Freddie’s head

Freddie feature

Knit.1 magazine commissi0ned me to write a profile of textile artist Freddie Robins – the blackly witty creator of impossible jumpers, absurdist knitted sculpture, and the magnificent series Knitted Homes Of Crime, which reproduces in cuddly yarn the homes of notorious female killers. But as well as being astonishingly talented, it turns out that Robins is a thoughtful and generous interview, making time to chat with me even though she was in the middle of moving studios.

The finished feature is in the issue that goes on sale 5 May – and if I wasn’t pleased enough with the piece itself, the layout is smashing, and it’s keeping company with some really lovely patterns (I’m especially taken with the lace top they’re highlighting on the magazine homepage).

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Finished: Challenger Hat

Knitting makes good busywork. When you feel that you should be doing something but don’t have anything in particular to do, knitting fills the hole. And so I have made the Challenger Hat.

Pattern: improvised

Size: to fit 24″ head/ man’s large

Yarn: Cascade 220 Tweed (100% wool), shade 7627, about half a ball

Needles: Addi Turbo 5mm, 40cm; 5mm dpns or long-cable circular to work crown decreases.

Tension: 18st to 4″ in k2, p2 rib (stretched)

Inventing a hat is easy. I don’t why I’ve never done it before. This is what I did:

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I get stuff

Not that I am milking my long-ago birthday for blog matter, oh no. But my dear little Ratchet made me this dear little cake (see how here), and seeing it on my mantelpiece every day makes me feel like every day is, in fact, my birthday. Which means that this six-weeks-after-the-fact post is practically timely.

In other stuff-I-have-gotten news, this yarn arrived from New York today. It’s Alchemy Silken Straw, it’s catastrophically expensive, and it’s the most curious and beautiful yarn I’ve handled in all my knitting days. As a knitter whose taste in yarn takes in the whole panoply of options from “DK-weight superwash merino” to “DK-weight superwash cotton-merino mixes”, this is a big leap into the unknown. In the skein, Silken Straw is glorious: crisp, faceted, richly coloured. But winding it (and lord knows I am glad to work in an office with a swift), you get to really understand its strange loveliness, well-evoked by its Rapunzel-ish name. Though it rustles like paper, it’s remarkably strong and promises to become a very special garment – something celebratory, I think.

Paperhouse goes to see: Vivienne Westwood at Sheffield Galleries

I remember hearing a radio interview with Vivienne Westwood (Desert Island Discs, probably) when I was in my early teens, in which she told the story of how she used to wear a pencil-skirt and high-heeled shoes to school. And this struck me as a wonderful thing. If you’d asked me at the time to explain why this was so impressive, I would have been lost – I don’t think the idea that I would want other people to find me attractive or sexy had really formed in my mind yet, although it certainly had its unacknowledged part in my psyche. Something about the soft-spoken intent to provoke and the unselfconscious love of dressing up won me to Westwood forever.

And then there were the clothes. Mini-crinis, bustles, corsets, tottering wedges, tweeds and tartans. I watched their passage through the fashion pages with breathless lust: strange and gorgeous costumes for a world of untouchable theatre and glamour. I wanted – still want – to live in that world. And for a giddy hour in the Sheffield Millenium Gallery, I got to do so.

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Per Standard Blogging Procedure…

[Apology for not blogging here.] [Heartfelt resolution to blog more in future here.] [Explanation for lack of blog activity here.]

Actually, the explanation for lack of blog activity is here and here. It’s my first time making real magazines and – thanks to our dedicated commissioning eds, stunning contributors, fabulously talented art guy, and heroic publisher – the results are pretty impressive. Hitting the newstands mid-October.

Further On Fashion

Portfolio magazine on luxury fashion’s vague shrug towards responsible manufacturing practices.

In a January report, investment research firm Innovest’s list of the 100 most responsible corporations included no luxury conglomerates […] Innovest’s list, oddly, does include two leading retailers in the wasteful “fast fashion” movement—H&M and Inditex, which owns the Zara chain. It’s hard to be truly green with a business model that compels customers to frequently throw out what they own. Unfortunately, luxury fashion has begun taking cues from fast fashion, putting itself at odds with its exclusive nature. Whereas couturiers once made design statements as part of an ongoing evolution—creating new jackets that would go with last year’s dresses—fast fashion introduces clothes nonstop, zigzagging through multiple styles each season. Forced obsolescence drives consumers to buy more. This may sound like a shrewd business practice, but overproduction leads to overconsumption: The more we buy, the more we discard. That’s environmentally heedless—and it’s ugly.

For Portfolio, one of the key points here is that by chasing the throwaway fashion dollar, luxury fashion has been unwittingly degrading its own marketplace. A jacket that matches last season’s skirt implies a select clientele of repeat customers, picking out essential pieces season after season. The novelty-hungry trend seekers who rummage through H&M and Zara are, by their nature, not very loyal: they don’t have a relationship to the things they buy, and they don’t have a relationship to the places they buy them either.

Couture design and crafting can’t respond to the rapid turnover of street fashion. By inciting a furious desire for new beauty every season, the designer brands have summoned up a demand for copycats who can supply quick-turnaround product. Susan Scafidi’s solution to this problem is to espouse copyright protection for fashion designs – a proposal which, despite my sympathy for designers, seems neither very workable nor fair nor desirable. It doesn’t serve to change the self-immolating business model which Portfolio picks up on, either. Portfolio offers a different remedy which combines sustainability with exclusivity:

try to imagine a high-end fashion giant responding to our overtaxed environment by embracing traditional methods that are both more luxurious and less ephemeral. Now that would be a radical new design.

For domestic knitters and tailors, this isn’t that radical at all – if you are a competent needleworker, then you’re all set to be your own couturier. Luxury fashion is racing to catch up with your knitting bag…