Sailing Out of the Doldrums

The doldrums: an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds that has come to mean a period of stagnation or depression.

Sometimes we get stuck, the wind goes out of our sails and we lose impetus and direction in our crafting. I often feel like this during a long project, when the excitement of new ideas has passed and the execution is feeling a little tired. I also know that this is no time to leave a project, as completion brings its own rewards but in past I’ve tended to just push on regardless of waning enthusiasm, driving myself forward to the end.  If there is anything that a chronic fatigue condition has taught me is that there is another way, a kinder way forward that attends both to the long term goal and the dispirited self.

I have learned that having a rest and exploring something else for a while is both restorative and actually helps me get back to the project with renewed interest and perhaps slightly different perspective. I recently encountered the doledrums with Tuff Socks Naturally when the repetition of fleece preparation, spinning, knitting and testing had begun to feel grueling rather than intriguing. Instead of pushing through, I tried my new approach: I stopped and cast on something just for me, just for fun, just for play.

I turned to two balls of alpaca which had been enticing me since I received them more than a year ago, all the way from Northumberland in the UK. They hadn’t even made it into stash, as I knew I wanted them close at hand. I was quite sick at the time I received them and I couldn’t get my brain sorted to work out how to use them. So they waited comfortingly on the bookshelf in my room until the right moment. Then, after a wander through Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 150 Scandinavian Knitting Designs (2013), I spontaneously took up the yarn and cast on a cowl.

I used the motif on page 51 and 5 mm needles and just had a play. It was the most delightful knitting, the yarn was buttery soft but with a robust twist and the colourwork motif worked its compelling magic upon me. In next to no time, I had a lovely warm cowl, a head full of ideas and the energy I needed to keep going with socks. It keeps me warm on the walks to and from school as the temperature drops and the wind picks up for winter in Ballarat.

So when you find yourself in the doldrums, in knitting or in life, I hope you find something kind you can turn to till the wind fills your sails once more.


29. May 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , | 22 comments


Dearest readers, I want to let you know about some crafty events coming up in my home state.

Many of you will know about The Craft Sessions retreat that happens every September in the Yarra Valley. Felicia Semple has connected with many sewists and knitters with her thoughtful reflections on skill and creativity and her ongoing Stash Less project.  The Craft Sessions retreat is a space to explore a range of crafts from sewing and embroidery to wood carving and mending. I will teaching there with my good friend Adele Moon. We’ll be introducing folks to the amazing world of spinning and the variety of wonderful sheep breeds and fleeces that can be found in Victoria.

You can check out all the amazing teachers at The Craft Sessions here.  And this year Mary Jane Mucklestone will be in residence and taking classes! Imagine being introduced to colourwork knitting with a teacher like that! Registrations are now open.

The same organisers are also hosting the inaugural Soul Craft Festival down in Melbourne on June 9 and 10. There are master classes covering a range of craft practices, talks on sustainable fashion and creativity and a marketplace. I have booked a day ticket for Saturday, and am looking forward to hearing some inspiring talks and having a wander. Let me know if you are planning a visit also. Tickets are still available for both days and some Master Classes.


Then, on February 22-24, another dear friend of mine, Janet Day from My Spin on Things is hosting Majacraft Camp Australia 2019 in Mryniong, Victoria. This is not just for those with Majacraft wheels, nor is it all about art yarns. It is for anyone with curiousity about just what they can make in partnership with their wheel. Janet has enticed four wonderful teachers Laurie Boyer, Suzy Brown, Jane Deane and Sue MacNiven to share their skills over the weekend.  You can read about them over at the retreat page but they all have extensive and wide ranging expertise. This retreat is just the thing to move you beyond your default yarn and into exploring new techniques and approaches to spinning.  I’ve just booked my place and I’d love to know who else might be going.


22. May 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , | 10 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Shropshire Sock

And here it is, a sock knitted in Shropshire yarn.

Today’s post is one in a series called Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

I am so pleased with this sock. It knitted up easily on 2.5 mm needles to create a tweedy, elastic sock. It always stays in shape and it always stays up. It is significantly more elastic than the Ryeland sock although less fine. The handspun yarn was consistent through out the sock and I dyed a little in some left over solar dye to add some stripes.

For the pattern, I used the basic toe up pattern from Lara Neel’s Sock Architecture (2014) book. I used a figure of eight cast on, a regular wedge toe and then a short row gusset and a square heel. It has worked well, although I think I needed to make a deeper gusset. The sock is made up pure Shropshire, no added reinforcers, so I can get a good understanding of the durability of the fibre.  I am beginning to think that no all sock yarns require reinforcing.

And here is the sock, getting its hours up and staying tough. It has 108 hours already and no signs of holes and absolutely no fulling.

The knitting process got me thinking about the importance of multi gauge sock recipes for hand spun socks. This sock yarn was a little heavier than commercial sock, so I had to tweek the pattern accordingly but a really good multi gauge recipe would be wonderful for the Tuff Socks Naturally project. Does anyone know of a good one? All suggestions welcomed.

It is also good to remember that this is Rare Breed Sheep, in Australia and elsewhere. It is uniquely suited to long lasting socks and other garments and could have a significant role to play in the sustainable clothing movement. Shropshire Woollies sells fleece, fibre and yarn so even knitters can get their hands on this wonderful fibre.

08. May 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , | 8 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Shropshire Spin

Today’s post is one in a series called Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

For the Shropshire spinning for Tuff Socks Naturally, I wanted to focus on the high grist 2ply. In a recent edition of Ply Magazine, Rachel Smith (2017) from Welford Purls/Wool n’Spinning explored the application of a tightly spun, high density 2 ply for sock knitting. The enormous benefit of this yarn is that it is fast yet still durable. And when you are spinning for socks which then have to be knit and possibly dyed, time is an important consideration.

I wasn’t too happy with the high grist 2ply I made from the Ryeland, it was a little too fine, although it is wearing extremely well at this point. So I wanted the Shropshire to be a little denser. The end result is probably a little too dense than what I was after (probably a heavy fingering weight) but it is round and sturdy.

I spun these from a drum carded batt from the fleece you saw in the last post. I was careful to introduce locks into the carder in a uniform way that would preserve their direction and then spun with the direction of the locks as for worsted spinning. The Shropshire fibres are so kinky and springy it was hard to get a fine single but even after plying with lots of twist, the result is still surprisingly elastic.

For those of you curious about details, I spun the singles on a ratio of 11.5:1 at a rate of 1″ per treadle. They were plied on a ratio of 8:1 at the same rate. This gave me a yarn of 8 twists per inch and 14 wraps per inch.  Interestingly, the crimp rate was 8 crimps per inch so theoretically my yarn is has been spun to the crimp rather than at a higher twist rate. However, if I was spinning this fleece for a sweater yarn, even at same wraps per inch, I would have added less twist both for singles and plying. But this is a very dense yarn, more fibre is packed into the yarn diameter than I would usually have for a sweater yarn, so perhaps for the density of the yarn, it is tightly spun. OK enough geeky pondering now! Hopefully, I’ve made a durable sock yarn and can replicate it.


Rachel Smith, ‘A Down Breed Sock Experiment’ PLY, Issue 6, Spring 2017


26. April 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , , , | 4 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Shropshire

And I’m back…from school holiday, glorious weather and children going hither and thither.

Back to serious matters.

Back to Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

This week, Tuff Socks is all about Shropshire fleece, my next exploration point on this most exciting adventure. I have met Shropshire before through the Collingwood Children’s Farm and admired its spring and bounce. But for these socks, I ordered some fleece from Marilyn Mangione from Shropshire Woollies in Strathbogie, Victoria. It came in the post in a most impressive parcel.

Apart from fleece by the kilo, Marilyn also sells Shropshire roving and some yarn. She is a sock knitter herself and has made some incredible durable socks from her sheep.


The kilo of fleece I bought contained variegated grays. Colour is quite rare in Shropshire as a breed, but Marilyn breeds a true handspinners’ flock and the grays are just beautiful. Apart from colour, it was a typical Shropshire fleece, blocky staples, high bulk, blunt tips and a staple length of around 2 inches and 8 crimps per inch. Like other Shropshire fleeces I have tried, it was a little tender in parts.

Shropshire originates from south-west downs of England and was one of those breeds who were successfully improved in the early nineteenth century as a dual purpose sheep.  It came to Australia in the 1850s and was very sucessful until the 1900s when smaller Southdowns became popular for meat production.  Shropshire is a downs breed, bouncy and naturally resistant to felting. It is a conservation breed in the UK, US and Australia. In 2013, there were only 8 registered flocks in Australia. You can read more about the Shropshire in Australia at the Australian Rare Breed Sheep Project.

As the staple length was short, I knew I would be carding this fleece so I just separated the colours, bagged the fleece in washing colours and scoured them.

I lost 30% of the fleece weight during scouring and it almost doubled in volume! This is a super springy, bouncy, energetic kind of fleece. Good for socks I think!

19. April 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: spin | Tags: , , | 6 comments

The Enduring Brilliance of Elizabeth’s Percentage System

I have been catching up on some small projects recently, things that I promised my family some time ago…a jumper darn, a uniform repair and a wee jumper for a beloved doll.

Winter is coming and even plastic bodies feel the cold apparently. Our Dear Girl really really wanted a jumper for her doll companion. It was to be a jumper not a cardigan, snuggly and big enough to go over her other clothes. These were my instructions.

With approval, I picked out a lime coloured merino sportsweight in left over from a Ferris cardigan for Our Dear Girl.  Whilst I have no doubt, that there are many patterns out there for 19 inch doll sweaters, I didn’t fancy trawling through Ravelry or Pinterest to find them. Instead I turned to Elizabeth Zimmerman’s extraordinary gift to knitters: her EPS (Elizabeth’s Percentage System). If you don’t know about the EPS, it is a simple system that allows you to create a sweater to fit any sized person based on a series of percentages relating to the chest measurement.  The system is fully documented in her books Knitting without Tears (1973) and The Opinionated Knitter (2005).

It is a system that frees the knitter from reliance on patterns, making us autonomous makers (should we wish to be so). It was a revolutionary unvention when it was conceived of in the early seventies and remains a truly radical concept now amidst the current culture of hyper-consumption of knitting designs.

Based on the chest measurement and my gauge, I calculated that I needed 80 stitches for the body. From then on, the EPS is able to provide me with the number of stitches I need to cast on the sleeves, the stitches I need to increase to for the forearm and how many stitches to cast off for the underarms and all sorts of other useful bits of information. The sweater is knit in the round, bottom up, the sleeves are united with the body at the under arms and decreases every other round form the raglan shaping.

The EPS continues to delight and thrill me. There is nothing quite like a bit of DIY in the knitting department.

03. April 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , | 11 comments

Farm News from Bullengarook

Bullengarook is a little place an hour north of Melbourne, just near Bacchus Marsh.  It is rolling, lush country, perfect for sheep.

It is where Maureen Shepherd raises her prize winning Finnsheep at Fairfield Finns. I love the fleeces produced here and have spun many projects from them including Lowtide LowfiYoke of Endurance, Bendigo Enchanted and Kowhai and Fern Beanie. Late last year, I was able to visit the farm after shearing to pick out some lovely fleeces for spinning this year and wrote about that visit in a post.

Maureen sells fleeces, hand dyed and plain tops and even Finnsheep yarn in sportsweight and DK.

On Saturday 14th April, just a couple of weeks away, Fairfield Finns is having an open day where you can visit, meet the sheep, have a Devonshire Tea and purchase some beautiful fibre direct from the farmer. Other vendors will be there too, so it will be a very special day.

The open day will run from 10 am till 4 pm, at 1275 Bacchus Marsh Road, Bullengarook.  If you can get along, please do, there is nothing quite like buying fleece or yarn from the farmer, walking on the land where the fibre was raised and meeting the beasties who did all the work turning grass into such an extraordinary resource.

Another treasure of a wool farm, just up the road a bit from Fairfield Finns is Cloverleaf Corriedales. I had the good fortune to visit with the farmer, Ronelle Welton just last weekend. Ronelle has a small flock of seventy. It is a no-kill flock, where grand dames and old fellas get to see out their time with dignity and matriarchal family groups stay together. Ronelle is breeding for fineness and she has some lovely fleeces at 26 microns.

This place is not just special for the sheep however, Ronelle and her husband are building a generous home for hosting farm stays, fibre workshops and events.  They have a grand vision for bringing yarn tourism to the area, connecting knitters and spinners with the land and sheep central to our craft.

Accommodation will open in July and will cater for groups of up to eight, as well as having an event space centred around a massive stone fireplace that will fit over a hundred. The setting is magnificent, you can see the weather roll in over the hills from the every window in the place but still so close to Melbourne. You can see and read more about this wonderful farm in the inaugural edition of Indie Road, a new Australian fibrecraft magazine.

The first edition is available free online. Most Australian fibre craft mags fall into two categories, pure textile arts or mainstream commercial yarns. Indie Road is something very different, focusing on farmers, slow crafts and light drenched photography. It is very beautiful.

27. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: look | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Ryeland the Socks

Today’s post is one in a series called Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

They are done! Knitted up and on my feet for the next stage of the experiment.

I spun up 50 grams of Ryeland as a high grist 2 ply and 50 grams as an opposing 3 ply to test the variable rate of wear. The two yarns were pretty much the same weight, light fingering with the 2 ply being just a smidge lighter.

I decided on Whisky Bay Woollen’s Lowtide Socks for Tuff Socks Naturally 3 as I wanted something I could wear in my runners and get wear everyday on dog walks and exercising. My only mod was to make the larger size on smaller needles  (2.25 mm) as my yarn was lighter than regular sock yarn and to add a ribbed cuff to guard against my shoes eating my anklets which happens sometimes.

Once the knitting was done, it was almost impossible to tell the difference between the socks, although one is slightly lighter than the other. I will have to have some way of marking the difference between them to test their wear.

Just for fun, I dyed these lovelies in ornamental plum, modified with washing soda. They are the colour of autumn in Ballarat.

They are on the trail already with 2o hours under their belt.

23. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: dye, knit, spin | Tags: , , , , , | 4 comments

Tuff Socks Naturally: Ryeland the Spin

Today’s post is one in a series called Tuff Socks Naturally, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion, share pics and projects on this blog or Local and Bespoke or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

The spinning of Ryeland fleece for Tuff Socks Naturally has been completed!

If you remember from last time, I washed lovely, crimpy, crunchy Ryeland fleece from Hallyluya Farm by the lock and drum carded two batts of 50 g each.  The idea was to spin two kinds of sock yarn Opposing Ply Yarn and Two Ply High Grist Yarn which have been tested to be more durable than a traditional 3ply sock yarn and compare the wear over time.

The first batt was spun with a dense, high twist 2 ply according to the method described by Rachel Smith in‘A Down Breed Sock Experiment’ PLY, Issue 6, Spring 2017. I spun the singles using a ratio of 11.5:1 at a rate of 1 inch per treadle and then plied the two Z spun singles in an S direction using a 8:1 ratio at rate of 1 inch per treadle. I was aiming for a yarn of about 19-20 wraps per inch or a light fingering, just a touch finer than my sample.

The second batt was spun with an opposing ply to make a 3 ply cable yarn as described by Sarah Anderson in The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs (2012). I spun 2 singles in a Z direction using a ratio of 11.5:1 at a rate of 1 inch per treadle. These two singles were plied S using a ratio of 15:1 at rate of 1 inch per treadle (creating an over twisted yarn). Then the 2 ply was plied again in a Z direction with an S spun single (spun using same ratio and rate as initial singles) using a 6:1 ratio at a rate of 1 inch per treadle. This created a dense, fine yarn of around 19-20 wraps per inch.

You can see the difference in structure between the two yarns.

So now I have my two fraternal twin sock yarns ready for knitting into socks. I hope all this detailing of ratios and treadle rates helps you develop your own sock spins. I am hoping the 2 ply high grist yarn wins, as it is super quick to spin and will enable lots more sock spinning to go ahead. Let me know how you go.

15. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit, spin | Tags: , , , | 4 comments


Stymied by ailing kidlets, high school tours and sports days, the Tuff Socks Naturally spinning has stalled briefly. I can however, announce the winner of the Ryeland washed locks giveaway. Congratulations to Tina, your Tuff Socks Naturally spin-your-own-adventure is on its way!

In this spinning lull, I want to share with you a recently finished sweater.

This one is for the favourite gentleman in our life who asked for a lightweight but warm sweater he could wear to work. He picked out a beautiful tweedy yarn from Jamieson and Smith Jumperweight 2 ply which was a real treat for me to knit as I mostly knit with Australian farm yarns. The shade is 58 FC, a lovely rustic chocolate tweed but very hard to photograph.

The pattern is Helm, a CustomFit pattern from Amy Herzog. If you don’t know about CustomFit, it is a system designed by Herzog to customise knitting designs to fit individual sets of measurements and gauges. I’ve been wanting to try this for ages and since my bloke is shortish but broad in the shoulders and wanted a set-in sleeve, this knit was the ideal candidate. The system has loads of potential for using handspun in commercial patterns too.

I am super pleased with the results, as is the bloke. As this was such a plain knit, I focused on the details, finishing with twisted stitch 1 x 1 rib for the cuffs and hem and using a selvage stitch to set the shaping stitches one stitch in. With careful seaming, the edges look satisfyingly professional especially the armholes and neck.




01. March 2018 by Rebecca
Categories: knit | Tags: , , , , , | 10 comments

← Older posts

Newer posts →