Slow Fashion October: Why I Shop Vintage

This month, I’ve been inspired and challenged by Karen Templer’s #SlowFashionOctober campaign. I’ve loved seeing everyone’s contributions on social media, and hearing the stories behind some beloved, well-cared-for garments. It’s motivated me to spend a little more time on this blog talking about what I do when I don’t knit my clothes, and how I try to shop ethically and conscientiously. Today’s entry topic is vintage: what it is, what’s great about it, and how I wear it.

Besides making them, the best way to get clothes, in my opinion, is to find them secondhand. In many ways, buying used is more earth-friendly than making your own. Today I want to talk specifically about vintage (25 years old or older) clothes, and the benefits of shopping vintage.

Vintage clothes are usually better quality than new.

There are a couple reasons for this. The first is that, if a garment has already survived a few decades and still looks great, it will usually be high-quality. A vintage piece has already been tested. The other reason is that, in general, clothes were simply made better in the past.

Fast fashion has dragged down quality across all price points. Consumers don’t know how to judge factors like stitching, material, care needs, finishing, really anything. This means that all clothing makers, from cheap to expensive, have little incentive to uphold quality standards. All clothing makers are also under pressure to lower their prices, and quality is the first thing to go. Even consumers at the higher end are taught to shop for labels and trends, instead of durability and timelessness.

As recently as just twenty years ago, people shopped less and expected more from the pieces they owned. Today, the early 90’s is considered vintage, and we’re starting to see some good pieces from that era. But the downward trend in quality started long before, somewhere in the 70’s when the USA textile industry really started dying. This means that vintage is in danger. There’s only a finite supply of these items and they’re getting older and older. The new clothes on sale today will be in tatters, choking sea creatures and leaching plastic into landfills everywhere, in a matter of five years, let alone twenty. So buy vintage while you can, and when you do buy (or make) new, think about the life it will have once you’re finished with it.

Vintage shopping helps you cultivate your own style with unique pieces.

A few years ago, in a hostel in Sofia, I had a conversation with a young woman from somewhere in northern Europe (Sweden? Holland? I honestly can’t remember). What I do remember about the exchange was, she lamented that fast fashion had flattened street style, erasing the differences in trends that used to be more evident from one city or country to another. Today, she said, street fashion in Odessa, Sofia, Lisbon, and Glasgow could all look the same.

It’s true, fast fashion outlets produce a staggering variety of garments, and create a very convincing illusion of choice. But that shirt that looks so you at Zara also looks that way to 10,000 other people, otherwise Zara wouldn’t be selling it. 

Not everyone wants, or needs, to have “unique” style. And if it’s not something that’s important to you, you’re under no obligation to think about it. But people who like shopping, or making their clothes, tend to be motivated by a desire to create a style that’s their own: something that looks and feels right for them that will transcend trends. If that sounds like you, vintage is a great option even if you’re more drawn to “modern” trends and silhouettes.

When I say “vintage,” I mean something that’s at least 25 years old. That’s it. Vintage doesn’t have to look vintage, if that’s not your thing. Some vintage shoppers embrace the styles and shapes of another era, and gravitate towards some more than others (for me, loud 80’s sweaters and nipped-in 50’s waists are always intriguing). But as long as you’re looking to cultivate a timeless style, something that will look like you no matter what year it is, you can probably find vintage/secondhand pieces that will work. Often, they’ll be much better quality for the price than something you could buy new.

Example: My New-to-Me Jacket


This fall, I decided I wanted a new jacket. Often, when I’m looking for the perfect new wardrobe piece, I’ll look back on what I wore in the past and think about items that really made me feel great, and that I wore all the time.

When I was 12, someone (my dad?) bought me a classic Levi’s jacket for Christmas. It didn’t make that big of an impression on me when I opened it. But even my style-challenged-middle-school-self was instinctively drawn to it. I ended up wearing it almost every day for two years. It went with everything, it wasn’t “trendy” (I fancied myself an alternative kid and wanted nothing to do with the Abercrombie shirts and Doc Marten sandals that all the preppy girls were wearing), and I could wear it over sweaters or tank tops, depending on the weather.

The more I thought about, another denim jacket like that one I had in 7th and 8th grade was exactly what I wanted. I already have a heavy winter coat. I needed something lighter that would work for more seasons and climates. It wouldn’t be exactly the same as my old one; I wanted a slightly oversized fit for more layering potential, and a lighter, brighter wash. I wanted extremely heavyweight denim that would last a long time, and I’d like to know the person who made it got a fair wage and ya know, a day off every now and then. Ideally, I didn’t want to spend more than $50-70.

For those quality specs at that price, secondhand was the natural choice. I poked through the Sofia secondhand shops, but couldn’t find exactly the right item. The jacket I ended up buying was in Spain, and happens to also qualify as “vintage.” It’s a classic Lee denim jacket, complete with the “Union Made” tag, from the 1980’s.


Lee denim jackets have a history. They come from the 20th century’s golden age of USA textile manufacturing, a time when clothes were made domestically, for working people who expected a lot out from their clothes and knew how to recognize quality. From the 1920’s all the way until around when my jacket was made, the Lee “Union Made” logo became iconic. Not only were the jackets made by union workers in the USA, they were sold to many people who were union workers themselves.

heavy duty

According to their website, Lee still sells these jackets. They are cut a bit slimmer, some are made with stretch denim (eww), and their website makes no mention of where they are made or by whom. I’m going to assume that means they’re made overseas, since “made in the USA” is now almost strictly a marketing signal for luxury items, and I can’t imagine Lee would still have American union workers making their clothes without mentioning it all over their site. A new denim jacket would be not only be cheaply-made of lower-quality materials, it would also be costlier (to my wallet, the environment, and workers).

For about the half the price of a new jacket, I got one that’s much better quality, and had consumed the water and labor it needed to be manufactured around 30 years ago. Even though it’s as old as I am, it looks and feels brand new. It’s stiff, heavy denim. Most new denim made today feels flimsy in comparison.

Now, it’s from the 80’s and it looks it, which I happen to love about it. The wash is very light and the armscyes are ginormous. Depending on what I was going for, I could style this super 80’s, or I could tone it down with quieter pieces to bring it into the twenty-teens and beyond.

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playing it cool in black jeans and a secondhand gray t-shirt

Do you wear vintage? Do you have any vintage items you love?


Fiber Find: 1959 book “Popular Albanian Motifs: Textile and Knitting”

A quick post to share an amazing find on our most recent trip:

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Popular Albanian Motifs: Textile and Knitting, Tirana 1959

Visiting a country in this part of the world for the first time always holds some textile-related delights.


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inside cover, possibly my favorite page


The book is nothing but these large, beautifully drawn, full-color plates of textile motifs, some embroidered, some woven, some knit.

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I’m hardly knowledgeable about Albania. This was my first visit, and the country’s culture, language, and history are unique to the Balkans. However, everywhere I’ve been in this part of the world has an amazing textile tradition, and this book is just one indicator that Albania is no different.

Turning Off and Casting On

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with Facebook?

Over a year ago, my husband gave up Facebook. Since then, he’s written a book, finished several embroidery projects, read goodness-knows-how-many pages, completed P90X, and taken up stamp collecting. Until today, I remained on Facebook. I can barely keep my six geraniums alive, I’ve gained three kilos, my reading/attention span are in the dumps, and the house is littered with yarn ends that I tucked in, snipped, and never bothered to throw away.

So I’ve declared August a Facebook-free month. I’ll still be updating (at least theoretically) my Work Even and Balkanite pages. But my personal profile will be gone for a bit. I may stay off for longer than a month, or I may return in September. In the meantime, I need to refocus, give my eyes and neurons a break from social media, and buckle down on some projects that are very meaningful to me. For starters, I have two sleeveless tops on the needles that are nearly finished!

What are your feelings about social media? How has it added to– or taken away from– how you spend your time? Are you doing anything to unplug this summer?

Quickies: Beach Tank Duo

And now for something completely different.



A photo posted by huelo (@huelo) on

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m an all-wool-everything kind of knitter. As much as I love cashmere, my desert-island fiber would probably be Bluefaced Leicester. I love wool and not even particularly soft wool. Mohair is pretty neat, too.

When it’s hot, I’ll knit a little something in cotton or, preferably, linen. While I like the way the projects turn out, the process of knitting plant fibers is just not nearly as satisfying to me as working with wool. Obviously I’m not alone in this; wool is king for a pretty big swath of the knitting population.

The first time I was in Spain was in Seville, in April of 2015. It was already 80F in Seville, and the hot streets emptied every afternoon until dinner at 10pm. I, however, tracked down the only yarn boutique in Seville, found the lone basket of 100% Portuguese merino, and bought five skeins.

little bit of yarn haul: Portuguese merino

A photo posted by huelo (@huelo) on

On my most recent trip to the Iberian Peninsula, I wanted to “integrate” a little more, and I had to admit that wool just doesn’t cut it in a Spanish summer.

I’ve had my eye on Jess Schreiberstein‘s Beach Tank pattern since the thermostat climbed above seventy degrees. It’s the perfect summer knit: fast, simple, and somehow universally flattering (seriously, check out the project photos, everyone looks cute as hell).

These tanks are made with yarn I found at a huge department store in Madrid. The orange one is a prudent 100% cotton, but it’s held together with some novelty abomination that includes polymide. And I love it! The gray one has a little linen, but also viscose, polyester, and (gasp!) sequins. I also love it!

#beachtank in the flesh! Plus #nomakeup and #sweatyponytail because summer

A photo posted by huelo (@huelo) on

Wool is my first love, but I’m so happy I tried something I don’t usually go for. It’s nice to know that my tastes and experiences can still evolve after all these years of knitting.

The pattern calls for two light DK yarns held together, so the possibilities are pretty endless. I see at least a couple more of these in my future.

Do you have certain fibers you usually shun? Ever change your mind about a yarn or fiber that you previously didn’t like? Do you have a yarn “comfort zone?” Tell me about it in the comments!



Free Pattern: Bruntsfield Cowl! Plus Edinburgh Yarn Fest Highlights

new Bruntsfield cowl in Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean wool

One of the many perks of living in Europe: I was within reasonable proximity of the Edinburgh Yarn Fest! What an amazing treat to be surrounded by such talented crafters, and such beautiful wool, for a whole weekend.
Highlights: I took a class with Karie Westermann on pattern writing. Karie loaded us up with a ton of great information; she didn’t hold anything back. She also has a great teaching style: she’s organized, she’s encouraging of students, and she had prepared some handouts which I’ve found myself referring to a few times since the class. If you get a chance, definitely take one of her classes.
I saw some great people I already knew, including Sonya Phillips, Ysolda Teague, and Stephen West. I also met some people who I’ve been admiring from afar for awhile now: Bristol Ivy, Thea Colman, Kirsten Kapur, Anna Maltz, Tom van Deijnen, and (OMG sooo exciting) Cecilia Campochiaro. My husband and I both got to chat in-depth with Ellen Mason. What a rad lady. I love her laid-back style and I’m obsessed with her new smock pattern (I got to see her smocks in person and they are so frigging cute).
I was too chicken to introduce myself to Kate Davies. She just looked so unbelievably intimidatingly gorgeous at her booth, and she was undoubtedly quite busy the whole time.

My funds were limited, so I shopped very carefully. I spent a lot of time at the Black Bat Rare Breed Wool booth, and my big splurge was 3 skeins of Whistlebare 4ply (it was just so shiny and pretty!). The surprise sleeper hit of the fest was Rachel Atkinson’s Daughter of a Shepherd, made from her dad’s Hebridean sheep. The breed and the story are captivating enough on their own, and the yarn bewitched me (and a lot of other festival-goers) with its deep natural black color, fuzzy halo, and intoxicatingly sheepy aroma (there were a lot of yarn-huffers wandering around).

From one daughter of a shepherd to another: thanks, Rachel, for sharing your beautiful yarn with us, and I’m so glad I could meet you and chat with you.

I came home with a single treasured skein of DoaS, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I wanted a project I could wear where everyone could see it, in a relaxed gauge that would allow the the fibers to lay flat and bloom a bit. For the Bruntsfield Cowl, I used a stitch pattern called Portcullis Stitch from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury…, which doesn’t curl at the edges, and has an open-textured, almost crocheted look to it. Plus, it’s easy to memorize.

Bruntsfield Cowl

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1 skein Daughter of a Shepherd July 2015 Clip
1 pair 4.5mm (US #7) needles (or size needed to obtain gauge)
Waste yarn
1 4mm crochet hook (size isn’t super important, just something reasonably close to your needle size)
Extra needle one size bigger than knitting needles for 3-needle bind-off
Tapestry needle

Gauge: Approximately 25 stitches x 21 rows= 4” in Portcullis Stitch
Cowl measurements: 28” circumference and 10.5” wide
Notes: Cowl is knit flat, starting with a provisional cast-on. The cowl is finished by knitting the open stitches together with the cast-on edge, using the 3-needle bind off technique.

K: knit
P: purl
K2tog: knit 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
SSK: Slip next 2 stitches as if to knit, slip them back to the left needle and knit these 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
KYOK: knit 1, yarn over, knit 1 into same stitch (2 stitches increased)
SK2p: Slip 1 stitch as if to knit, knit next 2 stitches together, pass slipped stitch over (2 stitches decreased)
RS: Right Side
WS: Wrong Side

Using one-step provisional cast-on, waste yarn, crochet hook and main needles, cast on 65 stitches. Break waste yarn. Using working yarn, begin stitch pattern:
Row 1: [WS] P all stitches
Row 2: [RS] K2tog, KYOK, *SK2p, KYOK,* repeat **’s to last 2 stitches, SSK.

Repeat these 2 rows until work measures 28” from beginning edge. Repeat Row 2 once more.
Very carefully, remove waste yarn from beginning edge to expose open stitches. Place open stitches on size 7 needle. You should have 65 stitches on each needle. Turn work so that WS is facing out, with both edges of open stitches lined up side-by-side. Using extra needle and 3-needle bind-off method, knit both edges together.

Weave in ends and definitely wet-block! This yarn blooms and softens very nicely after being soaked in warm water. I added a splash of apple cider vinegar to the water.


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Emi says, “Thanks for the new bed”

Riff #1: Salt Spray Cowl

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snuggling up to the new cowl

I promised more free, easy patterns, and February seems like the perfect month to make good on that. There’s really not much going on, and despite this brief warm spell, real spring is probably still a ways away. Our cold snap ended awhile ago, but outside is muddy and covered in dog poop (seriously, Sofiantsi, clean up after your dogs). Since I work from home, the incentive to go out is at an all-time low.

Which makes this the perfect time for what I like to call “riffing.” Riffing, to me, means creating with an emphasis on quantity over ambition. Instead of devising elaborate, complicated designs, riffing might mean just fixating on one detail, maybe a really fun stitch pattern or a lovely yarn, and not really adding much else. The key to proper riffing is momentum. Bind off one project, and cast on your next project before the needles are cold. I usually find my riffs are enhanced by keeping really odd hours, watching the same movie over and over again, and probably wine.

Riffing is vital to my creative process, because I’m someone who succumbs to creative blocks very easily. Like many people, I’m irrationally afraid of failure. Sometimes I go months without making something original, because I’m afraid I’ll “waste” yarn on something that doesn’t turn out right. So this month has been Fearless February, with my only goal being to keep the momentum. I’m cranking it out, just for fun, without much of a plan.

Riffing, by the way, doesn’t have to mean knitting. You can go on your own riff, by writing, drawing, embroidering, scrapbooking, cleaning behind your appliances, really whatever the wine or coffee or tea or old movies tell you to do. Really, the only rule is to keep it up and have fun.

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Salt Spray Cowl

Since Christmas, gansey motifs have been my main riff fuel. They are trendy right now, maybe because they go so nicely with all the farm yarns that are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I adapted the stitch motif in my new Salt Spray Cowl from one of the many lovely charts in Dutch Traditional Ganseys.

The ripples in the gritty off-white reminded me of the bleakest winter of my existence, in northeastern Bulgaria in 2012. My Peace Corps apartment was on the first floor of a small concrete block, with enormous old windows that whistled at night. Any condensation that gathered inside the apartment froze solid to the inside of the windows. I used to have dreams that snow was falling on me in bed.

photo by Stefan Vasilev Vasilev

link to photo

That year, a brutal ice storm hit the Black Sea coast, pushing the waves all the way up the beach to the shuttered bars and seafood grills, and freezing them in place. A friend and I took a walk on the Varna beach, admiring trash cans that had morphed into lumpy white stones, and lampposts heavy with salty stalactites.

The only break in the empty, frozen coastline was the Varna mineral springs, a teeming sulfurous haunt of barrel-chested old men. The regular bathers had decided that this, the coldest weekend of the year, was the perfect time for cleaning out the baths. Steam rose out of a break in the frozen seawater and icy rocks. About fifteen grandpas in speedos, wool beanies, and plastic sandals, were scrubbing the concrete pool, which had been drained down to about a foot of hot, slimy water. They were rosy and cheerful, shouting and working briskly, as if the ambient heat from the springs kept them warm but not that warm. I was awestruck by this show of industry, a group riff in its own way, putting those dark times to good use.

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like the hat? it’ll be in a future post!

Salt Spray Cowl

350-400 yds worsted weight yarn. (I used one skein of Green Mountain Green wool/mohair, and about ½ a skein of Abundant Earth Fiber Aviary).

24” circular needles in US #8

stitch marker

tapestry needle for bind off and weaving in ends.

Cowl measures 32″ around and 9 3/4″ deep from cast-on to bind-off.

Gauge: 13 1/2 stitches x 27 1/2 rows= 4″ in gansey stitch pattern


CO 105 stitches using long-tail method. PM and join in the round. Begin gansey stitch pattern at Round 1. Gansey stitch pattern can be worked on any multiple of 7 stitches:

Round 1: [p4, k3], repeat to end of round.

R2: [k4, p1, k1, p1], repeat to end of round.

R3: [k5, p1, k1], repeat to end of round.

Repeat Rounds 1-3 21 more times, or until desired length. Repeat R1 once more. Bind off with EZ’s cast-on-cast-off. Weave in ends and wet block (if you used a fluffy, halo-y yarn like I did, this step is not to be skipped!).


New Year’s Craft Resolutions: How’d I do?

my 2015 in a nutshell

To tell the truth, I was seriously considering skipping this post. Is there anything more uncomfortable than looking back at your New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year? I had nearly forgotten what they were, since I made them last January, and I was afraid I’d open the old post and re-read it to find I’d totally failed at my goals.

Like most things, though, it wasn’t as stressful as I thought it’d be. I had been judicious in my choice of resolutions, and for the most part they were obtainable, and helped me grow as a crafter. So, how’d I do? I decided to assess my progress and give myself grades. Like they were back in my Peace Corps-teacher days, the grades are completely subjective and hastily decided on based on no numerical criteria whatsoever.

1. Stick to a Yarn Budget: B. At the beginning of the year, I resolved to spend no more than $35 per month on yarn. That works out to $420 per year. In fact, I came in under budget, at about $405! I found that this wasn’t a restrictive goal for me, and I probably could have pushed myself to be even more discriminating and spend less (although, when I look at everything I bought/knitted, I can’t imagine what I would have chosen to go without.) The state of my wallet after this exercise is middling, as usual, being as I am lazy about waged labor, and not much of a budgeter in general. But this resolution did help me consider my purchases more carefully, and reflect on the yarns that I like and am attracted to. I did very little magpie shopping in 2015. Instead, I bought almost entirely sweater quantities of yarn that I would not only definitely knit, but definitely wear.

This year, I’m not going to set a cap on my spending, although I’d like to spend less, maybe more like $300 for the year instead of $400. Instead, I’d like to knit from my stash before buying anything new. What I focused on in 2015 seemed to be sweater quantities, and I have the yarn for at least four sweaters sitting in my stash. I’d like to turn those piles into actual sweaters before buying anything new. I also want to give myself permission to be a tiny bit more frivolous, and experimental, with my yarn purchases. This means more single skeins of yarns I’ve never worked with before. So, in addition to knitting down my stash, the idea is to get maximum learning, and enjoyment, out of one or two skeins, instead of adding to my sweater collection.

2. Blog More: C+. This resolution was easily the one I was least successful at. I didn’t blog anywhere near once a week, let alone twice per week. However, I did publish a few posts, and a few designs, that I’m proud of, and that helped me grow tremendously as a writer (and a knitter).

I don’t know what my 2016 blogging goals are, exactly. Maybe I’ll never be the kind of blogger who posts multiple times per week, and that’s okay. The posts that I liked the best– and that generated the most heartening response– were long, and took me several days of work to finish. So, maybe I’m someone who gets, and gives, more as a writer when I give myself permission to write longer posts, but fewer of them. I won’t push myself to blog more often in 2016. What I will push myself to do is design more. This means more patterns, especially patterns like Toroni that will be easy, and available for free.

3. Define my color palette. A. Of all the resolutions, this one was the biggest success. It helps that it was fun. I love organizing my wardrobe, browsing photos and blogs for style inspiration, and navel-gazing about my own style and color choices.

Like I said a year ago, I’ll never be a head-to-toe neutrals kind of person. However, I’ve found it enormously liberating to narrow my color choices. In the past, I mistook “variety” for “style,” assuming it was necessarily boring to wear the same silhouettes, or the same colors, over and over again. 2015, though, was a big year for “capsule wardrobes,” minimalism, and “uniform dressing,” and I wasn’t immune to the bug. I found this blog extremely helpful in thinking about color, and started to conceptualize my look as radiating around a few main colors that I always love, that look good on me, and that can be combined nicely. For me, they’re dark blues, burnt oranges, tans and charcoals, with accents of pale pink, coral, and red.


This doesn’t mean I’m only “allowed” to buy these colors. Rather, these are the colors I’ve always gravitated towards, and I’ve given myself permission to honor that whenever I feel like it. If it means having a pile of accessories and sweaters that are all orange, why not? The color gets me compliments and makes me feel great. Same with navy or marine blue. Since making this switch, I’m finding it easier to let go of old clothes that aren’t working for me anymore, to resist impulse purchases that I know won’t fit my aesthetic, and to wear what I do own and love more often, and in more combinations.


4. Grow my library. A. Fun fun fun. Budgeting more money, and time, for good books has been an investment in my creativity, knowledge, and well-being. I added about a dozen books to my craft library this year, thanks in part to my awesome stepfather who works at Powell’s Books (if you’re ever there, go to the 4th floor and say hi to John!). My most recent additions have been Dutch Traditional Ganseys (so many knits and purls!!!), by Stella Ruhe, and 200 Fair Isle Motifs (such a beautiful book, and so intuitively organized!), by Mary Jane Mucklestone. Next on my list: this one and this one.

How’d everyone else do for their 2015? Any new goals for 2016?