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In the midst of the maelstrom of seasonal madness, I would like to share some wonderful news with you all.

Knitty.com has just published an original design of mine in its Winter 2018 edition. In fact, to my great surprise and joy, it made the Knitty Spin cover.

The design is called Spinal Twist, a double layer textured colour-work cowl to keep the winter at bay. It takes its inspiration from the spinal twist poses in yoga which work the vertebrae and facilitate the flow of energy through the spinal column.

The pattern provides information to spin for the cowl using fleece or to knit from millspun chunky yarn. I knit my sample from Corriedale fleece from Cloverleaf Corriedale Stud, Bulangarook, Victoria. I dyed the fleece using Earth Palette cold dyes, then drum carded the dyed fleece into batts which I then spun into a chunky two ply.

My wonderful model is my spinning compatriot Isabella. We met online and then in real life during the Spinning Certificate. She was such a good sport to model for me especially on the freezing day when we photographed by Lake Wendouree, Ballarat. It was such a gloomy day, not the crisp, blue sky day we had been waiting weeks for. But deadlines care nothing for weather and we just had to embrace the gloom.

You can find all the details over at Knitty.com. All their patterns are absolutely free.

I will be taking a break over January and will return in February with more Tuff Socks adventuring, handspinning projects, natural dyeing and home sewing.

Please be safe, be slow and may all the pleasures of the season be yours.

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Dearest sock adventurers,

As many of you will know Mary Heath from Local and Bespoke and I have been jointly working on the Tuff Socks Naturally project for just over a year now. Tuff Socks Naturally, is an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn.

In November last year, we wrote our first posts and we’ve been spinning, knitting, road testing, and experimenting ever since. We’ve been sharing our journey on our blogs and on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally. This tag has been picked up by others on similar sock journeys and Clare Devine’s work with non-nylon millspuns yarns in her sock design work has expanded the tag beyond spinners to the knitting community as well. You can even do a Tuff Socks Naturally knitting class with Clare at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.

Our findings and musings about the spinning side of things have recently been published by Ply Magazine in their Winter 18 edition on Sock Yarn. You can purchase the magazine directly from Ply following that link. We talk about the origins of the project, our interests and interim conclusions from our experiments.

It was such a joyful experience writing this article with Mary, posting it back and forth between us till it was done. We hope you will enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. And do check back here for more installments of Tuff Socks Naturally, I’ve got lots more to share as soon as I finish unpacking all the boxes after moving house.

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As I write, the house is filled with boxes and empty shelves as we are getting ready to move into our new home in Ballarat. We will have a proper garden again, there’s a little greenhouse, room for chickens and over a dozen established fruit and nut trees in the back and front garden.

There’s not been much energy left for making at the moment but I do have some spinning on the go. It gives my brain a rest from all the logistics of relocating four people and a dog whilst keeping everything as normal as possible.

This is a lovely chocolate Finn x Corriedale from Fairfield Finn’s shearing from last year. I am making a worsted 3 ply fingering weight for a cardigan and the spinning is giving me such pleasure.

This is an unstyled picture of my making and mending station. It’s a lovely but battered Deco occasional table that I always intend to be clear of clutter but is usually completely colonised by my bits and pieces. I sit in the chair next to it, right next to the window and the natural light and reattach buttons, mend dog toys and bear ears and sew up holes in tights and leggings. It is also where I spin and knit.

Perhaps you are wondering why I didn’t tidy up to take this pic, after all, that is what we do on blogs and Instagram. We style the set, take the pic, edit the pic and then publish a beautiful, ordered scene. But life is not like that. Life is messy. Packing tape sits next to a vintage tin next to an ugly but useful plastic bag for my flicker which I don’t want to loose. My knitting bag is pretty side down and I think there are even discarded hair ties from my kids on the table. You can just make out my knitting basket underneath the table, a medusa-like tangle of yarn and sleeves. My spinning wheel is just out of shot.

I find I am becoming increasingly wearisome of all the hidden labour of artifice which dominates our online craft photos. Orderly lines of tools and staged knitting with cakes and tea just tire me at the moment. We are not companies finessing every aspect of our brand…we are makers and making is messy. Making is about process and skill not simply a finished object set within other pretty objects. Where can we see the process? Where can we see the entrails and bones of being creative?

Let us embrace the entrails of our creativity dear readers, they are the true medals of everyday life.

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Dearest readers, I never mean to be away so long…life just happens and the days get away from me.

Firstly we had the whirl of school holidays and then there were birthdays. Lots of things were made but escaped being photographed. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will recognise the following pics from Our Dear Girl’s birthday gifts.

She asked for doll clothes and since I reckon I just have only a year or so left before she stops asking, I thought I’d make what I could this year. These are just some of what I made, most things mixing with each other to create a flexible wee wardrobe.

All materials were in stash, scraps and bits of things left over from repairs or bigger sewing projects.

The wee cardigan was knit in Jamieson and Smith left overs and even has a front steek  and centred yoke motifs.

I was a bit thrilled when this outfit made it to the Fringe Association Elsewhere series.

The other reason I’ve been away so long is that Needle and Spindle had an unfortunate hacking experience that we are still sorting out. Thanks to very kind, concerned email from reader Serena, I was alerted early and my service provider sprang into action. The hack was not directed at subscribers, rather it worked to redirect those searching for the site to a commercial site. But they’ve left their muddy digital boots all over the place and everything has needed a good cleaning.

Needle and Spindle is secure again but it does remind me that the internet can be quite a hostile place. We make our little cosy spaces amidst a heaving digital zombie hoard pressing in on all sides. Sometimes one gets over and upsets the mending, tangles the knitting and spills the preserves.

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Last week there was no post as I was resting up in preparation for teaching at Craft Sessions 2018 and this week, well…now I am needing to rest after the teaching! ME/CFS is a frustrating, inconvenient illness but I delight in the capacity I have now. Such an effort would have been impossible 18 months ago.

I don’t like to leave posting too long though, so I thought I would briefly, gently, check in with you all.

Every year The Craft Sessions retreat is held in Yarra Valley, Victoria. It is organised by Felicia Semple and her trusty team, the same folks who brought us the Soul Craft Festival in June. It is an exceptionally well organised event that seems to emphasise community building amongst makers just as much as skill development. This year, I was lucky enough to go to Craft Sessions as a teacher, teaming up with Adele Moon for a day long workshop introducing folks to wheel spinning. As part of the workshop, we also explored various Victorian sheep breeds including rare breeds.

It was a real privilege to teach with Adele. Not only is Adele a trained artist, skilled knitter and fellow graduate of the Certificate of Spinning, she also has a background in education and approaches her craft teaching in innovative and creative ways. She has a wonderful way of bringing out the capacity of her students. As I watch her work, I kind of wish she had been MY first spinning teacher.

It was an extraordinary day, with curious, engaged students and a warm, friendly atmosphere. Mary Jane Mucklestone was also teaching there and generously signed my copies of her books, 200 Fair Isle Motifs and 150 Scandinavian Designs. I confess I had my books ready in a basket of knitted up colourwork some months ahead of time and I was so excited by the whole experience that I accidentally embraced her instead of shaking hands.

As part of the preparation, I spun and knitted my way through a range of Victorian sheep breeds including including Polwarth, Corriedale, English Leicester, Perendale, Finnsheep, Gotland, Shropshire, Ryeland, Romney, Cheviot and the critically endangered carpet sheep Elliotdale. I fell in love with every fleece and every sample set off  ten different knitting ideas. There are still more local breeds to try and my spinning fingers are twitching.

But right now I am going slowly.

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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 recently had my first experience with chilblains in over thirty years. Ballarat is a colder place than Melbourne and the mornings can be quite icy. The only day I did not wear my handspun, handknitted socks, I got a very painful, itchy chilblain on one toe.

I had worn tights that day with my normal winter boots but within half an hour of stepping outside, I found I could no longer feel my feet. They stayed that numb kind of cold all day, thawing out eventually overnight. Within 24 hours, there was the chilblain.

It healed quickly but the experience served to remind me that using wool is important. It keeps us warm and healthy. It is renewable and biodegradeable. It can be human scale not just industrial scale.

Pablo Neruda says it best in Ode to My Socks

beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.

Wear wool and stay safe in winter folks.

Ravelry details on these socks are here.

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Just in the nick of time, I made these.

My old yoga pants, two of them, were 2 years old and worn to the point of being unrepairable. They weren’t yoga pants specifically, just black cotton/Lycra leggings from a big box store. I’d resewn the inner seam a number of times but the fabric itself had become very thin. I had to wear shorts over the top to yoga just to make sure.

Two years is not a long time for a garment to last but they were worn a lot as leggings and yoga pants, almost daily in fact. When it became apparent they would need imminent replacing, I started looking around to buy some more. I thought perhaps something specifically for yoga might be more hard wearing but most of what I saw were entirely synthetic and the ethically produced ones seemed to be no more hard wearing that what I already had. They were also very expensive.  The lack of biodegradability was particularly concerning and I imagined that whatever I purchased might be on the earth forever, long after they ceased being used.

I decided to sew some myself. I used the Espresso leggings pattern from Sewing Cake Patterns, adding my measurements and tracing off a pattern. The first one was made with some inexpensive fabric just to trial. It was a little tight in the calves and not quite tight enough at the waist so I readjusted the pattern.

The second one used fabric from The Drapery and fits perfectly.

I am super happy with the pattern and the actual garments. However, I have some reservations about a couple of things. Both fabrics are cotton and contain 8% Lycra, a synthetic that adds stretch and memory to a fabric (so you don’t get elephant knees after squatting). I am reminded that 10% nylon was enough to start me on the Tuff Socks Naturally project so I know already I am not comfortable with the synthetic component…or indeed the cotton bit.  I can’t really expect them to last any longer than my other ones. So all in all, these leggings are really just a stop gap. I think there must be a better way.

I think the underlying problem is the concept of leggings themselves. They are an artifact of the synthetic age…a garment that can’t exist before the invention of Lycra. So the more I look for yoga leggings, stretchy skin-hugging, breathable trews, the more frustrated I am going to get. So what is the alternative?

Since yoga predates the invention Lycra, presumably folks have worn other things to bend and stretch and breath. The blokes in my class wear shorts but I desire a wee bit more coverage for myself. One bloke wears Thai fishing pants but I think there too much fabric in those for what I want. My brother once had a pair of rock climbing trousers that had a gusset in the crotch to allow for deep leg extensions. Perhaps the way forward is something in linen or hemp with a gusset.

I am not sure what is next is but I’ve bought myself some exploration time I think. Ideas and suggestions are welcome.

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This post is about a sheep, a very special sheep called HRH or Old Leader.

HRH, photo by Nan Bray, used with her permission

In 2016, I had the great fortune to encounter a very lovely fleece from White Gum Wool whilst studying for the Spinning Certificate run by the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria. It was a superfine Saxon Merino fleece around 17 microns. Afterwards, in the course of interviewing Nan Bray for an article in Spin Off, she told me that the fleece was the last fleece of her most important matriarch and that she had died recently. She asked if I might send her a spun sample of HRH.

Sometimes, we get the opportunity to work with fibre from a known animal. Perhaps it is from an animal we’ve raised, that we’ve had pointed out at a farm, sometimes, all we have is a name written on the fleece bag.  Considering the life of sheep in our fibre work is important. They are the source of our materials. They turn grass into warm, renewable, biodegradable clothing for us. Thinking about them as individuals can shift our thoughts from resource consumption to an empathetic comradeship where we are more likely to be concerned about animal welfare, life span and health of the earth.

HRH leading the flock, photo by Nan Bray, used with her permission

I’ve never been in the situation of knowing a specific sheep posthumously through its fleece and it has given me much to think of. Nan spoke so movingly of the importance of HRH to her flock and her own knowledge of Merino behaviour that I thought that a memorial post for HRH might be appropriate and Nan gave her permission.

HRH or Old Leader was 11 years old when she died at the end of 2015. She was a mother and a grandmother. Despite our belief that fleece coarsens over time, even at 11, her fleece is the finest I have yet spun. Not many sheep in commercial flocks get to live until 11, most get sent off to the abattoir at around 5 years old. But Nan has a different perspective on raising sheep and believed that HRH and her other matriarchs had important knowledge on how to graze, where to find the various plants that keep a sheep healthy and how to move as a flock together.

Nan says

HRH aka Old Leader…was pivotal in teaching me many, many important lessons—not just about sheep, but at least as importantly, about myself.

HRH, photo by Nan Bray, used with her permission

In her Yarns from the Farm posts on the White Gum Wool website, you can type in HRH into the search box and find many, many posts about this sheep. In one post, entitled The Power of the Matriarch  in 2014, Nan wrote

So, Old Leader, for whatever set of reasons, is the acknowledged wise woman of the flock. She is the one who decides where and when the flock will move to graze, whether it is safe to move into a new area, when to move to shelter and where that shelter is likely to be, relative to developing weather patterns. And the flock, accepting her leadership, move confidently behind her, and graze more actively as a result of her confidence.

It didn’t seem right just to send a spun sample, even though it was the very best, finest spinning I could do at the time (I am not a lace spinner so it really was the best I could do).  So I knitted a wee memento for Nan, a memento mori, a remembrance of a life passing.

So often we spin and knit from fibre whose origin is a mystery to us. Even though this is normal and everyday, when I think about it, wool that comes from unknown sheep and unknown places has a particular poignancy about it…a kind of anonymous lostness.

I only met HRH through her fleece, but I hope through Nan’s pictures and words, you come to have a sense of her. She was a special sheep. They are all special sheep, with their own knowledge and wisdom of being a sheep, finding food and giving birth. It is good for us to catch ourselves occasionally and to remember how precious their wool really is.

You can find out more about HRH/Old Leader on the White Gum Wool website. You can also find stories about other matriarchs in the flock. If you have any stories about sheep you have known, please share them.

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This is a wonderful, fascinating book.

The patterns are extraordinary and require lots of gazing upon and wondering at.

But this is the bit that truly amazes me. Have a look at these knitting symbols.

Now consider these words from the introduction.

Unlike other stitch pattern charts you may have seen, Japanese charts do not provide a key for how to work the symbols. The symbols are standardized, and every Japanese publisher uses the same symbol set. A Japanese knitter is expected to know them.

Crikey bananas! Japanese knitters must the Übermensch of the knitting world, or more appropriately the Überstrickennen. The level of knitting expertise and knowledge that is assumed in Japan is awe inspiring. Fortunately for those of us who are not Überstrickennen, Hitomi Shida’s Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible (2015) explains every symbol. Phew!

There are even wonderful explorations of how patterns might be rearranged or altered. It is a rare insight into an designer’s mind space. Even if you never knitted from this book, it would still change your knitting life.

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Dear Readers,

The Artisans Textile Festival, part of the Australian Sheep and Wool Show extravaganza was almost two weeks ago now and it was a great success! The Bendigo Bowls Club was packed to the rafters, warm as toast and buzzing with energy. I was there on the Saturday, staffing the My Spin on Things stall which included my Natural Gradient Alpaca Shawl kits and dyed English Leicester locks. The day was a whirl, and I talked to lots and lots of interesting folks about spinning and fibre and learned so much.

It was a wonderful day and though I managed very well for most of it, afterwards my body reasserted its demands for rest and so things have been very quiet here at Needle and Spindle. Whilst there is a fantastic energy at a fibre festival, I am probably not at the stage of recovery where I could manage that kind of thing very often…but with the success of my products perhaps an online store is in my future. Food for thought indeed.

Right now, there are slow, cold walks in beautiful Ballarat, some spinning and some knitting and of course all the everyday family palaver.

I recently finished these socks, Tuff Socks Naturally #5.  The picture was taken freshly after dog walking. I really notice their warmth in comparison to my superwash merino socks. They are in super high rotation at the moment as all my other Tuff Socks Naturally socks have been off on a research adventure. Hopefully they will be back soon.

The socks are knitted from a high grist 2 ply in Ryeland fleece from Hallyluya Farm near Hamilton in Victoria. They were dyed in the fleece after scouring using Earth Palette cold dyes. Only the tips dyed so they have a lovely heather quality to them. The disorganised locks were drum carded then spun off the worsted end of the batt. The yarn moves from a dense fingering weight to a light sportsweight towards the end of the skein so I need to improve my consistency. But they knit up just fine, into a hearty, bouncy pair of socks using Anne Hansen’s Almondine design from Ann Budd, Sock Knitting Master Class (2011) Interweave Press. My only modification was to stop the lace pattern at the ankle as I prefer a smooth sock bottom in my boots. I also dropped down a needle size for the heels and toes rather than using any extra reinforcing fibres.

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