Scrap busting

I’ve now been sewing long enough to have accumulated a certain mass of fabric scraps and I’m wondering what to do with them.

This may not look like much of a scrap crisis, but I don’t have unlimited space for storing sacks of the odds and ends that come off of my sewing projects. Nevertheless I’ve thrown away nothing, holding on to even the tiny shreds with the idea that I’ll use some of it for stuffing the dressmaker’s dummy I’m going to make one of these days. There are larger scraps as well, not large enough to do much of anything with, but some of it is too nice (soft, pretty) to just use for stuffing.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of using this thing called the internet sooner, because in the past week I’ve realized that there are plenty of ideas for how to use fabric scraps if you simply google “what to do with fabric scraps.” Instead I first began finding inspiration the old fashioned way, by browsing through books in a shop. Specifically this shop:

This is Liberty London, which I had never heard of prior to two weeks ago when I was in London (for first-year PhD presentations — mine went well, which I’m happy about because to me giving presentations is marginally preferable to jumping into a pit of snakes). One of my fellow first-yearers, Hannah, an out-of-towner like me, said I should go check out Liberty for their fabrics. I did, and you could say that I liked it, as I spent two and a half hours wandering around the fabric department. I managed to walk away with just a few purchases that would not require me to mortgage my home if I had a home mortgage. (Those purchases will be showing up here in the coming months as I make things out of them.)

Hannah had already gone to Liberty that week, but on a bad day, when the place was packed with shoppers and things were too chaotic and she was too pressed for time to really look through the fabric or anything else for that matter. This is a shame, because even going to Liberty to browse is pretty fun, and that’s coming from someone with an intense dislike of department stores, which I always find overwhelming and odd-smelling. Liberty’s another story — everything is so pretty. It’s a little cozy bubble of hardwood and twinkle lights and exorbitantly priced home furnishings and soaps. And ideas for projects that I could make myself, as I would find out. Since Hannah had had a stressed visit her first time and I was game as anything to go back, we went again together on our second to last day with the goal of finding some fabric that I would use to make a shirt for her.

We found her fabric, and also spent some time in the haberdashery, which is all full of fun things to make your sewing room Instagram ready (gold tipped pins, whimsical scissors, leather-bound maker’s journals). I sometimes dream of having one of those perfectly organized, color-coded and clutter-free craft rooms. This is not my fate, and I’m fine with that. I have embraced my mismatched clutter.

The haberdashery had a bunch of great books on sewing, but I have a temporary moratorium on book buying in place so I just took photos of some of the pages that interested me. Specifically, those pages were what to do with all my fabric scraps. Some ideas:

I thought this was not a bad idea at all, because I have limited flat surface space in my sewing area and so wall-mounted storage would free up some of my tabletop. (I don’t have a reference on this book, but I believe the photos above and below are from a book that’s published by Liberty itself, about what to do with fabric scraps.)

Alvaro makes lamps, I sew stuff = collaboration!

We also took a tour through some other sections of the store. There was a floor plan next to the elevator that listed something on the fourth floor called Les Couilles du Chien, which means “the dog’s balls” in French. We of course had to go check that out. It was just more stately home decor. Nothing to do with dogs, nor their balls.

The bath department was the most fruitful in terms of finding inspiration for scrap projects:

Left to right: an eye mask filled with lavender buds, an eye mask with soft cotton fabric on one side and knitted cashmere on the other, and a nice travel case for toiletries. This is where I think most of my scraps will get their new lives, as little luxuries I’ll give to friends. I know more than a few people who would be quite happy to have a lavender eye mask for overnight train trips, long haul flights to visit family back home and crawling into bed after a bad day at work and/or dealing with cranky toddlers.

(The other obvious option for my scraps is, of course, to make a quilt. But as the daughter of a quilter — a woman more meticulous than me — I’ve witnessed the extreme precision demanded by quilting and I find it intimidating. I’m going to have to work on my patience a little more before diving into that.)

This is all, I hope, going to help my efforts to produce less waste as I sew because I’ve been getting concerned about the amount of waste I feel I’m producing. In the grand scheme of things I suppose it’s not all that much, because I buy mostly second hand and as local as I can get, but I’m looking for ways to further improve upon this. Some scraps are hard to avoid unless you’re working with a zero-waste pattern (PS — there are some great tips at the end of that article for creating less waste when sewing), so for the moment at least I can find ways to use up what I’ve got left over.

And now, I’m going to go (carefully) cut the fabric for Hannah’s shirt.

A knitting project that is possibly doomed to failure + two finished projects that I like

I started a new knitting project yesterday after finishing up the last bits on a pair of gloves (photos of that and another recent project at the bottom of this post). Never mind that I still haven’t finished my retro sweater — though it is almost done. I finished knitting all the pieces and blocked them (for non-knitters, that’s when you soak and then lay out your your project to dry flat, stretched with pins so as to “iron” everything out and make it hang more nicely). I’ve sewn up the side seams. All that’s left is to sew on the sleeves, and that’s where I’m stalling because my one attempt failed miserably and I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to have another go. I will get it done before fall weather hits but for now I’m owning my procrasination by starting in on another sweater.

The yarn for it comes from my mother in law, who started knitting a sweater for my niece and got as far as completing the entire front and back but froze when she got to the sleeves. She showed it to me when we were visiting in June/July and explained that she couldn’t for the life of her remember how to do sleeves so she’d decided to abandon it. “You’re not using a pattern?” I asked. I was impressed. No, she said, just winging it. I said, you know there are loads of video tutorials on YouTube, that’s how I’ve learned most of my knitting, but she waved me off. She’s a woman who can’t be bothered with online tutorials, and I have to say that I both like that in her and am also kind of frustrated by it — because she was so close, does she realize how easy it would have been to finish her almost-finished sweater just by watching a ten minute video explanation?

Her solution to the matter was to hand off the partially finished sweater and the rest of the yarn to me. I resisted at first, both because I really wanted to try to convince her to soldier through it, and … also because I think the yarn is kind of ugly. It’s fine for a little girl, but I’m turning it into an adult-sized sweater and I already having some misgivings about that course of action. This is an overhead shot of me frogging it (non-knitters: frogging is unraveling yarn from something that’s been knit so as to reuse the yarn):


(She had also begun a gigantic scarf with it, which is what I’m undoing here.)

So what do we think about the yarn? I of course couldn’t ask her to verify my theory that the real reason she backed off from finishing anything with it was because this yarn is too ugly to live. I don’t like straight garter stitch in general, and I especially don’t like it here because I think it only increases the early 90s vibe of the yarn, and I for one am wholeheartedly against the apparent resurgence of 90s fashion that I’ve been seeing around town. My mother said the exact same thing about the 70s when I started wearing bell bottoms and polyester and platforms in the 90s, so this is perhaps just one of life’s milestone that I must tick off, hating on a younger generation’s clothing choices, but I stand by my statement.

Anyway. I’ve started knitting this sweater and I think the yarn looks slighty better in stockinette stitch, but you decide:


I also think the pattern I’m using is pretty horrendous, but honestly I don’t know what pattern could possibly make this yarn look like it was not initially destined for a five-year-old girl. I just went with a pattern that I estimated would use about the quantity of yarn I had on hand (truth be told, I have no idea what yardage I’m working with here, so it’s just a guess based on volume) and called for the appropriate needle size. We’ll see how this goes.

I’ve asked myself a couple of times why I’m using this yarn to make something for myself, rather than making a sweater for my niece like my mother in law had planned. My response is that I’m wary of arriving for our next visit at the end of the year with a completed sweater that could run the risk of making my mother in law feel like she’s being shown up. She and I have a very good relationship. I really enjoy her company and I think she enjoys mine. She’s not a particularly touchy feely person, and yet the last time she visited she gave me a spontaneous bear hug one day, and I took that to mean that she officially likes me. Still, I feel like completing the sweater that she abandoned is entering into trecherous waters and could be taken the wrong way. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.

I also briefly considered making a sweater for the other little girl in my life, but she currently lives in Alabama and therefore I doubt she would have much use for woolens.

The other reason that I’m making this sweater for myself is that I am in a sort of patch of me-centered making. I’m still fairly new to knitting, having only really gotten deep into it about two and a half years ago. It took me a full year or more to start making things for myself; prior to that I was all about random gifts of mittens and hats to my friends. It felt a little greedy to spend hours upon hours making something for myself — am I worth it? I suppose I’m over that now, especially since I’ve realized that I can make actual clothing, not just accessories, and that’s exciting, isn’t it, when you first realize that? I’m trying to keep my me-centeredness in check, though, because half the fun of knowing how to do this stuff is sharing it with other people.

* * *

Other knitting of late:


Above: The pattern is Spiralini Hat, which you can find as a free download on Ravelry.



Above: the gloves I finished yesterday. The pattern is called Cafe au Lait Mitts, also a free Ravelry download.


Hope for the younger generation

Yesterday I got a *ping*ping* on my WhatsApp from my friend’s daughter Sarah. The conversation as it transpired went like this:

Sarah: Hey Kate, it’s Sarah, I made mittens today

and I’d like to show them to you

[Insert slightly blurry video of her modeling her very finely knit mittens, which caused feelings of shock and admiration and a little bit of jealously to arise within. Yes indeed, I was envious of a ten-year-old.]

Me: WOW!!! I’m so impressed! Mittens are my next project, I made some once but without fingers like those. Was it hard?

Sarah: No not at all, it took me a day to make both

It’s easy

Me: What? Are you joking?? You’re so fast!! [Please note that I was not dispensing patronizing encouragement to a young knitter. I really was in awe of her talents.]

Sarah: No it’s super easy

Me: Are they a kid’s size? [Note pique of interest on the part of time-crunched adult knitter.]

Sarah: No, my mom can wear them

Me: Because I’m going to make mittens for my mother in law and sister in law but I haven’t picked out the pattern yet

Hmm hmm!

Do you have the instructions?

Sarah: Yes but I can teach you

Me: That would be cool! [In my head: thank god, maybe I really will get all my Christmas presents done in time this year.]

Sarah: Yup

but when??????

maybe next week

Me: Dunno. I’m going to be at the garden tomorrow. But you’re at school. [Damn elementary school!]

Sarah: Ah too bad. But at 4 maybe I could come if you’re still there

Me: Ok let’s do that, next week. Mas and I are there every Thursday so that would work

Sarah: Ok at 4

I’ll be there

Me: Great, I’ll stick around for you to get there. But talk to your mom to coordinate. [I’d just realized that Sarah needs to ask permission for stuff like going somewhere to hang out after school.]

So this Thursday? Or next week?

Sarah: Next week

and Mom said ok

Me: Ok cool it’s a date 🙂

Sarah: Ok see you next week

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Own-use production work & co-responsibility

Own-use production work
116. Production of goods and services for own final use is one of the oldest forms of work. Prior to the spread of markets for goods and services, households mainly produced their own food, shelter and other necessities, caring for the household members, premises and durables. As these products have become increasingly available through markets, the prevalence of production for own final use has steadily declined. Nonetheless, it remains widespread in countries at different levels of development. Such production, as in subsistence agriculture, continues to be central to survival in impoverished and remote areas throughout the world and is also a common strategy for supplementing household income, as in the case of kitchen gardens in many urban and rural areas alike. In more developed settings and among higher income groups, it predominantly covers unpaid household services, do-it-yourself work, crafts, backyard gardening and suchlike. (Report II Statistics of work, employment and labour underutilisation, ILO 2013)

Last Friday I went to have a coffee and a talk with Sophia Lawrence, a recently retired statistician for the International Labour Organisation. We met thanks to her daughter, a friend of mine who told me that for the good of my research I should talk to her mom. How right she was. Below is the transcript of our discussion as it related to my interest in the aforementioned form of work that I now know labor statisticians call own-use production.


SOPHIA: I’m so happy to hear that there are young people thinking about these things, because this is something I’ve been trying to push through the UN system for years now. I was a statistician with the International Labour Office, so with the agency that’s responsible for setting international standards on labor statistics. What we actually adopt are resolutions. They’re not legally binding, unlike the conventions of the UN, but they do set up standards and best practices for labor. There are seven core conventions on labor, which, if you become a member of that agency those are, you could say, the basic rules of labor.

ME: Is the US a member?

SOPHIA: Yes, and the US has adopted the fewest conventions. The US, Saudi Arabia, and one other that’s slipped my mind. It’s very sad, pathetic really. Anyway, those are the conventions of the ILO, and those are ratified and do become law. Resolutions, on the other hand, in statistics, are a good best practice, and they do really help countries to align themselves to a system, but they are not ratified and they are not binding. Nonetheless, in the statistical world, we do have a very strong weight with countries, and they all do look to these standards, because they are established on the basis of best practice in the countries themselves.

So, unfortunately, until 2013 most of the resolutions on statistics were very much in line with the problem you’re working on. Our resolution on work statistics has just changed, and the missing part that you’re looking at had also been missing in the resolutions. The simple definition of employment was very much based on GDP, based on the so-called idea of production, which was minus most of the kinds of contributions you’re looking at. It made sense to align employment with GDP calculations because you want to know what’s going into making those goods that you’re qualifying as being part of national production. However, because national production was ignoring all unpaid household work, all volunteer work, for example, employment was ignoring it, too. Which, in the end, we’ve decided is actually an okay thing — employment is what it is — but we have now said, employment is not all work. In 2013 we finally got a new resolution on work statistics adopted, which is bigger than employment and unemployment, and looks into and defines all those types of contributions that interest you, and others.

That doesn’t mean that the world today is beginning to measure all this, though some countries have been measuring it already. But the standards and objectives are there, and countries should start working on changing their national statistical programs. Because of course, it’s a question of how do you measure it, and that will require a certain amount of input, and financial input, for countries to change their surveys, their questionnaires, to begin to address these other issues. In the resolution we made it quite forceful, and it became a bit more watered down through the negotiation process in the conference of labor statisticians — which takes place every five years and all member states get together, with their national statistics office representatives, and we debate — so it became watered down to some extent, a bit forced by the industrialized countries, which already have strong systems [for labor statistics] put in place. And statisticians can be very conservative people, so it’s been a battle to change their ideas. But now that resolution is out there and that’s what I would recommend you read.

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Knitting fail + the research scarf



My day has gone: work a bit, knit a bit, work a bit, knit a bit, eat lunch, knit for an hour and a half while listening to This American Life, then work a bit, then pick the knitting back up because I’m so close to finishing this hat, then second-guess the pattern because it seems like it’s big enough now, so I start decreasing, and I finish, and I’m so pleased, and I rush to the mirror in the hallway to try it on (it’s for Alvaro, not me, but we both have big heads) and I discover with horror:



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Time log of a highly productive day

On Wednesday Mas and I met up at the garden to catch up, which is an odd thing for me to say because normally we see each other all the time, but by fault of various circumstances we somehow managed to go an entire month without seeing each other, nor even really having much in the way of contact aside from a couple of brief emails. At long last we were reunited then, and before we knew it we’d been talking for 10 hours straight. It was nearly 2 a.m. and we were both too exhausted to make our ways home, so we slept in the house of the art association that cohabitates in the same land plot as the garden (we have the house keys). The next day was Thursday, which would prove to be a highly productive day.

0827 –  I woke up, showered, dressed and was in the kitchen making a pot of coffee by 0900.

0910 – Mas and I are sitting at the table on the garden terrace, drinking our coffee and enjoying the still of the morning. I’m working on my latest knitting project. The still was interrupted when the birds arrived to feast on the grape arbor hanging over our heads. “I’ve had enough of their gluttony,” I said. “I’m fine with them eating some of the grapes but last year they ate everything. Let’s pick everything that’s ripe and make wine.” Mas said, “Right,” and got her laptop to start looking up how to go about such business, because neither of us had ever done it before. I got a pair of scissors from the kitchen and stood on a rickety wooden chair cutting down bunches of grapes and loading them into a plastic bag hooked on my elbow. I picked a huge pile, something like six or seven kilos I’d say, and then returned to my seat to continue knitting while Mas read aloud to me instructions she was finding online for how to make wine.

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The guerrilla architect

Mediocre yarn for a mediocre knitting project

There’s a lady who sells yarn at our farmer’s market and I normally pass by her, but this past Saturday I stopped at her stand, and not just to browse aimlessly. Before I’d even turned the corner on the market street I had already decided to buy yarn from her, because Friday night on the train back from the bake party I finished Jonah’s hat, and so Saturday when I went on my market run I was still jacked up from having completed a project, caught in the momentum of production excitement, and wanting to jump right into the next one.

This lady is not my preferred yarn lady. I have my favorite shop that I always go to, but the main reason I’ve never bought from the market lady is because she doesn’t have particularly interesting yarn. It’s all wool-acrylic blends or 100% acrylic in mundane colors, plus several baskets of ugly, sparkly yarn that looks like Christmas tree tinsel. This past Saturday was no different, but like I said, I was in a yarn-buying mood that would not be put off till Monday. So I stopped to look for something for a hat for Alvaro, and also something for me, because until now I’ve been knitting things for other people but never for myself, and I’ve decided I want to knit something for myself. I picked out some forest green wool for him, and when it came to me I was looking for a quantity of something blue for a scarf. I decided on this:

image knit

I felt like very much the seasoned knitter, buying in bulk like that. When I got home I realized that I didn’t have the right size of circular needles to do the scarf, and I wanted to get going on a new project right away so I picked out a different scarf on my Ravelry queue, one that’s worked flat. I got to work on it without being sure if I’d keep it for myself or give it to someone else. But never mind, I just wanted to knit, with no big plans in mind, just knit for joy. Alvaro said he’d wear it, and so for a short while he was the scarf’s intended recipient — until I got 14 rows in and decided I hated the yarn.

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Add another craft to the list

I’m getting way ahead of myself here, but I’ve had quilting on the brain recently. This is utterly insane for someone who barely keeps a lid on her anger while replacing a missing button, but I started thinking about it during this past month because of a really amazing wedding present that my CCC buddies gave to us:



A quilt made of fabric swatches from ten of the coolest people in the world. When they presented it to us right after the ceremony I was put through a pop quiz of which piece of cloth belonged to which person, and I almost nailed it — 7 for 10. I would have gotten 10 for 10 were I not in total emotional upheaval at the time.

The answer key…

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Homebrew attitude: Models of autonomous inventivity

The other day I was cleaning out my desk (still working on that, getting nowhere…) and I came across the 2012 CCC actes de recherche. We hate the actes de recherche: it’s a four to five page summary of your master’s research, and it’s hard enough boiling down your universe into thesis length, let alone four measly pages. Anyway so I found the 2012 ones, and I reread Valerio‘s for the first time since then, and asked him if it would be okay for me to publish it on the blog because it’s just so interesting and full of good references. 

Sure you can post it 🙂
Sharing thoughts it’s always a pleasure, thank you

So here is Valerio and the summary of his research on the homebrew attitude.


Valerio Belloni

His idea was that we possess technical objects in the wrong way. […] A legitimate use of technical objects is to mold them to our purpose. Or to get close enough to them to understand their possibilities. Thoreau worked constantly and brilliantly at all forms of manual labor […] We aren’t following Thoreau’s example. We could do much more, we could study technical objects closely, live with them, not be prisoners of our technological surroundings. Abolish that prison, too! — John Cage, “For the Birds” (1)

Today in that prison the power of biopolitics has erected new walls and inaugurated a new type of prisoner: the “creative class” described as so shiny and inviting by Richard Florida in his international best seller The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida’s basic thesis is that urban fortunes increasingly turn on the capacity to attract, retain and even pamper a mobile class of “creatives,” whose aggregate efforts have become the primary drivers of economic development.

The research I have done over the past two years begins with this analysis and tries to answer a series of questions: If capital turns creativity into gain as the last conquest of biopower, are there forms of inventiveness that escape this control? If these forms exist, which features should they have to be truly independent? And in the end, could they actually represent a form of resistence? Could they be a tool to escape the technological prison Cage was talking about? In an attempt to answer these questions I began this investigation by analyzing examples of inventiveness used in a critical way. I tried to situate these questions in different contexts and in different fields of research.

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