The following video is a tutorial for other milliners. I am in no way an expert in making straw braid hats, but I had a request from another milliner for some help understanding their antique straw braid machine. The video is long and kinda boring, but it serves a purpose. I’d love to hear from other milliners with their tips for sewing straw braid.
I did it! I wrote a knitting pattern. I don’t so much consider the designing of the hat to be a terribly big deal because I’m comfortable creating with my hands, On the other hand, writing out directions in a way that is understandable to someone not living in my brain is way out of my comfort zone. I have never done any graphic design, so that aspect of pattern writing was also a challenge, but I like to live on the edge, and with the help of an incredible tech editor, I do believe that I have written a knitting pattern that I can be proud of.
The image on the hat is based on a block print called, Gossips, by Virginia Lee Burton. Virginia departed from earth the same year I entered it (1968). Pity, because I would love to have met her. I have had to settle, instead, for reading the many stories she left behind, with day dreaming myself into her heart filled images and with tales of her life. I wish I could have been her friend, but I’m happy to simply be one of the many women she inspired.
The little piece below is included in my knitting pattern. I strongly encourage you to click on some of the links. Virginia Lee Burton is somebody we should all know about. You can buy the pattern HERE or HERE and the soft, squishy and very Canadian, Custom Woolen Mills Yarn is available at The Mariner’s Daughter, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Virginia and her husband, George Demetrios, settled in Folly Cove, a neighbourhood in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, in 1932. The Folly Cove Designers began in 1938 with a barter between Virginia and her neighbour, Aino Clarke. Aino would give violin lessons to Virginia’s son and Virginia would teach design to Aino.
This simple neighbourly exchange led to more neighbours wanting art lessons and eventually blossomed into a very successful community design guild. Virginia believed that everyone was inherently creative and encouraged her students to draw from their daily lives. Most of the Folly Cove designers were women.
There’s so much to say about the Folly Cove Designers, but the part that touches my heart most is that one woman, with an incredible talent, lifted up so many other women in her community. Her belief that everyone is inherently artistic and her willingness to share her own talent with her community, made it possible for many women in a small, tucked away community to both discover their own artistic abilities and to earn a living.
I first came across the work of the Folly Cove Designers while working as a dancer in Cape Ann. Gossips is the piece that whispered to me. It smiles at our sometimes good and sometimes not so good human nature.
I don’t know for certain what the women in my hat are saying, but I think that, like Virginia herself, they are encouraging each other and finding ways to make their lives better. I’m pretty sure it’s Good Gossip.
The Block Print, Gossips. If you are in Gloucester, MA, be sure to stop in to the Cape Ann Museum to see some of the work of the Folly Cove Designers.
There’s also a film called, A sense of Place. I haven’t seen it yet.
So, here I was desperately trying to think out of the box for the solution to my sustainable fashion problem and all along the answer was right there in the box…well, in the boxes, the many boxes, and shelves and drawers and the attic…
I have been struggling with the question of how to shift my business to align with the values I care about: sustainabilitly, cleaning up plastics in the ocean, and not shipping the waste we produce to our friends in far off, and less well off, countries to deal with. It may surprise you to learn that the fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world. Oil is number one.
Anyways, back to solutions. My mind has been doing somersaults trying to find a replacement for polar fleece that does not contribute to the plastics that are filling our oceans. Simultaneously, I have been looking around my studio at 25 years worth of textile accumulation and feeling the need to lighten my load.
Not sure why it took me so long to connect the dots, but the chocolate finally fell into the peanut butter (apologies if you are too young to remember that commercial) and the answer hit me like a ton of vintage hankies.
I have been trying to find the answer using the same business model that I have been using for many years. It’s the same business model that is used by fashion lines large and small. 1- Create a line of hats (dresses, scarves, pants, neck ties…) 2- source fabric and make sure that the fabric can be reordered. 3- Create samples and take orders on the sample photographs. 4- Yearly, or every so often shake things up and add new fabrics, colours and designs.
This model has worked well for me, except for one little thing. There is always a lot of leftover fabric and trimmings. Sometimes it’s because a colour was discontinued or because a colour was not popular or because I moved on to something else, but the end result has been boxes, shelves, and drawers of supplies.
As I looked through fabric websites, I kept thinking to myself, I don’t want to order 10 yards of anything. Do I really have to do this? I finally decided that the answer is no. I don’t need to order the latest eco friendly, certified groovy fabric and create a new line of hats. It’s way more eco friendly to use up a non organic fabric that I already have in my studio than to buy more fabric. And just like that, my new direction took shape. I’m simply going to make hats from what I have. Doesn’t sound revolutionary, does it?
Ironically, it’s exactly how I began making hats at the age of 26. With no money to my name, (that part hasn’t changed much) I used remnants from a local upholsterer, cut up thrifted clothing and frequented vintage shops for vintage fabrics. Back then, the words sustainability, zero waste and eco fashion had not yet been invented, but I was doing it. The same way that our foremothers did it. It’s simply what you do when throwing things out is not an option.
Looks like I have come full circle. I’m not promising to not buy anything, but I am going to make using what I have a priority. So simple. All this time, the answer was in the box.
The photo above is a batch of flowers that I had in a drawer. I just put pinbacks on them and will bring them with me to the Lunenburg Farmers Market.
Here are a couple of hats that I just made from an old coat. (I’m having a blast.)
I have just finished knitting the main body of the sweater for my husband. He is 6’1″ and kind of enormous. There are a lot of stitches in this sweater. By nature, I’m a selfish knitter. I so admire all the women who want to express their love for their family and friends through knit wear, but, I confess, I just want to make myself beautiful clothes.
Since learning to knit a year ago, I have found myself dedicating most of my time to knitting while ignoring some of the more mundane tasks of life, like washing dishes, cooking, paying bills or talking. I thought I might be able to justify my neglect by knitting a sweater for my husband. (Really, Honey, I’m doing this for you.)
And so, for the past two months, I have spent my evenings knitting my husband a cardigan. I can’t say that I haven’t enjoyed the process, but knitting for the man is slightly challenging. You see, he’s quite finicky about his clothing. Some might even call him a pain in the ass, but I call him discerning. Knowing how
difficult thoughtful he is regarding what he wears, I included him in on the process. I let him choose the pattern and choose the wool. I knit one sleeve first and when he felt it was a bit too snug I ripped it out and knit it again. I also distinctly recall asking him about the length of the sweater. I knew it was a long sweater, and I remember him answering, “it’s fine, it’s fine, whatever” In fairness, he may not have been entirely awake when I asked him that question, but he did answer me.
Last night, after binding off, I had him try on the sweater. It fit perfectly. It is a long sweater, but it’s SUPPOSED TO BE A LONG SWEATER. He said he loved it.
Well, this morning, before I had my first sip of coffee, he casually asked, “Hey, could you make the sweater shorter” No!!! I can’t make the sweater shorter! Why not? Because it’s knit from the bottom up and I’d have to cut the damn thing and knit down and that’s terrifying and that Bloody tubular cast on took me two days and almost killed me and it’s in moss stitch and I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!!! He did feel badly for asking, but now the wheels have been set in motion.
I have started watching Youtube videos on cutting your knitting with vague thoughts of divorce wafting through the back of my mind. I had heard about the legend of the boyfriend sweater. Don’t knit your boyfriend a sweater because that will be the beginning of the end. But after 16 years of marriage I thought I’d risk it.
My question, Dear Abby, is, do I put this sweater that still needs button bands and a collar into a bin and never finish it? Do I finish the sweater as is and resent my husband for the rest of eternity for not wearing it? Do I leave my husband for a 6’4″ man or for another 6’1″ man who likes long sweaters? Or do I get over my fears, learn how to cut my knitting, and try to be one of those people who don’t make their husbands feel eternally guilty for asking me to do something really scary before I have had a cup of coffee.
O.K., I think I have answered my own question. Youtube to the sweater/marriage rescue. Thanks for listening.
His first and last sweater in Lunenburg
Last I left you I wrote about how knitting seems to be taking me and my little cottage industry into new territory. I wrote about my concerns regarding micro fibres. I’ll come back to that topic, but first….Here’s my latest! She is called, The Strong Witch. This hat is an ode to all the women past and present who took a different path, had the courage to speak up, were feared or hated for simply stating the truth or for not fitting into society’s little box. She is not a Halloween hat, although ’tis the season. She is an every day hat and I am sure that the woman who ends up owning this hat will have no qualms about wearing her to the grocery store or the park or to walk the dog at any time of year. I look forward to meeting this woman.
But now, back to the future. The more I learn about the effect that micro fibers, like Polar Fleece, are having on our environment, the more I feel the need to work with natural fibers that will eventually go back to the earth. Like I said in my previous post, I own a lot of polar fleece and it would be completely nonsensical to throw it away, so I will use it up till it’s gone. But my passion is for the fabrics that have been given to us by nature and that’s the direction that I wish to take my business.
Here’s the tricky part. These hats are more time consuming and more expensive to produce, which means, they are more expensive to buy. It has always been important to me to make hats that are affordable to regular working women and every time I put a higher price tag on a hat I inwardly gulp. But I am beginning to feel more comfortable with these prices that reflect the cost of my time.
For several decades we have been fed a steady diet of fast and disposable fashion. We have been told to update our look annually. Out with the old, in with the new. Big box stores that sell clothing which has been made in factories with dubious standards have warped our collective understanding of the value of clothing.
I am not dissing all factory made clothing or even the choice to manufacture in countries where wages are lower. When done ethically, a factory can support a community. But I am pointing out that cheap is always costly somewhere. It might be the cost to the lives of the women sewing clothing in unsafe buildings. It might be the cost of having nowhere to put all of the cheap clothing we put into donation bins, or it might be the cost to the life of a whale who has feasted on plastic micro fibers.
You don’t need to go back far in time to see that people used to pay a lot more for clothing that they did today. I have a hand made hat from the 1930’s with its original price tag. It was $30. In today’s equivalent that would be $440. Funny, because if I were to really charge a fair price (fair to myself) for one of my wet felted hats, that would pretty much be my price. People also owned a lot less clothing than they did today. Ever notice how the characters on Downton Abbey or Poldark wear the same dresses and hats over and over? That was the norm.
Perhaps going back to a time where clothing was laundered twice a year is not realistic, but there is a balance somewhere between then and now. We can stop and consider the results of our choices. We can decide to buy quality instead of quantity. We can choose to support our local economies. We can ask ourselves if we truly can’t afford to pay a fair price for ethically made clothing or is it that the dollar amount shocks our sense of what we believe clothing should cost.
I know I’m preachy. Sorry, I was born that way. But I’m also fallible, and like you, I live in the real world where we don’t always get to live up to our ideal standards. All I’m asking is that we begin to question the sustainability of cheap, fast and disposable. I’m usually not a fan of buzz words, but I really love the Slow Fashion Movement. It’s time has come…again.
A couple of months ago I said to Tony, “I think I’m having a crisis.” He was very concerned and agreed to hear me out. The next line out of my mouth had the word, “knitting” in it and with that one word I instantly lost credibility. I guess my idea of a crisis and his idea of a crisis were a bit different and after confirming that I didn’t want to go off and live in an Ashram he proceeded to mock me mercilessly. The mocking continues to this day. And so, I am forced to turn to my cyber friends for support. You guys will take me seriously, right?
As you probably know by now, I began knitting a little less than a year ago…and I haven’t stopped. I just keep knitting and knitting and knitting. And with every stitch my ideas of what I want to do and what I want to make and what I don’t want to make have turned upside down. My concept of value has turned upside down. These thoughts have been mixed with fear because what I no longer want to make is very much connected to how I earn my living and what I want to make is, well, slow. Really slow.
I have avoided writing about this because the thoughts have been so jumbled up in my head and intermingled with fear. But, this summer has been incredible. People have come to visit me from near and far and have been buying the hats that I feared were too time consuming to sell at a fair price. So, I feel a bit braver and I will share my dreams of The Hat Junkie’s future.
I have to begin with polar fleece, that snuggly, warm, affordable and oh so appealing fabric. It is made from recycled plastic bottles. Pretty cool, eh? I have always thought so. It has been the staple of my business for over 20 years. But it seems that polar fleece has a down side. Every time it is washed it sheds tiny micro fibres. These tiny little bits of plastic make their way into our water and into the bodies of sea animals. In fact, the majority of plastic in our oceans is coming from micro fibres. These micro fibres are also ending up on our fields and in our own bodies. It’s not healthy and it’s not sustainable.
There, I said it. That was the hard part. But here’s the thing. I have bolts of the stuff and I have had many long internal debates about what is the right the thing to do. I’ll spare you the inner dialogue and go straight to my conclusion. I will use it up. The fabric exists. The worst environmental damage comes when the fleece is washed. Hats do not need to be washed very often, so I have decided to keep making polar fleece hats with what I have and to not buy any more as the colours disappear.
It’s a tricky thing to write a blog that encourages my customers to not buy what I am making. But the world is nuanced. It wouldn’t be environmentally friendly to throw away what has already been made. In many ways I still love my fleece hats. Finding a secondary use of plastic is nothing to be sneezed at. They are wonderful hats for cancer patients. There are women who are sensitive to animal fibres. They are affordable. I’m very aware that we cannot get through life without impacting our environment, even when we use the grooviest of textiles. Dyeing fabric, processing fabric, it all has an impact. So, while I do feel the need to take a new direction I also feel that we need to use up what we have and not get overly preachy about our choices. I’ll be selling fleece hats for some time to come. If you already own one or you would like one, well, enjoy it. While I believe we need to think differently about our future fashion choices it would be really silly to throw what currently exists into the garbage.
This brings me to the present and where I am going, but I’m not sure that this can all be digested in one blog post, so I’ll continue this post in a day or so.
I’ll leave you with some of my favourite photos from this summer with a hint to my new direction.
This past weekend Tony and I ran away to Brier Island. I have always had a long list of reasons as to why I can’t go anywhere, not least of which is a sense of needing to be open in case someone comes to visit my studio. But Robin, who runs the Chester Bay Chalet, said it best when I called to book Lego into Dog Camp. She said, “you always remember the times you got away.” Sometimes you just have to hang up the closed sign and go enjoy the world, particularly when you live in one of the most beautiful parts of it.
I can count the number of times that Tony and I have gotten away by ourselves, without junior, on two fingers. But both times are remarkable because we are immediately reminded of how much we like each other. Take ‘what’s for dinner’, dishes, bills, child rearing and work out of the picture and we are the best of companions.
Brier Island surpassed any expectations that we had formed in the 24 hours between hearing about it and deciding to go there. If you are looking for entertainment in the classic sense of the word then this is not the place for you, but if you love nature, unpretentious beauty, sea creatures, birds, wild flowers, rocks, peeling paint and old boats then this place is paradise. It is unadulterated Nova Scotia.
I didn’t put a sound track over the video because what is most impressive are the sounds of the seagulls squawking, the seals barking, the rustling wind and the whales.
Sunday morning we went out on a Whale Watching Boat run by Brier Island Whale and Seabird Cruises. These guys are simply the best. There were several naturalists on board to explain what we were seeing and answer questions. We saw many Humpback whales, a Basking Shark, Harbour Porpoises and a Puffin!
The whales were the stars of the show. They were so clearly entertained by us humans. They swam under the boat and generally showed off for us. At one point, two of them turned to face us and just watched. I felt pretty privileged to be a part of their lives for a short period of time.
Unfortunately, we didn’t stay there, but
if when we go again we will choose the Brier Island Lodge . From the photos it seemed a bit Roadside Motel, but in actuality, it’s open with lots of picture windows to let in the view. They have a charming lounge, where you could hang out on a rainy day and the restaurant is excellent.
Nova Scotia summer is short, but I’m so glad I filled this one with a memory of Brier Island.
Enjoy the video.
Today as Lego and I walked the short distance between my house and the Lunenburg Academy, I met a man visiting from Ireland. Determined to learn a bit about life in Lunenburg, he proceeded to ask me as many questions as can fit into a couple of town blocks. Happy to oblige him, I did my best to answer. Most of the questions were pretty standard, but then he surprised me.
“When you moved to Lunenburg” he asked, ” What stood out as being different than anywhere else you had ever lived?”
My mouth seemed to know the answer before my brain could do any sort of editing. “Slow,” I blurted.
“Everything is slower here. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you do, you can’t go back.”
In this little exchange it dawned on me that I have been pursuing ‘slow” my whole life. I have always been drawn to tedium. I even once painted a bathroom with a child’s paint brush. I walk slowly. I eat slowly. I think slowly. But now that I have discovered knitting I have truly arrived at the centre of the slow universe. Knitting redefines slow. In fact, it stands outside of time in a different dimension. Knitting is timeless.
I am finding that as soon as I pick up the knitting needles, I am calm. I get lulled into the rhythm of the stitches and before I know it the day is done. What should feel like a daunting project, instead feels like floating in the middle of a lake. One stitch a time (for weeks on end) and I am rewarded with a sweater or a shawl or whatever has been keeping me company on the needles.
I have been asked a few times if I will be selling knit wear to go with my hats. I can understand this question, particularly since I don’t talk about anything else, but for now the answer has to be, no. How does one charge for timeless? Does $1000 seem a bit much for a pair of socks? Because that would be the real cost of this pair.
I simply cannot measure my stitches in dollars. They can only be measured in love.
Big News! I discovered what to do with that iMovie thing on my phone. My poor, long suffering husband, is none too thrilled. It was bad enough having me photograph the world, but now our little day trips are being filmed. You’ll hear him, in the video, subtly ask, “Will you be video taping the whole drive home?”
Well, in other news I made a man’s hat and I really enjoyed it and I plan to make more. This might not seem newsworthy because, after all, what’s the difference between a man’s hat and woman’s hat? I suppose the general answer is tradition and shape and the more specific answer is leaving off the plethora of flowers.
The latter is remarkably challenging for me. I like to make flowers. What can I say? I often attempt plainer hats and then my hands just take over and before I know it I’ve created a botanical garden head piece. It’s bigger than me. But now, with my beautiful, antique straw braid sewing machine, I have found the right dose of creativity in the hat construction itself to abstain from flower madness.
So, Peter asked me to make him a very wide brim garden hat and because Peter and his partner Alasdair live in Port Medway, Nova Scotia and Port Medway happens to be one of my favourite places on this planet, and also because Alasdair makes amazing marmalade, I was only too happy to hand deliver the hat. The bonus was a lovely tour of Peter and Alasdair’s home and garden.
A visit to Port Medway, necessarily means a visit to the Port Grocer Cafe. I’d call the Port Grocer a restaurant, but it’s really more of a community hub. You’ll see a bit of the Port Grocer and its cheerful owner, Annabelle, in the video. You’ll also see our trip home on the Lahave Ferry. This is a five minute cable ferry ride across the Lahave river. It’s a regular part of our lives here in Nova Scotia.
At the end of the video I added a little walk through Lunenburg. Just because it’s so damn glorious here and also because I’m playing with iMovie.
Hope you enjoy seeing a glimpse of my charmed existence.