A little more than a cardigan

September 4, 2019

One of the most useful cardigans I ever knitted was this one here.

Knit from yarn I found at an op (charity) shop it served me well for six years, so well, I wore it down. I darned and redarned the elbows but eventually there was little left to work with and so I decided to replace it.

I saved the buttons and knit this one using Amy Herzog’s Custom Fit software. Using her system, I was able to design my own cardigan from a large set of options and replicate what I liked best about the old cardigan. I chose three quarter length sleeves, a cropped waist, set in sleeves, a v-neck, a close hourglass fit and even the same depth to ribbing bands.

I used a local-to-me farm yarn from Fairfield Finns, a Finnsheep sportsweight grown near Bacchus Marsh and processed in New Zealand. The colour is a dark brick red and has been as surprisingly versatile as the teal blue of my first cardigan.

The decorative band was from the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible and I just added this as I knit from Custom Fit pattern.

I am very pleased with the result. It is a supremely useful cardigan, fits exceptionally well and the Finnsheep is next-to-the-skin soft albeit a little pilly which you can see in the pic. Hopefully that will resolve in the next few months as those stray fibres work their way loose.

However, ever since I read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu (2018), I feel more circumspect when knitting or spinning with Australian yarn. Using the first hand accounts of explorers and pastoralists, Dark Emu chronicles the vast, complex farming systems First Nations people had in place prior to European colonisation. Pascoe writes compellingly of how sheep were the cutting edge of the occupation, travelling ahead of the colonisers, eating and destroying the farmed crops of the First Nations such as the murnong, (yam daisies) the starchy staple food of the local people right down to the roots so they could not regrow, leaving severe food shortages in their wake. This made it easier for the colonisers to subdue a resistant but starving people, steal land with government approval and displace the Traditional Owners with vast sheep runs.

It gives me pause then, to think of the complex history that I draw upon when I knit from local sources. Our nostalgic ideas about ourselves as a nation built on the sheep’s back are shaken when sheep are seen as one of the tools of colonisation. Sheep growing in Australia is part of the story of colonisation. Knitting and spinning are enmeshed also and it makes me part of the story. It is a story that didn’t just happen in the past, it is a story that is still unfolding. Until Indigenous Australians are represented in the constitution and have full self determination, we are still living in colonial times. If you’d like to read more about this idea, I recommend Sarah Maddison’s The Colonial Fantasy: Why White Australia Can’t Solve Black Problems (2019).

If this gets you thinking too, you might be interested in a call for support being made by the Djab Wurrung women to resist the removal of sacred birthing trees by Vic Roads for a freeway extension in Ararat in Western Victoria. Some trees have recently been saved but there are other significant trees that are still endangered by road works. You can read an article in The Guardian, find out more and donate on the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy site or attend a rally at Parliament House in Melbourne next Tuesday September 10th.

I would also like to thank every single one of you who left a comment on my post last week. I wasn’t sure if any one would still be out there after such a time away but your support, encouragement and welcome was incredibly heartening. I haven’t managed personal replies this time but I hope to over the next weeks. You are extraordinarily kind to me, thank you.

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  1. The sheep was also a tool used by unscrupulous land owners in the 18th and 19th centuries in Scotland.. replacing tenants rents with wool and meat brought in much more money and gave rise to the term ‘The Highland Clearances’. At school in Scotland in the 1970’s many children could still tell family stories of dreadful poverty, starvation and forced migration to Canada and the USA. Some landowners even paid their tenants fares to the new world… whether they wished to go or not. Although the Scots like to blame the English for this, the reasons are much more complex and the landlords invariably Scottish but most relevant to today’s world situation.. the Highlanders were viewed as virtually less than human.. almost a sub species. They spoke a different language, their culture was not understood and they were a barrier to the making of money. In spite of such long memories in the highlands of Scotland is anyone prompted to blame the sheep, unlikely, possibly because nowadays the local people are treated equally. We cannot be responsible for our ancestors actions but we must and should acknowledge their errors and strive to correct such attitudes in our own lives. What a very thought provoking post, thank you.

    1. Thanks Jane, that was a fascinating contribution. It is clear that sheep, more that simply being a neutral farming animal/fibre source are saturated in cultural history and enmeshed within human historical events.

  2. Thank you for this,
    I have recently become more aware of the way that my thoughts and culture(England, UK) are influenced by our colonial past.
    There is a really good talk to be found on YouTube by Pat McCabe, The Earth Talks: Indigenous ways of knowing. This takes the roots of these issues even further back. It is well worth a listen as her embodied words are incredibly powerful.
    Fabulous cardi 🙂

  3. Rebecca, thank you for such an informative post. So many of us, while knitting, or spinning, imagine the delightful sheep that provided the wool for us, never thinking of past times you mentioned. Very eye-opening.

  4. Such important conversations to have and to advance. Thank you for addressing this issue with your customary care, and congratulations on a lovely cardigan.

  5. Fantastic post! Such talent! Am very cognitive of these needs and it takes people like you who are extraordinarily good with words to compassionately and respectfully disseminate this information.

  6. That post and The Guardian article were very informative….how awful, Birthing Trees to be ripped up. That is very sad. I will look up that you tube by Pat McCabe. Thank you. And yes your cardi is very attractive.

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