a slow manifesto

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 lovingย 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.”

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27 thoughts on “a slow manifesto

  1. And the sweater is beautiful!

    On Wednesday, October 19, 2016, red, speckled, white wrote:

    > amybornman posted: “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-ori” >

    Like

  2. Oh Amy.
    You sound like me, 24 years ago.

    Discovering what it’s like to grow up. Finding yourself. Making things. And being married in the middle of all that.

    Your growing ‘pains’ are all natural. You will indeed find who you are and the pains will stop. You’ll emerge.. fresh, clear, focused. And ready for the next batch of questions that life will toss your way.

    They don’t ever cease. They just take on a new shape.

    One thing that helped me: remind yourself you don’t have to answer them all at once. What a relief. I wrote down all those questions and I go back to those journals and smile, knowingly. Remembering myself and my anxiety about figuring out life. And myself.

    I’m 47 now. Watching my 18 year old daughter emerge into a woman. Proud of her – asking questions, kicking her legs, stretching her wings. And pretty proud of myself, for the greatest thing I ever made.

    I still have questions. I’ve raised my daughter. My marriage is confident and solid and strong. And I know precisely who I am. (Although I am surprised by myself every day.)

    So. What will I do with my life now?

    Keep making. There is such power in it … I don’t even think we realize.

    Your bravery will see you through to the other side. And a new journey you will find.

    All the best,
    Deirdre

    Like

    1. Deirdre,

      Thank you for reminding me that I don’t need answers to my avalanche of questions, that the questions are what characterizes this time. So strange to be in the thick of it, to have faith that things will change but to not have the foggiest idea of how or what will happen when the changes come. In my short experience of knitting, it has been some of the greatest self-care, some of the least anxious I’ve felt in a long time. These are days to slow down and not push too hard, so I’m trying to do just that. So wonderful and unexpected to get a glimpse of a community that understands through Karen linking to my blog. An unexpected encouragement, one much needed.

      Amy

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s been my experience – and I don’t know if it’s that way for everyone else but … – that each ‘phase’ (so cliche’ but true!) of my life has had it’s own set of questions. Wonderings. Wanderings. Bewilderment. And then a slow, unfolding of clarity.

        It’s called growth, they tell me. And it’s like knitting the biggest most grandest project of your life.

        As I my knitting grows, I grow.
        And vice-versa.

        I stopped knitting for the finished project and it has brought to me so much more peace. When I started focusing on the process itself, my knitting improved. Don’t get me wrong: there is an abounding amount of delight I get from a finished project. It still blows my mind the self-satisfaction I get from making something with my hands. I’m enamored with the whole process: The selection of a pattern. The unadulterated LOVE I feel for yarn. And the casting on of something new is as exciting as taking a vacation to a new place. Then there’s the settling into the project, which has taught me patience, – with myself and the process – forgiveness, relaxation. But best of all, knitting has taught me to shirk that nasty thing called ‘perfectionism’ and just knit because it brings me joy.

        No, not a glamorous revelation … just a gentle discovery.

        Onward,
        Deirdre

        Like

    1. Thank you so much for visiting and reading. So nice to get a glimpse of a community that understands, that’s in it together. I’m just going to keep on stitching and hoping and wondering over here in Chicago!

      Like

    1. Heather,

      Oh my, what a compliment on this unexpectedly encouraging day. So good to hear that from your point of view I’m doing okay and saying things that make sense. To me it all feels like wrestling, groaning, searching. Good to hear that things do change. Thank you so much for visiting and reading.

      All my best,

      Amy

      Like

  3. Beautifully written! “Not ‘I want,’ but rather ‘I am.'” So well said!
    I’m about a decade older than you are, and I can say there are wonderful things about being 30-something, like feeling a little more settled and comfortable in my own skin. Making has been an integral part of my journey tooโ€”how I’ve learned what is most important to me and what I’m passionate about. Textiles especially speak to my heart, and I agree that’s part of our heritage as women, I think it’s in our DNA somewhere. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend the book Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. It’s fascinating, and well-written, and really helped me clarify my thoughts about how to be a feminist and love these “feminine” things at the same time.
    Best of luck, and I hope you will continue to share your words, wherever life takes you!

    Like

    1. Heather,
      Per your recommendation, just requested the book from the library! Thank you! And thank you for visiting and reading. I’m going to keep stitching and writing and hoping and thinking, because it’s all I know to do right now!

      Many thanks,
      Amy

      Like

  4. You most certainly are an artist making important things – this was a thing of beauty to read! I came over via a link in Karen’s blog… I’m so glad she linked to you.
    Enjoy your knitting – it’s a wonderful companion, and (for me) a reliable test of latent stress levels. I can’t hurry knitting and it lets me know when I’m trying to!
    Rachel

    Like

    1. Rachel,

      Thank you so much for your encouragement! Such an unexpected gift to be linked to by Karen. It has given me a look at a community that understands and is ready to reach out and offer some kinship in a big, weird world. I’m feeling really humbled today and also really held up and excited to keep making things and keep writing and keep doing it. I’m reminded today of why it is important and why I need it. Thank you for being a part of that.

      Amy

      Like

  5. It’s been my experience – and I don’t know if it’s that way for everyone else but … – that each ‘phase’ (so cliche’ but true!) of my life has had it’s own set of questions. Wonderings. Wanderings. Bewilderment. And then a slow, unfolding of clarity.

    It’s called growth, they tell me. And it’s like knitting the biggest most grandest project of your life.

    As my knitting grows, I grow.
    And vice-versa.

    I stopped knitting for the finished project and it has brought to me so much more peace. When I started focusing on the process itself, my knitting improved. Don’t get me wrong: there is an abounding amount of delight I get from a finished project. It still blows my mind the self-satisfaction I get from making something with my hands. I’m enamored with the whole process: The selection of a pattern. The unadulterated LOVE I feel for yarn. And the casting on of something new is as exciting as taking a vacation to a new place. Then there’s the settling into the project, which has taught me patience, – with myself and the process – forgiveness, relaxation. But best of all, knitting has taught me to shirk that nasty thing called ‘perfectionism’ and just knit because it brings me joy.

    No, not a glamorous revelation … just a gentle discovery.

    Onward,
    Deirdre

    Like

  6. Lovely, lovely, lovely! Your words really resonate for me– it sometimes feels like not enough to just knit sweaters and write words into the void, but to keep doing it and keep living in hope of some kind of return or answer is beautiful. Thank you!

    Like

  7. Glad to discover your blog, I linked to it from Karen’s post! You have a wonderful way with words. I loved it when you wrote, “I don’t need to be Beyonce, I can embroider”. Do you have a career in writing? You are very talented. I tutor teens in academic reading and writing, but before I found my true love, I toiled away in a business career for 10 years that kept me continuously feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed as I worked on commission and never knew when my clients would be able to buy in a tough market. During that time, knitting was the calm in the eye of the storm that kept me centered. Although I did not have control over my clients’ decisions, I had control over my knitting project, and every stitch felt like a small moment of hope. Over time, that private, solo activity has transformed into a joyous, social one, filling my life with new friends and a wonderful community of like-minded women.

    Like

  8. I am, also . . . though, a sixty six year old woman — your writing encourages me to think.
    You would think I had experience, and I do, but it’s a time thing. Mine are earlier than yours, same gender feelings, same craft wants and needs, but in a fog of body aging.
    Thank you for wonderful sentiments. Keep on!

    Like

  9. To have had your wisdom twelve years ago at twenty-three to articulate the chaos of thought and feeling. To have it now! I can see a 47 year old Deirdre (such encouragement!) is ahead for me too somewhere. Sometimes I really do question why I make, except I love to, since things are so readily and inexpensively available. But the cost is so high and I keep reminding myself of a much greater purpose to my makes than just my own satisfaction. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! From, thirty-four, a little north of Chicago!

    Like

  10. Thank you so much for this inspiring, beautifully written post. I agree with you on so many things, and I’m glad to have found someone that is the same age as me that looks at crafting the same way that I do. A hug from Italy!

    Like

  11. Found you through the Fringe Association post (I imagine your stats are spiking today! Congratulations!) and your words and sentiment cut right to the heart. Yes, yes, yes!

    A few books that I’ve read recently came to mind which I think you might enjoy, based on your sharing about learning and embracing your small place in the world and exerting agency over your life and decisions. The first is “Simply Tuesday” by Emily P Freeman, and the second is “Present over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist. I am reading the latter right now and keep finding myself shaking my head in agreement, just as I did in your post.

    Thank you for such a fantastic piece. I’ll be sticking around to read more, for sure! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

  12. Oh to have been so self-aware at your age! What you have, and perhaps are taking for granted, is just that: you are aware of what you don’t know and have not experienced; but you are feeling your way step by step and making progress even if it is not perceptible yet to yourself. I can see that putting yourself “out there” is reaping so many benefits already for you. Thanks for being vulnerable.

    Like

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