Several years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to buy any new socks. I was going to knit them.
Apparently, I did not dedicate myself to that task at quite the rate required. I now find that I am the proud owner of 3 pairs of handknit socks in extremely high rotation, all now requiring darning, 2 pairs of bought sports socks and 2 pairs of bought stripey bamboo socks with no heels left but the rest still good so I can’t throw them out. This is not quite enough really. I know we can have too much of many things but less socks is just less.
So I invested in an excellent book by Lara Neel called Sock Architecture and wondered why more socks did not appear. I started darning the old ones.
Then, I cast on for my second pair of Rivercat socks. They are not in the excellent book but I did actually cast them on and then had to finish them as I needed the needles to finish the neck on a cardigan I was also knitting.
Yes, I do need to cast on probably immediately for more socks. Winter is here. Perhaps I have some kind of sock block? Do you have a favourite sock pattern recommendation for me that you swear will knit itself?
I used to wear a lot of dresses. But then I had children. My shape changed, my bust got bigger, then smaller, then bigger and then went a little further south. Clothes had to accommodate breastfeeding…for years, it seemed. Even skirts were tricky for a while, as they were lifted, hidden under and dragged on.
But there is nothing nicer in summer than a simple dress and sandals. So here are some recent additions from when the weather was a tad warmer.
This dress is made from some cheap cotton lawn from Darn Cheap Fabrics, such an inspiring name! It is one of those single role, designer excess places. I have no idea where the cotton was grown and processed but probably China. The flimsy cotton was made more substantial with a calico lining for the bodice made of old muslins. You can still see my notes from other dresses scrawled on a piece.
As part of my Costume Changes project, I am exploring fibres new to me, spreading my ecological footprint in a mix of fibres, old and new. And making mistakes. And encountering some discomforting information.
This next frock is made with viscose. For the longest time I thought viscose and rayon were synthetic fibres and steered clear. In fact, they are semi-synthetics, made from plant sources like sugar cane and bamboo but their cellulose is extracted through a chemical process and extruded into fibres. The process was invented in the late 19c as an artifical silk…silk for the masses. They are biodegrable. Sounded OK.
The pattern is the Washi dress from MadeByRae, made in the small size with the cut out. This was my first experience with viscose. It seems to stretch length ways so the neckline hangs lower than I am comfortable. I raised the shoulders but the neckline still seems to be heading down! If I was to use viscose again, I would hang the fabric first before cutting. It feels good on, breathes and has a drape and swing that it just lovely.
Then I did some more research and found out that whilst viscose/rayon is biodegradable, it contributes over half the microplastic fibres in the ocean, its manufacturing process produces significant pollutants and only one method of producing rayon (lyocell method) is considered to have any environmental benefits. So, is it really an alternative to synthetics or cotton? Possibly…but not in a way that leaves me feeling even vaguely comfortable.
My next dress was another washi dress but made in linen from Lithuania via The Drapery. This linen has been presoftened through washing to produce a very drapey handle. Linen production typically takes place on land that is unsuitable for food crops and does not require irrigation or fertiliser. It is more durable than cotton. It is a great replacement for cotton if dressmaking with new fabrics although you need to embrace that wrinkled look.
I cut out the same size as the previous dress and this one fits perfectly! The neckline is modest and has not grown during wearing.
Aside from the elastic casing for the gathered back, my only other modification was to add a Peter Pan style collar to the front neck. It is fixed into the shoulder seams. See how it lifts away from the dress? Next time I make a Peter Pan collar, I will cut the underside slightly smaller so it curves towards the dress as per this great tutorial from Sewaholic. This is a cracker of a dress and layers really well with three quarter length wide leg trousers or tights. This will take me through winter and summer in Melbourne.
In conclusion…I will give linen another go but goodness, secondhand fabrics and repurposing is just a whole lot less fraught really.
I am slowly, excruciatingly slowly, learning to recognise the different eucalypt species which have been my neighbours for almost twenty years now. It sounds shocking not to know the names of the trees that you walk or ride past everyday. Like most non-indigenous Australians, perching precariously on this ancient but recently colonised land, I know little of the flora of my homeland and refer to it amorphously as gum trees and bush.
Different eucalypts yield different colours in the dye pot and finally, for the sake of the documentary imperative for this project, I am learning recognise my neighbours. I am getting pretty good at greeting my old friend Eucalyptus nicholli but today’s post is all about Eucalyptus viminalis also known as White Gum, Ribbon Gum or Manna Gum.
This is one of the eucalypts that are indigenous to our area and were reintroduced during the revegetation programs that began in the late 1980s. It is a large, fast growing tree, growing up to 30 metres. It has a rough base with smooth pale bark rising into a spreading crown. It sheds bark in long ribbons that hang from the tree and accumulate on the ground. It flowers white in Autumn and Winter. Apparently, the first people living in this neighbourhood, the Wurundjeri, made shields with the bark of the Manna Gum. Boring insects produce an edible sugary stuff on the tree called manna. According to my books, it is a mild laxative!
One of the Manna Gums along the creek path behind the factories had a limb fall down recently. This particular species is know for dropping large branches. This is where I gathered my leaves and bark on a bike ride with a small friend to help. We collected the bark from the ground, only taking the bits that were not already homes for spiders.
The bark was crushed up small and soaked in rainwater for a couple of weeks, then simmered for an hour or so, rested overnight and simmered again. The alum mordanted fibre was added and brought to a simmer again for one hour, then left to soak overnight.
From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. As you can see, the bark and leaves, yield almost exactly the same colour range!
I needed a bit of a lift along the Waysides natural dyeing journey I have been traveling with Annie Cholewa. As many of you know, I have been dancing rather wearily with the beginner’s beige so I decided to revisit the old friend who started me on this adventure, Eucalyptus nicholii.
Commonly known as Narrow Leafed Black Peppermint and haling originally from New South Wales, there are a quite few of these handsome trees around our neighbourhood, in home gardens, in our school playground and standing sentinel in a row next to the football oval.
Last time I dyed with this, I used a 3ply hand spun of silver, grey and natural white. This time, I wanted to try my Waysides yarn, a two ply handspun yarn made from locally sourced English Leicester sheep.
I couldn’t look at it for a while. What was I doing wrong? And then I realised my mistake…young leaves. I needed older leaves. So I returned to the football oval trees and gathered more. Now look…
Oh yes, that is more like it. Glorious colour…intense and radiating energy. From left to right, you can see the unmodified, alum mordanted skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. As you can see, there is not a lot of variation. The vinegar makes the colour a bit brighter, iron makes it a bit darker.
The following is my method for dyeing with eucalypts. I find it gives me the deepest colour but you might achieve the same using a different method.
- use older leaves and rainwater if you can
- bring to a simmer for an hour twice, resting overnight or longer in between
- leaving in the leaves, add yarn and gently simmer for an hour, leave overnight before rinsing.
Eucalyptus nicholli doesn’t need a mordant. It is a substantive dye but all my skeins are alum mordanted and came out just the same as the unmordanted original skein. The fastness may be improved by mordanting.
A curious thing about dyeing with E. nicholii that I have encountered is that all my skeins are significantly fulled. This happened to the original skein as well but I had assumed I just hadn’t been careful enough with my temperature changes. Moving from extreme heat to cold can shock wool fibres, as can excessive boiling. But these new English Leicester skeins were treated exactly the same as all my other Wayside skeins but have come out shrunken and the fibres a bit mashed. They will still wind into ball and knit up just fine, they are not felted but they have been changed by the dye process. I wonder if anyone else who has dyed with E. nicholii has found this to be the case? Perhaps it is the price of such wondrous colour?
This post is part of my Costume Changes project, a considered wardrobe revitalising project.
Of the aims of this project was to wean myself off the cotton tshirt. I like cotton tshirts because they are easy. They don’t need ironing or hanging up. You can wear them in bed at the end of the day. They go with skirts and jeans and shorts without great thought being required.
Firstly, they require washing after every wear. Designed originally as underwear and breaking free into mainstream fashion, at least for men in the 50s youth culture, they do a great job of protecting overclothes from sweat but consequently need daily washing and sometimes changes within the day too. Laundry equals energy and water use and lots of it. Obviously, you can reduce the environmental impact of laundry by line drying, efficient washing machines, tank water and solar energy but nevertheless, tshirts need a lot of washing.
Secondly, they are cotton. Cotton, whilst biodegradable and a renewable resource uses large quantities of water and pesticides to grow. Tshirt cotton is often poor quality and I find it wears really badly, getting holey and shapeless very quickly.
I figure any one of the following approaches improves my materials or energy resources burden.
- Buy second hand Tshirts
- Make a top out of better quality, more hard wearing cotton
- Make a style of top, not quite so fitted under the arms, requiring less laundering
- Use organic cotton as an alternative
- Use non-cotton, biodegradable fabrics as an alternative
One of the approaches I was keen to try in Costume Changes, was a materials diversity approach to sustainability as described in Sustainable Fashion and Textiles Design Journeys (2008) by Kate Fletcher.
Conventional cotton and polyester make up 80% of all global textile production. Whilst polyester uses minimal water its production, it is made from finite fossil fuels, uses high energy inputs in processing and is not biodegradable. The materials diversity approach suggests that the more diverse the materials we use in textiles, the more spread out are the ecological impacts of production and manufacture. The simple act of choosing other fibres such as wool, hemp, flax, organic cotton and cellulose disrupts the concentration of impacts from conventional (non-organic) cotton and polyester. Anytime we buy fabrics or fibres from these other sources, we are helping alternative industries to flourish and create a broader base for textile manufacture to rest upon.
So I thought I would try making a silk tshirt. I drafted a simple shape off the pattern I used for my Floating World Dress. It does have darts, vital to accommodate those breasticles in non-stretchy fabrics, but no zips or buttons.
I think I did all the right things, changed my needle to a new, fine ball point and used French seams and rolled hems. But it was VERY awkward and frustrating. The silk slipped this way and that. It was hard to know how to cut a straight line as the fabric distorted so easily.
And that is the trouble with cotton. It is easy. It cuts easily. Sews easily. Irons well, launders well. It comes in so many very pretty patterns. It is attractive, enticing and very cheap in monetary terms.
This next top, was cut from fine, quilters’ cotton. Fine enough for a little drape but still requiring a little more structure so I shaped the back and sides. Ideally, this needs a zip and more shaping. But this one can easily pull on over my head and was quick to make with a very small amount of fabric, barely 70cm.
The sleeves are bound in bias cut scraps. This will still last longer than a Tshirt and will need less washing. I can use all the scraps for other things. But, it still has a substantial environmental cost really. I have some organic double gauze from The Drapery cut out and ready for sewing. That might be the happy medium between silk and conventional cotton if using new fabrics.
With autumn upon us, I would like to try this pattern in a woollen fabric, something from an old tweedy skirt perhaps, with a zip.
Inside the Ribbon Tin is an occasional series filled with bits and pieces, odds and sods and other ephemera related to textiles and making. This time we are going inside the actual tin not the metaphoric tin. Let us see where it will take us.
buttons, bobbins and cuddy beads from Katherine all the way from the Northumberland coast in the UK. Katherine has a beautiful new blog called Something From Seaview. Inside, you can walk along her beaches, cross the bridge into Scotland, visit the Edinburgh Museum and read about a wonderful quilt.
Katherine and her printmaker cousin Polly are serial makers of GiveWraps. They both embrace the repurposing of old, worn out fabrics worn by loved ones like silk handkerchiefs and dresses to create small, useful cloths layered with family history and recollection. If you are on Instagram you can have a look at under #givewraps. Here is a recent one from Katherine.
And one from Polly.
This is one of my favourites from Polly. You can see the decades old, hand stitched name of her grandfather juxtaposed with her own handwork in the print and construction. I love the idea of the GiveWrap as a canvas, a place for art to be given and received. The intergenerational layering renders this all the more precious especially in the setting of GiveWrap reciprocity within families.
Another creative reader who lives on Instagram is Jennifer. Not only is she an accomplished maker herself, her mother was a veritable crafty polymath, during the handmade craft Renaissance of the 1970s. She embroidered, tatted, spun, cast and wove. Jennifer has recently been sorting through her mother’s effects and sharing her mother’s work in tiny collections posted under #mumscraft.
The Ribbon Tin is full of the traces of readers and posts and my blog inbox is a vast Ribbon Tin of precious treasures made and shared by readers. Follow the link to visit Kate Riley’s Signs of Trouble exhibition held recently in Darlington, Sydney. Kate is an artist working with a variety of mediums to create works that evoke her childhood coastline.
Afterwards, you might enjoy a chapter from On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (2013) by Alexandra Horowitz. This book was recommended to me by Stephanie from My Vintage Inspiration as way of relooking at my neighbourhood for the Waysides project. The author traverses the same New York city streets seeing them anew through the eyes of a geologist, an artist, an urban sociologist, a child, a dog and other experts of particular ways of seeing.
If you follow this next link sent to me by spinner, knitter and weaver Susan, all the way from the interweb wilds of Idaho, you can read a fascinating account of how early Homosapiens gained the survival advantage over the Neanderthals using dogs. I told you there was a Ribbon Tin in my Inbox!
And finally, Cheryl Crosbie of Granite Haven informs me that a new yarn shop has popped up at 21 Virginia Street, Mornington called Knitalpaca. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 am till 4pm, it is the home of bespoke, independent yarns by three breed specific yarn farmers. You will find alpaca, mohair, Gotland and llama fibre products there, direct from the farmer.
The Ribbon Tin is a both real place and a metaphor, inextricably intertwined in the most pleasurable and intriguing of ways. Together, we all fill the Ribbon Tin with bits and bobs, odds and sods. I hope you have enjoyed the rummage.
This design is by Signe Stromgaard. I made it the same way as the brother vest, using Our Dear Girl’s chest measurement plus ease as the key number. The natural colour yarn is the left overs from the ball used for the first vest, Bendigo Woollen Mills Classic 5 ply. The teal is the left over Heirloom Heatherwood 5ply from my Praline cardigan project, from an op shop treasure hoard. Both grown and milled in Australia. Details are here.
The joyful knitting has not returned…exactly. It is more that incrementally, the knitting is becoming more pleasurable again, less of a chore. Who can explain such slumps?
And there are children trying to climb the knobbly bits on a brick wall in gumboots.
I am still spinning like a Norn in an effort to keep up with my 120 gram dye lots for Waysides: Finding Local Colour in Our Home Grounds, a collaborative natural dyeing project with Annie Cholewa. Sometimes the treadling pace wanes, but I recently found gold.
Curly Dock Rumex crispis is an environmental weed in Australia. It is aggressive and prolific, crowding out pasture crops in grazing land and reducing biodiversity in parks and bush areas. It has broad green leaves and flower spikes that yield over 60,000 seeds per plant. The seeds turn a dark scarlet in early autumn. The roots are tuberous.
On our way back from a bike ride, I saw the flower spikes and thought they might yield some colour. My youngling and I returned with some bags down to the creek banks and spent a hot morning foraging and looking for ladybirds. A quick spot of interweb research had me digging up the roots too.
The dock roots reputedly yield yellow and after much chopping, I had a saucepanfull set to simmering. This pot doesn’t have a lid and clearly I did not check on it in a timely fashion and I burnt them. They shall not yield yellow now!
The flowers were were simmered for an hour in rainwater and left overnight to steep, then strained. I then simmered alum mordanted English Leceister skeins for an hour and left them to steep for a couple of hours.
And here in full glory is the sum of my efforts so far…truly a symphony of beige! Did I think I was going to find purples? There is a reason only the emperors wore it. Did I think I was going to find blue? Not a whole lot of wayside indigo or wode here!
I have found gold and silver but there is only so much beige subtlety a modern urban woman can tolerate for her hard won skeins. So, I am off to explore the eucalypts. Eucalyptus nichollii thrilled me once. I really need more thrill.
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.
Ton 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.
As 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.
I 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.
Using 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.
The next thing I tried dyeing with was wattle seed pods.
I 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.
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.
I 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.
I 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.
I 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.
I 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!