Ethical Elegance: Stitching Together Passions

Apr 23

I’m thrilled to share this guest post from Chelsea Nelson. Chelsea has been my student in several writing classes, and let me tell you–this woman is a dynamo. She’s passionate and has an impressive work ethic. I hope you enjoy reading about her fundraising project…and that you’ll hop over to support her!

220Everyone has that one animal that changes their life when they are a kid. Mine is a dog named Jasmine. We adopted her when I was 10 years old and had her for 11 years until this past November when we had to put her down due to old age. She was more than a dog to me; she was my best friend and the reason I am so passionate for dogs today.

Sterling Shelter gave me my best friend 11 years ago, and I can never truly repay them for that, but what I can do is help them stay running and succeeding as a no-kill shelter.

I created a campaign called Scarves for Paws in which I sell handcrafted scarves for 10 dollars and give those proceeds to Sterling Shelter. As a no-kill shelter, they are always in need of volunteers, supplies, and money donations to stay open. Because they are located at least 45 minutes from my house, volunteering seems impossible, so instead I figured what better way to say thank you for giving me my best friend then to raise money for them.

Knitting has always been a hobby of mine. It relaxes me and calms me when I am stressed. Knitting scarves is my favorite thing to do. One day I was sitting in my room brainstorming for something I could do in my spare time that would benefit the animal shelter. I have had the name Scarves for Paws in my head for a while but bringing the idea to life was a whole other dream. With two weeks of organizing and encouragement from other people, I began to run the Scarves for Paws Campaign. This whole process has showed me that anything is possible no matter your interests and hobbies. I have a long way to go until I am completely satisfied with the campaign but am proud of my progress in the little time I have been up and running.

So far I have gone once to the shelter and was able to give them a box of newspapers and $230 in cash that will benefit all the animals in the shelter. After I dropped the money off, the owners gave me a hug and said they really appreciated my taking time to make the scarves and giving them the proceeds. It was really touching. I never imagined raising $230 just three months of sales. To reach more people, I opened an online store. Although at first the campaign was only a thought I had discussed with my roommate, I am proud to say that I have raised that much money.
I hope in the future I can raise a lot more money and bring it to the shelter to help them out.

By combining my two passions of knitting scarves and my love of dogs, I was able to do something more to benefit someone other than myself, and I am truly proud to say I helped sheltered animals get adopted and have a comfortable stay at Sterling Shelter.

008Chelsea Nelson is originally from Upton,  MA and is about to graduate from  Westfield State University, where she’s been studying English with a writing concentration.  She has had dogs her entire life, currently Kodiak, an 8-year-old Labrador retriever, and Bear, a 2-year-old chow lab mix. She has also worked at a kennel for four years and still works their on holidays and breaks from school. Read her dog blog,follow her on Twitter, and on Instagram.


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Ethical Elegance: Knit Good Stuff

Feb 19

Joan I don’t know how many years I’ve been eyeing Nanne Kennedy’s toothy, honest, gorgeously dyed yarn at fiber festivals. Last fall, with my best enabler at my side, I stopped petting the yarn and purchased. I have no regrets. Not one.

My original intention was to use this femme pink yarn for a certain sweater I’ve been lusting after (I’m looking at you, Lorna Suzanne). I decided to be as prissy as I want the sweater to be and swatched, swatched, swatched, only to find I couldn’t get a fabric I liked at a gauge I wanted. I think I’m going to need a bit of Starcroft Light to find the just-right match of honest yarn and pattern for my dreamy, prissy sweater.

So what’s a knitter to do when she’s got a bag full of pink wool this good and a hankering for one of Ellen’s sweaters? She copies her pal Kirsten, and uses the Seacolors yarn for a newish arrival at Chez Odacier: Joan Fuller.

Ellen’s pattern writing is terrific. It’s as though she’s sitting next to me on the porch (in my mind, it is summer, always, and on a porch of one sort or another, always), leaning over to remind me what I should do next.

Still, we all know what a pokey knitter I am. Every day, I stitch another few rows before I go to bed, and I confess: it’s hard to sleep when I’ve just had those plump cables in my hand. Even if I don’t finish the sweater to wear this long, long winter, I’ll be ready for a Maine evening in September!

Gale taught me something: match a good, honest yarn by someone you really like with a terrific pattern from a friend you admire, and you’re bound to be happy. And happiness of this sort is exactly what ethical elegance means to me!

How about you? What’s your favorite yarn-pattern match up?

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Ethical Elegance: Story of a Shawl

Jan 29

Rifton Often times, it’s the story that gets me. A story from my life, a story of how a garment came to be, a story of the materials.

Here’s the story of my new shawl.

It started in NYC in the halls of the VK Live market place.

No. It started with Ellen’s obsession.

Still further back. It started in Maine, in the cottage, with Amy Lou hooking away on her Wingfeathers, designed by Cal.

The pattern was on my mind. As soon as holiday knitting is finished, I promised myself.

And then I was in Jill Draper’s VK Live booth with Gale, and she picked up a skein of Rifton and said Wingfeathers. You might have felt the world shift a little then. I did. Kirsten felt the pull, and so did Jani, making hers in glorious Starcroft Fog.

We hooked long into the night, at every chance the next day. Hooked in the pop-up shop, and hooked while eating cheese. Hooked on the train, and then, as my semester started, I hooked every moment I didn’t have to work on class prep.

Every inch of Rifton that flowed through my hands delighted me. You can read the yarn’s story here. FOThat’s part of what makes this shawl special to me, knowing the care that went into making the yarn. And part of the shawl’s story is like many hand-crafted garments’ stories: making the same project with a group of folks you really, really like, knowing that the stitches were hooked with laughter and good conversation. And part of the shawl’s story is making a pattern from a designer who embodies ethical elegance and is immensely likable. And part of the shawl’s story is absent friends who’ve been hooking their own shawl in their own corners of the world.

And part of the shawl’s story is just starting to unfold! Oh, the stories it will tell years from now!

Tell me a story, willya? I’d love to hear about a hand crafted item of yours that is rich in story.

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Ethical Elegance: Make It

Oct 30


As soon as my Rhinebeck sweater settled into her bath*, I wound up five skeins of Dragonfly Fibers Super Traveller in Peach Melba. I worked Shannon and Kate’s 2012 Stitches East booth, and the yarn was my reward (among others). I’d been modeling the sample Abbi (and lusting after it), and she is almost mine to wear! Super Traveller is, well, super. The yarn is pleasurable to knit, and Kate has a great eye for color.

I used three skeins on the body, which knit up soooo fast on 15s. Maybe 13s would have been better, but I like the fabric of the 15s–all drapey and cozy when I try it on. I plan to make the shawl collar as deep as I can tolerate knitting and worried my two remaining skeins would leave me short. Since variegated yarn does not whisper “elegance” to me, I hope to raise the swank factor of the sweater by using a solid for the ribbing and collar. Enter Malabrigo in Burgundy.

I anticipate the Burgundy will temper the sweetness of the Peach Melba (wouldn’t that be the case if we were sipping and eating these flavors?). We’ll find out!

How have you upped the elegance factor when knitting?


*No FO pictures of the Rhinebeck sweater just yet; I realized after wearing it once that I knit the second sleeve’s cuff in the wrong size needles. Rip, rib goes the ribbing! 

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Ethical Elegance: Meet Moop’s Maker

Oct 16

Last week I reviewed my favorite Moop bags, and this week, I bring you an inside look at Moop. What a thrill when Wendy, the creative, ethical woman behind Moop agreed to an interview! The Moop studio is in Pittsburgh, where every elegant bag is designed and hand crafted out of gorgeous, durable, ethical materials. All images provided by Moop.

MoopCan you describe a typical day? What routines frame your days, even if the day’s work and play varies?
Clyde, our studio kitty, moved to my house when we made our studio move, and he relentlessly chases our house kitty, Mouse. So, I’m usually being roused by them around 4:30 each morning to tell them to knock it off!! and crash back to sleep until my alarm goes off at 5:30. I don’t consider myself a morning person..sometimes it is truly painful to get up at that hour, but that is when my day must begin at this stage of life. My daughter and I run around getting ready for the day, packing lunches, fixing breakfast, feeding the kitties, letting the chickens out for the day, turning off every light in the house (seriously, how does every single light get turned on each morning?!) and heading on our respective ways. I have a long commute right now, so I listen to a lot of audio books on my drive to the studio each morning. It’s a good time to try and calm my thoughts before the rush of the day begins.

My work days at Moop are fairly predictable and usually pretty busy. They center around production, shipping, email, marketing, customer service, etc. I have to be very efficient with my time. Being a working parent means your kids schedules are often controlling your schedule. So, once I arrive at the studio, I’m not usually making lunch dates or taking walks in the park. I’m working until I have to head out for the day and more often than not am eating my lunch while answering emails. That said, I love the days when I get to schedule photo shoots and work on new designs. Open studio time is something I have to work hard to get. It’s an important part of the creative process, but as Moop has grown, that time for me has diminished. The balance between daily production, administrative work, and creative inquiry is something I’ve been trying to restore and getting closer to getting back.

This post provides a terrific glimpse at the values that frame your work. Can you talk about how your values grew or deepened as your business grew?
Moop began as an extension of my studio practice as an artist. I had finished grad school (an MFA in photography) and wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to make a living with the degrees I had earned. It took me a while to find the value in the expensive education I had received as an MFA will not exactly help you get a job. But what I didn’t realize in those moments was how much an MFA was going to create my job…rather, how I would create my career because I had gone through the rigors of an art education. You learn a lot of things that don’t feel very quantifiable – I still believe I received the most varied education because of the route I chose. Learning to make things paired with a desire to have a career in an era where the internet exists is really a pretty remarkable place to be. Building a life around a process of making was something I had always wanted. It is now what I have earned by doing the work that I do. It has not been a piece of cake. It has been years and years of long long hours, lots of trial and error, and pounds of perseverance.

Achieving that goal has made me even more committed to the value of a life built around making things. It does not have to be physical, tangible objects – but, approaching what you do with the purpose of making something fantastic will apply to how you operate in your career and your personal life. Making personal connections is the core of making things. And, personal connections are what move us through life in happy, healthy, productive ways.

Why make bags?
I didn’t really begin with a business plan to find the thing that had the highest retail demand…I had made a few bags for myself and began making them for other people. It turned out I was pretty good at it, so I kept making more. There’s not a very scientific reason behind it. I have always carried tote style bags because they are so versatile: they hold up to my sloppy lifestyle, I can drag them around, over fill them and replace them when they’re all worn out…I usually carry one bag until it dies, then replace it with another. I don’t really accessorize with jewelry; instead my bag was always my accessory. Turns out there are a lot of people like me who want a minimalist functional style that’s not covered in branding. That’s the niche where Moop bags fit.

Will you talk about your design process? One of the things I love about Moop bags is that they transcend Market bagtrendiness—the essence of elegance! How do you achieve that? What matters to you as you design? How do you match designs to fabrics?
My process is pretty organic. My first Moop design was The Market Bag. The second was a small messenger bag. Every subsequent bag has come from a variation of those two originals. I had the foundation of shape and build techniques and started working over the details. For me, I try to design our bags so everything has a function (for instance, you’ll not see decorative buckles or useless chains). If there is a top flap, the closure system needs to be functional and the flap needs to be covering something useful, like a pocket. Function and a minimalist aesthetic matter most to me. I like our bags to be versatile so, my color palette tends to be neutral. I love grays and browns and that’s mostly what you’ll see in the Moop collection. Aside from the occasional special edition, which might have a punchy color. Currently, our Backpack no.2 in Magenta is filling the role.

What are you going to be excited about in the next few months?
Our studio relocation has been one of the biggest transitions in the last few weeks so, we’re taking some time to get settled before we release anything new…though, I did recently find an amazing special waxed canvas that I’m working up some designs for!

Thanks, Wendy, for your inspiring responses! I can’t wait to see what you do with that special waxed canvas! To learn more about Moop, visit the website, follow them on Twitter or Instagram, like ’em on Facebook, or see what they’re up to on Pinterest

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Ethical Elegance: Moop Bag Review

Oct 09

letter bag You’ve probably heard me mention one of my favorite bag makers plenty of times: Moop! Today I’ll tell you about a few of their bags and wax poetic about the one that serves as my Mary Poppins bag.

The Tiny Clutch 2 is a great bag for tossing into a larger bag when you want to keep necessities–phone, debit card, cash, lip stick–all together. I use it all the time when I don’t want to carry a handbag and a tote.

I reviewed my Paperback bag here (scroll down to the end of the post). Now that I have an iPad mini, the bag holds even more. I especially like this bag when I’m biking to do my errands. It also makes a terrific clutch when I snap off the strap.

I’ve long been on the search for the perfect handbag, but I already own the perfect work bag: the Moop Letter Bag in waxed canvas. Like Mary Poppins’s carpet bag, this bag can hold it all (almost)! Mine is gray waxed canvas, with one of my favorite details–a gorgeous turquoise lining, which makes it easy to find all the things I stuff into the bag. Most days, the slip pocket holds my bullet journal and pencil case, the front pockets hold my reading glasses and sketchbook, and the inside pocket holds text books, work folders, student papers, articles I need to read–you get the idea. And there is a key fob, the handiest detail on any larger bag! The inside pockets are great for my iPad cord, Altoids, and other bibs and bobs I need throughout the day. While I love the look of leather bags, this one is so much lighter than my leather briefcase. I can carry it, stuffed to the brim, with little pain. I also get a lot of use of the shoulder straps–I don’t often carry bags messenger style, but I do like having the options the adjustable strap offers.

It’s more than a terrific bag for work. You can see the Letter Bag at the Louvre when it served as my second carry-on and day bag during a weekend in Paris. Moop makes many styles that are refined enough to wear with more sophisticated looks.

Of course, the fact that the bags are manufactured in the USA using ethically produced materials goes a long way in my love of them.

Stay tuned for an interview next week with Wendy, the genius behind Moop.

In the meantime, spill in the comments–which is your fave Moop bag?

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