Name: Sarah Dawn Adams
Occupation: Fiber Artist and Knitwear Designer
Age: 33 (but 12 in heart and mind!)
Lifestyle: Dreamer and activist
What’s a typical day like for you?
I start work at about 9 am. I’ll spend a good part of my day just knitting, swatching, making things–and ripping my work back out and starting over!
The other parts of my day are the pattern-making; translating my notes from my prototypes and testing various knitting patterns. Also, there is an online component to my job: social media, answering e-mails, troubleshooting any problems I encounter, and all the other things that have to be done.
In the evening, I’ll usually make dinner with my roommate (we both enjoy cooking) before taking some ‘me time’ (usually a good book or a video game) in the evening. That’s if I don’t have to run off to a meeting or event!
What in your life is really important to you?
Trying to be true to myself. In this world, it seems like there’s all this pressure to ‘be someone else’ and try and fit in, and I don’t really want to be someone else, or to be ‘normal’ (what is normal, anyway?).
What would you like to be remembered for?
Creativity, Kindness, and passion.
What role does fashion play in your life?
I’m a knitwear designer, so in some ways, it’s part of my job! But I actually don’t pay that much attention, directly speaking, to fashion trends. I design what I think looks awesome and what I (and others, I hope) want to wear and use!
Fashion, to me, is actually kind of complicated. There are so many ethical issues in the fiber and fashion community, so ethically-made clothing is important. But it’s also important to me that clothing be functional, yet still fashionable!
I guess I’m a bit of a ‘Goldilocks’ when it comes to fashion, but when I find clothing I love, I’ll wear it until it’s right and truly worn out (and often buy multiple of the same thing!).
What do you love about shopping at Fresh Collective?
So much of the clothing and items you sell are made here in Canada! That’s a huge plus for me because of the ethics issues in the textile and fashion community. Plus, your staff are incredibly knowledgeable! And you’re showcasing Canadian talent, which is always exciting to me.
You feel quite strongly about conscious consumerism and shopping locally. Could you tell us a little bit about your fashion philosophy and how you came to adopt your approach to shopping habits?
My fashion philosophy is to buy something that will last, care for it well, and use it until it dies! I’d rather pay more now for something that will last than pay more overall for something I have to replace every 6 months. Plus, I strongly believe in paying living wages, so I’m willing to pay a bit more for ethical work!
I’m also not adverse to second-hand clothes. In fact, some of my best finds have been from hand-me-downs and clothing swaps! So I actually don’t usually buy a lot of clothing because, I figure, I have enough clothing already!
And when I do go clothes shopping, I go to specific stores or brands that I’ve researched and know the quality of, and I know exactly what I’m looking for.
It’s about buying less, buying well, and then wearing what you buy to its limit. I also have an advantage in that I do know how to sew. So I’ve saved many a garment from the rag-bag by sewing on a replacement button, or darning a sock!
Where does our wool come from?
Well, most commercial wool comes from either China or Peru, with a fair bit also coming from New Zealand. But there is production in the US (and in Canada) of wool and other animal fibers as well.
In terms of the animals, wool is from sheep, but a lot of other animal fibers can be spun as well, including angora (from rabbits), cashmere, (from cashmere goats), alpaca, and qiviut* (the undercoat of the musk ox). In theory, almost any animal fiber can be spun (including human hair!), but certain animals have fibers that are A) far easier to spin and B) far more useful in making textiles. That’s why you don’t see a lot of horse-hair garments, for example.
You don’t have to kill the animals for their wool. They can be shorn, or in some cases, brushed, to get the fiber from the animal. Sheep actually need to be shorn, since their wool otherwise just keeps growing and can actually cause them a lot of problems if they’re not shorn.
But, of course, the treatment of the animals varies wildly depending on the farm in question. If you’re looking for wool or any other animal fiber, you’ll have to do your research. Look for the smaller farms that are open about the shearing processes and how they treat their animals, and look for organic wool (see if the farm is certified organic).
In Canada we do have some domestic fiber production; we have one of the oldest operating woolen mills in North America in New Brunswick, with Briggs and Little. Here in Ontario, there’s also the Upper Canada Fiber Shed, which is a number of Ontario and Quebec fiber producers, makers, etc.
. . . I could write more, but then I’d be giving you folks an essay!
*those who play scrabble will understand my love of this word!
When and why did you first learn to knit? What inspired you to take this activity to the next level and turn it into a business?
Well, I first learned to knit from my mom when I was 4 or 5, as part of physical therapy. . . and I hated it at the time! But I made a scarf for my doll, so I guess it wasn’t all bad!
I knit on and off again for most of my childhood and teenage years, but it wasn’t until my late 20s that I really got back into it. I found that Toronto actually has a huge fiber arts community. There’s the Toronto Knitter’s Guild, lots of different yarn shops, and even the TTC Knit-Along.
As for making it a business, well, that came about through the intersection of a few different things.
First: As someone with a visible disability, it’s hard(er) to get a job. Many of the things said to me by hiring managers aren’t fit to repeat, but basically, there’s a huge bias against people with disabilities in the job market. So I started to wonder why I was putting myself through interviews for jobs that weren’t my true passion, only to get refused (often with rude words) anyway.
Second: People were approaching me and asking if I sold my hand-knits. Now, honestly, people couldn’t afford the prices that would pay me a living wage (I usually charge around 60 for a pair of fingering weight socks), but the interest was clearly there.
Third: I was already designing patterns. I’d get ideas, and think ‘oh, this would look awesome as a pair of socks,’ or ‘yeah, I could make that hat.’ And designing and selling knitwear patterns is a lot more sustainable for me than trying to sell actual garments. Plus, I do knitting classes, too!
You are possibly the first visibly disabled lady we’ve featured in a Style Profile, and your story is incredibly unique! As someone with multiple disabilities, what would you like others to know about living with a disability?
I’m not surprised that I’m probably the first person with a visible disability you’ve featured. Media representation of people with disabilities is astoundingly low (somewhere on the order of 1%) despite being the largest minority group in the world. And, when it is presented, it’s usually not in a positive manner.
So the idea that someone with a disability could present themselves as a ‘normal’ and competent person, and that disability can be a positive identity, something to be proud of, is very strange to a lot of people. Disability pride is a relatively new concept! And this is another topic on which I could probably write an entire essay, so I’ll try and condense.
For one, my life doesn’t suck! (Shocking, I know!) But, I hear all the time about ‘suffering’ or how ‘my life must be so hard’. And it’s rooted partially in the fact that most media portrayals of disability are, well, less than flattering.
I don’t suffer, I generally have a pretty awesome life, and most of the ‘hard’ in my life comes from the fact that Toronto’s actually still relatively inaccessible, in ways that people don’t realize until they come smack up against it.
For example: If a restaurant put up a sign excluding a racial minority group from its establishment, there would be major complaints (and rightly so!). But if a restaurant isn’t wheelchair accessible, very few people think twice about it. Disability Rights now are where civil rights were in the 60s. Which for me means that something as simple as finding a place to go out for dinner can be a challenge.
It’s such a process to figure out if I can actually participate in an event or go to a location because even just finding out if a place is accessible can be difficult. Plus, some places that claim to be accessible are often not.
I recently had a store tell me they were wheelchair accessible when they, in fact, had a step to their door. Other places are accessible. . . until you need to go to the bathroom! (That one really makes things awkward!) Even the subway is an issue, as only about half of the subway stations have elevators. Getting around the city becomes the challenge of avoiding the subway stations I can’t use.
All that said, things are definitely improving from where they were 10 years ago! The TTC just put an elevator in the station near me this year, and there are now new accessible streetcars on the streetcar route near me.
It’s funny that during my photoshoot, the photographer and I ended up chattering about my lack of 3D perception. It’s usually what comes up the least when I get into disability rights. As someone with no 3D perception, I’ve had some interesting encounters.
While my visual acuity is reasonably good (with my glasses), my kinesthetic sense is weak (the sense of where things are in relation to yourself and your body). So I will reach for something, and it’s not quite where I think it is, or I’ll accidentally hit someone because I think they’re further away than they are.
I’ve actually had one person assume I was drunk (that was embarrassing, to say the least)! Handshakes are also interesting, because I’m never quite sure where the other person’s hand is, and I don’t want to miss! Also, 3D movies don’t work for me. At best, I just don’t see the 3D, but at worst, they actually cause double-vision and splitting headaches.
So that I don’t make this any more rambling, I’ll close this section with a TED Talk from the late Stella Young that will probably blow your mind (she’s far more articulate in this video than I could ever hope to be on the same material):
What are your favourite fibres to use and why?
Silk. It sounds classic, but I love working with silks! It’s the feel of the silk fiber against my hands. So for something that won’t get a tremendous amount of wear and tear, silk is amazing (and can be quite warm!). Plus, it’s a very light-weight and airy fiber, so silk garments are wonderful for travel because they compact amazingly well!
For day-to-day wear, I tend to lean towards wool blends. There are machine-washable wools and I usually look for those, or washable wool blended with nylon. They’re easier to care for than some of the other fibers and can be put in the washing machine without worry.
And for summer wear, I look for organic cottons and linen. They’re harder on the hands to knit, but make amazing finished objects!
What do you have that you want to promote?
Well, first, the cowl that’s in some of the photographs is my own work, and the pattern is available here: https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/snowdrop-lace-cowl
Also, yes, I teach knitting classes, either in small groups or one-on-one. (I get asked that question a lot!) I customize my classes to the students, so you tell me what you want to learn, and I will do my best to help you learn it! And, if you’re interested in classes, you can drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Finally, please feel free to check out my Etsy store. I’ve added a small line of macrame and braided jewelry, in addition to the digital patterns. Plus, if you’re a Toronto local, message me on Etsy and I’ll work out free shipping with a meet-up! I also do have a limited amount of commissioned and ready-to-sell knitwear through my Etsy shop, as well!
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Well, here’s some esoteric trivia about me: I’m a classically trained soprano, who loves to sing opera. How’s that for a random fact!
Where can people find you on social media?
There’s a list, so here goes:
Design Portfolio & Web Store: https://www.ravelry.com/designers/sarah-dawn
Etsy Store: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SarahDawnsDesigns