a little intimidating to dig through other people's stuff in close proximity to them, much less try it on. Cheese puffs (and booze) can go a long way.
  • Set up a try on space- in a bathroom or hallway away from the fun. In my experience everyone ends up trying things on together after a while, but not everyone will be comfortable with that openness and that's okay. 
  • Resist the urge to make rules outside of a start/stop time. Don't limit the amount of things that people can bring- encourage them to hit up friends or bring things for folks who can't come. Encourage friends to bring other friends and get the word out beyond your own circle. Don't make bringing something a requirement- not everyone has extra. The more the better because you'll have variety in size, quality and style.
  • Organize a local charity to come and pick up the leftovers the next day. Find out who will do a pick-up, and if you have local shelters with need lists you can set aside things for them as well. 

If you are attending:

  • Use this opportunity to sort your closet. Maybe there are things that you haven't gotten rid of because the thought of anonymously donating them is heart wrenching, but you actually do not wear them and the thought of a friend delighting in them makes parting easier on the stomach.
  • Bring a friend, bring a friend's stuff, bring a snack, bring a beer.
  • Before you go, make a list, even if it's just a mental one. What holes are there in your closet? Are you bringing something that will need to be replaced? I brought a few beloved short-short dresses that I don't wear anymore, and replaced them with two dresses that fit my current preferences much better.
  • Don't let the lack of price tags trick you into bringing home piles and piles of clothing. Limit yourself to what you need and really want. Try it on.
  • Bring a bag, find a place to stash it. As the get-together progresses it will become harder to tell what's up for grabs and what has been claimed.
  • Be respectful. You won't know who brought what and the shirt you're making fun of might have a wholly different meaning to the person next to you. Fold things and put them back if you don't want them. Everything will become a heap eventually, but everyone can do their small part to keep manageable. 

Fashion Revolution No. 3 // Separating the threads


This week (and most weeks) I've been thinking about yarn- especially as I work on the hat pattern I'm currently writing. Pattern writing doesn't require a yarn recommendation, but I think it's helpful for knitters who might not have a massive stash or access to a physical yarn store where they can feel things out. For this pattern I've been leaning towards Cascade yarn so I emailed their customer service reps for information about their production and sourcing methods and heard back promptly:

Peruvian Highland Wool used for Cascade 220 is a result of an unintentional cross breeding between Merino sheep and the local sheep owned by the indigenous people who live on the high sierra of Peru at an altitude of approximately 11,000 to 12,000 feet. Cascade Yarns imports approximately 80% of the highland wool produced in Peru. Its high loft makes it light to wear and the long staple makes it resistant to pilling. Our yarns are dyed with Oeko-Tex Standard 100 dyes that meet or exceed global safety standards.

We receive many questions regarding the conditions of the animals that our yarns are sourced from and the working conditions of the mills where we purchase our yarns. The animals are treated extremely well, (like family!) and are allowed a very free range style of life. They have shepherds that watch over them and they are extra special to all the little girls in the families as pets. The mill workers are treated fairly and make a competitive wage. They are also provided with safety equipment such as ear and eye protection and masks to keep the wool from irritating the lungs. We care about our producers and do our best to make sure they are up to date in safety and eco-friendly procedures.

That didn't totally answer my questions, and now I have more. Such as: what about the other 20%, where does that come from? Good that the animals are treated well, and the mill workers paid fairly (what is fair?) but what about the farmers, are they paid a fair price for the wool? Do they own the sheep and have a say in where the wool goes? Do they own the land? Where are the mills, and are the workers paid fairly by U.S. standards, or by the standards of the country where they are (if it's not the U.S.)? 

I like Cascade yarns because they are affordable (red flag!), but also because they are a solid and practical choice for hard wearing garments. Their alarmingly affordable prices (plus frequent sales at Webs) and generous yardage makes them accessible to people who cannot afford to knit a $200 sweater any more than they can afford to buy one. So I'm torn. 

Here's another interesting yarn conversation that I'm learning things from. And here's Part 2.

This lady is doing recycled yarn in a super professional (about to be more so!) way, check her out!

Image: "Plant Magic" cowls knit in Cascade 220. The top sections of each are naturally dyed with indigo and pokeweed.

Fashion Revolution No. 2 // Berlin Conference

If you want to think about colonization- and we all need to think about colonization- the Berlin Conference is a good place to start. Here's a wikipedia link about the Scramble for Africa. Don't forget to read between the lines and take some time looking at that map. 

Have you heard of Yinka Shonibare? I think you should! He is a contemporary British-Nigerian artist whose works turn a lens on colonization. Here is a little bit on his piece (pictured above) "Scramble for Africa". He is important in this conversation because he highlights the connection between fabric manufacturing and colonization, which has an especially complicated history in Nigeria. 

The fabric used in Shonibare's piece above is Dutch wax resist fabric, printed in traditionally African patterns. Dutch wax resist was a technique developed by the Dutch in the 1800's. The process was adapted from Javanese fabric production, when the Dutch were in Java fighting in the colonial wars (read that as: when the Dutch were colonizing Java through war). The Dutch took this production to Indonesia where they hoped to take over the fabric manufacturing industry with their "new" method. The fabric did not take off in Indonesia, where batik remained the more popular wax-resist technique, but when the Dutch inserted themselves into West Africa Dutch wax resist became enveloped in the culture there. In time it took on cultural significance separate from the colonizers and over the past century it has become African. However, it wasn't until the 1960's that the fabric was actually produced in Africa. Before that the Dutch succeeded in creating a cultural dependency between West Africa and European manufacturing.

So- the Dutch took it from Java, tried to use it to disrupt the Indonesian market, then brought it to West Africa where became a part of the culture. It is, in fact, the perfect example of the disruptive impact of colonization on indigenous cultures, set in motion by the Berlin Conference. Look again at the map of Africa split up into European land holdings. Imagine the cultures of each of those areas being appropriated by the Europeans and then sprinkled throughout their other holdings. Imagine too- European textiles being interwoven (maybe even literally) with traditional fabric production across colonized areas. 

As you question the origins of your textiles (because it's not just clothes- look to your upholstery, towels, bedding and rugs as well) don't just ask who made them. Ask too where the designs originated and how they got there and out of what circumstances.