You Don’t Need To Pay An Obscenely High Price For Quality Clothing

From In Style October 2017 – Brunello Cucinelli Design

I enjoy the hand of luxurious, expensive, and embellished fabrics. Just as an art lover enjoys the experience of an exhibit, I appreciate the beauty of an exquisitely made textile. Designer names like Etro, Dolce Gabbana, Prada, and Gucci use some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world for their couture and ready-to-wear collections, but these collections are sold at prices out of reach for most people.

Designer prices are often extremely expensive. Case in point this sweater by Brunello Cucinelli. I was lucky enough to be in Vancouver recently, perusing the beautiful Fall 2017 Collections in Holt Renfrew. I came acorss the Brunello Cucinelli boutique selling expensive sweaters like this one featured in In Style’s October 2017 issue. My first thought – “I could make it.” If you are an experienced knitter I’m sure you have said this many times.

Brunello Cucinelli is known as the “King of Cashmere” and the manufacturer of luxury sportswear and “high quality” knits. I agree with his business philosophy, that too much cheap product is sold in the world, so he focuses on expensive designs made by highly skilled workers. His plant is in Solomeo, Italy; his company is socially conscious, and Cucinelli’s collections are produced on site. It would be difficult to sustain this business model in most parts of world, as Italy has a long history of skill in manufacturing luxurious textiles and yarns, and only a small percentage of people can afford such luxury.

However, there is a point where an extremely high price doesn’t dictate the quality and skill. Don’t get me wrong, you often do get what you pay for, but an exorbitant price isn’t indicative of quality. Price does have the power to change your perception of a product, because the notion of “quality” is perceived, and has a different meaning for every consumer. My philosophy is to pay more for “quality”, because I’ll get my money’s worth over time. Because I am knowledgeable about fabrics and construction, I am able to discern if a garment is well made and worth the expense. There are many skilled people who can make quality garments at lower price points. The price factor plays a part in determining quality (generally the more details added in construction and the use of fine fabrics made of natural fibers, the higher the price); but price is not the only indicator of quality. 

I can’t afford such a price tag for a sweater, but even if I could I wouldn’t. If you are lucky enough to spend the money, go for it, but if you’re skilled in making garments, you realize that you can knit or sew pieces of high quality with sustainable materials, skill, and attention to detail without the extreme price. When purchasing woven fabrics or hand knit materials, I look at the fibers and yarns used, skill, and attention to detail. How are the seams sewn? Dangling threads? Nylon thread used for hems? How are the embellishments attached? Natural vs synthetic fibers (I would never pay a high price for a synthetic)? Care required to maintain its beauty? These are some of the questions I think about when determining quality.

Because of our over-consumption of mass produced goods, I think North America has lost an appreciation for the beauty and quality of textiles, and the skill required to turn raw materials into a luxurious product. But paying an excessively high price tag isn’t necessary to have quality clothing. There are many designers, and you, the skilled knitter or sewer that can create garments of quality, by paying attention to the source and type of materials, skill, longevity, and attention to detail. Why not make your own luxury at a cost that won’t break the bank.

Advertisements

What’s Inspired Me The Most On My Knitting Journey

The outsiders call us obsessed, or they can’t believe our focus on “just a hobby”. But we persevere, no matter what our reasons for knitting may be. We find endless pleasure in what we do, even if it’s only for half an hour a day; we just can’t stop.

So what is the inspiration that motivates us to knit? There are innumerable ways by which we are inspired to continue on our knitting journey – people, places, experimenting with yarn, replicating a garment, and all kinds of visual stimuli (paintings, colors, fashion magazines, vintage clothing). This post is about the “who” and the “what” have inspired me, and continue to inspire me on my knitting journey.

  • My journey begins in my early 20s. I signed up for a continuing education course designing a simple sweater, and writing the pattern instructions for it. A coil bound book entitled The Knitting Architect published by Knitting Fever was our text. This course was the beginning of my design path.
  • I have always enjoyed looking through fashion magazines, particularly the September issues filled with all the fall fashion trends.
  • Needlecrafts are another pleasure of mine. Detailed hand stitchery enhance my knitting skills.
  • After being out of print for many years, Vogue Knitting Magazine was reinstated in 1982. This magazine has been my greatest source of information and projects over the years. I have collected almost all the issues from 1982.
  • I went to university receiving an undergrad degree in home economics, majoring in clothing design; ultimately obtaining an MA with a focus on fashion businesses, design and manufacturing. Courses that gave me the knowledge I have applied to knitting include:

Textile Science

Historic Costume (particularly 1920s and 1950s)

Tailoring Techniques

Home Decor and Textile Surface Design

Art History

  • Barbara G. Walker – the author of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns and A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns; my go-to’s when beginning any design project.
  • Kaffe Fassett and Rowan Yarns – Kaffe Fassett is now 80 years old and is still working as a textile artist, and he’s published over 30 books. His debut book Glorious Knits in 1985 was an invaluable source of instruction and inspiration, and it revolutionized knitting in the early 1980s. He was the first living textile artist to have a solo exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1988. I was lucky enough to attend it. Many other British Designers of the 1980s set up yarn and design/retail spaces in London, contributing patterns and designer knitting trends. Kaffe Fassett has collaborated with Rowan Yarns for many years. Rowan publishes the most beautiful photographed magazine of knit fashions with their own line of yarns. 
  • Interweave Knits and Knitscene Magazines
  • Movies – I’ll see a garment in a movie and want to replicate it or add my own touch.
  • Contemporary Fashion Designer Collections strong on knits, including Malorie Urbanovitch, an Edmonton based designer who designs and showcases hand knits in every collection. I work for her making samples, and she continues to challenge me.
  • South American Yarn Producers – Mirasol, Malabrigo, Manos del Uruguay for their textile artistry and hand dyed yarns.
  • Wool – my most favorite fiber to knit with, for all its special characteristics.
  • Color Collective for color trends.
  • Yarn Retail experience – working with customers, sharing skills and knowledge, and the opportunity to explore the beautiful materials of knitting.

The process of knitting has always been the most important to me, and producing professionally finished projects. You are my greatest motivator. Whatever your reasons for knitting, my goal is to help you produce beautiful and skillfully put together projects.

Polyester Rant

“A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85% by weight of an ester of a substituted aromatic carboxylic acid, including but not restricted to substituted terephthalate units, and para substituted hydroxy-benzoate units.”

Wow, a lot of chemical jargon in defining polyester; to summarize, polyester is a common plastic with wide application beyond just the fabrics we’re familiar with. In part, polyester is derived from the petroleum and oil manufacturing industry – not exactly environmentally friendly. In addition, during manufacturing, special disperse dyes are required to impart color to polyester. These dyes do not easily decompose, and enter our environment via the waste water from textile plants.

Why begin a post on the pitfalls of polyester on a knitting blog? Well, I haven’t done much shopping for clothing in the past few years, but lately I decided to venture out and look for some new wardrobe pieces. Because of my textile background, I always check the fiber content of clothing purchases, as well as yarn purchases. Up front, I prefer natural fibers like wool suits, silk blouses, skirts or dresses, cotton blouses, and my favorite hand knitting yarn is merino wool. I have never seen so much polyester for sale. Rack after rack of polyester is disconcerting to me. Even high end collections use polyester. I get the cost factor; it is much less to produce clothing made from polyester. It has “desirable” qualities: quick drying, strong, wrinkle resistant, and resistant to stretching and shrinking. But I refuse to pay a high price for a fabric, that if it had been made in a natural fiber would be comparable in cost, but have more desirable properties. Thankfully polyester is not seen much in hand knitting yarns, and if so, it’s usually found in combination with other fibers, providing strength and stability to the yarn.

The drawbacks of polyester are many. Wearing polyester in the winter months in Canada is a static nightmare, not to mention the difficulty removing stains, and its propensity to pill. The most serious drawback is that polyester is a petro-chemical synthetic – harmful to the environment.

“Fast fashion”, a contemporary term used by retailers to describe cheaply made current fashion trends, and their quick movement (in a few weeks) from the runway to the stores. The fast fashion movement is due in part to the excessive use of synthetics such as polyester – inexpensive fabrics. There is a backlash to fast fashion – with “Slow fashion”, meaning all things “ethical” and “eco-friendly”. This means attention is paid to quality production, value is given to products, and consideration is given to the connection between production and the environment. But most important is the slowing down of consumption, so the earth can regenerate.

I certainly can’t wait for the day when people will appreciate the beauty of timeless pieces in high quality fabric, over a cheap synthetic purchase. I should have lived in a different time when classic design was encouraged, ensuring the longevity of garments. There is a terrible price to pay in the quest for cheap, and over consumption. Something worth thinking about, and I say “hurrah to all the designers involved in the Slow Fashion Movement”.

Why Do You Knit?

Why Do You Knit?

The other day I was pondering about why I knit, and at what point I decided to move beyond being a beginner. As I gained more experience, my reasons to knit changed depending on the project. So what follows are my thoughts on the philosophical question – Why I (You) Knit?

  • Designing – Initially, as with most beginners I relied on purchased pattern instructions for my projects. As I became comfortable with knitting, and understanding pattern instructions, I needed a challenge. For me, this came in the form of wanting to make garments for myself, designed by me, including how-to write instructions. I leapt into designing by copying knits I saw in stores. So tape measure in hand, I would take measurements in the dressing room, drew a quick sketch and schematic, to begin the design process. This is not to say that this should be every knitter’s goal. However, copying designs and knitting from measurements is a skill that comes in handy when you can’t find the right pattern that meets all your expectations.
  • Rest and Relaxation – I often knit to rest and relax. Give me its repetitive, sometimes hypnotic motion, and I’m in the zone – focused, but not overwhelmed by the task at hand. Knitting for relaxation is probably not for the absolute beginner, but give it some time to get comfortable knitting. I think most knitters can’t wait for long stretches of knitting time.
  • Project vs. Process Knitters – Some knitters focus more on the destinationthe project, whereas others focus on the journeythe process. No knitter has total focus in one camp or the other, but I think that we place more emphasis on either the project or process. The process of knitting is where I gain the most pleasure. However, when a project meets both needs, that’s the most fulfilling.
  • Challenges – Sometimes I just want to do “mindless” knitting, because I don’t want the challenge of writing the instructions for a design. But a knitter can’t stay in their comfort zone forever; you need to try something new including pattern stitches, pattern writing, different cast on methods, swatching new ideas, or other techniques. The challenges are endless, but can certainly spice up your knitting.
  • Gift Giving – I’ve known knitters who only knit gifts for Christmas or other special holidays. Experiencing the appreciation in a recipient’s eyes is the best gift of all.
  • Seasonal Knitting – I’ve also met knitters who only knit in the fall or winter. I’ve been asked “why do you knit in the summer…don’t you get hot”. If you’re a die-hard knitter, the time of year doesn’t matter. What is more fun than a cool drink in hand lounging on the deck, knitting.
  • Socializing – Although my blog is a social media tool, and I love sharing my skills with an audience, I must admit that social knitting is not one of my top reasons to knit. Knitting is my private time; time for working out designs or simply relaxing. Distraction from other knitters would cause me to lose focus. I can’t deny the enjoyment others have by socializing and knitting. It certainly helps in meeting the knitting community, and learning new skills.
  • Wardrobe Additions – I cringe at the thought of purchasing an expensive sweater made out of synthetic yarn. For me, knits must be a quality purchase – longevity, wears well, and is made of the best yarn. Depending on your skill level, budget, and time, most knitters could make a high quality knit rather than a purchased one. With the best yarn, I try to knit something new and fashionable for my wardrobe each season.

The art of knitting is to experience joy in the beauty of color, texture, and in its accomplishment. There are many more reasons to knit than what’s listed above. Depending on the project and its purpose, my focus will be skewed towards one or two reasons. But I would say my private time is where my journey starts and ends for every project. What are your reasons for knitting or does it really matter?

The Best Of 2016

A belated Happy New Year! As I indicated in my Holiday Update, I moved to a new house over the holidays and it has been quite hectic. In this post I am wrapping up 2016 with my Best Of, and I look forward to providing you with more amazing knitting information and patterns in 2017.

2016 was a great year for Knitting Unplugged. It’s always interesting and sometimes surprising what posts readers view most. Below are the Top 10 Posts and the Top 5 Weekly Faves! for 2016. Link to them and see which ones you may have missed.

Top 10 Posts

In reviewing this list, I will follow through with some more Free Patterns, demos on some of these topics, and more information on a variety of techniques.

Top 5 Weekly Faves!

Scarves/wraps are still the number one project amongst knitters and that is why I began Neck-It-On! in 2016. I am continuing with the Weekly Fave! on Fridays, beginning this Friday, January 13, 2017.

Happy Knitting Everyone!

Knit Trends For Fall 2016

"The Edit" from Net-a-Porter.com

“The Edit” from Net-a-Porter.com

I recently came across “The Edit”, a weekly e-magazine on the site Net-A-Porter, a shopping site for luxury designer fashion. The August 24 issue reveals Fall 2016 Knit Trends. It is certainly an inspirational must-see when thinking about your wardrobe and the knit projects you may want to make.

Knitwear has become a staple of most designer collections for many years. If you are one to follow trends and a knitter, the collections are rich with inspiration. A brief overview of this Fall’s trends include oversized scarves, statement sweaters (color patterns, motifs and images), slouchy cardigans and sweaters covering the hips worn over dresses, asymmetric rib knit skirts, and skinny ribbed sweater dresses.

Statement Sweater for Fall 2016 from The Edit

Statement Sweater for Fall 2016 from The Edit

This free fashion e-magazine is one of the best I have come across online and is worth downloading the app. Happy Knitting!

Am I Really Allergic To Wool?

sheep cartoon for wool sensitivity post

When I owned a yarn retail business, one of the most common complaints I heard from customers, was that they couldn’t wear anything wool, because they were “allergic”. I am going to set the record straight, because wool doesn’t deserve a bad rap. In my posts, “My Love Affair With Wool” and “It’s All About The Yarn – Getting To Know Fibers”, I talk about wool’s unique properties. Suffice it to say that it is the most popular fiber amongst knitters.

A true wool allergy is rare, and usually exhibits as a rash on the face, arms, and hands. The rash can occur immediately after contact, or appear a couple of days later. Medical experts believe the allergen is from the alcohols that make up lanolin, the oil in sheep’s wool. If you have a true allergy to wool, any creams or makeup containing lanolin will cause the same allergic reaction, as when exposed to the fiber.

Wool sensitivity is different from a wool allergy. Most people who think they are allergic just have sensitive skin, and are uncomfortable wearing wool. What causes this sensitivity?

  1. The Prickly Factor – This is really an irritation by any kind of coarse fiber. The surface of a wool fiber is covered with scales that vary in size, and determine the fineness and coarseness of wool. Fine, soft wool has as many as 2000 scales/inch, whereas coarse wool has as few as 700 scales/inch. The large scales of coarse fibers are what cause skin irritation, or that “itchy” feel. The most luxurious, fine, soft wool fibers come from breeds such as Merino sheep. Icelandic breeds produce a coarse, scratchy fiber. Because a wool is coarse and scratchy doesn’t make it “bad”, rather it is highly durable and suitable for a variety of projects. “Superwash” is a finishing process that alters the scale structure so that wool can be machine washed, and makes the yarn feel softer. Blends of wool with other fibers may be an option, by experimenting with varying percentages of wool. Other hair fibers like alpaca and cashmere may be more comfortable for those that suffer with irritation. Why not try layering, or wearing a shirt or T-shirt under a coarse wool garment.
  2. Dyes, Cleaning Chemicals, Cat Dander, and Dust Mites – Sometimes the irritation is caused by one of these allergens, rather than the wool itself. Black dyes that contain PPD (paraphenylenediamine) can be an irritant. Cleaning chemicals like those used in dry cleaning, and home laundering washing powders and liquids can also cause skin irritations. Dirty wool knits, and those containing cat dander and dust mites can also be problematic. Make sure your garments are regularly cleaned with mild soap and avoid fabric softeners. There are some fabulous wool cleaners on the market (SOAK, Eucalan, and The Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo). Another tip is to wash all knits prior to your first wear. I always wash my finished projects before wearing. There are very few instances where it is necessary to send knits to the dry cleaners. Most knit garments including cashmere can be safely washed at home.

More often wool is just a mild irritant, and by following some simple suggestions, you can still enjoy it’s amazing properties. So indulge is some Merino wool, and whatever you make with it will reward you for years to come.