Operation Man Shirt

In my attempt to make from what I already have, in the waning days of the year, I am launching Operation Man Shirt, a quest to usefully transform all My Man’s old, worn business shirts that in some frugal madness I have stored for years.

To that end, I removed all the buttons and stitched them on to cardboard.  Instead of being invisible, they now look, useful, appealing and covetable!

IMG_5124I also removed all the labels for keeping because I think they are kind of cool, especially the ones that include place of manufacture. I am sure they will be useful one day.

IMG_5126Inspired by Rachaeldaisy’s work which was recently showcased in Quilting Down Under,

IMG_5171I cut out some circles for Suffolk Puffs/Yo Yos.

IMG_5123Some went into a GiveWrap.

IMG_5115I made this in a rush of blood, straight after coming back from a weekend away…I was really really tired and apparently couldn’t even spell Instagram. I could have unpicked and redone the label, but I decided to immortalise my fatigue and very human error with a hand stitched correction. It will just add to its story I think. You can follow that journey on Instagram using the #givewrap hashtag.

IMG_5114The puffs give the GiveWrap, a delightful three dimensional quality,

IMG_5119especially when all wrapped up.

The other circles are being saved for another project. I am going to challenge myself to have nothing left of this pile of shirts within six months. If you have got any ideas on what to do with ManShirts do let me know. You could also post any of your shirt projects on Instagram tagged with #operationmanshirt if you fancy. Oh, it’s Christmas…I am talking crazy…we’ll talk new projects in the new year of course.

12. December 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | Tags: , | 13 comments


Election day is Fun Day at our school. Like many state schools in Victoria, we are a polling station and election days are a great time to hold a fete and raise money for things like library books and building and grounds improvements.  This year My Man and I decided to run a Learn to Juggle stand as part of our little cog in the big machine that is Fun Day.  That meant a month of joyful making of juggling balls for our kits.

IMG_3920They are cut from cotton drill in the shape of an equilateral triangle. I used a rotary cutter and mat and the work went quickly.

IMG_4871Then there was the machine sewing.

IMG_4870I used up all my bits and bobs of sewing thread cos matching thread wasn’t critical.

IMG_4880Then came the filling with lentils which was undertaken by a variety of children, visitors to our home and of course, My Man.

IMG_4875I did the hand sewing to stitch them closed. On my way to making three hundred of these little beasties, I quite fell in love with their appealing wee forms.

IMG_4873They look like empty wontons like this.

IMG_4879And like delicious samosas like this.

IMG_4942And like a jube rainbow like this.

IMG_4953We packaged them up in some lovely coffee baggies donated by a friend. Each kit came with three juggling balls and an instruction sheet on how to get going and build your skills. My Man has been teaching his students to juggle for years and has a way with breaking skills down and then putting it all together into actual juggling. Alas, the skills of teaching and of juggling are not mine, but I can sew the blessed things.

IMG_5022We looked luffley on the day and My Man juggled his big heart out, gave personal instruction and ran a Learn to Juggle workshop in the Workshop Tent.  We did just fine and it was fun fun fun.

But as I mentioned, we were but a small cog, placed by greater minds into the marvelous feat of logistics, hard yakka and faith that is the Fun Day Machine.

There were Bouncy Castles, Dig for Treasure, Snail Races, Lucky Jars, a Plant Stall, Trash and Treasure, Face Painting, Massage, Nachos, Sausages, Snow Cones, Fairy Floss, an Obstacle Course, Games, Workshops, a Craft Stall, a Cake Stall, Musical Performers and a Silent Auction.

Phew! And that was all mums and dads baking cakes, growing plants, loaning bubble cars, trestle tables, umbrellas, putters. Mums and dads making the fairy floss, sizzling the sausages, cooking the jam and serving the lemonade. It is an amazing thing to be a part of, to get a sense of the massive work undertaken by generous, capable folks and to feel connected to a bigger community.

Our Dear Boy wept at the day’s end, for the sadness of the end of Fun Day.  But you can count on elections…they will return, as will Fun Day.


04. December 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | 13 comments

Inside the Ribbon Tin: November

IMG_1078Inside 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. Come and see what is inside the Ribbon Tin this month.

First out of the tin this month is this marvellous pin cushion made by Our Dear Niece.

IMG_20141130_212900She is in junior high school and revealing herself to be a very self directed, innovative maker. Lacking a sewing machine, she hand stitches everything, including purses and bags. The Force is strong in this one.

For those who have not yet encountered the Force, the Handmakers Factory in Melbourne, is trying to spread basic craft skills to more folks. Through Dreamstarter crowd funding, they are attempting to raise enough money to custom fit a Mend It Workshop truck which would see a mobile sewing centre upskilling folks to mend zips and put hems instead of throwing stuff away. Give them a hand if you can.

IMG_2357Reading about spinning all the yarn you need to weave every cloth and fabric needed by your family gives you an appreciation of the importance of mending. AnnieCholewa.com is offering a delightful opportunity to join a read-along of my fave and yours, Women’s Work: the first 20,000 years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. This is a book to read and reread so I reckon I might just hop along to this read-along.

adventuresinyarnfarmingIn honour of the end of Wovember, I thought I would share this description of sheep shearing from a book I am reading at the moment, Adventures in Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Farm (2013) by Barbara Parry.

The process of separating sheep from fleece is a bit like unzipping a baby in a bunting. Andy starts by unbuttoning the belly wool with a series of short strokes of the shears called ‘blows’. Protecting the udder with his hand, he works the blade carefully around the crutch, the ewe’s hindquarters. He next unfleeces the left rear leg, then unzips the upper portion of the fleece at the inside of the neck like a sweater, by working the comb upward from brisket to chin. He cleans the face and strips the left front shoulder. A deft 90-degree pivot of a ewe on her fanny [rump] is followed by the long blows that run the entire length of the sheep from tail to ears. He then strips the right flank. There is no rushing here, this is not a race. Working entirely within the moment to the rattle and hum of the shears, we breathe and channel our collective energy. The sheep stay mellow. The fleeces are exquisite.

I imagine when you have that kind of skill, the work almost becomes an act of non-doing where the sheep, the shearer and the blade move almost as one in the separation of fleece from sheep. No wonder the sheep are mellow, I feel mellow just reading it!

And that’s all folks…till next month.


30. November 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: observations, sewing, spinning | Tags: | 8 comments

Spin the Wilderland

The Riverwife whorls came with us when we went camping in Western Victoria recently.

IMG_4638The spot we go is a special place encircled with towering Blue Gums Eucalyptus globulus and Messmates Eucalyptus obliqua. The trees bear the blackened trunks of past fires and bracken has taken over much of the understory.

IMG_4640There are fallen trees to play on and scar trees to find. The scars attest to the skillful cuts of the Djab Wurrung people, the Traditional Owners of the land, who drew shields and carrying vessels from the living trees until the Occupation of their land 150 years ago.

The whorls seemed to belong here, the oxide merges the whorls back into the earth they originate from.

IMG_4696My spinning kit included the whorls, a sharp knife and some scoured Victorian longwool fleece. The fleece was a mystery fleece I was given, most likely Border Leicester. Deb Robson was generous enough to bend her Sherlock Holmesian identification skills towards that fleece earlier this year. Her identification process is a wonder to read.

IMG_4699With the knife, I cut a dead bracken stem to size…it was straight, smooth and strong. I picked the large whorl for a slow spin as this fibre wouldn’t need much twist with its low number of crimps. I used some grass to stabilise the whorl on the shaft. The prewashed locks were prepared only by opening them gently with my fingers and hand twisting a leader.

IMG_4702The whorl spins fast for a short time and then stops…dead.  I found if I let it rest on the ground, I could draft a bit more and take up excess twist before winding on. This is quite a different spin to my turned top whorls which spin long.  After a few experiments, it seemed that mid whorl seemed the best position for stability but I need to experiment with the length of the shaft.

IMG_4712I spun up two singles, leaving them on their shafts and just changing the whorl to another bracken shaft. Our Dear Boy held the shafts lightly in his hands so the singles could run easily whilst plying onto another shaft using the same whorl.

IMG_4682Then, with an empty baked beans tin and some bracken leaves, I gave dyeing over the campfire a go.

IMG_4717Despite soaking overnight, colour was such a palid green, I decided to add Blue Gum leaves to the pot. The tree was at the entrance to our campsite and had been felled years ago. The secondary growth was low to the ground unlike anything else amongst the towering canopy that surrounded us.

IMG_4775The Blue Gum yielded a beautiful rusty gold on unmordanted yarn, a yarn now imbued with the smell of campfire and eucalypt, the light of the sun through leaves, the southern stars, chill mornings, birdsong and the drone of flies.  It is yarn that both evokes and embodies the experience of camping here. And whilst I marvel at the beauty of this, it does not escape me that the symbolic fleece that is my conduit to connection with this landscape was instrumental in the displacement of the First Peoples from the land.

IMG_4664I took home the whorls and the yarn, the tin went to recycling and the stems, leaves and dye bath went back to the earth.

These whorls will become my trusty camping companions, as much a part of the packing as the cast iron frying pan and the sleeping bags. Small, mighty tools for spinning the landscape.


24. November 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: spinning | Tags: | 16 comments

Spin like an Ancient…kinda, sorta, not really

Ever since I read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s extraordinary book Women’s Work: the first 20,000 years, I have been fascinated by spindle spinning.  I have a couple of beautiful, wood turned ones, a cherry Maggie and a Bog Oak IST, both top whorl spindles. They are expensive and precious to me. I am careful with them.

bobbin2Illustration by Barbara Wayland Barber (1991)

More than simply spinning with a hand spindle, I am curious about ancient spinning techology, the simple clay, bone or stone whorls coupled with a straight stick that were common throughout the ancient world. The whorls survive the eons long after the timber shaft has persished. These are hardy tools. Whorls like these enabled entire communities to survive the winter, clothed everyone from slaves to emperors and spun the yarn for sails that storms and broad oceans.

I really wanted to try spinning on an ancient spindle and flirted with the idea of buying a Viking reproduction spindle…there are such things out there on the interwebs. But it felt a bit silly, purchasing an ancient style spindle over the internet from another country to reproduce something that never happened in this country. I started to think about Barber’s work and how I might use some of the qualities of ancient spindles to respond to the Australian landscape. In this journey I was also informed by Debbie Zawinski’s article in Spin.Off Winter 2014, The Feral Spinner: Evolving back to the basics of making yarn. I have discussed this article before if you are curious.

The desire to replicate a historical artefact evolved into an experiment of spinning place, my place.

IMG_4578So I went to my local potter, Riverwife Clay. She lives in my village and our children attend the same village school. She makes objects from the earth that reflect our landscape and flora. She made a range of whorl sizes and weights suggested by dimensions of whorls in musem collections, glazed in oxides and incised with her own designs.

The whorls feel wonderful to handle and they make little thunking sounds as they touch in their muslin wrapping cloth. So small, so powerful. So easy to transport. They have a beauty that I find impossible to describe…they hold me in thrall. I am compelled to look at them, handle them, listen to them.

IMG_4581The size range means theoretically I can choose a whorl to suit the spinning, a small, fast one for fine spinning, a heavier slower one for thicker yarns. Probably in eons past, a turned timber shaft with a convex profile would have been used to fit a variety of whorl sizes.  I searched the garden for straight sticks of various sizes and tried some apricot prunings. It was OK but the yarn snagged on the knobby bits. I needed a straighter stick.

IMG_4592In the next post, you can see the spindle whorls in the bush, in their full glory, actually making yarn…do come back.



20. November 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: spinning | Tags: | 16 comments

Wovember Fibre Farm: Granite Haven

It was Granite Haven’s open day at their Gotland sheep and llama fibre farm last week.

IMG_4829Granite Haven is located just out of Euroa, Central Victoria in the Strathbogie Ranges. It is well named after the granite formations visible across the landscape, formed 350 million years ago during the period of intense volcanic activity that formed much of the Victorian topology and geology. There have been sheep in these hills since 1842.

After climbing into the hills from the plains and driving down a well graded gravel road, you come to the shining new shearing shed and enthused welcome of Cheryl Crosbie, the sheep and llama farmer.

IMG_4823The shed nestles into a stand of eucalypts and it really is a most pleasant situation.

IMG_4810Cheryl had just finished shearing her Gotland sheep, so the fleeces were fresh and the shed smelled pleasantly of lanolin. Being of the long wool family, Gotland sheep are not particularly greasy, so the smell is more enticing and exciting than that intense, sheepy wallop of some fleeces.

800px-Ramlamb_no._114367-00009_(Official_Danish_animal_register)Gotland ram lamb. Image by Jens Bonderup Kjeldsen from Wiki Commons Collection

Gotlands are a Swedish sheep, an early twentieth century breed developed from a more primitive Viking sheep. They are justly prized for the fineness and lustre of their lovely locks and the true grey colourings they produce. The greys range from pale silver to dark silver. Black is rare, although all the lambs start black and change to grey. The adult Gotland fleece changes in colour over time so every shearing brings a different range of colour. In a world where our expectations are formed more by industry than nature, we do have to accommodate and embrace this quality in a commercial product if we want to see it in the marketplace.  Maybe we can think of each year’s fleece as a different dye lot.

IMG_4819Cheryl sells her fleeces direct to spinners and also holds back a portion to be processed into roving and spun into yarn. Fleeces, roving and yarn can be purchased from the Granite Haven website or just the roving and yarn from EcoYarns. Bear in mind, stocks will be low till the fleeces are processed and spun. I used Granite Haven low twist 3 ply DK for my Maldon Shawl. It has a drapey quality that is just lovely to knit with.

IMG_3391Cheryl had a new Gotland yarn at her open day, something she calls a homespun style. It has a softer, loftier handle but less lustre than the Gotland yarn I have used before. I bought a range of greys to sample stranded colourwork with.

IMG_4832I also bought some llama roving as I am intrigued as to how this will compare to the alpaca I spun earlier this year. At first feel, it seems sturdier than the alpaca, not quite so soft.

IMG_4836The beasties themselves were remarkably stately creatures, more like a strong, wide horse to the deer-like alpaca.

IMG_4792We met some wee lambs that Cheryl was hand raising, mostly third babies that she says often get taken by foxes if not kept close. It was a bit disappointing not to meet the mamas who made the fleeces we saw. They were in a paddock beyond the shed. But the lambs kept us entertained as young creatures of all kinds seem to.

IMG_4797Of course, the one thing I didn’t buy, is the one thing I keep seeing in my mind’s eye. I didn’t buy a fleece. I can’t think why I didn’t although I am still a fleece novice and was rather overwhelmed by the bounty before me. Perhaps there is still time…

15. November 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, observations, spinning | 11 comments

Wovember Chicken Knitting

I knew I didn’t have quite enough yarn for a cardigan for Our Dear Girl but I was going to make it work anyway. As it is Wovember, I thought I would celebrate the endeavour and good sheep it came from.

IMG_3611The yarn is English Leicester x Merino by Moseley Park.  The sheep are raised by Jane and Ian at Moseley Park on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. This is a wheat and wool farm. I reckon this yarn is a bit special not just because of the special sheep it comes from but because it is some of the last of the yarn that was able to be spun in Australia by small growers.  I bought it at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show earlier this year and was able to meet and chat to Jane, the farmer.  It is a lovely  semi-variegated moss colour in the Brigit colourway.


20141112_193343English Leicester is a longwool sheep, part of a group of sheep recognisable by their Roman noses, upright ears and the lustrous, curly locks of their fleece.  English Leicester is sturdy, strong and rugged. It is not generally worn next to the skin. This is what Robson and Ekarius have to say about this fibre in The Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook (2011),

The Longwools include some of the largest sheep we have, but they are slow growing, which isn’t a trait industrial farmers aren’t interested in. Also, most wools used in commercial milling operations are medium-length fibers…no long wools need apply. But the good news is handspinners, knitters, crocheters, and weavers can really help to keep these animals and the farmers who raise them viable! …you can find fleeces…you can find ready-made yarns eager to meet your needles, hooks, or loom.

English_Leicester_LambsEnglish Leicester lambs at Collingwood Children’s Farm in Victoria, Australia. Image by Fernando de Sousa (2008). This image is part of the Wikimedia Commons collection.

Arriving in 1824, English Leicester is a rare, heritage sheep in Australia and according to Heritage Sheep Australia, only 17 flocks remain here. It is rare and endangered in the UK, its country of origin. This is precious stuff.

Now Our Dear Girl is hard on clothes and expects them to follow her up trees, in tunnels and through the mire. With her recent preference for green, the yarn seemed well chosen just not bountiful.  With only two skeins totaling 338 m, it was time to play yarn chicken.

IMG_4839I chose the pattern carefully, no experiments, no flights of fancy, just a trusty, well tested, well reviewed pattern. The stalwart chosen was Granny’s Favourite by Georgie Hallam, a fellow Victorian and designer of the Milo phenomenon. It is a top down cardigan specifically designed with chicken knitting in mind with flexible sleeve hem and body hem lengths. It also has a wide neck so that the robust yarn will not be next to the skin.

IMG_4846I knit the yoke first and divided for the sleeves.  After knitting a couple of rows of the body, I broke off the yarn leaving a tail of a couple of metres. The remaining yarn, I divided in half with the aid of my children and some street frontage. With each half, I knit up the sleeves alternating the second yarn ball to obscure the transition between balls. The sleeves were knit to a three quarter length to both conserve yarn and keep it away from skin. The remaining yarn went for the body and I knit till there was no more. Ravelry details here.

The buttons I found in the button jar after a thorough search.

IMG_4853As it is approaching summer here, this is not for immediate wear. I will give it at Christmas in anticipation of a Winter that is coming.

Local rare breed sheep, local production, local designer and the adrenalin rush of limited yarn…this is crack for knitters.

12. November 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , | 13 comments

Show to shawl

A couple of years ago I made this for Australian Sheep and Wool Show with some of my handspun yarn.


Baby Lottie won a prize and as part of the prize, I received this hand dyed merino top from Fibres Yarns and Threads.

IMG_3031I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with this. It is an exceptionally intense colour.

IMG_2793Then my new whorls arrived and I decided to try the fast whorl for some laceweight spinning. I just grabbed the fibre because it was handy but fell in love with the yarn I was making. It was as if the merino wanted to become lace. As I experimented, the project, pattern and recipient became clear also.  Spinning revealed paths and purpose.

IMG_3628I decided to spin for a 2 ply worsted laceweight that was slightly underplied, so I used the 18:1 whorl for both singles and plying. I spun 487m, that would be enough for the shawl I had in mind.

IMG_4551The pattern is Evelyn A. Clark’s Prarie Rose Lace Shawl from The Knitter’s Book of Wool (2009) by Clara Parkes. The rose pattern, the fushia colour…a flower theme seemed to serendipitously form around the person I realised the shawl was for.

IMG_4620The only modification I made was an extra repeat to make the shawl a little larger. Project details here.

Prarie Rose Lace Shawl is typical of Evelyn Clark’s shawls, elegant and restrained patterning, concise and clear instructions and garter tab cast on. This shawl also features an extra stretchy bind off which I had not used before and will now finish every shawl with.

The other thing I learned from this project was that it is unwise to knit lace during periods of emotional turmoil. The lace marks several points where I had to learn this lesson. I don’t think it has marred the work, rather it has encoded some lived experience into the shawl.

IMG_4629A row and a half to go, I ran out of yarn! But that was OK, I had kept records and could spin some more from the remaining fibre. I just had to finish the spinning project currently on the wheel which was using all my bobbins. As I finished that project the emptied bobbins surprisingly revealed the exact merino singles I needed and forgot about. I plyed them and kept knitting. I finished with an inch and a half to spare…not ideal but just enough.

IMG_4636Is this not a Shawl of Destiny? It was certainly determined to be made.


07. November 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | 16 comments

Small Things, Birthday Things

I have made lots of things for my children’s birthdays, costumes, needle cases, bike seat covers, bags and so on. This year all I got to make for both kids was a flower wreath for Our Dear Girl.

IMG_4506Beyond all things, she wanted a fairy dress, but not one that I made…a bought one! And all Our Dear Boy wanted was Lego. Well, we’ve all been there haven’t we, when only the bought thing would do.

Luckily, Our Dear Girl has some crafty friends who with some help from their mum, got the handmade quota up.

IMG_4521A treasure box with shells collected by little hands on holiday…good glue makes magic happen.

IMG_4523Ingenious hair clips…these little makers have a bright future ahead I reckon!

They are so lovely aren’t they?  These wee things made me realise how few small things I have been making recently.  Small things use clever, frugal ways of making useful, beautiful gifts. They are quick and simple and beloved of small people.

Long live small things!

03. November 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | Tags: | 8 comments

Inside the Ribbon Tin: October

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. Come and see what is inside the Ribbon Tin this month.

It seems that everywhere I look this month, there are crafty folks doing good works of all kinds, in all kinds of ways.

Patagonian grasslands. Image by Vincent van Zeijst from Wiki Commons

In Knitter’s Review, I recently read about a great project happening in Patagonia, the remote region in Southern Argentina and Chile. The region is home to extensive grasslands that since European settlement have been used as range land for wool farming. Argentina is fifth largest wool producer in the world, so it is a significant and intensive industry there. So intensive in fact that the land has become increasingly damaged through grazing resulting in loss of topsoil and substantial erosion. In 2008, local farmers, the US based Nature Conservancy and the clothing company Patagonia, formed a partnership to manage a portion of the region for biodiversity and production. Particpating farmers manage the range land according to a set of conservation standards, then sell on the certified wool. Patagonia, the company, agreed to buy the certified wool for its clothing line. The wool is also available as hand knitting yarn through Woolfolk.

In this way, your yarn dollars can directly support farming improvements in Patagonia. But what if you sew? Then perhaps Frocktober at The Drapery is more your thing.

All this month, which admittedly is almost over, any pattern and fabric purchase from The Drapery will be 10% off, to raise money for the Ovarian Cancer Reseach Foundation. The Drapery blog has been full of great indie patterns, sewn up dresses and fabric suggestions.

From purchase power to crowd funding, crafty folks are just making stuff happen: Knitsonik’s Kickstarter project to publish a book on how to interpret your surroundings into Fairisle motifs has come to marvellous fruition. Knitsonic Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by Felicity Ford has to be one of the most democratically inspired knitting books ever, from concept to funding. This is not a stitch library, rather a guide to generating your own personal stitch library from elements that you find around you, like beer bottles, brickwork, roads and electrical pylons. A genius idea eh, made posible by lots of folks giving small amounts of seed money.  You can purchase the book dirctly from Knitsonik, blog tour details are here.

Image by Misi Photo

In the last week I heard about, knitwear designer Maria Yarley donating all profits from the sale of her Graceful Pullover to her friend, a recently bereaved mum. Maria’s aim is to sell a thousand patterns by the end of November. It is a beautiful looking sweater. Don’t be dissuaded from making this for a boy either. I reckon it would look great in a rusty red or deep indigo on any young fellow but with a bit more ease than shown.

Image by Misi Photo

Now should all these good works be overwhelming you, your pile of promised charity knitting be everlasting, you are not alone.  It seems a few people are reflecting on the subject this month. Fourth Edition, My Life in Knitwear and  Knit You Next Tuesday are all pondering what it means to knit for charity and how to stay true to purpose.

29. October 2014 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, sewing | Tags: | 7 comments

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