If you follow any of the same Instagram people as me, you know that this month is Slow Fashion October, (@slowfashionoctober), described in the Instagram heading as “a celebration of the small-batch, handmade, second-hand, well-loved, long-worn, known-origins wardrobe.” This little Instagram-centric movement was started by a cool, cool woman named Karen Templer who runs this blog that I’ve been plowing my way through lately. So much wisdom from so many women on this topic, in this community. Women who make things are amazing to me. I want to be in rooms full of women making things, I want to learn everything that everyone knows. That’s a good way to feel on the internet. That’s a good way to feel in the world.
I happened upon this Instagram movement at precisely the right time because I’m currently embarking on my own slow-fashion project, knitting my first sweater. I’ve finished the body and the sleeves are slowly materializing, stitch by stitch, row by row. I’m amazed by both my impatience and patience when I work on projects like this, things that feel giant when you’re in the thick of them, things that grow without you realizing. I’m hoping or expecting that this first sweater is only the tip of a life-long iceberg of making my own clothes and linens and decorations. As I grow and learn and grab pieces of the world and draw them to myself, one of the things that I am most excited about chasing is making things out of threads and cloth and my hands. I love clothes, I love art, and I love making things alone and with other people. I have dreams of things I could make, little half-images formed in my head, things I know will take a long time to come to fruition.
I’m here and I’m twenty-three and completely overwhelmed by life. Things feel big and fast and anxiety-inducing right now, so I am trying to slow down and whittle some sort of calm, possible life for myself and my husband. I am trying to find the things that make me feel like a real person, the things that make me feel powerful, the things that allow some sort of spark of excitement instead of dread. It’s hard, it really is. These days are sort of bleak and ominous, so I’m grabbing onto anything that sounds enchanting with both hands and trying to run with it. Slow fashion is exciting. Slow fashion feels possible. Slow fashion feels like it could last a long time for me and my little heart, carry me into the woman I’m becoming, grow with me and help me grow. I’m an artist. I need to make things. So I will make my clothes, useful things, one piece at a time. I am young and I am starting now with one sweater.
Still, slow is difficult. Slow can feel like being stopped, stuck. I feel stuck right now in my life, so I’m trying to counter-intuitive myself out of a rut by doing slow things during the stuck time. Knitting, stitching, writing, all these things where it’s just me and tiny building blocks, one more stitch, one more thread, one more letter, climbing toward…something. I don’t know what any of these things will return to me, maybe nothing except the joy of wearing my own sweater, made by my hands, the small victory of hitting “publish,” a hand-embroidered hoop hung on my very own wall seen by few eyes. My work is low impact and may always be, and I’m trying to learn about loving my small life, setting goals that are achievable, feeling excited about secret victories. I’m fighting fear with threads. I’m knitting my own strength.
I think of pioneer women often, actually, these days. When I start to feel like things are impossible, I think of women in covered wagons, women homesteading, women carving a life out of nothing at all. I think of the way they embroidered the clothes they made not to post it on instagram but just to create some beauty, just to put a flower where there wasn’t one before, just to keep their family warm and to remind them that things don’t have to just work, they can be lovely too. Pioneer women, they had the slow fashion thing down out of necessity, knitting sweaters out of hand-spun wool because the sheep had gotten too shaggy and winter was coming, stitching quilts in firelight because there was a baby on the way, saving pennies for new cotton, sewing shirts for their husbands, putting pockets exactly where they liked them.
It’s too easy now, too wasteful. I can walk into H&M and see twenty things I like, twenty things I envy and want to spend my precious money on, want to take home with me and wear maybe once a month. I walk into a store and feel blistering discontent, an upsetting repetition of “I want, I want, I want.” It isn’t worth it. There is no reward, only consumption. Like eating too much sugar, like watching television all day. I don’t want to be a person who does that. I want to wear clothes virtuously. I want to clothe myself and others with my time and love, I want to make something useful, I don’t want to only use things up, I want not to waste or waste away.
In a time in my life when I’m feeling somewhat powerless, acted upon and left waiting, writing and making things is a way to act, to exert my agency, to be powerful. It makes sense to me that sewing is women’s work, a true and important craft born out of time spent at home. I’m learning about feminism by feeling myself needing to kick my legs, needing to make space for myself when no space is made, needing to speak my mind, needing to create something where before there was nothing at all. I’m learning about feminism by making beautiful things with my hands. I don’t need to be Beyonce, I can embroider. I can have private small victories. I can write what I think and publish it myself. I am powerful if I say I am, if I do things, if I carve my own path, no matter how small. I can wear the things I’ve knit myself and tell no one, quiet power, vibrating, seething.
These are the things I’m thinking about as I knit alone in my home, as I do a thing that no one is watching me do. This is what I’ll carry with me when I wear my sweater in the wide world. Secret, humming power. Stitches done in a quiet place. Prayers and groans woven in. Not “I want,” but rather “I am.”