Spindling Free

IMG_5270Well, I got so merry and excited about spindling after reading all the comments in the last post, I wrote a little spindling song for us. It goes to the tune of the Wombles, Underground Overground song without the crazy Uncle Bulgaria bit. I call it Spindling Free.


In the park and after dark, spindling free

Spindling is useful and fun you will see

Making good use of the fleece that we spin

Spinning for socks you can put your feet in

Spindlers are mobile, they spin anywhere

Standing or walking or using a chair

In the park and after dark, spindling free

Spindlers are increasingly common to see

People they notice us, but pretend not to see

Under their noses, a spindler may be

We spindle by night and we spindle by day

Watching the kids while we’re spinning away

Consider this an invitation to add a verse in comments and share it with other spindlers you know, they might like to add a verse too. Perhaps you don’t like spindling? Add a verse about that!

Sing and spindle free my friends, spindle free!

12. February 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , | 7 comments

Spindle Spun

Spindle spinning has been on my mind recently. I have been chatting with the lovely Becca, a spinner from Scotland whose spindle is her tool of choice and I have been finishing off some old spinning to leave my spindle empty for the beginning of the Spinning Certificate. The first workshop will focus on the spindle.

IMG_2352It is easy for me to forget how easy and pleasurable spindle spinning is. Amidst the knitting and the wheel spinning, it seems to get overlooked and spend most of the time gracing a shelf rather than spinning. I also forget how quickly it makes yarn. Yes, spindle spinning is surprisingly quick.

At the Bothwell Spin-In in Tasmania recently, there was a race between a spindle and a wheel for metres spun in a set time. Whilst the wheel won, it was only by a tiny margin. Over time of course, that margin would increase, set side by side. However, the special thing about spindles, that makes them efficient producers of yarn and a real alternative to wheel spinning is not their actual speed but their occupation of  a different space and set of time to that of the wheel.

The wheel is heavy and fixed. It may travel to meetings but it usually lives in a room and we go to it and spin on it for an exclusive period of time. The spindle can be with us always. You can spin whilst waiting for the pasta to boil. You can spin watching your children play sport or whilst they build a fairy house in the park. Some folks can even spin whilst being a passenger in a car or plane using a supported spindle and bowl. Because it is so portable, spinning can use bits and pieces of time that are not available to wheel spinning, adding up the yardage surprisingly quickly.

Whilst I have only spindle spun small things, some folks spin whole sweaters. Sounds surprising doesn’t it but perhaps not when we remember how the spindle clothed, powered (through sail) and carried (through bags) the Ancient World.

IMG_2346The only thing I find tricky is the plying. I haven’t really sorted this out yet. I most often ply back on the singles I have made using a centre pull ball. I have tried using the cop itself to do this and I have also used a ball winder but I find things tangle very quickly. After seeing how Bedouin spinners use a ball wound with two singles to ply from, I tried winding the cop into a centre-pull ball first and then winding both ends onto a toilet roll (is there nothing they cannot be useful for?). I could do this with less tangle than spinning them from the centre-pull ball as I could keep the distance between roll and ball short and under tension. Once I had my two singles wound up together, plying was fast and easy with no tangling problems.

The fibre was a merino and silk blend from First Edition Fibre and Yarns in Euroa, Victoria.

IMG_2392After meeting a weaver today who is a retired Steiner teacher and listening to her talk about the calming effects of ball winding on children, I got Our Dear Boy to wind the plied yarn off the cop. He wound and listened to his dad read the evening story. He was calm and proud when he finished, ready for a zen bedtime. Half an hour later, I realised I should have given his sister a ball to wind too. It is hard to share a room with a sibling who is not feeling so calm! Never mind, it is still a beautifully wound ball waiting for a wash and finish which I hope will even out the twist somewhat…I am a little rusty.

I would be very interested to hear what other methods you have tried for plying on a spindle.

Useful resources for spindling:

Priscilla Gibson Roberts, Spinning in the Old Way (2006)

Abby Franquemont, Respect the Spindle (2009 )

Craftsy spindling course From Fluff to Stuff

05. February 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , | 30 comments

Breed Mesa

IMG_2225This project really belongs to last year. I finished it just before New Year. Curiously, the last Enchanted Mesa I finished during the same period a year ago!

IMG_2221Enchanted Mesa by Stephen West is such a liberated, fast knit and a great opportunity not simply to use up single skeins in the stash but to explore particular themes. My last one explored yarns I bought and spun from the Australian Sheep and Wool Show that year. This one explores various sheep breeds including Merino, Finn, Gotland, Shetland and contrasts a hand painted yarn with a range of natural fleece shades.

Enchanted Bendigo was made in sports weight using a 3.75 mm needle and is quite fitting. The yarns for this Breed Mesa are mostly DK weight and I used a 4 mm needle throughout. It has significantly more ease but is not overly large.

IMG_2220These are the yarns I have used from top to bottom:

  • Plum: Finnsheep, raised and handpainted by Susie Horne in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. I bought a single skein of this at my first Australian Sheep and Wool Show maybe seven years ago. It is next-to-the-skin soft, a really lovely yarn.
  • Cream: Unlabelled stash yarn but most likely to be Patons Merino Totem Machine Washable. This came from an op shop purchase, some was labelled and some was just wound into balls but it looked like the same stuff.
  • Silver: New Lanark DK in Limestone, purchased from the mill shop in 2012. The trip to New Lanark, in Scotland was a wonderful day for me…labour history, utopianism and hydro-spun yarn, all in the one place!
  • Light gray: Granite Haven Gotland, homespun style in silver purchased at Cheryl Crosbie’s open farm day a couple of years ago. This is a plump, soft and squishy yarn, more of a light worsted weight than DK.
  • Dark gray: Shetland handspun by Ingrid Gunson (hand written on a luggage label), bought in Lerwick by my parents on a trip many years ago. It is slightly lighter in weight than the rest and this creates a soft drape right where it is needed. It is woollen spun, lighter than air and the slight, natural variegation is beautiful.
  • Black: New Lanark in Natural Black. The New Lanark yarns are a blend of Swaledale, Cheviot, Hebridean, Kent Romney, Jacob, Shetland from the UK and Merino from New Zealand. They are woollen spun and have a slightly coarse feel which softens after washing much like the Shetland yarns do.

IMG_2226Just by accident, this project also explores the fabrics created by simply processed yarns and a machine washable yarn (which I had in my stash and was the shade and weight I needed). On its own, I have never really considered the feel of machine washable yarn. I don’t often buy it as it is considerably more resource intensive in its production. When knitted up next to these other yarns however, I can see how it drapes heavily lacking the barb-like projections of the un-treated wool fibre shaft. It lacks the structure, life and character of the other yarns. The bits I am referring to are the first cream wedge closest to the neck and cream sleeve cuff. It feels very very different from the other fabrics, which whilst all different in their own way have a quality that makes them distinct from this highly processed yarn.

I am glad the machine washable yarn is in here. It demonstrates in a sensory way the implications of additional yarn processing. I am also enjoying all the breeds in here and their various sensory qualities. It feels like wearing a sampler.



29. January 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 32 comments

Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop

You might have noticed that I like knitting. It is a useful life skill that may also be incredibly pleasurable, relaxing and meaningful. Knitting can make a stalwart companion through the wilderlands of life.  Whilst my children may decide that knitting is not their life’s companion, I would still like them to know how to do it, just as they ought to know how to plant a tree, make a meal and oil a bike chain.

I have read a lot of knitting books for children that have neither excited me or my children. Recently, I was asked to read and review Susan B. Anderson’s Kid’s Knitting Workshop (2015), published by Artisan Books and I am pleased to be able to say that I think it is a cracker of book! It is subtitled The Easiest and Most Effective Way to Learn to Knit and it might well be.

COVER. Susan B. Anderson's Kids' Knitting Workshop

Excerpted from Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop by Susan B. Anderson (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lauren Volo. Illustrations by Alison Kolesar.

It is aimed at children around nine or ten years old which is the age of Our Dear Boy. We have had a few forays but he doesn’t know how to knit yet. He is pretty keen on weaving but only if we can get a floor loom with pedals. Since this will happen probably after he leaves home, knitting is what we will focus on for now.  I reckon this might be the book that gets him knitting because it is so well pitched to his age, both to his skills and practical aesthetic. Anderson suggests ten is the ideal time to learn to knit as by this stage children have the fine motor skills necessary for knitting and they also developed the perseverance and determination necessary to succeed at knitting.

This is not simply a pattern book for kids but rather a methodology for teaching children the basics of knitting and then building and extending those skills. It does this through projects that are both useful and appealing to children of that age.

50_Little Hat

Excerpted from Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop by Susan B. Anderson (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lauren Volo. Illustrations by Alison Kolesar.

The first project for example is a Little Hat. It is little to fit your bear or your doll. This appealed instantly to Our Dear Boy who thought he would make one for his little sister’s doll. Its size means that it will be finished quickly and to further expedite things, it is knit in bulky weight on 6 mm needles and it is knit in the round. Most of the projects in this book are knit in the round and this is one of the key aspects to Anderson’s method. Not only does this increase the speed of completion which builds confidence but also centres the knit stitch as a practice. You just go round and round, practicing the knit stitch. She even recommends that you cast on the first few projects for your child precisely so they can just concentrate on the knit stitch.

In the early stages of her method, the child never has to start or finish a row which is where I find my kids most often struggle to hold onto stitches. It also introduces the idea of the right side of the fabric and the wrong side very intuitively. When the purl stitch is added in a ribbed band in a subsequent hat project, the knit stitch has been consolidated and the purl stitch can be seen very clearly as the opposite of the knit stitch. There is none of the confusion of sides, of stitches and endless drudgery of the garter stitch scarf on two needles that kills off so many eager young knitters. Working back and forth is not introduced until much later in Anderson’s method.

The second project is genius for this particular age group. It is a Wrap Bracelet knit in the round.

58_Wrap Bracelet

Excerpted from Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop by Susan B. Anderson (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lauren Volo. Illustrations by Alison Kolesar.

The Wrap Bracelet builds the skills of casting on and casting off with only three knit rounds. These are reminiscent of the Loom Band style craze of a couple of years ago. Once they got the hang of these, I can see a child knitting lots of them, to wear and to give away.

Other patterns like a cowl and a tubular scarf build on the skills with other wearable garments that children can customise to their own preference with stripes and colours.  There is even a section where more advanced skills like increasing, yarn overs and cable stitch are introduced through small projects like Mason Jar Cosies and Puppy and Bunny Hand Puppets.

71_Stripy Tube Scarf

Excerpted from Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop by Susan B. Anderson (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Lauren Volo. Illustrations by Alison Kolesar.

Techniques are introduced with clear written explanations and accessible illustrations. Anderson treats children with respect in her writing. She doesn’t dumb anything down, just makes things very clear and builds skills step by step. She introduces concepts such as gauge and how to read a pattern very early in the book. She even shows children how to read a yarn label and how to care for their knitted items. Anderson doesn’t try to be cool, there are no crazy titles of projects or wacky styling which always seem to miss the mark slightly and leave everyone feeling faintly embarrassed. It is straight up and I think its simple yet attractive styling will make this book a classic for teaching children to knit.

Other useful features of the book:

  • It is spiral bound so sits open and flat so children don’t loose their place.
  • Whilst the photographs are all of girls, the projects themselves and the colours depicted are all very unisex.
  • The projects are insightful and appealing to this age group and include useful wearable articles like hats, scarfs, cowls and leg warmers.


  • It is a great omission that not a single image of a boy knitting has been included. This book clearly states in its title that it is a knitting book for kids and certainly Anderson’s text is inclusive and non-gendered. And yet to look at this book, it would seem that knitting is just for girls. Knitting is a skill for everyone, not just girls. How can boys relate to knitting, if they do not see images of themselves within the text?
  • My other criticism of this book is that there is no information for how to approach teaching a left-handed child to knit. Many children are left-handed nowadays as the education system no longer sees this as deviant and requiring correction. But we do need information on the best way to approach teaching left-handers techniques that have been developed for right-handedness. As a mother of a leftie, I am still learning how to provide tools such as left handed scissors, bread knife and peeler so that my child is not disadvantaged in acquiring these life skills by having to use tools designed for right-handers. A discussion of handedness and knitting would have been most appreciated in this otherwise exceptionally comprehensive book.

Despite these criticisms, I do think that Susan B. Anderson’s Kids’ Knitting Workshop is an excellent, intelligent book that can save children from the Herculean labour of learning to knit through the garter stitch scarf. I will be leaving this book open on the breakfast table for Our Dear Boy to browse through. I will be casting on a Little Hat and leaving it out for Our Dear Boy and I to cosy up with. I might even break out some old Noro I have in stash. I will let you know how we go.

FYI: Whilst I have not received any monies to publicise this book, I did receive a copy of the book for the purpose of reviewing. My views and opinions of this book are my very own.


22. January 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , | 20 comments

Freshly Laid Plans

And now is the time for the laying of plans.

I would like to try weaving my own plaid with hand spun yarn from local sheep that we will somehow have managed to convince the Council to run, instead of tractors to keep the grass down on our ovals and parkland. But since I have some study to do, and I would need to learn how to weave first, that will have to wait for another year. This year, the making plans are more modest.

IMG_2275I am going to get to know my new Majacraft Rose and new spinning techniques as I undertake a Certificate in Spinning at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria.

IMG_2229I am going to keep at my feat of endurance for the Shackelton CAL with FiberTrek, spinning all my old fleeces up using woollen long draw and knitting up some kind of colourwork garment. I stalled after Spinzilla 2015 when realised I really needed to re-scour the Polwarth fleece I had as much of it felt sticky and made carding and spinning difficult. It took me till December to get that done and I have been carding ever since.

IMG_2244I am going to finally come to grips with my fingering weight stash and experiment with Fair Isle to turn the stash in useful garments. This part of my stash has seemed rather impenetrable to me.

The core of it is a collection of Alice Starmore yarns that date back over fifteen years. The rest are Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift and Jamieson and Smith oddments leftover from my own and others projects. There are also a few balls from the Isle of Harris Knitwear Co. bought as souvenirs in the UK. They are all woollen spun, fingering weight, perfect for colourwork.

IMG_2227I will use these wonderful books to guide my adventures. And hopefully something beautiful and useful will emerge.

I am also hoping to keep this delightful vase made by local potter, Riverwife Clay filled with flowers and foliage from our garden and neighbourhood walks all through the year as a reminder of simple pleasures close to hand.  It is a smallish, humble vase with a heavy base and glaze like cream speckled with vanilla seeds. It was my gift to our family at Christmas.


And the thesis of course.

Do tell me of your plans for this year…for January is ever the time of possibility and hopefulness.

16. January 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , , | 35 comments

New Year Old Year

Happy New Year Readers and welcome back to Needle and Spindle! I hope you had some enjoyable holidays and if you did not, then let us be done with them and embrace the year ahead.

With my resolution to find balance in all aspects of life still freshly sown, it seems apt to begin another blogging year slowly and with consideration. After encouragement from a dear reader, I am starting with a review post of makings in 2015.

There were small things knitted.

And some bigger things knitted.

There was small sewing.

And some grownup frocks and tshirts.

When I look at my making like this I can see that the majority of these projects were made from my existing stash or salvaged from discarded materials/garments. More materials left my stashes than came into them…finally! The other thing I noticed that much of the making has been generated from my own designs or substantially modified to suit my materials or purposes. I reckon this means my self reliance and confidence in my own skills is growing.  Interestingly, the commitment to making from what I have already has really promoted the development of these skills which in turn assists me to see more potential in the materials to hand. It would seem that constraining our access to materials can have significant creative and skill-based benefits whilst reducing resource use and waste production. Who would have thunk it?

The other thing I noticed was that in knitting and spinning at least, my way of making has begun changing from discrete projects to explorations and processes of making. I have Annie Cholewa and her partnership in the Waysides project to thank for this and this was certainly one of the highlights of my year. From her little village in Wales and my urban grid in Melbourne, we set out together to explore our local neighbourhoods on foot, gathering dyestuffs from the waysides as we walked in order to create a colour map of our habitual places. We had many adventures along the way and discussed what it was to walk and connect with the land…or not! From this organic process, the Waysides Shawl and the Waysides Yoke came into being. They were not planned for at the beginning, they arose from the process and I found this to be such an exciting way to make something.

It was a long year and a fullsome, often turbulent one personally and in the ‘verse but the sustained making and the enlivening discussion we share in this space has been a sturdy keel for me, and I hope for you too. The Year is Dead, Long Live the Year!


08. January 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, sew | Tags: , | 34 comments

Small things: Christmas things

Despite the searing heat withering the leaves outside, my thoughts are turning to Christmas. There has been some baking, sewing and making of small things.

As my children insist upon growing, they have new aprons this year. These are drawn entirely from stash I am pleased to recount. Our Dear Boy has a brown corduroy one (destashed by Adelaidian friends) with a flour bag pocket and strings from an Operation Manshirt shirt.

IMG_2164Our Dear Girl has strawberries and bees on a lovely Japanese cotton/linen blend (destashed by a dear neighbour) and a gingham heart applique and strings. Our Dear Girl has specifically requested the liberal use of love hearts, unicorns, rainbows and fairies on well, pretty much everything.

IMG_2165I also managed a couple of pairs of shorts for Our Dear Boy, one in a khaki linen from a shop where I meet up with my oldest sewing friend of almost 30 summers and one in a fabulous vintage bark cloth, again from those lovely Adelaidian friends. They even have pockets, as all children prefer.

IMG_2161Much of that wee frenzy was sewn on a weekend in November organised by mum at our children’s school for other mums. It was my first craft weekend, indeed, my first time away from my little family.

IMG_2167There has been the making of tea towels from more destashed cotton/linen.

IMG_2166And the filling of gifted seed packets with Russian Kale seeds from our garden.

There has also been some modest Christmas decoration making inspired by FiberTrek’s lovely felt ornaments.

IMG_2036The embroidery floss was from a birthday gift twenty years ago and the button is from the collection of a friend from the UK, sent to me in the post. The heart is stuffed with some Shropshire fleece given to me by one of the lovely farmers at Collingwood Children’s Farm a when she found out I was a spinner.

Here is a knitted bauble inspired by elizabethstreeter21’s advent baubles that I have been watching pop up every day on Instagram. She knits them on the train whilst commuting to work.

IMG_2032I used some leftover undyed Finnsheep handspun and some that was dyed with indigo at a Guild summer school class run by the friend of the Finnsheep farmer. I photocopied the pattern from the copy of Arne and Carlo’s, 55 Christmas Balls to Knit that lives in the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria library. This library is a marvellous repository of all things textile and wool-related, funded and staffed entirely by volunteers. It is ball number 12, the ‘Handcraft Border’, taken from a booklet of old patterns by the Norwegian Handcraft Association.

So, as I made my gifts, I found myself surrounded by the gifts and kindness of others. I am reminded of David Gauntlett’s assertion that ‘making IS connecting’, to others, to the earth, to ourselves, to something beyond the catalog or the list, to an interwoven, interconnected thing that pulses with kindness, generousity and love. Christmas can feel sad, stressful and lonely. I think that is why holiday films projecting that perfect, mythical Christmas are so beguiling to us. I wish you all, some small act or token of making this season that binds you back to the goodness and the light.

Merry Christmas Dear Readers and a Happy New Year!

IMG_2031Needle and Spindle will take a short break over the holiday period and be back in the New Year. Thank you for your loyal readership, companionship on the adventures and your unstinting encouragement.

19. December 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, sew | Tags: , , , , , , | 47 comments

Waysides Yoke Sweater

Well, all I can say, is thank the knitting gods for Wovember or I might never have finished this sweater.

IMG_2018I cast on for this yoke sweater in August without a firm design in mind. That was OK. I knew I wanted the sleeves and body plain with some waist shaping in the torso to take some of the bulk away. So I set to work on those bits using the wonderful Jumbuck Wools Gold Label in natural silver. These are beautiful yarns, minimally processed, natural fleece colours, raised, processed and spun in Victoria. The fleeces are mostly from local Corridales. At least they used to be. Jumbuck Wools is small family owned yarn and knitwear producer that has operated since the seventies but with rising production costs associated with the wool processing side, they could no longer sustain that part of the business. Whilst they continue to manufacture knitwear, Jumbuck Wools no longer mill their own yarn.

IMG_2028I came across them after they had ceased yarn production, when Susan from Jumbuck Wools contacted the blog and shared the Jumbuck story. There are small amounts of yarn left of the original Victorian product and I bought some specifically for this project.

At the yoke I stalled…for quite some time. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do here. Whilst I wanted to showcase the best of the Waysides dyeing project, the English Leicester handspun wasn’t really working with the Jumbuck in a colourwork pattern and lace just seemed all wrong. Part of the problem was that they were such different yarns. The Jumbuck was dense and matt, the English Leicester was loosely plied, hairy and lustrous. Finally, I decided that their difference was the solution and separated the yarns completely by using a slip stitch pattern where the English Leicester handspun could be framed by the Jumbuck. The stitch pattern is Snowballs from The Harmony Guides Vol 3, p 85.

IMG_2017Despite deciding the stitch pattern, I was still stalled until I realised that if I could finish by the end of November which was then two weeks away, I could put the sweater in the Wovember WAL, which I have always wanted to enter. This deadline got me knitting again and I cast off the neck just in the nick of time to take a pic, post it on Instagram and be part of WAL 2015.

IMG_2025The yoke has 3 decreasing rounds, the first is 1/3, the second 1/4 and the third 1/4. I then decreased 10% for the final next ribbing. There are two sets of short rows to lift the back, 1 set of 4 pairs of short rows just after uniting sleeves and body and another set of 4 pairs after the last set of decreasing but before the neck ribbing. All the ribbed sections have twisted knit stitches, a lovely effect I discovered from Kate Davies Yokes book.

IMG_2027These are my very best colours from the Waysides project, dyed with plants along my habitual local walks using rainwater and modifiers scrounged mostly from the backyard or laundry. The yarn was hand spun by me using rare breed English Leicester sheep fleeces that were free from Collingwood Children’s Farm.

IMG_2026From bottom to top you can see:

Ornamental grape (alum/iron), Ornamental grape (alum/washing soda) and Dock flowers (alum/washing soda). Then Eucalyptus viminalis bark (alum/washing soda), Eucalytpus nicholii (alum/iron), Eucalytpus nicholii (alum/washing soda) and Eucalyptus sideroxylon (alum/washing soda).

If you click on the links to those plants, you can read about each colour on the Waysides journey.

As I said in my Instagram post, this sweater represents both the death of local yarn production and my hope for its renewal in the wake of building interest and understanding of yarn processing, origins and the profound importance of maintaining local products.

Ravelled here.

IMG_2019Thank you Wovember for another glorious year and for focusing me on both the significance of my materials and on finishing the blessed beastie.

11. December 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, knit | Tags: , , , , , | 52 comments

Small things requiring some attendance

Thank very much for the time so many of you took to respond to the last post I am not a quilter. If you didn’t subscribe to comments, I encourage you to pop back and read the reflections of other readers on identity and craft practice. They are considered and thought provoking.

This is a quiet post after the intellectual wrestling we all shared last week. A post about small things and the wayward things that happen from inattention.

IMG_1559The first was to be a red and white version of Oakenshield Armoured using undyed cream Gotland from Granite Haven and an odd ball of Cleckheaton Ultrafine Merino from last Christmas. This was intended for a friend and needed a slightly larger head circumference than my last one. Instead of going back to my original calculations and making the alteration there, I made the fatal mistake of plugging my own colourwork chart into another hat pattern (that I had never made before). Despite the gauge being the same, it became increasing clear that this hat was going to be too large. I ripped it out and again, instead of going back to my own calculations, I cast on the same pattern in a smaller size. My mind was overful of other things, returning to study, balancing old and new demands, you know the stuff. I think I thought I was saving time, making it easier for myself by using ready-made stitch counts/schematics instead of working it out myself. If only, I had made a little mental room, I could have saved myself many hours knitting.

IMG_1557It was still too big and I had run out of time to rip back again. So, the hat became a cowl. A rather cozy cowl, I think. But it is not the hat I imagined and still want to make for my friend.

The second hat, another colourwork hat was intended as a slouchy beanie. It uses overdyed grey Gotland yarn from Granite Haven and an unidentified undyed cream yarn from my stash. The size was right this time, as I went back to those original calculations! But I then I ran out of yarn for a slouchy style and had to improvise a beret to finish the hat within the available yarn.

IMG_1925 So there you have it, the tale of two hats that determined their own form despite my earnest yet distracted intentions.

05. December 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , | 25 comments

I am not a quilter

I am not a quilter, I am just making a quilt.

IMG_1594This might seem an odd distinction to make to non-handcrafters perhaps but maybe you understand what I mean? Just because I practice a craft does not mean that I identify as someone who does that thing. I take photographs but don’t consider myself a photographer but I know that Annie Cholewa does (and rightly so!). I sew most of my own clothes but I don’t consider myself a sewist/seamstress but I know that Stephanie of My Vintage Inspiration does. I crochet (infrequently now) but I do not consider myself a crocheter but Alina of The Gift of Knitting does. I garden but am not a gardener, I cook but I am not a cook.

IMG_1597I do consider myself a knitter though and have done for about 15 or so years, however, I have been knitting much longer than this. Similarly, although I learned to spin seven years ago, I only began thinking of myself as a spinner a few years ago. I am not sure when I started to call myself a spinner or why…at some point I just knew I was.

Why is that we identify with some crafts as a practitioner and not others? What is the point at which we know we are a knitter, a spinner or a quilter? Is it when knowledge enters the bones and muscles? Is it perhaps about what engages our sustained curiousity and delight? Do we know we are a knitter when we take stitch dictionaries to bed? Do we know we are a spinner when we find pleasure in being arms-deep in mucky fleece water?


I have been reading some literature recently on consumption and how since the fifties we have become increasingly identifying with and identified by our consumption practices.  Colin Campbell is an American sociologist who describes several different ways the consumer has been defined: as the passive consumer who is the unwitting dupe of advertising and the status quo; as the heroic, rational consumer researching about product choice; and, the lifestyle consumer who buys to express their personality through brands. I remember very clearly a moment in the mid 90s when I was working full time after graduating and could finally afford to buy new clothes.  I was wearing a pair of Converse sneakers, Oakley sunglasses, Levi’s jeans and a Mooks hoodie. I was feeling mighty fine. And then suddenly I had this odd realisation that the brands I was wearing were acting as symbolic representations of me and I could combine brands in different ways to say different things about me. Brands were like identity codes.  It was a memorable and rather horrifying moment as I at once realised that I had finally got a style that was saying all the right, cool things (for that moment) and also that this was a projected, aspirational, fictional me rather than flesh-and-blood-interior-furniture me. Ah yes, I was the emperor feeling so fine just as my brain pointed out I was actually naked. Loss and insight! Now, this was no revolutionary epiphany, more the beginnings of a discomfort with lifestyle brands, a vague sense that as desireable as the bright shinies on offer were, there was more to being than buying.

Still, that was the nineties and the ascendancy of brand culture. Colin Campbell argues that there is another category of consumer that is significant today, that of the craft consumer who consumes in order to create.  A craft consumer buys materials (often mass produced materials) and uses skills and knowledge to make something like a meal, a garden or a room. Whilst craft consumption is an increasingly significant category for understanding contemporary consumption, there is the risk of overstating the role of consumption in craft practice. Crafters do consume, sometimes a lot. Sometimes we buy and accrue vast amounts of fabric to make quilts or buy more yarn than we can knit in a lifetime.  Sometimes we are proud of this and boast about how big our stashes are. Sometimes we feel uncomfortable about the buying and hide our stash around the house to make it look less. We go on yarn diets and participate in stash busting projects in an effort to discipline our buying habits.

Consumption is definitely a part of contemporary crafting. But are crafters simply craft consumers? It is entirely possible to make a meal or a garden without buying anything, nor does the buying of the raw materials constitute the defining activity of making something. Even if you buy all the fabrics to make a quilt, making a quilt is still more than an act of consumption. Buying fabric is but one activity among many that make up the entire practice of quilting.  If someone makes a quilt by cutting up old worn out clothes to hand and another makes a quilt from mass produced fabrics bought at a shop, are they not both quilters?  Surely we are more that what we buy or how we buy?


Let us return to role of practice in craft identity. Some of the literature that I have been reading for my thesis has focused on the social and health benefits of craft. Again and again, researchers have observed that the practice of handcrafting provides a very strong source of identity for practitioners (I have listed one of these papers below). It is the making that is the source of identity, it would seem, not the buying. But what exactly is that identity in relation to a specific practice, how is it formed and how is it understood by the practitioner? How do we know when we become a quilter? Why are we a knitter but not spinner when we might do both?

I know I am a knitter. I know I am a spinner. I feel it in my bones. My fingers find their own way and my mind can play and ponder the infinite possibility residing in materials, technique and purpose.

What are you? And how do you know? I would love to hear.


Some writings you might find interesting:

Colin Campbell, (2005) The Craft Consumer: Culture, Craft and Consumption in a Post Modern Society

Gandolfo, Enza and Grace, Marty, (2009) It Keeps Me Sane: Women, Craft and Wellbeing, Vulgar Press



28. November 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: sew | Tags: , , , , | 46 comments

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