Thursday, 10 December 2015

internet clippings

Duolingo is a website full of free language courses, all set up in a way that makes learning fun and a bit addictive. (Jag talar svenska!)

If you've ever wondered what to do with all those strips you trim off your PDF sewing pattern pages: Moravian stars. And if you want to practice your Norwegian, these paper stars are nice too (the pictures make enough sense on their own).

The only thing better than doing a personality quiz is getting your partner to do one and then reading aloud the detailed description of exactly what is so annoying about them (I'm INFP, he's INTJ).

You can volunteer your time on all sorts of science and history research projects through Zooniverse. I've been identifying antelope on the Serengeti, without leaving home.

Chef Brendan McDermott is giving Pam Howard a run for her Favourite Craftsy Tutor title - and his class is free! Essential viewing if you cook and also value your fingers.

The innovative LSO Play website lets you get up very close and personal with the orchestra and conductors (of course it's no substitute for hearing them live at the Barbican, which you can do for just £10).

I've been enjoying the conversations between Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond on Dear Sugar Radio.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Fashion Revolution Day: who made your fabric?

As a sewer, the answer to the question, "who made my clothes?" can often be, "I did!" I'm a long way from having an entirely me-made wardrobe - not sure I'm even aiming for that - but I do really enjoy noticing that pretty much every load of laundry we do now includes at least one thing that I sewed. Who made my clothes? Not an underpaid, exploited worker in a dangerous factory somewhere: I made them myself.
If I stop there, though, at that feeling of pleasure [virtuousness? self-congratulation??] at being able to sew my own clothes, I think I'm missing the point of the question. Cutting and sewing fabric is just the final stage of making a garment. It's understandable that it's that stage that comes to mind today, because we're commemorating the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1,133 (or more) people who were mostly garment workers. But there's a lot of work that goes into producing clothing before the cutting and sewing happens - starting with growing cotton (or flax, hemp, bamboo, nettles, pine trees, banana palms...) from seed, or raising sheep, goats, silk worms, or llamas, or maybe drilling for oil, through all sorts of processes (some much more complex/polluting/resource-hungry than others) just to make yarn, and then onto dyeing, knitting or weaving. People are involved at every step. Much has been done to make our home-sewn clothes before we ever pick up our scissors.

So instead of using Fashion Revolution Day as a celebration of home-sewing, a kind of fun warm-up to Me-Made May, maybe we could adapt the question so that it serves its intended purpose: to encourage us to think about people we often forget, who work to produce the goods that we buy. Who makes my fabric? Where are they? Are they working in safe conditions? Are they paid a fair wage for their labour? Can they unionise to defend their rights? Is their neighbourhood impacted positively or negatively by the production of the cloth (or the raw materials for it) that I buy?
With so much choice confronting us when we shop for fabric (or clothes), it's hard to keep sight of these issues. We all prefer not to ask uncomfortable questions, and instead we get caught up in the search for - or the thrill of finding - just the right shade of blue, the perfect drape, the ideal amount of stretch, the prettiest-ever print, and all at a good price... We don't actually believe that any of those things are more important than the safety and well-being of our fellow humans, but we're easily led to behave as if they are. I "need" some turquoise striped jersey - but not like the person picking the cotton needs a living wage and protection from deadly pesticides. We forget to think of it that way; the point of Fashion Revolution Day is to remind us.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Going to the Knitting & Stitching Show this week?

I've been at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Ally Pally this afternoon. This is the first time they've opened on a Wednesday and it was blissfully quiet: no elbow matches, no scrums, no danger of being thrown headlong into the pile of cut-price yarn at that stall, not even a queue for the toilets! Also, I managed not to purchase a SINGLE THING. Yep, a zero-growth day for the stash. It seemed like there were slightly fewer stalls this year, and more interesting gallery exhibits - plenty to enjoy without buying more stuff. In case you're heading up there in the next few days, here are the highlights according to me:


Beautiful watercolours, stitched pictures, and soft sculpture (including the apples used on the show publicity), and lovely illustrations by her husband, Charles, too. Both artists are now dead and their son and daughter are manning the gallery. There's a video of Renate speaking about her work; she was involved in planning the exhibit before she passed away earlier this year.

This thought-provoking gallery features the tiniest hand-stitched lettering EVER. And cross-stitched biscuits. My mum and I had a chat with Caren, who was really friendly and slightly bemused that someone had just 'tidied up' a deliberately out-of-place element of her display!


Baa Ram Ewe (TGK15) has very attractive seamless knitting patterns; I didn't spot any organic wool at the show this year, unfortunately, but theirs is made of all-British fibres and spun in Yorkshire. Janice Gunner's quilts (RCF8) prove that saving teeny tiny scraps of fabric isn't ridiculous (although my mum led the way to this one, the vindication was all mine). My mum's perennial favourite is Aid for Burma KSDP (TGI10) - lots of unusual trims and applique thingamajigs as well as handmade accessories. Organic cotton fabrics were thin on the ground this year but, if you need more fabric, The Eternal Maker (L12, L15) has loads of Cloud 9 and Birch.

And a local tip: there's a fantastic vintage clothing shop in Hornsey (the area at the bottom of the hill in front of Alexandra Palace). It's called Mishka, and if you get on a W3 bus opposite the Palm Court entrance/exit, going towards Finsbury Park, you can get off virtually right outside the shop (the stop's called Priory Park). It's a chaotic treasure trove and there's always some fabric and haberdashery for sale alongside the incredible clothes. I've heard that some of the Downton Abbey costumes came from here. If you're not completely exhausted by the K&S Show, it's well worth a visit.

Have fun!