Paddock to Ply

Thank you for engaging with my last post Barcodes and Ball Bands. The discussion has been really interesting. To keep the discussion going, I have replied to comments in the blog, rather than personal email as I normally do. If you have not subscribed to comments for that post, you might like to have a quick peek back at the comments to see what other readers have contributed.

I have often bemoaned the demise of local processing and milling in Australia on this blog, especially for small farmers. Whilst several micro mills have opened in recent years, these have focused on alpaca and mohair fibres and have been unable to accommodate the additional processing of greasy sheep fleeces. Recently, Kylie Gusset from Ton of Wool has written critically of the wool industry and government barriers to small scale wool product in Australia.


And yet fibre crafters want local product. They want to support farmers. They want a product that respects the earth, animals and workers. You can see this desire in the excitement engendered by Scottish knitting designer Kate Davies announcement of her new yarn Buachaille. Davies has developed this yarn out of her own frustration over a lack of local product. With access to nearby processing in Yorkshire,  she is about to release a yarn ‘… truly raised in Scotland… part of the work of this landscape’.

Well…drum roll please…the wind is shifting in Australia and change may be possible.

Suzette Sayer, is a entrepreneur in Queensland who has a plan to build the Paddock to Ply Fibre Mill, a state-of-the-art facility to process and mill greasy fleece for small to medium customers. She has modeled her business on the Fibershed concept in California which considers the whole cycle of land stewardship and animal raising to fibre production as a whole, sustainable system.


According to Sayer, the Paddock to Ply Fibre Mill is about five things:

  • Producing high quality, limited edition, luxury natural fibres for use in the home as well as by the fashion and textile industries,
  • Supporting local farmers in a way that allows them to stay on the land, principally by building a supportive community around them,
  • Building a socially responsible, sustainable, and transparent supply chain; a knowledge of who, what, when, where, how, and why,
  • Building an environmentally sustainable closed-loop mill designed to utilise renewable energy, water recycling, and composting systems that result in a net carbon benefit. The mill will be a living wage certified animal fibre processing facility providing full processing capabilities from washing fiber to making yarns, and
  • Developing public education programs and that provide experimental learning opportunities in developing new fiber and natural dye related skills.


Sayer has a detailed business plan, she has done a ton of research and now she is looking for a show of interest from all of us. If you are an Australian knitting designer looking to design from a local product, a knitter looking for a local yarn or a farmer looking for a place to process your fleece into yarn, then now is the time to make contact with Paddock to Ply. Talk to Suzette Sayer. Find out more about the project. Tell her what you want from a new mill in Australia. Tell other folks to make contact with her. Change will not come from government or industry bodies that only represent big business, it will come from us.

You can find Paddock to Ply Fibre Mill on their website or email direct to If you are a small farmer, Sayer has a short survey you can fill out about your processing preferences.

Disclaimer: I was approached by Suzette after she read the What is a Local Yarn? post. She thought I might be interested in hearing about the Paddock to Ply project. I offered to share the information with you. I have no financial or other interest in this project, neither am I qualified to vouch for the business credentials of the project. I am a knitter and as a knitter, an Australian mill for small scale wool sounds like a wonderful idea.


29. August 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, look | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 comments

Barcodes and Ball Bands

One of my ongoing knitterly interests is how my purchasing can be more thoughtful, reduce my impact on the environment and better support those folks who grow and process the yarn. It has been brewing in my mind for some time and I thought you might have some perspectives to share with me after reading this.

I start with the premise that (according to a materials diversity approach) any yarn purchase that is not completely synthetic or conventional cotton is spreading the environmental load of global textile production. But, in my choices online or at the yarn store, how can I lessen the energy and water use associated with the yarns I buy? Without doing tons of research as I stand in front of the shelves, how can I make a more informed choice?

IMG_1373Well, I have been thinking about this for some time and through many talks with other knitters, have come up with a sort of guide to thoughtful yarn consumption based on what you can tell from the ball band. This is a guide on how to read the ball band to help you make choices based on the least amount of processing, the most accountable processing and the least amount of travel.

Is it Machine Washable?

One of the easiest things to check on a ball band is whether something is machine washable. Folks buy machine washable for lots of different reasons but in terms of energy use, it is a particularly energy intensive type of processing. So, if your interest is in reducing the environmental footprint of the yarn, you would check for the hand wash only directions.

IMG_1372Is it dyed?

Check on the ball band for any information about dye lots. Dyeing yarn takes energy and lots and lots of water. If a yarn is naturally coloured or undyed, the ball band will usually say. If a yarn looks undyed but has a dye lot number, be suspicious. I thought I was buying undyed grey yarn when I bought some Naturelle Chunky in New Zealand a few years ago. I fell for the Naturelle name I think and all the colours in front of me looked like natural fleece colours. The grey dye is still coming out in the washing water! I should have checked the label.

IMG_1357Indie dyers often have strategies for reducing the water they use but as a blunt rule of thumb, undyed yarn uses less energy and water in its processing than dyed yarn.

Where is it made?

If the yarn is from a medium to large company and doesn’t say where it is made, be suspicious. It probably means the bulk of the processing has taken place in another country and the yarn may have traveled great distances. Take a look at this label.

IMG_1370It says Grown on specially bred Merino sheep, nurtured by dedicated and passionate Australian farmers…then lovingly twisted and dyed by the people at Wangaratta Woollen Mills. It is seems like a lot of detail doesn’t it? Do you notice that word used is ‘twisted’ rather than spun or milled? Do you notice that despite the detail, the label doesn’t say where it was scoured, processed or spun? That is because it went to China for those bits.

What is wrong with yarn being processed in China? Don’t Chinese workers need work just as much as Australian workers do? Yes, they do! But do we know if they are being paid a fair wage and have adequate health and safety standards in the workplace? If I buy a yarn processed in China then I really want to know this.

Fashion Revolution prompts us to ask the question Who Made My Clothes? They challenge companies like Tesco, Top Shop and Aldi to show us the real men and women who are sewing up clothes in factories all over the world. They challenge them to reveal to their customers, the ways in which they are ensuring these workers are paid fairly, are safe in the workplace and have access to health care, child care and education opportunities. I don’t know who makes my yarn when it goes to China, but I would really love to find out.

Companies take their processing to China not simply because of cheaper labour costs but because they can also avoid the costs associated with environmental laws for emissions and wastes in their home countries. China has weak environmental laws in relation to pollution and waste disposal. Scouring, processing and dyeing use substantial amounts of chemicals and water and generate pollutants that must be treated carefully. This costs money. If my yarn is being processed in China, how do I know that wastes are being treated appropriately and that folks who live along the rivers near scouring plants and mills are not being harmed?

IMG_1376Is there a barcode?

All that moving around, needs tracking. Barcodes help companies track inventory through warehouses, transport companies, wholesalers and shops. A barcode printed onto a yarn label suggests that the movements required of that yarn are so complex, they need a barcode. Have a look at your yarns? Which ones have barcodes and which ones do not? In my collection I noticed that Patons, Noro and Rowan were barcoded.  They are made by large companies, indeed Coats who own Patons and Cleckheaton and Rowan are one of the largest global manufacturers of threads and yarns. Jamieson and Smith, Brooklyn Tweed and Jamiesons Spindrift were not barcoded. Again the presence of a barcode does not mean that the yarn has a long supply chain, but it does act as a signal that this might be the case.

IMG_1371What about no ball band or label?

Curiously, the absence of information about a yarn, is often a signal that it has been more simply processed and has a shorter supply chain. None of the yarns I have purchased directly from farmers have had ball bands. These take money to print and labour to attach. On the Woolful podcast, UK small farmer Ben Hole related wrapping and sticking a label around every single yarn ball for sale. Many yarn farmers simply forego this product packaging. These yarns have the shortest supply chain. The farmer has decided the price for the yarn. The farmer knows where the yarn was processed and milled and under what conditions.

IMG_1367You might think I am making the case here for only buying ‘luxury’ or boutique yarns which sound expensive.  Certainly, yarns that pay a farmer a fair wage and that are processed under strong environmental and labour laws will not be budget yarns.  However, yarn direct from a farm can be surprisingly competitive in pricing to a mass produced yarn, particularly when compared to many luxury branded, mass produced yarns. But even if all I can afford is a cheap yarn from the Big Box shop, these guidelines can still help me select the undyed version of a mass produced yarn, the wool blend over the pure acrylic or the hand wash only over superwash. Or I can buy less, plan more, spend deliberately or work from what I already have.

So that is my take on how to make some decisions at the yarn shop or online. I am not saying that everyone must wear natural grey jumpers made from a sheep they met and had lunch with but I do want to make more conscious choices in an increasingly complex world. Yarn sales certainly disrupt my intentions…the price point can make me forget everything else. Maybe these guidelines will help me navigate those more tricky moments in a knitter’s life.

How well do you think these guidelines might work in your own knitting practice?  Do you already use a similar method for deciding which yarn to buy? Take a look at your ball bands and barcodes…do they say anything interesting now? Let me know, especially if you disagree or have another take on things.

And if you are needing to have a lunch with a sheep, there will be lots at the Royal Melbourne Show, September 19-29.  Heritage Sheep Australia always have a stand and Granite Haven will be in the Livestock Pavilion with her Gotland sheep and alpacas for the first few days. She will have rovings and yarn but no barcodes.




21. August 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, look | Tags: , , , | 39 comments

Wool Craft Judging Criteria

As a follow up to my post about judging criteria for handspun and knitted articles at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show, I thought it might be useful to share with you some fibrecraft scorecards used in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana. They were sent to me by US reader, prolific spinner, weaver, knitter and baker…the wonderful Susan.  I am very grateful to her for sharing this information.

IMG_1337These scorecards give some really useful judging categories and information that help us understand what qualities judges look for in judging handspun yarn, articles made of handspun yarn and handwoven items.  All the scorecards begin with a mark for the overall appearance of the entry.

For handspun yarn entries, these judges are assessing the preparation for exhibition. Is the item clean, properly skeined and tied, of listed yardage and/or weight and blocked if necessary? They are also interested in the suitability of fibre to yarn, in the amount of twist and diameter of the yarn. The judges are particularly interested in technique allotting 40% of the final score to this category. They are looking at fiber preparation, even twist, appropriate plying twist, consistent thickness of yarn, durability of the structure (that it doesn’t fall apart when pulled), a consistency to special designs (like boucle and art yarns) and a consistency in any dyeing or blending in the yarn.

IMG_1339For articles made of handspun yarn the categories are similar. They include suitability of the yarn to the article and this includes the consistency of spinning and appropriate yarn characteristics. In short your yarn must be suitable for the project, such as a high twist fingering weight for socks or a low twist two ply for a lace shawl. These judges are also interested in assessing the suitability of the fibre to the project. They are looking at your fibre choice, preparation, drape, handle and durability. So a fine wool, prepared by carding with loads of drape might score poorly as a rugged coat but well as a christening robe. Articles are also judged on technique, that is appropriate gauge, even tension and perfect (crikey!) execution. Finishing is also considered, judges examining blocking, yarns ends, cleanliness, seams and notions.

Handwoven items are judged on suitability of fibre and yarn to project, particularly durability, drapability and hand; technique including gauge, even tension and perfect execution; and, the level of finishing in blocking, ends, cleanliness, seams and notions.

IMG_1341I think these categories give us provocative insights into our fibre and preparation choices for any project irrespective of whether we are entering them in a competition. They challenge us to think about making things that are fit for purpose and durable rather than just being pretty or colourful or soft.

There is a Going to the Fair group on Ravelry that has lots of useful bits of information on judging criteria and how to prepare your show entries. It is exciting to enter something you have made in a show. Sometimes, the deadline helps you actually finish something!  It is nice to win something but the really special thing about putting something in a competition is that it represents the best work you could do at the time, it is work you are proud of.


14. August 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 comments

Other places

The Waysides project has got me thinking a lot about how we make places meaningful to us, how we get to feel at home in new places and come to know them.

Like our neighbourhoods, the internet is full of places, some places we will never visit and some where we feel comfortable and welcome. For those of us who grew up without computers being a seamless part of life, sometimes the internet can feel full of strangeness, discomfort and mystery. Every social media platform is like a different suburb with similar but significantly different social rules and purposes. It takes us a little time to learn what day the bins get collected and how to get to the shop and how to talk to the neighbours.

I thought it would be nice to show you some other places on the internet where Needle and Spindle is located. If you are already in the neighbourhood then please drop in and if you are not perhaps you might like to try a visit where you will already know a friendly face.

On Pinterest, I am needleandspindle. It has taken me a while to work out the point of Pinterest. I loved cutting stuff out of magazines in my teens and twenties. I have still have the scrapbooks to prove it!

But something obsessive can happen on Pinterest where you find an hour going past in mindless pinning of pretty stuff from feeds everyone else is pinning from anyway onto boards that I will never look at again but not wanting to miss something that might be useful later. Organising has made sense of my collecting and now I can look different sweater constructions or texture or the effect of yoke placement on the look of a garment. This is really useful for my own making.

Capture 1Capture 2Capture 4The great thing about Pinterest is that you can follow a person or just their boards that interest you. It feeds into a stream that you can pin from or just observe. I subscribe to some ancient history boards which I don’t pin from but love to read as they appear amongst the sweaters and quilts.

needleandspindle is also on Ravelry. This is where all my knitting, spinning and crochet projects are documented. After my Pinterest reorganisation, I set to cleaning out the cobwebs in my Favourites tab on Ravelry. The new bundles feature turns an amorphous list of favourites into a useful resource for project planning and pattern comparisons over time. These are open to other Ravelry folks to browse through too.

Capture 5I am on Instagram as @rebeccaspindle. This is where I share works in progress and moments of making or life. As a micro blogging space, I think Instagram is a more intimate space than the blog, full of tiny moments that folks of similar interests, share together that are mostly of the humble, everyday kind…a view from a train window, a frosty morning, incomplete knitting, a beautiful scene. I think it is like a giant shared anthropological event.

Capture 6Twitter is new to me. I really am still learning where to put the bins and what to say when the neighbours call! It seems to be a great place for hearing and passing on news, interesting posts from other places, upcoming fibre events, daily sheepfarm life and other happenings. Dear Twitterers, please do come and say hi. I am @needlespindle.

So drop by and visit needle and spindle in the other places. Share your places with me.

And speaking of new places, you might want to visit Whisky Bay Woollens. This is a new knitwear design venture from knit blogger kgirlknits drawing inspiration from the rugged coastlines of Victoria.

08. August 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , , | 11 comments

The Waysides Shawl

This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from Our Home Grounds.

Dear readers, you have been with me from the beginning of this project. You have seen the fleece preparation, the spinning and the many natural dye adventures. And now, here is knitting. Here is some culmination!

IMG_1165Waysides is all about the creation of a local colour map using natural dyes sourced along our paths and journeys in our neighbourhoods. My colours are from the plants and trees gathered from within the habitual walks of our home in the inner north of Melbourne.

IMG_1118The yarn was spun from English Leicester fleece from Collingwood Children’s Farm. This wool is grown a few kilometres from our home.The fleece was washed and scoured, then divided into locks, combed and dizzed. It was spun worsted style as a two ply low twist yarn best suited for lace knitting. 20 g batches were then mordanted with alum and dyed with a variety of local flora and modified using a copper solution made of copper pipe found in the backyard and an iron solution from rusty nails in the backyard, also household vinegar and washing soda. All the water used in this project was rainwater collected from our roof into a tank.

IMG_0814I wanted to create a sampler shawl from the resulting skeins and the Shetland hap with its traditional feature of naturally dyed coloured stripes seemed an ideal inspiration. But I also wanted something that reflected my urban experience and in particular, captured something of the Waysides project itself.
IMG_1094This is Shetland lace deconstructed to the bare bones set within an asymmetrical series of spines or tangents. It steps away from the balanced symmetrical shawl to capture the sweep of the creek, the step off the path, the discovery on the nature strip.  It reveals the colours of an urban neighbourhood, the walk to the shops, the walk to the park, footpaths, gardens and renewed bushland. It captures the way our messy lives and complex history spill out of the grid, out of the planned ways. It represents the awkward tension of the planted wildspaces in our urban environment, the lived scar of a heavily modified landscape, the tended gardens and the outlawed weeds. 

IMG_1150This is the first shawl I have ever designed myself. It doesn’t burst with innovation but it was a thrilling endeavour none the less. I poured over Evelyn Clark charts trying to understand how to centre a lace a pattern and grow it at the sides as the shawl increased. I watched Stephen West’s Shawlscapes class and saw how the 90 degree spines work and how to make the 45 degree wing expand. It was laboriously plotted out and swatched and replotted.

IMG_1107All 39 skeins (remember the one I melted) had to be wound into centre pull balls and labelled. Then I organised the balls of yarn in waves of light, medium and dark values only to realise that the balls of yarn weren’t all the same length. They were roughly 20 grams each but very roughly and my inconsistency in spinning meant that some balls had more yarn in them than others. As the shawl stripes would grow significantly as the work progressed, I had to concentrate the smaller balls towards the beginning of the shawl and save the bigger balls for the end. So in many ways, the colours are sorted more by constraints than by aesthetics!

IMG_0888I got all the balls numbered and everything in a bag, just in time to go on holiday, a scant two weeks before the Woolcraft deadline. Fortunately for me, the winter water of Queensland was far too cold for me (I prefer bath temperature) so I surrendered myself to lots of pool and beach supervision with my knitting. My charts got rained on, splashed with pool water and crumpled. They looked like ancient artefacts by the time I finished. But it did get finished, a few days after we got back from holiday. The shawl told me it was finished really, as I started to run out of ball length prior to finishing the stripes.

IMG_1185In the end, it used 27 different colours. So I have some for another project. The pic below shows the colours in order from the neck (bottom left) to the shawl tip (top right):

1. Eucalyptus viminalis bark, iron
2. Acacia dealbata pods, washing soda
3. Rumex crispis flowers, washing soda
4. A. dealbata pods
5. E. sideroxylon leaves, washing soda
6. E. nicholii leaves
7. A. dealbata pods, vinegar
8. E. sideroxylon leaves
9. E. nicholii leaves, iron
10. A. dealbata pods, copper
11. Prunus cerasifera, copper
12. Vitus vinifera, iron
13. E. viminalis bark
14. E. viminalis leaves, vinegar
15. E. nicholii leaves, copper
16. A. dealbata pods, iron
17. E. viminalis leaves
18. Prunus cerasifera, iron
19. Rumex crispis flowers, vinegar
20. Vitus vinifera leaves, vinegar
21. E. nicholii leaves, vinegar
22. Prunus cerasifera leaves, vinegar
23. E. sideroxylon leaves, vinegar
24. Vitus vinifera leaves, washing soda
25. E. viminalis bark, vinegar
26. Vitus vinifera leaves
27. E. viminalis leaves, copper

IMG_1234The Waysides Shawl made it to the Wool Show and won a red ribbon, second prize in the Woolcraft Competition for an original handspun article.
IMG_1106I am thrilled with the prize and thrilled those little balls are transformed into something tangible. All those walks, all those plants, the water, the fleece, the effort, all stitched into a shawl, that wraps around me like home, that accompanies me through my neighbourhood. A shawl of the waysides with which to walk the waysides.
IMG_1215You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.

31. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , , | 38 comments

Show and Tell

As promised, some show and tell.

IMG_1100This wee Kowhai and Fern Beanie went to the Australian Sheep and Wool Show this year. I have wanted to knit this little cap ever since I saw it, in the 2013 Summer edition of Spin-Off. It seemed so suited to some Finnsheep fleece I had left over from a previous project. The fleece was prepared with a flick carder and spun with a worsted short draw into a two ply laceweight yarn. Details are ravelled here.

IMG_1102Finnsheep yarns are so so soft, as soft as the proverbial baby bot. This fleece came from Fairfield Finns, a good few years ago now.

Margaret Stove, famed New Zealand lace spinner and knitter, is the designer of this beanie. In 1982, she designed, spun and knit an exquisite lace baby shawl from a local prize winning fleece as the gift of New Zealand to the British Royal family upon the birth of Prince William. She designed two beanies using motifs from the original shawl for the birth of William and Kate’s first child.  Living in a colonial outpost of the British Empire, I am not really into royals but I do appreciate a good back story.

IMG_1113The Woolcraft judges generously gave this wee beanie a First. I am very grateful to the prize donors Ixchel and Moseley Park. And thank you to Jay Peterson from the Handweavers’ and Spinners’ Guild of Victoria for running a taxi service for entries, taking up and bringing back entries to Melbourne.

IMG_1104If you have never entered an item in a Woolcraft competition before, judges allot a score against a number of different categories. These are Suitability of Purpose, Structure, Finish, Presentation and Overall Impression. The scores are added up into a total score and the entry with the highest score is the winner. I have never seen a description of how these categories are judged so if anyone reading this has knowledge to share please do. Woolcraft competitions are essentially about encouraging us to better our skills so making the judging criteria open and understandable assists this aim. These are my best guesses from previous entries and tips passed on by more experienced competitors.

Suitability of Purpose as I understand it, means that your fibre choice, preparation and technique suit the item you have made. So a newborn jacket made out of chunky Herdwick would probably score low in this category but the same yarn as an outer garment for a adult might score highly.

Structure, I have no idea what this category means.

Finish is all about neat seams, lined up edges, appropriately sized buttons, woven in ends etc. An article I entered a few years ago scored poorly in this section because my yarn change occurred in the middle of a row. I certainly never did that again!

Presentation is about how the entry looks. Handspun skeins score more highly if tied with matching yarn with neat cut off ends. A knitted garment should be clean and freshly blocked. A lace shawl covered with cat hairs would score poorly but the same shawl minus cat hair with points sharp and even would score more highly in this category.

Overall Impression is the wow factor. Less points are available for this category, so wow will only get you so far.

Please do share any knowledge or tips for entering fibre craft competitions in the comments.

The next post will feature the beige symphony shawl of the Waysides, so do come back.



24. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , | 23 comments

Australian Sheep and Wool Show 2015

It is Wool Show time again. The Australian Sheep and Wool Show is a big shebang in these parts and runs over three days. It has been run annually since 1877!

The Wool Show is a place were you can see all kinds of sheep including Merino, Polwarth, Corridale, Poll Dorset, Dorper, White Suffolk, Dorset Downs, Romney, Drysdale, Dorset Horn, Hampshire Downs, Ryeland, Perendale, East Friesian, Shropshire, Border Leicester, English Leicester, Cheviot and Finnsheep.  You can watch the judging of these sheep and actually talk to the farmers who raised them.

You can mostly tell the farmers by their pale moleskins, navy polarfleeces and polished tan elastic-sided boots. Men and women turned out handsomely for this special weekend. There is a Sunday best vibe at the Show. The felters wear their most flamboyant creations and the knitters, their best shawls, hats and jumpers. The fibrecrafters all look at each other’s garments and walk up to complete strangers to compliment them. There is a kind and joyful frisson in the air.

IMG_3564There are carving and cooking demonstrations where you may partake of the meaty things. You can see gun shearers effortlessly reclining enormous sheep and clipping their fleece in a couple of minutes with nary a nick or a twitch. This is not just for show either, this is for the Sports Shearing and Wool Handling Competition. The shearing shed is always packed and tense, the air is heavy with the smell of fleece and warm tomato sauce.

IMG_3542The Australian Fleece Competition also takes place during the show. I love seeing the open bags of crimpy locks topped with a ribbon. Rams with woolly testicles the size of melons are gathered together for the Ram Sale and bright eyed, hard staring dogs lean quivering into the Sheep Dog trials, ears rotating like radars.

There are vast sheds filled with everything from dried lemon myrtle to hand shaped metal alpaca biscuit cutters to olive oil soap. Then of course there are the Woolcraft sheds housing various spinning guilds, felting and weaving demonstrations, the Woolcraft Competition and yarn and fibre sellers.

IMG_3557The Wool Show is the place to buy yarn or fibre from a person who actually raised the sheep, perhaps helped to birth it and certainly dealt with its health and feeding.  They see the fleece shorn, sent off for scouring and spinning and they have probably done the skeining.  These farmers persevere against the odds to bring low-processed, breed-specific yarns and fibres into the marketplace. So do support them with your patronage.

Although I did manage to get some entries in for the Woolcraft competition, I am not able to attend the actual show days this year. So tell me about your visit, if you managed to get there. I would also be keen to hear about Wool Shows in other countries. Are they similar or different to this one?

17. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , | 15 comments


In 2011, on a visit to New Zealand to attend a wedding, I bought some Naturelle Chunky 14 ply wool yarn, grown and processed in New Zealand, as a yarn souvenir.

I made Kate Davies’ Owls yoked sweater. I was experimenting with shaping and thought I knew better than Kate Davies where it should go. Turns out I didn’t! The front shaping was too close together and the whole thing was a bit too short because I had not considered the relationship between boobage, negative ease and the riding up which ensues after I had shortened it anyway. The Kate Davies bits, like the 0wls and the neckline were lovely and very flattering. I loved that sweater for many years, till the elbows wore out in fact. Here it is after much loving.

IMG_0610If the sweater had fit me properly, I would have done elbow patches but with the wonky fit, I decided to frog completely and reknit something else. The worn areas were excised and the rest was washed and wound into balls.

IMG_20150710_25772I chose Lesley by Hannah Fettig as my new sweater, particularly as it was such a good match for the yarn gauge. It also had a nice open neckline like Owls.  But this design has negative ease and no shaping which I knew was not going to work for my shape. I added back shaping (more skilfully this time) and zero ease to minimise any front rise.

The sweater was worked in pieces and seamed. Each pattern in Fettig’s Home and Away collection is presented in a seamless and seamed version, with a short essay on the advantages of each. I thought a seamed raglan would keep its shape better across the shoulders.

I knitted the front in the stitch pattern used in Hermione’s Everyday Socks by Erica Lueder.  It is a broken single moss stitch and it is wonderfully textured. This was my carry around knitting and it never seemed to require special time set aside to make it. It just sort of happened.

IMG_20150710_2678The sweater came out exactly as planned but I realise now that the raglan style construction is not actually that flattering for me. It narrows the shoulders, broadens the chest and creates construction lines that magnify my widest section of hip and thigh.

Live and learn eh! I am consoled by its warmth and it fits me well. The yarn is sturdy and is having a good long life. Also, it is very hard to be vain and self conscious when my 5 year old is taking all the photos on my phone using voice command yelling SMILE, SMILE, SMILE like a tiny, angry sergeant major.

IMG_20150710_26318Reknit deets here.

11. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , , | 20 comments

Zen Along the Waysides

This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from Our Home Grounds.

This was my final dye lot for the Waysides project for the near future. Other things are brewing, but the Waysides project will continue to evolve for both Annie and I. Besides, I want to get knitting all these skeins. Being the last one for now, I wanted to make this colour really count. I wanted an absolute show stopper of a colour so I selected my dye source very carefully.

IMG_0883There is a very lovely winding path in our neighbourhood that we call the Crocodile Path. It ends up at a park with piece of crocodile equipment so maybe that is why we call it that or perhaps the name predates the equipment. Who knows? Anyway, the path has been built over an old creek bed that still runs during (rare) flood times right into houses and cars. The path is lined with trees and is noisy with lorikeets, wattlebirds and magpies. They fight for food in the flowers of eucalypts, blackwoods and sheoaks. They defend nesting sites and quarrel for mates. It is a path to meander down, listen and sit. It leads us to the houses of friends, to another local park and a giant remnant River Red Gum.

IMG_0879Amongst the eucalypts is one I was most keen to dye from after reading a Local and Bespoke post. It is called Red Ironbark, Eucalyptus sideroxylon. It is a stately tree with black fissured bark from which can ooze sap the colour of blood. It is not exactly indigenous to this area but is a common parkland planting. They flower around now, anything from a buttery yellow to hot pink. My tree had yellow flowers.

IMG_0885I boiled the leaves for a good few hours as I and other readers have found to be best for eucalypts to release their colour. Alum mordanted, 2 ply handspun English Leicester was then brought to a simmer for an hour, then another, then another.

Yes, my friends, I had made beige again! Did I get my identification wrong? Did I need a tree with pink flowers? Was my tree just feeling sad? I DO NOT KNOW!!!

IMG_0800From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by the skeins modified with copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. Mmm, looks a lot like the last lot only the eucalypt has coarsened the yarn. I felt so disappointed and also very angry.

So, I will turn lightly to the Buddhist causes of suffering at this point…ignorance, attachment and aversion. These are The Three Poisons.

Clearly, ignorance is at play here. I do not know for sure what that tree is, why beige keeps following me and where all the good colours are.

I was attached to a wonderful conclusion, a glory dye, a spectacular discovery.

I have a strong aversion to beige.

IMG_0810Ah, suffering! Apparently, I must look with a beginner’s mind, breathe and embrace the now. Oh look, how interesting, I just made beige again! How extraordinary that such a multiplicity of plants make beige! I will let the colours come, I will let the colours be, I will let the colours go.

I really do need to embrace the inner dye-buddha or I may be at risk of becoming a junked-up-dye-gambler…just one more plant, I know this one will be a winner, just one last simmer and then I will stop. Who knows where that would end?

IMG_0830I also spun up and dyed 100 grams of English Leicester in a 3ply DK weight for Collingwood Children’s Farm. It will be knit up by one of the farmers there into a beanie to demonstrate to the children just what fleece becomes after shearing. It is fortunate that this particular farmer favours the golden hues so prevalent in the Waysides.

Since drafting this post, Jules from Woollenflower has suggested that my beige results from this eucalypt might be because I collected during winter after a very wet autumn. Eucalyptus dye colours intensify with dryness, so a late summer harvest after a long period of dry might indeed dye the vibrant orange I was hoping for.

You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.

Due to some patchy internet we are currently experiencing, it may take me a wee while to reply to your comments. Bear with me, as I do love replying to you personally.

03. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, spin | Tags: , , , , , , | 23 comments

Waysides Home

This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from Our Home Grounds.

During the course of my Wayside dyeing wanderings, I realised that I had not included a dye plant that represented home. Home is the beginning of all journeys. What is the colour of home?

As these thoughts occurred during late autumn, I didn’t dwell over much on this question. The plant that frames our days at home, that overarches the bicycles on the back veranda is an Ornamental Grape, Vitus vinifera. It flames scarlet in late autumn. It is our delight and wonder. This is the plant that marks our seasons. This is where the colour of home resides.

IMG_0369I wanted that scarlet for the Waysides project. I tried solar dyeing a small amount of alum mordanted silk with some of the red leaves whilst I was finishing other dye lots. It yielded a very lovely rose.

After I had combed, spun and mordanted a batch of the English Leicester from Collingwood Children’s Farm, the yarn was immersed in a vat of red leaves. I had soaked these for a couple of weeks, very gently simmered them and the red colouring was evident in the dye water. I very gently simmered the yarn for about an hour…and made beige!


I gently simmered some more…still beige.

I left it to soak for a couple of days…still beige.

Here are the colours I made with the English Leicester 2 ply, premordanted with alum.

IMG_0796From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by the skeins modified with copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. That last one is the stand out for me after I stopped cursing and started noticing.

Despite the complete lack of scarlet or even pink, nevertheless, these skeins are still the colour of our home. They are the colour inside our Ornamental Grape who cools us in the summer and beguiles us in the autumn.

IMG_0807These skeins represent the backyard, the view from the living room, the beginning of the school journey, the end of each weekday. The hammock swings underneath branches who have witnessed countless toy picnics, tussles, tears, play houses and dolly beds. Fallen leaves accumulate against the back door and often find their way under chairs and bookcases.


Interestingly, these colours are almost a match for the dye lot from the purple leafed Ornamental Plum. You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.


26. June 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, spin | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 comments

← Older posts