The Riverwife whorls came with us when we went camping in Western Victoria recently.
The 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.
There 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.
My 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.
With 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.
The 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.
I 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.
Despite 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
So 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.
The 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.
It was Granite Haven’s open day at their Gotland sheep and llama fibre farm last week.
Granite 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.
Cheryl 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.
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.
Cheryl 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.
Cheryl 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.
We 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.
Of 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…
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.
The 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.
English 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 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.
I 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.
I 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.
Local rare breed sheep, local production, local designer and the adrenalin rush of limited yarn…this is crack for knitters.
A couple of years ago I made this for Australian Sheep and Wool Show with some of my handspun yarn.
Then 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.
The 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.
The 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.
A 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.
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.
Luckily, Our Dear Girl has some crafty friends who with some help from their mum, got the handmade quota up.
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!
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.
Party time for Our Dear Girl. We are alternating party years with our children now so it was her turn this year. Bet you can’t guess the theme she chose.
Birthday cake cut with magical efficiency from two round cakes…thank you Australian Women’s Weekly, provided with great timeliness by a dear friend. Decorated by the kids, me supervising in slightly autocratic way.
Yes, it’s a puzzler alright!
Since our first GiveWrap event, last August, GiveWraps have been gently yet inexorably transforming the culture of disposable gift wrap into one of reciprocal giving of treasured wrapping cloths.
Made by Aisha
There is another GiveWrap workshop hosted by Needleworks Collective scheduled in Adelaide for November 8. Details are available on the Needleworks Collective site.
The GiveWrap project got a shoutout from Heather Ordover on CraftLit recently…folks just seem get the GiveWrap idea. 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.
And in the wilds of the interwebs, GiveWraps are appearing.
This is made by Polly from Cambridge, UK. She is a printmaker.
This is another GiveWrap by Polly, this one overprinted on a lace tablecloth.
Now, Polly has a cousin Katherine who lives in dear old Berwick-upon-Tweed, near Edinburgh. They decided to collaborate on some GiveWraps. So Katherine used some of Polly’s prints and combined them with other fabrics.
And all wrapped up…
I got to have some lovely email chat with Katherine and she agreed to share the backstory…
Polly is an artist, and does fabric prints, and I’m a knitter, stitcher, spinner…. So my patchwork incorporates Polly’s prints. We’ve never worked together before, so you’ve not only inspired us to make GiveWraps, but to work together. It is a real voyage of pleasurable discovery.
…my GiveWraps are very tied up with my Australian grandmother because they are fabrics deeply associated with her. She loved to wear flamboyant colours, and wore a lot of batik prints. When she died (some 30 years ago), I got a lot of these old dresses and remodelled them for myself. They are nearly worn out now – soft as soft, but tear easily. So they are perfect for GiveWraps.
When she came to the Uk, she married a rich Leicester businessman, and she started to have glamorous dresses made by a dressmaker. My acquisitive grandmother (a trait I’ve clearly inherited) begged all the dressmaker’s scraps from other clients’ dresses, so lots of beautiful silks and satins came our way too. It is the mixture of the batiks and silks that feature in my GiveWraps. The emotional stories behind fabrics and old re-used clothes are so deeply important.
You can see more from Polly and Katherine on Intagram #givewrap or in the Needleworks Collective gallery. Their story encapsulates the vision we had for the GiveWrap project and the layers of meanings that become invested in the cloths. I feel like each GiveWrap needs a wee blurb attached so that everyone can know its story.
So why don’t you make one? The instructions are here. Send us pics and stories…we just love them.
A good spot to stop on the way to Adelaide is a town called Keith. Cool name for a town eh.
Keith is where we stop after we have crossed the border into South Australia from Victoria. We always buy a Golden North Giant Twins icecream because you can’t buy them in Victoria and My Man likes to relive the days of yore in Adelaidia by celebrating this way.
Keith is a bit special. It is very small and always seems very quiet. But it has a cracker of a wee metal railcar on tracks for children in the local park and two pretty good op shops.
Some good person has knitted these out of scraps and to fit a range of dolly sizes. I was a bit outraged about their cheapness and the underselling of skills but before I got too huffypuffy, I realised the clothes weren’t priced for me…they were priced for children. Fifty cents is kid money. Oh, you dear, dear person, making something handmade for the children’s economy, something special for a beloved dolly.
I also stumbled across a collection of magazine pages, carefully torn out and folded together…more dolly clothes to crochet and knit. Well of course, I had to buy those. Maybe they are from the collection of the dear dolly clothes knitter.
And a great book from 1973 Things to Make for Children with detailed plans for the best modern doll houses I have seen.
Oh Keith, you big softie.