This is Slow Fashion October, a time that we pause and reflect on where our clothes come from, how they got here and how we might be more involved in their making, wearing and enduring over time. Just recently, I read Folk Fashion: Understanding Homemade Clothes (2017) by Amy Twigger Holroyd which explored the idea and practice of remaking.
Remaking is using the unworn clothes you already have to make a more wearable article of clothing. It is more than just altering or modifying for a better fit, more than repairing or mending but may involve all of these processes. It may also involve embellishing, deconstructing or upcycling.
Similarly, turning my old yoke sweater Talisman into a cardigan is another example of remaking. I cut it up the middle and knitted on button bands.
This has given Talisman a new life and the sweater has gone from something I could no longer wear comfortably to a daily standby. I had just finished remaking Talisman when I read Folk Fashion and it got me very focused on the usefulness of addressing old garments that aren’t quite working.
For me, the key to remaking is to break it into steps.
- Identify a garment that is unworn but still precious in some way.
- Identify the problem with the garment.
- Remake the garment addressing the problem.
For Talisman, I realised I still loved the sweater but just couldn’t wear it comfortably, a bigger bust meant that the yoke was too tight and the hem rode up to compensate. The remaking meant that the top buttons can be undone to create chest width. Everything else fits just fine.
Remaking is valuable as it focuses on what we already have, particularly the handmade things, addressing issues that are preventing them from being useful and putting them back into service as clothing again. Just like mending, remaking promotes an ongoing relationship with our clothes where they can change as our needs/preferences change. Essentially, it conserves resources.
So I decided that for Slow Fashion October, I would focus on remaking. I started assessing all the clothes I wasn’t wearing and thinking about how they might be remade.
I started with a denim skirt I made last year when body changes from my CFS meant I couldn’t fit into any of my skirts.
The adjustable nature of this wrap skirt meant that if things changed again, the skirt could still be worn. But it wasn’t being worn very often. The ties created a big lump that could not be worn under tops and jackets. Remaking changed the tie closure to a button closure and now enables me to layer garments over the skirt without an unsightly lump at my hip. This change extends the usefulness of the skirt from summer only to all through the year.
Fueled by this success, throughout October I am going to tackle some other long standing garments in my wardrobe that are not being worn.
Do you have any Slow Fashion October projects?
I made me a wee basket!
It is not my usual style but its fibery contours completely beguile me and I find myself just turning it around and around in my hands, discovering new pleasing combinations of colour and texture.
The basket is made like a child’s first clay coil pot, a long sausage going round and round, fixed in place with embroidery floss stitched up and down the coils.
It is made with my own handspun, using an art yarn technique taught to me by my good friend Janet Day from My Spin On Things. She is a master dyer, spinner and teacher based in Melbourne. Janet developed this particular style of yarn she calls Hotchpotch, as a way of using her dyeing and spinning waste in a useful, ebuillient way. Hotchpotch is essentially a corespun yarn, teased out fleece wrapped around a mohair core.
The true joy of Hotchpotch is its serendipity, as it is made from whatever bits are to hand alternating with undyed fleece, in this case English Leicester waste to provide a contrast to the random colours. There is quite a bit of technique in creating this yarn, in moving the fingers fast enough to wrap the core whilst avoiding the build up of too much twist. I used my largest whorl with moderate take up, changing my flyer guide to accommodate the bulky yarn. The finishing is key too, with a slight fulling required to provide more structure to those wrapped fibres.
Making Hotchpotch was a wonderfully freeing experience for me, presenting me with the challenge of letting go and trusting the technique and trying not to control the colour too much. It is imperfect and inconsistent yet strong, balanced and so useful. It delights me with its unexpected beauty.
You can knit with this yarn and make a wonderfully dense rug. It is strong enough to use as a warp as well as a weft. But to me it sang of being a basket, of being curved and sculptural, of retaining its worm-like, soft-bodied roundness.
I think Hotchpotch is a wonderfully clever way to use carding and combing waste, the rougher parts of a fleece and the last colour in the dye pot. Trying spinning some yourself or you can purchase jumbo skeins directly from My Spin On Things. If it’s not shown in her online shop, just drop her an email. I reckon you could get about three medium sized baskets from a skein.
It is school holidays here. There is not much time for making so instead, I thought I would share with you some treats that came my way on Instagram recently about natural dyeing with Australian natives.
Firstly, I wanted everyone to know about the extraordinarily valuable resource that Sally Blake has developed with the Australian National Botantic Gardens called the Eucalyptus Dye Database.
Assisted by the Australia Council for the Arts, Sally has recorded the dye colours achieved on wool, silk and linen, using no mordant, alum, copper and iron. These fabric samples are presented in grid form and represent 230 eucalypts. You can read about her method and browse the database on her website sallyblake.com.
Secondly, like many other folks, I have an ongoing fascination with natural blue dye. I am sure you know about woad and indigo, but you msy not know that in Australia, we have our own indigenous source of blue in Indigofera australis, Austalian native indigo. This shrub is local to much of southern Australia and looks so modest and unassuming, you would never expect such miraculous colour to be hidden inside. Recently @ourlittlepieceofearth achieved some wonderful results with foraged foliage.
I was pretty excited to find four Indigofera australis bushes in a local park while walking the dog. They were in desperate need of a good pruning 😉So attempted my first indigo vat and I'm super excited about the result! Yarn is super soft @tarndie Polwarth. Scroll for progress pics 💙💙💙#indigoferaaustralis #naturaldyeing #tarndiepolwarth #iloveblue #thingsyoufindwhenwalkingthedog
If you are keen to have a go yourself, @ourlittlepieceofearth recommends master-dyer, Robyn Heywood’s instructions in the Turkey Red journal.
I hope you are as excited as I am by these Australian colours.
Last post, you saw my recent spin, a 3ply semi woollen Finn x Border Leicester.
This was spun for a very particular pattern, A Beer on the Dock by Thea Coleman. Spinning to substitute for millspun yarns is my new addiction. Listening to what a fleece wants to be has its own pleasures but right now I am enjoying mining the pattern notes, the fabric description and yarn characteristics for clues and speculating about how I might achieve such an effect myself. What fibre would best suit, what spinning method, how many plies will I use? I also like to challenge myself to spin to a consistent, predetermined weight.
This pattern called for a light worsted weight and since it would touch the skin on my face, I was looking for a soft handle, lots of loft and light weight but with a round bulkiness to the yarn. I had just enough Finn x BorderLeicester from Fairfield Finns after a friend gave me her sample from the same fleece to make a hat and I wanted to try the method I had been sampling with the Shropshire for a bulky woollen yarn. You probably can’t get much more difference between the two fibres though, the Finn x Border Leicester had a very long staple, was silky and lustrous and the Shropshire was short stapled and crunchy. Nevertheless, I thought it might work.
I carded the Finn x Border Leicester into rolags despite it being a little long for carding. It worked fine and spun up beautifully with a short forwards draw. I initially planned for three plies because I thought the hat was cabled but it turns out that is a mock cable created by the lace decreases and increases. Still, I think the round yarn worked really well with the pattern.
My only modifications were to decrease sharply using garter ridges instead of in-pattern when I realised I was about to run out of yarn. I had about 20 cm left over. Ravelry notes here.
One of the most enjoyable things about spinning is that once you have made your decisions about the kind of yarn you want to spin, you just spin, and spin, and spin. My previous post on sampling explored the decision making process if you are curious about I approach this.
Amidst the tumult of moving cities, settling into a new house, school and neighbourhood, the myriad of complexity involving simple things like where to get bulk oats or coloured hairspray for crazy hair day or getting the car serviced, it is a blessed relief just to spin.
There are so many projects I have been wanting to spin for and finally it is all getting done. You can see here a 100g of Finn x Lincoln from Fairfield Finns, carded into batts and spun into a 3 ply semi woollen for a hat, a tiny ball of 2ply worsted laceweight in ultrafine Merino from flicked locks for a special project and a 2ply worsted DK merino from hand dyed top for mittens.
And then a big spin I have started with a Gotland fleece I bought from Granite Haven a couple of years ago.
Spinning takes me to a calm place where time stills, worries fall away and all there is the treadle and the draft and the filling bobbin.
I haven’t dived into anything big since moving but I thought I would share the beginnings of the sampling methodology that I am developing for my spinning. It is a method derived from methods we learned during the Spinning Certificate at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria, bits and pieces picked up from watching videos of other spinners and my own interests. It is a method in progress not anything definitive.
The fleece I am exploring is a Shropshire lamb fleece from last years shearing at Collingwood Children’s Farm, a demonstration farm in urban Melbourne.
I start with thinking about both the raw fleece as a whole and as a staple and put down my observations prior to washing. It was at this initial point that I discovered that the fleece was tender. The back section was extremely tender but the best bit over the shoulders were only slightly tender with a single break in the top third of the staple. A break is a weak spot in the fibre and happens when the sheep has been stressed for any period of time. Stress is anything that might have stopped the sheep sending nutrients towards fleece growth, it might mean a very hot day, a stray dog harassing the sheep or even a change in paddocks. I write a description about the raw fleece.
After examining the raw fleece and staple and preserving a few locks, I wash and process the fleece, sometimes just a small bit for sampling, but mostly as a whole fleece at once. I file all the fleece descriptions together so that anytime I want to make something with that fleece I can easily look up my initial observations.
The next step is a thinking step. By looking at the characteristics of the individual fleece and (by research) breed characteristics, I make some decisions about how I might approach the fleece and for what purposes it might be useful. The two books I turn to most are: The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and The Spinner’s Book of Fleece. They tell me about the general breed characteristics of the fleece and even suggestions for approaching spinning the fibre.
These books tell me that Shropshire is a down sheep with very crimpy elastic fibres that resists felting. It makes good socks and jumpers. It can be carded or combed or flicked, spun worsted or woollen.
Then I just try a couple of things. With this Shropshire lamb I was most interested in understanding the impact of a mid section break in the staple (the tender part) might have on its usefulness. The value of this fleece for me is in its provenance, a rare breed sheep raised by a not-for-profit urban farm, 3 km from my (former) home and its softness and elasticity. So I thought it was worth seeing if I could work with the break.
The first sample was a 3 ply sock yarn, prepared with a flicker, spun worsted with a good amount of twist. The flicker broke most of the weak section away. I spun three amounts on my bobbin and wound off onto weaving bobbins for plying.
This is a method demonstrated by Kate Larson in Spinning to Knit With and really does speed up the sampling process. The resulting sock yarn is firm and elastic.
For the second sample, I thought I would try carding a rolag and including all the staple length, break and all in the finusial yarn. For this yarn, I spun up a bulky 2 ply using a woollen short backwards draw. The result is delightful, full, bouncy and squishy.
Then I knit up a sample, trying stitches and gauges that I think match the yarn and end purpose. Whilst the resulting knitted swatches are lovely (to me!) in themselves and may provide exact information for future projects, they also prompt questions and ideas for more samples and experiments. For example, the 3 ply sock yarn is great but I am curious how the tenderness of the fleece might affect the wear of the sock over time. I could make a sock from this yarn and a sock from a non tender, adult Shropshire fleece I already have and compare the two. I would also like to try putting in a little less twist in the singles and see if I might get a bouncier sock yarn.
The bulky 2 ply would suit hats and cowls with lots of textured stitches but might not wear well as a more robust garment like a cardigan. I could try it out.
As a spinner, I find so much intellectual pleasure in sampling. I could easily spend all my time just sampling, asking questions and knitting up virtual garments in my head.
How do you sample? What is your method?
Larson, Kate, Spinning Yarn to Knit With, Interweave Press, video download
McKenzie, Judith, Three Bags Full, Interweave Press, video download
Robson, Deborah, Handspinning Rare Wools, Interweave Press, video download
Robson, Deborah & Ekarius, Carol, The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook
Smith, Beth, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece
My first knitting project, begun and finished in our new city, are a pair of colourwork mittens for Our Dear Boy.
One of the pleasures of moving is unpacking boxes of favourite books long packed away. Since we are just renting at the moment while we look for a house to buy, I only allowed myself one craft-related box of books to unpack. I wasn’t sure what was in the box and I was thrilled to discover that Susanne Pagoldh’s Nordic Knitting (1991) was inside.
This is a lovely book, just crammed full of historic Scandinavian stitch patterns, organised by region. I used to stalk this book at the public library. In the days before blogging, I filled notebooks with photocopies and summaries of this book. A copy of my own came to me a few years ago, part of a deceased knitter’s estate that her daughter disseminated among the knitters she knew.
It is cold here on our walks to school in the morning. Our Dear Boy asked for mittens and serendipity provided the pattern in the pages of Nordic Knitting. Pagoldh provides instructions for knitting a pair of Selbu mittens from the Norwegian Folk Museum Collection. The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn on 1.75mm needles to create a tight, windproof, water resistant fabric.
I had some vintage Patons Herdwick DK from a time when all their scouring and milling was still done in Australia. The gauge is similar and with the pain of knitting in that gauge, I am grateful I did not use worsted! I used a single 50 g ball each of natural white and pale blue dyed darker with Earth Palette cold black dye. The result is a slightly variegated, hairy yarn that looks a little ancient when knitted up as these mittens.
The colourwork is simple and working your beginning of the round on the long columns of colour, completely avoids the jog. Genius and something I must remember! The instructions are very basic and you need to make things up a bit as you go but that was one of the pleasures of knitting these mitts. I worked the double decreases to shape the mitten hands either side of the columns to preserve that patternwork right through.
One of my favourite things about these mittens is the off centre star. Normally such things trouble me but the askewness delights me here. The other thing I loved, is that I had just enough yarn. You can see my leftovers above.
Warm hands…warm heart…that is the hope!
The Craft Cubed festival in Melbourne is a celebration of artisans and craftwork organised by Craft Victoria. It runs throughout August.
This year, Nicki Colls from Fibreshed Melbourne has created the most wonderful event for you to enjoy at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria.
I am helping out and just for the day, I get to be a Spinning Master! So come along if you are in town, and ask me about how I first fell in love with spinning, which tools I love the most and which fibres give me fever.
Since I last posted here, dear readers, a lot has happened.
We sold our house in the urban wilds of Melbourne and moved to the beguiling shores of Lake Wendouree in Ballarat.
We decided to stop waiting for the life that was to come and start to live the life that we have now.
It is lovely here, colder, crisper and higher in altitude than Melbourne and it seems to be agreeing with me.
We are settling in to a new school, a new community and new vistas.
And waiting for the internet to be connected to our house. This post is courtesy of the public library!
I could not have known when I was finishing my Endurance yoke sweater that I wouldn’t get the chance to wear it much.
Endurance was made as part of the Shackleton Knit Along organised by Fiber Trek last year. We were encouraged to pick a project that represented a mighty challenge to us, a feat of endurance that we would undertake as we followed the 1914 expedition by Shackleton to Antarctica.
You can read about the making of the sweater in a previous post but suffice to say it was an act of endurance undertaken whilst working on my doctorate and finished whilst I recovered from pneumonia. During the ongoing illness triggered by the pneumonia, many things changed for me, energy levels, cognitive functioning and my shape. All of my middle bits got bigger and the shaped yet comfortable yoke sweater got squeezier and squeezier.
After a year, I decided that Endurance couldn’t wait any longer in the drawer. It was time for a change. I cut the body off the yoke, unravelled it then knitted back down from the yoke without waist shaping. The sleeves were also shortened by cutting and reknitting the cuff.
Now Endurance fits Our Dear Boy, all ten years of him with room to grow some also. He loves it because it is so soft and warm. It was taken away on Cub Camp and helped to keep him warm in the tent as the night dropped below zero (degrees Celsius). It came back with rip in the sleeve which thrilled me, because it means he is choosing wool to have adventures in! It was easily mended and the marks of wear can be a thing of beauty. He kindly agreed to pose for these pics but insisted our dog be shown also.