Thank you all so much for your enthusiastic response to my recent remaking conundrum. I have spent the last decade occasionally wondering what I should do with this beautiful sweater made by my dear late friend for her son in the late sixties.
But with your suggestions prompting either ideas or realisations of the deeper emotional constraints around this remaking project, I think I finally have clear plan. Since the execution of this plan will probably take me some time, I thought I better share the idea now rather than leave you all wondering for months.
As a result of thinking through your suggestions I realised:
- No amount of altering was going to make me happy to wear this garment.
- My friend’s actual stitches were precious to me, more than just the motifs or the yarn. Unravelling was not going to be emotionally possible.
- I wanted to display her work in some way not just store it, waiting for a time it might be useful again.
- More than being a sweater, this article was fabric. This opened the possibilities of what it might become.
- The colour had to change, it is hard to look after and doesn’t fit my wardrobe.
So, this beautiful, currently unworn sweater is going to become the biggest tote bag I can make, something I can take to fibre shows and workshops where my friend’s work will be amongst folks who will most appreciate her skill and labour.
I will dye the sweater to match some tartan wool fabric from a skirt I have been saving for almost as long as the sweater. The sweater back will become the bag front, which I will stitch to a backing fabric and reinforce to support the stitches. The bag will be lined and have lots of pockets and zip pouches inside. The sweater arms will become the bag strap, backed with a durable, supportive fabric.
I hope that both articles will honour my friend’s work and our friendship.
You can follow my Slow Fashion October 2017 adventures here.
My recent sock remaking project coalesced a number of thoughts for me around durability and sustainability, particularly of socks.
Socks are such a humble item, trod on daily and washed over and over again. They work harder than any other hand knitted articles in my wardrobe. It is hard to find a wholesome commercial sock yarn though. Some of my socks are made of yarns that tell me they are wool but with the processing and added nylon, hardly feel like anything wool-like at all. Other more simply processed sock yarns, beautifully dyed yarns have felted in accidental machine washes, rendering hours of work and resources useless, suitable only for composting or sticking under chair legs or making starry bunting.
There seems to be a problem with the yarns commonly available for sock knitting. They are either made from inappropriate, non durable fibres or are processed in ways that are resource intensive and harmful to the environment. Often they are both!
The current surfeit of superwash merino/nylon sock yarns is the pinnacle of this phenomenon. A very fine, fragile fibre is taken vast distances, treated with masses of chemicals in an environmentally damaging process prohibited by most countries to make it machine washable and a synthetic fibre that will never biodegrade is added to strengthen the original fibre’s innate weakness so it can do a job it doesn’t have the capacity for. It seems a bit mad really.
Finn x Corriedale handknit anklets, Low Tide by Whisky Bay Woollens…hand wash only!
So, together with spinning comrades Mary and Adele, I am setting off on a spinning and knitting adventure, exploring natural, local, more sustainable alternatives to the current superwash and nylon sock yarns and fibres. We are going to explore local sheep breed fleeces like Shropshire and Suffolk and Ryeland, known for their resistance to fulling and felting. We are going to experiment with using mohair and silk to reinforce heels and toes, and to refine our spinning techniques to maximise durability without sacrificing comfort.
We are not the only ones interested in a more sustainable sock. Could durable, natural socks be the new knitting zeitgeist? Melbourne sock designer, Clare Devine from Knit Share Love has just set off on her own journey, exploring millspun alternatives to nylon boosted sock yarns. Similarly Mrs M’s Curiousity Cabinet has been podcasting about her forays into local origin, millspun alternatives to mainstream sock yarns in the UK. Ravelry abounds with boards of fellow sustainable sock voyagers, spinners and knitters all investigating how to make long lasting, sustainable socks.
Darned sock at a classic wear point, the yarn is an unidentified superwash ‘wool’ and nylon blend
Tuff Socks Naturally is an open project, anyone can join in. We will be posting on our blogs and on Instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally. You can share your insights and experiments too, in comments on this blog or on Mary’s blog, Local and Bespoke, or with any of us on Instagram: @rebeccaspindle, @localandbespoke or @adelemoon. Clare is going to use this tag too, so her adventurers and ours can share their discoveries. What local sheep breeds do you have that might have useful characteristics for durable socks? What millspun yarns can you find? What spinning methods can you use?
The sorts of information I am going to be recording for my own interest and of course to share with you are fibre type, source and origin, spinning preparation and methods including number of plies, twists per inch and wraps per inch, sock heel types and sock wear patterns. I am still working out how I might test wear but I think I might try two methods.
- repeated machine washing sample swatches and recording any fulling/felting/shrinkage
- recording hourly wear for experimental socks and comparing wear over a series of months.
We will all probably have different things we are interested in exploring and different ways methods of testing wear. This is not a science experiment, more of a journey of knowledge and skill improvement, so we are not compelled to be too rigourous in our methods!
You can read Mary’s introduction to Tuff Socks Naturally at Local and Bespoke.
So, into the sock wilderland my friends!
I never wear this beautiful sweater. But is it a candidate for remaking?
This sweater was given to me about ten years ago by my late, very dear next-door-neighbour. She had knitted it for her eldest son in the seventies and when he had outgrown it, she stored it carefully away. She gave it to me as she knew I loved to knit and wear woollens. It will be her birthday this week, she would be around 90, so it is very timely to be considering her beautiful work.
I have worn it camping a few times but it is really too big for me. It is also too small for my partner. It is also not a colour that I would ever wear as a large block. So here is the conundrum:
- I can store it and preserve my friend’s knitting but this takes up space and wastes the useful potential of her work.
- I can give it away to someone who fits the sweater but I think if I actually felt I could do this, I would have done so already.
- I could chart the cable patterns in the sweater and then unravel and reknit the sweater into a garment that fits me, incorporating the original motifs. This would be undoing my friend’s work but would honour the materials and her design choices. I would be knitting with the same yarn she did. But her sweater would not exist anymore.
What do you think? How does remaking engage with memory and sentiment? Does remaking add to the life story of a garment or destroy part of it?
The problem with these socks is twofold. Firstly, the cast off around the cuffs is too tight making them difficult to pull up and stay up.
Secondly, I spun these socks early in my spinning life, not understanding that I needed more twist and more density in the fabric to make these socks durable. The yarn is simply too fragile to be walked on much. I have mended them frequently but there is little to hold the mending stitches. You can see the problem around the heel particularly.
These socks are very precious to me. They are spindle spun and have many stories and memories attached to them. I wrote about these socks two years ago in a post called Slow Socks. Have a read and then you might understand why I keep them despite not being able to wear them.
But it is silly to store them, what they really need is reknitting from the ankle down and a new cuff.
First, I needed yarn, something strong and durable, and to be true to the origin of the socks, I wanted the yarn to be handspun. So I combed some Corriedale x Ryeland x Finn from Lucinvale Spinning Fleeces, South Australia which I had bought at the Guild. Reading only the Finn part of the label and seeing the beautiful gray variation in the fleece, I had expected a coloured Finnsheep fleece and was so disappointed with the feel after washing that I just put it away. But during the Spinning Certificate, I brought it as contribution to the felting study exploring which fibres full/felt. It didn’t felt and I suddenly saw this fleece in different light. I went back and looked at it again, researched Ryeland, and realised I had a wonderful crimpy, crunchy sock yarn waiting to be spun.
After combing and dizzing, I spun up a tight but balanced three ply worsted sock yarn. Then I cut off the sock at the ankle, picked up the stitches, shifted the leg increases to the inside to change the placement of the heel stitches to less worn stitches and reknitted the foot.
Then I unpicked my cuff cast off and reknitted a cuff and cast off using Jen’s Suprisingly Stretchy Bind Off. I used all my spun yarn on the one sock, so I have to spin some more to do the other sock. But I am very close to a pair of wearable, durable handspun socks which preserve the original spindle-spun-Jillybean-Blue-Faced-Leicester-travel-memento-yarn-and-knitting.
I count this as a successful remaking. How are your Slow Fashion October projects going?
This is Slow Fashion October, a time that we pause and reflect on where our clothes come from, how they got here and how we might be more involved in their making, wearing and enduring over time. Just recently, I read Folk Fashion: Understanding Homemade Clothes (2017) by Amy Twigger Holroyd which explored the idea and practice of remaking.
Remaking is using the unworn clothes you already have to make a more wearable article of clothing. It is more than just altering or modifying for a better fit, more than repairing or mending but may involve all of these processes. It may also involve embellishing, deconstructing or upcycling.
Similarly, turning my old yoke sweater Talisman into a cardigan is another example of remaking. I cut it up the middle and knitted on button bands.
This has given Talisman a new life and the sweater has gone from something I could no longer wear comfortably to a daily standby. I had just finished remaking Talisman when I read Folk Fashion and it got me very focused on the usefulness of addressing old garments that aren’t quite working.
For me, the key to remaking is to break it into steps.
- Identify a garment that is unworn but still precious in some way.
- Identify the problem with the garment.
- Remake the garment addressing the problem.
For Talisman, I realised I still loved the sweater but just couldn’t wear it comfortably, a bigger bust meant that the yoke was too tight and the hem rode up to compensate. The remaking meant that the top buttons can be undone to create chest width. Everything else fits just fine.
Remaking is valuable as it focuses on what we already have, particularly the handmade things, addressing issues that are preventing them from being useful and putting them back into service as clothing again. Just like mending, remaking promotes an ongoing relationship with our clothes where they can change as our needs/preferences change. Essentially, it conserves resources.
So I decided that for Slow Fashion October, I would focus on remaking. I started assessing all the clothes I wasn’t wearing and thinking about how they might be remade.
I started with a denim skirt I made last year when body changes from my CFS meant I couldn’t fit into any of my skirts.
The adjustable nature of this wrap skirt meant that if things changed again, the skirt could still be worn. But it wasn’t being worn very often. The ties created a big lump that could not be worn under tops and jackets. Remaking changed the tie closure to a button closure and now enables me to layer garments over the skirt without an unsightly lump at my hip. This change extends the usefulness of the skirt from summer only to all through the year.
Fueled by this success, throughout October I am going to tackle some other long standing garments in my wardrobe that are not being worn.
Do you have any Slow Fashion October projects?
I made me a wee basket!
It is not my usual style but its fibery contours completely beguile me and I find myself just turning it around and around in my hands, discovering new pleasing combinations of colour and texture.
The basket is made like a child’s first clay coil pot, a long sausage going round and round, fixed in place with embroidery floss stitched up and down the coils.
It is made with my own handspun, using an art yarn technique taught to me by my good friend Janet Day from My Spin On Things. She is a master dyer, spinner and teacher based in Melbourne. Janet developed this particular style of yarn she calls Hotchpotch, as a way of using her dyeing and spinning waste in a useful, ebuillient way. Hotchpotch is essentially a corespun yarn, teased out fleece wrapped around a mohair core.
The true joy of Hotchpotch is its serendipity, as it is made from whatever bits are to hand alternating with undyed fleece, in this case English Leicester waste to provide a contrast to the random colours. There is quite a bit of technique in creating this yarn, in moving the fingers fast enough to wrap the core whilst avoiding the build up of too much twist. I used my largest whorl with moderate take up, changing my flyer guide to accommodate the bulky yarn. The finishing is key too, with a slight fulling required to provide more structure to those wrapped fibres.
Making Hotchpotch was a wonderfully freeing experience for me, presenting me with the challenge of letting go and trusting the technique and trying not to control the colour too much. It is imperfect and inconsistent yet strong, balanced and so useful. It delights me with its unexpected beauty.
You can knit with this yarn and make a wonderfully dense rug. It is strong enough to use as a warp as well as a weft. But to me it sang of being a basket, of being curved and sculptural, of retaining its worm-like, soft-bodied roundness.
I think Hotchpotch is a wonderfully clever way to use carding and combing waste, the rougher parts of a fleece and the last colour in the dye pot. Trying spinning some yourself or you can purchase jumbo skeins directly from My Spin On Things. If it’s not shown in her online shop, just drop her an email. I reckon you could get about three medium sized baskets from a skein.
It is school holidays here. There is not much time for making so instead, I thought I would share with you some treats that came my way on Instagram recently about natural dyeing with Australian natives.
Firstly, I wanted everyone to know about the extraordinarily valuable resource that Sally Blake has developed with the Australian National Botantic Gardens called the Eucalyptus Dye Database.
Assisted by the Australia Council for the Arts, Sally has recorded the dye colours achieved on wool, silk and linen, using no mordant, alum, copper and iron. These fabric samples are presented in grid form and represent 230 eucalypts. You can read about her method and browse the database on her website sallyblake.com.
Secondly, like many other folks, I have an ongoing fascination with natural blue dye. I am sure you know about woad and indigo, but you msy not know that in Australia, we have our own indigenous source of blue in Indigofera australis, Austalian native indigo. This shrub is local to much of southern Australia and looks so modest and unassuming, you would never expect such miraculous colour to be hidden inside. Recently @ourlittlepieceofearth achieved some wonderful results with foraged foliage.
I was pretty excited to find four Indigofera australis bushes in a local park while walking the dog. They were in desperate need of a good pruning 😉So attempted my first indigo vat and I'm super excited about the result! Yarn is super soft @tarndie Polwarth. Scroll for progress pics 💙💙💙#indigoferaaustralis #naturaldyeing #tarndiepolwarth #iloveblue #thingsyoufindwhenwalkingthedog
If you are keen to have a go yourself, @ourlittlepieceofearth recommends master-dyer, Robyn Heywood’s instructions in the Turkey Red journal.
I hope you are as excited as I am by these Australian colours.
Last post, you saw my recent spin, a 3ply semi woollen Finn x Border Leicester.
This was spun for a very particular pattern, A Beer on the Dock by Thea Coleman. Spinning to substitute for millspun yarns is my new addiction. Listening to what a fleece wants to be has its own pleasures but right now I am enjoying mining the pattern notes, the fabric description and yarn characteristics for clues and speculating about how I might achieve such an effect myself. What fibre would best suit, what spinning method, how many plies will I use? I also like to challenge myself to spin to a consistent, predetermined weight.
This pattern called for a light worsted weight and since it would touch the skin on my face, I was looking for a soft handle, lots of loft and light weight but with a round bulkiness to the yarn. I had just enough Finn x BorderLeicester from Fairfield Finns after a friend gave me her sample from the same fleece to make a hat and I wanted to try the method I had been sampling with the Shropshire for a bulky woollen yarn. You probably can’t get much more difference between the two fibres though, the Finn x Border Leicester had a very long staple, was silky and lustrous and the Shropshire was short stapled and crunchy. Nevertheless, I thought it might work.
I carded the Finn x Border Leicester into rolags despite it being a little long for carding. It worked fine and spun up beautifully with a short forwards draw. I initially planned for three plies because I thought the hat was cabled but it turns out that is a mock cable created by the lace decreases and increases. Still, I think the round yarn worked really well with the pattern.
My only modifications were to decrease sharply using garter ridges instead of in-pattern when I realised I was about to run out of yarn. I had about 20 cm left over. Ravelry notes here.
One of the most enjoyable things about spinning is that once you have made your decisions about the kind of yarn you want to spin, you just spin, and spin, and spin. My previous post on sampling explored the decision making process if you are curious about I approach this.
Amidst the tumult of moving cities, settling into a new house, school and neighbourhood, the myriad of complexity involving simple things like where to get bulk oats or coloured hairspray for crazy hair day or getting the car serviced, it is a blessed relief just to spin.
There are so many projects I have been wanting to spin for and finally it is all getting done. You can see here a 100g of Finn x Lincoln from Fairfield Finns, carded into batts and spun into a 3 ply semi woollen for a hat, a tiny ball of 2ply worsted laceweight in ultrafine Merino from flicked locks for a special project and a 2ply worsted DK merino from hand dyed top for mittens.
And then a big spin I have started with a Gotland fleece I bought from Granite Haven a couple of years ago.
Spinning takes me to a calm place where time stills, worries fall away and all there is the treadle and the draft and the filling bobbin.
I haven’t dived into anything big since moving but I thought I would share the beginnings of the sampling methodology that I am developing for my spinning. It is a method derived from methods we learned during the Spinning Certificate at the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria, bits and pieces picked up from watching videos of other spinners and my own interests. It is a method in progress not anything definitive.
The fleece I am exploring is a Shropshire lamb fleece from last years shearing at Collingwood Children’s Farm, a demonstration farm in urban Melbourne.
I start with thinking about both the raw fleece as a whole and as a staple and put down my observations prior to washing. It was at this initial point that I discovered that the fleece was tender. The back section was extremely tender but the best bit over the shoulders were only slightly tender with a single break in the top third of the staple. A break is a weak spot in the fibre and happens when the sheep has been stressed for any period of time. Stress is anything that might have stopped the sheep sending nutrients towards fleece growth, it might mean a very hot day, a stray dog harassing the sheep or even a change in paddocks. I write a description about the raw fleece.
After examining the raw fleece and staple and preserving a few locks, I wash and process the fleece, sometimes just a small bit for sampling, but mostly as a whole fleece at once. I file all the fleece descriptions together so that anytime I want to make something with that fleece I can easily look up my initial observations.
The next step is a thinking step. By looking at the characteristics of the individual fleece and (by research) breed characteristics, I make some decisions about how I might approach the fleece and for what purposes it might be useful. The two books I turn to most are: The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook and The Spinner’s Book of Fleece. They tell me about the general breed characteristics of the fleece and even suggestions for approaching spinning the fibre.
These books tell me that Shropshire is a down sheep with very crimpy elastic fibres that resists felting. It makes good socks and jumpers. It can be carded or combed or flicked, spun worsted or woollen.
Then I just try a couple of things. With this Shropshire lamb I was most interested in understanding the impact of a mid section break in the staple (the tender part) might have on its usefulness. The value of this fleece for me is in its provenance, a rare breed sheep raised by a not-for-profit urban farm, 3 km from my (former) home and its softness and elasticity. So I thought it was worth seeing if I could work with the break.
The first sample was a 3 ply sock yarn, prepared with a flicker, spun worsted with a good amount of twist. The flicker broke most of the weak section away. I spun three amounts on my bobbin and wound off onto weaving bobbins for plying.
This is a method demonstrated by Kate Larson in Spinning to Knit With and really does speed up the sampling process. The resulting sock yarn is firm and elastic.
For the second sample, I thought I would try carding a rolag and including all the staple length, break and all in the finusial yarn. For this yarn, I spun up a bulky 2 ply using a woollen short backwards draw. The result is delightful, full, bouncy and squishy.
Then I knit up a sample, trying stitches and gauges that I think match the yarn and end purpose. Whilst the resulting knitted swatches are lovely (to me!) in themselves and may provide exact information for future projects, they also prompt questions and ideas for more samples and experiments. For example, the 3 ply sock yarn is great but I am curious how the tenderness of the fleece might affect the wear of the sock over time. I could make a sock from this yarn and a sock from a non tender, adult Shropshire fleece I already have and compare the two. I would also like to try putting in a little less twist in the singles and see if I might get a bouncier sock yarn.
The bulky 2 ply would suit hats and cowls with lots of textured stitches but might not wear well as a more robust garment like a cardigan. I could try it out.
As a spinner, I find so much intellectual pleasure in sampling. I could easily spend all my time just sampling, asking questions and knitting up virtual garments in my head.
How do you sample? What is your method?
Larson, Kate, Spinning Yarn to Knit With, Interweave Press, video download
McKenzie, Judith, Three Bags Full, Interweave Press, video download
Robson, Deborah, Handspinning Rare Wools, Interweave Press, video download
Robson, Deborah & Ekarius, Carol, The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook
Smith, Beth, The Spinner’s Book of Fleece