Natural Gradient Alpaca Shawl Kit

For some time now, quietly and slowly, I’ve been developing a series of spinning kits that I hope will make local fibres more accessible to spinners. I will be releasing my first kit at the Artisans Textile Festival in Bendigo 20-22 July.

The Natural Gradient Alpaca Shawl Kit celebrates the wonderful natural colours of local alpaca. This kit contains all the fibre you need to make a beautiful ombre shawl. The fibre has been picked, washed, weighed, blended and drum carded to create five graded batts from rusty chocolate to soft almond, with nothing left to do except enjoy your spinning.

One of things that can put spinners off alpaca is the giant bags of fleece that you can end up with. If you want to work with colour, there are multiple bags and voluminous amounts of fleece to contend with plus significant wastage, washing and sorting.  It can be overwhelming for someone who just wants to give alpaca a try. It is my hope that kits such as these can enable spinners to try a variety of local fibres in a supported, accessible way.

To guide your spinning efforts and ensure you end up with a useful yarn, the kit is accompanied by a handy booklet that contains information about alpaca fibre, provenance, spinning tips and even a guide to choosing the perfect knitting pattern.

There’s space to write down notes about your yarn so you can remember what you did for next time.  There are simple guidelines for spinning the alpaca as well as specific technical information about the yarn I spun, so whether you are an intuitive spinner or a tech nerd, you will find your sweet spot with this kit.

I knit up a small sample with only 100g but the kit contains more fibre, so the shawl would be bigger too. I used Evelyn Clark’s Shetland Triangle with the alpaca spun into a 2 ply woollen fingering weight. The drape, the slow fade and the open lace are just scrumptious. Details of the shawl are also on Ravelry.

If you are a maker concerned about your environmental impact, please be assured that all the alpaca in these kits is local to Victoria, has been processed in-house (literally!) in Ballarat and and contains no dyes/bleach/treatments of any kind other than biodegradable, earth-safe detergent. All the fibre waste from these kits is recycled into dog beds by another maker. The carbon footprint is low.

The Artisans Textile Festival runs in conjunction with the Australian Sheep and Wool Show weekend. It’s located at the North Bendigo Bowls Club, just a couple of minutes away from the Showground itself, with a host of textile vendors. You will find my kits on the My Spin on Things stall, a wonderland of fibre supplies. I will be there in person on the Saturday.

Perhaps I will see you there?

12. July 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , | 12 comments

Reknitting or Sweater Maintenance

Thank you so very much for the marvellous response to my post last week. As I said, it wasn’t a post I expected to write and now I am so glad I did, as you really got me thinking and I am grateful for that.

Over the last week, I’ve been tending to our knitwear. I am always struck by our emphasis in the making world on acts of creation. Our use of the acronym FO for Finished Object suggests that once we have cast off and blocked our knits or pressed our sewing, the item is done, finished, over. In fact, as we all know really, that is just the beginning. The garments we make have lives, they wear out and must be repaired, our bodies or preferences change and garments must be adjusted or perhaps we were never entirely happy with how the garment fitted, looked or worked in the first place and changes must be made.

I have talked here about remaking where we transform one or several garments into something significantly different but reknitting is something less transformative. It is the minor adjustment, the tweak, the repair.

Several years ago, I made Stephen West’s Enchanted Mesa with some handspun and some local millspun yarn. I made it initially without the cowl neck (thinking I knew better than the designer…oops), thinking it really needed a more open look. And perhaps it does, but what I didn’t realise then is that the assymetric dropped armhole construction creates a tendency for the one shoulder to runch every time you use that particular arm.  This effect has been magnified by me becoming somewhat wider since the initial making. The cowl neck obscures the runching and means you don’t always have to be pulling your jumper down, it can do its own thing.

Fortunately I still had some handspun Finn left over from knitting that sweater so it was easy to pick up the stitches from around the neck and knit up the cowl collar. Hopefully I will get a lot more wear from this sweater now.

Despite making the Helm sweater pictured below to the specifications suggested by the wearer, it turns out, he would prefer it to be two inches longer at the hem. Since this sweater was knitted from the bottom up in pieces, I was a little concerned about this request. For those who are non knitters, it is easy to unravel knitting from the top of one’s knitting but impossible to unravel from the bottom. Top down sweaters make hem adjustments simple but not so, the bottom up sweaters.

I didn’t want the sweater languishing for want of two inches, so I decided to get the scissors out, cut off the hem and reknit the hemmed edge from the top down. It was a surprisingly easy fix and once its been block again to relax the new hem, I don’t reckon anyone could tell it’s been reknit.

It’s not glamorous or exciting but tending to the knits (or any of our clothes) is a vital part of our making clothes last a long time.  It makes us feel competent too, knowing that we can adjust our jumpers in case of zombie apocalypse.


26. June 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , | 11 comments

There’s a Hare in my Tortoise

Well, I am back dear readers…well, sort of.  My children have been taking turns in being home sick and between that and a few family administration sagas, my limited energy has prevented me from returning to this place as regularly as I would wish. One of the most frustrating things about ME/CFS is the limitations it imposes on everyday life. Despite being so much better that I was, I still don’t have enough energy to do everything I would wish to and have to prioritise constantly: a trip to the doctor’s OR the grocery shopping, sorting out insurance OR writing a blog post, being functional for the kids OR formal paid work. I don’t want to choose, I don’t want to pace myself, I want to do everything. I want to run, I want to dance, I want to scream my head off.

I listened recently to Kate Davies TED talk  about her forthcoming book Handywoman (2018) which describes building a creative life after stroke. She talked about having been a fast paced Hare in academia before her stroke and finding herself transformed into a slow, considered Tortoise post-stroke. She spoke about how she now valued the perspective and opportunities which had arisen from her Tortoise position. She sounded so wise and content. She made being a Tortoise look rewarding and nourishing.

Without comparing my experience to someone recovering from stroke, her metaphor of the Hare and the Tortoise resonated with my own experience of illness.

In the months before I got sick, I could sort out breakfasts, lunches and the school run, do classroom reading and ride 40 minutes to university to give a paper, ride home again euphoric, pick up the kids, do the swimming run, cook a meal and sort out bed time, then have a quiet wind down with knitting and partner before going to sleep. There were no physical consequences for such a day and I had a clear pathway to rewarding, stimulating work.

In the first six months of illness, the most I could manage was getting the kids sorted for school, well sort of. My partner would make their lunches the night before and I just had to assemble them and the kids got their own breakfast as I struggled to understand how to turn the grill on or what came next after pouring the cereal. I had to stay so calm in order to concentrate through all the noise. After another mother walked them to school, I would need to rest, exhausted from the mental and physical efforts of the morning.

My personality still clings to being the Hare but my brain and body sit firmly inside the Tortoise. Now, there is more mental and physical energy to draw upon, but it is a world of limits and choices and growing frustration. A little voice inside still says, ‘But I don’t want to be the Tortoise. I didn’t choose this’. Sometimes, the sense of claustrophobia overwhelms me.

But then I remember what it was like when I was really sick, or someone kind reminds me gently what it used to be like. And I never need to look far, to be utterly humbled by someone’s else’s courageous journey with ME/CFS under much more harrowing circumstances than I have ever had to contend with.  Then, I can feel more at peace with where I am right now. I can feel thankful for my growing capacity, my ability to be so much more part of our family life. I can be creative in finding flexible, paid work opportunities. I can sometimes even glimpse the power and value which lie in the Way of Tortoise.

But I’d still rather be the Hare.

P.S. This is not the post, I set out to write today but somehow it wrote itself. I hope it resonates with other readers who struggle with chronic illness. May we all dance wildly with the Hares some day.


19. June 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , | 25 comments

Sailing Out of the Doldrums

The doldrums: an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds that has come to mean a period of stagnation or depression.

Sometimes we get stuck, the wind goes out of our sails and we lose impetus and direction in our crafting. I often feel like this during a long project, when the excitement of new ideas has passed and the execution is feeling a little tired. I also know that this is no time to leave a project, as completion brings its own rewards but in past I’ve tended to just push on regardless of waning enthusiasm, driving myself forward to the end.  If there is anything that a chronic fatigue condition has taught me is that there is another way, a kinder way forward that attends both to the long term goal and the dispirited self.

I have learned that having a rest and exploring something else for a while is both restorative and actually helps me get back to the project with renewed interest and perhaps slightly different perspective. I recently encountered the doledrums with Tuff Socks Naturally when the repetition of fleece preparation, spinning, knitting and testing had begun to feel grueling rather than intriguing. Instead of pushing through, I tried my new approach: I stopped and cast on something just for me, just for fun, just for play.

I turned to two balls of alpaca which had been enticing me since I received them more than a year ago, all the way from Northumberland in the UK. They hadn’t even made it into stash, as I knew I wanted them close at hand. I was quite sick at the time I received them and I couldn’t get my brain sorted to work out how to use them. So they waited comfortingly on the bookshelf in my room until the right moment. Then, after a wander through Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 150 Scandinavian Knitting Designs (2013), I spontaneously took up the yarn and cast on a cowl.

I used the motif on page 51 and 5 mm needles and just had a play. It was the most delightful knitting, the yarn was buttery soft but with a robust twist and the colourwork motif worked its compelling magic upon me. In next to no time, I had a lovely warm cowl, a head full of ideas and the energy I needed to keep going with socks. It keeps me warm on the walks to and from school as the temperature drops and the wind picks up for winter in Ballarat.

So when you find yourself in the doldrums, in knitting or in life, I hope you find something kind you can turn to till the wind fills your sails once more.


29. May 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , | 20 comments


Dearest readers, I want to let you know about some crafty events coming up in my home state.

Many of you will know about The Craft Sessions retreat that happens every September in the Yarra Valley. Felicia Semple has connected with many sewists and knitters with her thoughtful reflections on skill and creativity and her ongoing Stash Less project.  The Craft Sessions retreat is a space to explore a range of crafts from sewing and embroidery to wood carving and mending. I will teaching there with my good friend Adele Moon. We’ll be introducing folks to the amazing world of spinning and the variety of wonderful sheep breeds and fleeces that can be found in Victoria.

You can check out all the amazing teachers at The Craft Sessions here.  And this year Mary Jane Mucklestone will be in residence and taking classes! Imagine being introduced to colourwork knitting with a teacher like that! Registrations are now open.

The same organisers are also hosting the inaugural Soul Craft Festival down in Melbourne on June 9 and 10. There are master classes covering a range of craft practices, talks on sustainable fashion and creativity and a marketplace. I have booked a day ticket for Saturday, and am looking forward to hearing some inspiring talks and having a wander. Let me know if you are planning a visit also. Tickets are still available for both days and some Master Classes.


Then, on February 22-24, another dear friend of mine, Janet Day from My Spin on Things is hosting Majacraft Camp Australia 2019 in Mryniong, Victoria. This is not just for those with Majacraft wheels, nor is it all about art yarns. It is for anyone with curiousity about just what they can make in partnership with their wheel. Janet has enticed four wonderful teachers Laurie Boyer, Suzy Brown, Jane Deane and Sue MacNiven to share their skills over the weekend.  You can read about them over at the retreat page but they all have extensive and wide ranging expertise. This retreat is just the thing to move you beyond your default yarn and into exploring new techniques and approaches to spinning.  I’ve just booked my place and I’d love to know who else might be going.


22. May 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , | 10 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Shropshire Sock

And here it is, a sock knitted in Shropshire yarn.

Today’s post is one in a series called Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

I am so pleased with this sock. It knitted up easily on 2.5 mm needles to create a tweedy, elastic sock. It always stays in shape and it always stays up. It is significantly more elastic than the Ryeland sock although less fine. The handspun yarn was consistent through out the sock and I dyed a little in some left over solar dye to add some stripes.

For the pattern, I used the basic toe up pattern from Lara Neel’s Sock Architecture (2014) book. I used a figure of eight cast on, a regular wedge toe and then a short row gusset and a square heel. It has worked well, although I think I needed to make a deeper gusset. The sock is made up pure Shropshire, no added reinforcers, so I can get a good understanding of the durability of the fibre.  I am beginning to think that no all sock yarns require reinforcing.

And here is the sock, getting its hours up and staying tough. It has 108 hours already and no signs of holes and absolutely no fulling.

The knitting process got me thinking about the importance of multi gauge sock recipes for hand spun socks. This sock yarn was a little heavier than commercial sock, so I had to tweek the pattern accordingly but a really good multi gauge recipe would be wonderful for the Tuff Socks Naturally project. Does anyone know of a good one? All suggestions welcomed.

It is also good to remember that this is Rare Breed Sheep, in Australia and elsewhere. It is uniquely suited to long lasting socks and other garments and could have a significant role to play in the sustainable clothing movement. Shropshire Woollies sells fleece, fibre and yarn so even knitters can get their hands on this wonderful fibre.

08. May 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , | 8 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Shropshire Spin

Today’s post is one in a series called Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

For the Shropshire spinning for Tuff Socks Naturally, I wanted to focus on the high grist 2ply. In a recent edition of Ply Magazine, Rachel Smith (2017) from Welford Purls/Wool n’Spinning explored the application of a tightly spun, high density 2 ply for sock knitting. The enormous benefit of this yarn is that it is fast yet still durable. And when you are spinning for socks which then have to be knit and possibly dyed, time is an important consideration.

I wasn’t too happy with the high grist 2ply I made from the Ryeland, it was a little too fine, although it is wearing extremely well at this point. So I wanted the Shropshire to be a little denser. The end result is probably a little too dense than what I was after (probably a heavy fingering weight) but it is round and sturdy.

I spun these from a drum carded batt from the fleece you saw in the last post. I was careful to introduce locks into the carder in a uniform way that would preserve their direction and then spun with the direction of the locks as for worsted spinning. The Shropshire fibres are so kinky and springy it was hard to get a fine single but even after plying with lots of twist, the result is still surprisingly elastic.

For those of you curious about details, I spun the singles on a ratio of 11.5:1 at a rate of 1″ per treadle. They were plied on a ratio of 8:1 at the same rate. This gave me a yarn of 8 twists per inch and 14 wraps per inch.  Interestingly, the crimp rate was 8 crimps per inch so theoretically my yarn is has been spun to the crimp rather than at a higher twist rate. However, if I was spinning this fleece for a sweater yarn, even at same wraps per inch, I would have added less twist both for singles and plying. But this is a very dense yarn, more fibre is packed into the yarn diameter than I would usually have for a sweater yarn, so perhaps for the density of the yarn, it is tightly spun. OK enough geeky pondering now! Hopefully, I’ve made a durable sock yarn and can replicate it.


Rachel Smith, ‘A Down Breed Sock Experiment’ PLY, Issue 6, Spring 2017


26. April 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , , , | 4 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Shropshire

And I’m back…from school holiday, glorious weather and children going hither and thither.

Back to serious matters.

Back to Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

This week, Tuff Socks is all about Shropshire fleece, my next exploration point on this most exciting adventure. I have met Shropshire before through the Collingwood Children’s Farm and admired its spring and bounce. But for these socks, I ordered some fleece from Marilyn Mangione from Shropshire Woollies in Strathbogie, Victoria. It came in the post in a most impressive parcel.

Apart from fleece by the kilo, Marilyn also sells Shropshire roving and some yarn. She is a sock knitter herself and has made some incredible durable socks from her sheep.


The kilo of fleece I bought contained variegated grays. Colour is quite rare in Shropshire as a breed, but Marilyn breeds a true handspinners’ flock and the grays are just beautiful. Apart from colour, it was a typical Shropshire fleece, blocky staples, high bulk, blunt tips and a staple length of around 2 inches and 8 crimps per inch. Like other Shropshire fleeces I have tried, it was a little tender in parts.

Shropshire originates from south-west downs of England and was one of those breeds who were successfully improved in the early nineteenth century as a dual purpose sheep.  It came to Australia in the 1850s and was very sucessful until the 1900s when smaller Southdowns became popular for meat production.  Shropshire is a downs breed, bouncy and naturally resistant to felting. It is a conservation breed in the UK, US and Australia. In 2013, there were only 8 registered flocks in Australia. You can read more about the Shropshire in Australia at the Australian Rare Breed Sheep Project.

As the staple length was short, I knew I would be carding this fleece so I just separated the colours, bagged the fleece in washing colours and scoured them.

I lost 30% of the fleece weight during scouring and it almost doubled in volume! This is a super springy, bouncy, energetic kind of fleece. Good for socks I think!

19. April 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , | 6 comments

The Enduring Brilliance of Elizabeth’s Percentage System

I have been catching up on some small projects recently, things that I promised my family some time ago…a jumper darn, a uniform repair and a wee jumper for a beloved doll.

Winter is coming and even plastic bodies feel the cold apparently. Our Dear Girl really really wanted a jumper for her doll companion. It was to be a jumper not a cardigan, snuggly and big enough to go over her other clothes. These were my instructions.

With approval, I picked out a lime coloured merino sportsweight in left over from a Ferris cardigan for Our Dear Girl.  Whilst I have no doubt, that there are many patterns out there for 19 inch doll sweaters, I didn’t fancy trawling through Ravelry or Pinterest to find them. Instead I turned to Elizabeth Zimmerman’s extraordinary gift to knitters: her EPS (Elizabeth’s Percentage System). If you don’t know about the EPS, it is a simple system that allows you to create a sweater to fit any sized person based on a series of percentages relating to the chest measurement.  The system is fully documented in her books Knitting without Tears (1973) and The Opinionated Knitter (2005).

It is a system that frees the knitter from reliance on patterns, making us autonomous makers (should we wish to be so). It was a revolutionary unvention when it was conceived of in the early seventies and remains a truly radical concept now amidst the current culture of hyper-consumption of knitting designs.

Based on the chest measurement and my gauge, I calculated that I needed 80 stitches for the body. From then on, the EPS is able to provide me with the number of stitches I need to cast on the sleeves, the stitches I need to increase to for the forearm and how many stitches to cast off for the underarms and all sorts of other useful bits of information. The sweater is knit in the round, bottom up, the sleeves are united with the body at the under arms and decreases every other round form the raglan shaping.

The EPS continues to delight and thrill me. There is nothing quite like a bit of DIY in the knitting department.

03. April 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , | 11 comments

Farm News from Bullengarook

Bullengarook is a little place an hour north of Melbourne, just near Bacchus Marsh.  It is rolling, lush country, perfect for sheep.

It is where Maureen Shepherd raises her prize winning Finnsheep at Fairfield Finns. I love the fleeces produced here and have spun many projects from them including Lowtide LowfiYoke of Endurance, Bendigo Enchanted and Kowhai and Fern Beanie. Late last year, I was able to visit the farm after shearing to pick out some lovely fleeces for spinning this year and wrote about that visit in a post.

Maureen sells fleeces, hand dyed and plain tops and even Finnsheep yarn in sportsweight and DK.

On Saturday 14th April, just a couple of weeks away, Fairfield Finns is having an open day where you can visit, meet the sheep, have a Devonshire Tea and purchase some beautiful fibre direct from the farmer. Other vendors will be there too, so it will be a very special day.

The open day will run from 10 am till 4 pm, at 1275 Bacchus Marsh Road, Bullengarook.  If you can get along, please do, there is nothing quite like buying fleece or yarn from the farmer, walking on the land where the fibre was raised and meeting the beasties who did all the work turning grass into such an extraordinary resource.

Another treasure of a wool farm, just up the road a bit from Fairfield Finns is Cloverleaf Corriedales. I had the good fortune to visit with the farmer, Ronelle Welton just last weekend. Ronelle has a small flock of seventy. It is a no-kill flock, where grand dames and old fellas get to see out their time with dignity and matriarchal family groups stay together. Ronelle is breeding for fineness and she has some lovely fleeces at 26 microns.

This place is not just special for the sheep however, Ronelle and her husband are building a generous home for hosting farm stays, fibre workshops and events.  They have a grand vision for bringing yarn tourism to the area, connecting knitters and spinners with the land and sheep central to our craft.

Accommodation will open in July and will cater for groups of up to eight, as well as having an event space centred around a massive stone fireplace that will fit over a hundred. The setting is magnificent, you can see the weather roll in over the hills from the every window in the place but still so close to Melbourne. You can see and read more about this wonderful farm in the inaugural edition of Indie Road, a new Australian fibrecraft magazine.

The first edition is available free online. Most Australian fibre craft mags fall into two categories, pure textile arts or mainstream commercial yarns. Indie Road is something very different, focusing on farmers, slow crafts and light drenched photography. It is very beautiful.

27. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 comments

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