The Trouble With Cotton

This post is part of my Costume Changes project, a considered wardrobe revitalising project.

Of the aims of this project was to wean myself off the cotton tshirt. I like cotton tshirts because they are easy. They don’t need ironing or hanging up. You can wear them in bed at the end of the day. They go with skirts and jeans and shorts without great thought being required.

IMG_0396I want to wean off them for a number of reasons.

Firstly, they require washing after every wear.  Designed originally as underwear and breaking free into mainstream fashion, at least for men in the 50s youth culture, they do a great job of protecting overclothes from sweat but consequently need daily washing and sometimes changes within the day too.  Laundry equals energy and water use and lots of it. Obviously, you can reduce the environmental impact of laundry by line drying, efficient washing machines, tank water and solar energy but nevertheless, tshirts need a lot of washing.

Secondly, they are cotton. Cotton, whilst biodegradable and a renewable resource uses large quantities of water and pesticides to grow. Tshirt cotton is often poor quality and I find it wears really badly, getting holey and shapeless very quickly.

I figure any one of the following approaches improves my materials or energy resources burden.

  • Buy second hand Tshirts
  • Make a top out of better quality, more hard wearing cotton
  • Make a style of top, not quite so fitted under the arms, requiring less laundering
  • Use organic cotton as an alternative
  • Use non-cotton, biodegradable fabrics as an alternative

IMG_0397One of the approaches I was keen to try in Costume Changes, was a materials diversity approach to sustainability as described in Sustainable Fashion and Textiles Design Journeys (2008) by Kate Fletcher.

Conventional cotton and polyester make up 80% of all global textile production. Whilst polyester uses minimal water its production, it is made from finite fossil fuels, uses high energy inputs in processing and is not biodegradable. The materials diversity approach suggests that the more diverse the materials we use in textiles, the more spread out are the ecological impacts of production and manufacture.  The simple act of choosing other fibres such as wool, hemp, flax, organic cotton and cellulose disrupts the concentration of impacts from conventional (non-organic) cotton and polyester.  Anytime we buy fabrics or fibres from these other sources, we are helping alternative industries to flourish and create a broader base for textile manufacture to rest upon.

IMG_0255So I thought I would try making a silk tshirt. I drafted a simple shape off the pattern I used for my Floating World Dress. It does have darts, vital to accommodate those breasticles in non-stretchy fabrics, but no zips or buttons.

IMG_0257I think I did all the right things, changed my needle to a new, fine ball point and used French seams and rolled hems. But it was VERY awkward and frustrating. The silk slipped this way and that. It was hard to know how to cut a straight line as the fabric distorted so easily.

IMG_0241The result is OK but certainly not easy.

And that is the trouble with cotton. It is easy. It cuts easily. Sews easily. Irons well, launders well. It comes in so many very pretty patterns. It is attractive, enticing and very cheap in monetary terms.

IMG_0245This next top, was cut from fine, quilters’ cotton. Fine enough for a little drape but still requiring a little more structure so I shaped the back and sides. Ideally, this needs a zip and more shaping. But this one can easily pull on over my head and was quick to make with a very small amount of fabric, barely 70cm.

IMG_0263The sleeves are bound in bias cut scraps. This will still last longer than a Tshirt and will need less washing. I can use all the scraps for other things. But, it still has a substantial environmental cost really. I have some organic double gauze from The Drapery cut out and ready for sewing. That might be the happy medium between silk and conventional cotton if using new fabrics.

With autumn upon us, I would like to try this pattern in a woollen fabric, something from an old tweedy skirt perhaps, with a zip.

22. April 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | Tags: , , , | 11 comments

Inside the Ribbon Tin…really inside

IMG_0371Inside the Ribbon Tin is an occasional series filled with bits and pieces, odds and sods and other ephemera related to textiles and making. This time we are going inside the actual tin not the metaphoric tin. Let us see where it will take us.

IMG_0377I love this tin. It is full of useful bits left over from past projects.

IMG_0378It has precious things that will be used in the future to trim a dress or line a steek.

IMG_0376It has gifts from readers near and far, materials thoughtfully passed to me for making including ribbons from Tegan,

IMG_0375wee skeins of wool for embroidery from Mary,

IMG_0372buttons, bobbins and cuddy beads from Katherine all the way from the Northumberland coast in the UK. Katherine has a beautiful new blog called Something From Seaview. Inside, you can walk along her beaches, cross the bridge into Scotland, visit the Edinburgh Museum and read about a wonderful quilt.

Katherine and her printmaker cousin Polly are serial makers of GiveWraps. They both embrace the repurposing of old, worn out fabrics worn by loved ones like silk handkerchiefs and dresses to create small, useful cloths layered with family history and recollection.  If you are on Instagram you can have a look at under #givewraps. Here is a recent one from Katherine.

#homegrown #greenleaves #givewrap – Happy Birthday @stepthehen ! Xx

A photo posted by @kdrouge on

And one from Polly.

This is one of my favourites from Polly. You can see the decades old, hand stitched name of her grandfather juxtaposed with her own handwork in the print and construction. I love the idea of the GiveWrap as a canvas, a place for art to be given and received. The intergenerational layering renders this all the more precious especially in the setting of GiveWrap reciprocity within families.

Another creative reader who lives on Instagram is Jennifer. Not only is she an accomplished maker herself, her mother was a veritable crafty polymath, during the handmade craft Renaissance of the 1970s. She embroidered, tatted, spun, cast and wove. Jennifer has recently been sorting through her mother’s effects and sharing her mother’s work in tiny collections posted under #mumscraft.

Mum also made ceramics #mumscraft

A photo posted by Jennifer Ross (@jmpinry) on

The Ribbon Tin is full of the traces of readers and posts and my blog inbox is a vast Ribbon Tin of precious treasures made and shared by readers.  Follow the link to visit Kate Riley’s Signs of Trouble exhibition held recently in Darlington, Sydney. Kate is an artist working with a variety of mediums to create works that evoke her childhood coastline.

flotilla-16Flotilla (sea creatures) ix’ detail, 2015, stainless steel and silk thread, bird skull, PNG rosewood. Image by kind permission of Kate Riley.

Afterwards, you might enjoy a chapter from On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (2013) by Alexandra Horowitz. This book was recommended to me by Stephanie from My Vintage Inspiration as way of relooking at my neighbourhood for the Waysides project. The author traverses the same New York city streets seeing them anew through the eyes of a geologist, an artist, an urban sociologist, a child, a dog and other experts of particular ways of seeing.

IMG_0382If you follow this next link sent to me by spinner, knitter and weaver Susan, all the way from the interweb wilds of Idaho, you can read a fascinating account of how early Homosapiens gained the survival advantage over the Neanderthals using dogs. I told you there was a Ribbon Tin in my Inbox!

IMG_4832And finally, Cheryl Crosbie of Granite Haven informs me that a new yarn shop has popped up at 21 Virginia Street, Mornington called Knitalpaca. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 am till 4pm, it is the home of bespoke, independent yarns by three breed specific yarn farmers. You will find alpaca, mohair, Gotland and llama fibre products there, direct from the farmer.

The Ribbon Tin is a both real place and a metaphor, inextricably intertwined in the most pleasurable and intriguing of ways. Together, we all fill the Ribbon Tin with bits and bobs, odds and sods. I hope you have enjoyed the rummage.



17. April 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 10 comments

The Quiet Return of Small Joys

In a previous post, I told you of my curiously joyless knitting experience of the Skrupsak vest for Our Dear Boy. As you know, I cast on immediately for the sister garment.

IMG_0135It is finished. And Our Dear Girl has approved its inclusion in her wardrobe.

IMG_0174This design is by Signe Stromgaard. I made it the same way as the brother vest, using Our Dear Girl’s chest measurement plus ease as the key number. The natural colour yarn is the left overs from the ball used for the first vest, Bendigo Woollen Mills Classic 5 ply. The teal is the left over Heirloom Heatherwood 5ply from my Praline cardigan project, from an op shop treasure hoard. Both grown and milled in Australia. Details are here.

The joyful knitting has not returned…exactly. It is more that incrementally, the knitting is becoming more pleasurable again, less of a chore. Who can explain such slumps?

IMG_0189There is solace.

IMG_0170There is optimism.

IMG_0186There are plans.

And there are children trying to climb the knobbly bits on a brick wall in gumboots.



10. April 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , , | 15 comments

Golden Waysides

I am still spinning like a Norn in an effort to keep up with my 120 gram dye lots for Waysides: Finding Local Colour in Our Home Grounds, a collaborative natural dyeing project with Annie Cholewa. Sometimes the treadling pace wanes, but I recently found gold.

IMG_0121Curly Dock Rumex crispis is an environmental weed in Australia. It is aggressive and prolific, crowding out pasture crops in grazing land and reducing biodiversity in parks and bush areas. It has broad green leaves and flower spikes that yield over 60,000 seeds per plant.  The seeds turn a dark scarlet in early autumn. The roots are tuberous.

IMG_20150320_144741On our way back from a bike ride, I saw the flower spikes and thought they might yield some colour. My youngling and I returned with some bags down to the creek banks and spent a hot morning foraging and looking for ladybirds. A quick spot of interweb research had me digging up the roots too.

IMG_0161The dock roots reputedly yield yellow and after much chopping, I had a saucepanfull set to simmering. This pot doesn’t have a lid and clearly I did not check on it in a timely fashion and I burnt them. They shall not yield yellow now!

IMG_0164The flowers were were simmered for an hour in rainwater and left overnight to steep, then strained. I then simmered alum mordanted English Leceister skeins for an hour and left them to steep for a couple of hours.

IMG_0202After rinsing, the skeins were modified by vinegar, washing soda, home made copper and iron solutions.

IMG_0213From right to left you can see the unmodified colour, followed by copper, iron, vinegar and washing soda. I think the washing soda is the stand out colour here, a strong golden yellow.

IMG_0216And here in full glory is the sum of my efforts so far…truly a symphony of beige! Did I think I was going to find purples? There is a reason only the emperors wore it. Did I think I was going to find blue? Not a whole lot of wayside indigo or wode here!

I have found gold and silver but there is only so much beige subtlety a modern urban woman can tolerate for her hard won skeins. So, I am off to explore the eucalypts. Eucalyptus nichollii thrilled me once. I really need more thrill.

Remember you can catch up with Annie’s Wayside progress here and see all my posts on Waysides here.

04. April 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dyeing | Tags: , , , | 12 comments

Sampling Ton of Wool

Recently, an opportunity to try a sample of Ton of Wool’s Aran weight came up on the Ton of Wool Instagram feed. I have been curious about this yarn for some time and signed up to try.

IMG_0194Ton of Wool is a single farm yarn, developed as crowd funded social enterprise between Kylie Gusset and the Downie family in Tasmania. In Kylie’s words,

Cormo is a rare sheep breed founded in 1959 by the Downie Family in Bothwell, Tasmania. Cormo is the result of cross-breeding Corriedale and Merino sheep, resulting in a incredibly soft, yet strong luxurious yarn. TONOFWOOL is the first time that Cormo from the “Dungrove” property has been made into a commercially manufactured yarn.

It is grown in Tasmania, scoured in Victoria and spun in New Zealand, as most independent Australian yarns are now.  The yarn is made from unmulesed sheep on a farm that is run on sustainable principles including the  generation of energy from wind and carbon sequestration.

My yarn arrived: 25 grams of aran weight Cormo wool. It is an extraordinarily springy yarn. There are five singles plied together, so between the high crimp of the Cormo fleece and the air trapped in the ply, it is probably no wonder. It is on the plumper side of an aran weight but worsted spun so smooth.

IMG_0223As you would have read in my previous post, I dyed my sample with wattle seed pods and iron solution to a warm, silver grey.

The roundness of the yarn suggested cables and textured stitches to me and I cast on my swatch for experiment using 5mm needles rather than the 5.5mm recommended (just cos they were handy). The knitting was exceptionally pleasant. The yarn did not split and happily made cables and texture. The resultant swatch was firm but with a malleable handle. It relaxed after blocking and that texture just pops. I have rubbed and rubbed it and as yet, have failed to make anything but the tiniest of pills develop.

IMG_0266I like this wool a lot. I would like to knit up something in a DK weight in cables or something textured in the fingering weight. At $23 per 100 grams for the white aran weight, it is a fairly priced yarn for an investment sweater, particularly given that it is from a single farm and from rare breed, fine wool, sustainably farmed sheep. The problem for me is the way the yarn is sold. It is packaged in hanks of 300 grams (464m). Whilst I am sure that this has done for a well thought out reason, it dissuades me from buying this yarn. Let me explain.

IMG_0273Using the Stashbot tables, I can calculate that for an average length sweater, I would need approximately 1000m of this aran weight. If I was able to buy this in 100 gram hanks this would cost me $161.00. However, because it is sold in 300 gram hanks, I would actually need to spend $207.00 to get the yarn I would need. I would have a significant amount of yarn that I didn’t need left over.

This is not to say that I would never buy this yarn packaged this way, but it does make it harder. This would have to be planned and saved for but I doubt I would ever regret knitting and wearing something made with Ton of Wool Cormo.


28. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , , | 10 comments

Beige Waysides and a Diamond in the Rough

The next thing I tried dyeing with was wattle seed pods.

IMG_0147I collected these from underneath the stand of Silver Wattles (Acacia dealbata) between the bike path and creek.  These trees were are indigenous to our neighbourhood but not original. For many decades the creek was little more than a storm water drain that factories emptied their industrial waste into. The blue stone bedrock was ripped out for gutter paving. The creek banks were places to dump cars and rubbish.

Silver_Wattle_flower_(6280768389)Image by John Tann, Sydney 2011 Source: WikiCommons

This changed in the late 1980s and a multi-council and community organisation was formed to rehabilitate the creek. European weed species were removed and replaced with indigenous plantings from other local remnant areas. It is a beautiful place of increasing wildness. Sacred Kingfishers and platypus are returning. Instead of facing away from the creek, houses now face towards it. In many ways, these seed pods represent that story.

The pods are formed after flowering, split open and fall from the tree in summer. By late summer you can collect the empty pods.  Well, you can collect them if you carefully avoid the bikes cycling past and avoid the dog poo graciously laid by the path. These waysides are full of hidden dangers.

IMG_0149I had read somewhere these would give me red. That sounded a bit marvelous. A strong colour for a strong story. Perhaps they would have yielded red but I simmered them and got beige, lots of beige.  In her recent catkins dyeing, Annie had the same same beige experience as me.  She explained that with plants that are high in tannin, very gentle heat is required to bring out the colour. Higher temperatures will bring out the tannins which are beige. I now know that wattle bark and seed pods are high in tannin, a chemical used to transform animal skins into leather and a mordant for dyeing.  Wattle bark in fact is the highest plant source of tannin in the world and in the early 1900s, Victoria had an international trade in exporting wattle bark for the leather industry.

IMG_0210I got the beige. The modified skeins are almost indistinguishable except for the iron which gave a lovely soft grey. It is like a cross between mushroom and silver, a warm silver. Amidst the beige, it sparkled like a diamond.

IMG_0214I tried this again with some natural white Ton of Wool Cormo sample I had been sent. I mordanted in the wattle pod water by simmering for 30 mins and then simmered in the 6ml iron water solution for 30 mins. The colour was exactly as predicted!! Oh, the soaring thrill!

This ponderous note taking and modifying is actually more useful to me than the beige symphony would suggest.  As an experienced dyer, Annie has a slightly different approach to me. I am an absolute beginner and these wee experiments are like colour maps of walking maps…revealing places and colours to revisit later.

IMG_0223I could try solar dyeing with these pods next year to see if I can get the red or I can experiment with using them as mordant. But for now, the colour of local tannins by the bike track and rusty old backyard nails never seemed more glorious to me!

You can read about Annie Cholewa’s Wayside adventures here and see all my Waysides posts here.

24. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dyeing | Tags: , , , , | 12 comments

The Colour of the Way to the Shops

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

I finished drafting that lovely local English Leicester. I had a slightly higher twist rate than I planned but the yarn is still drapey and soft.

IMG_0114 Then I set to work dyeing. As you know, I have been rather excited about this. What wonderful colours were the waysides of my habitual routes going to reveal?

IMG_20150320_200416I began with some Ornamental Plum Prunus cerasifera leaves. We pass by a quite a few of these trees in our neighbourhood, on the way to school, on the way to the shops.  They used to be a very popular street tree with their maroon leaves and masses of pink blossom in early spring. They are short lived trees, only about 20 years and they are prone to disease and to looking very sad and ugly. Ugly or not, they are a ubiquitous street tree in our area so they were an appropriate place to start.

601px-Ornamental_cherry_plum_flowerImage by Hesperian, 2009 Source: WikiCommons

It is not easy to pick leaves from a street tree. I had staked out a particular tree that had been pruned low down and had lots of secondary growth at an easy height to pick. Then I had to go past several times over a week till it was actually alone and even then I needed the cover of my five year old daughter not to feel extremely self conscious. We picked a small flour bag’s worth and simmered them in rainwater for an hour before steeping overnight.

IMG_0200You can see my outdoor dye kitchen here. It is next to the outdoor toilet which has a power point in it and the rainwater tank. The cooktop sits on an upturned crate and my workbench is a piece of blackboard on Our Dear Girl’s wheelbarrow. This is a high tech endeavour. The next day, I added five 20 gram skeins of English Leicester yarn that had been mordanted in alum. I simmered the yarn for an hour and left it to steep overnight. Yes, it is a long process.

IMG_0137After rinsing and setting aside one skein, I modified each of the remaining four skeins thus:

Acid: simmered in a mix of rainwater and vinegar (1:1) ratio for 30 minutes.

Copper: simmered in a mix of rainwater and 6 mls of copper water (made from copper pipe offcut and vinegar/water solution and left for a year) for 30 minutes.

IMG_0144Iron: simmered in a mix of rainwater and 6 mls of iron water (made from rusty nails found in the backyard and water left for year) for 30 minutes.

Alkaline: should be left in a solution of water and washing soda till a colour is detected.  I didn’t read these instructions and simmered my skein, thereby dissolving the skein into slime!

IMG_0146As Annie Cholewa says ‘NEVER HEAT AN ALKALINE’.  Ah…traps for young players!

IMG_0212From right to left, you can see the effect of vinegar, iron, copper in relation to the unmodified one on the right.  It would seem that is definitely worth the palaver to use the modifiers as the really lovely colours are not necessarily the original dye colour.

IMG_0207I was initially disappointed by these colours. They weren’t particularly bright or exciting. But I think, my expectations are framed by the saturated, industrial colours of the contemporary world, in the same way that processed sugar spoils your sense of the natural sweetness in foods. These skeins embody the hidden colours in our world, colours from a different time, colours that take time. They must be drawn out carefully and with great labour. They are subtle. I need to remind myself that I am exploring, not trying to produce a particular outcome.  All I am doing is revealing the colours of my neighbourhood. These are the colours of my neighbourhood, irrespective of how exciting or not, I find them.

You can catch up with Annie’s progress here and see all my posts on Waysides here.


20. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dyeing | Tags: , , , | 24 comments

Costume Changes

Whilst the Waysides project is simmering out the back, I’d like to share another ongoing project that has been on my mind: Costume Changes.

Costume Changes is my clothes making project that seeks to address the paucity and incoherence of my wardrobe eight years on from having my first child.

Because I have a bit of time between gigs so to speak, I would like this wardrobe project to be a thoughtful one that can reuse existing materials and explore more sustainabley produced materials. Like many other folks, I would like to find ways to express my ideas and create clothes that are not shaped by glossy magazines. I want to make clothes that are comfortable and useful and that flatter the shape that I actually have. I want to make clothes that fit well and that will endure, that are joyful and playful.

Here is my first foray…my Floating World shift dress.

IMG_6192I used an old pattern I had in my stash as my starting point, adding two long back shaping darts and reshaping the neckline.

IMG_0057I wanted this to be something I could put easily over my head without zips or buttons but that had the silhouette of a sixties/seventies shift. A lack of a tight waist is so liberating in the summer or at mealtimes but I do appreciate a bit of shape.

IMG_6130The fabric came from two pairs old jeans from the opshop and an almost finished denim skirt destashed from a friend.

IMG_6201I used jeans denim cut on the bias to bind the sleeves and neck.

IMG_6199The pieced swoosh came from a trimmings pack from Umbrella Prints in South Australia.

IMG_6171These are offcuts collected into a regular sized envelope and mailed to you. I named the dress for the fabric trimmings collection. The Floating World is a Japanese term describing the urban pleasure seeking lifestyle that emerged in the Endo period. It generated many extraordinary woodcuts of everyday and erotic urban life.

IMG_6194This was a dress I imagined into being after seeing the trimmings packs online. It is such a thrill to see my thoughts made concrete and wearable! It is comfortable and hops easily onto my bike with me.

My second Costume Changes project was a sun hat from the Nicole Mallalieu hat pattern.

IMG_6151I have really struggled with sun hats for years.  The synthetic ones make my head sweat and my hair go limp…horror!  My last one was some kind of raffia thing that had wire around the brim to stabilise it.  The wire was constantly trying to escape and made every kind of wobbly shape but a flattering one.

My new hat is broad. It is stiff but foldable. It can be washed. It stays on and I think it looks rather elegant.

IMG_6149The pattern was loaned to me by a neighbour via another neighbour and I just drafted my size off the pattern. Thank you neighbourhood pattern library!  I used an old linen Australiana souvenir table cloth that I found in a second hand shop in Clunes.  The cloth has a few holes in it so I placed my pieces accordingly.

It is a brilliant hat pattern. The instructions are clear and detailed and take you carefully through the process, explaining the implications of cutting on the bias or the grain, resizing smaller or larger and how to use interfacing effectively.

Now back to my Waysides brew.







13. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | Tags: , , , , | 21 comments

Waysides and Urban Fibres

Thank you all for your unbridled enthusiasm and encouragement for the Waysides project Annie Cholewa and I are undertaking.

I was so thrilled by your response, I wrote back to all your comments equally enthusiastically. Then watched them all bounce back to me! The server that hosts my blog experienced some drama that resulted in lots of undeliverable mail. Another resend resulted in more boomerangs. The problem is resolved now but some of you have received two replies and some have received none and I am too overwhelmed by the resultant mess in my inbox to work out which is which.

So…thank you very much my dear regular readers and thank you to all the visitors from Annie’s blog. I am sorry I was not able to respond in kind. Please do drop by again as I really enjoy replying to your comments.

IMG_0101In the mean time, I am been spinning up a storm in order to get all my yarn ready for some Waysides dyeing. I was really keen to use some local fibres in this project but that is a tricky business as I live in an urban area. However, just by accident, I stumbled across something that is just perfect.

Late last year, Our Dear Girl and I visited the Collingwood Children’s Farm, an urban farm situated on the banks of the Yarra. It is about six kilometers away.  It is a car drive but connected to our neighbourhood by a waterway. If we put a canoe into our neighbourhood creek and paddled downstream quite a ways, we would eventually join up with Yarra and then find ourselves at the farm. This is easier to say than do, so we will keep using the car for now.

IMG_4961The Collingwood Children’s Farm has chickens and geese and cows and goats and sheep, mostly heritage breeds that are used in demonstrations for children. They have a regular Farmers Market and a big bonfire for Winter Solstice.  I was keen to see the English Leicester sheep they have there, lovely animals with long ringlets for fleece. We were about to leave after our wander when one of the farmers asked if we had managed to find the sheep we were looking for as they had recently been shorn and wouldn’t look much like English Leicesters. We got chatting about the shearing and their fleeces and then the farmer asked if I wanted any fleeces…for free!

I beg your pardon? Doesn’t the Guild take your fleeces? That’s what it is says on your website.

Oh well, the fleeces are quite dirty and no one really wants them.  We have a big pile of them in the barn.

But aren’t they very special fleeces?

Yes, they are beautiful fleeces. You can take as many as you want.

I took two. And came back the next week for a couple more for me and a friend.

That actually happened. That is a true story and it happened to me!

IMG_5085These fleeces are very dirty and stinky. That is true. But they are also beautiful fleeces. Apparently, the breeding program at Collingwood Children’s Farm is overseen by English Leicester breeder Ethel Stephenson who runs her own flock in Benalla. She often uses her own rams improve the CCF flock. Her sheep have won countless ribbons at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show.

IMG_5197I skirted them and sorted them into piles to wash. I didn’t sort according to quality but a friend has lent me a marvelous book called Your Handspinning by Elise Davenport (1971) that details how to sort a fleece by quality/position on the sheep. I can try this next time.

IMG_4979Washing the fleeces was an extraordinary process of transformation. I soaked them for a few days first, outside in buckets in the sun and then poured dirty water off onto the garden. I knew this was safe to do because of how the sheep are managed at CCF. I then scoured them in hot water and Unicorn Power Scour using Deb Robson’s method of twenty minutes for each soak to keep the temperature up.

IMG_6133After a couple of rinses and a spin in the washing machine to get all the water out, a beautiful clean fleece was drying on the children’s trampoline. They are getting used to the trampoline being used to dry fleece and woollens now and with some eye rolling, generally indulge me.

The dry fleece was then bagged securely in a pillow case and labelled and only then is it allowed in our house. I never store raw fleece in the house as it too delicious to moths.

After various experiments with preparation and spinning English Leicester this is what I am doing now:

Picking out the locks, laying them end to end and spraying with spinning oil to reduce static. I am using the recipe from Beth Smith’s Spinner’s Book of Fleece (2014): 1 part rubbing alcohol, 2 parts mineral oil and 7 parts water.  I had tried using olive oil but it went rancid and sticky.


Using small combs rather than a flick carder to align the fibres and remove any vegetable matter. I now clamp the combs to the table which is easier on my hands. I load the combs with the locks anchored at their base. Three passes of the combs, puts the fibres in the right direction to diz.


Dizzing into roving. I dizzed the fibre off the comb using a plastic yogurt lid that I pierced with a hot metal needle.  Using roving enables me to draft very quickly and smoothly in worsted draw to keep that twist low.

IMG_0065After dizzing, beginning with the end I just dizzed, I wound the roving around my hand, twisting the last little bit to indicate the start.

IMG_0053Spinning on my lowest whorl which has a 5:1 ratio (5 twists for every revolution of the wheel) and drafting with a worsted short forward draw at a rate of three inches per treadle to try and achieve about two twists per inch.

IMG_0104My sample was lovely, a two ply sportsweight that was lustrous and drapey and silky smooth. I figure this would be a very useful weight for the Waysides project.

IMG_0112Now if you are a Melbourne reader and you are a spinner, do go and visit the Collingwood Children’s Farm and go get yourself an English Leicester fleece. Wash it and let it sing. Tell other spinners to go get some too. Blog about it, put it up on Ravelry or post pics on Instagram tagged with #urbanfibres.  We are so very lucky to have such precious urban fibres available to us.

Remember you can catch up with Annie’s progress here and see all my posts on Waysides here.

Back to spinning!





06. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: spinning | Tags: , , , | 18 comments

Waysides, a collaboration : local colour from our home grounds

Thank you for all your wisdom on The Curiousity of Joyless Knitting. Whilst my knitting energy is muted, my mind is bubbling and fermenting…

Welcome to Waysides, a collaboration between Annie Cholewa and myself…finding local colour in our homegrounds. I am so very, very excited about this project that my skin fairly hums with it. You may recall my recent post on my Local Colour project where I wanted to create a range of colours from my local area to express motifs and patterns derived from my habitual environment. But the task seemed a little on the large side and I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it.

IMG_5860Then Annie observed the connections and synchronicities between Local Colour and her Home Ground project in the wilds of Wales and suggested a collaboration. If you have never visited Annie’s blog before, you really must. Her photographs are exquisite and she writes thought provokingly on a wide breadth of topics, particularly on colour and landscape.

Her idea of Home Ground was to source all her dye stuffs within in the ‘square mile’ around her home, a lived rather than literal concept. She wrote,

Y filltir sgwar, literally ‘the square mile’, colloquily ‘home ground’, is a phrase most often used by the Welsh to describe the intimate landscapes of childhood, sites of discovery and naming that one owns through familiarity and that ultimately own you. But adults too have their ‘square miles’, places the particularities and peculiarities of which they come to know well through prolonged close attention. 

When I applied this in a literal way, over a map to see what constituted the square mile around our home, I was struck by how most of my everyday journeys occurred inside. I then considered these habitual ways before determining where the borders of my home ground would be for the purposes of this project. Before talking with Annie, I had not defined what local meant to me. Now I realise that my home ground is enclosed by three roadways and a waterway and we rarely walk outside of it. The workings of habit and time have generated my sense of where my neighbourhood lies. It is an intuitive map created by the action of my feet on the way to the shop to get milk, on the way to the park to play with my children, on the way to visit friends.

IMG_5858We were not quite sure what might happen in this collaboration and that is exciting too. So far, it has been an unexpectedly seamless thing, a small creature nutured into largeness as our ideas intertwined. One person’s thought would be expanded by the other which would then provoke entirely new considerations and insights. Our joint project then, is both Home Ground and Local Colour and yet neither and yet more. It is a creature of momentum and energy that has quite literally created a way forward.

Essentially, Waysides is a mapping project using colour to express the ways or paths we walk and the process by which walking transforms the spatial world into the social world, a world of meanings, symbols and interconnections. We hope to find colours in the variety of leaves, barks and flowers within the waysides of our daily journeys, walks to the shop, walks to meet people, walks to the washing line.

IMG_5850Our places are far apart.

Annie lives between the hills and the sea in an out of the way corner of rural Wales. Her homeground includes hedgerows and lanes, river banks and woods.

I live in the inner north of Melbourne. It is very urban. My wanderings take me along pavements, past street trees and nature strips, playgrounds, bike paths and revegetated creek banks.

We are separated by 148 degrees of longitude and 90 degrees of latitude and by 17,000 km (11,000 miles). These are such different environments, climates and seasonal experiences and it will be fascinating to see how this might be expressed (or not) as our experiment evolves.

IMG_5862Our Waysides collaboration will see us dying a minimum of three different colours each month from natural materials gathered from the ways where we walk and using only water collected from our home ground, that is either rain or river/creek water.  We will dye whatever fibres are to hand, using any dye method. We will use any mordant/modifier experimenting with substances gathered from our local environs such as iron-rich water or rusty nails found in the backyard.

We will post according to our own schedules but will always include a link to the other, so you can see how the journey goes for both of us.

Does this sound exciting to you? I am just beside myself and have been gathering all the materials I will need to engage with this dyeing/wayfaring project in a systematic way. Annie is a natural dye specialist whereas I have mastered onions skins, so I envisage my learning curve may be rather vertical!




01. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dyeing | Tags: , | 19 comments

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