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 | 35 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: , , , , , | 33 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

A Little Laundry on the Prairie

As I have mentioned at various times on this blog, Our Dear Girl loves the Little House on the Prairie books. These are the recollections of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pioneering childhood in the Midwest US in the latter part of the nineteenth century. As we were reading These Happy Golden Years (1943) for bedtime reading recently, we came across a description of Laura brushing and sponging her clothes, to prepare them for another week of teaching school. This image caused me to pause. I don’t think I have ever brushed or sponged any item of clothing ever. I wash them, mostly in the washing machine, often when they are not even actually dirty, maybe just sweaty or smoky. That single line of text got me thinking about laundry practices, our relationship to our clothing and the changes to both over time.


Lilly Martin Spencer, The Jolly Washerwoman, 1851, image from Hood Museum of Art

In a newspaper column last year, domestic historian Ruth Goodman described the washing line as an invention of coal fires. Prior to coal fires, people used wood ash to remove grease from clothing, rinsed it in the river and hung it on bushes to dry. With the advent of coal fires (producing no wood ash), people required soap and hot water to remove grease. Laundry now took place in the home, close to boilers and fires and needed lines to dry the washing away from the dirty ground. Similarly, sociologist Elizabeth Shove has explored how laundry technologies and ideas of cleanliness have changed over time. In the 1500s, folks changed their shirt as an alternative to washing their body as clothes were seen to act as sponges. Nowadays, we wash our clothing and ourselves frequently to be rid of body smells or emanations which are all associated with dirtiness, associating the perfume of laundry detergents with freshness and cleanliness.

These changes have implications for resource use. Whilst technological innovations in home laundering have decreased washing temperatures, water use has increased exponentially. Shove argues that sustainable resource management does not reside in an individual’s commitment to minimising water use and energy use in the laundry but rather in changing the idea of what is normal practice for everyone. That means changing notions of cleanliness and transforming laundry technologies. The impact of technology can be seen in differences between European water consumption where front loaders are common and the higher rates of water consumption in the US where top loaders are more prevalent. Australia is transitioning culturally from top loader washing machines as the norm to front loaders becoming more commonplace and this is likely to have contributed to the reduction in domestic water consumption.

1200px-Washing_MachineWashing Machine, 2009, Matthew Paul Argall, image from Wikicommons

Washing clothes is just so easy now isn’t it? Gathering up the clothes from the laundry basket, you don’t even need to separate whites and coloureds if you do a cold wash. They are bundled into the washing machine, buttons are pressed and you can go and do something else until it is ready to be hung on the line or transferred to a dryer. I hand wash my woollens, and soak the occasional white thing but everything else goes into the washing machine without a thought. I personally don’t control the amount of water I am using. I don’t walk to a river. I don’t pump it from the well or even turn the taps to fill the tub. When I use the washing machine, whilst I can hear the sounds of water rushing and sluicing, I don’t even see it being used. I am quite alienated from the actual process of washing. My laundry culture is centred on the washing machine. Whilst I can buy a machine that uses less water, unless my ideas of what needs washing change or I utilise other methods of laundering (such as airing, brushing, spot cleaning), then I am still using lots of water and energy.

And then, something else we read in our Laura book, made me realise that along with the ease of washing and my contemporary ideas on what constitutes cleanliless, my washing frequency was also being determined by my relationship with the clothes themselves, the quantity of them, the fabrics they were made from and the way in which they had been manufactured.

So let us meet up with Laura again for a moment and another paragraph we wondered over at bedtime. It is an unusually detailed (for this author) description of a dress.

Then carefully over all [the bustle and under petticoats] she buttoned her best petticoat, and over all the starched petticoats she put on the underskirt of her new dress. It was of brown cambric, fitting smoothly around the top over the bustle, and gored to flare smoothly down over the hoops. At the bottom, just missing the floor was a twelve-inch-wide flounce, bound with an inch-wide band of plain brown silk. The poplin was not plain poplin, but striped with an openwork silk stripe.

Then over this underskirt and her starched white corset cover, Laura put on the polonaise. Its smooth, long sleeves fitted her arms perfectly to the wrists, where a band of the plain silk ended them. The neck was high, with a smooth band of the plain silk around the throat. The polonaise fitted tightly and buttoned all down the front with small round buttons covered with the plain brown silk. Below the smooth hips it flared and rippled down and covered the top of the flounce on the under-skirt. A band of the plain silk finished the polonaise at the bottom.  p.163

The detail given here is significant. This is an important piece of clothing. Like many folks during this time, Laura didn’t own many dresses, one Sunday dress, a dress for teaching school during the week and an old dress for chores. This was Laura’s first grown up dress, a symbol of adulthood and growing independence. She was 15 and had worked for the local seamstress every Saturday for three months to afford the 10 yards of brown poplin fabric ordered especially from Chicago. Her mother had hand-stitched the entire dress as they did not own a treadle sewing machine, although these were becoming an increasingly common part of the home economy.


A Day Dress with Curasse Bodice, 1874-7, Gloucester Museum, illustration by Janet Arnold (1993) Patterns of Fashion 2

Protecting clothes was important as you really didn’t have many. Ruth Goodman points out that a washing line was a status symbol in the nineteenth century. It meant you had more than one set of clothes. The laundry was hard work and probably all but impossible in the winter so Laura would have only washed what was necessary, probably undergarments and pinafores or aprons. These pinafores and aprons protected over garments from getting dirty and worn and thus from the washing experience. Washing itself was hard on clothes at this time with all that boiling, rubbing, mangling and ironing. You could not have just put the brown poplin with the silk edging in wash very easily.  By sponging, brushing and protecting, the life of clothes could be maximised.

Most of what we bundle into the wash are robust cottons and synthetics sewn on industrial machines. If they don’t wear well, pill, rip or discolour, it doesn’t matter, we have plenty more. In Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline explores how clothing has become so cheap, so easily acquired, that we don’t really value, attend or repair individual pieces any more. As a society, we are distanced from the effort required to cut clothing and stitch them together and divested of any compelling need to make clothes last.

Many home sewers have posted about their growing awareness of the manufacturing processes and labour practices implicit in modern clothing as they learn to sew their own clothes. Doing-it-yourself can reveal the stages and labour and skills required to construct garments. It can make the garments and their making visible and significant.

Home sewing also changes your relationship to the washing machine. I have noticed that I wash my homemade things much less than my shop bought ones. I don’t want to damage them or wear them out too much by the washing process. I worry about my hand-stitched facings or too-narrow seam allowances being roughly used in the machine and fraying. The process of making the garment by hand, has invested me in its life significantly more than when the traces their maker and making are all but obscured by their sheer number and cheapness on the shop rack.

I never thought about my laundry practices beyond cold washing and line drying much before. The everydayness of it, can make it seem unimportant and invisible. However, 23% of domestic water consumption in Australia, and  15 – 40%  in American households occurs in the laundry. It is not just laundry inventions and attitudes to cleanliness that define our experience of laundry (and associated resource use) but also our relationship with our clothes, their materials and their manufacture and how these elements interrelate with each other. I am certainly not nostalgic for washing in the river or weaving my entire family’s wardrobe but historical and cultural elements that make our contemporary experience of laundry fascinate me.

What is your experience of laundry? Do you treat your handmade clothes/sweaters differently to your bought ones?



Arnold, Janet (1993) Patterns of Fashion 2: English Women’s dresses and their construction c.1860-1940, Drama Books

Burman, Barbara (ed) (1999) The Culture of Sewing: Gender, Consumption and Home Dressmaking, Berg

Cline, Elizabeth (2012) Over-dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Penguin

Goodman, Ruth (2014) Why You Should Ditch the Tumble Dryer and Use Your Washing Line, The Guardian, 8 August

Shove, Elizabeth (2003) Converging Conventions of Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience, Journal of Consumer Policy, 26:4, 395-418

Wilder, Laura Ingalls (1971) first published 1943, These Happy Golden Years, Harper Trophy


06. March 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: sew | Tags: , , , | 42 comments

Spinning Certificate Day One

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Day One of the Spinning Certificate at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria.  The Certificate is a rigorous grounding in a broad range of spinning techniques in order to design and produce yarns for specific purposes.

I was so excited the night before it started, I kept waking up in the night time, afraid I had over slept.

It was even more exciting to be there, amongst twenty or so other spinners all buzzing with anticipation and good will. Some students had travelled for a couple of hours from the country to attend. The course convener and principle teacher is Carmel Hanna who is an exceptionally experienced teacher. Every time I have said to someone associated with the Guild that I learned to spin there, they have asked me ‘Did Carmel teach you?’. She didn’t, though I had a lovely teacher. The answer to my negative is always the same, ‘Oh, that’s a shame’. Well, now I am learning from Carmel and a whole line up of spinning specialists!

IMG_2548As part of the course, which is assessed, we are required to build a folio which will include information on various techniques and skills, fiber samples, mini skeins and knitted swatches. As you know, I love a bit of project documentation so I am quite looking forward to this part. We also need to present a significant work that reflects our learning. I am dreaming big at this stage but will work towards restraint. Lest we be overwhelmed by the pace, we are assigned a mentor, an experienced spinner who will support our learning journey over the next year.

After the necessary introductions and explanations of the way the course will run, the Guild president Tricia Costello led the spindle spinning unit. It was such a treat to hear someone speak so passionately about spindle spinning. I learned how to spin my own leader instead of using a commercial thread; Andean plying; spinning supported in a bowl; and, using a woollen long draw with spindle.

20160214_140349Funnily enough, when I mentioned proudly to a good spinner friend who is much, much more experienced than I that I had just learned how to spin woollen on a spindle, she said kindly but in a slightly bewildered way, ‘Isn’t woollen long draw on a spindle, just the same as on the wheel?’. Well, yes, it is, exactly the same but for me it was a bit of an epiphany and after her response I needed to think about why.

I learned to spin on the spindle in a worsted style, before I even knew what worsted was. I held my hands out high and concentrated on drawing out a small section of fibre and then letting in some twist. Inch by inch, I drew off fibre and let in twist, making a smooth single. I thought this was how you did spindle spinning.

Last year, I tried woollen draw for the first time on the wheel. And I have been practicing consistently since. At the same time I kept spindle spinning in the same way as I had always done. Then, Tricia demonstrated the use of a supported spindle which was primarily developed to spin short fibres woollen style. I mimicked her hand positions, twirling the spindle with one hand and drawing out the fibre with the other and realised the movements felt familiar. Oh, I am woollen spinning! Then, I tried woollen spinning on my top whorl spindle. Oh, wow! I am woollen spinning! Did you see that? I am woollen spinning!!! Yes folks, I realised the bleeding obvious, woollen spinning on the spindle is the same as on the wheel. I had assumed that spindle spinning was different to wheel spinning but I hadn’t even been conscious that I thought that. So, I really did learn how to spin woollen on spindle!


Intensive study like this, offers us many opportunities to gain insights into ways of doing things that we have come to take for granted. It brings our awareness to our practices, prompting us to ask why do we do things in this way and to consider other ways of doing things. It seems that for me, this Certificate is going to be all about spinning mindfully, with purpose and intention.

Any epiphanies in your crafty life?



26. February 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , | 9 comments

Malabrigo Jagger

I received this beautiful yarn for my birthday.

20160104_190324It is a laceweight single dyed a most beautiful indigo blue called Tuareg. It is 100% baby Merino from Malabrigo from sheep raised in northern Uruguay. They are a family owned company based in the same region as the co-operative Manos del Uruguay. Their dyeing and processing utilises envioromental technologies to reduce water, chemical use and dye waste. Exchanging Fire wrote a very interesting post several years ago comparing the two Uruguayian yarn companies.

IMG_2356I searched around for quite some time for an appropriate pattern for this yarn. I was considering a small Boo Knits lace shawl but these really are very very lacey and I am not sure that is really my style. Then Knit British shared the Jagger pattern by Katya Frankel on her Instagram feed and I knew at once this was the shawl for this yarn.

IMG_2377I cast on several times around New Year. This laceweight single is very delicate and I broke my cast on after several rows just stretching it out to look at! Then I got confused by the pattern when I used stitch markers to show the repeat. It is one of those patterns which shifts slightly every row so the stitch markers just led me astray. For such a simple pattern, it took a surprising number of false starts till I began to knit with ease.

IMG_2364The shawl is worked from the lace border to the neck and employs a really nifty edge decreasing technique and stretchy bind-off.  Ravelry details are here.

IMG_2390The shawl was quick and straightforward. It lost quite a bit of dye in its first wash but the rinse was clear. The blocking was easy and made a much larger shawlette than I had thought it would make as I was knitting.

IMG_2360Yarn gifts are most wonderfully pleasurable…in the receiving, the anticipation of planning, the knitting and the wearing. The knitter who gave me the yarn is now making her own Jagger, so the original gift has now become intertwined with that lovely mutual intimacy that friends can share in their making.


20. February 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , | 24 comments

Spindling Free

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


In the park and after dark, spindling free

Spindling is useful and fun you will see

Making good use of the fleece that we spin

Spinning for socks you can put your feet in

Spindlers are mobile, they spin anywhere

Standing or walking or using a chair

In the park and after dark, spindling free

Spindlers are increasingly common to see

People they notice us, but pretend not to see

Under their noses, a spindler may be

We spindle by night and we spindle by day

Watching the kids while we’re spinning away

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

Sing and spindle free my friends, spindle free!

12. February 2016 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , | 23 comments

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