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: , , , , , | 6 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

Tuff Socks Naturally: Ryeland the Socks

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.

They are done! Knitted up and on my feet for the next stage of the experiment.

I spun up 50 grams of Ryeland as a high grist 2 ply and 50 grams as an opposing 3 ply to test the variable rate of wear. The two yarns were pretty much the same weight, light fingering with the 2 ply being just a smidge lighter.

I decided on Whisky Bay Woollen’s Lowtide Socks for Tuff Socks Naturally 3 as I wanted something I could wear in my runners and get wear everyday on dog walks and exercising. My only mod was to make the larger size on smaller needles  (2.25 mm) as my yarn was lighter than regular sock yarn and to add a ribbed cuff to guard against my shoes eating my anklets which happens sometimes.

Once the knitting was done, it was almost impossible to tell the difference between the socks, although one is slightly lighter than the other. I will have to have some way of marking the difference between them to test their wear.

Just for fun, I dyed these lovelies in ornamental plum, modified with washing soda. They are the colour of autumn in Ballarat.

They are on the trail already with 2o hours under their belt.

23. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , | 4 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Ryeland the 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.

The spinning of Ryeland fleece for Tuff Socks Naturally has been completed!

If you remember from last time, I washed lovely, crimpy, crunchy Ryeland fleece from Hallyluya Farm by the lock and drum carded two batts of 50 g each.  The idea was to spin two kinds of sock yarn Opposing Ply Yarn and Two Ply High Grist Yarn which have been tested to be more durable than a traditional 3ply sock yarn and compare the wear over time.

The first batt was spun with a dense, high twist 2 ply according to the method described by Rachel Smith in‘A Down Breed Sock Experiment’ PLY, Issue 6, Spring 2017. I spun the singles using a ratio of 11.5:1 at a rate of 1 inch per treadle and then plied the two Z spun singles in an S direction using a 8:1 ratio at rate of 1 inch per treadle. I was aiming for a yarn of about 19-20 wraps per inch or a light fingering, just a touch finer than my sample.

The second batt was spun with an opposing ply to make a 3 ply cable yarn as described by Sarah Anderson in The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs (2012). I spun 2 singles in a Z direction using a ratio of 11.5:1 at a rate of 1 inch per treadle. These two singles were plied S using a ratio of 15:1 at rate of 1 inch per treadle (creating an over twisted yarn). Then the 2 ply was plied again in a Z direction with an S spun single (spun using same ratio and rate as initial singles) using a 6:1 ratio at a rate of 1 inch per treadle. This created a dense, fine yarn of around 19-20 wraps per inch.

You can see the difference in structure between the two yarns.

So now I have my two fraternal twin sock yarns ready for knitting into socks. I hope all this detailing of ratios and treadle rates helps you develop your own sock spins. I am hoping the 2 ply high grist yarn wins, as it is super quick to spin and will enable lots more sock spinning to go ahead. Let me know how you go.

15. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , | 4 comments


Stymied by ailing kidlets, high school tours and sports days, the Tuff Socks Naturally spinning has stalled briefly. I can however, announce the winner of the Ryeland washed locks giveaway. Congratulations to Tina, your Tuff Socks Naturally spin-your-own-adventure is on its way!

In this spinning lull, I want to share with you a recently finished sweater.

This one is for the favourite gentleman in our life who asked for a lightweight but warm sweater he could wear to work. He picked out a beautiful tweedy yarn from Jamieson and Smith Jumperweight 2 ply which was a real treat for me to knit as I mostly knit with Australian farm yarns. The shade is 58 FC, a lovely rustic chocolate tweed but very hard to photograph.

The pattern is Helm, a CustomFit pattern from Amy Herzog. If you don’t know about CustomFit, it is a system designed by Herzog to customise knitting designs to fit individual sets of measurements and gauges. I’ve been wanting to try this for ages and since my bloke is shortish but broad in the shoulders and wanted a set-in sleeve, this knit was the ideal candidate. The system has loads of potential for using handspun in commercial patterns too.

I am super pleased with the results, as is the bloke. As this was such a plain knit, I focused on the details, finishing with twisted stitch 1 x 1 rib for the cuffs and hem and using a selvage stitch to set the shaping stitches one stitch in. With careful seaming, the edges look satisfyingly professional especially the armholes and neck.




01. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , | 10 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Ryeland the Prep

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.

In the last post we met the Ryeland sheep and explored its dramatic history. In this post, I will share with you how I have prepared the fleece for spinning.

I washed the Ryeland fleece to preserve the lock structure for a worsted sock preparation in tulle parcels secured with safety pins. It looks time consuming but the time and waste it saves later when you are trying to separate locks from a fluffy mass is significant.

I know folks often card Ryeland for woollen spinning but these locks were 9 cm which is longish for woollen carding.  For socks, I am still wanting the strength and smoothness of worsted preparation and spinning so I wanted to keep those fibres aligned. However, after Local and Bespoke’s fine example I decided to drum card to save time. A friend had lent me a drum carder for another project but the timing was serendipitous and enabled me to prepare lots of fibre quickly. I fed the locks in parallel with the guides and took the batt off as a blanket to strip down the direction of the locks rather than rolled into a rolag.

Then I set to sampling. My previous Tuff Socks have used the traditional 3ply, high twist sock spin but with this pair, I wanted to experiment with some different spinning approaches. Other spinners have been experimenting for years with socks spins so I thought it would be fun to take advantage of their discoveries and compare two tested spinning methods against each other. The two spins I am going to use are

  • Sarah Anderson’s Opposing Ply Yarn
  • Rachel Smith’s High Grist 2 Ply Yarn

Sarah Anderson documented her Great Sock Yarn Experiment in The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs (2012). She compared the standard 3 ply sock yarn, to a chain plied 3 ply yarn, an opposing ply 3 ply and a 4 ply cabled yarn. She tested this using Merino fibre and found that the chain plied yarn wore out more quickly that the traditional 3 ply but the opposing ply and cabled yarn outperformed the traditional 3 ply. A 4 ply cabled yarn is a bridge too far for me in terms of time spent spinning for a sock but the opposing ply intrigued me.

But how would it stand up against Rachel Smith’s daring sock yarn? You might know Rachel from her blog Welford Purls/Wool’n’Spinning. Her yarn is a 2 ply which she spun to a much higher density than a normal 2 ply. This yarn outperformed a traditional 3 ply sock yarn in ‘A Down Breed Sock Experiment’ PLY, Issue 6, Spring 2017. The exciting thing about this spin is that it would take a third of the time of the opposing ply yarn.

The 2 ply sampled quite quickly as Rachel Smith had included a lot of useful information in her article. The Opposing Ply in contrast, is taking a lot of sampling to make it balanced. The idea is that you spin two singles in Z direction and ply in an S direction. Then you ply again in a Z direction together with another single that was spun in an S direction. The two opposing plies create elasticity and strength drawing the yarn more densely together. However, Sarah Anderson’s book provides very little information other than twist direction and it has been challenging working out the twist rates for each plying round that leaves you with a balanced yarn. I think I have got it worked now but I think I may have melted my mind a little.

I will do one sock in each spin, so that as a pair they will receive exactly the same amount of wear. I won’t use mohair in these as I really do want see some kind of wear over time (and I already know that mohair reinforcing is amazingly effective).

So, that is the plan I lay before you.  The next Tuff Socks Naturally post will focus on the yarn spinning. If my words have excited you to a little Tuff Socks Naturally adventuring of your own, I have 150 grams of Ryeland locks to give away to someone bursting to spin them up into socks right away. You can spin them any way you like, just share your findings with us on this blog or using the #tuffsocksnaturally tag on Instagram. Let me know if you want to spin the Ryeland in the comments and I will do that random draw thing and let you know.


23. February 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , | 25 comments

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