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Natural Dyes From the Garden

penman
Grace Gouin
date
October 30, 2014
category


My house is, in the traditional mountain style, tucked on the western side of a steep mountain and nestled among some very large oak, sycamore, and pine trees. This means that while I do get beautiful sunsets that stream through the trees, I only get sunshine on the tiny patch of yard that isn’t completely covered in trees from 11AM, when the sun finally peeks over the mountain, and 2PM when we reach full shade again – absolutely terrible conditions for growing tomatoes. I eventually gave up gardening all together and steadfastly rely on the farmers market and my CSA for all local produce. It took several natural dye classes to realize that the seemingly barren woods around my house are actually an abundant garden full of natural dyes.

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At the end of the summer we rush around collecting all the dye stuff from the woods and we also solicit neighbors with actual gardens for random plants that produce a myriad of color. Last summer it was black walnuts and marigolds, this summer it was black eyed susans and hopi amaranth. Both are native to North America, the hopi amaranth getting its name from its original cultivation by the southwestern Hopi. It produces the same amaranth that you might find at the grocery store, as well as a beautiful family of pink dyes.

I gathered up all the black eyes susans from my front yard and the amaranth from a friends garden, dusted off my dye pots, dusted off some old sweaters that desperately needed a new lease on life, and gave myself 2 nights to get the project done.

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If you’re already proficient with natural dying at home, you’ll already know the process I am about to describe better than I do, I expect, but for everyone else I will go over it quickly to try to entice you into trying this yourself. If you are going to try this at home but you have no sweaters on hand, you can always check out Goodwill or make an investment in an Appalatch henley in natural – these shirts have have no dyes or chemicals added so they are perfect for dying!

  1. First, we mordanted our wool sweaters with alum. Mordants are mineral salts that help dyes bind to the fibers you are dying. There are many different kinds of mordants, but we used alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) because it is safe and easy to use.
    • First we weighed the fiber while it was dry so that we knew how much alum to add.
    • Wet the fiber in your first stainless steel dye pot (not to be used for cooking soup). You want the fibers to be completely wet in order to totally take up the mordant (you can even let them soak in water overnight). You’ll start the water out lukewarm and raise the temp gradually. Never bring the water to a boil and never stir too vigorously.
    • Weigh out and dissolve the alum. Usually you will want 4 tablespoons of alum to 1 pound of fiber. Dissolve the alum in a little container of water, you can also add 1.5 tsp of cream of tartar to help the mordant absorb into the fiber.
    • Add the mordant to the warm water with the sweaters in it and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 1 hour and then let the dye bath cool down. You can let it sit overnight again.
  2. Once your mordanted fibers are ready to go, you’ll use a separate stainless steel pot to soak your plants in plenty of water and bring the temperature up to being quite warm but not boiling. We had one pot going with the black eyed susans and one going with the amaranth. Gently squeeze (don’t twist) the sweaters so that the extra water drains out and then add them to the pot with the dye plants.
  3. Check your fibers after 15 minutes and add more dye plants if you need to.
  4. After they have been sitting for a bit and have reached a good color, take the sweaters out and rinse them in water that starts out cool and moves to hot.
  5. Lay the sweater out on a towel and gently reshape. Roll this towel up like a yoga mat and use your hands of knees to push out extra water into the towel. Unroll the towel and transfer the sweater to a fresh dry towel to reshape and then leave it flat to dry.

This process is meant for protein fibers only. This means any yarn or sweater that is made from an animal fiber like wool, silk, cashmere, angora, alpaca, llama, camel.. you name it. If it can breathe and you can extract a fiber from it, its a protein.  This process will not work for synthetics such as polyester or any cellulose yarn or fabric, so don’t bother throwing in any cotton, modal, tencel, linen… basically any fibers that come from plants.

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Other great plants you might find useful for dying and that may also grow in your area are wode, madder, chamomile, dandelion, goldenrod, coriopsis, rhododendron, weld, carrot tops, queen annes lace, corn stalks, onion skins, black walnuts, lemon balm, and marigolds. This handful of plants is a fraction of what’s available to dye with, but are those that I pay attention to because a lot of this stuff seems to be growing everywhere around here! There are so many natural dye practices that are about 100 times more advanced than the ones I have described here, but this isn’t a bad place to start.

This labor intensive process reminds us of how hard it is to introduce a natural dye practice into a commercial setting, though we find that the inspiration from the beautiful colors that can be achieved are enough to encourage us to keep trying.

Let me know your own experiences with natural dyes or any suggestions to help me up my game next year!  I look forward to hearing from you, grace@appalatch.com.

Indigo Daydream

penman
Grace Gouin
date
October 27, 2014
Natural indigo provides rich, vibrant blue colors.

Natural indigo provides rich, vibrant blue colors. Photo by Nicole McConville

We have been dreaming and scheming for just over a year to try to introduce some naturally dyed goodies to the collection. We have been working with Botanical Colors from the very start to find just the right plant to pair with our Rambouillet wool, and indigo turned out to be the ticket.

 

 

It seems like indigo is everywhere these days, and it’s easy to understand why; the indigo blue is intoxicating. The indescribable indigo blue color pushed us to take the plunge into the world of botanical dyes above all else. Introducing a naturally dyed garment is a risk in some ways because one must expect more of an unpredictable result than when working with synthetic dyes. Another large barrier to launching a naturally dyed product is finding someone willing to attempt such a feat – most dyers are set up for only synthetic dyes and switching between synthetic and natural pigments in an industrial dye machine is a little bit like trying to breathe water. Thankfully, we found Kathy Hattori, someone willing to walk down this uncertain road with us.

 

 

Kathy Hattori is the mastermind behind Botanical Colors, a Seattle based company that is leaving its mark on the world in the form of beautiful and botanically dyed textiles. Each shirt has been lovingly hand dipped into an indigo dye vat, by Kathy, until it achieves the deep blue of a night sky.   Getting indigo to the point where it will attach to wool fibers is something of an art, as Kathy describes “Indigo is very different from other plant dyes as it requires additional steps to make the blue pigment available to attach to fibers.  Every dyer has a special indigo recipe and ritual.  Some use banana peels and lime to create the vats and others use long fermentation methods or quicker chemical additions.” This process takes a long time to perfect, and even more skill and expertise to achieve a uniform color among all pieces with minimum losses.  Kathy says, “…once the vat is ready and the dipping begins, everyone succumbs to the enchantment of watching the dyed fabric turn from yellow to green to rich, deep blue.”

Wool, Indigo V-Neck.  Photo by Nicole McConville.

Wool, Indigo V-Neck. Photo by Nicole McConville.

 

We love using wool because of its longevity, luster, performance, and its luxury.  On top of that, wool is a sustainable and naturally renewable resource. All of the same can be said for indigo. Indigo, or indigofera tinctoria is a legume that can be grown easily (in the right climates) and harvested at least twice a year.  It is also a nitrogen fixer which promotes rebuilding of soil. This amazing plant provides the world with a beautiful dye, helps soil quality, and is a renewable source of carbon sequestration – how can you go wrong? Well, sometimes indigo dyed goods will rub off blue on lighter colored garments or leathers, so there is a trade off. You’ll want to be aware of how you wash these t-shirts (minimum agitation, cold water, like colors) and for the first several months of wearing these indigo beauties you’ll have to be conscious of pairing your tees with like colors, but frankly, we think it’s worth it.

 

 

Organically Grown Indigo Plants

Organically Grown Indigo Plants, photo from Kathy Hattori

 

 

The indigo henleys and t-shirts available now were made in an extremely limited batch.  We hope to be able to introduce more naturally dyed products and hopefully more indigo!  To shop the indigo items that are available now, click here.

 

 

The Cold Mountain Cape

penman
Ella McCoy
date
October 14, 2014
category

 

Cold Mountain Cape

It has been a challenge to keep the cape a secret over the last few months of design and production. This piece is classic and fashionable, structured but cozy…it’s the epitome of effortless style but still at home in the outdoors. The cape is a definite jewel in the Appalatch crown.

 

Named for the famous Cold Mountain in North Carolina, a stunning and well-preserved wilderness area in the Appalachian Mountains, this piece is designed to withstand the test of time and remain a true blue friend for a lifetime. The Cold Mountain Cape is made of domestic wool that has been woven into fabric by Woolrich in the USA and constructed by hand in a worker owned sewing cooperative in NC.  Designed by our Co Founder, Grace Gouin, this cape has the look of a poncho with a lot less bulk and a lot more grace…

 


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Cold Mountain Cape

Available in 2 color ways, this cape can be styled in a multitude of different ways and is also a functional garment that will keep you warm even in cold, mountain winds. We created these in a very limited batch, so get one while the gettin’s good!  They won’t be around for long.  Shop now!

 

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Home Ec: Using Sweater Stones

penman
Ella McCoy
date
October 2, 2014
category
Sweater Stone

Photo by Nicole McConville

 

To round out our mini series on garment care, allow me to present the amazingly low-tech Sweater Stone.  It doesn’t require batteries and it doesn’t have to be cleaned or maintained…at all.  It’s like music to my ears; we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.  Not to mention that it WORKS, really well, actually.  If you hate pilling as much as I do then you may want to pause reading and purchase one of these.  I hear Sweater Stones make great stocking stuffers…

 

Anyway, Pills, those pesky balls of fiber that form on knitwear, are an inevitable side effect of a well-worn knit but they don’t have to send your sweaters into retirement. Using a sweater stone is a quick and easy way to remove pills from your knitwear so that you can keep favorites in rotation and prolong the life of clothing.

 

 

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Pills whisked away by the Sweater Stone. Photo by Nicole McConville 

 

This simple to use, pumice like stone only requires that you gently brush the stone over the problem area and watch as those nasty little pills accumulate.  That’s it.  The stones broken cells sever filaments that hold pills to garments thus restoring the texture of the fabric.  Another great thing about these particular sweater stones is that they have been made in the Seattle area for the last 27 years and employ the functionally disabled in the process.

 

A Sweater Stone is a great way to breathe new life into tired knits, save money on clothes & dry cleaning, while also supporting a great American company.  For Appalatch sweaters, we recommend the annual use of a sweater stone to maintain the look and feel of the garment.  After all, they are made to last a lifetime but require some TLC to keep up appearances.

 

Sweater Stones are an effective & inexpensive way to maintain knitwear.

Sweater Stones are an effective & inexpensive way to maintain knitwear.  Photo by Nicole McConville

 

American Made Style Finalist

penman
Ella McCoy
date
September 16, 2014
category

Martha Stewart Newsletter

VOTE HERE!

We are so honored to have been selected as a finalist in the Style category for Martha Stewart’s American Made competition.  Grace is particularly overjoyed, as Martha is one of her all time heroes and she swoons at the thought of meeting her face to face.  This competition is great because it spotlights the maker, supports the local, and celebrates the handmade.

 

This event brings attention to the skilled craftspeople, artisans, and innovators that drive local economies and create beautiful and inspiring goods.  What an awesome way to show American that there are still so many talented folks making quality, useful products in the USA.  Winners of this competition will receive $10,000 to grow their businesses, a trip to NYC, not to mention incredible exposure throughout the Martha Stewart Living network.  Needless to say, the money and press could do wonders for Appalatch.  Our mission is to upend the clothing industry and prove that apparel can be made in the US without compromising ethics, quality, or the environment.  Being a winner of the American Made competition could help us reach so many people that are open to better alternatives.

 

Please consider helping us by lending your votes!  The last day of voting is October 17th and you can vote 6 times each day until then.  That is a lot of time and a lot of votes, but every little bit counts.  We all so appreciate your help and continued support of Appalatch as we grow and push forward.  Thank you!

VOTE HERE!

Home Ec: To Dry or Not to Dry Clothes

penman
Ella McCoy
date
September 11, 2014
category

Wool DryerBalls

Generally speaking, machine drying isn’t very good for the life of clothing.  The heat and tumbling breakdown garment construction, speed fabric deterioration, and cause shrinkage.  It’s a pretty intense process to subject your clothes to every week or so.  It also can get expensive when you add up the cost of electricity, the cost of drying products, and the shortened lifespan of garments.  That being said, sometimes it’s unavoidable.  Those clothes need to get dry and fast!   Even if you’ve made the switch to air-drying there are still items that need to be fluffed to soften the crinkles once dry.  Is it even possible to quit the dryer cold turkey? For most people, I don’t think so. The age-old question may be made easier with this laundry hack: wool dryer balls!  Being skeptical of adding any additional items or processes to my routine I questioned even adding these little buddies to the laundry party guest list.  Since the initial misgivings, I have had time to repent and in return have received a new, steadfast friend.  One that softens my clothes and saves me money, woo hoo.

 

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Just 2 wool balls will dry clothes faster. Photo by Nicole McConville.

For whatever degree of dryer usage you partake in, wool dryer balls can be quite beneficial.  These handy balls are made of felted wool and are intended to fluff the laundry while in the dryer.  The fluffing action cuts down on drying time by better circulating air throughout the clothes and also helps with wrinkles for the same reason.  These woolen balls are all natural and eliminate the need for chemical laden dryer sheets and softeners.  Plus, they are reusable for years, saving you money and waste from the landfill.   For Appalatch garments (that are dryer safe), we highly recommend using dryer balls if you must dry in a dryer.  The tumbling will be lessened and the drying time shortened thus wear and tear is decreased.  We really like Echoview Fiber Mill’s hand made dryer balls because they are made from wool scraps that are braided and felted together.  This process is awesome because it turns “waste” into something useful and ensures a well-made product that will last.  Also, we’re lucky enough to be sheltered in the Echoview Mill and can contribute our own wool scraps from knitting to their inventory for the making of future dryer balls; waste not, want not!

Home Ec: Soap Nuts and Other Alternative Detergents

penman
Ella McCoy
date
August 29, 2014


nuts

Being like minded people here at Appalatch we often try to question the logic of common practices; one of those being how we wash our clothes and what we use to do so.  The majority of us are accustomed to the weekly practice of filling our washing machines with water and detergent, liquid or powder, and finding clean clothes when the buzzer sounds.  It’s so commonplace that for years I never gave a thought to what was in the detergent I used, be it natural or not, how it was packaged or what the repercussions were of my use of the product.

 

As our initial inter-office conversations about proper laundering have evolved, we have all become aware of the impractical nature of traditional laundry soaps.  These products are very heavy, are generally packaged in plastic, and in the case of liquid detergents, contain upwards of 80% water.  So with these purchases we are paying for water, creating more waste for landfills, and/or broadening the carbon footprint with shipping

 

There are many options available for laundering clothes that are safe for clothing and effective at cleaning; they just aren’t necessarily the best for allergy sufferers, your wallet, or the environment.  Cue our newfound love and complete adoption of Shecology Golden Soap Nuts and Laundry Pills.  Soap Nuts aren’t actually nuts they are empty seed pods harvested from the ‘Soapberry’ tree native to Northern India and Southern Nepal.  This plant is a natural surfactant because of its high saponin content.  This means that when the saponin is introduced to water, a foamy soap like substance is formed that naturally eliminates dirt and odors.  

 

Golden Soap Nuts.  Photo by Nicole McConville

Golden Soap Nuts. Photo by Nicole McConville

 

Throwing a sack of wrinkled seedpods into the wash isn’t all that unusual for a bunch of pseudo hippies in Asheville, however I understand how it must look to the outside world.  You’re going to have to trust us on this though,we wouldn’t recommend them if they didn’t work.  In fact, soap nuts are organic, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and antibacterial.  Plus, there are so many other ways the nuts can be used as a liquid all-purpose cleaner.  Mari Fox, our soap nut expert and the mastermind behind Shecology, has created a handy recipe for a concentrated liquid that can clean everything from floors to veggies.  Check it out here.

 

These soap nuts are also great because they are lightweight and packaged in paper unlike traditional liquid detergents that are primarily water, shipped in plastic containers.  The traditional style detergents require the use of more fossil fuels in travel and create waste.  Plus, soap nuts are reusable for around 4-6 loads and are much more cost effective in terms of uses per package.

 

If soap nuts still seem too strange, Shecology has created an elegant solution called a Laundry Pill.  The pills contain ground soap nuts plus a bit of citric acid (for a cleaning boost).  The pills can be dropped straight into the wash and work just as well as the nuts!

 

Shecology Laundry Pills.  Made of ground soap nuts with a bit of citric acid.  Photo by Nicole McConville

Shecology Laundry Pills. Made of ground soap nuts with a bit of citric acid. Photo by Nicole McConville

 

**It can officially be said that everyone at Appalatch has thoroughly vetted the Soap Nuts with dirty challenges ranging from dank dog towels to soiled cloth diapers (contributed by the most adorable 2 year old we know).

 

If soap nuts aren’t your bag, consider making your own detergent using common ingredients from the grocery store.  Until switching to soap nuts, I used the following recipe for years, with great success.  I do plan to move away from the homemade stuff, as the Soap Nuts are cheaper, just as effective, and have a limited impact on the environment.

 

Homemade Laundry Powder

4 Cups Borax

4 Cups Washing Soda

2 Cups Baking Soda

~16 oz. of soap (usually 2 bars.  1 stain fighting bar like lye, and 1 natural soap of your choice. Ex. Dr. Bronner’s)

Essential Oil (if you would like to add a scent)

 

Chop the bars of soap into eighths and toss them into the food processor.  This will create tiny fragments of soap that can easily be mixed into the powders.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and add chopped soap.  Store in an airtight container.

 

Use 1-2 tablespoons per load.  Recipe yields ~80 washes.

 

Note:

Inhaling Borax and washing soda is not recommended so be cautious not to create huge clouds of it and/or cover your face/mouth with a bandana.  If your skin is easily irritated, avoid direct contact with the ingredients by wearing gloves.

 

The choice of bar soap is important.  If you are attempting to make an all-natural laundry soap be wary of the bars you choose.  The ingredients and fragrances can be tricky.

 

For some, Borax is a controversial ingredient.  The research I have conducted has led me to believe that Borax is safe and only harmful if consumed by humans in large quantities.  I recommend that you come to your own conclusions if there are concerns.

 

 

 

Care Instructions + Thoughts On Washing Clothes

penman
Ella McCoy
date
August 15, 2014

 

In this day and age, garment care has become something of a mystery that happens below the gleaming white lid of the washing machine and behind the closed door of the dryer. Dirty clothes go in, clean clothes come out. But what happens with those items that don’t seem like they should just be tossed in the washer? You know the ones… cashmere socks you got for christmas from your grandma, wool clothes, or anything with that dreaded “dry clean only” label. We think about garment care a lot and we receive a lot of inquiries about how to best care for our clothes, so we thought we would share our thoughts and delve into the subject with gusto.

 

Appalatch products are made from high quality wool and cotton and are meant to stick by you for the long haul.  That being said, it will require several conversations to really dig into this multi faceted topic.  Excuse us if we sound a little too excited, but we really do think of it as skill building to extend the life of clothing, save money, and take a load off Mother Earth.

 

Follow along with us for a three part series (for now) about garment care to learn the ins and outs of washing clothes.

 

To begin, take a look at our recommendations for washing Appalatch clothing and other fine wool garments. Later we will explain the whys and hows.

Laundering Graphic


Stay tuned for a more detailed look at laundering, drying, and longterm care of your clothes.  We will also be making some of the items we discuss available for sale on the website, so if you want to upgrade your laundering game, you can.

Greetings from Germany and Stoll!

penman
Grace Gouin
date
February 18, 2014
Am Markt

 

Well, we made it over here and through our first week of knitting classes! Thanks to all the folks who pre-ordered custom fit sweaters and other goodies through the kickstarter campaign, we are going to be the proud parents of a Stoll knitting machine! In order to prevent ourselves from breaking it on the first day we have to learn all about it over here at the Stoll headquarters in Reutlingen, Germany.

 

Shelter from the Rain

 

So far, classes have consisted of learning all the different knit structures on hand powered knitting machines! For me this is more or less a total delight! For Mariano, it’s a special kind of hell that has him more than ready to move onto the computerized knitting machines. Needless to say, we have a good laugh about 4 times a day and have been dubbed “Team America” by our teacher and classmates. After a rigorous morning of knitting, Mariano has decided that knitting could actually be an Olympic sport.

 

Samples off the Stoll hand knitting machines

 

We are fortunate enough to be able to stay with some friends while we are here in a small village called Dettenhausen located about 20 kilometers away from Stoll, which means loads and loads of public transportation to and from classes every day. While riding trains and busses is an experience of its own (one we don’t get much of in the mountains of North Carolina), walking around the towns and villages has been a special treat. The prettiest place we have been to so far is an awesome little city called Tubingen.

Without further adieu (and because I need to get to bed) here are some more photos from our travels!

 

It’s hard to fathom people living and working in spaces like these without stopping to freak out every day about how beautiful and picturesque everything is, but it’s amazing what you can get used to. The smoke pouring from chimneys and the graffiti we see everywhere are constant reminders that people actually live here.

 

Lookout from the local Castle

 

Also, email grace@appalatch.com if you want a post card all the way from Germany!

 

Happy as a pig in… our wool sweater!

penman
Grace Gouin
date
December 17, 2013
category
featured image

I know, not exactly the most detailed photo of the sweater, but when our male model revealed that he had his pet pig, Messy, in the next room… I could’t pass up the chance to meet her. She sauntered in, as cool as can be, Tim scooped her up in his arms and the moment was immortalized by this amazing photograph. Can’t you just feel the love? The paternal pride? I don’t think one of our sweaters has ever looked so good.

Now officially off preorder, our men’s and women’s shawl collar sweaters are ready to be introduced to whatever interesting pets you might have at home. If you capture any moments like this one PLEASE share. Cute animals are the best part of my job.

Here are a few other shots from that evening, taken by the talented Anna Maynard, of the amazing sweaters and bags. If you want them on your Christmas list, drop a not so subtle hint to whomever you want that they should order by Friday! They are all available here.

Appalatch and SHELTER Wool and Leather bag, Made in Asheville, NC

Appalatch and SHELTER Wool and Leather bag, Made in Asheville, NC

 

 

 The leather for the backpack comes from Wickett & Craig, it’s all vegetable tanned and made in the USA. The handbag’s leather comes from Horween Leather, also vegetable tanned but hailing from Chicago. Both companies produce some of the finest leather in the country.

 

 

 

Appalatch and SHELTER Backpack and Appalatch Sweater

Appalatch and SHELTER Backpack and Appalatch Sweater

 

 

 

A note on the hat that Tim is wearing… I knit it using wool yarn that I dyed using marigolds I grew this summer and osage orange wood chips – together they gave it that rich golden color.

Alex’s outfit is made up of our women’s shawl collar sweater with a vintage shearling hat, vintage Frye boots, and a skirt I made from amazing 100% organic and color grown cotton that has been superbly woven. Color grown cotton means that the brown color and the natural color you see in the skirt are both the color that the cotton is grown in the field, with no added dyes.

 

 

Women's 100% Wool Shawl Collar Sweater

Women’s 100% Wool Shawl Collar Sweater

 

That’s all for now, we hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and a really spectacular new year!

Kickstarter Campaign for 3D Printed Sweaters Made in America

penman
Grace Gouin
date
November 27, 2013


 

We want to share what we’ve been working on in hopes that you’ll share it with your friends! It’s our Kickstarter Campaign to make Custom Fit, Ethically Made Sweaters in America

 

In a nutshell, Appalatch is an outdoor apparel company located in Asheville NC, with a plan to make the world’s first custom fit sweater program for the masses. We are striving to make super gorgeous, really high quality, custom fit sweaters using totally domestic fibers and labor. We already offer a small array of domestically made and mountain inspired goods here on our website, but we want to spread our wings.

 

Here’s the video:

 


What makes Appalatch different?

  1. Our sweaters and other products attract people because they are ultra classic and very high quality. People love wool sweaters this time of year! We design for both women and men with one eye on performance and the other on timeless design. The result has been a unique hybrid that attracts people who are simply obsessed with wool for its performance attributes, and others who simply have an eye for quality and style.
  2. Ethics and sustainability are the back bone of all decisions we make when it comes to manufacturing. Our custom fit sweater program will help us further this mission. For example, we will be able to drastically reduce waste. 20-30% of fabric is thrown away in typical manufacturing. 3D printing sweaters means virtually zero waste.
  3. Our story is entirely domestic, everything we offer is entirely made in the USA. Clothing that is made in America is increasingly sought after, yet the brands who are 100% committed to this on all levels are few and far between. We are working to rebuild the textile manufacturing industry at home, one sweater at a time!

We are working to help reshape the future of the apparel industry, and we hope that you can help us spread the word!!!

 

Inappropriately obsessed with wool sweaters.

penman
Grace Gouin
date
May 15, 2013
tumblr_lqil5ohaCw1qios74o1_500

 

Too warm for a wool sweater?  I think not.

It’s May in the mountains, the weather is warming up, many spring flowers have come and gone, trees have put out their shockingly green leaves, and yet… I am still inappropriately obsessed with wool sweaters.

Spring in the Mountains

Spring shot at the Penland School of Crafts

Since our production for fall happens all through the summer, we will be working with sweaters even in the hot months, so I guess it’s natural that I would be consumed by sweaters a little bit… but I’m talking about something deeper. For me, thinking about sweaters doesn’t stop when I leave work: I’m currently knitting one sweater, I just got some new yarn in the mail, and I have three sweater knitting projects in the wings that might get done for fall if I knit diligently through the summer.

Sweater Swatch

A little bit of knitting done in Olive Green for our fall sweater collection.

A good wool sweater is like a puppy! (You have to take care of it.)

I feel a pang of regret when I think about packing away my sweaters for the summer, though I know it’s all worth it when next fall comes and I can greet them like old friends. Speaking of which, heres a link to a great little article, How to Clean and Care for a Wool Sweater, from Real Simple with tips to help give your sweaters a proper send off until next fall.

They recommend you use a de-piller called a Gleener, but I also highly recommend the sweater stone, which you can get a sample of for free!

And, if you love the Cool Sweater print by Jaques Maes above as much as I do, you can get your own through sociey6.com.

Ethical fashion, how can we make it better?

penman
Grace Gouin
date
May 13, 2013
Grasiela Sewing an Appalatch Wool Shirt

Have you ever gotten a hole in a sweater and experimentally pulled on one of the threads sticking out? What was a tiny hole quickly becomes a massive hole. This is how I feel about the apparel industry. The problem – apparel needs to be more sustainable = little whole in the sweater. Trying to figure out how to fix it = unraveling the whole damn thing. Keep pulling at that sucker and pretty soon you are better off knitting a whole new sweater rather than trying to fix the whole you just made. However, it’s not enough to make your new sweater out of green yarn. If you want to make truly ethical fashion, you need to look further back than fabric. You need to look at who is making your clothing and ask, is their life sustainable?

 

Its a big, big world

When only 2% of the clothing that is bought in America is actually made in America it’s no wonder that most of us have absolutely no idea where on Earth our clothing is coming from. Sure, we can find a label that says it’s country of origin but chances are that the country is half way across the world, and chances are you won’t be going there, and even if you did are you going to scope out the conditions in the garment factories, and if you tried, would they even let you in? The truth is, for almost all Americans, the question of who/what/where behind our clothing is a complete mystery. Does leaving it up to our imaginations make the clothing sexier? Or is exposing the horrific conditions behind much of the worlds apparel manufacturing sort of like playing a recording of a pig squealing while somebody is trying to enjoy a BLT? If the response to the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 800 people, is an indicator I’m willing to guess it’s the latter.

 

Working with Opportunity Threads to make ethical fashion

For our lines, domestic manufacturing has always been a given. After looking over our domestic CMT (cut, make, trim) options we decided to work with a group, located only an hour away from us, called Opportunity Threads. We made this decision not only because we knew they can make really high quality clothing, but also because of the vision of their company. They are a co-op – a worker owned cut and sew facility. I didn’t even know that this type of operation could exist in the apparel industry! Beyond having a safe and happy working environment where they make fair wages for their outstanding work, employees at opportunity threads are able to become worker-owners who make decisions together about their owen working environment.  You can visit their website for more information and to get a sense of how bright the future of American manufacturing in the textile industry can be with Opportunity Threads as a model. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

Time for show and tell 

With a global audience witnessing tragedy after tragedy at sewing factories we are starting to really see a blood price for fast-fashion. It doesn’t make sense that somebody is risking their lives day after day to make a cheap tank top, especially when alternatives exist! These alternatives only exist if brands are willing to make the change to manufacturing ethical fashion in a safe environment, and consumers can encourage that change by increasing their demand for ethical fashion. As a brand we can choose to work with people like Opportunity Threads, source our materials responsibly, cut down our carbon footprint, but the reality is that consumers need to get involved too. We need to pull back this veil thats been placed over the workers behind our clothing voluntarily, rather than having it ripped away after a fire or a factory collapse. Maybe it’s not as sexy to reveal the process behind the product, but if we want to reinvent the way clothing is made as a more ethical process, I think it’s a really good place to start.

 

Maria sewing an Appalatch wool shirt

Maria is another seamstress at Opportunity Threads, working on one of our wool t-shirts.

Think you’ve got a wool allergy?

penman
Grace Gouin
date
April 24, 2013
category
Marilyn Monroe in a Wool Sweater

Are you allergic to wool?
Before we delve into all of the amazing properties of wool, there is one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: wool allergies. Often when we describe our wool products to folks, we get a similar response — an apologetic and slightly uncomfortable smile and they say,  “I’m allergic to wool” This got us wondering, how many people are really allergic to wool?

Humm….
According to large scale allergy studies conducted at the Mass General Hospital, about 6% of people that came in for allergy testing actually were allergic to wool…. A much smaller number than people expect! In general, people who think they are allergic to wool are not allergic at all!  It’s that the wool clothing they wear is very coarse and pricks people’s skin, making them itch.


Grades of Wool
Wool fibers are not that different from human hair, but a they have a lot more scales. Like human hair, there is a lot of variety in the different types of sheep wool. It turns out that the breed and the climate a sheep is raised in affects the coarseness of their fibers (thicker fibers being common to sheep from cooler climates). This thickness is tested by measuring the micron of the wool. The higher the micron number, the itchier the wool. Micron counts in wool have a wide range, the fine range being anywhere from 15-19 microns, that most people would be agree is comfortable to wear against the skin.  Our next to skin base layers use 18.5 micron wool from Rambouillet sheep, so fine you wouldn’t even know you were wearing wool.
A true allergy
There are, however, things that are found hanging onto the wool fibers that can irritate your skin. Vegetable matter gets caught on the fleeces of the sheep as they roam around and is not always completely removed during the processing of the wool. So if you are allergic to grass, you may experience a reaction to wool where much of the “veg” has not been removed. Some wool is processed through acid baths to remove the “veg” matter, which can bother you if you are chemically sensitive. Then there are those who are really, truly, totally allergic to lanolin. Lanolin is the oil that sheep produce naturally to keep their skin soft and supple. Most lanolin is removed from the wool during processing and actually sold to the cosmetics industry because it makes human skin soft and supple. We met a sheep shearer who told us his hands were so soft he could not twist off a beer cap! Remarkably, people with this lanolin allergy don’t usually experience itching but rather get a severe rash. So unless this is the type of reaction you are experiencing, chances are you are just dealing with itchy wool that is causing an uncomfortable but harmless prickle.
Need Proof?
For some people, hearing this is not enough to dispel their memories of that horrible sweater they tried on, and  so we have another idea. We have a sample program where you an request your own swatch of 5×5″ wool fabric (reclaimed from our cutting waste) so that you can test it out. Just fill out the form below and we will send you a sample!





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Pleased to Meet You

penman
Grace Gouin
date
April 1, 2013
17_72 dpi

Appalatch was born about a year ago when two like-minded people met and said “it’s time for a change”. We are two very different people, with different backgrounds, which we will tell you about, but we have a similar goal, which we would also like to tell you about. In fact, we have lots and lots we would like to tell you about but I’ll start with the basics:

 

We make wool clothing for indoor and outdoor use. We make it in America. We do this to help change the clothing industry into something we are proud of. We pick our materials, our manufacturers, and our methods very carefully so that we produce the highest quality clothes while ensuring that people and the environment aren’t hurt in the process.. We whole heartedly embrace the North Carolina state motto “To be, rather than to seem”.

 

And now, after all of this work, we are ready to share what we are learning about sheep, garment care, manufacturing, the triumphs and woes of the apparel industry, fiber, sustainability, textile art, economic development, slow food and how it related to slow fashion, awesome co-operative manufacturing models, archaeology, underwater basket weaving… and I can’t promise I won’t be slipping in pictures of cats and dogs, because I love them too.

 

So hang tight and follow along because we are learning so many cool things, and as Mariano will tell you, I have a problem with over-sharing.

 

Pleased to meet you,

Grace