The Waysides Shawl

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

Dear readers, you have been with me from the beginning of this project. You have seen the fleece preparation, the spinning and the many natural dye adventures. And now, here is knitting. Here is some culmination!

IMG_1165Waysides is all about the creation of a local colour map using natural dyes sourced along our paths and journeys in our neighbourhoods. My colours are from the plants and trees gathered from within the habitual walks of our home in the inner north of Melbourne.

IMG_1118The yarn was spun from English Leicester fleece from Collingwood Children’s Farm. This wool is grown a few kilometres from our home.The fleece was washed and scoured, then divided into locks, combed and dizzed. It was spun worsted style as a two ply low twist yarn best suited for lace knitting. 20 g batches were then mordanted with alum and dyed with a variety of local flora and modified using a copper solution made of copper pipe found in the backyard and an iron solution from rusty nails in the backyard, also household vinegar and washing soda. All the water used in this project was rainwater collected from our roof into a tank.

IMG_0814I wanted to create a sampler shawl from the resulting skeins and the Shetland hap with its traditional feature of naturally dyed coloured stripes seemed an ideal inspiration. But I also wanted something that reflected my urban experience and in particular, captured something of the Waysides project itself.
IMG_1094This is Shetland lace deconstructed to the bare bones set within an asymmetrical series of spines or tangents. It steps away from the balanced symmetrical shawl to capture the sweep of the creek, the step off the path, the discovery on the nature strip.  It reveals the colours of an urban neighbourhood, the walk to the shops, the walk to the park, footpaths, gardens and renewed bushland. It captures the way our messy lives and complex history spill out of the grid, out of the planned ways. It represents the awkward tension of the planted wildspaces in our urban environment, the lived scar of a heavily modified landscape, the tended gardens and the outlawed weeds. 

IMG_1150This is the first shawl I have ever designed myself. It doesn’t burst with innovation but it was a thrilling endeavour none the less. I poured over Evelyn Clark charts trying to understand how to centre a lace a pattern and grow it at the sides as the shawl increased. I watched Stephen West’s Shawlscapes class and saw how the 90 degree spines work and how to make the 45 degree wing expand. It was laboriously plotted out and swatched and replotted.

IMG_1107All 39 skeins (remember the one I melted) had to be wound into centre pull balls and labelled. Then I organised the balls of yarn in waves of light, medium and dark values only to realise that the balls of yarn weren’t all the same length. They were roughly 20 grams each but very roughly and my inconsistency in spinning meant that some balls had more yarn in them than others. As the shawl stripes would grow significantly as the work progressed, I had to concentrate the smaller balls towards the beginning of the shawl and save the bigger balls for the end. So in many ways, the colours are sorted more by constraints than by aesthetics!

IMG_0888I got all the balls numbered and everything in a bag, just in time to go on holiday, a scant two weeks before the Woolcraft deadline. Fortunately for me, the winter water of Queensland was far too cold for me (I prefer bath temperature) so I surrendered myself to lots of pool and beach supervision with my knitting. My charts got rained on, splashed with pool water and crumpled. They looked like ancient artefacts by the time I finished. But it did get finished, a few days after we got back from holiday. The shawl told me it was finished really, as I started to run out of ball length prior to finishing the stripes.

IMG_1185In the end, it used 27 different colours. So I have some for another project. The pic below shows the colours in order from the neck (bottom left) to the shawl tip (top right):

1. Eucalyptus viminalis bark, iron
2. Acacia dealbata pods, washing soda
3. Rumex crispis flowers, washing soda
4. A. dealbata pods
5. E. sideroxylon leaves, washing soda
6. E. nicholii leaves
7. A. dealbata pods, vinegar
8. E. sideroxylon leaves
9. E. nicholii leaves, iron
10. A. dealbata pods, copper
11. Prunus cerasifera, copper
12. Vitus vinifera, iron
13. E. viminalis bark
14. E. viminalis leaves, vinegar
15. E. nicholii leaves, copper
16. A. dealbata pods, iron
17. E. viminalis leaves
18. Prunus cerasifera, iron
19. Rumex crispis flowers, vinegar
20. Vitus vinifera leaves, vinegar
21. E. nicholii leaves, vinegar
22. Prunus cerasifera leaves, vinegar
23. E. sideroxylon leaves, vinegar
24. Vitus vinifera leaves, washing soda
25. E. viminalis bark, vinegar
26. Vitus vinifera leaves
27. E. viminalis leaves, copper

IMG_1234The Waysides Shawl made it to the Wool Show and won a red ribbon, second prize in the Woolcraft Competition for an original handspun article.
IMG_1106I am thrilled with the prize and thrilled those little balls are transformed into something tangible. All those walks, all those plants, the water, the fleece, the effort, all stitched into a shawl, that wraps around me like home, that accompanies me through my neighbourhood. A shawl of the waysides with which to walk the waysides.
IMG_1215You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.

31. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , , | 32 comments

Show and Tell

As promised, some show and tell.

IMG_1100This wee Kowhai and Fern Beanie went to the Australian Sheep and Wool Show this year. I have wanted to knit this little cap ever since I saw it, in the 2013 Summer edition of Spin-Off. It seemed so suited to some Finnsheep fleece I had left over from a previous project. The fleece was prepared with a flick carder and spun with a worsted short draw into a two ply laceweight yarn. Details are ravelled here.

IMG_1102Finnsheep yarns are so so soft, as soft as the proverbial baby bot. This fleece came from Fairfield Finns, a good few years ago now.

Margaret Stove, famed New Zealand lace spinner and knitter, is the designer of this beanie. In 1982, she designed, spun and knit an exquisite lace baby shawl from a local prize winning fleece as the gift of New Zealand to the British Royal family upon the birth of Prince William. She designed two beanies using motifs from the original shawl for the birth of William and Kate’s first child.  Living in a colonial outpost of the British Empire, I am not really into royals but I do appreciate a good back story.

IMG_1113The Woolcraft judges generously gave this wee beanie a First. I am very grateful to the prize donors Ixchel and Moseley Park. And thank you to Jay Peterson from the Handweavers’ and Spinners’ Guild of Victoria for running a taxi service for entries, taking up and bringing back entries to Melbourne.

IMG_1104If you have never entered an item in a Woolcraft competition before, judges allot a score against a number of different categories. These are Suitability of Purpose, Structure, Finish, Presentation and Overall Impression. The scores are added up into a total score and the entry with the highest score is the winner. I have never seen a description of how these categories are judged so if anyone reading this has knowledge to share please do. Woolcraft competitions are essentially about encouraging us to better our skills so making the judging criteria open and understandable assists this aim. These are my best guesses from previous entries and tips passed on by more experienced competitors.

Suitability of Purpose as I understand it, means that your fibre choice, preparation and technique suit the item you have made. So a newborn jacket made out of chunky Herdwick would probably score low in this category but the same yarn as an outer garment for a adult might score highly.

Structure, I have no idea what this category means.

Finish is all about neat seams, lined up edges, appropriately sized buttons, woven in ends etc. An article I entered a few years ago scored poorly in this section because my yarn change occurred in the middle of a row. I certainly never did that again!

Presentation is about how the entry looks. Handspun skeins score more highly if tied with matching yarn with neat cut off ends. A knitted garment should be clean and freshly blocked. A lace shawl covered with cat hairs would score poorly but the same shawl minus cat hair with points sharp and even would score more highly in this category.

Overall Impression is the wow factor. Less points are available for this category, so wow will only get you so far.

Please do share any knowledge or tips for entering fibre craft competitions in the comments.

The next post will feature the beige symphony shawl of the Waysides, so do come back.



24. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , | 23 comments

Australian Sheep and Wool Show 2015

It is Wool Show time again. The Australian Sheep and Wool Show is a big shebang in these parts and runs over three days. It has been run annually since 1877!

The Wool Show is a place were you can see all kinds of sheep including Merino, Polwarth, Corridale, Poll Dorset, Dorper, White Suffolk, Dorset Downs, Romney, Drysdale, Dorset Horn, Hampshire Downs, Ryeland, Perendale, East Friesian, Shropshire, Border Leicester, English Leicester, Cheviot and Finnsheep.  You can watch the judging of these sheep and actually talk to the farmers who raised them.

You can mostly tell the farmers by their pale moleskins, navy polarfleeces and polished tan elastic-sided boots. Men and women turned out handsomely for this special weekend. There is a Sunday best vibe at the Show. The felters wear their most flamboyant creations and the knitters, their best shawls, hats and jumpers. The fibrecrafters all look at each other’s garments and walk up to complete strangers to compliment them. There is a kind and joyful frisson in the air.

IMG_3564There are carving and cooking demonstrations where you may partake of the meaty things. You can see gun shearers effortlessly reclining enormous sheep and clipping their fleece in a couple of minutes with nary a nick or a twitch. This is not just for show either, this is for the Sports Shearing and Wool Handling Competition. The shearing shed is always packed and tense, the air is heavy with the smell of fleece and warm tomato sauce.

IMG_3542The Australian Fleece Competition also takes place during the show. I love seeing the open bags of crimpy locks topped with a ribbon. Rams with woolly testicles the size of melons are gathered together for the Ram Sale and bright eyed, hard staring dogs lean quivering into the Sheep Dog trials, ears rotating like radars.

There are vast sheds filled with everything from dried lemon myrtle to hand shaped metal alpaca biscuit cutters to olive oil soap. Then of course there are the Woolcraft sheds housing various spinning guilds, felting and weaving demonstrations, the Woolcraft Competition and yarn and fibre sellers.

IMG_3557The Wool Show is the place to buy yarn or fibre from a person who actually raised the sheep, perhaps helped to birth it and certainly dealt with its health and feeding.  They see the fleece shorn, sent off for scouring and spinning and they have probably done the skeining.  These farmers persevere against the odds to bring low-processed, breed-specific yarns and fibres into the marketplace. So do support them with your patronage.

Although I did manage to get some entries in for the Woolcraft competition, I am not able to attend the actual show days this year. So tell me about your visit, if you managed to get there. I would also be keen to hear about Wool Shows in other countries. Are they similar or different to this one?

17. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , | 15 comments


In 2011, on a visit to New Zealand to attend a wedding, I bought some Naturelle Chunky 14 ply wool yarn, grown and processed in New Zealand, as a yarn souvenir.

I made Kate Davies’ Owls yoked sweater. I was experimenting with shaping and thought I knew better than Kate Davies where it should go. Turns out I didn’t! The front shaping was too close together and the whole thing was a bit too short because I had not considered the relationship between boobage, negative ease and the riding up which ensues after I had shortened it anyway. The Kate Davies bits, like the 0wls and the neckline were lovely and very flattering. I loved that sweater for many years, till the elbows wore out in fact. Here it is after much loving.

IMG_0610If the sweater had fit me properly, I would have done elbow patches but with the wonky fit, I decided to frog completely and reknit something else. The worn areas were excised and the rest was washed and wound into balls.

IMG_20150710_25772I chose Lesley by Hannah Fettig as my new sweater, particularly as it was such a good match for the yarn gauge. It also had a nice open neckline like Owls.  But this design has negative ease and no shaping which I knew was not going to work for my shape. I added back shaping (more skilfully this time) and zero ease to minimise any front rise.

The sweater was worked in pieces and seamed. Each pattern in Fettig’s Home and Away collection is presented in a seamless and seamed version, with a short essay on the advantages of each. I thought a seamed raglan would keep its shape better across the shoulders.

I knitted the front in the stitch pattern used in Hermione’s Everyday Socks by Erica Lueder.  It is a broken single moss stitch and it is wonderfully textured. This was my carry around knitting and it never seemed to require special time set aside to make it. It just sort of happened.

IMG_20150710_2678The sweater came out exactly as planned but I realise now that the raglan style construction is not actually that flattering for me. It narrows the shoulders, broadens the chest and creates construction lines that magnify my widest section of hip and thigh.

Live and learn eh! I am consoled by its warmth and it fits me well. The yarn is sturdy and is having a good long life. Also, it is very hard to be vain and self conscious when my 5 year old is taking all the photos on my phone using voice command yelling SMILE, SMILE, SMILE like a tiny, angry sergeant major.

IMG_20150710_26318Reknit deets here.

11. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , , | 20 comments

Zen Along the Waysides

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

This was my final dye lot for the Waysides project for the near future. Other things are brewing, but the Waysides project will continue to evolve for both Annie and I. Besides, I want to get knitting all these skeins. Being the last one for now, I wanted to make this colour really count. I wanted an absolute show stopper of a colour so I selected my dye source very carefully.

IMG_0883There is a very lovely winding path in our neighbourhood that we call the Crocodile Path. It ends up at a park with piece of crocodile equipment so maybe that is why we call it that or perhaps the name predates the equipment. Who knows? Anyway, the path has been built over an old creek bed that still runs during (rare) flood times right into houses and cars. The path is lined with trees and is noisy with lorikeets, wattlebirds and magpies. They fight for food in the flowers of eucalypts, blackwoods and sheoaks. They defend nesting sites and quarrel for mates. It is a path to meander down, listen and sit. It leads us to the houses of friends, to another local park and a giant remnant River Red Gum.

IMG_0879Amongst the eucalypts is one I was most keen to dye from after reading a Local and Bespoke post. It is called Red Ironbark, Eucalyptus sideroxylon. It is a stately tree with black fissured bark from which can ooze sap the colour of blood. It is not exactly indigenous to this area but is a common parkland planting. They flower around now, anything from a buttery yellow to hot pink. My tree had yellow flowers.

IMG_0885I boiled the leaves for a good few hours as I and other readers have found to be best for eucalypts to release their colour. Alum mordanted, 2 ply handspun English Leicester was then brought to a simmer for an hour, then another, then another.

Yes, my friends, I had made beige again! Did I get my identification wrong? Did I need a tree with pink flowers? Was my tree just feeling sad? I DO NOT KNOW!!!

IMG_0800From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by the skeins modified with copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. Mmm, looks a lot like the last lot only the eucalypt has coarsened the yarn. I felt so disappointed and also very angry.

So, I will turn lightly to the Buddhist causes of suffering at this point…ignorance, attachment and aversion. These are The Three Poisons.

Clearly, ignorance is at play here. I do not know for sure what that tree is, why beige keeps following me and where all the good colours are.

I was attached to a wonderful conclusion, a glory dye, a spectacular discovery.

I have a strong aversion to beige.

IMG_0810Ah, suffering! Apparently, I must look with a beginner’s mind, breathe and embrace the now. Oh look, how interesting, I just made beige again! How extraordinary that such a multiplicity of plants make beige! I will let the colours come, I will let the colours be, I will let the colours go.

I really do need to embrace the inner dye-buddha or I may be at risk of becoming a junked-up-dye-gambler…just one more plant, I know this one will be a winner, just one last simmer and then I will stop. Who knows where that would end?

IMG_0830I also spun up and dyed 100 grams of English Leicester in a 3ply DK weight for Collingwood Children’s Farm. It will be knit up by one of the farmers there into a beanie to demonstrate to the children just what fleece becomes after shearing. It is fortunate that this particular farmer favours the golden hues so prevalent in the Waysides.

Since drafting this post, Jules from Woollenflower has suggested that my beige results from this eucalypt might be because I collected during winter after a very wet autumn. Eucalyptus dye colours intensify with dryness, so a late summer harvest after a long period of dry might indeed dye the vibrant orange I was hoping for.

You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.

Due to some patchy internet we are currently experiencing, it may take me a wee while to reply to your comments. Bear with me, as I do love replying to you personally.

03. July 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, spin | Tags: , , , , , , | 23 comments

Waysides Home

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

During the course of my Wayside dyeing wanderings, I realised that I had not included a dye plant that represented home. Home is the beginning of all journeys. What is the colour of home?

As these thoughts occurred during late autumn, I didn’t dwell over much on this question. The plant that frames our days at home, that overarches the bicycles on the back veranda is an Ornamental Grape, Vitus vinifera. It flames scarlet in late autumn. It is our delight and wonder. This is the plant that marks our seasons. This is where the colour of home resides.

IMG_0369I wanted that scarlet for the Waysides project. I tried solar dyeing a small amount of alum mordanted silk with some of the red leaves whilst I was finishing other dye lots. It yielded a very lovely rose.

After I had combed, spun and mordanted a batch of the English Leicester from Collingwood Children’s Farm, the yarn was immersed in a vat of red leaves. I had soaked these for a couple of weeks, very gently simmered them and the red colouring was evident in the dye water. I very gently simmered the yarn for about an hour…and made beige!


I gently simmered some more…still beige.

I left it to soak for a couple of days…still beige.

Here are the colours I made with the English Leicester 2 ply, premordanted with alum.

IMG_0796From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by the skeins modified with copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. That last one is the stand out for me after I stopped cursing and started noticing.

Despite the complete lack of scarlet or even pink, nevertheless, these skeins are still the colour of our home. They are the colour inside our Ornamental Grape who cools us in the summer and beguiles us in the autumn.

IMG_0807These skeins represent the backyard, the view from the living room, the beginning of the school journey, the end of each weekday. The hammock swings underneath branches who have witnessed countless toy picnics, tussles, tears, play houses and dolly beds. Fallen leaves accumulate against the back door and often find their way under chairs and bookcases.


Interestingly, these colours are almost a match for the dye lot from the purple leafed Ornamental Plum. You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.


26. June 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, spin | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 comments

Fauves in the Bohus…a cardigan

Thank you dear readers for the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments to my last post. I am pondering deeply. While I am pondering, I thought I might share a recently finished knitting project.

Bohus colourwork is known for its jewel hues, subtle colour changes and knit/purl textures within a yoke structure. Bohus Stickening was a knitting enterprise that was founded in 1937 by Emma Jacobsson in Sweden. It combined the skills of local, impoverished women of Bohuslan, fine yarns and high quality design to create a luxury fashion garments. Bohus Stickening produced exquisite garments for three decades. You can read more about these beauties in Kate Davies, Yokes (2015) or Wendy Keel, Poems of ColourKnitting in the Bohus Tradition (1995).

IMG_0768I just finished a yoked cardigan for a small friend. It uses the knits and purls texture of the Bohus yokes but it is not subtle or planned in the meticulous way of the Bohus designers. It is rather the Fauve in the Bohus, expressive, wild and a wee bit random. The Fauves were a group of French artists in the early twentieth century named the wild beasts by critics for their expressive, painterly reaction to realism of Impression.

IMG_0793This is joyful knitting for me…a collection of yarns, a rough idea of stitch counts and rates of increase and no idea what will happen next.

IMG_0783The structure of this cardigan is top down. It is for a preschool child but she is big for her age and we wanted lots of growing room. The yoke will be roomy but not overly big looking and the sleeves can be lengthened as she grows. I have set aside yarn for this purpose. It was worked on two needles rather than in the round as this is knitted in worsted weight and I didn’t want a bulky steeked front. Instead, stitches were held for the button bands and knitted in a smaller needle and sewn to the body after the cardigan was knit. The yoke increases were done Elizabeth Zimmerman style, in 3 sets (a third, a third and a quarter of yoke stitches increased).

IMG_0606The yarns are an archeology of special yarns from my stash that I had been saving for their loveliness. The main body is worked in Rowan Aran Tweed that had been bought many years ago from Sunspun and knit into a cloche that never suited me! So I frogged and saved the yarn.  The yoke contains Scappa Aran from K1 Yarns in Edinburgh, bought on holiday there. It was bought for gloves for My Man which were sadly lost in Cologne and some fingerless travelling mitts for me which were not lost.

IMG_0782There is also some Noro Silk Garden, that I think I bought about eight years ago. It has been a stripey scarf since then but also frogged and saved. The rest is lovely bits of Jo Sharp Silk Road Aran Tweed from a very long time ago. Some was frogged from a sweater to make a vest and other colours were used in small sweaters for my babies.

The yarns were chosen to compliment the unusual hair colour of the wee person, for she blazes like autumn with that burnished russet of Eucalyptus nicholii. And by the colours chosen, a suite of knitterly memories was recalled in a cardigan for a dear friend’s child.

IMG_0780All the Ravelry details are here, including stitch counts and my precise method if your interest leans that way.



19. June 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , , | 20 comments

What is a local yarn?

This is a post full of questions. Perhaps you have some thoughts also?

Until quite recently, it was clear to me that the yarns that were local to me were from sheep grown, processed and spun in Victoria. And buying local is good right? With the decline of processing and spinning in Victoria and Australia in general, Victorian grown wool is travelling off shore for some or all of its processing. So what is local and does it really matter any more?

IMG_0512Bendigo Woollen Mills has been a stalwart local institution for Victorian knitters for decades. Most of the knitting I did for my children as babies was from Bendigo Woollen Mills. The wool was Australian and it was processed and spun here. Now, it is processed in China. So every ball you buy in Melbourne has travelled to China and back. This is about 18,500 km. Cleckheaton Super Fine Merino has travelled a similar distance.

Jo Sharp is another Australian yarn company that sources its wool from both Australia and New Zealand but processes it in Italy. So, if you buy a ball of Jo Sharp DK in Melbourne, it has travelled about 34, 500 km.

IMG_0755In contrast, organic yarn from The Green Mountain Spinnery is sourced in the neighbouring state of Maine and processed using environmentally sustainable methods in Vermont, USA. If I purchase it from Melbourne, the yarn has travelled 17, 000 km.

IMG_0510Similarly, Frangipani 5ply guernsey yarn is a single breed yarn, grown and processed in the UK by a tiny company in Cornwall. This yarn would travel about 17,300 km to Melbourne. This is less distance travelled than yarn from Bendigo Woollen Mills or Cleckheaton Super Fine. Are these yarns from the US and UK more local to me?

Smaller yarn producers like Fairfield Finns, Tarndie, Australian Organic Wool, Ton of Wool and White Gum Wool need to travel to New Zealand for spinning. So whilst the sheep may live less than 150 km from Melbourne, the yarn itself has travelled 5000 km. In contrast, Mithril yarn from Stansborough Woollen Mill in New Zealand has only travelled 2,500 km to me.

IMG_0754So what is local? Is it better to buy local? Buying local assumes smaller carbon footprint, something that has cost the earth less to provide than something from further away. But if these distances are cancelled out because the ‘local’ product has travelled for processing then what criteria should we use to assess the sustainablity of our consumption?

IMG_0752Assuming that all these transport miles are comparable (all air miles say) then perhaps our choices can centre around how the yarn is produced at source, how the sheep are treated, how the product is traced and accounted for, what impact the processing has on the environment and whether the workers are treated fairly? This is the kind of information I want to see when I look for yarn (for anything really). I want my purchase to count for something, to have some kind of effect greater than anonymous consumption but it seems that production, manufacturing and purchasing have become incredibly confusing arenas for the consumer. Products are made cheaper but obfuscation is the shadow side of the global economy. Can the internet be the knife that cuts through the tangle?

Please note, these are rough calculations of distance travelled. I have only considered a handful of wool yarns for the sake of contrast and discussion and for what happened to be in my shade card collection. Alpaca yarns are still grown and processed in Victoria so would constitute a truly local yarn. Of course, spinning your own locally raised fleece will still be least travelled yarn choice, the most sustainable choice for you as an individual but this post is focused on broader consumer choices of commercially spun yarn.

12. June 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 47 comments

Wattle Day Cardigan

After reading Kate Davies Yokes (2015), I was compelled to cast on for a yoked cardigan, both to reinvigorate my knitting passion which was wallowing in the doldrums and to extend my savouring of the book itself. Yokes is a book to be relished, especially for its scholarly contribution to our knowledge of knitting as a craft. There are not that many knitting books that achieve this.

IMG_0599Yokes is an investigation into the origins of the yoked sweater as well as a pattern book for yoked designs. Davies traces the development of this method of knitted construction to a curious yet wonderfully modern moment: the interpretation of a traditional Greenland beaded collar worn by a Swedish actress, Mona Martenson, in a seminal Danish-Norwegian film called Eskimo (1930) by Norwegian knitwear designer Annichen Sibbern, into a knitting pattern.

This Eskimo design was interpreted and reinterpreted and became the iconic knitwear of Norway and Iceland, invested with expressing national and regional identities. As a high fashion garment, the yoked sweater reached its ascendency in the 1950s with the designs from the Swedish Bohus Stickning group being worn by socialites and movie stars. Its popularity as garment to knit and wear has experienced a renaissance in recent years. A search for yoke in Ravelry yields over 5000 designs and over 80,000 individual projects.

IMG_0659From all the enticing designs in the book, I chose to knit Foxglove mainly because I had the perfect yarn in my stash already…yes, destiny was calling again. Foxglove is a pretty, floral cardigan with a colourwork yoke and steeked front.

IMG_0630Mine does look a bit different though, doesn’t it? I replaced the foxglove flowers with sprays of wattle. Yokes is all about how the yoked sweater had its origins as a canvas for exploring national identity. So, just as Davies decided to use a local wildflower as her inspiration, I thought it would be appropriate to use a common Australian wildflower as my motif. I used the Foxglove chart, preserving all its shaping and stitch counts and worked out a design for a wattle spray.

IMG_0600The wattle depicted is the Golden Wattle, Acacia pycantha.  It is indigenous to south eastern Australia, I can see it every day in the bushland along the creek. It is the floral emblem of Australia and was the foundation of the lucrative tanin industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Australia.

Image from National Museum of Australia from the official commemorative book of the Royal Visit.

So iconic is the Golden Wattle flower for Australia, it featured in the official gown for Queen Elizabeth’s Commonwealth Tour in 1954. It is embroidered amongst lyrebird feathers on the curtains of the State Theatre in Melbourne. It is the gold, in our Green and Gold sporting colours.

Wattle fervour was at its height in early part of last century as a recently colonised country tried to find its identity. An annual Wattle Day celebration was inaugurated on September 1, 1910. The Sydney Morning Herald called on people to

Let the wattle hence forth be a sacred charge to every Australian. Let us foster and protect and cherish it. Let us plant it in all our parks and reserves and pleasure grounds, so that we may make pilgrimages to its groves in blossom time.

Wattle Day used to be a significant celebration with folks wearing sprays of wattle in their button holes, school children holding commemorations, competitions for the best blossoms and lots of wattle poetry. This one by Veronica Mason, written in 1912, was a school child staple for many decades.

The bush was grey
A week to-day
(olive-green and brown and grey);
But now its sunny all the way,
For, oh! the spring has come to stay,
With blossom for the wattle!

It is not really celebrated much now but still appears in the federal government’s calendar of gazetted dates.

IMG_0388Thus historically empassioned, I cast on and knit up to the yoke. I cobbled together a set of yoke colours from what I had in stash. Once I finished the yoke, I realised with horror the colours didn’t read well against the background and it didn’t look like wattle at all on the knit fabric.

This is why folks swatch and swatch and swatch. This is why swatchy folks don’t have to rip out a completed yoke.

IMG_0507Luckily, I was able to find a local source for Jamieson and Smith yarn at The Purl Box and replaced the background colour.  I redrew the design, did a tiny swatch to check the contrast and reknit the yoke. I finished the yoke only to realise that I had two different ribbed cuffs. I had to cut the wrong one off and pick up the stitches and reknit it top down the correct way.

IMG_0504Then I was done! Well, almost…I also had to cut off the crochet steek edge and rebind, as it was rippling and bulging beneath the facing. I had not used a fine enough crochet hook. The only other modifications I made were for sleeve length and shaping placement.

IMG_0652After reading Knit to Flatter by Amy Herzog, I have been looking at sweater patterns a little differently and seeing how I can tweek the shaping to better suit my body shape. I shortened the sleeves on Foxglove to 3/4 length and changed the placement of the body shaping to the fronts and back rather than the sides to better accommodate my chesticles and narrow back.

IMG_0603Steeks were faced in cotton grosgrain from L’ucello and buttons were matched by Buttonmania, both located in the Nicholas Building. Specific knitterly details can be found on Ravelry.

Foxglove is an excellent design. It is well written and a sturdy canvas for personalising. The yoke construction is in the Shetland style with sets of raglan decreases before the yoke and then four sets multiple decreases in pattern within the yoke. Short rows under and above the yoke lift the back neck. The yoke is much shallower than a traditional Shetland yoke, emphasising the shoulders and minimising the chest. This is a flattering yoke style for the significant chested among us.

I will wear this cardigan often and always on Wattle Day!




05. June 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 26 comments

The Nicholas Building

Thank you dear readers for your wonderful advice on sock knitting fastly (as Our Dear Girl used to say). All the patterns you recommended have been gathered together in my Ravelry favourites section using the new bundle feature…best ever sock resource!

2015-05-28 19.42.51Now one good turn deserves another, so I thought I would share with you a very special part of ol’ Melbourne town, should you visit one day.

IMG_0528The Nicholas Building is a Melbourne institution but it is very easy to miss or forget about for years, then remember it has the very thing that you need.

Nicholas_BuildingImage by Stephen Bain, 2009 Wikicommons

Those police cars were still there when I popped in last week, six years after this pic was taken!

Built in 1926, on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane, it was very splendid once. The architect was Harry Norris but the building is named for the building company who made it.

Influenced by the design of commercial buildings in America, the Nicholas Building adopts a Renaissance palazzo form with mannered Greek revival styling in its facade treatment. 

I have no idea what that means but it is rather grand although somewhat faded now. The Nicholas Building used to be a significant commercial building, there was a Coles on the ground floor and lots of offices. Now, it full of artists and artisans and tiny specialty shops.

IMG_0529That was the ground level, now up the stairs.

IMG_0534Beaut wee corners down dark corridors.

IMG_0533This is the directory for level two.

IMG_0539Here we are.

IMG_0535Buttonmania! Its front doors belie the treasures within. Look at this!

IMG_0536It is the kind of place where you tell the proprietor, Kate Boulton, the kind of button you are looking for. You describe it in words or take in the garment with you. Then, something very magical happens. Kate considers for a moment, says ‘I think I might have something that would suit’, goes to a drawer, pulls out a tiny bag and shows you the exact buttons you need. First time! The customers after me had a similar experience. It is witchcraft I am sure.

I also needed some grosgrain to face a steek but all I could find were polyester ones which seemed a shame to put on wool. So I popped in to L’uccello, a haberdashery emporium of sorts.

IMG_0541They had vintage grosgrain made of cotton in exactly the shade I needed…

IMG_0540…of course they did!

IMG_0543I also bought some vintage silk taffetta ribbon for a stowaway gift for Our Dear Girl.

IMG_0531On the way down the sad old stairs, I browsed in a second clothes store and found a ladies’ wool kilt from Scotland. It fitted and as we all know, that is destiny…so I bought it.

IMG_0544Do pop into the Nicholas Building if you are in Melbourne town. Street level chain stores obscure the marvellous experience awaiting you…but you know that now!

Next post, I will show you what I did with the wee green buttons and grosgrain.

28. May 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, look, sew | Tags: , , , , , , | 21 comments

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