Really Real

This came in the post yesterday.

IMG_3252So now I really really know that I really had an article published that is real. If you like the article you might like to read a post I wrote some time ago on some of the inventions that shaped sheep farming in Australia.

IMG_3250It is heartening to know that I wrote that article as the wordsmithing is currently having a lie down.

IMG_3253This is more my pace at the moment, sharing a little painting inside the lines (or not) with Our Dear Girl.

IMG_3255Here is my witches brew of a side table where things rest rather than are worked on.

IMG_3257Some projects sleep very deeply at the moment.

IMG_3258But there are flowers in wintertime, an unexpected, delightful gift from a friend. It is filled with a sock optimistically cast on but much unravelled.

IMG_3254We await the return of the sun.

24. June 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , | 9 comments

Fibershed: Totally Local Clothing in Melbourne

Last night, the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria hosted a sell out presentation on Making Clothes From Your Own Backyard.

Nicki Taylor of This is Moonlight blog and Rachel Bucknall of Reduce Reuse Recycle blog asked themselves the question, what would you wear if you limited yourself to clothing whose fibres, dye and labour came from within 500 km of your home? Their presentation last night explored their quest to answer this question through spinning, weaving and dyeing.


Nicki Taylor’s locally sourced fibres outfit. Photo by Kerry Bardot.

This sustainable textiles project is part of the Fibershed movement begun by Rebecca Burgess in the US, a movement to establish more local, environmental and ethical foundations for textile production.

Don’t worry if you missed out on the presentation last night as I did, there are a few ways you can find out more.

  • You can explore the fascinating blog links I have provided, there is a wealth of information and inspiration there.
  • You can also follow Nicki’s and Rachel’s Instagram feeds.
  • Join the #1year1outfit Fibershed project, a shared quest to make everyday clothing with a sustainable, ethical foundation.
  • Book a seat for a second Making Clothes from Your Own Backyard presentation, Sunday August 28th at 2pm. This event will again be hosted by the Guild and you can book on 9387 9222. The last talk sold out very quickly so make sure you book soon if you want to attend.

15. June 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, knit, look, sew, spin | Tags: , , , , | 5 comments

Darn Sock

It is still slow and steady here at Needle and Spindle, so sock darning is about the right pace.

After encountering this wonderful darning technique on Local and Bespoke, I found that a pair of my favourite socks were needing urgent repair.

IMG_3242I found the same yarn in my mending yarn jar because although visible mending is cool, I like how smug I feel that I saved the exact yarn and found it again when I needed it!

IMG_3239You pick up knitted loops from a sound area under the worn area and then knit a patch back and forth on sock needles, knitting an original sock stitch together with a patch stitch at each end to anchor it to the sock. The last row is grafted to the sock stitches.

Not a large act in the world, but nevertheless the life of a useful thing that took time and resources to bring into the world is kept useful.

07. June 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , | 33 comments

Autumn Daze

Thank you so very much, dearest Readers for your many good wishes in comments and emails during my dalliance with pneumonia. I have been touched and buoyed by your kindness and have missed visiting with you in this place. Autumn has been passed by in the daze of recuperation and although I am still wobbly legged and often horribly fatigued, I am slowly improving week by week.

Whilst I have been napping, an article I wrote some months ago on the phenomenon of the Lost Sheep in Australia has been published in Spin.Off’s summer edition. In the article, Nan Bray from White Gum Wool in Tasmania shares her shepherding insights on sheep behaviour and sheep farming in Australia. You can read more about her shepherding tales on her blog.

I also had the chance to chat with Marilyn Jensen, the President of Toowoomba Spinners and Weavers Group in Queensland who has spun and knitted from a Lost Sheep. She is currently convening the Southern Hemisphere Feltmakers Convergence at the University of Southern Queensland  in September 24_29  2017.  Felt makers can contact her at to find out more.

I have not seen the article in print as it has yet to pop up in my Zinnio e-subscription so it still feels a little surreal but needless to say I am extremely thrilled to have something published in Spin.Off.

Over the next few weeks I will be trying to write small posts a couple of times a week just to try and build up some match fitness computer time. Your company and forbearance is greatly appreciated. If you are a new visitor to Needle and Spindle, please look around and explore, there is lots of stuff in the back catalog!


01. June 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , , | 38 comments

Backyard Sanatorium

My knitting is curled up in its basket, the spinning wheel is taking a breath and keyboard is sleeping. Needle and Spindle is taking a rest while I recuperate from pneumonia. It is not the scary kind fortunately, no hospitals have been involved, just the horribly exhausting, horribly inconvenient, spanner-in-the-works kind of illness.

Please forgive my lack of reply to your always interesting comments. Pleasant activities seem like insurmountable tasks at the moment. For now, I shall sit in our backyard, feel the unseasonable warm sun on my limbs, watch the chickens, take my meds and get better.

I look forward to meeting with you in this space again very soon.

Till then, may your health be marvellous!


27. April 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: look | 36 comments

New Tools

In E.M. Forster’s, A Room With A View (1908), old Mr Emerson, a radical thinker, has a wardrobe on which is painted ‘Mistrust all enterprises which require new clothes‘. It is a quote(ish) from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) and I have always rather liked it and have expanded it as a mistrust of all enterprises requiring new things in general, tools, equipment and other stuff. Curiously I don’t include books in this category, as I do have the habit of thinking a book of information is always necessary for any new endeavour!

I tend to be rather conservative about buying new tools or better tools, preferring to make do and try the new enterprise first before investing in stuff. This both a desire to acquire only the most useful and applicable thing but also because I find I become easily overwhelmed by excellent materials/equipment. I feel rigid and unable to make things freely as I get all worried about doing something worthy of the fine tools/materials. Instead, I prefer to sidle up slowly against a potentially new piece of equipment and sniff it out for a while, acquiring bits and pieces slowly and cautiously. It is usually a pretty useful strategy as it prevents me from accumulating lots of artifacts from old enthusiasms which our small house is grateful for and my equipment can grow as my capacity and confidence grows but sometimes my wariness gets in the way of actually doing the job I want to do. There is a fine balance I think between paucity, over abundance and the necessary amount of tools.

IMG_2619_renamed_9367Recently, I bought a sampling niddy noddy and a replacement flick carder. The delightfully named niddy noddy is a tool used to wind yarn into a measurable, consistent skein for washing and dyeing, whilst a flick carder looks like a dog grooming tool and is used to open out locks of wool to spin them more easily.

The niddy noddy was an easy decision, as we were told we needed one for the Spinning Certificate Course, but I have vacillated for a couple of years about replacing the flick carder. The flick carder was my first spinning tool. Before I owned a wheel or spindle, I owned a flick carder. For many years it was my only fibre preparation tool and so of course I used it for every situation, for every fibre. My action was more akin to whacking than flicking and the poor thing aged rapidly in the hands of a beginner. The tines were very wobbly and bent in unusual ways.  It snarled the wool rather than setting the fibres straight. Rather than replace it, I stopped using it. I used the old hand carders I had been given and I used some English combs I worked up to buying. That is all very well at home but English combs and hand carders are large, cumbersome and spikey. They just do not travel as well as the humble flicker.

IMG_2620So I have bought a new one. I shall take care of its timber and take care of its tines. I shall be flicking not whacking!

IMG_2612Just after I bought this brand new one, I was given this lovely old one. It belonged to my friend’s mother who would have used it in the seventies and eighties I think. Its tines are still firm and stiff so perhaps I was particularly hard on my poor old flicker.

IMG_2682_renamed_17038What is your relationship with your tools? Do you enjoy collecting tools and experimenting with the new opportunities they represent or are you cautious and minimal, working slowly up to careful purchases?

In the Winter 2015 issue of Yarn Maker, Debbie Zawinski, a minimalist handspindler wrote about the very basic stick spindle she uses on her treks, reflecting ‘…it will spin yarn as beautiful as the finest wheel can – the skill is in the fingers, not the machine’. This may indeed be true but perhaps there are also tools that help bring out the skill in our fingers? Is there an indispensable tool in your craft that you are prepared to invest heavily in…scissors, rotary cutter, needles?


16. April 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , | 9 comments


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I owned this car.

IMG_2685In fact, I truly, deeply, loved this car which still surprises me because I am not a car person. I was (alot) younger, newly single, holding down a mortgage on an old house that needed a ton of work. I thought I needed a useful car that wasn’t expensive. I could have bought a hatchback or a station wagon but I was set on a ute and so I came to be the proud though somewhat bemused owner of a 1971 Ford XY Utility with a big six cylinder petrol engine. Whilst I straight away converted the car to LPG gas and stuck a wildlife sticker on the back, this was still a petrol head’s car and blokes, big tough blokes would ask me actual questions about engine stuff. A dear friend schooled me in the right answers which I cannot recall at all now. That car, sometimes know as The Beaut or The Ute/rus made me feel capable and strong. I can still recall the sensation of the kickback pushing me back into the seat as I accelerated from second to third. I wrote songs about that car. I made artworks of homage (I did say I was younger then).

IMG_2683It wasn’t an easy car though. It had been poorly restored and rust came through the paintwork. It leaked and smelled musty which made me smell musty when I drove it. I had to sit on a cushion to see over the wheel and have the bench seat pushed as far forward as I could to reach the foot pedals. Even then I had to strain a little. It didn’t have power steering and turning the vehicle in a carpark was like turning an ocean liner except using your own muscle. But it was my car, I was in love and I didn’t really notice these things. In fact, I didn’t realise just how difficult this car was until I sold it and drove its replacement, a second hand Nissan Pulsar Hatchback.

The Pulsar was so light and easy that at first I kept stalling it and over correcting my steering. It moved effortlessly around corners using its own mechanics rather than my brute force, it was dry, could demist without the windows down and even had cooling. The seat and the steering wheel and the distance between them were my size but also fully adjustable. It certainly didn’t have the enigmatic charm of the Falcon, but its ease of function was a wonder to me.

IMG_3950When I first learned to spin, I waited some time to find a wheel. Then, the late Joy Dove, former President of the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria, took me in hand and literally led me to my first wheel. It looked a bit odd, a bit spindly, dusty and dirty but on Joy’s advice I bought it. This double drive, upright wheel became my beautiful, beloved Esther. It was made by Philip Poore, in New Zealand in 1972 of Rimu timber, one of his Wendy wheels.  Straight from a small workshop in the early years of the spinning revival, the Wendy wheels have hand tooled metal components, leather hinges and chiseled out timber fittings.  They are exceptionally light and portable.

My Esther cleaned up to reveal an elegant spinner, somewhat frail and autumnal but a game companion over the next six years. I loved her deeply. She guided me through my first fleece and my first forays into working with ratios and different spinning styles. She spun my first prizes. I even managed to find a craftsperson in New Zealand who was selling bobbins and whorls to fit the old Wendys.

IMG_6717We didn’t fall out of love exactly but I realised she was too fragile to take to classes especially on a bike. So I started looking for a robust wheel. I trialed a Majacraft Rose and the experience was akin to moving from the old Falcon to the newish Pulsar. It was a revelation that the Rose sat as still as a well trained dog instead of moving surreptitiously across the floor during spinning. I found that spinning could be a silent thing, devoid of clattering and whirring. The double treadle action was smooth and ergonomic, I wasn’t hunching anymore.

IMG_2664I took that kind, efficient Rose home with me. She treadled effortlessly, plied effortlessly, had minute control over take up and multiple whorl options. She is steady and sturdy, can be strapped onto my bike. She is able to be converted to a production wheel if necessary, replacement parts are easy to order and made to fit. Without the laser decoration, she is my dear Naked Rose.

IMG_2665I admire my Naked Rose greatly, she is capable and reliable but we are not quite in love yet. She doesn’t have the charisma and mileage of my Esther but I have a sense that my esteem and regard will only grow.

Postscript: Just after I first drafted this post, I listened to Fibertrek’s podcast episode 50: A Paddler and a Spinner Walk into a Bar… and found to my delight Sarah exploring her new wheel through the metaphor of canoes! I had intended to post this last week but the school holidays had other plans for me. Thank you for bearing with me.

08. April 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , , , , | 20 comments

Craft Bike

I have owned a few bicycles over the years. There was the new silver blue racer my brother helped me put together when I was nineteen. It was a pretty thing, fast and light as a feather and was stolen within two weeks at university. It was replaced by a rusty, steel-framed racer covered in old, ripped stickers that saw me through the next four years with its robber-proof lack of panache.

Then came a mountain bike birthday present from a boyfriend which I replaced symbolically when we broke up with a lovely one I saved and planned for with specially chosen tires and a well-researched seat. I rode this one till I was pregnant, developed pelvic instability and couldn’t hoike my leg over the straight bar anymore. It was replaced by a free-to-a-good-home, step-through bike and we travelled the years of toddler seats together.

20150321_154220 (1)Now that my kids don’t need strapping into a seat, my travel companion is a cargo bike, slow and steady. It helps me leave the car at home to do those everyday toting kinds of errands. It can take the library books, school bags and groceries. It can get two small people plus school bags to gymnastics after school. It can even transport my crafty gear through the neighbourhood.

20160117_170054I can strap the spinning wheel to the back plate and ride to the Spinning Certificate workshops.

20160214_160013it can carry all manner of equipment and fleeces from class, back home.

With a little, rough DIY using a bit of plywood, my son’s rusty saw and some varnish from the dark recesses of the shed, I even managed to attach some running boards to the cargo frame to strap my sewing machine to. Now I can ride along the creek to our bi-monthly craft afternoons at the local scout hall.

20160326_163627I don’t get anywhere fast but I get where I want to go with all the stuff I need thanks to a sturdy bike and the near magical properties of ocky straps.


26. March 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , | 31 comments

Worsted Nests

Worsted in such a lovely word. I particularly favour the woost-ed pronunciation. It has a few meanings. It can mean a particular weight or thickness of yarn, specifically a medium weight yarn equivalent to the Australian/UK 10 ply. And, it also refers to a particular style of yarn where all the fibres are of the same length and lie parallel to each other. It is a dense, smooth, hardwearing yarn that highlights textured stitches and colour changes crisply and precisely. Worsted can also refer to a fabric woven from worsted yarns.

Worsted spinning was one of the topics covered in Day Two of the Handweaver’s and Spinner’s Guild of Victoria Certificate of Spinning.

In Australia, we tend to learn how to spin in the worsted style first and it is the style that predominates here. I wonder sometimes if this is because our climate is so mild that we don’t need the fluffy, airy warmth of woollen spinning but perhaps there are historical factors that account for the preference.

IMG_2635I was familiar with two of the methods demonstrated at the course but the other two surprised me. We were shown flicking open the locks with a flick carder which our teacher considered the purest form of worsted preparation as it presents you with an open lock of parallel fibres to spin directly from.

IMG_2613We were also shown combing for worsted spinning, where wool locks are lashed onto one comb, and all the fibres of the same length are transferred to another through combing, then drawn off gently into a continuous cylindrical arrangement of parallel fibres called top. These are then wound loosely into little nests of fibre.

IMG_0051I had never seen hand carders used to prepare for worsted spinning before but our teacher showed us how to place individual locks parallel to each other, very gently stroke them with the other carder then transfer back without a ridge line developing and roll the fibres off the carder parallel to each other.  This is a method for preparing staples for worsted spinning that are too short to be flick carded or combed.

We were also shown how to use a drum carder for worsted spinning, turning the drum slowly whilst letting the tines on the carding cloth catch the fibre locks one at time in the same direction till a third of the drum was covered. The aligned fibres were then pulled through a diz into top and wound into nests.

IMG_0053I found the varieties of worsted preparation fascinating. It had me reconsidering the value of the humble flick carder and the precision of the English combs which selected only fibres of the same length. There is significant waste generated in this latter method, with lots of fibre remaining after pulling off for top. But we were also challenged to not consider this as waste at all, rather as fibre to be set aside for carding. This concept really speaks to me. Previously, I had been saving all my comb waste for woollen wadding but I like the idea of spinning it more.

One of the teachers also encouraged us to leave our waste fibre for the birds. They will use it for their nests she said. There was a little murmur of agreement at this and I recalled reading something recently from a spinner who also left her waste fibre outside for the birds to collect. I wondered if it was a common practice amongst spinners and found a post about leaving fibre scraps for birds.


Image from Wikimedia Commons.

In looking for an image of a nest made of wool scraps I came across this curious observation in an old book by Mrs F. M. Poyntz  called Aunt May’s Bird Talks (1900) which contained the illustration above and a description of the North American Oriole.

Audubon writes that the Orioles nest in the south is made of Spanish moss loosely woven… The nests of the same bird in the north are made of flax, hemp, wool or any warm threads, and tightly woven to make them warm for the eggs and to protect the young birds from the cold.

There is a poignancy between the preparation of worsted fibre into nests and the wastage from worsted preparation being left for the birds for the making of nests. Do you leave fibre bits for the birds or have you heard of folks doing this?

Postscript to Little Laundry on the Prairie:

Thank you so much to everyone who left a comment, emailed or spoke to me about the laundry post. The recollections and observations you shared are treasured gifts, a wee archive of everyday laundry memories in the public domain. If you think someone you know might enjoy sharing their laundry practices, past or present, please do encourage them to visit the post and leave a comment.  


18. March 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , , , , | 35 comments


A hand knit for a newborn baby has me marvelling yet again over the architectural innovation that is Elizabeth’s Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket.

IMG_2337The BSJ appeared in Elizabeth Zimmermann’s self-published newsletter in 1968. Elizabeth told her readers that it was called a Suprise Jacket,

because it looks like nothing on earth when you have finished knitting it. Sew up two seams, and you find you have the nicest little garter-stitch baby sweater you could wish to see, reversible, and with no side or armhole seams to look ill-fitting or feel uncomfortable.

The BSJ is Ravelry’s most frequently knitted pattern. Since 2006, 24,333 Ravelry members have knitted one. Why is a design from 1968, so popular? Well, we can really only speculate, so let’s do that wildly right now.

IMG_2342Design wise, the BSJ is innovative…still. It is knit back and forth on two needles using only very basic stitches. All the shaping occurs at two fixed points. It is then folded origami style into a cardigan shape and sewn along the shoulders. The marvel of the unconventional knitting followed by the folding, delights us. It is like knitting a puzzle and holds us in suspense every single time till we cast off and fold.

The BSJ is not just innovative, it is also supremely easy to make and fit for purpose.

  • The garter stitch is particularly good at growing with a baby, so what was a newborn cardigan can still be worn at six months or older.
  • It is also most generous around the nappy area, accommodating a cloth nappy or bulky gathered waists.
  • The arms are slightly cropped so sleeves seem to stay out of mouths and food.
  • It is a proportional pattern that is not gauge sensitive so it can be made in a variety of yarn weights and gauges. This makes it great for using up stash or hand spun yarns.
  • The garter stitch and right angles showcase charactered yarns such as variegated yarns and hand spun yarn.

These are some of the reasons why we knit the BSJ again and again. But I don’t think they really explain why the BSJ is such a contemporary knitting phenomenon.

I have an idea that the reason lies in the design’s peculiar suitedness for sharing in a mediated world, that the distinctive shape and appearance of the BSJ along with its playful puzzle construction has primed it for success via the internet.

IMG_2339The BSJ is visually appealing in a robust dumpling kind of way. It is easy to capture well in amateur photographs. It doesn’t have complex shaping or round bits. It doesn’t drape or float. It is small and easy to understand as an image. As a folded garment, it looks great photographed flat, not requiring a body to fill it out.

IMG_2562The BSJ photographs well in variegated yarns, especially handspun, when the right angles capture colour changes dynamically and offer many opportunities for colour experiments. Its visual attractiveness is very strong. I remember looking at Brooklyn Tweed’s BSJ when I still wrote down favourite blogs on a list by the computer and buying Spin-Off just for the gallery spread of hand spun BSJs in Fall 2008. I poured over those images, experiencing a kind of yarn desire that can only equate to salivating over a menu. Flood’s photographs of his BSJs might be the most beguiling knitterly images ever.

Great images are the life blood of the internet. The image is what we like and favourite, pin and share. BSJ gives great images as you can see in this random screen capture of a google search on the BSJ.


The puzzle quality of the BSJ also gives great stories. The BSJ is not just a cardigan but a story to share, a marvellous curiousity to wonder about. Jared Flood wrote in 2007,

Among the numerous and frequent moments of epiphany, gratitude and sheer awe inspired in each knitter by Elizabeth Zimmermann, none, I believe, is as poignant as the one experienced when you fold together your first BSJ.

In the same year, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee blogged,

It only takes a few hours (maybe….six- eight?) and is simple, assuming one can follow directions. This was my personal barrier to success with the Baby Surprise Jacket over the years. I kept trying to “figure it out” instead of just knitting one and letting the logic of it dawn on you. The first one takes blind faith. Just like turning a heel, when you are learning you suspend disbelief and leap.

And in 2011, Felicity Ford knitted one for her nephew reflecting,

I love the simplicity of the garter stitch, the back and forth straight knitting, the pleasingly-placed increases and decreases, and the always delightful finale when your strangely-shaped little bit of work is magically transformed into a jacket via a couple of nifty folds.

Reading the stories just makes you want to knit your own even more, just to see how it really does work, how it really is possible. When we knit a BSJ, we want to blog and post our BSJs in all the places and invite others to marvel also. It probably doesn’t hurt that all the knitterati have knitted and shared them too!

As a good story and a strong image, the BSJ could been designed by a group of nerds for Web 2.0 but it wasn’t. It was designed almost fifty years ago by a skilled and curious knitter who continues to inspire and teach new generations of knitters despite her death in 1999.


My version was knitted from handpainted, mill spun Finnsheep raised by Suzie Horne in South Australia which I bought at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show a good few years ago. I also used small amounts of New Lanark DK in limestone, and undyed grey and brown Gotland DK from Granite Haven. Even in its unfinished state, this version still looks good thanks to a great design.

Care to speculate wildly on the enduring appeal of the BSJ?

11. March 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , | 23 comments

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