Tag Archives: friendship is the best form of wealth



In the absence of being able to create a longer post… I knit some more beanies with the leftovers from a jumper I knit a while back, with worsted weight (10ply) merino.  These are the TinCanKnits Barley hat pattern.


In the end, I sent them to my daughter, who has taken up yachting and therefore needs more snug hats than ever, likes a slouchy fit, and has skipped right over the rumours that redheads shouldn’t wear orange (happily–who makes this stuff up?).  I did not intend to knit them in two colours apiece but that was the yardage I had.  She has sent me sleepy happy photos of herself wearing them but I am not sure she is ready to be an internet sensation so you just get the hats!  I sent two other parcels of hats off–one to a fellow climate activist who is in Canada and needed warmth of all kinds.  The other to friends in Tasmania who will wear some and share others on.


Filed under Knitting

Dyeing and knitting Suffolk socks

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, 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 the glorious Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

Once upon a time there was some raw Suffolk fleece.  And then, it was spun into a 3 ply yarn.  And then, it met several eucalyptus dye baths… and then a nice gentle soaking rinse or three…

A series of small skeins arose.

They were weighed and wound into balls by hand and prepared for hand knitting. This picture captures the colours best, I think.


There was knitting on public transport.


there was knitting on the road to Warrnambool.


There was knitting on the way back.


And finally… on a day so overcast as to leach colour from the knitting:


There were socks long enough to go all the way to the top of a gumboot (wellington, galosh) on a chilly morning feeding donkeys.  These socks are bound for a lovely friend who keeps a small farm with a lot of chickens and some rescue donkeys.  She had some specific requirements!  She wasn’t the least bit concerned about socks that would not be silky soft.


On top of the 3 ply, Suffolk yarn with high twist (and on the thick side for socks), I reinforced heels and toes with silk/cotton thread.  I dyed some in eucalyptus but underestimated how much I was going to need.  When I ran out while on the road (to dye camp!) I wasn’t prepared to stop.


I think the reality about these socks is that they have been knit at a dense gauge that will hopefully result in long wear even in a gumboot, but it is not very stretchy!




Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Indigo and woad


Over summer I worked on my indigo dyeing skills.  In case it isn’t obvious–there will be some time travelling blog posts, because there is a lot I did over December and January that we haven’t discussed, my friends.  Here is my Indigo fructose vat on day 1. The indigo vat went quite well but I felt I still didn’t manage to extract all the blue from it.  Most weekends I dream of cranking it back up, and fail to manage the time.


This is my latest attempt at a fermentation woad vat.  It does look promising!  I used all of this summer’s  woad harvest (admittedly it was small this year) and one of the hottest weeks of summer and still failed to get the vat to reduce.  I do think constant heat is the thing I really need to sort out for this method–but Jenai Hooke gave me a gift indigo ball at summer dye camp which might kick start the process when I am ready to try again!


I dyed washed fleece and some fabric, but the main project for the indigo vat was to dye some knitting a dear friend had done.  She describes herself as having a midlife crisis which she is managing, in part, by knitting a lot, I mean A LOT of beanies.  In the last six or twelve months she has scaled up to knitting gauntlets (arm warmers) and sharing the love of those.  She gave me natural white knits and asked if I would indigo dye them and at last I’ve done it.  They are, she said, knit from wool from sheep who grazed in the fields of France where many fascists died.  I think these are for herself.  Since I put them in the mail, I have received a great photo of her wearing them, grinning spectacularly and with a message saying she is taking them to Berlin.  Berlin!  The rest of my pile of beanies has headed out into the world too. Some to a climate activist I know who is studying in Canada and finding the snowy winter and the prospect of climate catastrophe very challenging (she can choose one and gift the others), and a big pile to my dear friends in Tasmania.  When I saw them recently, one of then was wearing a very stretched out eucalyptus dyed beanie that only I could have spun and knit, and clearly wears beanies all year round.  And, they know a lot of cash strapped people in Tassie who might feel the same need.  I figure they will know what to do with a pile of hand knit happiness.




Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Bags 2

Did you really think I could stop at… oh… ten or twelve bags (especially as I was on holiday)?  Naturally, I could not.  I went to the Guild and there was a pile of denim offcuts.  You know how it is.

They all turned out to be different denims, each one reasonably narrow but the width of the bolt.  No concern to me.  I paired some with a yellow open weave linen (I think) I have inherited.  I made several of these and they look quite elegant.

This patch was found on the footpath in Melbourne in December. It seemed wrong to leave it there to the wind, rain, mud and passing shoes and dogs, until it found its way into the stormwater drain.

And this bag is made from a piece of fabric my mother-out-law passed on to me in the last year.

On the inside, all manner of scraps and bits and pieces, and of course–more pockets!


Filed under Sewing

Bags 1


One day at Guild, one of my friends gifted me two pairs of worn out cargo pants, in case I’d like to find a way to reuse them. Some people really know you!  They were made of tencel or some similar wood pulp based fibre.  They had been much worn, like a favourite garment.  And they had so many pockets!  Ones with zips, some that were more of a welt pocket… some that were stitched shut and had never been ripped open for use–lots to play with.  So I cut them up, extracted the cotton drawstring cords for later use, and began piecing the intact fabric into bag linings and likewise, the pockets.

There was an entire series of bark cloth curtain fabric bags.  I used up the boomerang bags patches I was given by one of the Adelaide organisers a while back pretty quickly.  Then I did a series with the remaining secondhand IKEA fabric my daughter gave me a while back (the orange and white stripes).  They match my ironing board cover and they are extra large.

Finally, I converted some fabric I remember buying at Paddy’s market in Melbourne at least 20 years ago (cough, maybe it was 30 years ago) into about 4 more bags.  I must have been reliving my childhood as an admirer of ancient Egypt when I bought this, I think.  I vaguely remember feeling obliged to buy something even though I couldn’t spare the cash at that time (it must have been the nature of the interaction with the stallholder).  The print gestures in that direction, but I really can’t see it as a garment.  Some of these bags have already gone to friends, and others await their ultimate destination.


Filed under Sewing

Finnish tough socks naturally?


It all began when I finally managed to pick up a parcel that a friend who now lives in Denmark had left for me when she had passed through our town while we were away.  The contents were truly astonishing. Better than Christmas.  She had chosen some lovely wool, a book and a chocolate treat, all wrapped up in a bag! She delivered another Danish knitting kit as well. The yarn is Finnish wool dyed with plants and cochineal.  I couldn’t wait. I’d just finished a rather plain coloured sock and I wasn’t finished preparing my next Suffolk sock yarn.  I cast on!


Here, a sock poses above Port Willunga beach on a summer outing. Is it just my imagination, or was this shot so peculiar my beloved took a snap of me taking it to preserve for posterity?


Here, it graces a completed summer holiday puzzle.  My daughter brought Christmas gifts that were all second hand, wrapped in newspaper and tied with binder twine, designed to entertain us while in Melbourne.  One of the puzzles was unpacked immediately!


Here we have the second sock with many extremely ripe strawberries after a heat wave visit to the Farmer’s market.  And, on the side of a triathlon where I was cheering on my very fit beloved.  And now we have the frivolous images out of the way, here”s the lowdown.  I loved this yarn so much I wanted to knit it right away.  It’s the right weight for socks (4 ply/fingering) but I have no reason to think it is especially sock-worthy in terms of the breed or construction of the yarn.  On the other hand, my experience is increasingly telling me that adding silk into sock yarn is not an especially winning strategy.  As a beginner spinner I was so surprised to be told that silk was strong.  I had always thought of it as a rather fragile fibre.  But here’s the thing.  It’s both.  Silk has a high tensile strength.  If you try to snap a silk thread, it is really strong.  But I don’t think that tensile strength is matched by its capacity for abrasion resistance.  I’ve tested this by mending high abrasion areas of clothing with silk thread sashiko style–with lots of running stitches across the area of the patch.  The silk thread rubbed right off, and quite quickly.  I think that the high wear areas of a sock require a lot of abrasion resistance, and perhaps silk is not the best choice.  This was an experiment with doing all the engineering I know about to strengthen this pure wool sock.

I knit these socks cuff down, and I decided not to rib the leg.  I am not sure whether this wool will be a good match with the wearer’s skin.  It isn’t merino soft or silk soft, so I decided not to add any texture that might create unwanted friction.  Instead, I created a shaped calf.  These socks are for a woman who walks a lot.  So, since I made them quite long, some room for walking muscle.  As I reached the end of the leg, I started heel reinforcing stitch above the heel.  I notice this is a place where socks can wear through and there is nothing technically difficult about reinforcing the section of the leg immediately above the heel proper, where some boots and shoes rub.

When I reached the heel, I used heel reinforcing stitch as I usually would, and added some (ecru–offwhite) cotton/silk stitching thread in for reinforcement.  You can see the stitch and colour changes in the image above. The last time I received feedback on a pair of socks for this specific person, I saw she’d worn through the sole under her heel first.  So when I got to the heel turn and began the sole, I continued the reinforcing thread, through the heel turn and then running it across the sole and snipping it off when I came to knitting across the gusset and top of the foot.

I think the idea for treating reinforcing thread in this way came from something the wonderful Elizabeth Zimmermann (wise and ingenious fairy godmother of English speaking knitters) wrote, though I think she was using woolly nylon.  She wrote in a period when nylon blend sock yarn was not available or widespread as it is today, and she was needless to say, interested in a hard wearing sock.  I think she wrote a pattern for a re-footable sock, which I read once and found beyond me.  It might be time to look it up, because perhaps by now my knitting skills will meet it.  Here is how this strategy looks on the inside of the sock. Lots oof loose ends.  But they will be barely detectable to the wearer’s heel and will not work their way out of the knitting.

I changed down a needle size for the sole to give it more durability without impinging on the wearer.  That might be one of EZ’s ideas too.  The toe also received reinforcement.

And there we are.  I purled the recipient’s initials into the back of the calf for my own amusement and hopefully hers!

And there you have it.  A sock of unknown toughness, engineered for better wear, gloriously coloured and gleefully received.  When I am listening to the former knitters I meet on public transport, in cafes, at bus stops, in meetings, I am often saddened that they know no one who would welcome a hand knit and especially not a hand knit requiring hand washing.  That is the most common reason I hear for their abandoning knitting (followed by arthritis, scourge of knitters).  My goodness!  I am blessed by many lovers of hand knits, and while for me, knitting is its own reward in some respects… it is also like cooking someone a delicious dinner.  People who enjoy and appreciate are those for whom I’d cheerfully cook or knit again given the chance.  There is nothing like being really confident that someone loves that meal or sock or slipper or jumper so much that if you made another, they’d love that too… and I am especially blessed to know folk who will happily wear experimental garments.



Filed under Knitting

Hats and heartbreak


One of my darling friends has hit a rough patch in life.  Maybe the last she will have to face, but you know how hard those things are to predict.  You may have detected this from the knitting in hospitals that I’ve mentioned a few times.  But now we’ve passed that stage.  Her family decided to move her to a nursing home nearer where they live, and far from where I live.  It’s one of those tough situations where my friend isn’t able to make big decisions for herself at present, and she has been fragile and struggling for too long.  It’s likely she will not be able to live independently again, and supporting her from far away has been very hard for her family, while many of her friends have struggles of their own that make it difficult for them to visit her.  Some of them are no longer very mobile themselves.  In this way she will be nearer three generations of her family and meet great grandchildren she has never been able to see.


I met her at handspinners’ guild, and when I first met her she was knitting a complex Aran sweater for one of her sons (her sons are about the age of my parents, some of them are older). In recent years she has knit the same distinctive hat over and over again, and then sometimes I’ve driven her to Guild and she has enjoyed the company and sat with her knitting in her hands.  She has been unable to spin for a few years now, and couldn’t face knitting in the recent times I’ve visited her in hospital wards and nursing homes.

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Finally one of her sons and one of her daughters-in-law came here to clear out her beloved and now empty home. They were overcome by the task of figuring out what to do with her fibre stash and it was something I could do to help, to figure out how to manage that.  I spoke with her a couple of times about what she would like to happen but she couldn’t bring herself to care much.  Those wishes that she expressed to me or to her family, were all honoured.  I met that part of her family, we shared a little of our mutual grief and some of our happy experiences of our shared human treasure, and then I took away fabric, spinning equipment, wool in every stage from raw fleece to rovings and batts to spun yarn, and so much more.  Like the inside of her home, everything was impeccably organised and meticulously stored.

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I’ve organised for equipment to go to people who can use it or to the Guild for resale.  Yarns have gone to knitters–the vibrant rainbow-dyed yarns she favoured creating in the last few years to people who love colour; the mohair collection to someone who delights in mohair; fleeces were sold at the Guild to people who will appreciate and spin them; and equipment for all manner of crafts she enjoyed over the decades has been passed on to people who will use and enjoy it.  Her sewing machine is in the shop for repair prior to rehoming.  The electric spinner she never really made friends with has gone to someone else who is finding treadling harder and more painful (just as she did) and who can return to loving spinning as I result, I hope.


In the meantime, I’ve found myself spinning all kinds of fibres from her stash, starting with small quantities of things that didn’t seem sensible to try to re-home. I’ve also been knitting hats from smaller quantities of her undyed handspun and some of the small balls of rainbow dyed yarn that didn’t fit into the packs that went to people who love to knit.  It has felt like a way to hold her in my mind in these times when she is suffering and yet hard to reach.  She has suffered a further injury and is back in hospital far away and in such difficulty she is hard to understand on the phone.  So, here’s to Joyce, her sense of humour, her enjoyment of wool and her love for a snug hat.



Filed under Knitting, Spinning

Rainbow socks


I posted a picture of these socks while in progress on Instagram and a friend said that the word “lurid” came to mind.  Well, yes!  Nothing naturally dyed going on here.  She also asked if they were a statement on the times–for those outside Australia, our nation is currently debating whether the law should be changed so that people of the same sex can marry.  And despite the well-established reality that more than half the nation supports this change (as established by opinion polls) we are having an expensive but non-binding postal survey on the matter at the moment.  It has been a time of some very heart warming moments but also some thoroughly unpleasant public debate.


I admit, I had not been thinking of that when I cast on.  But–really–my friend was right on both counts.  These socks are going to live with a friend whose favourite colour is lurid (bonus points for neon or dinosaur prints), who has been in a same sex relationship for over 20 years.  She isn’t enthusiastic about marriage, in the way that those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about the history of women’s rights, domestic violence and such like often aren’t.  Of course, we know people who have wonderful marriages.   But we’ve seen a lot of the ways that marriage can go wrong, and that sure makes marriage  as an institution less romantic.  We remember its role in treating women as property and limiting women’s rights to bodily autonomy, working rights, equal pay, voting rights, engagement in the economy and so much more.

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However–right here right now, for many people who support same sex marriage this is really a debate about whether everyone should have the same legal rights.  That’s a very easy question to my mind.

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Meantime, the socks are packaged up with laundry requirements and darning thread and ready to go to their new home.  I cannot control the national debate, but I can show the love to y near and dear and keep people’s toes warm in their gumboots, shoes and boots!

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Filed under Knitting

Garden colours jumper

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This is the Orphans for Orphans sweater from Knitting for Peace.  This is the third time I’ve knit this design and it is an ingenious, easy pattern that lends itself to wool in odd amounts and various colours.  This one is made from handspun local wool and dyed with plants from my garden: woad, coreopsis, eucalyptus, woad + coreopsis.

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Where the woad vat was running out, the natural grey of the wool shows through. I cast it on, on an excitable day of knitting confidence when I decided it would fit someone I know!  I think in fact the likeliest candidate is the daughter of the sweethearts who gave me Knitting for Peace. She is no orphan but a delightful and extremely well loved small human.  And if not her, then some other treasure…

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Sometimes it happens that I look at a random selection of yarns and suddenly see what it could become.  This was one such case.  It has some wonkiness to be going on with, but quite frankly, any jumper that isn’t wonky before it goes onto a small person hopefully becomes wonky through sheer activity soon afterward. I’m reliably informed that the recipient is a fine appreciator of knitwear and that she held it close all the way home.  That’s a lovely start!

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Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing



I knit another design by Kit Couture. This design is called Rost.  I admit, I chose it without asking my dear friend if he would like it, but I was very relieved when I checked in with him and he agreed he would like it!  Quite appropriately, I finished it while he was in Norway, much closer to Denmark than usual.


I love the design.  It starts at the neck and is knit in the round from the neck down, so the yoke is one of the earliest steps.  It was so much fun knitting this part, though I look at designs that are colour work all the way to the hem and that doesn’t seem like fun to me. This was a great match of (pattern) challenge to (my knitting) capacity. I still have some colour knitting tension issues.  My last effort was, if anything, too loose.  This time, it is a little tight.  When he tried it on while in progress, my friend admired the corrugation in the yoke and marvelled over how I could be so clever as to create it.  I decided against making a big issue out of it being a flaw!  But it did not block out (as I had hoped it would) so it’s lucky that he likes it and it looks great unless you’re examining it as a fault in the knitting.  I can live with imperfection, as it turns out. It was reassuring to try it on him a couple of times as it progressed–it is a great fit and looks fabulous on him (in my humble opinion).


After the yoke, the body is knit down to the hem, and then each sleeve is knit on in the round.  For me, knitting in the round is the obvious way to proceed (because socks), and this is the knitting strategy I have adopted on some garments I have designed myself, learned from books adopting Scandinavian knitting processes.

If I had this design in black and white and had to choose colours for it, I would never have chosen these colours.  I think this is one boon of knitting from a kit (or from a pattern and using the prescribed yarns, something I don’t remember ever having done).  In all honesty, part of what has been so interesting about these two Kit Couture knits has been having almost all the choices made for me.  Knitting with handspun is not like this at all, and knitting these has felt so easy!  It turns out it is not the complexity of the knitting that feels hard for me in making up my own patterns or knitting with handspun, it’s the decision making. This is an extraordinary freedom, but I think I had already noticed that the degree of challenge is sometimes more than I can easily manage.  Either I lack the confidence or I just feel too tired to decide in the pieces of time in which I knit.

Repetitive, simple knitting makes up a lot of the knitting I do, and it has to. In the environments in which I knit,  counting is impossible or rude and referring to the pattern all the time, likewise inappropriate or not manageable.  Colour choice is not my strength either.  I only make wild colour choices where the risk is low.  Garments that won’t be seen (socks–I am knitting some lurid socks right now); things that will not be worn (tea cosies), recipients who make decisions for me or are excited about my random colour ways, bless them one and all.


The kit is also unspeakably cute: all those balls of wool lined up in cute little rows in a beautiful card board box, with a darning needle, picture, instructions and some Danish liquorice treats.  And this wool was cushy (merino, my friends) and fat and even.  I love knitting handspun and some of mine is very even (while some is certainly not). Cushy is harder to achieve for me, and I haven’t knit a garment on 5.5 mms before.  Fast! Sensational, especially on something so big.  Entertainingly enough this garment required only the same kind of frankenfitting for father as Sotra required for son: everything needed to be longer than the largest size but only as wide as the smallest. This is the simple kind of fitting I can mange without difficulty.  I can’t wait to hand it over, even though today is the last day of winter! And, something about knitting these kits has made me want to knit and knit and built up my confidence for big knitting (jumpers, not socks).  There was a rash of casting on as soon as I finished it…


Filed under Knitting