Ethical Elegance: Summer Stitch Fest 2016

image-1Ever since Sonya announced it, I’ve been looking forward to Summer Stitch Fest! All summer long I’ve been working on my sewing skills, and now I have an entire (mostly) weekend booked just for stitching. Here are my (ambitious) plans, in a few different categories:


  1. Sew Dress No. 1. I’m making a double-layered version, which I have cut and ready to sew.
  2. Cut and sew a Myrtle dress.
  3. Cut and sew a pair of Pants No. 1. I’m not sure the fabric I have picked is what I want to use, but I want to at least get a muslin made.


  1. Finish sewing my blue Beverly dress. See how I’ve named the self-drafted dress I made with Cal earlier this year? This will be my third one in a blue seersucker-ish fabric. I’m adding red details–red bias binding, red C pockets, a little red embroidery.
  2. Sew the bias binding on a blue Sorbetto. Yup, it’s been waiting to be finished since June. Ahem.
  3. Finish the waistband on my Alabama Chanin swing skirt. It’s basted on and I need to stop being chicken about the stretch stitching!
  4. Finish my Alabama Chanin wrap skirt. I am so close to being done with this single-layer skirt. I think I’ll be wearing the heck out of it year round.


  1. Knit my Joan Fuller sleeve No. 2. It is actually sleeve No. 3, but I messed up sleeve No. 1 by forgetting to switch to larger needles. #rookiemistake
  2. Rip back the yoke on my Stopover and re-knit it. I stitched merrily along before realizing it was all sorts of not right. May as well get it right, right?

I’ll report back next week and let you know how I make out. How about you? Do you have Summer Stitch Fest plans? Tell me about them!

Ethical Elegance: Drafting Patterns

shift dressJust about this time last year, I took a pattern drafting class with Cal Patch. While I learned a lot from the class, when I made my muslin at home, I didn’t quite know how to make adjustments to the muslin or pattern. Cal had explained it, but I longed for some hands-on guidance. So when I saw that she was teaching a two-day version of the class at Drop Forge and Tool, I jumped on it. On the first day of class, we drafted our patterns and made muslins. On day two, Cal helped us each adjust the muslin and pattern, and then we sewed beautiful shift dresses! I had to leave for home before I could finish mine, and with the end-of-semester crunch followed by a week-long road trip, it took until this week before I did finish.

I learned so much from this class, and as is often the case for me, going through the pattern drafting part of it a second time really helped me understand the process. I’m a slow learner, and luckily, Cal is a patient teacher!

Tomorrow I’ll wear my new dress for the first time as part of #MeMadeMay and, you know, as part of my habit of wearing new clothes I’ve made. I’m looking forward to adding more garments I love to my closet and transitioning the worn RTW garments out of it.

Interested in drafting your own patterns? Peruse Cal’s website–she’s got an awesome book, links to her terrific Creativebug classes (I refer to them all the time!), and details about her upcoming week-long Handmade Wardrobe workshop at A Gathering of Stitches.

As I gear up for my summer sewing frenzy, tell me about your stitching projects. What are you planning to make?

Ethical Elegance: Umva!

Umva! In Rwanda’s language, Kinyarwanda, umva means listen.

I learned this from Nancy, the amazing woman behind Long Ridge Farm. For several years, she has journeyed to Rwanda, working with women there to dye lovely fabrics with locally available plants. The textiles produced by the women are sold through Rwanda One4One, providing direct aid to families.

Umva wraps. Photo courtesy of Long Ridge Farm
Umva wraps. Photo courtesy of Long Ridge Farm

I’ve been a fan of Nancy’s work for years, anticipating our visits each year at Rhinebeck. As soon as she

Umva wrap in Maine
Umva wrap in Maine

posted a picture of the Umva wraps, I contacted her to reserve one for myself. It arrived the day before I left for Fiber College in Maine. When I opened it, the colors’ rich hues made me gasp out loud. Even though it was still warm in Connecticut, I was glad to have the massive wrap (4’x6′) further north. I wore it like a shawl, wrapped it around my neck, draped it over my shoulders, pulled it over me at night for a wee bit more warmth. In other words, an Umva wrap is not only ethical, it is endlessly elegant and versatile.

You can get your own magnificent Umva wrap online, or at Rhinebeck–Nancy will be in Building A, 36, and she’ll not only have Umva wraps; she’ll have silk scarves, fabrics, gorgeous leathers, and more. Be sure to visit her, and give her a hug from me.

Ethical Elegance: Indigo Dyeing

Photo by Rhonda Fargnoli
Photo by Rhonda Fargnoli

A few Sundays ago two of my nieces and I embarked on a little road trip to Rhode Island to take a shibori indigo dyeing class at the Wilson Collective with Rhonda Fargnoli. Rhonda and I met at Stitches East a few years ago, and I’ve admired her dyeing since.

As we folded and tied and stitched and knotted the silk scarves that we were dyeing, Rhonda shared images of beautiful textiles to help us understand the history of indigo and shibori.

Photo by Rhonda Fargnoli
Photo by Rhonda Fargnoli

It occurred to me that in making the scarves, I upheld, and even deepened, my ethical elegance values. By using ancient techniques and indigo, a dye that has been honored throughout history, I connected to generations of people hand crafting to beautify textiles.

And, let me tell you, was it ever fun!

Interested in your own shibori indigo dyeing project? Here are some resources:

Have you tried this method? Tell me how you liked it!

Ethical Elegance: Sewing Skills

fabricOne of my few regrets is not having been a better student in Home Economics. I was in middle school and not much interested in such things. Goodness, I set a potholder on fire (not on purpose!) in the Home Ec kitchen. And even though I’m sure part of me craved sewing skills, I was in no mental or emotional place to develop them during those tumultuous years.

Things are different now. I learned a little about sewing clothes in my early 20s, but my garments never had polish nor did they fit right. After taking Cal’s pattern drafting class at Brooklyn General, my excitement about sewing has increased every week. My plan is to build my sewing skills this summer as a way to build my ethical, elegant wardrobe.

I confess to a bit of a pattern-buying frenzy. Here are some of the pieces I plan to make:

Anna Maria Horner’s Painted Portrait Dress. I’m following the Alabama Chanin adaptations.

Colette Sorbetto top. This pattern is free, and I’ll be using the gray and blue fabrics pictured above.

Factory Dress by Merchant and Mills. I ordered my pattern from Clementine, and if you call, lovely Leah will also help you pick out just the right fabric. I’m using the red pictured above.

Wiksten Tank. I haven’t selected a fabric for this yet. I think it will be a good top to wear with my skinny jeans.

Everyday skirt from Liesl & Co. I wear skirts all the time. In fact, I rarely wear pants to work, and almost never wear shorts in the summer. It’s all dresses and skirts all the time around here. I am hoping this may be one I can master and make in casual and work-appropriate fabrics.

A-frame skirt from Blueprint Patterns. The shape of this is so smart. Can’t you see it with boots and a big sweater in the winter?

I made one of Sonya’s 100 Acts of Sewing Skirt No. 1, and I love the fit of the pattern, and Sonya’s instructions are easy to follow. In fact, I was so smitten with the skirt, I dug through my back issues of Taproot and made her tunic in issue 8.

As so much of the wardrobe I’ve nursed through years of minimalish dressing starts to look shabby, I’m excited to replace it with garments I construct myself.  I’m eager to build my sewing skills, and I’ll be relying a lot on the Clementine Pinterest boards. I fully intend to make up for those middle school years!

What are you stitching this summer? Any sewing patterns you think I should see?

Ethical Elegance: Birkenstocks

Seriously. Even five years ago, I would not have considered bringing Birkenstocks into my closet. You might think it was the NY Times approval that changed my mind, but, no. Last summer before I left for my trip to Scotland and France, I considered the Gizeh as my research showed me they were favored by the ever-elegant French women. As a Birkvirgin, though, I didn’t want to order online birkwithout knowing more about the fit. So the Gizeh crush subsided as shopping-related crushes often do.

Until I drew up my packing list for a visit to Wilmington, NC in April.

I was due for new sandals. And I wanted shoes that would last, that would look adorable with jeans or dresses, that would be comfortable, that were ethical.

I asked my style guru Heather which Birk to start with, and her answer: Mayari. I visited a local retailer and tried on a few sizes. I’m usually between a 7 and 8, depending on the manufacturer. I went with the 37 (in Uggs, for comparison, I wear 38) and the antique lace color. I couldn’t be more pleased. The foot bed is already conformed to my foot, making this shoe delightfully comfortable.

And here’s another thing. Birkenstock is a company that’s been around since the 18th century, and they’re still made in Germany.

Here’s another thing. While I have found it difficult to give up leather (I know, I know…I’m trying), the Birks I own are vegan. And that feels really ethical to me.

And suprisingly elegant.

What has surprised you as a piece you’ve grown to love in your wardrobe?

Ethical Elegance: Stitching Together Passions

I’m thrilled to share this guest post from Chelsea Nelson. Chelsea has been my student in several writing classes, and let me tell you–this woman is a dynamo. She’s passionate and has an impressive work ethic. I hope you enjoy reading about her fundraising project…and that you’ll hop over to support her!

220Everyone has that one animal that changes their life when they are a kid. Mine is a dog named Jasmine. We adopted her when I was 10 years old and had her for 11 years until this past November when we had to put her down due to old age. She was more than a dog to me; she was my best friend and the reason I am so passionate for dogs today.

Sterling Shelter gave me my best friend 11 years ago, and I can never truly repay them for that, but what I can do is help them stay running and succeeding as a no-kill shelter.

I created a campaign called Scarves for Paws in which I sell handcrafted scarves for 10 dollars and give those proceeds to Sterling Shelter. As a no-kill shelter, they are always in need of volunteers, supplies, and money donations to stay open. Because they are located at least 45 minutes from my house, volunteering seems impossible, so instead I figured what better way to say thank you for giving me my best friend then to raise money for them.

Knitting has always been a hobby of mine. It relaxes me and calms me when I am stressed. Knitting scarves is my favorite thing to do. One day I was sitting in my room brainstorming for something I could do in my spare time that would benefit the animal shelter. I have had the name Scarves for Paws in my head for a while but bringing the idea to life was a whole other dream. With two weeks of organizing and encouragement from other people, I began to run the Scarves for Paws Campaign. This whole process has showed me that anything is possible no matter your interests and hobbies. I have a long way to go until I am completely satisfied with the campaign but am proud of my progress in the little time I have been up and running.

So far I have gone once to the shelter and was able to give them a box of newspapers and $230 in cash that will benefit all the animals in the shelter. After I dropped the money off, the owners gave me a hug and said they really appreciated my taking time to make the scarves and giving them the proceeds. It was really touching. I never imagined raising $230 just three months of sales. To reach more people, I opened an online store. Although at first the campaign was only a thought I had discussed with my roommate, I am proud to say that I have raised that much money.
I hope in the future I can raise a lot more money and bring it to the shelter to help them out.

By combining my two passions of knitting scarves and my love of dogs, I was able to do something more to benefit someone other than myself, and I am truly proud to say I helped sheltered animals get adopted and have a comfortable stay at Sterling Shelter.

008Chelsea Nelson is originally from Upton,  MA and is about to graduate from  Westfield State University, where she’s been studying English with a writing concentration.  She has had dogs her entire life, currently Kodiak, an 8-year-old Labrador retriever, and Bear, a 2-year-old chow lab mix. She has also worked at a kennel for four years and still works their on holidays and breaks from school. Read her dog blog,follow her on Twitter, and on Instagram.


Ethical Elegance: Knit Good Stuff

Joan I don’t know how many years I’ve been eyeing Nanne Kennedy’s toothy, honest, gorgeously dyed yarn at fiber festivals. Last fall, with my best enabler at my side, I stopped petting the yarn and purchased. I have no regrets. Not one.

My original intention was to use this femme pink yarn for a certain sweater I’ve been lusting after (I’m looking at you, Lorna Suzanne). I decided to be as prissy as I want the sweater to be and swatched, swatched, swatched, only to find I couldn’t get a fabric I liked at a gauge I wanted. I think I’m going to need a bit of Starcroft Light to find the just-right match of honest yarn and pattern for my dreamy, prissy sweater.

So what’s a knitter to do when she’s got a bag full of pink wool this good and a hankering for one of Ellen’s sweaters? She copies her pal Kirsten, and uses the Seacolors yarn for a newish arrival at Chez Odacier: Joan Fuller.

Ellen’s pattern writing is terrific. It’s as though she’s sitting next to me on the porch (in my mind, it is summer, always, and on a porch of one sort or another, always), leaning over to remind me what I should do next.

Still, we all know what a pokey knitter I am. Every day, I stitch another few rows before I go to bed, and I confess: it’s hard to sleep when I’ve just had those plump cables in my hand. Even if I don’t finish the sweater to wear this long, long winter, I’ll be ready for a Maine evening in September!

Gale taught me something: match a good, honest yarn by someone you really like with a terrific pattern from a friend you admire, and you’re bound to be happy. And happiness of this sort is exactly what ethical elegance means to me!

How about you? What’s your favorite yarn-pattern match up?

Ethical Elegance: Story of a Shawl

Rifton Often times, it’s the story that gets me. A story from my life, a story of how a garment came to be, a story of the materials.

Here’s the story of my new shawl.

It started in NYC in the halls of the VK Live market place.

No. It started with Ellen’s obsession.

Still further back. It started in Maine, in the cottage, with Amy Lou hooking away on her Wingfeathers, designed by Cal.

The pattern was on my mind. As soon as holiday knitting is finished, I promised myself.

And then I was in Jill Draper’s VK Live booth with Gale, and she picked up a skein of Rifton and said Wingfeathers. You might have felt the world shift a little then. I did. Kirsten felt the pull, and so did Jani, making hers in glorious Starcroft Fog.

We hooked long into the night, at every chance the next day. Hooked in the pop-up shop, and hooked while eating cheese. Hooked on the train, and then, as my semester started, I hooked every moment I didn’t have to work on class prep.

Every inch of Rifton that flowed through my hands delighted me. You can read the yarn’s story here. FOThat’s part of what makes this shawl special to me, knowing the care that went into making the yarn. And part of the shawl’s story is like many hand-crafted garments’ stories: making the same project with a group of folks you really, really like, knowing that the stitches were hooked with laughter and good conversation. And part of the shawl’s story is making a pattern from a designer who embodies ethical elegance and is immensely likable. And part of the shawl’s story is absent friends who’ve been hooking their own shawl in their own corners of the world.

And part of the shawl’s story is just starting to unfold! Oh, the stories it will tell years from now!

Tell me a story, willya? I’d love to hear about a hand crafted item of yours that is rich in story.

Ethical Elegance: Make It


As soon as my Rhinebeck sweater settled into her bath*, I wound up five skeins of Dragonfly Fibers Super Traveller in Peach Melba. I worked Shannon and Kate’s 2012 Stitches East booth, and the yarn was my reward (among others). I’d been modeling the sample Abbi (and lusting after it), and she is almost mine to wear! Super Traveller is, well, super. The yarn is pleasurable to knit, and Kate has a great eye for color.

I used three skeins on the body, which knit up soooo fast on 15s. Maybe 13s would have been better, but I like the fabric of the 15s–all drapey and cozy when I try it on. I plan to make the shawl collar as deep as I can tolerate knitting and worried my two remaining skeins would leave me short. Since variegated yarn does not whisper “elegance” to me, I hope to raise the swank factor of the sweater by using a solid for the ribbing and collar. Enter Malabrigo in Burgundy.

I anticipate the Burgundy will temper the sweetness of the Peach Melba (wouldn’t that be the case if we were sipping and eating these flavors?). We’ll find out!

How have you upped the elegance factor when knitting?


*No FO pictures of the Rhinebeck sweater just yet; I realized after wearing it once that I knit the second sleeve’s cuff in the wrong size needles. Rip, rib goes the ribbing!