Oh, there are so many things we should be doing…but sometimes things happen that are not procrastinations to be overcome or distractions to be ignored but digressions to be followed. I am practicing identifying and following the digressions, the little trickles of enthusiasm that lead ultimately to the sea of creativity, inspiration and life flow.
Here are a couple of my wanderings amidst the lists and directed activities.
About a month ago, our family visited the Ballarat Show and had the great fortunate to be just in time for a marvellous shearing display. The sheep were Corriedales, but Corriedales like none I had encountered before…the fleece was finer than fine. The farmer passed handfuls of fleece to the children watching. My children automatically passed theirs to me without disturbing the lock structure in the slightest (yes, well trained minions). The fleece looked like Merino but I knew I was definitely looking at Corriedale sheep. The farmer told me, he was breeding for fineness as those fleeces get a better price and at 26 micron, the fleeces were matching the lower end of Merino!
The yarn is elastic like Merino but easier to spin, more like Polwarth. It blocked beautifully. If I wanted to make a fine, heirloom shawl, I wouldn’t worry about Merino, I would track down that farmer and get some of that Corriedale. It was superb.
My next little foray didn’t look so auspicious. I had ordered a bag of ‘fine white alpaca’ from a secondary school in Melbourne where a friend teaches. They raise alpacas and were selling their annual shearing at $10 a bag. I thought a bag of white alpaca would be handy for blending and if it was full of chaff or really coarse, well $10 is not a big risk. The fleece I got was from an alpaca called Skywalker and looked like this.
If you are an alpaca newbie like me, you might be a little underwhelmed at this stage especially if you saw it in the bottom of a feed sack. I was expecting short crimpy staples, not matted, lanky hair. Well…it turns out this is Suri alpaca, not the more common Huacaya. Suri fibre is long, lustrous like silk and fine like cashmere but alpacas like to roll and Suri fibre gets matted with dirt. It is the ultimate diamond in the rough. After washing, and washing, I spun up a soft, woollen two ply laceweight.
It feels just wonderful and the colour is a beautiful, dusty beige. At eight times warmer than wool, this would make an incredible light, warm layer in winter. Unlike the Corriedale, the Suri has no elasticity so blocks and drapes amazingly well as lace. I also want to try combing and spinning from top, for a true worsted that highlights the lustre. It is so lovely, I can think of several projects already I’d like to spin this Suri for.
Shearing in Victoria seems to start in mid October and run through December. Some farms run open days where you can pick out the fleeces you want, others send out fleeces by the kilo in the post and others take orders prior to shearing.
I’ve had a special fleece on order for months and months. During the Spinning Certificate course, we were fortunate to sample many different kinds of sheep breeds and one fleece in particular really sang to me. It was a Finn x Corriedale fleece that really hit the sweetness note between softness and structure, lushness and durability.
That small sample became socks. Both the spinning and the knitting were a sublime experience and really wanted more time with this crossbreed. This week I was able to visit Fairfield Finns, near Bacchus Marsh and pick up my long awaited fleece.
Maureen Shepherd, the aptly named farmer of this flock had set aside two crossbreed fleeces for me and I picked the one that had the more open crimp, the more Finn-like qualities. Here, it is in all its glory on the wool table, a 3/4 Finn 1/4 Corriedale fleece. It is a wonderful fleece, not a hint of tenderness, springy and clean despite being uncoated. Maureen prepares all these fleeces beautifully, there is not a lock of lower quality nor a second cut to be seen. Every fleece is unrolled for your inspection.
I do think Fairfield Finns produce excellent fleeces. Their fleeces win many awards at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show and as Maureen is also a spinner, knitter and weaver, she knows what handspinners want in a fleece and these sheep are bred for softness, colour and handle.
This is Ben, the bottlefed sheep who came over to greet us on our way out. He is a real charmer, beguiling our group with whispers and kisses. I know the spinner who bought his lovely fleece, she got to meet him a week earlier, person to sheep. It is always a thrill to spin from someone you have met. I am not sure who my fleece came from, but I stood on the earth that raised it and that feels like a great gift.
I also bought the other half of that black fleece you can see in the bag there.
My plans for the white fleece are to wash it by the lock, comb it and spin the best darn 3 ply sportsweight I can, dye it naturally and then transform all that preparation into a cardigan with lots of twisted stitches and travelling stitches. And when you say it like that, it sounds like a doddle, belying the hundred or so hours that lie within such a project.
So thank you to all the farmers who look after their sheep and their land to keep bringing us an infinitely useful resource, that with our skills, time and the simplest of tools and processes, we can transform into warm, durable garments.
If you are local and you like the sound of Finnsheep, there are still fleeces available and an Open Day is planned for April.
This is a lovely variegated Shropshire fleece that comes from Shropshire Woollies, a sheep farm in the Strathbogie Ranges of Victoria. You can see there are three separate colours here, a dark brown, a light silver grey and a mid grey.
I purchased a kilo of this as part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project which explores alternatives to superwash merino and nylon blends for sock knitting. Like many downs fleeces, Shropshire resists felting so may be machine washable, making it a good candidate for sock spinning. I will talk more about Shropshire fleeces in a subsequent post but right now I want to chat about washing it.
Recently, I have become a lock washing convert but I wasn’t sure if that would be a useful method in the case of a downs fleece where the staples are blocky and sit firmly together in bricks. I tried washing the dark brown by the lock, row upon row laid out in a laundry bag and secured with safety pins. To compare, I packed another laundry bag loosely with fleece and then scoured both in the same way.
I use the hottest water I can get out of the hot tap and Handy Andy, an Australian and New Zealand floor cleaner (basically detergent with a little ammonia added). This is followed by a hot rinse and then a spin in washing machine.
Unlike, longer stapled locks like Merino, Corriedale and Gotland, I found there was no advantage in washing the Shropshire by lock. The lock structure of the loose fleece in the bags was perfectly preserved in big clumps with no fluffing or lock separation. In the photo above, the top locks were washed separately and the bottom locks were washed loose as in the laundry bag. You can see there is very little difference.
Like the complete nerd I am, I have begun recording fleece weight loss during scouring (just because it’s interesting). The Shropshire lost 30% of weight during scouring compared with 20% of a Border Leicester x Merino fleece I washed recently.
Sometimes, knitting is divination. Like casting the bones or a tarot spread, many things can be read in a piece of knitting. Not things to come but more Jungian type symbolic meanings giving deeper understanding of things that are.
The pattern is Balnarring by Whisky Bay Woollens, a pattern collection inspired by Victorian beaches. The yarn is Shilasdair Luxury 4ply from the Isle of Skye, in the UK, a blend of merino, alpaca and cashmere in the natural shade, Cloud, held together with my own handspun, a 2ply woollen spun, fingering weight from a Finnsheep fleece from Fairfield Finns. Project notes are raveled here.
- Whilst we alone make the stitches, our work is entangled in the lives of others. Many hands were instrumental in this making: a knitting friend created the pattern, a dear friend held my hand after a long hiatus from knitting, helping me decide on a project and choose the yarn. She found me another skein of Shilasdair when I ran out of yarn. A spinning friend generously gave me her Finnsheep fleece samples when I ran out of my hand spun yarn.
- Whilst we think that we travel in a straight line, life is circular and we come back to the same place many times. The cowl is knit from end to end and grafted to make a circle. The first section was begun in our old neighbourhood in Melbourne, growing inch by inch through the selling process and the moving, to finally finish in Ballarat, but without close inspection, you can’t tell where it begins or ends for life is a great circle.
- Deal carefully with the past or it shadows the present. Way back when I first carded the Finnsheep for an earlier project, I didn’t clean my tools properly. There was a small amount of black alpaca left on a carder. Years later, the alpaca has created a shadow on the otherwise clear white of cowl. It doesn’t seem a flaw though, just a reading point, another marked stone.
- New challenges can be uncomfortable but persistence brings mastery and flow. When I began this project, with the added layers of complexity that selling our home and moving had brought to my CFS fogged brain, I was struggling with multiple concepts in knitting. So I chose an unshaped article with an interesting stitch pattern. For the longest time, I had to follow the chart stitch by stitch but eventually I learned the pattern and understood the movement of it. Without looking at the chart, just looking at the stitches themselves, I could knit confidently, understanding which stitch was required.
- We have all that we need, trust to that. I didn’t really plan this project, I just knew I needed to cast on and knit something through the relocation process. I didn’t estimate yardage properly, just bought a couple of skeins and grabbed my Finnsheep leftovers from the Shackleton project. Despite running out of yarn multiple times, spinning more yarn twice, needing more fleece and more millspun yarn, at the point required in the pattern, I simply ran out of yarn with no hope of more. There were no more skeins of Shilasdair to be had, no more of that fleece to be had. I had enough to finish but no more.
Before I got sick, before I started my thesis, I bought a big Gotland fleece from the Granite Haven Open Day. These Open Days are wonderful events, the shearing shed is stacked full of beautiful fleeces, the smell of lanolin is intoxicating, the eucalypts shimmer and the place is packed with excited spinners, knitters and felters.
My intention was to spin up enough yarn to make the Abrams’s Bridge Cardigan by Mer Stevens from Pom Pom Quarterly Autumn 2015 which I have had my eye on well, since Autumn 2015! Stevens used Heirloom Romney by Fancy Tiger Crafts for this design.
The yarn is worsted weight yarn with a woolly loft made from long wool Romney sheep known for their lustre. The Gotland seemed a good choice for producing a yarn that would have similar qualities to that used by the designer.
I sampled some different approaches and worked out what I wanted. To get the loft, I flick carded the Gotland locks and spun them from the fold with a short forwards draw letting some twist into the drafting zone. I plied these a little firmer than I usually would as I want this to be a durable cardigan. For geeky details, the singles were spun on an 8:1 whorl and 2 singles plied on the 11.5:1 whorl at a rate of 2 inches per treadle and I have ended up with a yarn around 6 WPI and 6 TPI.
Granite Haven Open Day is this weekend, just near Euroa. Check out their facebook for details. Go and get some lovely Gotland!
I wish I could spin and knit faster. There are so many things I want to try out for the Tuff Socks Naturally Project. This project is a collaborative project exploring durable, non nylon, non superwash alternatives to the standard sock yarns and fibres around at the moment. It is an open project, so please join in at anytime with socks, ideas or fibre suggestions.
The Remade Spindle Socks constitute the first pair of socks for this project and I have just finished spinning for my second sock, like the first but with mohair reinforcing. This pair of socks will knitted from the same Corriedale x Ryeland x Finn fleece from Lucinvale Fleeces, spun into a 3 ply worsted sock (high twist) yarn. I was pleased with the spinning but I needed to be more consistent in the plying as I haven’t got quite the high twist I wanted throughout the skein. The difference between the two pairs is that these will be reinforced at heels and toes with a mohair laceweight yarn that I have spun from 5th clip mohair from Mohair Rare.
I bought this mohair to experiment with spinning embroidery floss as it retains all the lovely lustre of kid mohair but is coarser. That might be an appropriate choice for decorative embroidery floss but it may be too coarse for sock reinforcing but that will be another thing to find out. Lill Roberts from Mohair Rare is always on the lookout for uses for the fibre of her older girls as she doesn’t practice culling, so it is a good experiment to try. Because I have used the same base yarn for both socks, the addition of reinforcing in one pair should provide a clear comparison of wear rates.
I prepared the fleece by combing and whilst this is quite a time consuming preparation, it does speed up the spinning enormously and I have been experimenting with ways of speeding up the worsted draw to further reduce spinning times. I know Mary over at Local and Bespoke has drumcarded her Suffolk, silk and kid mohair blend and this is something I would like to explore further as a way of speeding up the whole sock process. I have seen drumcarded batts rolled parallel to the fibres for worsted spinning instead of the usually perpendicular roll used for woollen spinning, so I can try this with the next batch of fleece.
Since I last posted, I have been wearing my Corriedale x Ryeland x Finn remade socks as much as possible, which I confess has stalled a little since the weather has got warmer. Spring and Summer in Australia, are probably not ideal times to be exploring hand spun, hand knit socks but when the muse strikes, we must follow. I have been logging hours of wear and hand washes for the socks and will do this for all the socks I make. In this way, I can track wear over time.
I also made a swatch sample and have been machine washing this with my regular loads. The swatch is up to its third machine wash and I am excited to report that although the stitch count has tightened by a couple of stitches over 10cm, the row count has remained the same. This is remarkable for a woollen swatch and shows how the Ryeland qualities dominate this particular fleece. My success here led me to purchase some pure Ryeland fleece which should arrive soon and I will discuss the wonders of Ryeland fleece in a subsequent post.
Remember, Tuff Socks Naturally is an open project, anyone can join in. You can share your insights and experiments too, in comments on this blog or on Mary’s blog, Local and Bespoke, or with any of us on Instagram: @rebeccaspindle, @localandbespoke or @adelemoon using hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.
Thank you all so much for your enthusiastic response to my recent remaking conundrum. I have spent the last decade occasionally wondering what I should do with this beautiful sweater made by my dear late friend for her son in the late sixties.
But with your suggestions prompting either ideas or realisations of the deeper emotional constraints around this remaking project, I think I finally have clear plan. Since the execution of this plan will probably take me some time, I thought I better share the idea now rather than leave you all wondering for months.
As a result of thinking through your suggestions I realised:
- No amount of altering was going to make me happy to wear this garment.
- My friend’s actual stitches were precious to me, more than just the motifs or the yarn. Unravelling was not going to be emotionally possible.
- I wanted to display her work in some way not just store it, waiting for a time it might be useful again.
- More than being a sweater, this article was fabric. This opened the possibilities of what it might become.
- The colour had to change, it is hard to look after and doesn’t fit my wardrobe.
So, this beautiful, currently unworn sweater is going to become the biggest tote bag I can make, something I can take to fibre shows and workshops where my friend’s work will be amongst folks who will most appreciate her skill and labour.
I will dye the sweater to match some tartan wool fabric from a skirt I have been saving for almost as long as the sweater. The sweater back will become the bag front, which I will stitch to a backing fabric and reinforce to support the stitches. The bag will be lined and have lots of pockets and zip pouches inside. The sweater arms will become the bag strap, backed with a durable, supportive fabric.
I hope that both articles will honour my friend’s work and our friendship.
You can follow my Slow Fashion October 2017 adventures here.
My recent sock remaking project coalesced a number of thoughts for me around durability and sustainability, particularly of socks.
Socks are such a humble item, trod on daily and washed over and over again. They work harder than any other hand knitted articles in my wardrobe. It is hard to find a wholesome commercial sock yarn though. Some of my socks are made of yarns that tell me they are wool but with the processing and added nylon, hardly feel like anything wool-like at all. Other more simply processed sock yarns, beautifully dyed yarns have felted in accidental machine washes, rendering hours of work and resources useless, suitable only for composting or sticking under chair legs or making starry bunting.
There seems to be a problem with the yarns commonly available for sock knitting. They are either made from inappropriate, non durable fibres or are processed in ways that are resource intensive and harmful to the environment. Often they are both!
The current surfeit of superwash merino/nylon sock yarns is the pinnacle of this phenomenon. A very fine, fragile fibre is taken vast distances, treated with masses of chemicals in an environmentally damaging process prohibited by most countries to make it machine washable and a synthetic fibre that will never biodegrade is added to strengthen the original fibre’s innate weakness so it can do a job it doesn’t have the capacity for. It seems a bit mad really.
Finn x Corriedale handknit anklets, Low Tide by Whisky Bay Woollens…hand wash only!
So, together with spinning comrades Mary and Adele, I am setting off on a spinning and knitting adventure, exploring natural, local, more sustainable alternatives to the current superwash and nylon sock yarns and fibres. We are going to explore local sheep breed fleeces like Shropshire and Suffolk and Ryeland, known for their resistance to fulling and felting. We are going to experiment with using mohair and silk to reinforce heels and toes, and to refine our spinning techniques to maximise durability without sacrificing comfort.
We are not the only ones interested in a more sustainable sock. Could durable, natural socks be the new knitting zeitgeist? Melbourne sock designer, Clare Devine from Knit Share Love has just set off on her own journey, exploring millspun alternatives to nylon boosted sock yarns. Similarly Mrs M’s Curiousity Cabinet has been podcasting about her forays into local origin, millspun alternatives to mainstream sock yarns in the UK. Ravelry abounds with boards of fellow sustainable sock voyagers, spinners and knitters all investigating how to make long lasting, sustainable socks.
Darned sock at a classic wear point, the yarn is an unidentified superwash ‘wool’ and nylon blend
Tuff Socks Naturally is an open project, anyone can join in. We will be posting on our blogs and on Instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally. You can share your insights and experiments too, in comments on this blog or on Mary’s blog, Local and Bespoke, or with any of us on Instagram: @rebeccaspindle, @localandbespoke or @adelemoon. Clare is going to use this tag too, so her adventurers and ours can share their discoveries. What local sheep breeds do you have that might have useful characteristics for durable socks? What millspun yarns can you find? What spinning methods can you use?
The sorts of information I am going to be recording for my own interest and of course to share with you are fibre type, source and origin, spinning preparation and methods including number of plies, twists per inch and wraps per inch, sock heel types and sock wear patterns. I am still working out how I might test wear but I think I might try two methods.
- repeated machine washing sample swatches and recording any fulling/felting/shrinkage
- recording hourly wear for experimental socks and comparing wear over a series of months.
We will all probably have different things we are interested in exploring and different ways methods of testing wear. This is not a science experiment, more of a journey of knowledge and skill improvement, so we are not compelled to be too rigourous in our methods!
You can read Mary’s introduction to Tuff Socks Naturally at Local and Bespoke.
So, into the sock wilderland my friends!
I never wear this beautiful sweater. But is it a candidate for remaking?
This sweater was given to me about ten years ago by my late, very dear next-door-neighbour. She had knitted it for her eldest son in the seventies and when he had outgrown it, she stored it carefully away. She gave it to me as she knew I loved to knit and wear woollens. It will be her birthday this week, she would be around 90, so it is very timely to be considering her beautiful work.
I have worn it camping a few times but it is really too big for me. It is also too small for my partner. It is also not a colour that I would ever wear as a large block. So here is the conundrum:
- I can store it and preserve my friend’s knitting but this takes up space and wastes the useful potential of her work.
- I can give it away to someone who fits the sweater but I think if I actually felt I could do this, I would have done so already.
- I could chart the cable patterns in the sweater and then unravel and reknit the sweater into a garment that fits me, incorporating the original motifs. This would be undoing my friend’s work but would honour the materials and her design choices. I would be knitting with the same yarn she did. But her sweater would not exist anymore.
What do you think? How does remaking engage with memory and sentiment? Does remaking add to the life story of a garment or destroy part of it?
The problem with these socks is twofold. Firstly, the cast off around the cuffs is too tight making them difficult to pull up and stay up.
Secondly, I spun these socks early in my spinning life, not understanding that I needed more twist and more density in the fabric to make these socks durable. The yarn is simply too fragile to be walked on much. I have mended them frequently but there is little to hold the mending stitches. You can see the problem around the heel particularly.
These socks are very precious to me. They are spindle spun and have many stories and memories attached to them. I wrote about these socks two years ago in a post called Slow Socks. Have a read and then you might understand why I keep them despite not being able to wear them.
But it is silly to store them, what they really need is reknitting from the ankle down and a new cuff.
First, I needed yarn, something strong and durable, and to be true to the origin of the socks, I wanted the yarn to be handspun. So I combed some Corriedale x Ryeland x Finn from Lucinvale Spinning Fleeces, South Australia which I had bought at the Guild. Reading only the Finn part of the label and seeing the beautiful gray variation in the fleece, I had expected a coloured Finnsheep fleece and was so disappointed with the feel after washing that I just put it away. But during the Spinning Certificate, I brought it as contribution to the felting study exploring which fibres full/felt. It didn’t felt and I suddenly saw this fleece in different light. I went back and looked at it again, researched Ryeland, and realised I had a wonderful crimpy, crunchy sock yarn waiting to be spun.
After combing and dizzing, I spun up a tight but balanced three ply worsted sock yarn. Then I cut off the sock at the ankle, picked up the stitches, shifted the leg increases to the inside to change the placement of the heel stitches to less worn stitches and reknitted the foot.
Then I unpicked my cuff cast off and reknitted a cuff and cast off using Jen’s Suprisingly Stretchy Bind Off. I used all my spun yarn on the one sock, so I have to spin some more to do the other sock. But I am very close to a pair of wearable, durable handspun socks which preserve the original spindle-spun-Jillybean-Blue-Faced-Leicester-travel-memento-yarn-and-knitting.
I count this as a successful remaking. How are your Slow Fashion October projects going?