tl;dr: skip the story, go straight to the rainbow linen scarves I’ll shortly be selling in my shop.
When I lived in San Francisco, or even in the inner north of Melbourne, I didn’t much feel the need to adorn myself with rainbow-coloured kitsch to let people know I was queer. Queerness was so visible, so ever-present, that we could find each other easily and nobody could help being aware that we were a part of their community.
It wasn’t until I moved to a smaller city that I really came to appreciate the value of signalling. Not just the rainbow lanyard or lapel pin that tips you off to “family” when you’re out and about, but the visibility when groups come together for events or civic occasions, such as the raising of a rainbow pride flag outside the Ballarat Town Hall on IDAHOBIT Day in 2017.
I attended that event and I saw a bunch of people wearing rainbow socks, scarves, and other accessories. One person, who I’ve since come to know as a keen crafter, was crocheting scarves that evening at another IDAHOBIT event, each stripe of the rainbow a single bright row of stitches.
That night I decided I wanted a rainbow scarf of my own.
My problem was that so most rainbow paraphernalia was made from synthetics, in styles that didn’t really suit my tastes. I know a rainbow is inherently colourful, but in nature it’s usually more muted against the sky, and subtle in its gradations. There’s bright and then there’s bright, you know? I started to consider whether I could knit a shawl in very fine wool, in slightly muted pride-flag stripes. That would be something I could easily wear with the rest of my wardrobe.
Have you ever tried to shop for a complete rainbow of lace weight wool? It’s surprisingly tricky. I wound up buying six skeins of Isager Spinni, a beautiful single-ply woollen yarn from Denmark, which was one of the few that had a wide enough range of colours.
The scarf I made is deceptively simple in its design. I started by casting on just a couple of stitches in purple, then increased along one edge to form a triangle. I counted rows to form regular stripes, going two-and-a-bit times through the rainbow. When I ran out of wool, I cast off one long row of the colour I happened to be on, which was green.
It took a few months to knit my first #slowpride scarf. I started in June or July and finished it around late October that year, just before the first Frolic Festival, where I wore it to every event I attended. I’ve worn the scarf constantly since then, to queer events and to work and to the pub and friends’ houses and when snuggled up on cushions knitting in the living room in the depths of winter.
I cast on my second #slowpride scarf from the leftovers of the first, during the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives “Homosexual Histories” conference last November. It’s knit lengthways in linen stitch, which makes a fairly dense fabric with a woven appearance. The colours of the Isager Spinni are striped with a Patons silk/wool blend that I picked up in a Lincraft sale years ago, and was glad to get out of my stash at last.
Each row of this scarf contains 700 stitches, and takes half an hour to knit. It takes ten rows to make a colour stripe: 300 minutes, or about five hours. I’ve knit 11 stripes so far and based on the scraps of yarn I have left, I have four stripes to go.
The award wage for a textile worker in Australia is around $25, give or take. If I were to make and sell scarves like this, they’d cost about $2,000 each. It sounds ludicrous the first time you hear it, but if things are made by hand out of fine materials, that’s the actual value of the labour that goes into them. The yarn, too, cost over a hundred dollars. That’s a pretty good price for someone to get it from the backs of ethically-raised Danish sheep, clean the wool, card it, spin it, skein it up, and distribute it. Isager’s wool is produced in a commercial mill rather than by hand, but I trust that the Danish workers are well remunerated for their work.
When we buy a bright polyester scarf or flag or baseball cap at a pride carnival, where does it come from? What materials go into it? Who puts it together and what are they paid? How long will it last, how long will we keep it and wear it before we chuck it in the back of the closet, then eventually donate it to the op shop or throw it into landfill?
I know I’ll never throw away my handmade pride scarves. The hours and hours of work that went into them, the aesthetic beauty of the deep heathered colours and the regular stitches, and the warmth and cosiness of the natural wool mean that I’ll value them for many years and wear them often. I’ll hand wash them with care and make sure they dry flat so they hold their shape. If they get moth-eaten, I’ll repair them using scraps of yarn I’ve carefully saved for the purpose. If, heaven forbid, they accidentally wind up in the washing machine and shrink, I’ll find another use for the resulting fabric. Whatever forms and uses it takes over the years, I’ll appreciate it not only for its own features, but because it’s full of memories and meaning.
Get some #slowpride of your own
I’m not going to be making $2,000 scarves for anyone else, not even if you paid me, but I do want to make some #slowpride items to sell.
I found some great yarn-dyed linen in rainbow stripes from one of the wholesale suppliers I’m trying out, just perfect for lightweight scarves.
Yarn-dyed fabric is made by dyeing the warp and weft of the cloth before weaving them together. This means if you look closely you can see the different colours running in each direction. Yarn dyed fabrics have a shimmering depth that you don’t get from cloth that’s dyed after being woven.
Linen is an environmentally friendly fabric made from the flax plant. Unlike cotton, flax requires minimal pesticides or water to grow. The suppliers I use are certified to the OEKO-TEX 100 standard, which means that all dyes and chemicals used to process the flax fibre into cloth are environmentally friendly.
Linen is stronger than cotton, meaning fabric of the same weight will last longer. It breathes beautifully, never getting clammy the way cotton sometimes can. Although it can start out a little stiff-feeling, it gets softer and more lovely with every wear and every wash. Its famous (or notorious) wrinkles give it a beautiful texture which aficionados can spot a mile away. You don’t have to iron it if you don’t want to!
My first #slowpride scarves for sale are actually generously sized shawls (approx 75cm x 200cm, or 30” x 80” for those of you living in the past or the US) which you can wrap and drape in a multitude of ways. Because the fabric is very light and gauzy you can easily double it or triple it to wear as a narrower scarf if you like, drape it dramatically like a pashmina shawl, or wear it as a sarong, head scarf, or superhero cape!
Each scarf has been prewashed with environmentally-friendly, scent-free soap, line dried in the fresh air, ironed, cut to size, and hemmed personally by me.
I’ve got a couple of each of the dark and light shades, which will be going up in my shop really soon (get on the mailing list to get a notification when they’re available!) There will also be similar scarves in other colours.
If I sell out and you’d still like one, let me know, because I’d be happy to order more of the rainbow fabric and keep making these. Or if you have any other ideas for #slowpride things you’d like to be able to buy, drop me a line.