Since we launched our California Wool Project, and released Horizon in May, I've learned so much about wool, the production process, and the California wool market. One of the most gratifying lessons, was the overwhelmingly positive response to our new yarn, in California and beyond. We woke up on May 1st, with excitement, but also with trepidation. Verb had worked so hard to make the perfect yarn: local, organic, soft, and naturally-dyed. But it came with a price tag! Would our customers recoil? Were we crazy? Were makers willing to pay for our labor of love?
Turns out, I didn't give our community enough credit. People loved Horizon, they loved the work and energy that went into it, and they wanted to make beautiful things from our California yarn. Making anything in California is expensive; making something quality, even more so. But if I had any doubts that people are ready for this paradigm shift in both the clothing industry, and DIY culture, they've been put to rest. As we prepare to expand the California Wool Project, and I develop and mature as a maker, my commitment to using sustainable materials just gets stronger.
One of the purest joys of this process was getting my hands on Horizon, and making myself something with it. Nothing fancy. I didn't want to show off my chops to other knitters, or be stuck with something that felt "too special" for everyday wear. I wanted something lovely, but quick to make, flattering, comfy, and easy to throw on. This isn't an art piece. This is a sweater.
me and my grande favorito
"Oh, my gosh, did you MAKE that??!!"
How many times have you been asked this question?
To the non-maker, knitters, spinners, sewists, and weavers seem like wizards, keepers of some long-dead alchemy that somehow turns two sticks and a bunch of string into a garment. And it’s true, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of wearing something you made. I love putting on a piece in the exact color, fiber, and measurements that I chose. Of course, I can’t resist being praised, particularly for something that I put my own time and work into, not just my dollars. For a second, it’s fun to feel a little cleverer than the brainless hordes who buy their clothes at a fast-fashion outlet during their lunch break.
Wearing my new Horizon sweater, though, I find I can’t give a straight answer when people ask, “Did you make that yourself?” I picked the perfect pattern out of multitudes, I bought my yarn, I checked my gauge, and I adjusted the sizing a tiny bit. I knitted it, pulling half the stitches off the needles periodically to try it on (the merino wool is so nubbly and lofty that the open stitches stayed right where they were, and didn't unravel at all). I wove in all the little ends and snipped them. I soaked it in the sink, squeezed all the water out, and pressed it into shape, then waited a day for it to dry. But I can’t say “yes” when someone asks me if I made it myself.
So that’s why I hesitate when asked if I “made” this sweater myself. I’m like the waiter who puts a sprig of parsley on the plate after the meal is farmed, shipped, washed, planned, prepared, and cooked to perfection.
Less than six months ago, my little raglan sweater was a twinkle in Verb’s eye. Kristine dreamed of a soft, hardy sweater yarn made from organic California wool. Sally Fox had bales and bales of luxurious greasy merino and needed to bring it to market. A hundred-some-odd sheep were hard at work being fiber-and-compost-machines, and Sally was devoting her life to their upkeep, and applying her vast knowledge of fiber and farming towards growing the best wool she could. Kristine met Sally, and my sweater was begun months before I cast on a single stitch.
There was still the question of milling all this wool into the yarn of our dreams. Enter the amazing worker/owners of the Green Mountain Spinnery, in Putney, Vermont. They were the ones with the knowledge and the tools to carry out every step of the milling process, from scouring to skeining, at the scale we needed, 100% organically and with the intention of making the finest possible knitting yarn. Our beautiful new yarn came back to us in four natural colors. My sweater was halfway finished.
So far at least a dozen people have helped make my sweater, not to mention those who loaded the raw wool into trucks and drove them across the country to Vermont, then drove the milled yarn back across the country to California. Someone else had to build and maintain the roads those trucks traversed, and still more people had to extract fossil fuels out of the Earth to power those trucks.
Once the big boxes of natural yarn arrived here at Verb, the work of even more hands went into my sweater. Kristine mordanted the yarn and dyed it with madder extract, Adrienne washed and re-skeined it, and one of us on the sales floor labeled it.
Meanwhile, I was starting to plan my sweater. The perfect pattern had already been designed for me, by Isabell Kraemer. All I had to do was get the gauge, follow the directions, and tweak the measurements ever-so-slightly.
work in progress
My only pattern modification, crocheting a border around the collar instead of working a 2x2 rib, was the suggestion of friend and Commuknitty Stitcher Maggie.
The California Wool Project has completely changed my perspective on my role as a maker. It has certainly challenged my previous assumptions about my role as a knitter, and about the entire “DIY” movement. Because no one really “does it themselves.”
Now, when I choose any yarn, I want to know who made it, where, and with what. I want to know what the sheep ate who grew the wool, whether or not they were mulesed, and, if the yarn is dyed, what it’s dyed with. Whether I make a garment or buy it ready-made, I want to know if this garment nurtured its makers and its environment, or if it only consumed energy and resources without giving anything back.
Realigning my relationship to my clothing in this way isn't easy. It takes a lot more time, and it costs a lot more money. My budget is tiny, and it takes a lot of work and planning to assemble a serviceable wardrobe with what I have to spend. Rather than grabbing a few tops from a rack, I'll spend a day making one, or pay a higher price for one that was ethically made. I have to pay a lot more attention to quality, since I'm buying or making something that will get constant wear for several years. This means I own a fraction of the clothing I used to, and what I have, I wear all the time. Different colors and shapes appeal to me, since I want wardrobe pieces that all go together as much as possible. I find myself, like my friends in Bulgaria, wearing the same outfit three days in a row. But since it's a beautiful outfit, I don't mind at all.
I’ve worn my sweater non-stop since it dried. As far as this wool has traveled to get here, its long life has only just begun.
How does your role as a maker affect your decisions as a consumer? How do you choose materials for your projects? Do you have a favorite garment or project that you wear all the time? Share your thoughts! -HD