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?
This is Slow Fashion October, a time that we pause and reflect on where our clothes come from, how they got here and how we might be more involved in their making, wearing and enduring over time. Just recently, I read Folk Fashion: Understanding Homemade Clothes (2017) by Amy Twigger Holroyd which explored the idea and practice of remaking.
Remaking is using the unworn clothes you already have to make a more wearable article of clothing. It is more than just altering or modifying for a better fit, more than repairing or mending but may involve all of these processes. It may also involve embellishing, deconstructing or upcycling.
Similarly, turning my old yoke sweater Talisman into a cardigan is another example of remaking. I cut it up the middle and knitted on button bands.
This has given Talisman a new life and the sweater has gone from something I could no longer wear comfortably to a daily standby. I had just finished remaking Talisman when I read Folk Fashion and it got me very focused on the usefulness of addressing old garments that aren’t quite working.
For me, the key to remaking is to break it into steps.
- Identify a garment that is unworn but still precious in some way.
- Identify the problem with the garment.
- Remake the garment addressing the problem.
For Talisman, I realised I still loved the sweater but just couldn’t wear it comfortably, a bigger bust meant that the yoke was too tight and the hem rode up to compensate. The remaking meant that the top buttons can be undone to create chest width. Everything else fits just fine.
Remaking is valuable as it focuses on what we already have, particularly the handmade things, addressing issues that are preventing them from being useful and putting them back into service as clothing again. Just like mending, remaking promotes an ongoing relationship with our clothes where they can change as our needs/preferences change. Essentially, it conserves resources.
So I decided that for Slow Fashion October, I would focus on remaking. I started assessing all the clothes I wasn’t wearing and thinking about how they might be remade.
I started with a denim skirt I made last year when body changes from my CFS meant I couldn’t fit into any of my skirts.
The adjustable nature of this wrap skirt meant that if things changed again, the skirt could still be worn. But it wasn’t being worn very often. The ties created a big lump that could not be worn under tops and jackets. Remaking changed the tie closure to a button closure and now enables me to layer garments over the skirt without an unsightly lump at my hip. This change extends the usefulness of the skirt from summer only to all through the year.
Fueled by this success, throughout October I am going to tackle some other long standing garments in my wardrobe that are not being worn.
Do you have any Slow Fashion October projects?
I made me a wee basket!
It is not my usual style but its fibery contours completely beguile me and I find myself just turning it around and around in my hands, discovering new pleasing combinations of colour and texture.
The basket is made like a child’s first clay coil pot, a long sausage going round and round, fixed in place with embroidery floss stitched up and down the coils.
It is made with my own handspun, using an art yarn technique taught to me by my good friend Janet Day from My Spin On Things. She is a master dyer, spinner and teacher based in Melbourne. Janet developed this particular style of yarn she calls Hotchpotch, as a way of using her dyeing and spinning waste in a useful, ebuillient way. Hotchpotch is essentially a corespun yarn, teased out fleece wrapped around a mohair core.
The true joy of Hotchpotch is its serendipity, as it is made from whatever bits are to hand alternating with undyed fleece, in this case English Leicester waste to provide a contrast to the random colours. There is quite a bit of technique in creating this yarn, in moving the fingers fast enough to wrap the core whilst avoiding the build up of too much twist. I used my largest whorl with moderate take up, changing my flyer guide to accommodate the bulky yarn. The finishing is key too, with a slight fulling required to provide more structure to those wrapped fibres.
Making Hotchpotch was a wonderfully freeing experience for me, presenting me with the challenge of letting go and trusting the technique and trying not to control the colour too much. It is imperfect and inconsistent yet strong, balanced and so useful. It delights me with its unexpected beauty.
You can knit with this yarn and make a wonderfully dense rug. It is strong enough to use as a warp as well as a weft. But to me it sang of being a basket, of being curved and sculptural, of retaining its worm-like, soft-bodied roundness.
I think Hotchpotch is a wonderfully clever way to use carding and combing waste, the rougher parts of a fleece and the last colour in the dye pot. Trying spinning some yourself or you can purchase jumbo skeins directly from My Spin On Things. If it’s not shown in her online shop, just drop her an email. I reckon you could get about three medium sized baskets from a skein.
It is school holidays here. There is not much time for making so instead, I thought I would share with you some treats that came my way on Instagram recently about natural dyeing with Australian natives.
Firstly, I wanted everyone to know about the extraordinarily valuable resource that Sally Blake has developed with the Australian National Botantic Gardens called the Eucalyptus Dye Database.
Assisted by the Australia Council for the Arts, Sally has recorded the dye colours achieved on wool, silk and linen, using no mordant, alum, copper and iron. These fabric samples are presented in grid form and represent 230 eucalypts. You can read about her method and browse the database on her website sallyblake.com.
Secondly, like many other folks, I have an ongoing fascination with natural blue dye. I am sure you know about woad and indigo, but you msy not know that in Australia, we have our own indigenous source of blue in Indigofera australis, Austalian native indigo. This shrub is local to much of southern Australia and looks so modest and unassuming, you would never expect such miraculous colour to be hidden inside. Recently @ourlittlepieceofearth achieved some wonderful results with foraged foliage.
I was pretty excited to find four Indigofera australis bushes in a local park while walking the dog. They were in desperate need of a good pruning 😉So attempted my first indigo vat and I'm super excited about the result! Yarn is super soft @tarndie Polwarth. Scroll for progress pics 💙💙💙#indigoferaaustralis #naturaldyeing #tarndiepolwarth #iloveblue #thingsyoufindwhenwalkingthedog
If you are keen to have a go yourself, @ourlittlepieceofearth recommends master-dyer, Robyn Heywood’s instructions in the Turkey Red journal.
I hope you are as excited as I am by these Australian colours.