GiveWrap, an end to wrapping paper

Today the Needleworks Collective held their first event, a GiveWrap workshop in Melbourne town. Needleworks Collective is a small craftivist group of friends: Emily, Aisha and I.  We have been making stuff together for a few years now and discovered we had a shared interest in making things that could have a bigger life somehow, maybe change minds or make the world a little kinder.

GiveWrap is a sweet but powerful project that aims to transform the culture of disposable gift wrap into one of reciprocal giving of treasured wrapping cloths.


by Emily

Inspired by the traditional wrapping clothes of Japan and Korea, GiveWraps are a unique expression of their maker and contemporary life.  They might be embroidered, appliqued, pieced, quilted or printed.

GiveWraps are given with a gift but not returned to the giver. Instead, they have a life of their own and are given and regiven continually. GiveWraps inspire us to make something that has no monetary value. It is not made for sale. Its value lies in the giving and increases the longer it remains in circulation.

GiveWraps can be the size of a pocket handkerchief up to the size of a bunny rug and use scraps and leftover bits of fabric, doilies, old table clothes, vintage pillow cases, really anything you have to hand.

Thank you to all those lovely folks who came today and made a GiveWrap.  We had a merry and productive throng.  These are some of the beautiful GiveWraps that were made today.

You could make a GiveWrap too. Here are some handy instructions which are also available as a PDF on the Needleworks Collective website.

First assemble your materials

Use what you have already.  A GiveWrap is a perfect way to use small scraps, bits of braid, a pretty pillowcase, anything really. You will also need a sewing machine or sewing needle, scissors or rotary cutter, pins and tape measure.

Decide what size GiveWrap you will make

A good size range seems to be from the size of gentleman’s handkerchief to a baby blanket.  You might be limited by the materials you have to hand. There is no correct size.

Cut out the backing and attach your label

We printed our labels onto inkjet printable fabric for quilters or if use your best writing, you could use a laundry marker on calico. Either hand stitch or machine stitch the label to the backing. Make sure to include a name, location, date made.  You can download our printable labels from Needleworks Collective.

IMG_3881Assemble the front

This might be pieced from small pieces, embellished with braid or embroidery or screen printed.

IMG_3894Joining the front to the backing

Lay the front on top of the backing, right sides facing each other. Then pin the two layers together. Sew a seam around the edges of the GiveWrap, remembering to leave a gap for turning inside out. Clip the corners and turn inside out, making sure you push the corners out neatly.  Hand stitch the opening closed and press with an iron.

IMG_3893Take a pic and post

Take a photograph of your new GiveWrap and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #givewrap. You could spot your GiveWrap in a faraway place when you search later under #givewrap or it might pop up in your feed like a message in a bottle.  You can also send us a pic for the GiveWrap gallery at

Here are some of the lovelies, all wrapped up and you can see more pics of GiveWraps by following me on Instagram where I am Rebeccaspindle.

Give away and make another

Please do make one, indeed, make many. You might consider making a set of GiveWraps that circulate just within your family or that you use especially at Christmas time.

You can sign up for updates on other Needleworks Collective projects here. No worries about being inundated with emails…we move slowly but with purpose!

IMG_3827Keep them free!







30. August 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | Tags: , | 13 comments

Bedouin Woven Bag

One of the most pleasurable aspects to writing a blog about making things is when people share special handmade items with you.  A couple of weeks ago, a friend lent me this extraordinary woven bag.

IMG_3644This bag is so tough and strong, I am sure it could deflect lightening or survive a sandstorm. Seth had bought the bag whilst travelling in the Middle East.  He had kept the label attached and I will share with you what it says.

This product was hand-made with dedication and love of their weaving heritage by Bedouin Women in the Negev Desert. It was woven on a traditional ground loom using highest quality Awassi sheep’s wool that is handspun and made into yarn. The women of Lakiya Negev Weaving dye and weave the wool and work communally through their own co-operative enterprise which they manage themselves. No child labour is used by Lakiya Negev Weaving.

There was so much in that label I wanted to know more about and I had a fine old time exploring the interwebs.

Lakiya Negev Weaving is located in Israel but there are several similar organisations in the region such as Al Sadu Weaving Co-operative in Kuwait and the Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project in Jordan.  As formerly nomadic people, the Bedouin have settled in many countries and work hard to preserve their handcraft traditions.

IMG_3637The Lakiya Negev Weaving co-operative is an empowerment organisation run by and for Bedouin women to provide training, education and income generation opportunities.  The organisation currently supports about seventy women who are divided into six groups, each of which manage a processing stage in the weaving enterprise.

Spinners spin single yarns on hand spindles. These spindles are top whorl spindles about 60 cm long, so they can hold a lot of yarn. The following image shows a demonstration of spinning at the cooperative. Notice that the spinner has a ball of yarn behind her.  She might be plying from two or more singles wound into a ball.

Negev_Weaving,_Lakiya spinningFree image by Dr. Avishai Teicher Pikiwiki Israel from Wiki Commons

Skeiners prepare the singles for dyeing and then dyers dye the yarns. Interweavers ply the singles together to make a strong, durable yarn.

Weavers weave on traditional, home made, ground looms. In this next image, you can see the loom being demonstrated at the cooperative.

PikiWiki_Israel_33664_Negev_Weaving_in_LakiyaFree image by Dr. Avishai Teicher Pikiwiki Israel from Wiki Commons

A traditional Bedouin loom is made of simple materials. Basically it consists of two metal or wooden bars resting against four tent stakes driven into the ground and sometimes…blocked by stones. The warp yarns are wound over the bars. The flat weave of the surface is found only in rugs made according to this Bedouin technique.

Finishers sew the final articles, attach tassels and provide quality control.

Awassi sheep used by the co-operative are indigenous to Lebanon, Jordan and Israel and are very important sheep in the broader region.  They are hardy, fat-tailed sheep that according to experts have been bred in the area for over 5000 years.  The sheep are bred for meat, milk and fibre, having a mixture of hair and sturdy carpet type wool.  They are tended by Bedouin shepherds and shorn once a year with hand shears. You can see some wonderful pics of Awassi sheep here.

Seth Lakiya Negev Weaving picImage by permission of Seth Seiderman

Seth came to the Negev desert as part of a round-the-world trip with his wife and children. On their last day in Israel…

we rented a car and drove out to the Dead Sea, then headed south in the Negev region. I had read about the Lakiya Bedouin Women’s Weaving Cooperative in a guidebook (I think) and we had a contact phone number and some directions from their website. However, we did not have a GPS and were having great difficulty finding it as the afternoon grew late. Finally, we got there as they were about to close. The two women were very accommodating and gave us a short tour, showing us the weaving techniques used in this traditional craft. The little shop-front was full of wonderful weavings, including very coarse rugs and many similar bags. I would have loved to buy more but our backpacks were fully loaded so I had to settle for this little token.

IMG_3651If Bedouin textiles interest you or you are curious about their weaving techniques, you might enjoy this video that Seth also sent me.  It is a narrated video of a 2012 exhibition Tents and Camels: the Bedouin Textile Collection of Joy and Robert Hilden. Make yourself a cuppa…it is a long one!

Thank you Seth for sharing.

25. August 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 5 comments

Winter Lace

IMG_3674Finally…I started this in the summer and it is finished in mid winter, just the time for three quarter length sleeves and lace.  I was knitting the sleeves at the Winter Solstice.

IMG_3675It is a bit lovely though isn’t it?

The pattern is called Lace Cardigan by Simona Merchant-Dest. It made perfect use of a stash of Patons Bluebell Merino 5ply I had bought years and years ago for $3.00 a ball.  Sometimes stashing works out like destiny. I think I used about 7 balls, approximately  875 m but I kind of lost count along the way. Ravelled here.

IMG_3685The only mods I made were to the button holes.  The pattern called for a two row button hole but I couldn’t make this work for me, so I did a standard yarn over button hole that is just fine.  The buttons were bought at last year’s Wool Show from The Button Lady.

It is lovely to wear and that mauve seems to unite a lot of my wardrobe. My only concern is that the Bluebell is quite a dense heavy yarn and as the cardigan was knit in the round, it lacks any kind of structure for the lace to hang off.  When you put the cardigan on, the lace feels like it just wants to keep opening up and up. If I was to make this again. I would make it in pieces, at least the sleeves and seam them together.  The raglan seams would hold the lace panels like a spine.

IMG_3688The actual knitting was an extraordinary pleasure.  After the initial challenge of working across three different charts, the work developed its own momentum and the right stitches seemed to suggest themselves.  At times, all I could see, were the number patterns. It was not like knitting at all but like seeing into the matrix, seeing only code!  Those moments were pure bliss and then I would lose my head and need to go back a bit and put the right stitches in! Eurphoria and hubris in one garment.  You cannot ask for a better knitting experience.








20. August 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: | 13 comments

North and South

I have been listening to North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell through Craft Lit.

iListenNorthandSouthCraft Lit is a weekly podcast featuring an audio book reading with commentary, hosted by Heather Ordover.  The books are all out of copyright books in the public domain, mainly Victorian fiction such as Dracula, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White and currently North and South.  Heather introduces and concludes each chapter with historical and literary context.  It is a fascinating way to listen to a story, even one you might have read often.

I fell in love with Craft Lit listening to Jane Eyre, a story I have read hundred times.  I had not realised just how often I had skipped over biblical and French bits I didn’t understand.  Heather researches every foreign language bit, every biblical reference, every reference to an arcane bit of costume.  The story became fresh and new and the experience changed the way I approach reading and listening.  It has got me paying attention and being curious.

And now I am falling in love with North and South, a novel I had never read before and got so compelled by, I had to borrow a copy and read fast to the conclusion just for narrative closure! 

North and South was published in 1855 after being serialised in one of Charles Dickens weekly journal, Household Words.  Set in a fictionalised Manchester, North and South tells the story of the meeting of the industrial north of England with the pastoral gentility of the South of England through the complex relationship between John Thornton, a mill owner and Margaret Hale, a dissenting clergyman’s daughter.

800px-Manchester_from_Kersal_Moor_William_Wylde_(1857)Manchester, from Kersal Moor, William Wylde (1857), image from Wiki Commons.

The contemporary discussion of the cotton industry, class and the burgeoning labour movement is just fascinating.

The book contains the best description of the psychology of the Industrial Revolution I have ever come across as John Thornton speaks of Milton (Manchester) and the invention of the steam hammer to Mr Hale,

And this imagination of power, this practical realisation of a gigantic thought, came out of one man’s brain in our good town. That very man has it within him to mount, step by step, on each wonder he achieves to higher marvels still. And I’ll be bound to say, we have many among us who, if he were gone, could spring into the breach and carry on the war which compels, and shall compel, all material power to yield to science.

Gosh, there is everything in there: the Victorian ideal of the self made man, conquest of nature by science, the belief in the inevitability of progress and the incredible optimism in technological innovation.

Photocopy_from_Evan_Leigh's_Modern_Cotton_Spinning_(Vol_1),_Manchester,_1873_(PL_XXI);_illustration_of_turbine_and_belt_system._-_Harmony_Manufacturing_Company,_Mill_Number_3,_100_HAER_NY,1-CEvan Leigh, Modern Cotton Spinning Vol 1 Manchester, 1873, image from Wiki Commons

Something that struck me as I was reading and then listening to the book, was the sustained theme of pride and independence of the male Manchester weavers distilled into the character of Nicholas Higgins.

When Margaret first meets Nicholas and his daughter, she asked to visit them in the charitable way she was used to doing with poor parishioners in the South.  However, instead of being grateful and humble, Higgins says roughly ‘I’m none so fond of having strange folk in my house’.

It is only when he sees that she is embarrassed by his answer, he softens and offers, ‘Yo’re a foreigner, as one may say, and maybe don’t know many folk here, and yo’ve given my wench her flowers out of yo’r own hand; -yo may come if yo like’. Whilst still rejecting her charity and his servility, Nicholas pities this middle class woman and concedes to her visiting them.

This kind of class challenge seemed suprising until I came across E.P. Thompson’s account of the Manchester weavers in  The Making of the English Working Class which I have been dipping in and out of whilst listening to North and South.

He includes some testimony from Manchester cotton weavers to a Select Committee in 1823.

…no man would like to work in a power-loom, they do not like it, there is such a clattering and noise it would also make some men mad; and next, he would have to be subject to a discipline that a hand-loom weaver can never admit to. [my emphasis]

Modern_Power_Loom-marsdenFrom Richard Marsden, Cotton Weaving: Its development, principles and practice, 1895 from Wiki Commons

Prior to industrialisation cotton spinning and weaving was a cottage industry located in the regions around Manchester.  These weavers considered themselves independent artisans.  With the expansion of the cotton industry in the latter half of the eighteenth century, more and more farmers became part time weavers attracted by the high wages.  As mechanisation was introduced and looms were organised in factories, the status of these artisans declined to that of ‘hands’ operating a machine.

And yet it seems the vestiges of the this independence and pride remained.  Manchester became the crucible of the Trade Union and Suffragette movements, a place of radical ideas. It is where Robert Owen, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels developed their theories on labour.

IMG_3705With wondrous synchronicity, My Man recently brought home this children’s book by Scholastic called You Wouldn’t Want to be a Victorian Mill Worker – A Gruelling Job you’d Rather Not Have.

Within these pages, you can see the squalor in which the mill workers lived, the cost of food relative to wages, the hours of work and punishing labour. The hardships children underwent working in the mills are described in horrifying detail.  Here is an illustration of the cotton fluff children breathed into their lungs, which often, as in the case of Bessie in North and South, resulted in a lung condition they died from.

IMG_3707I didn’t expect to enjoy North and South so much, it was such a suprise to me. I had only read Gaskell’s Cranford, a very intimate portrayal of a tiny, quiet world. North and South is so large in its themes, a gripping story set within graphic, raw descriptions of class conflict, poverty, violence and social change.

It also documents an historic period of transformation in textile production…from one of cottage industry to the culmination of specialisation and mechanisation of spinning and weaving.  This transformation was so successful that even in the 1880s, revivals of  hand spinning skills were being organised lest traditional handicrafts be completely lost. In Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning, Patricia Baines describes one such hand spinning revival in the Lake District in England called the Ruskin Linen Industry of Keswick.  It was apparently the only enterprise that Ruskin ever lent his name to.

Ah, North and South has led me a merry dance! A great read and a great listen on Craft Lit. Thank you Heather Ordover.








16. August 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 8 comments

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

IMG_3713Freshly finished…a cardigan for an eight year old friend of ours.  It is my own design that I have named Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside. Ravelled here.

Knitting for children as they get older is a tricky thing.  Some don’t like things around their neck. Some don’t like the heaviness of wool. And then there is the minefield of colour.

This cardigan was designed to be something that could be left at the beach house for rugging up on a windy walk by the sea or as a warm thing over your bathers as evening comes in. I used a variegated yarn to introduce a range of colours that a child could attach themselves to, a nautical stripe and purple marbled buttons that will hopefully seal the deal.

IMG_3730I am proud to say that this all came out of the stash, which is my favourite place for putting together a project. The blue is Heirloom Easy Care 8ply.  I had three balls and needed to buy one extra to finish the button band.  The white is of unknown origin as it came from an oppy with no ball bands but it is a commercial cabled jobbie that is probably machine washable. The variegated yarn is very special and was the nucleus of the whole cardigan.

IMG_3206It is a Jillybean yarn called Tweed Sock in a colourway called Sunrise Tweed.  I bought it on our UK adventure a couple of years ago and had been saving it for something special.  There was 400 m in the skein and I reckon I have got about a third left still. It is a machine washable merino sock yarn in a light sportsweight.  It has combined with the DK in a lovely way, the different yarn weights creating a slight corrugated effect which accentuates the stripes.

IMG_3724Variegated yarns often pool when they have been dyed in short repeats. Whilst I love the colours in variegated yarns, I don’t really like a pooling effect. I reckon striping with contrasting yarns is a way to both highlight the variegation but break up any pooling.

IMG_3718This cardigan was knit in the round with raglan sleeves and steeked fronts.  Steeking is when you cut up the middle of your knitting and bind off the cut stitches securely. Machine washable yarn in not usually recommended for a steeked garment.  The additional processing undergone by the yarn, removes the barbs along the fibre shafts to prevent the fibres from mashing together and felting.  Steeking normally requires fibres that are good at sticking together to provide a secure edge.

I could have just knit back and forth but knitting in the round is so quick and I don’t really have much available knitting time so I really needed a steeking solution that would work for machine washable yarns.

After much thought, I used Tom of Holland’s knotted steek method.  In this method, you unravel the steek stitches…

IMG_3428Then cut them in half, knotting the yarn ends in pairs…

IMG_3433And weave in the ends.

IMG_3430I should have picked up the stitches for the button band prior to weaving in but I forgot and it was a tough job to find the stitches to pick up.

IMG_3714The result is strong and secure but the stripes have been a little distorted by the weaving in of the steek ends.  This wouldn’t be a problem if this was just plain knitting. It is a little bit of an experiment to see if the steek stays secure over time and wearing. I shall have to let you know how it goes.

Fingers crossed our friend likes her cardigan or that their beach house is so cold, she will have to wear it!


11. August 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , | 7 comments

Inside the Ribbon Tin: August

IMG_1078Welcome to the August opening of the Ribbon Tin. Inside the Ribbon Tin is a monthly series featuring a miscellany of bits and bobs, odds and sods, knicks and knacks, all sorts of interesting things related to textiles and making.

First out of the Tin this month is a yarn bombing festival that a dear reader let me know about.  It seems Australian country towns have embraced yarn bombing.  I have been seeing cosied trees and and signs everywhere.  But I have never seen anything like this before.

sparkling adventures 1Photograph with permission of Sparkling Adventures

This is Jumpers and Jazz in July, a fibre festival in Warwick Queensland. There are exhibitions, prizes for tree covers and a yarn bombing extravaganza.

sparkling adventures 2Photograph with permission of Sparkling Adventures

A very special part of the festival was an exhibition called Knitchen by Loretta Grayson, an entire retro style kitchen covered in textiles.  You can read more about the festival on the fabulous Australian road trip blog Sparkling Adventures of a Free Range Life.

Next, I want to share with you the best description of spinning ever…

Spinning is the technique of twisting together a number of fibres which can vary in length…into a strong, continuous thread. If a bunch of any textile fibres is held in one and with the other a few fibres are drawn-out, these will part company from the bunch, but if the hand drawing-out the fibres at the same time twists them in one direction only, they start to form a thread. Give them more twist and the thread becomes stronger, and continue to draw-out fibres while twisting them and they become a continuous length.

Patricia Baines wrote that in 1977 in her book, Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning and it just says everything really.  Such a simple concept that requires years to master as a technique. One of my spinning friends lent me this book after she found it in an charity shop… what treasure!

IMG_3772Now read possibly the worst description of spinning ever, in one of our picture books…

Women twirled a spinning wheel wound with wool or plant fibers and pulled out long threads for weaving clothes and household goods.

What does that even mean?

IMG_3776The picture doesn’t make it any clearer. It looks like the woman is pulling out yarn from the spindle instead of it being wound on.  The illustration moves too when you pull a handy arrow, making things even more confusing. But hey…it is very pretty!

IMG_3778The book contains amazing medieval pop ups including knights in armour and jousting so I can forgive the spinning mistakes in its marvels.

Back to the previous marvel though, Patricia Baines and her spinning book which is just full of curious annecdotes and emphemera.

This is my favourite…apparently the Patron Saint of Wool Combers is Bishop Blaise. This is not because he had anything to do with wool but rather because he died after being tortured with instruments which were similar in look to wool combs in Armenia in 316.

640px-Saint_Blaise_Louvre_OAR504Stained glass from Picardy, France, 13th Century. Blaise is in the middle. The photograph is by Jastrow, 2005, Wiki Creative Commons

But wait…it gets more bizarre. From 1769 till 1825, in Bradford, Yorkshire (still a woolly place where wool is spun) a festival to honour the Saint was held every seven years. A procession of folks carried lots of wool and represented all the wool trades including staplers, spinners, sorters, charcoal burners, dyers, comb makers, and combers. According to Baines’ description, they all wore wigs make of combed wool! The Saint was represented surrounded by shepherds and shepherdesses and Jason and Medea (the Golden Fleece thing I guess).

What I would not give to see such a parade!

800px-Bishop_Blaise_pub_IMG_1466Bishop Blaise Pub, Derby, 2006, photography by Mark Shirley, Wiki Creative Commons

And here is the Bishop Blaise in Derby, the town in the North of England that built the first mechanised factory and considered the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.  Interestingly, the factory produced silk not wool but clearly those Northerners loved their Blaise.

And that’s all folks.

07. August 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 4 comments

Trews and Frock

Older readers might remember my Trouser Quest last year, to find the perfect trouser pattern.  For me that pattern is New Look 6713, recommended by and borrowed from my neighbour.  After fitting and altering the basic pattern, I have made this pattern three times now and the latest version is my favourite.

IMG_3661Three quarter length and made of a denim that will outlast me, it feels super comfortable.

IMG_3662It even has red top-stitched pockets.

IMG_2782And a red poker dot waistband lining that you might recognise as left overs from the Spooky Doll Project.

IMG_2777Three years after finding a wonderful late sixties/early seventies cotton frock in a small town in New Zealand, I actually made the quick alterations needed to make it wearable.

It had been home sewn. The seams were not finished and hems and facings had been hand stitched.

The dress was enormous on me but the construction was so simple that all I needed to do was to move the side seams inwards by three inches on each side.  I added a zip in one of the side seams and took up the hem a couple of inches.

Then I froze for a couple of minutes to take this pic.  Our Dear Boy made the Lion Mask which has quite the look of a Sun about it.

IMG_3733As I listen to the thunder and hail on our tin roof tonight, this pic reminds me that summer is coming and probably all too soon.



01. August 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | Tags: , | 5 comments

Wool Show Treasures

And here are my treasures from the Australian Sheep and Wool Show 2014…already knitted and spun in my mind’s eye!

IMG_3611Two skeins of Mosley Park English Leicester and Merino blend in double knitting weight.  Grown and dyed by Mosely Park in South Australia and the last of batch of Australian spun. There is about 200 grams here, hopefully enough for a sturdy cardigan for Our Dear Girl who needs really tough clothes.

IMG_3608Three skeins of sports weight Polwarth from Wendy  and Tom Dennis’s property near the Otway Ranges in Victoria, scoured in Geelong and spun in New Zealand.  Available on line at  The Dennis family developed the Polwarth breed from Saxon Merino and Lincoln sheep in the mid nineteenth century and have been improving the breed ever since.  It is a fine wool sheep that can thrive in the wetter conditions of the Otways and the first truly Australia sheep breed.

IMG_3618Indigo dyed Finn sheep fibre from Fairfield Finns.  Maureen does a beautiful indigo dye.  That colour is deeply satisfying to me and Finn is such wonderful to spin with.  I have only spun with Finn fleece before so I am looking forward to experiencing the prepared fibre.  Finn Sheep are a rare breed in Australia, although not a rare Australian breed, having been introduced from Finland a relatively short time ago.

IMG_3606A plait of Angel Bunny from Ixchel.  It is a blend of Angora rabbit grown in Victoria by Ixchel, Cashmere, Bluefaced Leicester and Tencel.  This is the kind of thing that I rarely buy because I always wonder what I would knit from it.  But when I saw it, it suddenly made sense of the Polwarth and the Finn I had bought, uniting all the colours in a next-to-the-skin softness. I have grand plans to turn this lot into a Stephen West, Enchanted Mesa that I have been dreaming about at night ever since I heard Brenda Dayne from Cast On talking about putting one together.

IMG_3625And of course, vintage buttons from The Button Lady.

Here is a treasure that I didn’t buy but as soon as I reckon I could find a use for it, I’ll be a-saving up for it.

IMG_3532It is called a phang and is made by The Lair of the Bearded Dragon of Victorian Blackwood by a clearly very talented woodturner. It is a supported spindle that you would use with a wee spinning bowl for spinning very very short fibres like yak.  I am not sure if there is a lot of yak in my future so please do suggest what else could be spun with it.  The phang is available from Spun Out.

28. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, spinning | Tags: , | 7 comments

Australian Sheep and Wool Show 2014

Last Saturday, our family made the annual pilgrimage to Bendigo for the Australian Sheep and Wool Show. It was a fine winter day, chill but sunny. Bendigo was looking majestic and festively woolly.

The Wool Show was here.

IMG_3581It looks a little bleak doesn’t it but rest assured, there were lots more folks inside!

The Wool Show advertises itself as ‘the biggest of its kind in the world’. I am not really sure what that means…the most sheep perhaps or the biggest show that has sheep, shearing and wool craft all together…mmm, not sure.  Perhaps someone else knows? Anyway, it has been going a long time, continuously since 1877!

Certainly, there is a lot to see if you like sheep or wool. There is sheep showing with many breeds represented 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 and Cheviot.

The Australian Fleece Competition and Black and Coloured Competition also take place during the show. There is also the North Central Victorian Sports Shears Shearing and Wool Handling Competition, Sheep Dog trials and a ram sale.

The Wool Show also includes a Wool Craft competition with a variety of classes including handspinning, weaving, felting, knitting and crochet using handspun and commercial yarns. Within the Wool Craft sheds you can see lots of folks demonstrating wool crafts including feltmakers, machine knitters, spinners and weavers. There are fashion shows featuring woollen garments and everything on sale including socks, sheepskin products, buttons, mobile sheep dips, spinning wheels, sheep races, BBQs, pocket knives and shoe polish.

And of course there is yarn for sale. Lots and lots of yarn.

You could just go crazy so I think it helps to have a plan. This year I decided I had enough fleeces but I wanted to buy breed specific Australian grown and spun yarn.  What I noticed however, as I foraged amongst the stalls, was the abundance of overseas grown wool, dyed in Australia.  Dyers talked about how hard it was to source Australian grown and spun yarn particularly in fingering (4ply) and laceweights.  Gin and Tonic Yarns source their merino in Australia but have to send the fibre to the UK and US for spinning.

Without exception, all the farmer/yarn producers I spoke to were having to send their fibre overseas for spinning.  Mosely Park used to get their wool spun at a mill just outside Bendigo which has now closed down. Jan was selling her last stocks of the Australian spun yarn.  Tarndie Wool used to get their Polwarth fibre spun in Geelong, however this mill has since closed down and now the fibre is sent to NZ.  Bennett and Gregor used to get their Merino/Corridale coloured fleece spun in Kyneton however since the closure of that mill too, they must send the fibre to NZ.  Similarly, Fairfield Finns and Fibre Naturally must send their sheep fleeces to NZ for spinning.

IMG_3522Why is it that NZ, with much less population than us, can still maintain mills that cater to small farmers? Is this about government support and encouragement? Sending fibre overseas for processing adds to the carbon footprint of the end product and undermines the hard work farmers put in to creating and marketing a local product.  It also adds to the costs and admistrative hassle of producing yarn. To send fibre to New Zealand, the wool must be scoured to high temperatures to ensure that it will not harbour disease in order to pass through customs.

Only the alpaca fibre seemed to be locally spun at small mills. Because alpaca fibre is not greasy, it is a simpler, less costly operation.

Please do love your local farmer/yarn producers, seek them out and buy from them. Even if their on-line shop looks a bit empty, check back often.  These folks are not yarn supermarkets but the actual people taking care of the sheep who are growing that yarn.

I also noticed an increasing number of yarns and fibre being labelled according to breed. Mosely Park, Ixchel, Kathy’s Fibres and Gin and Tonic Yarns were a few sellers with great breed specific labelling.

The other thing I noticed was a new focus on conservation and heritage based farming practices as part of the yarn story.  Gin and Tonic Yarns source their wool directly from New Merino farms. New Merino is a certification scheme that ensures that sheep farms are managed for sustainablity and animal welfare principles.  Similarly Kathy’s Fibres featured White Gum merino, a Tasmanian sheep farm run on conservation principles.  Ixchel were selling rare breed Churro fibre from the Navaho Sheep Project and fibre from rare Norwegian sheep breed Gra Troender.

I also counted three stalls selling India Flint style eco dyed merino garments.


Every year I go to the Wool Show, it seems that the Wool Craft sellers get pushed further and further into the dark galvanised iron sheds away from the animals and the rest of the show.  It is so dark in the these sheds, you have to take yarn outside to see it properly.  Fairfield Finns moved their stall to the Finn sheep tent and it was a revelation.  The tent was light and the Finn fleeces, fibre, yarn and knitted products stood alongside the lovely Finn sheep. The President of the Finn Association was there and the tent presented a full circle from animal to farmer to knitter.

Next post, I will share my Wool Show treasures with you.  In the meantime, if you went to the Wool Show, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.



23. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: | 7 comments

Fibre Journey: Alpaca

IMG_1846This is Rosie. Well, a bag of Rosie’s fibre. Rosie is an alpaca who with her brother and mother live with my parents in country Victoria.

IMG_3478Alpacas originate in the Peruvian Andes and were beloved of the Ancient Incas. According to The Fleece and Fibre Source Book, the quality of alpaca fibre declined after the Spanish invasion which beggars the imagination when considering just how soft and fine the fibre must have been at the height of the Inca civilisation.

IMG_1108This is Chester, her brother. I have no picture of Rosie as she is people and camera shy. So just imagine an all black, more elegant version of Chester.

When my folks got their alpacas shorn for the first time, I took a bag of Rosie home to spin up for them.  Alpacas like to roll like dogs on the ground and her fibre was full of dust and vegetable matter and lots of burrs. Alpaca fibre is renown for its warmth and given the small amount of fibre I had, I decided to make a winter hat for my father. This way he could have something useful and warm and made from his own animal.

IMG_1848This was my first time working with alpaca so I did a bit of research and winged the rest. I didn’t wash it as I would a sheep fleece as alpaca fibre is not greasy. I flicked the locks with a flick carder which opened them enough to release a lot of the grass bits. As I flicked, I blew on each lock, blowing out the dust and more grassy bits.

IMG_1862The staple length was quite short, about two inches and I flicked my knuckles a lot. Those wires are sharp and painful and at the end of every session I had to soak my hands in disinfectant. You hear terrible stories about flick carder infections and I decided that wasn’t a road I wanted to travel.

IMG_1869Again, due to the shortness of the staple, I decided to card the fibre into rolags. This was my first time using the hand carders but under the guidance of the YouTube oracles, the rolags formed airily and fairly consistently. They looked like little furry pets lying there. You could not help but squeeze them.

IMG_2834The next stage was to experiment with the spinning, the amount of twist and thickness of the plies.  The sampling process was documented in a previous post, Sampling for Calm and geeky deets are ravelled here. The yarn was finished with a wash and thwack. At the end of processing and spinning I had 207 m of two ply yarn with 7 twists per inch, approximately 50 grams of fingering weight.

IMG_2927After swatching with different needle sizes to get the right drape and a useful gauge, I worked out stitch counts for head circumference and row counts for length. I cast on 108 stitches on 3.75 mm needles.  This is a slightly larger needle size than usual for fingering weight yarns but apparently alpaca blooms a little after washing and I wanted to account for this. The hat is a simple beanie with a fold over brim for added ear warmth in a broad rib 9 x 9 rib pattern. The crown was shaped with leaning decreases along the edges of the rib pattern every fourth round, finishing with a round of centred double decreases before threading the yarn through the remaining stitches. The finished unfolded hat is 26 cm long for a head circumference of approximately 56 cm. Ravelled here.

IMG_3482This is my first project of entirely deliberate, planned spinning for a specific project. It worked!  I am pleased with the process and the extraordinary softness of the yarn but the processing time for this particular fibre was inordinately time consuming.  It is hard to tell just how many hours are in this hat but the journey unfolded over the last six months albeit in the nooks and crannies of regular life. Here is a list of all the processes that went into transforming a bag of Rosie into a warm winter hat.

  • Flick carding to open the fibre
  • Blowing out dust and plant material
  • Carding into rolags
  • Sampling
  • Spinning singles
  • Plying
  • Finishing the yarn
  • Swatching for gauge and needle size
  • Pattern design
  • Knitting
  • Blocking

Imagine doing that lot every time you needed any kind of garment! There is something to be said for mechanisation and mass production.




18. July 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, spinning | Tags: , , | 8 comments

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