Sampling Ton of Wool

Recently, an opportunity to try a sample of Ton of Wool’s Aran weight came up on the Ton of Wool Instagram feed. I have been curious about this yarn for some time and signed up to try.

IMG_0194Ton of Wool is a single farm yarn, developed as crowd funded social enterprise between Kylie Gusset and the Downie family in Tasmania. In Kylie’s words,

Cormo is a rare sheep breed founded in 1959 by the Downie Family in Bothwell, Tasmania. Cormo is the result of cross-breeding Corriedale and Merino sheep, resulting in a incredibly soft, yet strong luxurious yarn. TONOFWOOL is the first time that Cormo from the “Dungrove” property has been made into a commercially manufactured yarn.

It is grown in Tasmania, scoured in Victoria and spun in New Zealand, as most independent Australian yarns are now.  The yarn is made from unmulesed sheep on a farm that is run on sustainable principles including the  generation of energy from wind and carbon sequestration.

My yarn arrived: 25 grams of aran weight Cormo wool. It is an extraordinarily springy yarn. There are five singles plied together, so between the high crimp of the Cormo fleece and the air trapped in the ply, it is probably no wonder. It is on the plumper side of an aran weight but worsted spun so smooth.

IMG_0223As you would have read in my previous post, I dyed my sample with wattle seed pods and iron solution to a warm, silver grey.

The roundness of the yarn suggested cables and textured stitches to me and I cast on my swatch for experiment using 5mm needles rather than the 5.5mm recommended (just cos they were handy). The knitting was exceptionally pleasant. The yarn did not split and happily made cables and texture. The resultant swatch was firm but with a malleable handle. It relaxed after blocking and that texture just pops. I have rubbed and rubbed it and as yet, have failed to make anything but the tiniest of pills develop.

IMG_0266I like this wool a lot. I would like to knit up something in a DK weight in cables or something textured in the fingering weight. At $23 per 100 grams for the white aran weight, it is a fairly priced yarn for an investment sweater, particularly given that it is from a single farm and from rare breed, fine wool, sustainably farmed sheep. The problem for me is the way the yarn is sold. It is packaged in hanks of 300 grams (464m). Whilst I am sure that this has done for a well thought out reason, it dissuades me from buying this yarn. Let me explain.

IMG_0273Using the Stashbot tables, I can calculate that for an average length sweater, I would need approximately 1000m of this aran weight. If I was able to buy this in 100 gram hanks this would cost me $161.00. However, because it is sold in 300 gram hanks, I would actually need to spend $207.00 to get the yarn I would need. I would have a significant amount of yarn that I didn’t need left over.

This is not to say that I would never buy this yarn packaged this way, but it does make it harder. This would have to be planned and saved for but I doubt I would ever regret knitting and wearing something made with Ton of Wool Cormo.


28. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , , | 3 comments

Beige Waysides and a Diamond in the Rough

The next thing I tried dyeing with was wattle seed pods.

IMG_0147I collected these from underneath the stand of Silver Wattles (Acacia dealbata) between the bike path and creek.  These trees were are indigenous to our neighbourhood but not original. For many decades the creek was little more than a storm water drain that factories emptied their industrial waste into. The blue stone bedrock was ripped out for gutter paving. The creek banks were places to dump cars and rubbish.

Silver_Wattle_flower_(6280768389)Image by John Tann, Sydney 2011 Source: WikiCommons

This changed in the late 1980s and a multi-council and community organisation was formed to rehabilitate the creek. European weed species were removed and replaced with indigenous plantings from other local remnant areas. It is a beautiful place of increasing wildness. Sacred Kingfishers and platypus are returning. Instead of facing away from the creek, houses now face towards it. In many ways, these seed pods represent that story.

The pods are formed after flowering, split open and fall from the tree in summer. By late summer you can collect the empty pods.  Well, you can collect them if you carefully avoid the bikes cycling past and avoid the dog poo graciously laid by the path. These waysides are full of hidden dangers.

IMG_0149I had read somewhere these would give me red. That sounded a bit marvelous. A strong colour for a strong story. Perhaps they would have yielded red but I simmered them and got beige, lots of beige.  In her recent catkins dyeing, Annie had the same same beige experience as me.  She explained that with plants that are high in tannin, very gentle heat is required to bring out the colour. Higher temperatures will bring out the tannins which are beige. I now know that wattle bark and seed pods are high in tannin, a chemical used to transform animal skins into leather and a mordant for dyeing.  Wattle bark in fact is the highest plant source of tannin in the world and in the early 1900s, Victoria had an international trade in exporting wattle bark for the leather industry.

IMG_0210I got the beige. The modified skeins are almost indistinguishable except for the iron which gave a lovely soft grey. It is like a cross between mushroom and silver, a warm silver. Amidst the beige, it sparkled like a diamond.

IMG_0214I tried this again with some natural white Ton of Wool Cormo sample I had been sent. I mordanted in the wattle pod water by simmering for 30 mins and then simmered in the 6ml iron water solution for 30 mins. The colour was exactly as predicted!! Oh, the soaring thrill!

This ponderous note taking and modifying is actually more useful to me than the beige symphony would suggest.  As an experienced dyer, Annie has a slightly different approach to me. I am an absolute beginner and these wee experiments are like colour maps of walking maps…revealing places and colours to revisit later.

IMG_0223I could try solar dyeing with these pods next year to see if I can get the red or I can experiment with using them as mordant. But for now, the colour of local tannins by the bike track and rusty old backyard nails never seemed more glorious to me!

You can read about Annie Cholewa’s Wayside adventures here and see all my Waysides posts here.

24. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dyeing | Tags: , , , , | 10 comments

The Colour of the Way to the Shops

This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from Our Home Grounds.

I finished drafting that lovely local English Leicester. I had a slightly higher twist rate than I planned but the yarn is still drapey and soft.

IMG_0114 Then I set to work dyeing. As you know, I have been rather excited about this. What wonderful colours were the waysides of my habitual routes going to reveal?

IMG_20150320_200416I began with some Ornamental Plum Prunus cerasifera leaves. We pass by a quite a few of these trees in our neighbourhood, on the way to school, on the way to the shops.  They used to be a very popular street tree with their maroon leaves and masses of pink blossom in early spring. They are short lived trees, only about 20 years and they are prone to disease and to looking very sad and ugly. Ugly or not, they are a ubiquitous street tree in our area so they were an appropriate place to start.

601px-Ornamental_cherry_plum_flowerImage by Hesperian, 2009 Source: WikiCommons

It is not easy to pick leaves from a street tree. I had staked out a particular tree that had been pruned low down and had lots of secondary growth at an easy height to pick. Then I had to go past several times over a week till it was actually alone and even then I needed the cover of my five year old daughter not to feel extremely self conscious. We picked a small flour bag’s worth and simmered them in rainwater for an hour before steeping overnight.

IMG_0200You can see my outdoor dye kitchen here. It is next to the outdoor toilet which has a power point in it and the rainwater tank. The cooktop sits on an upturned crate and my workbench is a piece of blackboard on Our Dear Girl’s wheelbarrow. This is a high tech endeavour. The next day, I added five 20 gram skeins of English Leicester yarn that had been mordanted in alum. I simmered the yarn for an hour and left it to steep overnight. Yes, it is a long process.

IMG_0137After rinsing and setting aside one skein, I modified each of the remaining four skeins thus:

Acid: simmered in a mix of rainwater and vinegar (1:1) ratio for 30 minutes.

Copper: simmered in a mix of rainwater and 6 mls of copper water (made from copper pipe offcut and vinegar/water solution and left for a year) for 30 minutes.

IMG_0144Iron: simmered in a mix of rainwater and 6 mls of iron water (made from rusty nails found in the backyard and water left for year) for 30 minutes.

Alkaline: should be left in a solution of water and washing soda till a colour is detected.  I didn’t read these instructions and simmered my skein, thereby dissolving the skein into slime!

IMG_0146As Annie Cholewa says ‘NEVER HEAT AN ALKALINE’.  Ah…traps for young players!

IMG_0212From right to left, you can see the effect of vinegar, iron, copper in relation to the unmodified one on the right.  It would seem that is definitely worth the palaver to use the modifiers as the really lovely colours are not necessarily the original dye colour.

IMG_0207I was initially disappointed by these colours. They weren’t particularly bright or exciting. But I think, my expectations are framed by the saturated, industrial colours of the contemporary world, in the same way that processed sugar spoils your sense of the natural sweetness in foods. These skeins embody the hidden colours in our world, colours from a different time, colours that take time. They must be drawn out carefully and with great labour. They are subtle. I need to remind myself that I am exploring, not trying to produce a particular outcome.  All I am doing is revealing the colours of my neighbourhood. These are the colours of my neighbourhood, irrespective of how exciting or not, I find them.

You can catch up with Annie’s progress here and see all my posts on Waysides here.


20. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dyeing | Tags: , , , | 22 comments

Costume Changes

Whilst the Waysides project is simmering out the back, I’d like to share another ongoing project that has been on my mind: Costume Changes.

Costume Changes is my clothes making project that seeks to address the paucity and incoherence of my wardrobe eight years on from having my first child.

Because I have a bit of time between gigs so to speak, I would like this wardrobe project to be a thoughtful one that can reuse existing materials and explore more sustainabley produced materials. Like many other folks, I would like to find ways to express my ideas and create clothes that are not shaped by glossy magazines. I want to make clothes that are comfortable and useful and that flatter the shape that I actually have. I want to make clothes that fit well and that will endure, that are joyful and playful.

Here is my first foray…my Floating World shift dress.

IMG_6192I used an old pattern I had in my stash as my starting point, adding two long back shaping darts and reshaping the neckline.

IMG_0057I wanted this to be something I could put easily over my head without zips or buttons but that had the silhouette of a sixties/seventies shift. A lack of a tight waist is so liberating in the summer or at mealtimes but I do appreciate a bit of shape.

IMG_6130The fabric came from two pairs old jeans from the opshop and an almost finished denim skirt destashed from a friend.

IMG_6201I used jeans denim cut on the bias to bind the sleeves and neck.

IMG_6199The pieced swoosh came from a trimmings pack from Umbrella Prints in South Australia.

IMG_6171These are offcuts collected into a regular sized envelope and mailed to you. I named the dress for the fabric trimmings collection. The Floating World is a Japanese term describing the urban pleasure seeking lifestyle that emerged in the Endo period. It generated many extraordinary woodcuts of everyday and erotic urban life.

IMG_6194This was a dress I imagined into being after seeing the trimmings packs online. It is such a thrill to see my thoughts made concrete and wearable! It is comfortable and hops easily onto my bike with me.

My second Costume Changes project was a sun hat from the Nicole Mallalieu hat pattern.

IMG_6151I have really struggled with sun hats for years.  The synthetic ones make my head sweat and my hair go limp…horror!  My last one was some kind of raffia thing that had wire around the brim to stabilise it.  The wire was constantly trying to escape and made every kind of wobbly shape but a flattering one.

My new hat is broad. It is stiff but foldable. It can be washed. It stays on and I think it looks rather elegant.

IMG_6149The pattern was loaned to me by a neighbour via another neighbour and I just drafted my size off the pattern. Thank you neighbourhood pattern library!  I used an old linen Australiana souvenir table cloth that I found in a second hand shop in Clunes.  The cloth has a few holes in it so I placed my pieces accordingly.

It is a brilliant hat pattern. The instructions are clear and detailed and take you carefully through the process, explaining the implications of cutting on the bias or the grain, resizing smaller or larger and how to use interfacing effectively.

Now back to my Waysides brew.







13. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: sewing | Tags: , , , , | 21 comments

Waysides and Urban Fibres

Thank you all for your unbridled enthusiasm and encouragement for the Waysides project Annie Cholewa and I are undertaking.

I was so thrilled by your response, I wrote back to all your comments equally enthusiastically. Then watched them all bounce back to me! The server that hosts my blog experienced some drama that resulted in lots of undeliverable mail. Another resend resulted in more boomerangs. The problem is resolved now but some of you have received two replies and some have received none and I am too overwhelmed by the resultant mess in my inbox to work out which is which.

So…thank you very much my dear regular readers and thank you to all the visitors from Annie’s blog. I am sorry I was not able to respond in kind. Please do drop by again as I really enjoy replying to your comments.

IMG_0101In the mean time, I am been spinning up a storm in order to get all my yarn ready for some Waysides dyeing. I was really keen to use some local fibres in this project but that is a tricky business as I live in an urban area. However, just by accident, I stumbled across something that is just perfect.

Late last year, Our Dear Girl and I visited the Collingwood Children’s Farm, an urban farm situated on the banks of the Yarra. It is about six kilometers away.  It is a car drive but connected to our neighbourhood by a waterway. If we put a canoe into our neighbourhood creek and paddled downstream quite a ways, we would eventually join up with Yarra and then find ourselves at the farm. This is easier to say than do, so we will keep using the car for now.

IMG_4961The Collingwood Children’s Farm has chickens and geese and cows and goats and sheep, mostly heritage breeds that are used in demonstrations for children. They have a regular Farmers Market and a big bonfire for Winter Solstice.  I was keen to see the English Leicester sheep they have there, lovely animals with long ringlets for fleece. We were about to leave after our wander when one of the farmers asked if we had managed to find the sheep we were looking for as they had recently been shorn and wouldn’t look much like English Leicesters. We got chatting about the shearing and their fleeces and then the farmer asked if I wanted any fleeces…for free!

I beg your pardon? Doesn’t the Guild take your fleeces? That’s what it is says on your website.

Oh well, the fleeces are quite dirty and no one really wants them.  We have a big pile of them in the barn.

But aren’t they very special fleeces?

Yes, they are beautiful fleeces. You can take as many as you want.

I took two. And came back the next week for a couple more for me and a friend.

That actually happened. That is a true story and it happened to me!

IMG_5085These fleeces are very dirty and stinky. That is true. But they are also beautiful fleeces. Apparently, the breeding program at Collingwood Children’s Farm is overseen by English Leicester breeder Ethel Stephenson who runs her own flock in Benalla. She often uses her own rams improve the CCF flock. Her sheep have won countless ribbons at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show.

IMG_5197I skirted them and sorted them into piles to wash. I didn’t sort according to quality but a friend has lent me a marvelous book called Your Handspinning by Elise Davenport (1971) that details how to sort a fleece by quality/position on the sheep. I can try this next time.

IMG_4979Washing the fleeces was an extraordinary process of transformation. I soaked them for a few days first, outside in buckets in the sun and then poured dirty water off onto the garden. I knew this was safe to do because of how the sheep are managed at CCF. I then scoured them in hot water and Unicorn Power Scour using Deb Robson’s method of twenty minutes for each soak to keep the temperature up.

IMG_6133After a couple of rinses and a spin in the washing machine to get all the water out, a beautiful clean fleece was drying on the children’s trampoline. They are getting used to the trampoline being used to dry fleece and woollens now and with some eye rolling, generally indulge me.

The dry fleece was then bagged securely in a pillow case and labelled and only then is it allowed in our house. I never store raw fleece in the house as it too delicious to moths.

After various experiments with preparation and spinning English Leicester this is what I am doing now:

Picking out the locks, laying them end to end and spraying with spinning oil to reduce static. I am using the recipe from Beth Smith’s Spinner’s Book of Fleece (2014): 1 part rubbing alcohol, 2 parts mineral oil and 7 parts water.  I had tried using olive oil but it went rancid and sticky.


Using small combs rather than a flick carder to align the fibres and remove any vegetable matter. I now clamp the combs to the table which is easier on my hands. I load the combs with the locks anchored at their base. Three passes of the combs, puts the fibres in the right direction to diz.


Dizzing into roving. I dizzed the fibre off the comb using a plastic yogurt lid that I pierced with a hot metal needle.  Using roving enables me to draft very quickly and smoothly in worsted draw to keep that twist low.

IMG_0065After dizzing, beginning with the end I just dizzed, I wound the roving around my hand, twisting the last little bit to indicate the start.

IMG_0053Spinning on my lowest whorl which has a 5:1 ratio (5 twists for every revolution of the wheel) and drafting with a worsted short forward draw at a rate of three inches per treadle to try and achieve about two twists per inch.

IMG_0104My sample was lovely, a two ply sportsweight that was lustrous and drapey and silky smooth. I figure this would be a very useful weight for the Waysides project.

IMG_0112Now if you are a Melbourne reader and you are a spinner, do go and visit the Collingwood Children’s Farm and go get yourself an English Leicester fleece. Wash it and let it sing. Tell other spinners to go get some too. Blog about it, put it up on Ravelry or post pics on Instagram tagged with #urbanfibres.  We are so very lucky to have such precious urban fibres available to us.

Remember you can catch up with Annie’s progress here and see all my posts on Waysides here.

Back to spinning!





06. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: spinning | Tags: , , , | 18 comments

Waysides, a collaboration : local colour from our home grounds

Thank you for all your wisdom on The Curiousity of Joyless Knitting. Whilst my knitting energy is muted, my mind is bubbling and fermenting…

Welcome to Waysides, a collaboration between Annie Cholewa and myself…finding local colour in our homegrounds. I am so very, very excited about this project that my skin fairly hums with it. You may recall my recent post on my Local Colour project where I wanted to create a range of colours from my local area to express motifs and patterns derived from my habitual environment. But the task seemed a little on the large side and I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it.

IMG_5860Then Annie observed the connections and synchronicities between Local Colour and her Home Ground project in the wilds of Wales and suggested a collaboration. If you have never visited Annie’s blog before, you really must. Her photographs are exquisite and she writes thought provokingly on a wide breadth of topics, particularly on colour and landscape.

Her idea of Home Ground was to source all her dye stuffs within in the ‘square mile’ around her home, a lived rather than literal concept. She wrote,

Y filltir sgwar, literally ‘the square mile’, colloquily ‘home ground’, is a phrase most often used by the Welsh to describe the intimate landscapes of childhood, sites of discovery and naming that one owns through familiarity and that ultimately own you. But adults too have their ‘square miles’, places the particularities and peculiarities of which they come to know well through prolonged close attention. 

When I applied this in a literal way, over a map to see what constituted the square mile around our home, I was struck by how most of my everyday journeys occurred inside. I then considered these habitual ways before determining where the borders of my home ground would be for the purposes of this project. Before talking with Annie, I had not defined what local meant to me. Now I realise that my home ground is enclosed by three roadways and a waterway and we rarely walk outside of it. The workings of habit and time have generated my sense of where my neighbourhood lies. It is an intuitive map created by the action of my feet on the way to the shop to get milk, on the way to the park to play with my children, on the way to visit friends.

IMG_5858We were not quite sure what might happen in this collaboration and that is exciting too. So far, it has been an unexpectedly seamless thing, a small creature nutured into largeness as our ideas intertwined. One person’s thought would be expanded by the other which would then provoke entirely new considerations and insights. Our joint project then, is both Home Ground and Local Colour and yet neither and yet more. It is a creature of momentum and energy that has quite literally created a way forward.

Essentially, Waysides is a mapping project using colour to express the ways or paths we walk and the process by which walking transforms the spatial world into the social world, a world of meanings, symbols and interconnections. We hope to find colours in the variety of leaves, barks and flowers within the waysides of our daily journeys, walks to the shop, walks to meet people, walks to the washing line.

IMG_5850Our places are far apart.

Annie lives between the hills and the sea in an out of the way corner of rural Wales. Her homeground includes hedgerows and lanes, river banks and woods.

I live in the inner north of Melbourne. It is very urban. My wanderings take me along pavements, past street trees and nature strips, playgrounds, bike paths and revegetated creek banks.

We are separated by 148 degrees of longitude and 90 degrees of latitude and by 17,000 km (11,000 miles). These are such different environments, climates and seasonal experiences and it will be fascinating to see how this might be expressed (or not) as our experiment evolves.

IMG_5862Our Waysides collaboration will see us dying a minimum of three different colours each month from natural materials gathered from the ways where we walk and using only water collected from our home ground, that is either rain or river/creek water.  We will dye whatever fibres are to hand, using any dye method. We will use any mordant/modifier experimenting with substances gathered from our local environs such as iron-rich water or rusty nails found in the backyard.

We will post according to our own schedules but will always include a link to the other, so you can see how the journey goes for both of us.

Does this sound exciting to you? I am just beside myself and have been gathering all the materials I will need to engage with this dyeing/wayfaring project in a systematic way. Annie is a natural dye specialist whereas I have mastered onions skins, so I envisage my learning curve may be rather vertical!




01. March 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: dyeing | Tags: , | 19 comments

The Curiousity of Joyless Knitting

I just finished this.

20150222_182544_medium2It is a design called Skrupsak by Signe Stromgaard. It fits perfectly and Our Dear Boy thinks it is pretty good. And yet, I have to admit this was a very joyless knit for me.

20150222_182643_medium2It wasn’t boring. I decided to just use the design as a picture reference and worked up my own stitch counts to my gauge. The pattern calls for a fingering weight and I knit mine in a sportsweight. I had to rip back from the shoulders because I forgot that garter stitch is wider than stockinette and had to change the amount and rate of decreases for the armholes. It is such a clever, simple design. The 1 x 1 stripes just fly as they are knit in the round for the body. The garter stripes beginning at the point when you knit back and forth for the armholes, mean that the yarn is carried invisibly at the sides. The solid colour at the shoulders means that any slight differences in rows when you work the reverse shoulder shapings, are invisible.

20150222_182616_medium2The yarn didn’t sing to me but I was using up stash as part of Summer of the Single Skein KAL, so that felt worthy and useful. The yarn is from deep stash, possibly decade old 5ply Classic by Bendigo Woollen Mills, machine washable, chain plyed, millspun Australian wool.

It wasn’t a millstone. It seemed to get knitted pretty effortlessly over a month in odd moments of waiting, car trips and some evenings.

So why it was joyless, I cannot tell. Normally knitting is such a source of pleasure and solace for me. It is very curious. Perhaps, despite all my intellectual understandings of what makes a stimulating project, it just underwhelmed me. Or perhaps, like those Guatemalan Worry Dolls, it absorbed all the miscellaneous ambivalence from the rest of my life.

What ever it was, I trust it will pass as I just cast on a version for Our Dear Girl!















24. February 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , , | 10 comments

Inside the Ribbon Tin

Welcome to the first Inside the Ribbin Tin for 2015, an occasional series filled with bits and pieces, odds and sods and other ephemera related to textiles and making. This one is full of local interest.

IMG_4792Firstly, Cheryl Crosbie from Granite Haven Llamas and Gotland Sheep is asking for expressions of interest in a Farm Visit Day from any Victorian knitters and spinners. If you would like to visit Granite Haven, near Euroa in the cooler months to meet the sheep and llamas and buy some yarn or fibre if you fancy, straight from the source, please let her know at Euroa is about an hour and a half from Melbourne. I have used Granite Haven yarns in Oakenshield Armoured and Maldon Made Shawl. You can see some pics from the last open day here.

IMG_4832Some of you were kind enough to express an interest in making Oakenshield Armoured so I have created a design page on Ravelry for you to link your projects to. My Man would like his own Oakenshield hat, so I will put up information on a large adult size onto the design page too.

IMG_5965If you live in Australia and like local yarns, Rhea Hoeflok of Hedgerow Cottage in the Australian Alps (Victoria) is going to be opening an online shop soon specialising in locally sourced, cottage processed yarns and fibres. If you have been a regular reader of my moaning about the lack of local product in Australia, then you will know just how excited I am about this new business. You can follow the progress on Hedgerow Cottage’s Instagram feed.

IMG_3880GJs Discount Fabrics, home of the northern suburbs vast and casual sit and sew room, patchwork and dancewear fabrics is moving from Brunswick to Darebin Road in Fairfield in May. GJs is a bit of an institution in Melbourne and is home to many sewing and craft groups from quilting groups to local school fundraising groups. It is the only place I know of where you can lay out and baste a quilt. It is a relief that these groups will still be able to meet albeit in a new location.

Social Sewing is one groups that calls GJs home. One of their members, in sheer frustration at finding indie sewing patterns hard to buy in Australia, founded Sew Squirrel, an online shop for indie patterns. You can buy Sewaholic, Grainline, Collette, Made by Rae and heaps more here. They arrive in a couple of days.

And now to locally printed fabrics. I have got a bit excited about these as they all print onto organic fabrics and use environmentally responsible inks. I recently bought a trimmings pack from Umbrella Prints, based in South Australia. For $10 you get a packet of fabrics made up of trimmings and offcuts from other orders. Maz and Vale are a mob in Melbourne doing a similar thing only their sample packs are saved up for a periodic sale. You need to watch their Instagram feed and act quickly. I reckon sample packs are a great way of experimenting with these kind of fabrics in a low cost way and of small businesses turning a waste product into something useful.

IMG_20150217_112345Another place to look for locally printed sustainable fabrics in the cheaper price bracket is the Remnants and Sales section of Ink and Spindle, another Melbourne based company. Their Australian botanical prints are exquisite.

Now just in case you worry about such things, this post is written entirely independently. I do not receive any goods or favours from the companies I have mentioned.

And to finish the Tin this month, an amazing wee film about a scientist in Tasmania who began remaking Brats dolls into actual childhood companions. They are called Tree Change Dolls. It is both an indictment on the state of science funding in Australia at the moment and an optimistic tale of how a one person stumbled upon a yawning need.

Lovely eh!

17. February 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting, sewing | Tags: , , , | 14 comments

The Hobbit Craft Renaissance

My Man gave me a fascinating book for Christmas, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks and Daggers (2014) by Daniel Falconer. Page after page is filled with exquisite detail on costume, weapons and prop designs and production for The Hobbit films.  You might have deduced from my last post that I do love a bit of Middle Earth. I have also written posts on dwarven knitting in The Hobbit films.

Once I could wrest the book from my children, I was struck by the homage paid by the Peter Jackson to Tolkein’s reverence for hand creation.  Alongside the normal costume department you would expect in a film like this, they employed potters, metal workers, cabinet makers, silversmiths, swordsmiths, cobblers, blacksmiths, knitters, jewellers, glass makers and saddle makers to create original props to dress sets and actors.



The Middle Earth world created by Tolkein, elevates making and crafts to the highest realms. Galadriel, one of the most powerful figures in Middle Earth, spins and weaves. She makes the cloaks given to the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings with her own hands. The Elves and the Dwarves have metal working as one of the highest art forms. In an 2005 conference paper, Tolkein scholar Ty Rosenthal noted that Tolkein had a particular reverence for textile works,

Míriel and Melian and Luthien, with their broideries and weaving, are the female equivalents of Tolkien’s talented smiths, Fëanor, Celebrimbor, and the dwarf Telchar. 

Rosenthal’s paper goes on to show Tolkein’s athestic and values around craft are derived directly from the British Arts and Crafts movement that informed and infused his childhood.

IMG_5907The Arts and Crafts styling is evident throughout props and settings of The Hobbit films, from the Bag End interiors to the athestics of Rivendell. But more than simply styling, the ethos of hand crafting permeates the film.

A bronze foundry was set up to cast the metal pieces required by the film, the fabrics for the hobbit’s clothes were hand printed, every pipe in the film was hand carved out from timber and fully functional and the buttons on Bilbo’s waistcoat were hand cast acorns.

The work of individual New Zealand artisans is marked. For example, all the writing which appeared in the film from jam labels to the journals carried by the dwarves to the map of the Lonely Mountain were all hand written by graphic artist, Daniel Reeve.  Master saddler, Tim Abbot made every single saddle. Beverley Francis knitted all the knitted items for the dwarves. Potter Ivan Vostinar produced all the crockery for the film including all the Bag End crockery and the beautiful vases and vessels at Rivendell and Mirkwood. All the glassware including the beautiful wine amphora of the wood elves was created by glass maker Lyndsay Patterson.

There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to employ New Zealand artisans wherever possible, thereby revitalising and supporting the continuation of traditional skills and trades. And in this, Peter Jackson is rather like a Renaissance Prince, his patronage of the arts and crafts sustaining and enlivening artisanal culture, at least for a time. Which is probably all to the good, as films seem to spend and make more than a Renaissance principality ever did.


13. February 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: observations | Tags: , , , , | 7 comments

Oakenshield Armoured: A Tale of Two Skeins

Sometimes, you just don’t know where the knitting will take you. As part of Summer of the Single Skein, I got out all my single skeins and had a look and a think.

oakenshield armoured yarnsThese two came together initially for the colour contrast. But the more I thought about it, the more stories were told in the combination.

The silver grey yarn is pure Gotland, a long wool, grown, processed and spun in Victoria for Cheryl Crosbie of Granite Haven farm. It is a 3 ply millspun and undyed. Not the smooth worsted of her usual yarns but more semi worsted.

The gunmetal blue yarn is Cleckheaton’s Superfine Merino

They are both DK weight but that is their only similarity. The combination is like David and Goliath. Granite Haven is David, from a small farm, very simply processed, unlabelled and rather humble. The Merino is Goliath with the might of a large company behind it, teams of experts involved in everything from a new spinning method to its label design.

Despite my analogy, they don’t slug it out in battle, they actually sit splendidly together, which is actually really surprising. Both are next to the skin soft, obviously the superfine is exceptionally so. You could probably use it as a dressing on burn survivors. But this Gotland is no slouch in the softie department and provides a dense sturdiness to the knitting which might be a little too soft and floppy without it.

I received the Merino as a Christmas present. I have to admit, it is not something i would ordinarily buy. I associate merino with mulesing and over processing and the overwhelming homogeneity. I was prepared to dislike it, particularly when confronted with the semiotics of its label that I felt was trying to evoke straight from the farm goodness for a highly processed product. And it is highly processed but that is only part of the story.

IMG_6032A week or so ago, I had a very interesting chat with the Business Manager for Cleckheaton Superfine Merino, Georgie Waters about the yarn. I hadn’t meant to chat to the Business Manager. I had just left an email enquiry about where the yarn was processed, but Georgie called me back and spent quite a bit of time answering my questions which is rather amazing customer support I reckon.  This is part of the Superfine story.

Recently, many Superfine Merino farmers lost their contracts with overseas fabric manufacturers as high quality wool suiting has declined in men’s fashion. Cleckheaton decided to partner with a number of these farms and produce a luxury knitting yarn.  These are specific, individual farms and unmulesed sheep. Cleckheaton intends to include information on each farm and farmer in their website information as they develop the yarn further.

Sadly, the fleeces are sent to China for scouring, processing and spinning into singles. Sadly, I think because with the support of a company like Cleckheaton, local scourers and processors could thrive or at least survive. Knitters could feel confident that environmental and labour standards were being met and carbon miles could be substantially reduced. After processing in China, the fibre comes back to Australia where it is plied, dyed and skeined at the Wangaratta Woollen Mills.  The spinning and plying methods used for this yarn are apparently unique and Australian Country Spinners are looking to patent the process. It is unusual, almost a coil and highly energised.

thorin armourIn light of all this, I have revised my David and Goliath metaphor.  I have decided to read the relationship between my humble Gotland and luxury Merino through the stitch pattern that inspired my hat design in the first place.  Oakenshield Armoured is a stitch pattern developed from the plated, flexible armour designed by Ann Maskrey for the dwarf lord Thorin Oakenshield in the recent Hobbit films.

IMG_5988In my revised reading, the Gotland yarn is rather the oak branch that Thorin, Prince of Erebor picks up to defeat the barbarous orc, Azog at the gates of Moria in J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale of The Hobbit. The Merino is Thorin, royal and arrogantly confidence but requiring the humble strength of the oak branch to snatch victory from defeat (only in my hat, of course).

IMG_5965Here are my stitch pattern charts should you wish to create your own. The left chart is the main stitch pattern, the right chart is for the crown decreases.

IMG_6027I sized this for a small adult head of 55.5cm in circumference and repeated the pattern 18 times. Add or remove whole repeats to up size or down size, subtracting 10% of your stitch count for initial cast on and 1 x 1 ribbing. The central double decrease for the crown is centred on the edge stitch and maintains its colour pattern. After round 17, draw the yarn through the stitch loops.  The hat uses almost exactly two 50 gram balls of DK weight yarn.

IMG_6029I share my notes with you freely for your knitting pleasure but if you would like graded sizes and pattern support, please seek out a published design by a knitwear designer…that is their genius and hard work.


05. February 2015 by Rebecca
Categories: knitting | Tags: , , , , | 15 comments

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