From time to time, I do a search on Instagram, looking for things that are made in certain U.S. states and cities. One such search, #madeinhouston, yielded some promising results.
I came across a series of scarves and toboggans, made in Houston by an enterprise known as Claire Drennan.
I remember being instantly captivated by her offerings. This was the stuff of pure whimsy, beautifully colored and textured knitwear that seemed as if it would be a perfect addition to a classic wardrobe.
I soon learned that Claire Drennan is the brainchild of one Claire Drennan Jarvis. She spent much of her 20s in South America, where she developed an affection for “the thick, hand spun sheep’s wool from the south and the luxurious and delicate alpaca yarns from the north.”
“I didn’t know how to knit or sew very well at the time,” Claire says, “so I worked with a friend’s mother to create beautiful custom sweaters for my own closet. Back in the states, I took knitting 101 at the Rhode Island School Design and fell in love with the Japanese punch card knitting machines that were produced in the 1970’s. I’ve been honing my skills ever since, learning their tremendous capabilities and innovating around their limitations.”
Her enterprise has only been a going concern since late last year.
She places an emphasis on slow, sustainable fashion, with a process that produces zero waste. “Slow fashion is a tough business model to crack,” she says. “People don’t realize that only a small percentage of the price of an item they buy at retail is allotted for materials and labor. Each piece I make has many hours or research and development, where both design and production are considered.”
In her own words: “The challenge is to make smart, elegant designs that can be produced efficiently and consistently.”
I purchased one of Claire’s scarves at the Launch pop-up in Houston. Sadly, Claire wasn’t there at the time.
The scarf, made of a luxurious double knit merino wool, takes, under optimal conditions, about four hours to produce. A small glitch can add to that total.
“The beauty of this particular design is that the front and back are different, with stripes on ones side and circles on the other,” Claire says. “Not only this, but the center of the scarf is the inverse of the same design! This effect is achieved through the use of a very old computer that uses no electricity and reads punch cards. A knitting machine is like a 3-D printer, making layer after layer. Each row of knitting represents an instance when I manually moved the knitting carriage across a bed of latch-hook needles, changing colors as needed to create the desired effect.”
Claire’s first collection, called “carrots,” has an interesting aesthetic genesis, inspired by a children’s book her family used to read. “The book features animals snuggled in their homes against a snowy landscape,” she says. “I was inspired by the soft, warm color palette and the idea of little bubbles of warmth.”