The Spinning Certificate I have been undertaking every month for the past 15 months is drawing to a close.
The course is run by the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria and coordinated by the exceptionally experienced Carmel Hanna. As part of our assessment, we are required to produce a final project that demonstrates our learning.
To that end, I decided I wanted to spin for something humble and practical, a locally sourced, DIY alternative to the highly processed and expensive merino thermal undergarment. Merino thermals use Australian ultrafine merino which has been processed off-shore in China using superwash treatments that are prohibited by Australian environmental laws. This not only creates a product with a vast carbon footprint but degrades the environment our neighbour and exposes workers to hazardous conditions. Merino thermals have wonderful insulating and breathability properties, they last a long time and are super useful but the environmental cost is high. I wondered if I could develop an alternative, albeit on a micro, individual scale.
I needed a lightweight, fine yarn that could be worn next to the skin without irritation, be very warm and maintain its shape underneath clothing. I selected a pattern from the Shetland Wool Week Annual 2016, a Pattern for a Sleeveless Spencer by Marian Leslie. This wonderful festival souvenir arrived in the post on my birthday in October, literally dropping the pattern I needed into my lap!
That was a pic I never got to share with you last year but now is a good time!
Instead of lace weight Shetland yarn suggested, I will be using a blend of alpaca and fine, local wool. Three sheep breeds were selected for fleece that had next-to-skin softness and elasticity. Alpaca was chosen for next-to-skin softness and thermal properties (being 8 times warmer than wool). As a blend, the resultant yarn would be both warm, fine, soft and elastic.
To choose the wool, I sampled 50/50 (by weight) blends of Finnsheep from Fairfield Finns near Gisborne, Ultrafine Merino from White Gum Wool in Tasmania and Polwarth from Tarndie near Geelong with a fine silver grey alpaca from Chiverton Alpacas in Phillip Island. Whilst Finnsheep is technically a long wool, Fairfield Finns have developed particularly fine, next-to-skin fleeces so I was keen to include it, in my sampling.
Fleece was blended with hand carders into rolags and spun in a Z direction with a woollen long draw using a whorl ratio of 11.5:1 on a Majacraft Rose. This spinning method was selected to maximise the thermal properties in resulting yarn: woollen preparation and spinning traps air between fibres resulting in a light, warm yarn. Two singles were plied in an S direction using a whorl ratio of 15:1 at a rate of 4 inches per treadle. The yarn was finished with warm soapy soak, a conditioning rinse and final rinse, thwack and hanging to dry. After finishing the yarn measured 18 Wraps Per Inch and 11 Twists Per Inch.
The Polwarth blend was chosen as it gave the most even, springy fabric that will both produce the thermal qualities desired and maintain the shape of the garment over time. It also provided a very even colour blend. Both fibres were sourced from with 150 km of my home, keeping the carbon footprint of the final garment small.
I have had the most wonderful nerdy time, thinking, planning and sampling for this project.
In Part Two, I will share the finished garment and reflect on my learning throughout the project. Do come back and have a look. If you are a spinner, what local fibres would you use on this project?
There is no good reason why I have made another Montbretia shawl other than this one is the one I always meant to make but didn’t quite have enough yarn. Montbretia is designed by Carol Feller for The Book of Haps. It is a very wide, asymmetrically curved shawl that is surprisingly easily to wear in any number of ways.
Whilst waiting for the matching yarn, I knitted up the first one from stash only. You might remember this version from last year.
The new Montbretia is of course exactly the shape but colours create an altogether different landscape.
The lovely green colour is called Meadowsweet (maybe…I can’t find the tag), a drapey fingering weight yarn by Shilasdair with a slight halo I bought some when we were in the UK a few years ago but needed one more skein to finish the shawl. The merino, camel, cashmere and angora blend is dyed with natural dyes on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The soft apricot colour is Australian millspun Polwarth from tarndie.com, a local yarn I bought at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show a few years back. You can see it in an earlier Enchanted Mesa.
That pop of plum is a Jamieson and Smith fingering weight that was rolling around in the stash, just waiting for a job like this. The shawl is light but super warm with all those lofty yarns trapping all the air.
Whilst stretching out the edges of the shawl for blocking, a weak spot in the Shilasdair ripped open an edge. The moment was a little tense but after a few breaths and a bit of drying, it repaired just perfectly. Knitting is very forgiving.
Ahoy there dearest readers! It has been some time since we last met. I have been drifting upon the seas encountering Christmas, School Holidays and Back to School. I didn’t mean to be away so long but the CFS part of me was not quite up to anything beyond the basics. I found I had to give up the interwebs for a while just to manage. Time seems to have passed quickly but in a very slow way!
Let me catch you up with my making.
On my needles you can see I have almost finished another Montbretier shawl by Carol Feller from The Book of Haps (2016). This is my sole project and has been for some months. For a while there, my arms were too tired to get through a row but slowly, slowly I have almost made it to the end.
Whilst I have not been knitting much, I have been trying to do a little more cooking beyond the (almost) daily achievement of dinner. After Our Dear Boy harvested a basket of cumquats, I managed a batch of cumquat marmalade which I have loved since I used harvest cumquats as a child. Our lovely Italian neighbours shared with us how they eat cumquats, just the skin, raw, peeled away from the squishy bit. It is like a lolly, sweet and delicious. But my heart lies in marmalade.
I have also been fermenting sauerkraut. When we were in Germany five years ago, I discovered real, fresh sauerkraut. It is a wonderfully healthy thing to eat. Locally made, fresh sauerkraut is $15 AUD a jar, but a cabbage is only $3, so the economic inducement to make my own was fairly compelling and the process is super simple.
On my wheel, you can see I have begun spinning for my final project in the Spinning Certificate run the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria. It is a Polwarth and Alpaca blend that I made with hand carders for a 2ply lace weight woollen yarn. Despite everything, I have managed to keep going with the course and look forward to sharing my final project with you as it progresses.
Thank you for your emails and good wishes over the last few months. You have cheered me in ways that are difficult to express. You have shared your own experiences with chronic illness so as to encourage and reassure me. These emails have always been unexpected yet curiously timely. I feel I have been most fortunate to have such kind and gracious readers.
I continue to steadily improve in health and energy.
Finally I would like to introduce you to Our Dear Pup who came to live with us a few month ago. She is funny, cheeky and delightful company for us all. She is a yarn thief, a spinning homework destroyer and a fleece eater but now we know that, I plan accordingly.
I hope to be back here again soon but in the meantime perhaps would like to share with me what you have been up to?
I don’t buy much yarn at the moment. The stash seems to have mostly what I need. It is like a magical purse. No matter how much I seem to use, there is always something left. The projects are changing of course, as the yarn depletes. Cardigans and sweaters have been replaced with hats and socks. Here are three children’s beanies that the stash has given me.
I use a very simple pattern as my basic beanie for children. It has a cast on of 100 sts on 3.5 mm needles in 8ply. Rib 1 x1 then increase by 10% and change up to 4 mm needles, work up to the crown and decrease in intervals every other row. It is a perfect canvas for playing. I knitted one up with stripes, the other with the motifs I used in Colourful Day and another in the Siksak pattern.
You might recognise the fushia handspun and the Zealana Rimu merino and possum from those previous hats.
I finished these with a pom-pom flourish.
It is a pleasure to make useful things that I hope are also beautiful from the left overs of other projects. It seems to link and embed the knitting into all the other projects that have come before. The stash and the projects that come out of it, have the wonderful layered quality of an archaeological dig but the layers aren’t static, they flow and intertwine through the past and present and future. These are small things I know, barely significant perhaps. They belong to the curious, intimate world of the everyday and in this context, I think they do matter.
I feel a bit neglectful of my lovely gentleman. He rarely gets my knits. So here is some redress.
The design is Thendara by Stephen West.
The yarn is a discontinued Pear Tree yarn, 100% merino 4ply that I bought in bulk at the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show many years ago. I think I bought 1 kilo of grey. I cannot remember why. It is too soft and unstructured to make a cardigan from but it does make lovely baby clothes and shawls. It is quite bulky for a 4ply/fingering weight so it happily took to the 3.75 mm needles to make a firm but drapey fabric. To get my colour contrast, I over-dyed a single hank with some Earth Palette black. I just mixed the dye up, put in a plastic bag with the skein and left it out the back for a day. The black dye must have had a blue base as it just made the grey, darker and bluer.
Then, just lots of lovely straight up stripes, garter stitch and slipped stitches. I worked this without any modifications. It is a really excellent pattern and design. Ravelled here.
Out here, floating in the ocean, words are hard to find. They are like fishes, all around me in the water but they dart away whenever I need them. This difficulty finding words is one of the more curious symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and has a hazy physiological explanation where the fatigued brain doesn’t have enough processing power to find particular words or remember day to day details. The tireder or more distressed I am, the harder it is to find the words.
The lived experience is both frustrating and amusing. We have started keeping a list of the way I say things if I can’t find the right word.
- The wiping thing for a napkin
- The computer that finds things for the Satellite Navigation System (sat nav) in the car
- Liquid sugar for maple syrup
- When you are sick and go backwards for relapse
- The clothes outside for the laundry
- Meat covered in breadcrumbs for a schnitzel
My lovely man will often start listing words for me when he sees me struggling, then I can just pick the right one instead of finding it. But sometimes, it is like crazy charades with hand gestures.
Of the interesting things about this bizarre phenomenon is that it is only nouns that I loose, but not the same ones all the time. It seems to be just a lucky-dip in my brain at the moment.
Losing words is also much more likely to happen when I am talking rather than writing. But when I am writing especially on the computer I forget what I am trying to say half way through the sentence or I can’t seem to hold the meaning in a paragraph. That is because my short term memory is affected by the CFS (but not long term memory, so I can do OK on a trivia quiz!). Even simple posts need draft after draft after draft to catch the words and the meaning in my net.
Just as we have started to value the local as globalism has become omnipresent (see…I can find that word but not napkin!), words have become very precious to me since they became scarcer. I borrow books on words and read about writing which is funny because I forget what I read as soon as I put the book down! I did save a few lovely words to share with you though, from a book by Tiffany Watt Smith, called The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust (2015).
- Fago, an Ifaluk word for the love and compassion we feel towards someone coupled with a sense of sadness at their mortality.
- Kaukokaipuu, a Finnish word for the yearning for a distant land
- Ijirashii, a Japanese word for the sensation of being moved by seeing the underdog overcome the odds
My hope is that if I keep showing up for the words, keep looking for them and making space for them that they will eventually return to me. Till then, I can watch them swim around me and occasionally amuse my family.
Look! Something finished to share with you! The cardigan called is Ferris Wheel by Georgie Nicolson. I thought it was a simple, top-down, raglan cardigan pattern and maybe it still is but it really challenged me.
The pattern contains a huge number of sizes and options, some sections are sized by chest size and others by age and there’s an odd method of picking up the front stitches from the raglan. Although the directions are very clear, there are a lot of decisions to be made and coloured numbers to follow, plus lace, plus changing my yarn every other row to avoid colour change breaks as I was working with a semi-solid yarn. With so many things to think about, this project addled my brain at times.
The yarn is very lovely I think, soft, bouncy and a crazy, verdant shade of green. I would never pick this from a shade card but knew instantly it would thrill my daughter. It is a 5 ply Coongee Merino from a small local label called Hawthorne Cottage Yarns and I think it might be about 15 years old. I bought this yarn from a yarn garage sale a couple of years ago, a destash of monumental proportions from the estate of a prolific knitter and spinner by her daughter. She let all the knitters in her community know, sorted all the yarn, bagged it up into lots and then donated all the money raised to charity. Buying yarn never felt so good.
Ravelry details are here.
Crafting with Feminism is a new title from Quirk Books in the US, subtitled 25 Girl-Powered Projects to Smash the Patriarchy. It is by crafter Bonnie Burton whose previous work The Star Wars Craft Book is in our public library and has been borrowed a fair few times by our family. I was sent this book by Quirk Books for review. The opinions and prejudices which follow are all my own.
The first thing that struck me about Crafting with Feminism is that, whilst being freshly styled, the politics and projects have a curiously back-in-time quality to them. This is not a criticism, it just intrigues me as the book feels like it has come directly out of the third wave, feminist, DIY scene of the late nineties and early noughties, chock full of post-modern irony and pastiche. Projects such as Girl Band Cassette Business Card Holder are unequivocally retro and the loose, inclusive aesthetic of wonky cutting and uneven stitches works to further evoke that early DIY scene. Interesting this democratic aesthetic feels incredibly refreshing and innovative amidst the uber-schmick professionalism of the craft scene now.
Within that US-centric, third wave scene of the early noughties, crafting was often framed as a way to recapture the domestic from patriarchy and envalue traditionally feminine crafts within a youthful, alternative aesthetic. This style of feminism was young, playful, focused on body politics and breaking down the gender rules between the public and private spheres. It was raunchy, sassy and cyber savvy. Critics have also argued, the scene was overly white, privileged and ageist, firmly situating cool crafting as the antithesis of grandma’s crafting.
As soon as I began to feel that Crafting with Feminism was situated in that third wave scene, there was a part of me that wanted to dismiss it as trivial and flippant. I am a wee bit older than that wave, and my feminist awakening occurred at a very different time in the late eighties and early nineties in university when the prevailing concerns were about power and gender in language, and racism and privilege within the feminist movement. This was a time of rising corporate power and growing urgency in environmental activism and food politics. I can still remember the books we were reading: Woman Native Other: Writing Postcoloniality (1989) by Trihn T. Minh Hah, Cynthia Enloe’s, Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (1989) and Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India (1988). Feminism was earnest, serious business, but as a young, white, middle class woman, I didn’t feel particularly empowered, just guilty and overwhelmed.
So whilst I wanted to dismiss it, as I read on and engaged with the projects and the effusive joy of feminist making in Crafting with Feminism, I found myself embracing its energy and intention. The projects in Crafting with Feminism ARE playful and funny, ironic and extroverted, but they also form a very solid, engaged education in modern feminism, body acceptance and body sovereignty. The craft projects encourage free, unrestrained participation, joyful making, education and change through play. They marry powerful expressions with glitter and lace. In many ways, Crafting with Feminism acts like a primer for a youthful feminist awakening for the twenty somethings. There are even crafternoon menus exploring specific themes such as women’s history with project suggestions of such as Heroes of Feminism Finger Puppets, Queen Ring Bling and Grrrl Coat of Arms Banner. The book includes lists of feminist films to watch, significant feminist and feminist-craft books and a guide to using craft for change.
You won’t find any of that ‘this is not your grandma’s knitting’ rubbish in Crafting with Feminism, it is positive and celebratory. However, the book is very US focused without ever articulating that it is has a US focus. So whilst projects such as Strong Female Character Prayer Candles and Heroes of Feminism Finger Puppets are wonderfully witty yet educative projects, the women celebrated are almost all American and exclusively Western. Of course, the book suggestions are just a starting point and we are invited to make our own list of pop culture/historical heroines but I would have loved to have seen women from a broader range of cultures represented in the book. Similarly, I would have liked to see some international political issues represented in the projects, particularly around fashion, garment production and labour rights. This would have promoted a broader notion of sisterhood beyond the circle of friends you might craft with.
It is a cracker of a craft book, clear instructions, doable projects, non-specialist materials or skills. And despite my earnest baggage from an earlier time, I found that I really enjoyed this book. I wish I could have had a Feminist Killjoy Sash or Superheroine Wrist Cuffs in my twenties. I would have had a lot more fun and might have felt more able to be part of radical change. Crafting with Feminism is a beginning place, a place to get empowered, get educated and get connected with other women in readiness for transforming the wider world. Whilst I cannot see myself organising a craft party with my friends to stencil Pussy Power in glitter on my undies, I can certainly see myself crafting with my son and daughter in some age-appropriate versions of these projects. I see us demystifying periods and laughing over goggly eyes on Tampon Buddies, locating women in history in finger puppets and maybe even making the huggable uterus to celebrate puberty. And I really, really want to make the Vagina Tree Ornaments for Christmas. I think they are beautiful.
Who knew fun stuff could be radical and energising?
I explored a new knitting strategy in a previous Postcards at Sea post. This new practice of multiple (but not too many cast-ons is working well for me. Here is something that is finished!
This is Montbretia, the cover design for Kate Davies recent publication The Book of Haps (2016). It is designed by Carol Feller. As you can see, it as asymmetrical shape with quite a wide wingspan. It is extraordinarily comfortable, sitting on the shoulders securely as a shawl or wrapped around as a scarf.
Funnily enough, I didn’t buy this book for the shawls, I bought it for the historical essays by Kate Davies. They didn’t disappoint me. I fell in love with some of the shawls afterwards.
I used stashed yarns for my version. The grey is Australian Merino by Pear Tree Yarns, a 4 ply in soft grey that I picked up as a kilo bulk buy of discontinued yarn at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show at least 7 years ago. It is not a particularly well spun yarn, full of slubs and just not really sturdy enough but it was perfect for this project. The ultra marine blue is a discontined colour from Harris Tweed yarns that I got as a souvenir when we were in the UK a while ago. The other colours are all Jamieson and Smith oddments from stash.
My shawl doesn’t look quite the same as Carol Feller’s. There are two rather significant knitting-in-fog moments that shall now remain as an artifact of my long sea journey. The first is the split from the ultramarine blue to another shade dissected by the grey. When I got all my yarn together, I thought the 50 gram ball of Harris Tweed was actually 100 grams and set off confidently, only to run out, realise my error and resolve with another shade. It is a very forgiving design for accidents like this.
The second foggy moment occurs in the pink stripes at the edge. Between the slipped stitches section and the stripes, I put my pink yarn somewhere and couldn’t find it anywhere. I had to substitute with another shade. Several weeks after bind off I found the correct pink yarn in a random bag where it had no business being but I still can’t remember having put it there.
No matter, it is a lovely shawl, almost because of these moments rather than in spite of them!
Ravelry details are here.
Magazines are my new quiet companions. I didn’t really appreciate magazines before I became sick. There seemed little time to read them and mostly I would just read the headlines and quickly scan the pics whilst gulping down tea and call that relaxing. Tick, done!
Now I savour them. I read just one article at a time, every word. And then I just stop, stare out of the window and actually finish my tea. One magazine lasts me a long time now and I return to its pages again and again. I favour the printed ones over the e-versions, particularly those printed on matt paper. There is something about the material artefactness of paper and ink that appeals to me separately from the layout, images and information. Magazines seem to enhance the experience of reading for pleasure.
I especially like the ones that have only one or two projects inside. Too many patterns or tutorials just overwhelm me. Quilting magazines require a lie down afterwards. A single project, seems doable and I recently made the Rosemary and Olive Oil Gardeners Scrub from the PIP Australian Permaculture magazine.
I was a little doubtful about the scrub. You make it from salt, rosemary, lemon juice and zest and olive oil. It felt like it was cauterising my hands with acid when I was making it, every little cut and nick stung. But then, as a finished unguent, it is surprising mild and effective…magic. It took all of five minutes to make it as we had all the ingredients in the cupboard or the garden. Thrilled by such wizardry, I felt ready to finally get my Kimchi going with a recipe in Slow Living and may even make the extra strong shopping bags from pillow cases featured in an old issue of New Zealand crafty journal Extra Curricula.
I also got read my latest article on Gotland sheep in the fleshly version of Spin Off. It finally reached our fair shores packed with excitement.
How do magazines fit in with your life? Do you have any favourites to recommend?